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NEGOTIATIONS IN LONDON
FOR EFFECTING A RECONCILIATION BETWEEN
GREAT BRITAIN AND THE AMERICAN COLONIES.
Just before Dr. Franklin left England, after having resided there many years as agent for several of the colonies, an effort was made by eminent persons, friendly to America, to bring about, through his instrumentality, a reconciliation of the differences then subsisting between the two countries. Among those, who consulted him on this occasion, was the Earl of Chatham. That statesman, disapproving the measures of the British government in regard to the colonies, and foreseeing the fatal consequences of an American war, resolved to employ his talents and influence in endeavouring to carry through Parliament a plan, which should meet the views and receive the assent of both parties. He held conversations with Dr. Franklin on the subject at different times, and submitted to him the propositions he had drawn up, before they were presented to Parliament, requesting his opinion and remarks. These propositions were liberal and conciliatory, compared with the schemes of the ministry; but they did not satisfy Franklin, and he knew they would not be acceptable to his countrymen. Their fate in Parliament is well known. Though supported by the powerful eloquence of Chatham, and of other distinguished leaders of the opposition, yet they were rejected in the House of Lords by a very large majority.
Attempts were made in other quarters to draw from Franklin a statement of the terms, which he supposed the colonies would accept. He was thus led into a kind of informal negotiation, which continued for several weeks. It is probable, that some of the ministers were secretly at the bottom of this maneuvre, with the view of ascertaining, both what they had to expect from Franklin, and VOL. v.
the full extent of the demands, which the colonists were determined to insist on; knowing that he was thoroughly acquainted with the prevailing sentiments in America, and that no man could do so much by the weight of his character, and by his abilities and efforts, for the restoration of harmony, if he could be brought to acquiesce in such plans as the ministry should approve. Whatever the aim may have been, the attempt was abortive. The claims he set up for his countrymen were deemed so extravagant, that even the best friends to the American cause told him they would never be admitted. Convinced of their justice, however, he adhered to them, and the negotiation came to an end without effecting the object proposed.
The following paper is a narrative of these transactions, and is not more interesting for the facts it contains, than for the characteristic ease and simplicity of its style. It was written immediately after the events, during the author's passage to America, in the form of a letter to his son. It was not published till many years after his death, having first appeared in William Temple Franklin's edition of his works. - EDITOR.
On board the Pennsylvania Packet, Captain Osborne,
bound to Philadelphia, March 22d, 1775. DEAR Son, Having now a little leisure for writing, I will endeavour, as I promised you, to recollect what particulars I can of the negotiations I have lately been concerned in, with regard to the misunderstandings between Great Britain and America.
During the recess of the last Parliament, which had passed the severe acts against the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, the minority having been sensible of their weakness, as an effect of their want of union among themselves, began to think seriously of a coalition. For they saw in the violence of these American measures, if persisted in, a hazard of dismembering, weakening, and perhaps ruining the British empire. This inclined some of them to propose such an union with each other, as might be more respectable in the ensuing session, have more weight in opposition, and be a body out of which a new ministry might easily be formed, should the ill success of the late measures, and the firmness of the colonies in resisting them, make a change appear necessary to the King.
I took some pains to promote this disposition, in conversations with several of the principal among the minority of both Houses, whom I besought and conjured most earnestly not to suffer, by their little misunderstandings, so glorious a fabric as the present British empire to be demolished by these blunderers; and for their encouragement assured them, as far as my opinions could give any assurance, of the firmness and unanimity of America, the continuance of which was what they had frequent doubts of, and appeared extremely apprehensive and anxious concerning it.
From the time of the affront given me at the Council Board, in January, 1774, I had never attended the levee of any minister. I made no justification of myself from the charges brought against me; I made no return of the injury by abusing my adversaries; but held a cool, sullen silence, reserving myself to some future opportunity; for which conduct I had several reasons not necessary here to specify. Now and then I heard it said, that the reasonable part of the administration was ashamed of the treatment they had given me. I suspected that some who told me this, did it to draw from me my sentiments concerning it, and perhaps my purposes; but I said little or nothing upon the subject. In the mean time, their measures with regard to New England failing of the success that had been confidently expected, and finding themselves more and more embarrassed, they began, as it seems, to think of making use of me, if they could, to assist in disen