Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

nimity, and their meetings are well attended. It will scarce be credited in Britain, that men can be as diligent with us, from zeal for the public good, as with you for thousands per annum. Such is the difference between uncorrupted new states, and corrupted old ones." It was about this time that Dr. Franklin addressed that memorable and laconic epistle to his old friend and companion Mr. Strahan, (then king's printer, and member of the British parliament for Malmsbury,) of which a fac-simile is given.

The following proposed Introduction to a resolution of congress, (not passed) drawn up by Dr. Franklin, is also fully expressive of his warm feelings and sentiments at that period.

Whereas the British nation, through great corruption of manners and extreme dissipation and profusion, both private and public, have found all honest resour ces insufficient to supply their excessive luxury and prodigality, and thereby have been driven to the practice of every injustice, which avarice could dictate or rapacity execute: and whereas, not satisfied with the immense plunder of the East, obtained by sacrificing millions of the human species, they have lately turned their eyes to the West, and grudging us the peaceable enjoyment of the fruits of our hard labour, and virtuous industry, have for years past been endeavouring to extort the same from us, under colour of laws regulat ing trade; and have thereby actually succeeded in draining us of large sums, to our great loss and detriment: and whereas, impatient to seize the whole, they have at length proceeded to open robbery, declaring by a solemn act of parliament, that all our estates are theirs, and all our property found upon the sea divisible among such of their armed plunderers as shall take the same; and have even dared in the same act to declare, that all the spoilings, thefts, burnings of houses and towns, and murders of innocent people, perpetrated by their wicked and inhuman corsairs on our coasts, previous to any war declared against us, were just actions, and shall be so deemed, contrary to several of the commandments of God, (which by this act, they presume to repeal) and to all the principles of right, and all the ideas of justice, entertained heretofore by every other nation, savage as well as civilized; there by manifesting themselves to be hostes humani generis.

And whereas it is not possible for the people of America to subsist under such continual ravages without making some reprisals, Therefore resolved,

Affairs having now assumed a most serious aspect, it was necessary for the Americans to adopt proper and efficacious means of resistance. They possessed little or no coin, and even arms and ammunition were wanting. In this situation, the adoption of paper money became indispensably necessary, and Dr. Franklin was one of the first to point out the necessity and propriety of that measure. Without this succedaneum, it would have been impossible to have made any other than a feeble and a short resistance against Great Britain.

The first emission, to the amount of three millions of dollars, accordingly took place on the 25th of July, 1775, under a promise of exchanging the notes against gold or silver in the space of three years; and towards the end of 1776, more than twenty-one millions additional were put in circulation. The con

gress at length began to be uneasy, not knowing how it would be possible to redeem so large a sum; and some of its members having waited upon Dr. Franklin in order to consult him upon this occasion, he spoke to them as follows: "Do not make yourselves unhappy; continue to issue your paper money as long as it will pay for the paper, ink, and printing, and we shall be enabled by its means to liquidate all the expenses of the war."

In October, 1775, Dr. Franklin was ap pointed by congress, jointly with his colleagues colonel Harrison and Mr. Lynch, a committee to visit the American camp at Cambridge, and in conjunction with the commander in chief, (general Washington,) to endeavour to convince the troops, whose term of enlistment was about to expire, of the necessity of their continuing in the field, and persevering in the cause of their country.

to

He was afterwards sent on a mission to Canada, to endeavour to unite that country to the common cause of liberty. But the Canadians could not be prevailed upon oppose the measures of the British government.* The ill success of this negotiation was supposed to be occasioned in a great degree by religious animosities, which subsisted between the Canadians and their neighbours; some of whom had at different times burnt their places of worship.

On his return from Canada, Dr. Franklin, under the direction of congress, wrote to M. Dumas, the American agent in Holland, urging him to sound the several governments of Europe, by means of their ambassadors at the Hague, as to any assistance they might be disposed to afford America, in case of her eventually breaking off all connexion with Britain, and declaring herself an independent nation.

This decisive measure was now generally agitated throughout the colonies; though it is certain that at the beginning of the dif ferences, the bulk of the people acted from no fixed and determined principle whatever, and had not even an idea of independence; for all the addresses from the different colonies were filled with professions of loyalty towards their sovereign, and breathed the most ardent wishes for an immediate reconciliation.

The congress deeming it advisable to know the general opinion on so important a point, took an opportunity of feeling the pulse of the people, and of preparing them for the declaration of independence, by a circular manifesto

hands competent to print in French and English should *It was directed that a printing apparatus and accompany this mission. Two papers were written and circulated very extensively through Canada; but that it was found not more than one person in five it was not until after the experiment had been tried, hundred could not read. Dr. Franklin was accustomed to make the best of every occurrence, suggested that if it were intended to send another mission, it should be a mission composed of schoolmasters.

FAC SIMILE of the HAND WRITING of D FRANKLIN .

MStrahan;

You are

and one

Phelad.
July 5. 1775

are a Member of Parliament, of that Majority which has

doomed my Country to Destruction _ _ -You have begun to burnour Towns,

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Your Hands ! _ They

are stained with the

Your

Blood of Relations! — You and I were

long Friends: - You

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

are now

my

Yours, Branklin,

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

to the several colonies, stating the causes kind, Thomas Jefferson, then one of the rewhich rendered it necessary that all authority presentatives in congress for Virginia: as a under the crown should be totally suppressed, document of considerable interest and curiand all the powers of government taken res- osity, and as a monument of one of the most pectively into their own hands. In support important political events in which Dr. Frankof this position, they instanced the prohibitory lin was concerned, it is here noticed. act, by which they were excluded from the protection of the crown; the rejection of their petitions for redress of grievances, and a reconciliation; and the intended exertion of all the force of Great Britain, aided by foreign mercenaries, for their destruction.

At length this important question was discussed in congress, and at a time when the fleets and armies which were sent to enforce obedience, were truly formidable. The debate continued for several days, and the scheme encountered great opposition from several distinguished orators. Eventually, however, notwithstanding all the disadvantages the country then laboured under, from an army ignorant of discipline, and entirely unskilled in the art of war;-without a fleetwithout allies-and with nothing but the love of liberty to support them; the colonies, by their representatives in congress, determined to separate from a country which had added injury to insult, and disregarded all the pacific overtures they had made to it. On this question Dr. Franklin was decidedly in favour of the measure proposed, and used all his great influence in bringing others over to his opinion.

The public mind, which had already been drawn that way by the manifesto of congress, was now confirmed in its decision, by the appearance of Paine's celebrated pamphlet, "Common Sense;" and there is good reason to believe, that Dr. Franklin had no inconsiderable share, at least in furnishing materials for that work.*

It was on the 4th day of July, 1776, that the thirteen English colonies in America declared themselves free and independent states, and by an act of congress abjured all allegiance to the British crown, and renounced all political connection with Great Britain.

This public record, the first declaration of the rights of a people to establish, and if necessary to their happiness, to abrogate their own form of government, and to hold the sovereignty inalienably in the people, was produced in a committee of three members of congress; it was definitively drafted (and adopted, with a few slight alterations) by that eminent patriot, philosopher, and friend of man

*Thomas Paine did not affect any reserve on this point; without any inquiry on the subject, he stated to the writer of this note, that the suggestion of the papers, Common Sense, was made to him by Dr. Franklin; and that the fulness of his ideas were such, that

after a conversation with him, his own mind was so much excited, that he could not but communicate the spirit of the conversation in his essays: he also said

that one or two papers were revised by the doctor, but with very few alterations. VOL. I....S 12*

In the beginning of this year, 1776, an act of the British parliament passed, to prohibit and restrain, on the one hand, the trade and intercourse of the refractory colonies, respectively, during their revolt; and on the other hand, to enable persons appointed by the British king to grant pardons, and declare any particular district in the king's peace, &c. Lord Howe (who had been previously appointed commander of the British fleet in North America) was, on May 3, declared joint commissioner with his brother general Howe, for the latter purposes of the act. He sailed May 12, and while off the coast of Massachusetts, prepared a declaration, announcing this commission, and accompanied it with circular letters.

Lord Howe took occasion to publish every where, that he had proposals to make on the part of Great Britain, tending to peace and reconciliation, and that he was ready to communicate them. He, at the same time, permitted the American general, Sullivan, to go on his parole, and give this intelligence to congress: he hoped, by this means, to create divisions in that body, and throughout the country. The congress were of opinion, the admiral could have no terms to offer, but such as the act of parliament empowered him to offer, which were, PARDON upon submission; yet as the people might imagine more, and be uneasy if he was not heard, they appointed three of their body, Messrs. Franklin, John Adams, and Edward Rutledge, to meet him. His lordship chose Staten Island, which was in possession of the English troops, for the place of conference. The committee being arrived at Amboy, a small town in New Jersey, opposite to the island, and in possession of the Americans, the admiral sent over his barge to receive and bring them to him, and to leave one of his principal officers as a hostage for their safe return. The committee of congress had not desired a hostage, and they therefore took the officer back with them. The admiral met them at their landing, and conducted them through his guards to a convenient room for conference: he was surprised at their confidence, in bringing back his hostage; and more, at the little estimation in which they appeared to hold his offers of pardon, and of inquiring into grievances. He seemed to have flattered himself, that the congress, humbled by their late losses, would have been submissive and compliant: he found himself mistaken. The committee told him

firmly, that if he had nothing else to propose, he was come too late: the humble petitions

of congress had been rejected with contempt; | of influence in the colonies upon the terms,
independence was now declared, and the new but also to effect a lasting peace and re-union
government formed. And when, in endea- between the two countries; were the temper
vouring to cajole them, he expressed his "af- of the colonies such as professed in the last
fection for America, his concern in viewing petition of the congress to the king. Ame-
her dangerous situation, and said that to see rica would have judged in the discussion how
her fall would give him the same pain as to far the means were adequate to the end; both
see a brother fall;" they answered, that it was for engaging her confidence and proving
kind, but America would endeavour to spare our integrity. Nor did I think it necessary
him that pain.
to say more in my public declaration; not
conceiving it could be understood to refer to
peace, on any other conditions but those of
mutual interest to both countries, which could
alone render it permanent.

They returned and reported the conference to congress, who published it, and the people were satisfied that they had no safety but in

arms.

"But as I perceive, from the tenor of your letter, how little I am to reckon upon the advantage of your assistance for restoring that permanent union which has long been the object of my endeavours, and which I flattered

Part of the correspondence between lord Howe and Dr. Franklin on this occasion, and the joint report of the American commissioners on the result of their mission, was published; the first letter of lord Howe and the answer of the doctor, have been already pub-myself when I left England, would be in the lished; but the reply of lord Howe, and the following prefatory note, by doctor Franklin, have not appeared before the present time.

compass of my power; I will only add, that
as the dishonour to which you deem me ex-
posed by my military situation in this country,
has effected no change in your sentiments of
personal regard towards me, so shall no dif-
ference in political points alter my desire of
proving how much I am your sincere and obe-
dient humble servant,
HOWE."

To the same.

"EAGLE, June 20, 1776.

These letters were published in London, to show the insolence of the insurgents, in refusing the offer of pardon upon submission made to them by the British plenipotentiaries. They undoubtedly deserve the attention of the public for another reason, the proof they afford that the commerce of America is deemed by the ministry themselves of such vast importance, as to justify the horrid and ex- "1 CANNOT, my worthy friend, permit the pensive war they are now waging, to main- letters and parcels, which I have sent (in the tain the monopoly of it; that being the prin-state I received them) to be landed, without cipal cause stated by lord Howe; though their adding a word upon the subject of the injupensioned writers and speakers in parliament rious extremities in which our unhappy dishave affected to treat that commerce as a putes have engaged us. trifle. And they demonstrate further, of how "You will learn the nature of my mission, much importance it is to the rest of Europe, from the official despatches, which I have rethat the continuance of that monopoly should commended to be forwarded by the same conbe obstructed, and the general freedom of veyance. Retaining all the earnestness I trade, now offered by the Americans, pre- ever expressed, to see our differences accomserved; since, by no other means, the enor-modated; I shall conceive, if I meet with mous growing power of Britain, both by sea the disposition in the colonies which I was and land, so formidable to her neighbours, and once taught to expect, the most flattering which must follow her success, can possibly hopes of proving serviceable in the objects of be prevented. the king's paternal solicitude, by promoting the establishment of lasting peace and union with the colonies. But if the deep-rooted prejudices of America, and the necessity of preventing her trade from passing into foreign channels, must keep us still a divided people; I shall, from every private as well as public motive, most heartily lament, that this is not the moment wherein those great objects of my ambition are to be attained; and that I am to be longer deprived of an opportunity, to assure you personally of the regard with which I am your sincere and faithful humble servant, HOWE.

[ocr errors]

"To Dr. Franklin.

EAGLE, off Staten Island, August 16, 1776.

"I am sorry, my worthy friend, that it is only on the assurances you give me, of my having still preserved a place in your esteem, that I can now found a pretension to trouble you with a reply to your favour of the 21st, past.

"I can have no difficulty to acknowledge, that the powers I am invested with, were never calculated to negotiate a re-union with America, under any other description than as subject to the crown of Great Britain: but I do esteem those powers competent, not only to confer and negotiate with any gentlemen

"P.S. I was disappointed of the opportunity I expected for sending this letter, at the time it was dated; and have ever since been prevented by calms and contrary winds from

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »