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WEDDERBURN'S SCURRILOUS ATTACK. 59
mouth enclosing the petition, then the petition itself, the resolves, and lastly the letters, the Solicitor-general making no objections, nor asking any of the questions he had talked of at the preceding board. Our counsel then opened the matter, upon their general plan, and acquitted themselves very handsomely; only Mr. Dunning, having a disorder on his lungs, that weakened his voice exceedingly, was not so perfectly heard as one could have wished. The Solicitorgeneral then went into what he called a history of the province for the last ten years, and bestowed plenty of abuse upon it, mingled with encomium on the Governors. But the favorite part of his discourse was levelled at your agent, who stood there the butt of his invective ribaldry for near an hour, not a single lord adverting to the impropriety and indecency of treating a public messenger in so ignominious a manner, who was present only as the person delivering your petition, with the consideration of which no part of his conduct had any concern. If he had done a wrong in obtaining and transmitting the letters, that was not the tribunal where he was to be accused and tried. The cause was already before the Chancellor. Not one of their lordships checked and recalled the orator to the business before them, but, on the contrary, a very few excepted, they seemed to enjoy highly the entertainment, and frequently burst out in loud applauses. This part of his speech was thought so good, that they have since printed it, in order to defame me everywhere, and particularly to destroy my reputation on your side of the water; but the grosser parts of the abuse are omitted, appearing, I suppose, in their own eyes, too foul to be seen on paper; so that the speech, compared to what it was, is now perfectly decent. I send you one of the copies. My friends advise me to write an answer, which I purpose * The reply of Mr. Dunning concluded. Being very ill, and much incommoded by standing so long, his voice was so feeble as to be scarce audible. What little I heard was very well said, but appeared to have little effect. “Their Lordships' report, which I send you, is dated the same day. It contains a severe censure, as you will see, on the petition and the petitioners, and, as I think, a very unfair conclusion, from my silence, that the charge of surreptitiously obtaining the letters was a true one; though the Solicitor, as appears in the printed speech, had acquainted them that that matter was before the Chancellor; and my counsel had stated the impropriety of my answering there to charges then trying in another court. In truth, I came by them honorably, and my intention in sending them was virtuous, if an endeavor to lessen the breach between two states of the same empire be such, by showing that the injuries complained of by one of them did not proceed from the other, but from traitors among themselves.” It should be remembered that these letters, which Wedderburn represented as “private and confidential,” were addressed by public officers to a public officer, with the view of affecting public measures, and producing (to use Hutchinson's own words) “an abridgment of English liberties in the Colonies.” Wedderburn, with his facile assumption of indignation, instead of defending the defendants, entered upon a bitter and carefully-prepared invective against Franklin. “The letters,” said the adroit lawyer, “could not have come to Dr. Franklin by fair means.” “I hope, my lords, you will mark and brand the man, for the honor of this country, of Europe, and of mankind.” “He has forfeited all the respect of societies and of men. Into what companies will he hereafter go with an unembarrassed face, or the honest intrepidity of virtue? Men will watch him with a jealous eye; they will hide their papers from him, and lock up their escritoires. He will henceforth esteem it a libel to be called a man of letters, homo trium literarum.”* “Amidst these tragical events, of one person nearly murdered, of another answerable for the issue, of a worthy governor hurt in his dearest interests, the fate of America in suspense, here is a man, who, with the utmost insensibility of remorse, stands up and avows himself the author of all. I can compare it only to Zanga in Dr. Young's Revenge:
* Know, then, 't was I; I forged the letter—I disposed the picture — I hated — I despised — and I destroy.’”
* That is, the word fur (or thief).
DISMISSED FROM HIS OFFICE. 61
Such was the clever clap-trap, gravely substituted for rational argument, uttered before a body of men assembled to consider the application of a provincial legislature for a change of local rulers! Franklin's demeanor, during this indecent invective, was calm and dignified. Dr. Priestly, who was present with Edmund Burke, says that “the real object of the court was to insult Dr. Franklin; ” but that he stood “without the least apparent emotion” during the whole of Wedderburn's ribald attack. The lords of the council seemed to enjoy it highly, however. All of them, with the exception of Lord North, “frequently laughed outright” at the abuse heaped upon the venerable sage, then in his sixty-ninth year, whose life had been so largely devoted to the advancement of the interests of humanity. He had been the zealous and vigilant champion of the political rights of the Colonists; and this their lordships could not forgive. He had insisted upon his countrymen's participation in all the rights of Englishmen; and this their lordships were not disposed to allow. He had vindicated the character and courage of Americans; and it was the ton among the “hereditary legislators” of England to speak of them as a cowardly and inferior race. It was not, therefore, a matter of surprise to anybody, that the decision at which their lordships arrived was adverse to the Assembly and to Franklin. The Assembly's petition was pronounced “groundless, vexatious and scandalous,” “founded upon resolutions formed on false and erroneous allegations,” and “calculated only for the seditious purpose of keeping up a spirit of clamor and discontent” in the Province. As for Franklin, he was the next day dismissed from his office of Deputy Postmaster for the Colonies. Their lordships were resolved that no effort on their part should be wanting to “mark and brand ” him as Wedderburn had recommended. The British press sedulously lent its aid, and public opinion was so generally prejudiced against him, that David Hume, with whom he had lodged in Edinburgh, on the most friendly terms, wrote, under date of February 3, 1774, to a correspondent: “Pray what strange accounts are these we hear of Franklin's conduct? I am very slow in believing that he has been guilty in the extreme degree that is pretended; though I always knew him to he a very factious mun, and a faction, next to fanaticism, is of all passions the most destructive of morality. How is it he got possession of these letters ? I hear that Wedderburn's treatment of him before the Council was most cruel, without being in the least degree blamable.” In spite of Hume's amateur republicanism, he seems to have found it difficult, in his imagination, to reconcile a person's opposition to the ministry with freedom from factious motives. Through this storm of obloquy and detraction, Franklin bore himself with the tranquillity of a philosopher and the moderation of a Christian. “I made,” he says, “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.” “As I grow old, I grow less concerned about censure, when I am satisfied that I act rightly.” He was content to bide his time, confidently though not vindictively. He never divulged the mode in which he came into possession of the letters which were made the subject of so much controversy; but that he came by them honorably we have his own ample assurance, fortified by concurrent circumstances. He lived to see the parties who had exulted in the temporary obscuration of his reputation suing for his influence to avert the consequences which he had long predicted as the result of ministerial arrogance and infatuation. In less than a year after the scene at the Council Board, Lord Howe appealed to his magnanimity not to consider his ill treatment by the ministry; that “some of them were ashamed of it, and sorry it had happened; which he supposed must be sufficient to abate resentment in a great and generous mind.”*
* In a letter to Dr. Hosack, John Adams states that Sir John Temple told him, in Holland, that he had furnished the Hutchinson and Oliver letters to Dr. Franklin. Mr. Adams adds, however, his belief that they were delivered through the hands of a third person, a member of Parliament. This is consistent with Franklin’s own account.
PETITION OF CONGRESS REJECTED. - 63
FRANKLIN, if he did not originally suggest the plan of a Continental Congress, was among its earliest approvers. In a letter, dated July 7, 1773, to Thomas Cushing, of Massachusetts, he says: “It is natural to suppose, as you do, that, if the oppressions continue, a Congress may grow out “f that correspondence. Nothing could more alarm our ministers; but, if the Colonies agree to hold a Congress, I io not see how it can be prevented.” In a letter of the same date, to be read to the Assembly, he says: “Perhaps it would be best and fairest for the Colonies, in a general Congress, now in peace to be assembled, or by means of the correspondence lately proposed, after a full and solemn assertion and declaration of their rights, to engage firmly with each other, that they will never grant aids to the crown, in any general war, till those rights are recognized by the king and both houses of Parliament; communicating at the same time to the crown this their resolution. Such a step, I imagine, will bring the dispute to a crisis.”. From these passages it would seem that the scheme had been already agitated. It grew naturally out of the exigences of the times, and probably no Province or individual can rightly claim the merit of its origin.
The First Continental Congress assembled at Philadelphia, September 17, 1774. In December following, their petition to the king was forwarded under cover to Franklin. It was transferred by the king to Parliament, by which body it was contemptuously rejected. It was the last tender of the olive-branch, and it was spurned. Franklin now began to think of returning to America. He was regarded with a good deal of distrust by the ministry, who, it was privately intimated to him, entertained some thoughts of arresting him as a fomenter of rebellion in the Colonies. A coalition on the American question being talked of among the opposition in Parliament to the ministry, he endeavored to promote it, and, in conversation with members of the minority in both Houses, he “besought and conjured them most earnestly not to suffer, by their little misunderstandings, so glorious a fabric as the present British empire to be