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TO CHARLES THOMSON.*
Petition of the First Congress presented to the King and Parliament. — Manner in which it was received. — Lord Camden. — Lord Chatham's Speech and Plan of Conciliation.
London, 5 February, 1775.
I received duly your favors of November 1st, by Captain Falconer, and afterwards that of October 26th, both enclosing the letter from the Congress, and the petition to the King. Immediately on the receipt of the first, I wrote to every one of the other gentlemen nominated, and desired a meeting to consult on the mode of presenting the petition committed to our care. Three of them, viz. Mr. Burke,f Mr. Wentworth, and Mr. Life, declined being concerned in it, and, without consulting each other, gave the same reason, viz. that they had no instructions relating to it . It rested on Mr. Bollan, Mr. Lee, and myself. We took counsel with our best friends, and were advised to present it through Lord Dartmouth, that being the regular official method, and the only one in which we might on occasion call for an answer. J
We accordingly waited on his Lordship with it, who would not immediately undertake to deliver it, but requested it might be left with him to peruse, which was done. He found nothing in it improper for him to present, and, afterwards sending for us, he informed us, that he had presented the petition to his Majesty, who had been pleased to receive it very graciously, and to command him to tell us it contained matters of such importance, that, as soon as they met, he would lay it before his two Houses of Parliament .
* This letter was written to Mr. Thomson as Secretary of Congress.
t Mr. Burke was at this time agent for New York, in which capacity he had acted for several years.
t It was resolved in Congress, October 25th, 1774, "That the Address to the King be enclosed in a letter to the several colony agents, in order that the same may be by them presented to his Majesty ; and that the agents be requested to call in the aid of such noblemen and gentlemen as are esteemed firm friends to American liberty."
We then consulted on the publication, and were advised by wise and able men, friends of America, whose names it will not be proper to mention, by no means to publish it till it should be before Parliament, as it would be deemed disrespectful to the King. We flattered ourselves, from the answer given by Lord Dartmouth, that the King would have been pleased to recommend it to the consideration of Parliament by some message; but we were mistaken. It came down among a great heap of letters of intelligence from governors and officers in America, newspapers, pamphlets, handbills, &.c, from that country, the last in the list, and was laid upon the table with them, undistinguished by any particular recommendation of it to the notice of either House; and I do not find, that it has had any further notice taken of it as yet, than that it has been read as well as the other papers.
To draw it into the attention of the House, we petitioned to be heard upon it, but were not permitted; and, by the resolutions of the committee of the whole House, which I enclose, you will see that it has made little impression; and, from the constant refusal, neglect, or discouragement of American petitions, these many years past, our country will at least be convinced, that petitions are odious here, and that petitioning is far from being a probable means of obtaining redress. A firm, steady, and faithful adherence to the non-consumption agreement, is the only thing to be depended on. It begins already to work, (as you will see in the votes of the House), by producing applications from the merchants and manufacturers, and it must finally lead Parliament into reasonable measures.
At present, the ministers are encouraged to proceed by the assurance they receive from America, that the people are not unanimous; that a very great part of them disapprove the proceedings of the Congress, and would break through them, if there was in the country an army sufficient to support these friends, as they are called, of government. They rely, too, on being able to divide us still further by various means; for they seem to have no conception, that such a thing as public spirit or public virtue anywhere exists. I trust they will find themselves totally mistaken. The Congress is in high esteem here among all the friends of liberty, and their papers much admired; perhaps nothing of the kind has been more thoroughly published, or more universally read. Lord Camden spoke highly of the Americans in general, and of the Congress particularly, in the House of Lords. Lord Chatham said, that, taking the whole together, and considering the members of the Congress as the unsolicited, unbeseeched choice of a great, free, and enlightened people; their unanimity, their moderation, and their wisdom; he thought it the most honorable assembly of men, that had ever been known; that the histories of Greece and Rome gave us nothing equal to it. Lord Shelburne would not admit, that the Parliament of Britain could be comparable with it, a Parliament obeying the dictates of a ministry, who, in nine cases out of ten, were governed by their under secretaries.
You will see, among the papers herewith sent, the motion made by Lord Chatham, as preparatory to his plan, viz. that the troops should be removed from Boston. I send, also, a copy of the plan itself, which you may be assured is genuine. The speeches hitherto published as his, during the session, are spurious. The Duke of Richmond and the Duke of Manchester appeared for us also in the debate, and spoke extremely well. Lord Chatham's bill, though on so important a subject, and offered by so great a character, and supported by such able and learned speakers as * Camden, &c. &.c., was treated with as much contempt as they could have shown to a ballad offered by a drunken porter. It was rejected on a slight reading, without being suffered even to lie on the table for the perusal of the members.
The House of Commons, too, have shown an equal rashness and precipitation in matters requiring the most weighty deliberation, refusing to hear, and entering hastily into violent measures; and yet this is the government, whose supreme authority, we are to have our throats cut, if we do not acknowledge, and whose dictates we are implicitly to obey, whDe their conduct hardly entitles them to common respect
The agents have not time to make so many copies of the papers sent with this, and, indeed, of our letter to the Speakers of the several Assemblies, as would be necessary, to send one for each; we therefore send only two, one by Falconer, and the other by Lawrence to New York, requesting, that you will get them copied at Philadelphia, and forward them northward and southward, one to each Speaker, at the earliest conveyance. It is thought by our friends, that Lord Chatham's plan, if it had been enacted here, would have prevented present mischief, and might have beea the foundation of a lasting good agreement; for, though in some points it might not perfectly coincide with oar ideas and wishes, we should have proposed modifications or variations where we should judge them necessary; in fine, the two countries might have met in perfect union. I hope, therefore, it will be treated with respect by our writers, and its author honored for the attempt; for, though he has put some particulars into it, as I think, by way of complying a little with the general prejudices here, and to make more material parts go better down, yet I am persuaded he would not otherwise be tenacious of those parts, meaning sincerely to make us contented and happy, as far as consistent with the general welfare.
I need not caution you to let no part of this letter be copied or printed. With great esteem, I am, Sir, your affectionate friend and humble servant.*
TO CHARLES THOMSON.
Concerning the Ratification of the Treaty of Peace.
Pussy, 31 March, 1784.
Dear Sir, I write this line by the English packet, just to inform you, that Colonel Harmar arrived here last Monday evening with the ratification, and that Mr. Jay and myself (Messrs. Adams and Laurens being absent) have written to Mr. Hartley at London, that we are ready to exchange with him. I have not heard that the delay is likely to occasion any difficulty. I had before communicated to him your letter of the 5th of January, which gave the reason of it. With great esteem, I am B. Franklin.
* The writer's signature is not affixed to the original letter.