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LIFE AND TIMES OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.
THE TORIES RAGE, AND THE WHIGS IMAGINE A VAIN THING.
ENGLAND had lost her colonies, though no one yet suspected it. Madness now seized both parties; only there was method in the madness of the colonists. It is not ours to relate the public events which accompanied and followed the scenes just described : such as the destruction of the tea in Boston harbor; the passage of Lord North’s avenging measure, called the Boston Port Bill; the adoption of the cause of Boston as their own by the other colonies; six regiments of British troops posted in Boston; the calm protests of Washington, Lee, and Jefferson; the wild eloquence of Patrick Henry; the passage of the bill transferring political offenders to England for trial, with their train of witnesses and advocates; the torrents of petitions against these measures; the haughty rejection of these petitions; the tumults in America ; the exasperating insolence of the king's speeches to Parliament; and, above all, the meeting of the Continental Congress at Philadelphia. All these things have been eloquently told by Mr. Bancroft, and are familiar to decently informed persons in every land. America became the universal topic, France appearing to be more interested in it than England, though there were in Parliament fifty “field-night” debates upon America during the next three or four years.
How the tories raved against America! “Sir,” Dr. Johnson would say, “the Americans are a race of convicts, and ought to be
thankful for any thing we can give them.” At this crisis he wrote his extravagant pamphlet, “ Taxation no Tyranny,” a production which the ministry instigated and revised. The old tory followed the custom of his employers in styling Franklin the “ master of mischief,” who taught Congress "to put in motion the engine of electricity, and give the great stroke by the name of Boston.” Johnson could not even be witty in this cause, so bitter was his malevolence. Indeed, his animosity against the Americans was such that his friends often sat confounded at the spectacle of his wrath. Talking pleasantly, one day, with Miss Sewall and other ladies, upon the universal benevolence enjoined by Christianity, he chanced to say, “I am willing to love all mankind except an American.” Instantly, says Boswell,“ his inflammable corruption bursting into horrid fire, he breathed out threatenings and slaughter, calling them rascals, robbers, pirates, and exclaiming he'd burn and destroy them.” The lady gave him a mild but cutting rebuke. “Sir,” said she, “this is an instance that we are always most violent against those whom we have injured.” At which, says Bozzy," he roared out another tremendous volley, which, one might fancy, could be heard across the Atlantic." On another occasion Boswell ventured the audacity of praising Dr. Franklin's famous definition of Man: “A tool-making animal.” Johnson was upon him straight. “Many a man,” said he, “never made a tool; and suppose a man without arms, he could not make a tool.” Such poor nonsense could this wittiest of savages utter when an American was the object of attack. The tories in Parliament, in the cabinet, in the palace, were less savage than their pamphleteer, but they were not less arrogant, ignorant, and infatuated.
And the men of liberal minds, unhappily, were dissolute. The errors of virtuous men tend to bring virtue itself into disrepute. Perhiaps a man like George III., who possessed and represented such virtue as there then was in England, makes more roués and debauchees than such a king as George IV., who was himself a roué and debauchee; for the one renders virtue odious, and the other renders vice odious. However that may be, it is certain that the younger men of that day, who might have rescued their country from the king, were dissipated beyond all English parallel. There was Charles James Fox, for example, the gallant Prince Hal of politics, he could have saved his country, with Burke's mighty help,
if he had been as virtuous as Burke. It was at this very time that he and his comrades were running that course of dissipation which posterity will never read of without amazement. They had a club at Almacks, Horace Walpole records, “where they played only for rouleaux of £50 each, and generally there was £10,000 in specie on the table. Lord Holland had paid above £20,000 for his two sons. Nor were the manners of the gamesters, or even their dresses for play, undeserving notice. They began by pulling off their embroidered clothes and put on frieze greatcoats, or turned their coats inside outwards for luck. They put on pieces of leather (such as are worn by footmen when they clean the knives) to save their laced ruffles; and to guard their eyes from the light and to prevent tumbling their hair, wore high-crowned straw hats with broad brims, and adorned with flowers and ribbons; masks to conceal their emotions when they played at quinze. Each gamester had a small neat stand by him, to hold their tea, or a wooden bowl with an edge of ormolu to hold their rouleaux. They borrowed great sums of Jews at exorbitant premiums. Charles Fox called his outward room, where those Jews waited till he rose, his Jerusalem Chamber.”
Consider the scene, also, which occurred on the night of an illumination in London: “It happened at three in the morning, that Charles Fox, Lord Derby and his brother, Major Stanley, and two or three more young men of quality, having been drinking at Almack's, suddenly thought of making a tour of the streets, and were joined by the Duke of Ancaster, who was very drunk, and, what showed it was no premeditated scheme, the latter was a courtier, and had actually been breaking windows. Finding the mob before Palliser's house, some of the young lords said: 'Why don't you break Lord G. Germaine's windows ?' The populace had been so little tutored that they asked who he was, and being encouraged, broke his windows. The mischief pleasing the juvenile leaders, they marched to the Admiralty, forced the gates, and demolished Palliser's and Lord Lisburne's windows. Lord Sandwich, exceedingly terrified, escaped through the garden, with his mistress, Miss Ray, to the Horse Guards, and there betrayed most manifest panic.”
Burke alone, among the leaders of the Opposition, added the great weight of character to the force of illustrious talents. But Burke had no influential family connections, little fortune, an im
perfect temper, and no tact. He always astonished, often charmed, sometimes electrified, frequently fatigued, seldom convinced the House of Commons. The Opposition, moreover, were divided into two factions, who could unite to oppose, but not to governone, while the victory was doubtful; tro, on the question of the spoils.
And what a prize England was trifling with! In 1774 Great Britain exported to North America nearly the whole of the sur. plus products of her industry. Since 1704, the American trade had grown from half a million sterling a year to six millions and a half; a trade which had started Scotland upon its prosperous career, enriched the English seaports, and stimulated the industry of the country. Boston and New England, which made so much noise in the world, were far from being then the most important portion of the continent. Philadelphia had become a city of forty thousand inhabitants. The great colony of Virginia, abounding in able and valiant men, exerted an almost overshadowing influence. Bostonians who visited Charleston, saw there evidences of wealth, commerce, and refinernent, which their native town had never exhibited. Josiah Quincy, of Boston, who was at Charleston in 1773, wrote:
“ The number of shipping far surpassed any thing I had ever seen in Boston. * * This town makes a most beautiful appearance as you come up to it, and in many respects a magnificent
I can only say in general, that in grandeur, splendor of buildings, decorations, equipages, numbers, commerce, shipping, and, indeed, in almost every thing, it far surpasses all I ever saw, or ever expected to see in America. All seems at present to be trade, riches, magnificence, and great state in every thing; much gayety and dissipation.” He mentions that the fashionable musical society of the city paid their first violin a salary of five hundred guineas per annum, and that the concerts of the society were attended by two hundred and fifty ladies in great costume. True to their blood, the “flaming tories” of Charleston (as mad then as now) regarded the late events at the north as certain proofs that “Boston aims at nothing less than the sovereignty of the whole continent.” “I know it,” roared one of these intelligent gentlemen, after dinner.
Through such a country, inhabited by nearly three millions of people, of whom a respectable number bad seen service in the field,
and a vast multitude were familiar with arms and hardship, a British general said, in Franklin's presence, that he could lead a thousand British grenadiers, and inflict upon every male the last - indignity.
Train Mr. Burke complained, too, that the English people, even the classes most interested in commerce, were strangely apathetic with regard to America. In September, 1774, he writes to the Marquis of Rockingham: “I agree with your lordship entirely; the American and foreign affairs will not come to any crisis sufficient to rouse the public from its present stupefaction during the course of the next session. I have my doubts whether those, at least of America, will do it for some years to come. It is evident, from the spirit of the Pennsylvania instructions, as well as the measure of a congress, and consequent embassy, that the affair will draw out into great length. If it does, I look upon it as next to impossible that the present temper and unanimity of America can be kept up; popular remedies must be quick and sharp, or they are very ineffectual. The people there can only work on ministry through the people here, and the people here will be little affected by the sight of half a dozen gentlemen from America dangling at the levees of Lord Dartmouth and Lord North, or negotiating with Mr. Pow. nall. If they had chosen the non-importation measure as the leading card, they would have put themselves on a par with
and we should be in as much haste to negotiate ourselves out of our commercial, as they out of their constitutional difficulties. But in the present temper of the nation, and with the character of the present administration, the disorder and discontent of all America, and the more remote future mischiefs which may arise from those causes, operate as little as the division of Poland. The insensibility of the merchants of London is of a degree and kind scarcely to be conceived. · Even those who are most likely to be overwhelmed by any real American confusion are amongst the most supine. The character of the ministry either produces or perfectly coincides with the disposition of the public."*
These sentences were penned six months before the battle of Lexington. The Duke of Richmond's remark in the House of Lords, a little later, may partly explain the apathy of liberal men:
* Burke's Works and Correspondence, vol. 1., page 285.