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reptitiously 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).
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 be a very factious man,—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.
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 of that correspondence. Nothing could more alarm our ministers; but, if the Colonies agree to hold a Congress, I do 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 demolished by these blunderers.” But the “blunderers ” blundered on, although some eloquent voices were raised in Parliament to deter them; among others, that of Lord Chatham, whose intrepid words, “I rejoice that America has resisted,” though they elicited a cry of horror from the ministerial benches, thrilled like a trumpet-note through the hearts of the Colonists. Franklin had long admired Lord Chatham at a distance. Circumstances now brought them together, and their intercourse was throughout of a character honorable to both parties. His lordship's noble yindication of Franklin from the aspersions of Lord Sandwich in the House of Lords is a tribute that outweighs all the abuse ever lavished upon the American sage by the supporters of the ministry. Franklin's own account of his acquaintance with Lord Chatham will be found in another part of this volume. An aspersion upon his personal truthfulness is contained in Lord Mahon's recent History of England, based upon an apparent discrepancy in Franklin's assurance to Lord Chatham that “America did not aim at independence,” and the statement of Josiah Quincy, Jr., that Franklin's ideas were “extended upon the broad scale of total emancipation.”* A little attention to dates would have satisfied his lordship, in spite of his strong tory bias, of the rank injustice of his charge against Franklin of playing “a double game.” Franklin's assurance to Lord Chatham was given in August 1774, and was unquestionably sincere. The letter of Josiah Quincy, Jr., containing the expression quoted to give countenance to the imputation of duplicity, bears date November 24, 1774. During the interval between these two dates, the probabilities of a reconciliation between Great Britain and the Colonies had greatly diminished. A general election had taken place, which had given Lord North and his colleagues an overwhelming majority in Parliament. Hopes of redress from that quarter were therefore at an end. Franklin began to see that a contest was inevitable,