Abbildungen der Seite

excuse my prolixity upon a subject so agreeable to myself, as the expression of my gratitude."

In October, 1763, John Penn arrived in Pennsylvania, as successor to Governor Hamilton. Being connected by family ties with the Proprietaries, it was hoped that he was invested with larger discretionary powers, than had been intrusted to the late deputygovernors, and that he would be both enabled and disposed to administer the government in a manner better adapted to the condition, wants, and privileges of the people.

He called the Assembly together by a special summons, and his first message abounded in good wishes and patriotic professions. It was received by the Assembly, as stated in their reply, "with the most cordial satisfaction." The session opened propitiously; six hundred pounds were granted to the Governor towards his support for the first year; and a vote was passed to raise, pay, and supply one thousand men, to be employed in the King's service during the approaching campaign against the western Indians. It was soon perceived, however, that the hope of a change in the temper and aims of the Proprietaries was not to be realized. The old controversies were revived, with as much warmth and pertinacity as ever, and with as little prospect of a reconciliation. Franklin, from the position he held, necessarily became a leader, on the side of the Assembly, in these new disputes.

The recent disorders in the province convinced the Governor, that the civil power required a stronger support, than any that could then be brought to its aid. He recommended a militia law, by which the citizens might be embodied for their own protection and the public defence. The proposal was well re

ceived by the Assembly, and a committee was instructed to frame a bill. Franklin was a member of this committee. A bill was reported, similar to the one which he had framed and carried through the House at the beginning of the late war. Each company was allowed to choose three persons for each of the offices of captain, lieutenant, and ensign. Out of these three the Governor was to select and commission the one he thought most proper. In like manner the officers of companies were to choose the officers of regiments, three for each office being recommended to the Governor, any one of whom he might select and commission. Fines were imposed for offences, and the offenders were to be tried by judges and juries in the courts of law.

In this shape the bill was passed, and presented to the Governor for his signature. He refused his assent, and returned it to the House with amendments, claiming to himself the sole appointment of officers, enhancing the amounts of the fines, requiring all trials to be by a court-martial, and making some offences punishable by death.

The Assembly would not for a moment listen to an assumption so dangerous to the liberties of the people. It was no less than putting the power of imposing exorbitant fines, and even of inflicting the punishment of death, into the hands of a set of officers depending on the Governor alone for their commissions, and responsible to him alone for the manner in which these were executed. The bill was accordingly lost. Dr. Franklin wrote and published an account of the proceedings, in relation to this militia bill, showing the causes of its failure, and the unjustifiable conduct and designs of the proprietary party in the course they had taken to defeat it.

This was only the prelude to a more important dispute, in which the Governor contrived to embroil himself with the Assembly. Money was to be provided for paying the expenses of the Indian war. It was proposed to raise fifty thousand pounds by emitting bills of credit; and, for the redemption of these bills, a land tax, among other sources of revenue, was to be laid. Conformably to the decision of the King in Council, the proprietary lands were to be included in this tax. In one part of that decision the words were, "The located uncultivated lands of the Proprietaries shall not be assessed higher than the lowest rate, at which any located uncultivated lands belonging to the inhabitants shall be assessed." The Assembly understood this clause to mean, that the proprietary lands should not be rated higher, than lands of a similar quality belonging to other persons. The Governor, availing himself of an ambiguity in the language, gave it a different sense, insisting that all the proprietary lands, however good their quality, were to be rated as low as the worst and least valuable lands belonging to the people.

The Assembly replied, that, if it were possible to torture the clause into this meaning, it was nevertheless a forced construction, unheard of before, contrary to justice, and discreditable to the Proprietaries, since it was bottomed on selfishness, and brought their interest in conflict with their honor. After much wrangling and delay, the Assembly were obliged to wave their rights, and consent to the passage of the act on the Governor's terms. The savages were invading their borders, and the troops must be supported.

These vexations exhausted the patience of the Assembly. Convinced that they must continually fight the same battles over with the new Governor, and




with every succeeding Governor appointed by the Proprietaries, they passed a series of resolves, just before their adjournment, stating the oppressions which the inhabitants of Pennsylvania suffered from their rulers, and expressing their belief, that peace and happiness could never be restored to the province, till the power of governing it should be lodged in the crown. They then adjourned, for the avowed purpose of consulting their constituents on the subject of presenting a petition to the King, praying him to take the government into his own hands.

During the recess of the Assembly, Dr. Franklin wrote a tract, entitled Cool Thoughts on the Present Situation of Public Affairs, in which he described the evils of the Proprietary government, explained their causes, and came to the conclusion, that most of these evils were inherent in the nature of the government itself, and that the only remedy was a change, by substituting a royal government in its stead, "without the intervention of proprietary powers, which, like unnecessary springs and movements in a machine, are apt to produce disorder." This pamphlet was written with the design of drawing public attention to the Assembly's resolves, and of preparing the way for prompt and efficient action when the members should again convene. They came together on the 14th of May, after an adjournment of seven weeks. Numerous petitions to the King for a change of government, signed by more than three thousand of the inhabitants and coming from all parts of the province, were laid before them.

Encouraged by this manifestation of public sentiment, the House decided by a large majority to promote and sustain the prayer of the petitioners. A petition to the King from the Assembly, for the same object,

was accordingly drafted by Dr. Franklin. The debates were animated, both parties exerting their whole strength in the conflict. The majority in favor of the measure was so great, however, that the war of words produced no effect on the result. Yet some men wavered, who had hitherto stood firm. Among these was Mr. Norris, the Speaker, who had filled the chair many years, respected by all parties for his integrity, abilities, and public spirit.. He had acted steadily with those, who opposed the proprietary encroachments; but he looked for redress and amendment, rather than for a radical change; and he was unwilling to affix his signature to the petition. He resigned his seat, and Franklin was chosen in his place; the petition passed the House, and was signed by him as Speaker.

John Dickinson was another wavering member. He had disapproved the proprietary measures, but in this affair of the petition he was the champion of that party in the Assembly. His speech on the occasion, eloquent and spirited, though more declamatory than argumentative, was published, with a Preface by another hand. The writer of the Preface indulged himself in a strain of personal invective and harsh reflection, never called for by a good cause, and rarely serviceable to a bad one. As a counterbalance to this pamphlet, Galloway, an able and popular leader on the other side, wrote out and published the speech he had delivered in reply to Dickinson. Preface was contributed by Dr. Franklin, which, for sarcastic humor and force of argument, is one of the best of his performances. Perfectly master of his subject, and confident in his strength, he meets his opponents on their own ground, using his weapons in defence and assault with equal adroitness and selfcommand.


« ZurückWeiter »