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principle of the British Constitution, that no man shall be taxed except by himself or his representatives. It was affirmed, that this principle, constituting the bulwark of British freedom, recognised in the colonial charters, and confirmed by numerous laws which had received the King's assent, could not now be violated without an exercise of power, as unjust and tyrannical as it was unprecedented. But the ministry had formed their plans, and were not in a humor to recede. The Stamp Act was passed, notwithstanding the remonstrances of the American Assemblies, and the strenuous opposition of all their agents in London.
Some time after this event, Dr. Franklin wrote as follows to Charles Thomson. "Depend upon it, my good neighbour, I took every step in my power to prevent the passing of the Stamp Act. Nobody could be more concerned and interested than myself to oppose it sincerely and heartily. But the tide was too strong against us. The nation was provoked by American claims of independence, and all parties joined by resolving in this act to settle the point. We might as well have hindered the sun's setting. That we could not do. But since it is down, my friend, and it may be long before it rises again, let us make as good a night of it as we can. We may still light candles. Frugality and industry will go a great way towards indemnifying us. Idleness and pride tax with a heavier hand than kings and parliaments. If we can get rid of the former, we may easily get rid of the latter."
This letter was dated in London, July 11th, 1765. Charles Thomson said, in his answer; "The sun of liberty is indeed fast setting, if not down already, in the American colonies. But I much fear, instead of the candles you mention being lighted, you will hear of the works of darkness. They are in general alarmed to the last degree. The colonies expect, and with reason expect, that some regard shall be had to their liberties and privileges, as well as trade. They cannot bring
Dr. Franklin's political enemies in Pennsylvania spread a rumor, that he approved the Stamp Act. A gentleman in London hearing of this report, wrote to his correspondent in Philadelphia; "I can safely assert, from my own personal knowledge, that Dr. Franklin did all in his power to prevent the Stamp Act from passing; that he waited on the ministry to inform them fully of its mischievous tendency; and that he has uniformly opposed it to the utmost of his ability." This rumor was set afloat for party purposes, and was propagated by those, who wished to lessen his credit and growing popularity in the province. The end was not gained. On the contrary, when his exertions against this "mother of mischiefs," as he called the Stamp Act, became known, and the motives of his enemies in giving countenance to such a charge were understood, the popular voice was more loud than before in his favor, and the public confidence in his character and patriotism was increased.
Dr. Tucker, Dean of Gloucester, in a treatise pub
themselves to believe, nor can they see how England with reason or justice expects, that they should have encountered the horrors of a desert, borne the attacks of barbarous savages, and, at the expense of their blood and treasure, settled this country to the great emolument of England, and, after all, quietly submit to be deprived of every thing an Englishman has been taught to hold dear. It is not property only we contend for. Our liberty and most essential privileges are struck at." Other parts of this letter are contained in the Pennsylvania Gazette, of March 6th, 1766, where the extract above quoted, and Thomson's reply, were first published. See also the American Quarterly Review, Vol. XVIII. p. 92. The extract from Franklin's letter is inaccurately printed in the Gazette, there being omissions and additions. The changes were probably made by his correspondent, or the editor, to suit the occasion. It was printed without the author's name, and of course without his knowledge, as he was then absent in England. Historians, following Dr. Gordon, have quoted the passage still less accurately. When the author speaks of the "American claims of independence," he alludes to the claim of the colonists to an independence of Parliament in regard to taxation, which was now the subject of dispute.
lished by him on the colonial troubles, reiterated the same false charge, and added, that Dr. Franklin even solicited for himself the office of stamp-distributor in America. When this strange assertion fell under the eyes of Franklin, he wrote to the Dean, demanding an explanation. The Dean's reply was awkward and unsatisfactory. He had heard it often reported, that Dr. Franklin applied for a place in the distribution of stamps; he drew the inference, that the place was solicited for himself; and this inference he had converted into a fact. So much he was constrained to confess; whereas, upon further inquiry, he could find no positive proof of the charge, though there was evidence of Dr. Franklin's having applied in favor of another person. This latter circumstance, in the Dean's opinion, was a sufficient vindication of his conduct, since it appeared to him "very immaterial to the general merits of the question," whether he had solicited for himself or for a friend.
To correct this distorted and disingenuous view of the subject, Dr. Franklin communicated to him the particulars of the transaction, which are briefly these. Not long after the Stamp Act was passed, Mr. Grenville called the colonial agents together, and, by his secretary, requested them to name such persons in the respective colonies, as they thought were qualified for the office of stamp-distributor, and as would be acceptable to the inhabitants, saying, that he did not design to send these officers over from England, but to select them from among the people, who were to pay the tax. Each agent accordingly nominated an individual for the province he represented. Dr. Franklin named for Pennsylvania Mr. John Hughes, who received the appointment.
Here we have the substance of all that he did in
this business, which was misrepresented at the time, and artfully turned to his disadvantage. Neither he, nor any of the agents, had the least suspicion, that they were to be considered as approving the Stamp Act, because they had complied with the minister's request in making these nominations. In fact, they had opposed it at every step, and, the act being passed, they could not foresee the hostility it was destined to encounter in America; nor could they, with common prudence, set up a resistance against it without knowing the will of their constituents, thereby weakening, if not destroying, their influence at the British court at a time when it was most needed, and jeoparding the interests they were bound to protect.*
The news of the passage of the Stamp Act produced a universal excitement in America. The Assemblies, as soon as they came together, passed resolutions in which the act was declared to be iniquitous, oppressive, and without precedent in the annals of British legislation. The same tone and temper, the same firmness of purpose, and the same enthusiastic attachment to their liberties, pervaded them all. Yet their public proceedings were marked with decorum. and moderation. They were resolute in proclaiming their rights, and their determination to preserve them unimpaired. The authority of the British government, within its former just limits, was acknowledged. Their resolves were. pointed and strong, but respectful in temper and language. To procure a repeal of the Stamp Act was the immediate object, and, to effect this, petitions were sent from all quarters to the agents
See the correspondence between Dr. Franklin and Dr. Tucker, Vol. IV. pp. 516-525. In a subsequent edition of his tract, the Dean corrected, in part, his erroneous assertion, but in such a manner as left him little credit for candor or magnanimity.
in London, with instructions to have them laid before the King and Parliament.
While the Assemblies were thus engaged, the people testified their sentiments in a different manner. They showed their resentment particularly against the distributors of stamps, officers odious in their sight, as having consented to be agents in executing the detested act. By riots, mobs, burning in effigy, threats, and violent assaults, they compelled every stamp officer in the country to resign his commission, and to declare publicly, that he would not act in his office. The people's wrath was kindled against the stamped paper, as if it were fraught with the seeds of a pestilence, or a contagious poison. They resolved, that the American soil should never be contaminated by its touch; and, when it arrived, the governors and other principal officers were forced to keep it on board armed vessels in the harbours, till it was finally all sent back to England.
Such was the state of things in America, when the subject was again brought before Parliament, at the beginning of the year 1766. In the mean time, there had been a change of ministry, Mr. Grenville giving place to the Marquis of Rockingham. The petitions of the colonies were laid on the table, and left there unnoticed; but, as they had generally been published, their contents were well known, and the new ministry came to a resolution to advise a repeal of the act.
The subject was discussed with great warmth on both sides of the House. While the debates were in progress, Dr. Franklin was called before Parliament, to be examined respecting the state of affairs in America. This motion probably originated with the ministers, who were now striving for a repeal of the act, and was seconded by Dr. Franklin's friends, who had