Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

the resistance to acts of Parliament, in which the Pennsylvanians joined as heartily as any of their neighbours, prevented its being brought to an issue till the war broke out. If quiet had been restored, by establishing the relations between the two countries on the old footing, as they stood before the Stamp Act, which was demanded by the colonists, the change would doubtless have been effected.

Recent events led to the investigation of a subject, which had hitherto been little considered, because no occasion had arisen for calling it into notice. An inquiry began to be made, on both sides of the Atlantic, into the principles by which the people of the two countries were bound together, and the reciprocal duties involved in this union. Franklin devoted his thoughts with great earnestness to this inquiry, and, after a full examination, expressed his sentiments decidedly and without reserve. The first settlers came to America by permission of the King; certain rights and privileges were granted to them by royal charters; they were allowed to have Assemblies of their own, and to pass laws not repugnant to the laws of England; these laws might be confirmed or annulled by the King; suits arising in the colonies, whenever transferred to the mother country, were decided by the King in Council. Parliament had never been consulted in making the charters, nor had any authority been reserved to that body over them, in regard to the terms upon which they were conferred; and, indeed, Parliament had taken no notice of the colonies, till a long time after their settlement. Besides, the emigrants did not remove to a conquered country; they purchased the soil of the natives with their own. means; nor did they ever put the British government to the expense of a farthing, either for their removal or their establishment in an unexplored wilderness.

The power over commerce was naturally lodged in Parliament, because the laws regulating commerce necessarily extended to the whole empire; and for this reason the colonists had yielded obedience to the commercial restrictions, although they had sometimes been oppressive. But the internal affairs of the colonies were under the control of the laws passed by the Assemblies, subject only to the King's negative; and, whenever Parliament had meddled with these affairs, it was a usurpation, exercised contrary to justice and to early usage. He considered the mother country and colonies to be connected as England and Scotland were before the union, each having its Assembly, or Parliament, under the King as a common sovereign. "The British empire," said he, "is not a single state; it comprehends many; and, though the Parliament of Great Britain has arrogated to itself the power of taxing the colonies, it has no more right to do so, than it has to tax Hanover. We have the same King, but not the same legislatures."

These doctrines he sustained by arguments drawn from history, and from well established principles in the British and colonial constitutions. He communicated them freely to his friends in both countries. Governor Hutchinson complains, that they produced an influence in Massachusetts unfavorable to the ministerial schemes; that "he corresponded with the principal advocates of the controversy with Parliament in Boston, from the first stir about the Stamp Act, and they professed, in all the important parts of it, to govern themselves by his advice." This is doubtless true; and they had no reason to regret, that they followed such advice, or were guided by such a counsellor.

Another topic, nearly allied to this, occupied public attention at the same time. It became a question,

whether all difficulties might not be adjusted, and a permanent union be established between the two countries, by admitting representatives in Parliament from the colonies. Politicians invented theories and suggested plans. Dr. Franklin thought that such a representation, on fair and equal terms, afforded the only basis of a union, which could be expected to endure. But the proposal must first come from England; he was persuaded this would never be done, and he hoped little from the project. "The time has been," said he, in a letter to Lord Kames, "when the colonies might have been pleased with it; they are now indifferent about it; and, if it is much longer delayed, they too will refuse it. But the pride of this people cannot bear the thought of it, and therefore it will be delayed. Every man in England seems to consider himself as a piece of a sovereign over America; seems to jostle himself into the throne with the King, and talks of our subjects in the colonies. The Parliament cannot well and wisely make laws suited to the colonies, without being properly and truly informed of their circumstances, abilities, temper, &c. This it cannot be without representatives from thence; and yet it is fond of this power, and averse to the only means of acquiring the necessary knowledge for exercising it; which is desiring to be omnipotent, without being omniscient."

The same letter, written only a year after the repeal of the Stamp Act, contains the following remarkable passage, which would seem almost to have been penned in the spirit of prophecy. "America, an immense territory, favored by nature with all advantages of climate, soils, great navigable rivers, and lakes, must become a great country, populous and mighty; and will, in a less time than is generally conceived, be

able to shake off any shackles that may be imposed upon her, and perhaps place them on the imposers. In the mean time, every act of oppression will sour their tempers, lessen greatly, if not annihilate, the profits of your commerce with them, and hasten their final revolt; for the seeds of liberty are universally found there, and nothing can eradicate them. And yet there remains among that people so much respect, veneration, and affection for Britain, that, if cultivated prudently, with a kind usage and tenderness for their privileges, they might be easily governed still for ages, without force or any considerable expense. But I do not see here a sufficient quantity of the wisdom, that is necessary to produce such a conduct, and I lament the want of it."*

The temporary tranquillity in the colonies, which followed the repeal of the Stamp Act, afforded Dr. Franklin a respite from the public duties in which he was constantly engaged before that event, and again afterwards when the controversy was revived. A portion of this period he devoted to travelling. In September, 1767, he visited Paris, accompanied, as he had been the year preceding in Germany, by his "steady, good friend, Sir John Pringle." The French ambassador in London, who had been particularly civil to him of late, gave him letters of introduction to several eminent persons. His papers on electricity had long before been translated and published in Paris, and his philosophical discoveries were probably better known and more highly estimated there, than in any other part of Europe. The reception he met with was in all respects gratifying to him. He was intro

*The letter, from which these extracts are taken, was not received by Lord Kames. A copy of it was sent to him by Dr. Franklin two

duced to the King and royal family, and formed an acquaintance with the distinguished men in the scientific and political circles. These advantages, and the knowledge he gained by his observations and inquiries in France, were not only serviceable to him at the time, but they prepared the way for the successful execution of the important trust, which he was destined to hold in that country at a later period, as minister plenipotentiary from the American States.

Scarcely had he returned to London, when the news arrived of commotions in Boston, occasioned by Mr. Townshend's revenue act, and by the laws for establishing commissioners of the customs in America, and making the salaries of governors, judges, and other officers, dependent on the crown. These acts of Parliament the Bostonians regarded as a continuation of the same oppressive system, which had commenced with the Stamp Act, and which it had been fondly hoped would cease with its repeal. Disappointed and indignant, they assembled in town meeting, and passed a series of spirited resolutions, recommending that all prudent and lawful measures should be taken for the encouragement of industry, economy, and domestic manufactures. A paper was drawn up, and circulated among the inhabitants for their signature, by which they engaged to promote the use and consumption of American manufactures, and, after a stated time, not to purchase certain enumerated articles, which had been imported from abroad.

These proceedings gave great offence to the ministerial party in England, and some uneasiness to the friends of the colonies. The former represented them

years after its date. Mr. Tytler supposes the original was intercepted, and that it fell into the hands of the ministers. - Life of Lord Kames, Vol. II. 2nd ed., p. 112.

« ZurückWeiter »