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time of common peril and calamity, and even for ever, if it was intended to strengthen and perpetuate the union.
So lively an interest did he take in this subject, and so strongly was he convinced that the system of representation must be equitably balanced, before any hope of a lasting union could be entertained, that, while the convention of Pennsylvania was sitting, he drew up a Protest, containing the principal arguments against the plan of voting by States, which was designed to be presented by the convention to Congress, as affording the reasons why Pennsylvania could not enter into the confederation, if this article were retained. He was dissuaded from endeavouring to carry it through, however, on account of the critical situation of the country, at a time when harmony between the parts was essential to the safety of the whole. The evil was left to encumber and obstruct the operations of government, and impede the prosperity of the nation, till it was remedied by the Federal Constitution.
From the King's speech at the opening of Parliament it appeared, that he contemplated sending out commissioners to America, with power to grant pardon to such persons as they should think fit, and to receive the submission of such as should be disposed to return to their allegiance. In the early part of the session, Lord North brought forward his Prohibitory Bill, interdicting all trade and intercourse with the colonies. By an awkward association, he incorporated into this bill a provision for appointing commissioners to effect the object mentioned in the King's speech.
In the spring of 1776, the main body of the American army under General Washington was stationed at New York. General Howe arrived there with his army from Halifax in June, and he was soon after
joined by his brother, Lord Howe, at the head of a fleet with troops from Europe. The two brothers had been appointed commissioners. Lord Howe immediately sent on shore a despatch, containing a circular letter to the colonial governors, and a "Declaration," stating the nature of his mission and his powers, and requesting that the declaration should be published. The commissioners were not instructed to negotiate with any particular public body. Pardon was offered to all, who should be penitent and submissive; to provinces, towns, assemblies, and individuals. This despatch was conveyed to General Washington, by whom it was forwarded to Congress. It occasioned but little debate. The letter and declaration were directed to be published, "that the few," as expressed in the resolve, "who still remain suspended by a hope, founded either in the justice or moderation of their late King, may now at length be convinced, that the valor alone of their country is to save its liberties."
Lord Howe likewise wrote a private and friendly letter to Dr. Franklin, evincing respect for his character, and an earnest desire that all the differences between the two countries might be accommodated in the way now proposed. It was answered by Dr. Franklin in a spirit not less friendly and respectful; but, in regard to the public communications, he said, he was sorry to find them of such a nature, since "it must give his Lordship pain to be sent so far on so hopeless a business." After some other remarks, touching the conduct and designs of the ministry, he added;
"Long did I endeavour, with unfeigned and unwearied zeal, to preserve from breaking that fine and noble China vase, the British empire; for I knew, that,
being once broken, the separate parts could not retain even their share of the strength or value that existed in the whole, and that a perfect reunion of those parts could scarce ever be hoped for. Your Lordship may possibly remember the tears of joy that wet my cheek, when, at your good sister's in London, you once gave me expectations that a reconciliation might soon take place. I had the misfortune to find those expectations disappointed, and to be treated as the cause of the mischief I was laboring to prevent. My consolation under that groundless and malevolent treatment was, that I retained the friendship of many wise and good men in that country, and, among the rest, some share in the regard of Lord Howe."
The door to a negotiation being closed, the battle of Long Island was fought, in which General Sullivan was taken prisoner. He was conveyed on board Lord Howe's ship, and discharged on parole. Lord Howe intrusted to him a verbal message for Congress, the purport of which was, that he should be glad to confer with some of the members in their private capacity, and would himself meet them in that capacity at such time and place as they might appoint. Congress accordingly deputed three of their number, Dr. Franklin, John Adams, and Edward Rutledge, to go and learn what propositions he had to offer. The interview took place, September 11th, at a house within the British lines on Staten Island, opposite to Amboy, where they were politely received and entertained.
His Lordship began the conversation by informing them, that he could not treat with them as a committee of Congress, but that his powers authorized him to confer and consult with any private gentlemen in the colonies on the means of reconciling the differences and restoring peace. The committee replied,
that it was their business to hear what he had to propose; that he might look upon them in what light he chose; that they were, nevertheless, members of Congress, and, being appointed by that body, they must consider themselves in that character. After the conference was ended, the committee passed over to Amboy in Lord Howe's boat, went back to Congress, and reported, that his Lordship had made no explicit proposition for peace, and that, as far as they could discover, his powers did not enable him to do any thing more, than to grant pardon upon submission. This was the last attempt of the commissioners to effect what Mr. Burke called in Parliament an "armed negotiation"; and it would be allowing too little credit to the understanding of the ministers themselves, to suppose that they did not anticipate its failure when they set it on foot.
At this time Congress had under consideration the subject of foreign alliances. The American States being now an independent power, declared to be such by the solemn act of a united people, they might properly assume and maintain this character in relation to other governments. Aids in money and all kinds of military supplies were wanted. Congress had the benefits of a lucrative commerce to offer in exchange. It was decided to make the first application to the court of France, and to proffer a commercial treaty, which should be mutually advantageous to the two countries. The hard terms, which England had extorted from the misfortunes of France in the treaty at the close of the last war, as impolitic on the part of the former as they were humiliating to the latter, afforded but a feeble guaranty of a lasting peace. Time and reflection had increased the discontent, which was manifested by loud complaints when the treaty was
made. It was believed that France, in this temper, would not view with indifference the contest between England and her colonies, nor forego so good an opportunity of contributing to weaken the power of a rival, against whom she had laid up heavy charges for a future adjustment.
Congress deemed it advisable, at all events, to act upon this presumption. They appointed three commissioners, Dr. Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee, "to transact the business of the United States at the court of France." They were furnished with the draft of a treaty, credentials, and instructions. The members enjoined secrecy on themselves in regard to these proceedings. Silas Deane was already in France, having been sent thither as a commercial and political agent, instructed to procure munitions of war and forward them to the United States, and to ascertain, as far as he could, the views and disposition of the French court. Arthur Lee was in England. Franklin made immediate preparations for his voyage. He left Philadelphia on the 26th of October, accompanied by two of his grandsons, William Temple Franklin and Benjamin Franklin Bache. They passed the night at Chester, and the next day embarked on board the Continental sloop of war Reprisal, carrying sixteen guns, and commanded by Captain Wickes.
As a proof of Franklin's zeal in the cause of his country, and of his confidence in the result, it may be stated, that, before he left Philadelphia, he raised all the money he could command, being between three and four thousand pounds, and placed it as a loan at the disposal of Congress.