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Being just returned to Town from a little excursion, I find yours of the 22 d , containing a number of Queries, that would require a Pamphlet to answer them fully. You, however, desire only brief Answers, which I shall endeavour to give you.
Previous to your Queries, you tell me that you apprehend his Majesty's Servants have now "in Contemplation, First, to relieve the Colonists from the Taxes complained of; And 2 J ly, to preserve the Honor, the Dignity, and the Supremacy of the British Legislature over all his Majesty's Dominions." I hope your Information is good, and that what you suppose to be in Contemplation, will be carried into Execution, by repealing all the Laws that have been made for raising a Revenue in America, by Authority of Parliament, without the Consent of the People there. The Honor and Dignity of the British Legislature will not be hurt by such an Act of Justice and Wisdom. The wisest Councils are liable to be misled, especially in Matters remote from their Inspection. It is the Persisting in an Error, not the Correcting it, that lessens the Honor of any Man or Body of Men.
The Supremacy of that Legislature, I believe, will be best preserved by making a very sparing use of it, never, but for the evident good of the Colonies themselves, or of the whole British Empire, never, for the partial Advantage of Britain, to their Prejudice: By such prudent Conduct, I imagine that Supremacy may be gradually strengthened, and in Time fully established; but otherwise, I apprehend it will be disputed, and lost in the Dispute. At present the Colonies consent and submit to it for the Regulations of general Commerce ; but a Submission to Acts of Parliament was no part of their original Constitution. Our former Kings governed their Colonies, as they had governed their Dominions in France, without the Participation of British Parliaments. The Parliament of England never presumed to interfere with that Prerogative, till the Time of the great Rebellion, when they usurped the Government of all the King's other Dominions, Ireland, Scotland, &c. The Colonies that held for the King, they conquered by Force of Arms, and governed after wards as conquered Countries; but New England, having not opposed the Parliament, was considered and treated as a Sister-Kingdom in Amity with England, as appears by the Journals, March noth, 1642.
" i. Will not a repeal of all the duties (that on Tea excepted, which was before paid here on Exportation, and of course no new Imposition,) fully satisfy the Colonists?"
Answer. I think not.
"2. Your reasons for that Opinion?"
A. Because it is not the Sum paid in that Duty on Tea, that is complained of as a burthen, but the Principle of the Act expressed in the preamble ; viz. that those Duties were laid for the better Support of Government, and the Administration of Justice, in the Colonies. This the Colonists think unnecessary, unjust, and dangerous to their most important Rights. Unnecessary, because in all the Colonies (two or three new ones are excepted) 2 Government and the Administration of Justice were, and always had been, well supported without any Charge to Britain; unjust, as it has made such Colonies liable to pay such Charge for others, in which they had no Concern or Interest ; dangerous, as such Mode of raising Money for those Purposes tended to render their Assemblies useless ; for, if a Revenue could be raised in the Colonies for all the Purposes of Government by Act of Parliament, without Grants from the People there, Governors, who do not
1 "Men may lose little property by an act which takes away all their freedom. When a man is robbed of a trifle on the highway, it is not the two pence lost that makes the capital outrage. Would twenty shillings have ruined Mr. Hampden's fortune? No! but the payment of half twenty shillings, on the principle it was demanded, would have made him a slave." See Mr. Burke's Speeches in 1774 and 1775. V.
2 Nova Scotia, Georgia, the Floridas, and Canada. generally love Assemblies, would never call them. They would be laid aside ; and, when nothing should depend on the people's good Will to Government, their Rights would be trampled on ; they would be treated with Contempt.
Another Reason why I think they would not be satisfied with such a partial Repeal is, that their Agreements not to import till the Repeal takes place, include the whole, which shows that they object to the whole, and those Agreements will continue binding on them if the whole is not repealed.
"3. Do you think the only effectual Way of composing the present Differences is, to put the Americans precisely in the Situation they were in before the passing of the late Stamp Act ? "
A. I think so.
"4. Your Reasons for that Opinion?"
A. Other Methods have been tried. They have been rebuk'd in angry Letters. Their Petitions have been refused or rejected by Parliament. They have been threatened with the punishment of Treason by Resolves of both Houses. Their Assemblies have been dissolved, and Troops have been sent among them; but all these Ways have only exasperated their Minds and widened the Breach. Their Agreements to use no more British Manufactures have been strengthened; and these Measures, instead of composing Differences, and promoting a good Correspondence, have almost annihilated your Commerce with those Countries, and greatly endangered the national Peace and general Welfare.
"5. If this last Method is deemed by the Legislature and his Majesty's Ministers to be repugnant to their duty, as Guardians of the just Rights of the Crown and of their Fellow Subjects, can you suggest any other way of terminating these Disputes, consistent with the Ideas of Justice and Propriety conceived by the King's Subjects on both sides of the Atlantic?"
A. I do not see how that Method can be deemed repugnant to the Rights of the Crown. If the Americans are put into their former Situation, it must be by an Act of Parliament ; in the passing of which by the King, the Rights of the Crown are exercised, not infringed. It is indifferent to the Crown whether the Aids received from America are granted by Parliament here, or by the Assemblies there, provided the quantum be the same ; and it is my Opinion, that more will be generally granted there voluntarily, than can ever be exacted or collected from thence by Authority of Parliament.
As to the Rights of Fellow Subjects (I suppose you mean the People of Britain), I cannot conceive how those will be infringed by that Method. They will still enjoy the Right of granting their own Money, and may still, if it pleases them, keep up their Claim to the right of granting Ours; a Right they can never exercise properly, for Want of a sufficient Knowledge of us, our Circumstances and Abilities, (to say nothing of the little Likelihood there is that we should ever submit to it,) therefore a Right that can be of no good Use to them; and we shall continue to enjoy in fact the Right of granting our Money, with the Opinion now universally prevailing among us, that we are free subjects of the King, and that Fellow Subjects of one part of his Dominions are not Sovereigns over Fellow Subjects in any other part.
If the Subjects on the different Sides of the Atlantic have different and opposite Ideas of "Justice and Propriety," no one "Method" can possibly be consistent with both. The best will be, to let each enjoy their own Opinions, without disturbing them, when they do not interfere with the common Good.
"6. And, if this Method were actually followed, do you not think it would encourage the violent and factious Part of the Colonists to aim at still farther Concessions from the Mother Country?"
A. I do not think it would. There may be a few among them, that deserve the Name of factious and violent, as there are in all Countries ; but these would have little Influence, if the great Majority of sober, reasonable People were satisfied. If any Colony should happen to think that some of your Regulations of Trade are inconvenient to the general Interest of the Empire, or prejudicial to them without being beneficial to you, they will state these Matters to the Parliament in Petitions as heretofore ; but will, I believe, take no violent Steps to obtain what they may hope for in Time from the wisdom of Government here. I know of nothing else they can have in view ; the Notion that prevails here of their being desirous to set up a Kingdom or Commonwealth of their own, is, to my certain Knowledge, entirely groundless.
I therefore think, that, on a total Repeal of all Duties, laid expressly for the Purpose of raising a Revenue on the People of America without their Consent, the present Uneasiness would subside; the Agreements not to import would be dissolved ; and the Commerce flourish as heretofore ; and I am confirmed in this Sentiment by all the Letters I have received from America, and by the Opinions of all the sensible People who have lately come from thence, Crown Officers excepted.
I know, indeed, that the People of Boston are grievously offended by the Quartering of Troops among them, as they think, contrary to Law and are very angry with the Board of
Commissioners, who have calumniated them to Government ; but, as I suppose withdrawing of those Troops may be a Consequence of reconciliating Measures taking place; and that the Commission also will either be desolved, if found useless, or filled with more temperate and prudent Men, if still deemed useful and necessary; I do not imagine these Particulars would prevent a Return of the Harmony so much to be wished.
"7. If they are relieved in part only, what do you, as a reasonable and dispassionate Man, and an equal Friend to both Sides, imagine will be the probable Consequences?"
A. I imagine, that repealing the offensive Duties in part will answer no end to this Country; the Commerce will remain obstructed, and the Americans go on with their Schemes of Frugality, Industry, and Manufactures, to their own great Advantage. How much that may tend to the Prejudice of Britain, I cannot say; perhaps not so much as some apprehend, since she may in time find new Markets. But I think, if the Union of the two Countries continues to subsist, it will not hurt the general Interest; for whatever Wealth Britain loses by the Failing of its Trade with the 'Colonies, America will gain; and the Crown will receive equal Aids from its Subjects upon the whole, if not greater.
And now I have answered your Questions as to what may be, in my Opinion, the Consequences of this or that supposed Measure, I will go a little farther, and tell you what I fear is more likely to come to pass in Reality. I apprehend that the Ministry, at least the American Part of it, being fully persuaded of the Right of Parliament, think it ought to be enforced, whatever may be the Consequences ; and at the same time do not believe, there is even now any Abatement of the Trade between the two Countries on account of these Disputes ; or that, if there is, it is small, and cannot long continue.
They are assured by the Crown Officers in America, that Manufactures are impossible there; that the Discontented are few, and persons of little Consequence; that almost all the People of Property and Importance are satisfied, and disposed to submit quietly to the taxing Power of Parliament ; and that, if the Revenue Acts are continued, and those Duties only that are called anti-commercial be repealed, and others perhaps laid instead; that Power will ere long be patiently submitted to, and the Agreements not to import be broken, when they are found to produce no Change of Measures here.
From these and similar Misinformations, which seem to be credited, I think it likely that no thorough Redress of Grievances will be afforded to America this Session. This may inflame Matters still more in that Country ; farther rash Measures there may create more Resentment here, that may produce not merely ill-advised and useless Dissolutions of their Assemblies, as last year, but Attempts to dissolve their Constitutions; more Troops may be sent over, which will create more Uneasiness; to justify the Measures of Government, your Writers will revile the Americans in your Newspapers, as they have already begun to do; treating them as Miscreants, Rogues, Dastards, Rebels, &c., which will tend farther to alienate the minds of the people here from them, and diminish their Affections to this Country. Possibly, too, some of their warm Patriots may be distracted enough to expose themselves by some mad Action to be sent for hither ; and Government here be indiscreet enough to hang them, on the Act of Henry the Eighth.
Mutual Provocations will thus go on to complete the Separation ; and instead of that cordial Affection that once and so long existed, and that Harmony, so suitable to the Circumstances, and so necessary to the Happiness, Strength, Safety, and Welfare of both Countries; an implacable Malice and mutual Hatred, such as we now see subsisting between the Spaniards and Portuguese, the Genoese and Corsicans, from the same original Misconduct in the superior Governments, will take Place; the Sameness of Nation, the Similarity of Religion, Manners, and Language not in the least preventing in our Case, more than it did in theirs.
I hope, however, that this may all prove false Prophecy, and that you and I may live to see as sincere and perfect a Friendship established between our respective Countries, as has so many years subsisted between Mr. Strahan and his truly affectionate old Friend,
- The Writings of Benjamin Franklin Volume V, Albert Henry Smyth, 1906