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I am now return'd again to London from a Journey of some Months in Ireland and Scotland. Tho' my Constitution, and too great Confinement to Business during the Winter, seem to require the Air and Exercise of a long Journey once a Year, which I have now practised for more than 20 Years past, yet I should not have been out so long this Time, but that I was well assured the Parliament would not meet till towards the End of January, before which Meeting few of the principal People would be in Town, and no Business of importance likely to be agitated relating to America.
I have now before me your esteemed Favours of June 24. July 9, Sept. 25 and Oct. 2. In the first you mention, that the General Assembly was still held out of its antient and only convenient Seat, the Townhouse in Boston, and by the latest Papers from thence I see, that it was prorogued again to meet in Cambridge, w c ' I a little wonder at, when I recollect a Question ask'd me by my Lord H. in Ireland, viz. Whether I had heard from New England lately, since the Gen. Court was return'd to Boston? From this I concluded, Orders had been transmitted by his Lordship for that removal. Perhaps such may have been sent, to be used discretionally. I think I have before mentioned to you one of the Articles of Impeachment brought against a bad Minister of a former King; "That to work his Ends he had caused the Parliament to sit in Villibus et remotis partibus Regni, where few People, propter dejectum hospitii et victualium, could attend, thereby to force illos paucos, qui remanebunt de communitate regni, concedere regi quamvis pessima," Lord Clarendon, too, was impeach'd for endeavouring to introduce arbitrary Government into the Colonies.
Lord H. seems, by the late Instructions, to have been treading in the Paths, that lead to the same unhappy Situation, if the Parliament here should ever again feel for the Colonies. Being in Dublin, at the same Time with his Lordship, I met with him accidentally at the Lord Lieutenant's, who had happened to invite us to dine with a large Company on the same Day. As there is something curious in our Interview in Ireland I must give you an Account of it. He was surprizingly civil, and urg'd my fellow Traveller and me to call at his House in our intended Journey Northwards where we might be sure of better Accommodations than the Inns would afford us. He pressed us so politely, that it was not easy to refuse, without apparent Rudeness, as we must pass through his town, Hillsborough, and by his Door ; and therefore, as it might afford an Opportunity of saying something on American Affairs, I concluded to comply with his Invitation.
His Lord p went home some time before we left Dublin. We call'd upon him, and were detain'd at his House four Days, during which time he entertain'd us with great Civility, and a particular Attention to me that appear'd the more extraordinary, as I knew that just before I left London he had express'd himself concerning me in very angry Terms, calling me a Republican, a factious, mischievous Fellow, and the like.
In our Conversations he first show'd himself a good Irishman, blaming England for its Narrowness towards that Country in restraining its Commerce, discouraging its Woollen Manufacture, etc. And when I apply 'd his Observations to America, he said he had always been of Opinion, that the Subjects in every Part of the King's Dominions had a natural Right to make the best Use they could of the Productions of their Country, and that America ought not to be restrain'd in manufacturing any thing she could manufacture to Advantage ; that he suppos'd, that, at present, she found generally more Profit in Agriculture ; but, whenever she found that less profitable, or a particular Manufacture more so, he had no Objection to her persuing it ; and he censur'd Lord Chatham for affecting in his Speech, that the Parliament had a Right or ought to restrain Manufactures in the Colonies; adding, that, as he knew the English were apt to be jealous on that head, he avoided every thing that might enflame that Jealousy ; and, therefore, tho' the Commons had requested the Crown to order the Governors to send over annually Accounts of such Manufactures, as were undertaken in the Colonies, yet, as they had not ordered such Accounts to be annually laid before them, he should never produce them till they were calPd for.
Then he gave me to understand, that the Bounty on Silk raised in America was a Child of his, and he hoped would prove of great Advantage to that Country ; and that he wish'd to know in what manner a Bounty on raising Wine there might be contrived, so as to operate effectually for that Purpose, desiring me to turn it in my Thoughts, as he should be glad of my Opinion and Advice. Then he inform' d me, that Newfoundland was grown too populous to be left any longer without a regular Government, but there were great Difficulties in the forming such a kind of Government as would be suitable to the particular Circumstances of that Country, which he wish'd me likewise to consider, and that I would favour him with my Sentiments.
He seem'd attentive to every thing, that might make my Stay in his House agreeable to me, and put his eldest Son Lord Kilwarling into his Phaeton with me, to drive me a Round of Forty Miles, that I might see the Country, the Seats, Manufactures, etc. covering me with his own GreatCoat, lest I should take Cold. And in short, seem'd in every-Thing extreamly solicitous to impress me, and the Colonies thro' me, with a good Opinion of him : All which I could not but wonder at, knowing that he likes neither them nor me ; and I thought it inexplicable but on the Supposition, that he apprehended an approaching Storm, and was desirous of lessening beforehand the Number of Enemies he had so imprudently created. But, if he takes no Step towards withdrawing the Troops, repealing the Duties, restoring the Castle, or recalling the offensive Instructions, I shall think all the plausible Behaviour I have describ'd is meant only, by patting and streaking the Horse, to make him more patient, while the Reins are drawn tighter, and the Spurs set deeper into his Sides.
Before leaving Ireland I must mention, that, being desirous of seeing the principal Patriots there, I staid till the Opening of their Parliament. I found them dispos'd to be friends of America, in which I endeavoured to confirm them, with the Expectation that our growing Weight might in time be thrown into their Scale, and, by joining our Interest with theirs might be obtained for them as well as for us, a more equitable Treatment from this Nation. There are many brave Spirits among them. The Gentry are a very sensible, polite, friendly and handsome People. Their Parliament makes a most respectable Figure, with a number of very good Speakers in both Parties, and able Men of Business. And I must not omit acquainting you, that, it being a standing Rule to admit Members of the English Parliament to sit (tho' they do not vote) in the House among the Members, while others are only admitted into the Gallery, my Fellow Traveller, being an English Member, was accordingly admitted as such. But I supposed I must go to the Gallery, when the Speaker stood up, and acquainted the House, that he understood there was in Town an American Gentleman of (as he was pleas' d to say) distinguish'd Character and Merit, a Member or Delegate of some of the Parliaments of that Country, who was desirous of being present at the Debates of this House ; that there was a Rule of the House for admitting Members of English Parliaments, and that he did suppose the House would consider the American Assemblies as English Parliaments; but, as this was the first Instance, he had chosen not to give any Order in it without receiving their Directions. On the Question, the whole House gave a loud, unanimous Aye; when two Members came to me without the Bar where I was standing, led me in, and placed me very honourably. This I am the more particular in to you, as I esteemed it a mark of respect for our Country, and a piece of politeness in which I hope our Parliament will not fall behind theirs, whenever an occasion shall offer. Ireland is itself a poor Country, and Dublin a magnificent City ; but the appearances of general extreme poverty among the lower people are amazing. They live in wretched hovels of mud and straw, are clothed in rags, and subsist chiefly on potatoes. Our New England farmers, of the poorest sort, in regard to the Enjoyment of all the comforts of life, are princes when compared to them. Such is the effect of the discouragements of industry, the nonresidence not only of pensioners, but of many original landlords, who lease their lands in gross to undertakers that rack the tenants and fleece them skin and all to make estates to themselves, while the first rents, as well as most of the pensions, are spent out of the country. An English gentleman there said to me, that by what he had heard of the good grazing in North America, and by what he saw of the plenty of flaxseed imported in Ireland from thence, he could not understand why we did not rival Ireland in the beef and butter trade to the West Indies, and share with it in its linen trade. But he was satisfied when I told him that I supposed the reason might be, our people eat bee) and butter every day, and wear shirts themselves.
In short, the chief exports of Ireland seem to be pinched off the backs and out of the bellies of the miserable inhabitants. But schemes are now under consideration among the humane gentry to provide some means of mending if possible their present wretched condition.
I am much obliged by the very particular account you have favoured me with of the general sentiments of people in our province on the present state of Affairs between the two countries. They are for the most part the same with my own.
I think the Revenue Act should be repealed, as not constitutionally founded; that the commission of the customs should be dissolved; that the troops (foreigners to us as much as Hanoverians would be in England, since they are not introduced with the consent of our Legislature) ought to be withdrawn, and the Castle restored to its rightful owners, the government of the province that built it; and that the General Court should be returned to its ancient seat, and the Governor's salary put upon its ancient footing. But it is also my opinion that, while the present American Minister continues, there is very little likelihood that any change will be made in any of those particulars, that of returning the Court perhaps excepted. And yet I am also of opinion that no farther duties are intended, and that although the American Minister might wish to increase that fund for corruption, the other Ministers are not disposed to humour him in it, and would not consent to it. I may be deceived in this opinion, but I have grounds for it. However, I think we should be as much on our guard, and use the same defensive measures and endeavours as if we saw new duties intended in the ensuing session. And nothing can more effectually discourage new duties than the diminution of the revenue produced by duties; a resolute steady refusal to consume the dutiable commodities.
In compliance with your respected recommendation I introduced Mr. Story to a Secretary of the Treasury, who forwarded his memorial ; and he tells me he has obtained his request relating to the affair of Mr. Wheelwright's debt. He now seems to wish for some appointment in consideration of his sufferings from the mob. But I doubt whether it may be worth his while to attend here the solicitation and expectation of such a reward, those attendances being often drawn out to an inconceivable length, and the expense, of course, enormous.
With the greatest esteem, I have the honour to be, Sir, your most obedient and most humble servant,
- Benjamin Franklin
- The Writings of Benjamin Franklin Volume V, Albert Henry Smyth, 1906