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Pownall, Thomas 1720-1805

Statesman; born in Lincoln, England, in 1720; graduated at Cambridge in 1743, and was made secretary to the commissioners of trade and plantations in 1745. He came to America in 1753 as secretary to Governor Osborn, of New York, whom he succeeded as lieutenant-governor. He was a member of the Colonial Congress at Albany in 1754, and was governor of Massachusetts from 1757 to 1760. In 1760-61 he was governor of South Carolina, and returning to England was made a director-general of the office of control with the rank of colonel. Entering Parliament in 1768, he was one of the most powerful friends of the Americans in that body.

Pownall, who, as governor of Massachusetts, and a traveller, explorer, and civil officer in the central portion of the Union, had become well acquainted with the characteristics of the American people, published in England, at the beginning of 1780, a memorial to the sovereigns in Europe, in which he said the system of establishing colonies in various climates to create a monopoly of the peculiar products of their labor was at an end; that America was so far removed from the influences of Europe and its embroiled interests that it was without a real enemy, and the United States of America had taken an equal station with the nations [280] upon earth; that negotiations were of no consequence either to the right or the fact —the independence of America was “a fixed fact” ; that its government, young and strong, would struggle by the vigor of its internal healing principles of life against all evils in its system and surmount them. “Its strength will grow with years,” he said, “and it will establish its constitution.” He asserted his belief that in time the West Indies must, “in the course of events, become part of the great North American dominion.” He predicted the casting off by the Spanish colonies in South America of their dependence upon Spain, which occurred in less than fifty years afterwards, because “South America,” he said, “is growing too much for Spain to manage; it is in power independent, and will be so in act as soon as any occasion shall call forth that power.” He spoke of the civilizing activity of the human race having free course in America, the people there, “standing on the high ground of improvement up to which the most enlightened parts of Europe have advanced, like eaglets, commence the first efforts of their pinions from a towering advantage.”

He lauded America as “the poor man's country,” where labor and mental development went hand in hand—where “many a real philosopher, a politician, a warrior, emerges out of this wilderness, as the seed rises out of the ground where it hath lain buried for its season.” He referred to the freedom of the mechanic arts that would be secured by independence, where no laws lock up the artisan, and said, “The moment that the progress of civilization is ripe for it, manufactures will grow and increase with an astonishing exuberancy.” Referring to ship-building, he said: “Their commerce hath been striking deep root” ; and referred to ocean and inland navigation as becoming “our vital principle of life, extended through our organized being, our nature.” “Before long,” he said, the Americans “will be trading in the South Sea, in the Spice Islands, and in China. . . . Commerce will open the door to immigration. By constant intercommunion, America will every day approach nearer and nearer to Europe. Unless the great potentates of Europe can station cherubim at every avenue with a flaming sword that turns every way to prevent man's quitting this Old World, multitudes of their people, many of the most useful, enterprising spirits, will emigrate to the new one. Much of the active property will go there, too.”

He alluded to the folly of the sovereigns trying to check the progress of the Americans, and said: “Those sovereigns of Europe who shall call upon their ministers to state to them things as they really do exist in nature, shall form the earliest, the more sure, and natural connection with North America, as being, what she is, an independent State. . . . The new empire of America is, like a giant, ready to run its course. The fostering care with which the rival powers of Europe will nurse it insures its establishment beyond all doubt and danger.” As early as 1760, Pownall, who had associated with liberal men while upholding the King's prerogative, many times said that the political independence of the Americans was certain, and near at hand. On one occasion Hutchinson, who, eight years later, was in Pownall's official seat in Massachusetts, hearing of these remarks, exclaimed, “Not for centuries!” for he knew how strong was the affection of New England for the fatherland. He did not know how strong was the desire of the people for liberty. Pownall died in Bath, England, Feb. 25, 1805.

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