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Chapter 51:

The King in Council Insults the Great American plebeian.

December, 1773—February, 1774.

The just man covered with the opprobrium of
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crime and meriting all the honors of virtue, is the sublimest spectacle that can appear on earth. Against Franklin were arrayed the Court, the Ministry, the Parliament, and an all-pervading social influence; but he only assumed a firmer demeanor and a loftier tone. On delivering to Lord Dartmouth the Address to the King for the removal of Hutchinson and Oliver, he gave assurances, that the people of Massachusetts aimed at no novelties; that ‘having lately discovered the authors of their grievances to be some of their own people, their resentment against Britain was thence much abated.’ The Secretary promised at once to lay the Petition before the King, and expressed his ‘pleasure’ at the communication as well as his ‘earnest hope’ for the restoration ‘of the most perfect tranquillity and happiness.’ It had been the unquestionable duty of the Agent of the Province to communicate [491] proof that Hutchinson and Oliver were conspir-
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ing against its Constitution; to bring censure on the act, it was necessary to raise a belief that the evidence had been surreptitiously obtained. To that end Hutchinson was unwearied in his entreaties; but William Whately the Banker, who was his brother's xecutor, was persuaded that the letters in question had never been in his hands, and refused to cast imputations on any one.

The newspaper Press was therefore employed to spread a rumor that they had been dishonestly obtained through John Temple. The anonymous calumny which was attributed to Bernard, Knox, and Mauduit, was denied by one calling himself ‘a Member of Parliament,’ who also truly affirmed, that the letters which were sent to Boston, had never been in the executor's hands. Again the Press declared, what was also true, that Whately, the executor, had submitted files of his brother's letters to Temple's examination, who, it was insinuated, had seized the opportunity to purloin them. Temple repelled the charge instantly and successfully.1 Whately, the executor, never made a suggestion that the letters had been taken away by Temple, and always believed the contrary;2 but swayed not so much by the solicitations of Hutchinson and Mauduit, as by his sudden appointment as a banker to the Treasury, he published an evasive card, in which he did not relieve Temple from the implication. [492]

A duel followed between Temple and Whately,

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without witnesses; then newspaper altercations on the incidents of the meeting; till another duel seemed likely to ensue. Cushing, the timid Speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly, to whom the letters had been officially transmitted, begged that he might not be known as having received them, lest it should be ‘a damage’ to him; the Member of Parliament, who had had them in his possession, never permitted himself to be named; Temple, who risked offices producing a thousand pounds a year, publicly denied ‘any concern in procuring or transmitting them.’ To prevent bloodshed, Franklin assumed the undivided responsibility, from which every one else was disposed to shrink. ‘I,’ said he, ‘I alone am the person who obtained and transmitted to Boston the letters in question.’3 His ingenuousness exposed him to ‘unmerited abuse’ in every company and in every newspaper, and gave his enemies an opening to reject publicly the Petition; which otherwise would have been dismissed without parade.4

On Tuesday the eleventh of January, Franklin for

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Massachusetts, and Mauduit, with Wedderburn, for Hutchinson and Oliver, appeared before the Privy Council. ‘I thought,’ said Franklin, ‘that this had been a matter of politics, and not of law, and have not brought any counsel.’ The hearing was, therefore, adjourned to Saturday the twenty-ninth. Meantime the Ministry and the courtiers expressed their [493] rage against him; and talked of his dismissal from
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office, of his arrest,5 and imprisonment at Newgate; of a search among his papers for proofs of Treason; while Wedderburn openly professed the intention to inveigh personally against him. He was also harassed with a subpoena from the Chancellor, to attend his Court at the suit of William Whately, respecting the letters.

The public sentiment was, moreover, embittered by accounts that the Americans would not suffer the landing of the tea. The zeal of the Colonists was unabated. On New-Year's eve, a half chest of tea, picked up in Roxbury, was burned on Boston Common; on the twentieth, three barrels of Bohea tea were burned in State Street. On the twenty-fifth John Malcolm, a North Briton, who had been aid to Governor Tryon in his war against the Regulators, and was now a preventive officer in the Customs, having indiscreetly provoked the populace, was seized, tarred and feathered, and paraded under the gallows.

The General Court also assembled, full of a determination to compel the Judges to refuse the salaries proffered by the King. Enough of the prevalence of this spirit was known in England, to raise a greater clamor against the Americans, than had ever before existed. Hypocrites, traitors, rebels and villains were the softest epithets applied to them;6 and some menaced war, and would have given full scope to sanguinary rancor. On the twenty-seventh, the [494] Government received official information,7 that the

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people of Boston had thrown the tea overboard, and this event swelled the anger against the Americans.

In this state of public feeling, Franklin on the twenty-ninth, assisted by Dunning and John Lee, came before the Privy Council, to advocate the removal of Hutchinson and Oliver, in whose behalf appeared Israel Mauduit, the old adviser of She Stamp Tax; and Wedderburn the Solicitor General. It was a day of great expectation. Thirty-five Lords of the Council were present; a larger number than had ever attended a hearing; and the room was filled with a crowded audience, among whom were Priestley, Jeremy Bentham and Edmund Burke.

The Petition and accompanying papers having been read, Dunning asked on the part of his clients the reason of his being ordered to attend.8 ‘No cause,’ said he,

is instituted; nor do we think advocates necessary; nor are they demanded on the part of the Colony. The Petition is not in the nature of accusation, but of advice and request. It is an Address to the King's wisdom, not an application for criminal justice; when referred to the Council, it is a matter for political prudence, not for judicial determination. The matter, therefore, rests wholly in your Lordships' opinion of the propriety or impropriety of continuing persons in authority, who are represented by legal bodies, competent to such representation, as having (whether on sufficient or insufficient grounds) entirely forfeited the confidence of the Assemblies [495] whom they were to act with, and of the people

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whom they were to govern. The resolutions on which that representation is founded, lie before your Lordships, together with the letters from which they arose.

If your Lordships should think that these actions which appear to the Colony Representative to be faulty, ought in other places to appear meritorious, the Petition has not desired that the parties should be punished as criminals for these actions of supposed merit; nor even that they may not be rewarded. It only requests that these gentlemen may be removed to places where such merits are better understood, and such rewards may be more approved.

Report of the speech of the Counsel of the Province, in a letter from Edmund Burke, the Agent of the Colony of New-York to the Committee of Correspondence of the New-York Assembly.

He spoke well, and was seconded by Lee.9

The question as presented by Dunning, was already decided in favor of the Petitioners; it was the universal opinion that Hutchinson ought to be superseded. Wedderburn changed the issue, as if Franklin were on trial; and in a speech which was a continued tissue of falsehood and ribaldry, turned his invective against the Petitioners and their Messenger. Of all men, Franklin was the most important in any attempt at conciliation. He was the Agent of the two great Colonies of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and also of New Jersey and Georgia; was the friend of Edmund Burke, who was Agent for New-York. All the troubles in British colonial policy had grown out of the neglect of his advice, and there was no one who could have mediated [496] like him between the Metropolis and the Ame-

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He was now thrice venerable, from genius, fame in the world of science, and age, being already nearly threescore years and ten. This man Wedderburn, turning from the real question, employed all the cunning powers of distortion and misrepresentation to abuse. With an absurdity of application which the Lords of the Privy Council were too much prejudiced to observe, he drew a parallel between Boston and Capri, Hutchinson and Sejanus, the humble Petition of the Massachusetts Assembly, and a verbose and grand epistle of the Emperor Tiberius. Franklin, whose character was most benign, and who from obvious motives of mercy had assumed the sole responsibility of obtaining the letters, he described as a person of the most deliberate malevolence, realizing in life what poetic fiction only had penned for the breast of a bloody African. The speech of Hutchinson, challenging a discussion of the Supremacy of Parliament, had been not only condemned by public opinion in England, but disapproved by the Secretary of State; Wedderburn pronounced it ‘a masterly one,’ which had ‘stunned the faction.’ Franklin, for twenty years had exerted his wonderful powers as the great conciliator, had never once employed the American press to alarm the American people, but had sought to prevent the Parliamentary taxation of America, by private and successful remonstrance during the time of the Pelhams; by seasonable remonstrance with Grenville against the Stamp Act; by honest and true answers to the inquiries of the House of Commons; by the best of advice to Shelburne. When sycophants sought by flattery to mislead the Minister for America, he had given [497] correct information and safe counsel to the Ministry of
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Grafton, and repeated it emphatically, and in writing to the Ministry of North; but Wedderburn stigmatized this wise and hearty lover of both countries as ‘a true incendiary.’ The letters which had been written by public men in public offices on public affairs, to one who formed an integral part of the body that had been declared to possess absolute power over America, and which had been written for the purpose of producing a tyrannical exercise of that absolute power, he called private. Hutchinson had solicited the place held by Franklin, from which Franklin was to be dismissed; this fact was suppressed, and the wanton falsehood substituted, that Franklin had desired the Governor's office, and had basely planned ‘his rival's overthrow.’ Franklin had inclosed the letters officially to the Speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly, without a single injunction of secrecy with regard to the sender; Wedderburn maintained that they were sent anonymously and secretly; and by an argument founded on a misstatement, but which he put forward as irrefragable, he pretended to convict Franklin of having obtained the letters by fraudulent and corrupt means, or of having stolen them from the person who stole them.10

The Lords of Council as he spoke, cheered him on by their laughter; and the cry of ‘Hear him, Hear him,’ burst repeatedly from a body, which professed to be sitting in judgment as the highest Court of Appeal for the Colonies, and yet encouraged the advocate of one of the parties to insult a public envoy, [498] present only as the person delivering the Petition of

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a great and loyal Colony. Meantime the gray-haired Franklin, whom Kant, the noblest philosopher of that age, had called the modern Prometheus, stood conspicuously erect, confronting his vilifier and the Privy Council, compelled to listen while calumny, in the service of lawless force, aimed a death-blow at his honor, and his virtues called on God and man to see how unjustly he suffered.

The reply of Dunning, who was very ill and was fatigued by standing so long,11 could scarcely be heard; and that of Lee produced no impression. There was but one place in England where fit reparation could be made; and there was but one man who had the eloquence and the courage and the weight of character to effect the atonement. For the present, Franklin must rely on the approval of the monitor within his own breast. ‘I have never been so sensible of the power of a good conscience,’ said he to Priestley; ‘for if I had not considered the thing for which I have been so much insulted, as one of the best actions of my life, and what I should certainly do again in the same circumstances, I could not have supported it.’ But it was not to him, it was to the people of Massachusetts, and to New England, and to all America, that the insult was offered through their Agent.

Franklin and Wedderburn parted; the one to spread the celestial fire of freedom among men; to [499] make his name a cherished household word in every

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nation of Europe; and in the beautiful language of Washington, ‘to be venerated for benevolence, to be admired for talents, to be esteemed for patriotism, to be beloved for philanthropy;’ the other childless, though twice wedded, unbeloved, wrangling with the patron who had impeached his veracity, busy only in ‘getting every thing he could’12 in the way of titles and riches, as the wages of corruption Franklin when he died, had nations for his mourners, and the great and the good throughout the world as his eulogists; when Wedderburn died, there was no man to mourn; no senate spoke his praise; no poet embalmed his memory; and his King, hearing that he was certainly dead, said only, ‘He has not left a greater knave behind him in my dominions.’13 The report of the Lords which had been prepared beforehand, was immediately signed; and ‘they went away, almost ready to throw up their hats for joy, as if by the vehement Philippic against the hoary-headed Franklin, they had obtained a triumph.’14

And who were the Lords of the Council, that thus thought to mark and brand the noblest representative of free labor who for many a year had earned his daily bread as apprentice, journeyman, or mechanic, and ‘knew the heart of the working man,’15 and felt for the people of whom he remained one? If they who upon that occasion pretended to sit in judgment had never come into being, whom among them all would humanity have missed? But how would it have suffered if Franklin had not lived! [500]

The men in power who on that day sought to rob

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Franklin of his good name, wounded him on the next in his fortunes,16 by turning him out of his place in the British American Post Office. That institution had yielded no revenue till he organized it, and yielded none after his dismissal.

On Tuesday the first of February, the Earl of

Buckinghamshire, who had attended the Privy Council, went to the House of Lords, ‘to put the Ministry in mind that he was to be bought by private contract.’17 Moving for the Boston Correspondence, he said, ‘The question is no longer about the liberty of North America, but whether we are to be free or slaves to our Colonies. Franklin is here, not as the Agent of a Province, but as an Ambassador from the States of America. His embassy to us is like nothing but that sent by Louis XIV. to the Republic of Genoa, commanding the doge to come and appease the Grand Monarch, by prostrating himself at Versailles.’—‘Such language is wild,’ replied the Earl of Stair. ‘Humanity, commercial policy, and the public necessities dictate a very contrary one.’—‘I would not throw cold water on the noble Lord's zeal,’ said the good Lord Dartmouth; as he made the request that further despatches might be waited for.

Superior to injury, Franklin, or as Rockingham called him, the ‘magnanimous’ ‘old man,’18 still sought for conciliation, and seizing the moment when he was sure of all sympathies, he wrote to his constituents to begin the work, by making compensation to [501] the East India Company before any compulsive mea-

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sures were thought of.19 But events were to proceed as they had been ordered. Various measures were talked of for altering the Constitution of the Government in Massachusetts, and for prosecuting individuals. The opinion in town was very general, that America would submit; that Government was taken by surprise when they repealed the Stamp Act, and that all might be recovered.20

The King was obstinate, had no one near him to explain the true state of things in America, and admitted no misgivings except for not having sooner enforced the claims of authority. On the fourth day of February, he consulted the American Commander-in-Chief who had recently returned from New-York. ‘I am willing to go back at a day's notice,’ said Gage, ‘if coercive measures are adopted. They will be lions, while we are lambs; but if we take the resolute part, they will undoubtedly prove very meek. Four regiments sent to Boston will be sufficient to prevent any disturbance.’ The King received these opinions as certainly true; and wished their adoption. He would enforce the claim of authority at all hazards.21 ‘All men,’ said he, ‘now feel, that the fatal compliance in 1766 has increased the pretensions of the Americans to absolute independence.’22 In the letters of Hutchinson, he saw nothing to which the least exception could be taken;23 and condemned the Address of Massachusetts, of [502] which every word was true, as the production of

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‘falsehood and malevolence.’

Accordingly on the seventh day of February, in the Court at St. James's, the report of the Privy Council was read, embodying the vile insinuations of Wedderburn; and the Petition which Franklin had presented, and which expressed the exact truth, was described as formed on false allegations, and was dismissed by the King as ‘groundless, vexatious and scandalous.’

1 J. Temple to the Public Advertiser, 8 Dec. 1773; and for further reiterated denials, see Almon's Biog. Anec. 238,243, 245, 246, 249, 250, 251. 252. If he had gone for letters to perfect files, he might have found very much better ones for his purpose.

2 Hutchinson's History, III. 416, and 418.

3 B. Franklin, Agent for the House of Representation of the Massachusetts Bay, to the Printers of the Public Advertiser. The faultless poet of Rome would have 86; approved this act of Franklin. ‘Me, me, adsum qui feci, in me convertite ferrum.’

4 Annual Register for 1774, page ‘unmerited abuse.’

5 Franklin to Cushing, 15 Feb. 1774; in Works IV. 108, confirmed by the letter of Dartmouth to Gen. Gage, of 3 June, 1774.

6 Nicholas Ray to W. S. Johnson, London, 4 April, 1774.

7 Hutchinson to Dartmouth, 17 Dec. 1773, received 27 January, 1774.

8 Shelburne to Chatham, 3 Feb. 1774.

9 Burke to Rockingham, 1 or 2 of Feb. 1774; in Corr. i. 453.

10 Wm. Temple's, Franklin, II. 401.

11 On this hearing, besides the newspaper reports of the day, the accounts by witnesses are: The pamphlet of Mauduit and Wedderburn; Franklin's Report as Agent to his Constituents; Account left by Franklin; Edmund Burke as Agent of New-York to his Constituents, Feb. 1774; Same to Rockingham; Same to Charles Lee; Dartmouth to Hutchinson; Arthur Lee to Samuel Adams, 31 January, 1774; Letter of Priestly, 10 Nov. 1802; Observations of Edward Bancroft.

12 Geo. III. in Campbell.

13 Brougham on Loughborough.

14 C. J. Fox's Speeches, VI. 527.

15 Kingsley's Alton Locke.

16 Mignet's Life of Franklin.

17 The phrase is Edmund Burke's, Burke to Rockingham, Tuesday night, February 2, 1774; Burke's Corr. i. 452. [Tuesday was Feb. 1.]

18 Albemarle, II. 302.

19 Franklin to Thomas Cushing, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, William Phillips. Ms. letter in my possession.

20 Shelburne to Chatham, Chat. Corr. IV. 324.

21 Dartmouth to Haldimand, 5 Feb. 1774.

22 From letters communicated to me by Lady Charlotte Lindsay.

23 Hutchinson's Diary.

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