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Chapter 24:

Public opinion in England.

March, 1775.

during this angry strife between the citizens and sol-
Chap. XXIV.} 1775. Mar.
diers at Boston, Lord Howe at London broke off negotiations with Franklin, and the ministry used the pen of Samuel Johnson, to inflame the public mind. Johnson was a poor man's son, and had himself tasted the bitter cup of extreme indigence. His father left no more than twenty pounds. To bury his mother and pay her little debts, he had composed Rasselas. For years he had gained a precarious support as an author. He had paced the streets of London all night long, from not having where to lay his head; he had escaped a prison for a trifle he owed by beg ging an alms of Richardson, had broken his bread with poverty, and had even known what it is from sheer want to go without a dinner, preserving through all his sufferings the unbending spirit of rugged independence. His name was venerable wherever the English was spoken, by his full display of that language in a dictionary, written amidst inconvenience and distraction, in sickness, sorrow, and solitude, with little assistance of the learned and no patronage of the great. When better days came, he loved the poor as few else love them; and he nursed in his [258] house whole nests of the lame, the blind, the sick,
Chap. XXIV.} 1775. Mar.
and the sorrowful. He could breathe ‘a sigh of tenderness’ from sympathy with a friend, and repaid with a sincere sentiment of gratitude the ‘kindness which soothed twenty years of a life radically wretched.’ A man who was so sensitive by nature, who had thus sturdily battled with social evils, and was so keenly touched by the wretchedness of the down-trodden, deserved to have been able to feel the wrongs of a kindred people; but he refused to do so. Having, from antipathy to the Whig party then in power, defined the word pension as ‘pay given to a state hireling for treason to his country,’ he was himself become a pensioner; and at the age of three score and six, with small hire, like a bravo who loves his trade, he set about the task of his work-masters, which was congenial to his obstinate temper, his energetic hate of the Puritans, and his own life-long political creed. In a tract, which he called ‘Taxation no Tyranny,’ he echoed to the crowd the haughty rancor, which passed down from the king and his court, to his council, to the ministers, to the aristocracy, their parasites and followers, with nothing remarkable in his party zeal, but the intensity of its bitterness; or in his manner, but its unparalleled insolence; or in his argument, but its grotesque extravagance.

The Bostonians had declared to the general congress their willingness to resign their opulent town, and wander into the country as exiles. ‘Alas!’ retorted Johnson, ‘the heroes of Boston will only leave good houses to wiser men.’ To the complaints of their liability to be carried out of their country for trial, he answered, ‘we advise them not to offend.’ [259] When it was urged, that they were condemned un-

Chap. XXIV.} 1775. Mar.
heard, he asserted, ‘there is no need of a trial; no man desires to hear that which he has already seen.’

Franklin had remained in Great Britain for no reason but to promote conciliation; and with an implacable malice which was set off by a ponderous effort at mirth, Johnson pointed at him as the ‘master of mischief, teaching congress to put in motion the engine of political electricity, and to give the great stroke by the name of Boston.’

Did the Americans claim a right of resistance, ‘Audacious defiance!’ cried Johnson; ‘acrimonious malignity! The indignation of the English is like that of the Scythians, who returning from war, found themselves excluded from their own houses by their slaves.’

Virginia and the Carolinas had shown impatience of oppression. ‘How is it,’ asked Johnson, ‘that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty ambng the drivers of negroes? The slaves should be set free; they may be more grateful and honest than their masters.’

Lord North inclined to mercy: ‘Nothing,’ said the moralist, ‘can be more noxious to society than clemency which exacts no forfeiture;’ and he proposed to arm the savage Indians, turn out the British soldiers on free quarters among the Americans, remodel all their charters, and take away their political privileges.

Dickinson of Pennsylvania had insisted, that the Americans complained only of innovations. ‘We do not put a calf into the plough,’ said Johnson; ‘we wait till he is an ox.’ This, however, the ministry bade him erase, not for its ribaldry, but as unwilling to concede that the calf had been spared; and Johnson obeyed, comparing himself to a mechanic for whom ‘the employer is to decide.’ Was [260] he told that the Americans were increasing in num-

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bers, wealth, and love of freedom; ‘This talk,’ said he, ‘that they multiply with the fecundity of their own rattlesnakes, disposes men accustomed to think themselves masters, to hasten the experiment of binding obstinacy before it is become yet more obdurate.’ He mocked at the rule of progression, which showed that America must one day exceed Europe in population. ‘Then,’ said he in derision, not knowing how much truth he was uttering, ‘in a century and a quarter let the princes of the earth tremble in their palaces.’

Had Johnson been truly a man of genius, he would have escaped the shame of having, in his old age, aimed at freedom the feeble shaft which was meant to have carried ruin. He wanted, also, that highest rule of morality, which has its seat in the soul, and loves to do service for freedom and for man; and therefore it is, that his name is never breathed as a watchword, his writings never thrill as oracles.

The pure-minded man, who in a sensual age, became the quickener of religious fervor, the preacher to the poor, John Wesley, also came forward to defend the system of the court with the usual arguments. He looked so steadily towards the world beyond the skies, that he could not brook the interruption of devout gratitude by bloody contests in this stage of being. Besides, he saw that the rupture between the English and the Americans was growing wider every day, and to him the total defection of America was the evident prelude of a conspiracy against monarchy, of which the bare thought made him shudder. ‘No governments under [261] Heaven,’ said he, ‘are so despotic as the republican;

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no subjects are governed in so arbitrary a manner as those of a commonwealth. The people never but once in all history gave the sovereign power, and that was to Masaniello of Naples. Our sins will never be removed, till we fear God and honor the king.’ Wesley's mental constitution was not robust enough to gaze on the future with unblenched calm. He could not foresee that the constellation of republics, so soon to rise in the wilds of America, would welcome the members of the society, which he was to found, as the pioneers of religion; that the breath of liberty would waft their messages to the masses of the people; would encourage them to collect the white and the negro, slave and master in the green wood, for counsel on divine love and the full assurance of grace; and would carry their consolation, and songs, and prayers to the furthest cabins in the wilderness. To the gladdest of glad tidings for the political regeneration of the world, Wesley listened with timid trembling, as to the fearful bursting of the floodgates of revolution; and he knew not, that God was doing a work, which should lead the nations of the earth to joy.

In the house of lords, Camden, on the sixteenth

Mar. 16.
of March, took the occasion of the motion to commit the bill depriving New England of the fisheries, to reply not to ministers only, but to their pensioned apologist, in a speech which was admired in England, and gained applause of Vergennes. He justified the union of the Americans, and refuted the suggestion that New York was or could be detached from it. By the extent of America, the numbers of [262] its people, their solid, firm, and indissoluble agreement
Chap. XXIV.} 1775. Mar. 16.
on the great basis of liberty and justice, and the want of men and money on the part of England, he proved that England could not but fail in her attempt at coercion, and that the ultimate independence of America was inevitable. ‘I cannot think him serious,’ said Sandwich. ‘Suppose the colonies do abound in men; they are raw, undisciplined, and cowardly. I wish instead of forty or fifty thousand of these brave fellows, they would produce in the field at least two hundred thousand; the more the better; the easier would be the conquest. At the siege of Louisburg. Sir Peter Warren found what egregious cowards they were. Believe me, my lords, the very sound of a cannon would send them off, as fast as their feet could carry them.’ He then abused the Americans for not paying their debts, and ascribed their associations to a desire to defraud their creditors. It is memorable, that when on the twenty-first, the debate was renewed and the bill passed, both Rockingham and Shelburne, the heads of the old whigs, and the new, inserted in their protest against the act, that ‘the people of New England are especially entitled to the fisheries.’

Franklin, as he heard the insinuations of Sandwich against the honesty of his countrymen, turned on his heel in wrath; nothing was left for him but to go home where duty called him. The French minister, who revered his supreme ability, sought with him one last interview. ‘I spoke to him,’ wrote Garnier to Vergennes, ‘of the part which our president Jeannin had taken in establishing the independence and forming the government of the United Provinces;’ and [263] the citation of the precedent cheered Franklin as a

Chap. XXIV.} 1775. Mar.
prediction. ‘But then,’ subjoined Garnier, ‘they have neither a marine, nor allies, nor a prince of Orange.’

A large part of his last day in London, Franklin passed with Edmund Burke, and however much he may have been soured and exasperated by wrongs and insults to himself and his country, he still regarded the approaching independence as an event which gave him the greatest concern. He called up the happy days which America had passed under the protection of England; he said ‘that the British empire was the only instance of a great empire, in which the most distant members had been as well governed as the metropolis; but then,’ reasoned he, ‘the Americans are going to lose the means which secured to them this rare and precious advantage. The question with them, is not whether they are to remain as they had been before the troubles, for better, they could not hope to be; but whether they are to give up so happy a situation without a struggle. I lament the separation between Great Britain and her colonies; but it is inevitable.’

So parted the great champion of the British aristocracy, and the man of the people. For what noble purpose will they two act together once more? When will an age again furnish minds like theirs? Burke revered Franklin to the last, foretold the steady brightening of his fame; and drew from his integrity the pleasing hope of ultimate peace.

On the morning after his conversation with Burke, Franklin posted to Portsmouth with all speed, and before his departure from London was [264] known, was embarked for Philadelphia. What

Chap. XXIV.} 1775. Mar.
tidings were to greet his landing

‘He has left with bad designs,’ said Hutchinson; ‘had I been the master, his embarkation would have been prevented.’—‘With his superiority,’ said Garnier, ‘and with the confidence of the Americans, he will be able to cut out work for the ministers who have persecuted him.’ Vergennes felt assured he would spread the conviction that the British ministry had irrevocably chosen its part; and that America had no choice but independence. With personal friends, with merchants, with manufacturers, with the liberal statesmen of England, with supporters of the ministry, Franklin had labored on all occasions earnestly, disinterestedly, and long. With his disappearance from the scene, the last gleam of a compromise vanished. The administration and their followers called him insincere. They insisted on believing to the last, that he had private instructions which would have justified him in accepting the regulating act for Massachusetts, and they attributed his answers to an inflexible and subtle hostility to England. But nothing deceives like jealousy; he perseveringly endeavored to open the eyes of the king and his servants. At the bar of the house of commons he first revealed his conviction, that persistence in taxation would compel independence; it was for the use of the government, that once to Strahan and then to Lord Howe he explained the American question with frankness and precision. The British ministry overreached themselves by not believing him. ‘Speaking the truth to them in sincerity,’ said Franklin, ‘was my only finesse.’ [265]

The ability displayed by him in his intercourse

Chap. XXIV.} 1775. Mar.
with the British government has, in its way, never been exceeded. He contemplated the course of events as calmly as he would have watched a process of nature. His judgment was quick and infallible; his communications prompt, precise, and unequivocal; his frankness perfect. He never shunned responsibility, and never assumed too much. In every instance, his answers to the ministry and their emissaries, were those which the voice of America would have dictated, could he have taken her counsel. In him is discerned no deficiency and no excess. Full of feeling, even to passion, he observed, and reasoned, and spoke serenely. Of all men, he was a friend to peace; but the terrors of a sanguinary civil war did not confuse his perceptions or impair his decision. Neither Chatham, nor Rockingham, nor Burke, blamed Franklin for renouncing allegiance; and we shall see Fox once more claim his friendship, and Shelburne and the younger Pitt rest upon him with the confidence which he deserved. He went home to the work of independence, and, through independence, of peace.

He was sailing out of the British channel with a fair wind and a smooth sea, when on the twenty-

Mar. 22.
second of March, on occasion of the bill prohibiting New England from the fisheries, Edmund Burke, for the vindication of his party, but with no hope of success, brought forward in the house of commons resolutions for conciliation. Beyond all others, he had asserted the right of parliament to tax America; and he could not wholly justify its uprising. He began, therefore, with censuring parliament for its many inconsistencies [266] in its legislation on the subject; and
Chap. XXIV.} 1775. Mar. 22.
then entered upon a splendid eulogy of the colonies, whose rapid growth from families to communities, from villages to nations, attended by a commerce, great out of all proportion to their numbers, had added to England in a single life as much as England had been growing to in a series of seventeen hundred years.

‘As to the wealth which the colonies have drawn from the sea by their fisheries,’ he continued, speak ing specially of the bill then in its last stage before the house,

you had all that matter fully opened at your bar. And pray, sir, what in the world is equal to it? Pass by the other parts, and look at the manner in which the people of New England have of late carried on the whale fishery. Whilst we follow them among the tumbling mountains of ice, and behold them penetrating into the deepest frozen recesses of Hudson's Bay and Davis's Straits, whilst we are looking for them beneath the arctic circle, we hear that they have pierced into the opposite region of polar cold, that they are at the antipodes, and engaged under the frozen serpent of the south. Falkland Island, which seemed too remote and romantic an object for the grasp of national ambition, is but a stage and resting place in the progress of their victorious industry. Nor is the equinoctial heat more discouraging to them, than the accumulated winter of both the poles. We know that whilst some of them draw the line and strike the harpoon on the coast of Africa, others run the longitude, and pursue their gigantic game along the coast of Brazil. No sea but what is vexed by their fisheries. [267] No climate that is not witness to their toils.

Chap. XXIV.} 1775. Mar. 22.
Neither the perseverance of Holland, nor the activity of France, nor the dexterous and firm sagacity of English enterprise, ever carried this most perilous 22. mode of hard industry to the extent to which it has been pushed by this recent people; a people who are still, as it were, but in the gristle, and not yet hardened into the bone of manhood. When I contemplate these things; when I know that the colonies in general owe little or nothing to any care of ours, and that they are not squeezed into this happy form by the constraints of watchful and suspicious government, but that, through a wise and salutary neglect, a generous nature has been suffered to take her own way to perfection; when I reflect upon these effects, when I see how profitable they have been to us, I feel all the pride of power sink, and all presumption in the wisdom of human contrivances melt and die away within me. My rigor relents. I pardon something to the spirit of liberty.

From six capital sources, of descent; of form of government; of religion in the northern provinces; of manners in the southern; of education; of the remoteness of situation from the first mover of government; from all these causes a fierce spirit of liberty has grown up. It looks to me to be narrow and pedantic to prosecute that spirit as criminal; to apply the ordinary ideas of criminal justice to this great public contest. I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people.

My idea, therefore, without considering whether we yield as matter of right, or grant as matter of favor, is to admit the people of our colonies into an [268] interest in the constitution. A revenue from Amer-

Chap. XXIV.} 1775. Mar. 22.
You never can receive it, no, not a shilling. For all service, whether of revenue, trade, or empire, mytrust is in her interest in the British constitution. My hold of the colonies is in the close affection which grows from common names, from kindred blood, from similar privileges, and equal protection. These are ties, which though light as air, are as strong as links of iron. Let the colonies always keep the idea of their civil rights associated with your government— they will cling and grapple to you; and no force under heaven will be of power to tear them from their allegiance. But let it be once understood that your government may be one thing, and their privileges another; that these two things may exist without any mutual relation; the cement is gone; the cohesion is loosened; and every thing hastens to decay and dissolution. As long as you have the wisdom to keep the sovereign authority of this country as the sanctuary of liberty, the sacred temple consecrated to our common faith, wherever the chosen race and sons of England worship freedom, they will turn their faces towards you. The more they multiply, the more friends you will have; the more ardently they love liberty, the more perfect will be their obedience. Slavery they can have anywhere. It is a weed that grows in every soil. But until you become lost to all feeling of your true interest and your natural dignity, freedom they can have from none but you. This is the commodity of price, of which you have the monopoly. This is the true act of navigation, which binds to you the commerce of the colonies, and through them secures to you the [269] wealth of the world. Deny them this participation
Chap XXIV} 1775. Mar. 22.
of freedom, and you break the unity of the empire. It is the spirit of the English constitution, which, infused through the mighty mass, pervades, feeds, 22. unites, invigorates, vivifies every part of the empire, even down to the minutest member. Is it not the same virtue which does every thing for us here in England?

All this, I know well enough, will sound wild and chimerical to the profane herd of those vulgar and mechanical politicians, who think that nothing exists but what is gross and material; and who, therefore, far from being qualified to be directors of the great movement of empire, are not fit to turn a wheel in the machine. But to men truly initiated and rightly taught, these ruling and master principles, which, in the opinion of such men as I have mentioned, have no substantial existence, are in truth every thing, and all in all. Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together. If we are conscious of our situation, and glow with zeal to fill our places as becomes our station and ourselves, we ought to auspicate all our public proceedings on America, with the old warning of the church, lift up your hearts! We ought to elevate our minds to the greatness of that trust to which the order of Providence has called us. By adverting to the dignity of this high calling, our ancestors have turned a savage wilderness into a glorious empire; and have made the most extensive, and the only honorable conquests, not by destroying, but by promoting the [270] wealth, the number, the happiness of the human

Chap. XXIV.} 1775. Mar. 22.

For three hours, Burke was heard with attention; but after a reply by Jenkinson, his deep wisdom was scoffed away by a vote of more than three to one. It was the moment of greatest depression to the friends of liberty in England; their efforts in parliament only exposed their want of power. Ministers anticipated as little resistance in the colonies.

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