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Benjamin Franklin’s Years In London
“I … sigh in the midst of cheerful company”
December 1976 | Volume 28, Issue 1
Such rewarding friendships continued to brighten his life in London after 1764—and his life needed brightening. He arrived back on the scene to find that a stamp tax for the colonies had been proposed in the House of Commons in February, 1764. This tax was passed as an act of Parliament a year later and took effect in November, 1765. And from America word had come that the Virginia Resolves, adopted after fiery persuasion by Patrick Henry, rejected Parliament’s right to impose such a measure. Franklin’s campaign to oust the Penns was put aside for the moment, and he was soon hard at work with other American agents trying to get the Stamp Act repealed. First they tried to persuade George Grenville, First Lord of the Treasury, to consider a better way to raise revenue in America—namely, by issuing paper currency to the colonies on which they would pay six per cent interest to the Crown. This was rejected, but when Grenville was replaced by Lord Rockingham—who, with his secretary, Edmund Burke, was much more sympathetic to the American cause—Franklin redoubled his efforts. William Strahan, writing to a mutual friend, described his activités: “The Assiduity of your Friend Dr. Franklin is really astonishing. He is forever with one member of Parliament or another (most of whom by the bye seem to have been deplorably ignorant with regard to the Nature and Consequence of the Colonies) endeavouring to impress them; first with the’Importance of the present Dispute; then to state the Case clearly and fully, stripping it of every thing foreign to the main Point; and lastly to answer objections arising either from a total Ignorance, a partial Knowledge, or a wrong Conception of the matter. … All this while, too, he hath been throwing out Hints in the Public Papers, and giving answers to such Letters as have appeared in them, that required or deserved an answer.—In this manner is he now employed, with very little Intermission, Night and Day.” On a small card Franklin drew his famous cartoon “Magna Britannia her Colonies Reduc’d,” showing Britannia with her legs (Virginia and New England) and her arms (Pennsylvania and New York) cut off. He distributed this card to everyone of importance.
The debates in the House of Commons on the repeal of the Stamp Act culminated in February, 1766, with the testimony of a number of people knowledgeable about America. Edmund Burke had arranged this, and he carefully chose Franklin as the last to be questioned. Franklin had been expertly coached. The questions of his allies, as he later revealed, were intended “to bring out such answers as they desired and expected from me.” He was on his feet for four hours and performed brilliantly, as these excerpts from the transcript suggest.
Q . What is your name, and place of abode?
A . Franklin, of Philadelphia.
Q . Do the Americans pay any considerable taxes among themselves?
A Certainly many, and very heavy taxes.
Q . Do you think it right that America should be protected by this country, and pay no part of the expence?
A . That is not the case. The Colonies raised, cloathed and paid, during the last war, near 25000 men, and spent many millions.
Q . Do not you think the people of America would submit to pay the stamp duty, if it was moderated?
A . No, never, unless compelled by force of arms.
Q . What was the temper of America towards GreatBritain before the year 1763?
A . The best in the world. They submitted willingly to the government of the Crown, and paid, in all their courts, obedience to acts of parliament. … They had not only a respect, but an affection, for Great-Britain, for its laws, its customs and manners, and even a fondness for its fashions, that greatly increased the commerce. Natives of Britain were always treated with particular regard; to be an Old England-man was, of itself, a character of some respect, and gave a kind of rank among us.
Q . And what is their temper now?
A . O, very much altered.
Q . Did you ever hear the authority of parliament to make laws for America questioned till lately?
A . The authority of parliament was allowed to be valid in all laws, except such as should lay internal taxes. It was never disputed in laying duties to regulate commerce.