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Benjamin Franklin’s Years In London
“I … sigh in the midst of cheerful company”
December 1976 | Volume 28, Issue 1
Q . If the stamp-act should be repealed, would it induce the assemblies of America to acknowledge the rights of parliament to tax them, and would they erase their resolutions?
A . No, never.
Q . Is there no means of obliging them to erase those resolutions?
A . None that I know of; they will never do it unless compelled by force of arms.
Q . Is there a power on earth that can force them to erase them?
A . No power, how great soever, can force men to change their opinions.
Q . What used to be the pride of the Americans?
A . To indulge in the fashions and manufactures of Great-Britain.
Q . What is now their pride?
A . To wear their old cloaths over again, till they can make new ones.
When the Stamp Act was repealed a week later and the repeal approved by the king on March 8, Franklin, like most Americans, was exultant. This joy, however, was not to last. Constant changes in Parliamentary personnel and the splitting and shifting of responsibility for American affairs into a variety of government departments made the American agents’ lives one long frustration. “’Tis a kind of Labour in vain to attempt making Impressions on such movable Materials,” Franklin wrote home. “’Tis like writing on the Sand in a windy Day.” First Minister Rockingham was replaced by America’s great ally and Franklin’s friend William Pitt, whose declining physical and mental health soon caused him to lose his hold. Charles TOwnshend took over effective control of the government and put into effect the oppressive Townshend Acts. After Townshend’s death Lord Hillsborough, a man whose character Franklin described as “conceit, wrong-headed-ness, obstinacy and passion,” was placed in charge of American affairs. Finally, in 1770, the reins of government came to rest in the hands of Frederick Lord North, who fanned the fires of anger in the colonies into a white heat by a series of measures that became known as the Intolerable Acts. These acts were passed in 1774.
Franklin, during the course of these events, was orchestrating a vast propaganda effort, reprinting documents and pamphlets from America, getting sympathetic English friends to write on behalf of the colonies, and pouring out, under pseudonyms, a huge body of persuasive essays. It was not until late in the game that the government caught on to the authorship. Franklin wryly characterized himself in the midst of the turmoil: “Being born and bred in one of the countries, and having lived long and made many agreeable connexions of friendship in the other, I wish all prosperity to both; but I have talked and written so much and so long on the subject, that my acquaintance are weary of hearing, and the public of reading, any more of it, which begins to make me weary of talking and writing; especially as I do not find that I have gained any point in either country, except that of rendering myself suspected by my impartiality;—in England, of being too much an American, and in America, of being too much an Englishman.”