FRANKLIN, Benjamin (1706-1790). Letter signed ("B. Franklin") to Henry Home, Lord Kames ("My Dear Lord"), London 11 April 1767. Seven pages, 325 x 203mm, with the date additionally in Franklin's hand (fold separations neatly repaired, lightly toned in spots). [With:] a fragment of the original address panel bearing his franking signature (“B Free Franklin”) and addressed in hand (separations, soiling), with intact wax seal.
"America, an immense Territory, favour’d by Nature with all Advantages of Climate, Soil, great navigable Rivers and Lakes . must become a great Country, populous and mighty; and will in a less time than is generally conceived be able to shake off any Shackles that may be impos’d on her, and perhaps place them on the Imposers. In the mean time, every Act of Oppression will sour their Tempers, lessen greatly if not annihilate the Profits of your Commerce with them, and hasten their final Revolt: for the Seeds of Liberty are universally sown there, and nothing can eradicate them."
Benjamin Franklin on the escalating conflict between Great Britain and her North American colonies. A lengthy and important letter to Lord Kames discussing the enactment of the Townshend duties, describing his examination before Parliament, and his prediction that if London did not tread lightly, colonial independence would be the ultimate result: “I was inclined to form (tho’ contrary to the general tongue) on the then delicate & critical Situation of Affairs between Britain and her Colonies, and on that weighty Point of their Union. You guess’d aright in supposing I could not be a Mute in that Play. I was extremely busy, attending Members of both Houses, informing, explaining, consulting, disputing, in a continual Hurry, from Morning to Night ‘till the Affair was happily ended. During the Course of it, being called before the House of Commons I spoke my Mind pretty freely.” Franklin then encloses “an imperfect Account” of the affair (not present), yet vastly superior to those found in “the Papers at that Time being full of mistaken assertions that the Colonies had been the Cause of the War, and had ungratefully refus’d to bear any part of the Expence of it.”
For Franklin, part of the solution lay in his long-held belief in colonial union, a belief shared by his correspondent: “I am fully persuaded with you that a consolidating Union by a fair and and equal Representation of all the Parts of this Empire in Parliament, is the only firm Basis on which its political Grandeur and Stability can be founded.” By 1767, Franklin feared this concession by London would be coming too late: “The Time has been when the Colonies might have been pleas’d with it: They are now indifferent about it; and, if ‘tis much longer delay’d, they too will refuse it.”
He is troubled by the arrogance of many in London toward colonial grievances: “Every Man in England seems to consider himself as a Piece of a Sovereign over America; seems to jostle himself into the Throne with the King, and talks of Our Subjects in the Colonies. Effective policy to collect revenue from the colonies could not be “wisely” implemented unless Parliament was “properly and truly informed of their Circumstances, Abilities, Temper,” Indeed it was that general ignorance of the daily economic and social realities of the North American colonies that resulted in laws that did more to loosen rather than solidify the bonds of empire. To Franklin, the solution was simple: seat ministers from North America in Parliament “This is cannot be, without Representatives from thence.”
The Townshend Acts, Parliament’s second attempt to assert its right to tax the colonies, was part and parcel of the general ignorance of North American politics. Supposing that colonists merely opposed internal taxation, they would not object to customs duties, considered “external” taxation. Again they were wrong. Franklin believed “the contest is like to be revived.” He points to the Quartering Act as a particular bone of contention, and if London elects to prosecute these measures by force "great Mischief will ensue, the Affections of the People of America to this Country will be alienated, your Commerce will be diminished, and a total Separation of Interests be the final Consequence."
Franklin found the root of the problem lay in the "common but mistaken Notion here, that the Colonies were planted at the Expence of Parliament, and that therefore the Parliament has a Right to tax them . The Truth, is, they were planted at the Expence of Private Adventurers, who went over there to settle with Leave of the King given by Charter … and those Charters the Adventurers voluntarily engag’d to remain the King’s Subjects, tho’ in a Foreign Country, A country which had not been conquered by either King or Parliament, but was posses’d by a free People When our Planters arriv’d they pruchas’d the Lands of the Natives without putting King or Parliament to any Expence. Parliament had no hand in their Settlement, was never so much as consulted about their Constitution, and took no Kind of Notice of them ‘till many Years after they were establis’d. I except only the two modern Colonies, or rather Attempts to make Colonies (for the succeed but poorly, and as yet hardly deserve the Name of Colonies) I mean Georgia and Nova Scotia, which have been hitherto little matter than Parliamentary Jobbs.– Thus all the Colonies acknowledge the King as their Sovereign: His Governors there represent his Person—Laws are made by their Assemblies or little Parliaments, with the Governor’s assent, Subject still to the King’s Pleasure to confirm or annul them. Suits arising in the Colonies, and Differences between Colony and Colony, are not brought before your Lords of Parliament, as those within the Realm, but determined by the King in Council. In this View they seem so many separate little States, subject to the same Prince. The Sovereignty of the King is therefore easily understood. But nothing is more common here than to talk of the Sovereignty of Parliament, and the Sovereignty of this Nation over the Colonies; a kind of Sovereignty the Idea of which is not so clear, nor does it clearly appear on what Foundations it is established."
Franklin concludes, "Upon the whole, I have lived so great a Part of my Life in Britain, and have form'd so many Friendships in it, that I love it and wish its Prosperity; and therefore wish to see that Union on which alone I think it can be secur'd and established. As to America, the Advantages of such an Union to her are not so apparent. She may suffer at present under the Arbitrary Power of this Country, she may suffer for a while in a Separation from it; but these are temporary Evils that she will outgrow. Scotland and Ireland are differently circumstanc’d. Confin’d by the Sea, they can scarcely increase in Numbers, Wealth and Strength, so as to overbalance England. But America, an immense Territory, favour’d by Nature with all Advantages of Climate, Soil, great navigable Rivers and Lakes, . must become a great Country, populous and mighty; and will in a less time than is generally conceived be able to shake off any Shackles that may be impos’d on her, and perhaps place them on the Imposers. In the mean time, every Act of Oppression will sour their Tempers, lessen greatly if not annihilate the Profits of your Commerce with them, and hasten their final Revolt: for the Seeds of Liberty are universally sown there, and nothing can eradicate them. And yet there remains among that People so much Respect, Veneration and Affection for Britain, that, if cultivated prudently, with kind Usage and Tenderness for their Privileges, they might be easily govern’d still for Ages, without Force or any considerable Expence. But I do not see here a sufficient Quantity of the Wisdom that is necessary to produce such a Conduct, and I lament the Want of it."
This letter is a copy of a letter Franklin had sent to Kames on 25 February 1767. In letters to Kames subsequent to 25 February, Franklin alludes to a letter "on the Subject of the Disputes with America," but apparently that letter had been mislaid. It is probable that the present letter was copied from Franklin's letterbook and sent to Lord Kames who had still yet to receive the letter sent in February. Oddly the 25 February, an autograph letter signed, was headed "Copy", rather than the present letter offered here. To date, no satisfying explanation has been offered to clarify this mystery. Published in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. L.W. Labaree, vol. 14 pp.62-71. Provenance: sold by the descendants of Lord Kames, Christie's, 29 June 1995, lot 511.