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council behaved with decent gravity, except lord North,
who, coming late, took his stand behind the chair opposite to me.
When the business was over, Dr. Franklin, in going out, took me by the hand, in a manner that indicated some feeling. I soon followed him, and going through the anti-room, saw Mr. Wedderburn there, surrounded with a circle of his friends and admirers. Being known to him, he stepped forwards as if to speak to me; but I turned aside, and made what haste I could out of the place.
The next morning I breakfasted with the doctor, when he said, “ he had never before been so sensible of the power of a good conscience; for if he had not considered the thing for which he had been so much insulted, as one of the best actions of his life, and what he should certainly do again in the same circumstances, he could not have supported it." He was accused of clandestinely procuring certain letters, containing complaints of the governor, and sending them to America, with a view to excite their animosity against him, and thus to embroil the two countries. But he assured me, that he did not even know that such letters existed, till they were brought to him as agent for the colony, in order to be sent to his constituents; and the cover of the letters on which the direction had been written, being lost, he only guessed at the person to whom they were addressed, by the , contents.
That Dr. Franklin, notwithstanding he did not show it at the time, was much impressed by the business of the privycouncil, appeared from this circumstance: when he attended there, he was dressed in a suit of Manchester velvet; and Silas Deane told me, when they met at Paris, to sign the treaty between France and America, he purposely put on that suit.
The publication of the letters of Hutchinson and Oliver, by the legislature of Massachusetts, and the transmission of attested copies of the same, with their address, eventually produced a duel between Mr. William Whately, (brother of the deceased Mr. Thomas Whately, secretary to the treasury, to whom the letters were originally addressed, and in whose possession they were supposed to have been at the time of his death, in 1772,) and Mr. John Temple, of Boston, New England; each of whom had been suspected of having been instrumental in procuring the letters, and sending them to America. This tragical event, which Dr. Franklin could not foresee, nor had an opportunity of preventing, was maliciously made usc of hy his enemies to cast an odium on his character.
The following account of the whole of this mysterious affair is taken from a manuscript in Dr. Franklin's own hand-writing, found among his papers; evidently drawn up with a view to justify his conduct with respect to those famous letters, and the unfortunate event that resulted therefrom, and probably with the intent of inserting it in his memoirs, had he continued them to that period of his life. For these reasons the editor conceives it his duty to embody it with the present work, as well for the justification of his illustrious relative, as an historical document respecting a transaction important in the American annals, and which has never before been thoroughly elucidated.
Dr. Franklin may be considered as thus again continuing his own memoirs.
HAVING been from my youth more or less engaged in public affairs, it has often happened to me in the course of my life, to be censured sharply for the part I took in them. Such censures I have generally passed over in silence, conceiving, when they were just, that I ought rather to amend than defend; and when they were undeserved, that a little time would justify me. Much experience has confirmed my
Afterwards sir John Temple, and for several years British consul in the United States.
opinion of the propriety of this conduct; for notwithstanding the frequent, and sometimes the virulent, attacks which the jostlings of party interests have drawn upon me, I have had the felicity of bringing down to a good old age as fair a reputation (may I be permitted to say it as most public men that I have known, and have never had reason to repent my neglecting to defend it.
I should therefore (persisting as old men ought to do in old habits) have taken no notice of the late invective of the solicitor-general, nor of the abundant abuse in the papers, were I not urged to it by my friends, who say, that the first being delivered by a public officer of government, before a high and most respectable court, the privy council, and countenanced by its report, and the latter having that for its foundation, it behoves me, more especially as I am about leaving this country, to furnish them with the knowlege of such facts as may cnable them to justify to others their good opinion of me. This compels me to the present undertaking; for otherwise, having, for some time past, been gradually losing all public connexions, declining my agencies, determining on retiring to my little family, that I might enjoy the remainder of life in private repose, indifferent to the opinion of courtiers, as having nothing to seek or wish among them, and being secure, that time would soon lay the dust which prejudice and party have so lately raised, I should not think of giving myself the trouble of writing, and my friends of reading, an apology for my political conduct.
That this conduct may be better understood, and its consistency more apparent, it seems necessary that I should first explain the principles on which I have acted. It has long appeared to me that the only true British policy was that which aimed at the good of the whole British empire, not that which sought the advantage of one part in the disadvantage of the others: therefore all measures of procuring gain to the mother country arising from loss to her colonies, and all of gain to the colonies, arising from or occasioning loss to Britain, especially where the gain was small and the loss great, every abridgment of the power of the mother country, where that power was not prejudicial to the liberties of the colonists, and every diminution of the privileges of the colonists, where they were not prejudicial to the welfare of the mother country, I, in my own mind, condemned as improper, partial, unjust, and mischievous; tending to create dissentions, and weaken that union, on which the strength, solidity, and duration of the empire greatly depended; and I opposed, as far as my little powers went, all proceedings either here or in America, that in my opinion had such tendency. Hence it has often happened to me, that while I have been thought here too much of an American, I have in America been deemed too much of an Englishman.
From a thorough inquiry (on occasion of the stamp act) into the nature of the connection between Britain and the colonies, I became convinced, that the bond of their union is not the parliament but the king. That in removing to America, a country out of the realm, they did not carry with them the statutes then existing; for if they did, the Puritans must have been subject there to the same grievous act of conformity, tithes, spiritual courts, &c., which they meant to be free from by going thither; and in vain would they have left their native country, and all the conveniences and comforts of its improved state, to combat the hardships of a new settlement in a distant wilderness, if they had taken with them what they meant to fly from, or if they had left a power behind them capable of sending the same chains after them, to bind them in America. They took with them, however, by compact, their allegiance to the king, and a legislative power for the making a new body of laws with his assent, by which they were to be governed. Hence they became distinct states, under the same prince, united as Ireland is to the crown, but not to the realm of England, and governed each by its own laws, though with the same sovereign, and haring each the right of granting its own money to that sorereign.
At the same time, I considered the king's supreme authority over all the colonies, as of the greatest importance to them, affording a dernier resort for settling all their disputes, a means of preserving peace among them with each other, and a centre in which their common force might be united against a common enemy: this authority, I therefore thought, when acting within its due limits, should be ever as carefully supported by the colonists as by the inhabitants of Britain.
In conformity with these principles, and as agent for the colonies, I opposed the stamp act, and endeavored to obtain its repeal, as an infringement of the rights of the colonists, of no real advantage to Britain, since she might ever be sure of greater aids from our voluntary grants, than she could expect from arbitrary taxes, as by losing our respect and affection, on which much of her commerce with us depended, she would lose more in that commerce than she could possibly gain by such taxes, and as it was detrimental to the harmony which had till then so happily subsisted, and which was so essential to the welfare of the whole. And to keep up as much as in me lay, a reverence for the king, and a respect for the British nation on that side of the water, and on this, some regard for the colonies (both tending to promote that harmony,) I industriously on all occasions, in my letters to America, represented the measures that were grievous to them, as being neither royal nor national measures, but the schemes of an administration, which wished to recommend itself for its ingenuity in finance, or to avail itself of new revenues in creating, by places and pensions, new dependencies; for that the king was a good and gracious prince, and the people of Britain their real friends. And on this side the water, I represented the people of America as fond of Britain, concerned for its interests and its glory, and without the least desire of a separation from it. In both cases, I thought and still think, I did not exceed the bounds of truth, and I have the heart-felt satisfaction attending good intentions, even when they are not successful. VOL. I.