Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

Several letters written by Hutchinson, Oliver, and others, to persons in eminent stations in Great Britain, came into the hands of Dr. Franklin.

These contained the most violent invectives against the leading characters of the state of Massachusetts, and strenuously advised the prosecution of vigorous measures, to compel the people to obedience to the measures of the ministry. These he transmitted to the legislature, by whom they were published. Attested copies of them were sent to Great Britain, with an address, praying the king to discharge from office persons who had rendered themselves so obnoxious to the people, and who had shewn themselves so unfriendly to their interests. The publication of these letters produced a duel between Mr. Whately and Mr. Temple ; each of whom was suspected of having been instrumental in procuring them. To prevent any further disputes on this subject, Dr. Franklin, in one of the public papers, declared that he had sent them to America, but would give no information concerning the manner in which he had obtained them ; nor was this ever discovered.

Shortly after, the petition of the Massachusetts assembly was taken up for examination before the privy council. Dr. Franklin attended, as agent for the as. sembly ; and here a torrent of the most violent and unwarranted abuse was poured upon him by the soli. citor-general, Wedderburne, who was engaged as council for Oliver and Hutchinson. The petition was declared to be scandalous and vexatious, and the prayer of it refused. . ;

Although the parliament of Great Britain had rea pealed the stamp-act, it was only upon the principle of expediency. They still insisted upon the right to tax the colonies; and, at the same time that the stampact was repealed, an act was passed, declaring the right of parliament to bind the colonies in ail cases whatsoever. This language was used even by the

most strenuous opposers of the stamp-act; and, amongst others, by Mr. Pitt. This right was never recognized by the colonists; but, as they flattered themselves that it would not be exercised, they were not very active in remonstrating against it. Had this pretended right been suffered to remain dormant, the colonists would cheerfully have furnislied their quota of supplies, in the mode to which they had been accustomed ; that is, by acts of their own assemblies, in consequence of requisitions from the secretary of state. If this practice had been pursued, such was the dispusition of the colonies towards the mother country, that, notwithstanding the disadvantages under which they laboured, from restraints upon their trade, calculated solely for the benefit of the commercial and manufacturing interests of Great Britain, a separation of the two countries might have been a far distant event. The Americans, from their earliest infancy, were taught to venerate a people from whom they were descended ; whose language, laws, and manners, were the same as their own. They looked up to them as models of perfection ; and, in their prejudiced minds, the most enlightened nations of Europe were considered as almost barbarians, in comparison with Eng ishmen. The name of an Englishman conveyed to an American the idea of every thing good and great.Such sentiments instilled into them in early life, what but a repetition of unjust treatment could have induced them to entertain the most distant thought of separation! The duties on glass, paper, leather, painter's colours, tea, &c. the disfranchisement of some of the colonies ; the obstruction to the measure of the legislature in others, by the king's, governors ; the contempluous treatment of their humble renonsurances, stating their grievances, and praying a redress of them, and other violent and oppressive measures, at length excited an ardent spirit of opposition. Instead of endeaycring to allay this by a marc lenient conductz. the ministry seemed resolutely oent upon reducing the colonies to the most slavish obedience to their decrees. But this tended only to aggravate. Vain were all the efforts made use of to prevail upon them to lay aside their designs, to convince them of the impossibility of carrying them into effect, and of the mischievous consequences which must ensue from a continuance of the attempt: They persevered, with a degree of inflexibility scarcely paralleled.

The advantages which Great Britain derived from her colonies were so great, that nothing but a degree of infatuation little short of madness, could have produced a continuance of measures calculated to keep up a spirit of uneasiness, which might occasion the slightest wish for a separation. When we consider the great improvement in the science of government, the general diffusion of the principles of liberty amongst the people of Europe, the effects which these have already produced in France, and the probable consequences which will result from them elsewhere, all of which are the offspring of the American revolution, it cannot but appear strange, that events of so great moment to the happiness of mankind, should have been ultimately occasioned by the wickedness or ignorance of a British ministry.

Dr. Franklin left nothing untried to prevail upon the ministry to consent to a change of measure. In private conversations, and in letters to persons in government, he continually expatiated upon the impolicy and injustice of their conduct towards America ; and stated, that, notwithstanding the attachment of the colonists towards the mother country, a repetition of ill treatment must ultimately alienate their affections. They listened not to his advice. They blindly persevered in their own schemes, and left to the colonists no alternative, but opposition or unconditional submission. The latter accorded not with the principles of freedom, which they had been taught to revere. To

M

the former they were compelled, though reluctantly, ko have recourse.

Dr. Franklin, finding all efforts to restore harmony between Great Britain and her colonies useless, return. ed to America in the year 1775; just after the commencement of hostilities. The day after his return he was elected by the legislature of Pennsylvania a Member of Congress. Not long after his election a committee was appointed, consisting of Mr. Lynch, Mr. Harrison, and himself, to visit the Camp at Cambridge, and in conjunction with the commander in chief, to endeavour to convince the troops, whose term of enlistment was about to expire, of the necessity of their continuing in the field, and persevering in the cause of their country.

In the fall of the same year he visited Canada, to endeavour to unite them in the common cause of liberty ; but they could not be prevailed upon to oppose the measures of the British Government. M. Le Roy, in a letter annexed to Abbe Fauchet's eulogium of Dr. Franklin, states that the ill success of this negociation was occasicned, in a great degree, by religous animosities, which subsisted between the Canadians and their neighbours, some of whom had at different times burnt their chapels.

When Lord Howe came to America, in 1776, vested with power to treat with the colonists, a correspondence took place between him and Dr. Franklin, on the subject of a reconciliation. Dr. Franklin was afterwards appointed, together with John Adams and Edward Rutledge, to wait upon the commissioners, in order to learn the extent of their power. These were found to be only to grant pardons upon submission. These were terms which would not be accepted ; and the object of the commissioners could not be obtained.

The momentous question of Independence was shortly after brought into view, at a time when the Heets and armies, which were sent to enforce obe. cience, were truly formidable. With an army, numerous indeed, but ignorant of discipline, and entirely unskilled in the art of war, without money, without a fleet, without allies, and with nothing but the love of liberty to support them, the colonists determined to separate from a country, from which they had experienced a repetition of injury and insult. In this question, Dr. Franklin was decidedly in favour of the measure proposed, and had great influence in bringing over others to his sentiments.

The public mind had been pretty fully prepared for this event, by Mr. Paine's celebrated pamphlet, Common Sense. There is good reason to believe that Dr! Franklin had no inconsiderable share, at least, in fur nishing materials for this work.

In the convention which assembled at Philadelphia in 1776, for the purpose of establishing a new form of government for the state of Pennsylvania, Dr. Franklin was chosen president. The late constitution of this state, which was the result of their deliberations, may be considered as a digest of his principles of gov... ernment. The single legislature, and the plural executive, seem to have been his favourite tenets.

In the latter end of 1776, Dr. Franklin was appointed to assist in the negociations which had been set on foot by Silas Deane at the court of France. A conviction of the advantages of a commercial intercourse with America, and a desire of weakening the British empire by dismembering it, first induced the French court to listen to proposals of an alliance. But they shewed rather a reluctance to the measure, which, by Dr. Franklin's address, and particularly by the success of the American arms against general Burgoyne, was at length overcome; and in February 1778, a treaty of alliance, offensive and defensive, was concluded; in consequence of which France became involved in the war with Great Britain.

Perhaps no person could have been found, more ca

« ElőzőTovább »