« ZurückWeiter »
native country only, but of the government they pretend to serve, and of the whole English empire.” The manner in which the letters fell into his hands was never explained. In the account of the affair, which he wrote previously to his leaving England, but which was not published till many years after his death, he says, the first hint he had of their existence was from a gentleman of character and distinction, in conversation with whom he strongly condemned the sending of troops to Boston, as a measure fraught with mischief, and from which the worst consequences were to be apprehended. The gentleman assured him, “that not only the measure he particularly censured so warmly, but all the other grievances complained of, took their rise, not from the government, but were projected, proposed to administration, solicited, and obtained, by some of the most respectable among the Americans themselves, as necessary measures for the welfare of that country.” As he seemed incredulous, the gentleman said he could bring such testimony as would convince him; and a few days after he produced the letters in question. He was astonished, but could no longer doubt, because the handwriting, particularly of Hutchinson and Oliver, was recognised by him, and their signatures were affixed. The name of the person, to whom they were addressed, was nowhere written upon them. It either had been erased, or perhaps the letters themselves were originally forwarded under envelopes, which had not been preserved. There is no evidence from which it can be inferred, that Dr. Franklin at that time knew the name of this person, or that he was ever informed of the manner in which the letters were obtained. If this secret was ever revealed to him, he does not appear to have disclosed it, and it is still a mystery. Three individuals, besides himself, were acquainted with the circumstance of their being sent. One of these was Mr. John Temple; the names of the other two are not known. It has been said, that one of them was a member of Parliament. Acting in this business from an imperative sense of duty, Dr. Franklin took no pains to screen himself from consequences. He mentioned the subject several times in his correspondence with Mr. Cushing and Dr. Cooper, but he did not in any instance intimate a wish, that his name as connected with it, or his agency, should be concealed. Mr. Cushing proceeded with caution, however, and informed two gentlemen only of the source from which the letters had come; and these gentlemen kept the secret till it was published by Dr. Franklin himself in London. Nor was it known, except to these individuals, by whom the letters were received in Boston. Mr. Cushing said, in writing to Dr. Franklin, “I desire, so far as I am concerned, my name may not be mentioned; for it may be a damage to me.” This injunction was obeyed to the last. Although the names of the persons chiefly concerned were thus kept out of sight, yet the letters themselves were seen by many persons; the instructions in this respect not confining them within narrow limits. Mr. John Adams carried them about with him on a judicial circuit. The rumor of their existence, and of the general character of their contents, soon got abroad; and, when the legislature met, the members became exceedingly inquisitive and solicitous concerning them. It was finally concluded to lay them before the Assembly, which usually sat with closed doors. They were read, but nothing could be done with them, while the prohibition against taking copies remained. Soon after, copies were produced in the House, “ said to have come from England by the last ships.” The originals being already before the House, the accuracy of the copies could easily be proved. While they were under consideration, Dr. Cooper wrote a letter to Dr. Franklin, dated Boston, June 14th, 1773, from which the following is an extract. “Many members scrupled to act upon these copies, while they were under such public engagements to the unknown proprietor of the originals. As the matter was now so public, and the restrictions could answer no good end, no view of the sender, but, on the contrary, might prevent in a great measure a proper use of the letters for the public benefit, and for weakening the influence and power of the writers and their friends, and disarming their revenge, it was judged most expedient, by the gentlemen to whom they were first shown, to allow the House such use of the originals, as they might think necessary to found their proceedings upon for the common safety. By whom and to whom they were sent is still a secret, known only to three persons here, and may still remain so, if you desire it.
“I forgot to mention, that, upon the first appearance of the letters in the House, they voted, by a majority of one hundred and one to five, that the design and tendency of them were to subvert the constitution, and introduce arbitrary power. Their committee upon this matter reported this day a number of resolutions, which are to be printed by to-morrow morning, and every member furnished with a copy, that they may compare them with the letters; and to-morrow at three o'clock in the afternoon is the time appointed to decide upon the report. The acceptance of it by a great majority is not doubted.
VOL. I. 46 E E
“Nothing could have been more seasonable than the arrival of these letters. They have had great effect; they make deep impressions wherever they are known; they strip the mask from the writers, who, under the professions of friendship to their country, now plainly appear to have been endeavouring to build up themselves and their families upon its ruins. They and their adherents are shocked and dismayed; the confidence reposed in them by many is annihilated; and administration must soon see the necessity of putting the provincial power of the crown into other hands, if they mean it should operate to any good effect. This, at present, is almost the universal sentiment.”
The resolutions here mentioned, as having been reported by a committee of the House, were passed the next day by a very large majority, warmly censuring the letters, as having the tendency and design not only to sow the seeds of discord and encourage the oppressive acts of the British government, but to introduce arbitrary power into the province, and subvert its constitution. A petition to the King was then voted with the same unanimity, praying his Majesty to remove from office Governor Hutchinson and Lieutenant-Governor Oliver, who, by their conduct, had rendered themselves obnoxious to the people, and entirely lost their confidence.”
* Governor Hutchinson says, that he “received early information from whom, and to whom, these letters were sent, and with what injunctions, from a person let into the secret.” Dr. Franklin had, indeed, written to Dr. Cooper, that “the letters might be shown to some of the Governor's and Lieutenant-Governor's partisans, and spoken of to everybody, for there was no restraint proposed to talking of them, but only to copying.” There was, nevertheless, a want of good faith somewhere, as well in other cases as in this. Copies of Franklin's letters were secretly procured and communicated to Hutchinson, who is known to have sent one of them to the ministry, and it may be presumed that this was not a solitary instance. In his History is published an extract from one of Franklin's letters to Dr. Cooper, which could hardly have been obtained otherwise than surreptitiously. And, what is worse, there is an omission and a substitution, which materially alter the sense, and misrepresent the motives of the writer. The extract relates to the reasons for refusing copies of the letters. As printed in Hutchinson's History, it is made to close as follows:– “..And possibly, as distant objects seen through a mist appear larger, the same may happen from the mystery in this case.” Nothing like this was written by Franklin. It was invented for the occasion. His words, for which the above were substituted, are the following. “However, the terms given with these [the original letters] could only be those with which they were received.” The design of the forgery is obvious. With whom it originated is uncertain. It may have been done before the extract was conveyed to Hutchinson.— See Vol. VIII. p. 72. — History of Massachusetts, Vol. III. p. 396.
When the petition arrived, Lord Dartmouth was at his seat in the country. Dr. Franklin transmitted it to him, and his Lordship, after his return to town, informed him, that it had been presented to his Majesty; but, from the tenor of the minister's conversation, he was led to suspect, that it would not be complied with.
In the mean time an event took place, which caused much excitement. Hutchinson's letters had been printed in Boston, and copies of them came over to London. Public curiosity was raised, and great inquiry was made, as to the person by whom they had been transmitted. Mr. Thomas Whately was dead, and his papers had gone into the possession of his brother, Mr. William Whately, who was censured for allowing the letters to be taken away. Mr. Temple had asked permission of him to examine his brother's papers, with the view of perusing a certain document on colonial affairs, which he believed to be among them. The permission was granted; and now Mr. Whately's suspicion rested upon Mr. Temple, whom he imagined to have taken advantage of this opportunity to gain