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contest was likely to be of longer duration and more serious than they had apprehended. There was little doubt that Spain would soon follow the example of France. A reconciliation with the Americans, therefore, on such terms as would comport with the dignity of Parliament and the interests of the crown, was a thing most ardently to be desired. After warm debates in Parliament, it was resolved to despatch commissioners to treat with Congress, invested with such powers as, it was fondly hoped, would insure their SucCeSS. In the mean time other measures were put in operation to effect the same end through the instrumentality of secret agents. Their advances were chiefly made to Dr. Franklin. Even before the treaties were signed, an emissary of this description appeared in Paris, who endeavoured to obtain from him propositions, which he might carry back to England. This was Mr. Hutton, secretary to the Society of Moravians; an old friend, for whom he had great esteem; a grave man, advanced in years, respected for his virtues, and possessing the confidence of persons in power. Franklin replied, that neither he nor his colleagues . had any authority to propose terms, although they could listen to such as should be offered, and could treat of peace whenever proposals should be made. Mr. Hutton returned to London, and immediately wrote to him, renewing his request for some hints or suggestions upon which he might proceed, and adding, that he believed every thing satisfactory to the Americans, short of independence, might be obtained. Dr. Franklin was still reserved, however, and only intimated, that a peace could not be expected while the cabinet and Parliament of Great Britain continued in their present temper. Mr. Hutton had asked his
advice. He answered ; “I think it is Ariosto who says, that all things lost on earth are to be found in the moon; on which somebody remarked, that there must be a great deal of good advice in the moon. If so, there is a good deal of mine, formerly given and lost in this business. I will, however, at your request give a little more, but without the least expectation that it will be followed; for none but God can at the same time give good counsel, and wisdom to make use of it.” He then mentioned certain terms, which he said it would be good policy for the British government to propose, if they meant to recover the respect and affection of the Americans. Mr. Hutton was followed by Mr. William Pulteney, a member of Parliament, who assumed in Paris the name of Williams, and who was understood to have come from Lord North, although not invested with any official character. He held a long conversation with Dr. Franklin, and presented to him a paper containing the outlines of a treaty. Franklin told him at once, that every plan of reconciliation implying a voluntary return of the United States to a dependence on Great Britain was now become impossible. “I see,” he remarked, “by the propositions you have communicated to me, that the ministers cannot yet divest themselves of the idea, that the power of Parliament over us is constitutionally absolute and unlimited; and that the limitations they may be willing now to put to it by treaty are so many favors, or so many benefits, for which we are to make compensation. “As our opinions in America are totally different, a treaty on the terms proposed appears to me utterly impracticable, either here or there. Here we certainly cannot make it, having not the smallest authority to make even the declaration specified in the proposed letter, without which, if I understood you right, treating with us cannot be commenced. “I sincerely wish as much for peace as you do, and I have enough remaining of good will for England to wish it for her sake as well as for our own, and for the sake of humanity. In the present state of things, the proper means of obtaining it, in my opinion, are, to acknowledge the independence of the United States, and then enter at once into a treaty with us for a suspension of arms, with the usual provisions relating to distances; and another for establishing peace, friendship, and commerce, such as France has made.”” The ministry were not discouraged by the failure of these attempts. Mr. David Hartley, likewise a member of Parliament, was next employed on a similar mission. He had opposed all the measures of government in relation to the American war; but his character was so high and honorable, that he was confided in by both parties. An intimate friendship between him and Dr. Franklin, formed while the latter resided in England, had been preserved ever since by a correspondence on public and private affairs. His benevolence and philanthropy were eminently manifested during the war, by the lively interest he took in the condition of the American prisoners in England. He visited them often, collected money by subscription for their relief, interceded with the ministers in their behalf, and used his unremitted efforts at various times to procure their exchange. He was very properly selected, therefore, as a suitable person to elicit Dr. Franklin's views on the subject of a reconciliation. He did not propose terms, but inquired, “Whether America would not, to obtain peace, grant some superior advantages in trade to Britain, and enter into an alliance, offensive and defensive; and whether, if war should be declared against France, the Americans had bound themselves by treaty, to join with her against England.” It is scarcely necessary to add, that the first of these queries was answered in the negative. As to the second, Dr. Franklin assured his friend, that peace, while a war was waged against France on account of her alliance with America, was impossible. In short, Mr. Hartley obtained no more satisfaction than his predecessors. When he was on the point of leaving Paris, he wrote a note to Dr. Franklin, in which he said; “If tempestuous times should come, take care of your own safety; events are uncertain, and men are capricious.” “I thank you for your kind caution,” said Franklin in reply; “but, having nearly finished a long life, I set but little value upon what remains of it. Like a draper, when one chaffers with him for a remnant, I am ready to say, “As it is only a fag end, I will not differ with you about it; take it for what you please.” Perhaps the best use such an old fellow can be put to, is to make a martyr of him.” It was rumored, also, that he was surrounded with spies. Some time after the date of the above note, an anonymous letter came to a friend of his in Paris, written in cipher, and containing the following passage. “Mr. Hartley told Lord Camden this morning, that he was sure the commissioners, and particularly Dr. Franklin, were much disconcerted at Paris; for they might as well live in the Bastille, as be exposed, as they are, to the perpetual observation of French ministerial spies. This must not, however, be repeated.” The letter was conveyed to Dr. Franklin, who replied; “Be so good as to answer our friend, that it is impossible Mr. Hartley could have said what is here represented, no such thing having ever been intimated to him; nor has the least idea of the kind ever been in the minds of the commissioners, particularly Dr. Franklin, who does not care how many spies are placed about him by the court of France, having nothing to conceal from them.”
* Mr. Pulteney had recently published a pamphlet, entitled, “Thoughts on the Present State of Affairs with America, and the Means of Conciliation.” The author's views are expressed with moderation and apparent candor. He disapproves the scheme of Parliamentary taxation, which had brought on the controversy, although he thinks the Americans had taken unjustifiable grounds in their opposition; and he endeavours to show, that they did not aim at independence, till after the petitions of Congress to the King had been rejected. He fortifies his remarks by Dr. Franklin's celebrated letters to Governor Shirley, which are appended to the pamphlet.
VOL. I. 56
A more formidable advance was made soon after by a secret agent under a fictitious name. It was now thought proper to mingle threats with persuasion. Dr. Franklin received a long letter dated at Brussels, and signed Charles de Weissenstein, in which was sketched not only a plan of reconciliation, but the form of a future government in America. The writer speaks disparagingly of the French, and says they will certainly deceive and betray their allies; and he represents the power of England as invincible, by which the colonies would inevitably be overwhelmed, if they continued obstinate in their resistance. He affirms that Parliament would never be induced to acknowledge their independence, and that, if such a thing were possible, the people of England would never submit to it. “Our title to the empire,” he says, “is indisputable; it will be asserted, either by ourselves or successors, whenever occasion presents. We may stop awhile in our pursuit to recover breath, but we shall assuredly resume our career again.” After these threats, he holds out temptations. By the new plan of government, now proposed, the Americans were to