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America in general; and beholding the letters that were forging for her, conceived the magnanimous thought of rending them asunder before they could be rivetted.”
The disturbances produced in America by Mr. Grenville's Stamp Act, and the opposition made to it are well known. But the origin thereof has generally been misunderstood. The following letter from Dr. Franklin on that subject, will correct some of the misrepresentations relative thereto.
To William Alexander, Esq.
Passy, March 12, 1778. DEAR SIR, IN the pamphlet you were so kind as to lend me, there is one important fact mis-stated, apparently from the writer's not having been furnished with good information; it is the transaction between Mr. Grenville and the colonies, wherein be understands that Mr. Grenville demanded of them a specific sum, that they refused to grant any thing, and that it was on their refusal only that he made a motion for the Stamp Act. No one of these particulars is truc. The fact was this.
Some time in the winter of 1763-4, Mr. Grenville called together the agents of the several colonies, and told them that he purposed to draw a revenue from America, and to that end his intention was to levy a stamp duty on the colonies by act of parliament in the ensuing session, of which he thought it fit that they should be immediately acquainted, that they might have time to consider, and if any other duty equally productive would be more agreeable to them, they might let him know it. The agents were therefore directed to write this to their respective assemblies, and communicate to him the answers they should receive: the agents wrote accordingly.
I was a member in the assembly of Pennsylvania, when this notification came to hand. The observations there made upon it were, that the antient, established, and regular method of drawing aids from the colonies was this. The occa
sion was always first considered by their sovereign in his privy council, by whose sage advice, he directed his secretary of state to write circular letters to the several governors, who were directed to lay them before their assemblies. In those letters the occasion was explained for their satisfaction, with gracious expressions of his majesty's confidence in their known duty and affection, on which he relied, that they would grant such sums as should be suitable to their abilities, loyalty, and zeal for his service. That the colonies had always granted liberally on such requisitions, and so liberally during the late war, that the king, sensible they had granted much more than their proportion, had recommended it to parliament five years successively, to make them some compensation, and the parliament accordingly returned them two hundred thousand pounds a-year to be divided among them. That the proposition of taxing them in parliament, was therefore both cruel and unjust." That by the constitution of the colonies their business was with the king in matters of aid, they had nothing to do with any financier, nor he with them; nor were the agents the proper channels through which requisitions should be made; it was therefore improper for them to enter into any stipulation, or make any proposition to Mr. Grenville about laying taxes on their constituents by parliament, which had really no right at all to tax them, especially as the notice he had sent them did not appear to be by the king's order, and perhaps was without his knowlege; as the king, when he would obtain any thing from them, always accompanied his requisition with good words, but this gentleman, instead of a decent demand sent them a menace, that they should certainly be taxed, and only left them the choice of the manner. But all this notwithstanding, they were so. far from refusing to grant money, that they resolved to the
• “There is neither king, nor sovereign lord on earth, who has beyond his own domain, power to lay one farthing on the subjects, without the grant and consent of those who pay it; unless he does it by tyranny and violence."
(Philippe de Commines, chap. 108.)
following purpose: “ That they always had, so they always should, think it their duty to grant aid to the crown, according to their abilities, whenever required of them in the usual constitutional manner.” I went soon after to England, and took with me an authentic copy of this resolution, which I presented to Mr. Grenville before he brought in the Stamp Act. I asserted in the house of commons (Mr. Grenville being present) that I had done so, and he did not deny it. Other colonies made similar resolutions. And had Mr. Grenville, instead of that act, applied to tie king in council for such requisitional letters to be circulated by the secretary of state, I am sure he would have obtained more money from the colonies by their voluntary grants, than he himself expected from bis stamps. But he chose compulsion rather than persuasion, and would not receive from their good-will what he thought he could obtain without it. And thus the golden bridge which the ingenious author thinks the Americans unwisely and unbecomingly refused to hold out to the minister and parliament, was actually held out to them, but they refused to walk over it. This is the true history of that transaction; and as it is probable there may be another edition of that excellent pamphlet, I wish this may be communicated to the candid author, who I doubt not will correct that error.
I am ever, with sincere esteem, dear sir, your most obe. dient, humble servant,
Dr. Franklin strenuously exerted himself to free America from this odious tax; the principal objection to which was, that it was imposed by a British parliament, which the Americans asserted had no right to tax them. Dr. Franklin thus expresses his sentiments on the subject, in a letter to a friend dated London, January 6, 1766:
« In my own private judgment, I think an immediate repeal of the Stamp Act would be the best measure for this country; but a suspension of it for three years, the best for that. The repeal would fill them with joy and gratitude, reestablish their respect and veneration for parliament, restore
at once their antient and natural love for this country, and their regard for every thing that comes from it hence; the trade would be renewed in all its branches; they would again indulge in all the expensive superfluities you supply them with, and their own new assumed home industry would languish. But the suspension, though it might continue their fears and anxieties, would at the same time keep up their resolutions of industry and frugality; which in two or three years would grow into habits, to their lasting advantage. However, as the repeal will probably not now be agreed to, from what I now think a mistaken opinion, that the honor and dignity of government is better supported by persisting in a wrong measure once entered into, than by rectifying an error as soon as it is discovered; we must allow the next best thing for the advantage of both countries is, the suspension. For as to executing the act by force, it is madness, and will be ruin to the whole.”
Contrary to Dr. Franklin's surmise, shortly after the date of this letter, it began to appear expedient to the administration, then under the marquis of Rockingham, to endeavor to calm the minds of the colonists; and the repeal of the Stamp Tax was contemplated. Amongst other means of collecting information on the disposition of the people to submit to it, Dr. Franklin was (Feb, 3, 1766,) “ordered to attend the committee of the whole house of commons, to whom it was referred to consider further the several papers relative to America, wbich were presented to the house by Mr. Secretary Conway, &c.”p It contains a striking account of the extent and accuracy of Dr. Franklin's information, and the facility and manliness with which he communicated his sentiments. He represented facts in so strong a point of view, that the inexpediency of the act must have appeared clear to every unprejudiced mind.
Feb. 24. The resolutions of the committee were reported by the chairman, Mr. Fuller; their seventh and last resolu
P See Vol. IV. of this edition, page 109.
tion setting forth, “ that it was their opinion that the house be moved, that leave be given to bring in a bill to repeal the Stamp Act.” A proposal for re-committing this resolution, was negatived by two hundred and forty votes to one hundred and thirty-three: and the act, after some opposition, was repealed about a year after it was enacted, and before it had ever been carried into execution.
? A ludicrous caricature was published on this occasion, of which the following description was given, annexed thereto: “ An Account of a humorous political Print, called The Repeal; which (it
the Painters' phrase) may be called A Companion to the Tomb-stone, Print not long since published.
“The subject of this print is the Funeral of Miss AME STAMP, the favorite child and youngest daughter of the honorable Mr. George Stamp, 1 the well-known Gentle Shepherd. At one end of the print stands the Family Vault, with a mutilated inscription, signifying that 'within it lie (it is to be hoped never to rise again) the remains of ........ Hearth Mon**, ...... Ship Mon**, ...... Excise B***, ...... Jew B***, ...... Gen**** Warrants, ...... &c.' On the top of the vault are two heads on poles, like those on l'emple Bar, marked on the skull with the numbers 1715 and 1745.2 The vault is supposed to be situated on the side of the river, along the Strand of which the funeral procession proceeds. The Reverend Mr. ANTI-SEJANUS, 3 that noted Constitutionalist, drawn to the life, appears first, reading the burial service: after him follow those two eminent pillars of the law, sir Bullface Doublefeet and Mr. Alerander Scotsburn,5 supporting two black flags; on which are delineated the Stamps, with the white rose and thistle interweaved, with the old motto of Semper eadem; to which is annexed a new motto, consisting of those sig. pificant words, Three Farthings taken from the budget. Beneath this motto, as if meant to certify the number of the despicable minority fighting under these banners, appear on one flag the figures 71, and on the other 122, with a flying label surrounding both, bearing these words, All of a STAMP. Next appears the sad father of the deceased child, the honorable Mr. George Stamp himself, with grief and despair pictured on his countenance, carrying in his arms the infant's coffin, on which is written • Miss AME STAMP, born 1765, died 1766.' Immediately after follows the chief mourner, Sejanus: then his Grace of Spitalfields6 and Lord
1 The Right Honorable George Grenville, author of the Stamp Act. 2 Ycars of rebellion. 3 Mr, Scott. - Sir Fletcher Norton. 5 Mr. Alexander Wedderburn (afterwards Lord Loughborough.) 6 (Perhaps) the Lluke of Bedford.