Mary A. M Marks.

England and America, 1763 to 1783; the history of a reaction online

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lands, and changing the Judges until he found some to decide the
question in his favour.

With inconceivable want of judgment, Hutchinson lost no
opportunity of a wrangle with the House. Thus, in June he had
refused to confirm a number of bills because the year of the King's
reign was " expressed in plain English, instead of the Roman
language as usual." The House said if the Governor thought this
made the bills of an extraordinary nature, they would put the year
in Latin — it was immaterial to them.

Meanwhile, as a result of our policy, the whole of the American
revenue in each of the last two years was considerably less than that
collected on molasses alone " before the new laws." " Exclusive of
the great expense of the Board of Commissioners, and other
appointments," it is said to amount to about _;^i4,ooo a year.
Hutchinson was growing alarmed, and the more alarmed he was
the more uncompromisingly he insisted on the supremacy of
England. He had the folly to talk to a continent seething with
discontent, about the impossibility of anything between supreme
authority of Parliament and total independence. His Council
replied that he supposed an unlimited power in Parliament, which
can only belong to the Sovereign of the Universe. From the nature
and end of government, the power of supreme authority of Parlia-
ment must be hmited ; and they appealed to Magna Charta, and the
Petition and the Bill of Rights. But they declared that " Inde-
pendence they had not in contemplation." Hutchinson, who had
himself provoked this discussion, answered with legal quibbles,
persistently evading the great question whether there was, or was not^
any limit to the power of Parliament.^

' See Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts, vol. iii.


The friends of Government were talking of nothing but the
revocation of Colonial charters, and Hutchinson was privately
advising "the prohibition of the commerce of Boston." On the
other side, each year, as the 5th of March came round, and the
" martyrs " were commemorated in Faneuil Hall or the Old South,
the speakers grew more uncompromising in their assertion of pro-
vincial rights.

Just about this time Mr. Commissioner Temple said the King's
cause in America had been more hurt by his own servants than by
all the world beside. Temple now returned to England, and
presently became involved in the mysterious affair of Hutchinson's


" I have been basely betrayed. A number of my letters, four it is said, which
I had wrote to the late Mr. Whately, in confidence, together with a number
of other letters, wrote him by my very good friend Gov''. Hutchinson, have
been somehow or other filched out of his Cabinet, and transmitted hither, with
design to injure us . . . most people suspect Mr. Temple, but I mention his
name to you in confidence. He is suspected, I say, but I know no other reason
for it but because he was the late Mr. Whately's correspondent." — Lieutenant-
Governor Oliver to Robert Thompson, Esq., Boston, June 3, 1773. (Given in the
Diary and Letters of Thomas Hutchinson. )

"Though I have never wrote anything criminal — yet — I have wrote — what
ought not to be made public." — Letter of Governor Hutchinson.

"The favorite part of his discourse was levelled at your agent, who stood
there the butt of his invective ribaldry for near an hour, not a single Lord
adverting to the impropriety and indecency of treating a public messenger in so
ignominious a manner, who was present only as the person delivering your
petition. . . . If he had done a wrong, in obtaining and transmitting the letters,
that was not the tribunal where he was to be accused and tried. The cause was
already before the Chancellor. . . . This part of his speech was thought so good,
that they have since printed it, in order to defame me everywhere . . . but the
grosser parts of the abuse are omitted, appearing, I suppose, in their own eyes,
too foul to be seen on paper." — Franklin to Thomas Gushing, describing the
hearing of the Petition for the recall of Governor Hutchinson, by the Lords
of the Comtuittee for Plantation Affairs, Jan. 29, 1774'

Franklin never divulged from whom he had the Letters written
by Governor Hutchinson, Lieutenant-Governor Oliver, Paxton,
Commissioner of Customs, and other persons in Boston, to Mr.
Thomas Whately, a member of Parliament who had connections in
Pennsylvania. Whately, a man of great political ability, had been
an Under Secretary of State in George Grenville's Ministry,, and was
his intimate friend.^ He died in June, 1772, and his papers came
into the possession of his brother William, a banker in Lombard
Street. A little before the death of Grenville, Franklin was one day
conversing with "a gentleman of character and distinction," and

1 He was Member for Castle Rising ; also "Keeper of his Majesty's private
roads, and Guide to his Royal Person in all progresses, etc." — See Gentle-
man's Magazine, June and July, 1772.


strongly condemning the sending of troops to Boston as a most
dangerous step. The gentleman replied, "Not only the measure
you censure, but all the other grievances you complain of, were
proposed to Administration, solicited, and obtained by some of
the most respectable among Americans themselves, as necessary
measures for the welfare of that country.'' Franklin refused to
believe this, whereupon the gentleman promised to bring him proof.
A few days after he produced the Letters. Franklin could no
longer doubt — he recognised the hands. The Letters were signed,
but the name of the person addressed was not on them ; and when
Franklin sent them to America he did not know to whom they
had been written. They were given to him as Agent for the
Massachusetts House of Representatives, on purpose that he might
transmit them to the Colonies. That he was not justified in doing
so can only be maintained by those who are prepared to maintain
that if Franklin had discovered a correspondence revealing a
conspiracy to murder King George in, he would have been bound
in honour to keep the secret. These Letters contained proof of a
plan for destroying the liberties and institutions of a Continent.
But Franklin believed that in making them known he was pro-
moting a reconciliation, by showing that the most obnoxious
measures had not originated with the British Government. As he
wrote to the Committee of Correspondence at Boston, " My own
resentment has by this means been exceedingly abated." And so
it would have been with all in America, but for the manner in
which the British Government took the affair.

Franklin had received the Letters subject to certain restrictions
as to copying, etc., and they had been in America six months before
they were laid before the Assembly of Massachusetts. The wonder
is that such a secret was so long kept in any sense. At last (after
John Adams had taken them round with him on a tour) it became
impossible to prevent whispers. Hutchinson was away, settling a
very old boundary dispute between New York and Massachusetts.
He settled it to the advantage of Massachusetts, and flattered
himself he should be received cordially on his return. He had
some little uneasiness about the Letters — the whispers had reached
him — but ever since the Council got hold of Governor Bernard's
letters, more caution had been exercised to prevent copies being
taken, and he trusted he was safe.^

The Assembly had not met many days, when Mr. Hancock in-
formed the House that within forty-eight hours a discovery would be

' In 1766 it began to be asserted that the Stamp Act had originated in the
province. They began to publish Bernard's Letters in '66 and on into '68.


made which would put the province in a happier state than it had
been in for fourteen years past. The audience in the gallery, of
course, told everybody. Great expectation was excited. When the
time came, Samuel Adams, after desiring that the galleries might
be cleared, produced the Letters, and read them to the House.

After a debate, the Assembly, by loi to 5, voted that the
tendency and design of the Letters was to subvert the Constitution
of the Government, and to introduce military law into the province.
Hutchinson knew not what to do. To stop the proceedings by pro-
rogation or dissolution would be worse than letting them continue.
He contented himself with sending to ask for a transcript of their
proceedings, and by somewhat feebly denying that he had ever
written any letter tending to subvert the Constitution — the King
himself desired rather to preserve it entire. His Letters, if genuine,
could be only part of a private correspondence on the Constitu-
tion of the Colonies in general. Finally, in his speeches to the
Assembly he had said everything which was in the Letters. As for
the sentence, " There must be an abridgement of what are called
English liberties," he only meant that, in a remove from the state of
nature to the most perfect state of government, there must be a
great restraint of natural liberty ; and that a colony, three thousand
miles distant, cannot enjoy all the liberty of the parent State, "as
they might have done if they had not removed " ; a remark which
shows at what a loss Hutchinson was for an excuse — for none could
know better than the Historian of Massachusetts that a colony
three thousand miles distant from the parent State is apt to take
to itself as much liberty as it chooses.

It happened as Franklin had expected. As soon as these
Letters were shown to the House of Representatives, resentment was
withdrawn from the Mother Country, and fell, " where it was proper
it should," on the heads of Hutchinson "and those caitiffs, who
were the authors of the mischief." Both the Council and the House
took this view. They passed a number of resolutions, one of which
said that these Letters show there has been for many years a plan
formed by men born and educated among us, to raise their own
fortunes, and advance themselves to posts of honour and profit at
the expense of the rights and liberties of the American Colonies ;
and that, therefore, they are justly charged with " the great corrup-
tion of morals, and all that confusion, misery, and bloodshed, which
have been the natural effects of the introduction of troops " ; with
much more in the same strain, ending with a resolution for a
Petition to his Majesty to remove his Excellency Thomas Hutchin-
son, Esquire, Governor, and the Honourable Andrew Oliver,


Esquire, Lieutenant-Governor, of this province, from the govern-
ment thereof for ever.

As soon as it was known in England that the Letters had been
divulged, everybody asked who did it ? Temple was the first to be
suspected. Though a Commissioner of Customs, he was known to
favour the " patriot " party in America, and he was the son-in-law
of Bowdoin. He also had a grudge against Hutchinson, who, as
Temple wrongly supposed, got him dismissed ^ the public service as
Surveyor-General of Customs for Massachusetts. William Whately
was also accused. He defended himself in the Public Advertiser,
and mentioned that Temple had asked to see Thomas' papers, in
the hope of finding among them a certain paper on the Colonies
which he had sent Thomas. Temple took this as a suggestion that
he had used this opportunity to purloin the Letters, and demanded
that William should retract. He did so in a manner which Temple
considered unsatisfactory. He challenged Whately ; a duel was
fought,^ and Whately was rather dangerously wounded. Franklin
then wished he had spoken ; and upon a rumour that Whately —
who felt the accusation acutely- — meant to meet Temple again, he
wrote to the Advertiser^ entirely exculpating both gentlemen —
" both of them are totally ignorant and innocent. ... I alone am
the person who obtained and transmitted the letters in question.
— Mr. W. could not communicate them, because they were never

' This was not so, and Temple was very penitent when he found his mistake.
He called on Hutchinson in London, in August, 1774, and expressed great regret
at having fought Mr. Whately, but does not seem to have categorically denied
procuring the Letters. William Whately, who was on very friendly terms with
Hutchinson, told him of some circumstance — Hutchinson does not say what it
was — which would, if true, exonerate Temple from having purloined the Letters
from WTiately's files. Franklin, in his letter, had already done so. And though
he does not say that Temple could not have taken the Letters from someone else,
his words, "a transaction and its circumstances of which both of them are totally
ignorant and innocent," can only mean that Temple had nothing to do with the
affair. Again, Franklin had said publicly that the Letters were given him by
"an English member of parliament." Some, therefore, suspected "Mr. Pownall"
— I presume this must mean ex-Governor Pownall, and not his brother, who held
a government-secretaryship. A passage in John Adams' Memoirs only leaves
the question more uncertain than ever. Mr. Adams, writing to Dr. Hosack on
January 28, 1820, says, " Mr. Temple, afterwards Sir John, told me in Holland
that he had communicated these letters to Dr. Franklin." But Mr. Adams adds,
" Dr. Franklin declared pubUcly that he received them from a member of parlia-
ment, which Mr. Temple was not." See Hutchinson's Diaries, passim, for his
interviews with Temple. They were extremely friendly.

2 They met in Hyde Park, oh December 11, 1773. Temple is described as
" Lieutenant-Governor of New Hampshire."

8 December 25, 1773.


in his possession ; and, for the same reason, they could not be taken
from him by Mr. T."

The whole fury of indignation was now turned on Franklin.
He was accused of having stolen the Letters, and violated every
principle of honour. It happened that at this very moment,^
the Massachusetts Petition for the removal of Hutchinson
and Oliver was to be heard at the Cockpit, before the Privy
Council. Thirty-five lords were present, " so large a number
not having been known upon any occasion." Franklin had
already been served with a subpcena, at the suit of William
Whately, on the charge that, the Letters having " by some means
or other " come into Franklin's hands, to prevent discovery,
Franklin, or some other person by his orders, had erased the
address. But the petition was based on the Letters, Franklin
had to present it; the opportunity was too good to be lost.
There was no shred of proof, or attempt of proof, and the whole
charge was false, except that Thomas Whately had delivered the
Letters to some other person for perusal. Franklin was questioned
on oath, but the plaintiff was not required to make his charge on
oath. Franklin said on oath that the Letters were given to him,
as Agent for the House of Representatives of Massachusetts Bay ;
when they were given to him, he did not know to whom they
had been addressed, nor, till then, that such Letters existed, nor
did he erase any address, nor know that any other had done so.

For nearly an hour Wedderburn, now Solicitor-General, baited
Ur. Franklin, while the Lords of the Council frequently burst out
in loud applauses or laughed outright. Wedderburn's "invective
ribaldry " descended to the most odious personal allusion.
Franklin had stolen the Letters — " they could not have come to
him by fair means." He had violated the sacredness of private
correspondence, he had forfeited all the respect of societies and of
men. People will lock up their escritoires, and hide their papers
from him. He will henceforth think he is libelled if he is called
a man of letters — he will think they mean, a man of three letters /
He robbed one brother, and nearly caused the murder of another —
and perhaps the hanging of another party ; hurt a worthy Governor,
put the fate of America in suspense, and then, with the utmost
insensibility, avows himself the author of all. " I can only compare
it to Zanga, in Dr. Young's Revenge.''

Franklin "stood close to the fireplace," with the Council
seated at the table. His old friend. Dr. Bancroft, who stood on
the opposite side, had a full view of him as he stood there, " con-

' January 29, 1774.


spicuously erect," in "a full-dress suit of spotted Manchester
velvet." Franklin once boasted that he " could on occasion keep
his countenance as immovable as if his features had been made
of wood," he did so now. Dr. Priestley — smuggled in by Mr.
Burke — was watching his friend, and noting that no person
belonging to Council, except Lord North, behaved with a decent
gravity. Next morning, these two breakfasted together, and
Franklin told Priestley 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, he could not have supported it. He repeated
that he did not know such Letters existed, till they were brought
to him, as Agent for the Colony, to be sent to his constituents.
This was Saturday. On Monday morning Franklin received an in-
timation from the Postmaster-General that the King had no further
occasion for his services as Deputy Postmaster-General in America.

Their Lordships unanimously dismissed the petition of the
Assembly, as "groundless, vexatious, and scandalous."

Franklin put away the suit of spotted Manchester velvet.
The next time he wore it was the day he signed the Treaty
between the King of France and the United States of America.

Careful comparison of dates often throws much light on a
difficulty. These Letters were first mentioned to Franklin a little
before George Grenville's death — which took place on November
13, 1770. They were given to him only "a few days " later, so
were probably given before Grenville died. They were given
to Franklin in his character of Agent, that they might be shown
to certain persons in America, for the exoneration of the Home
Government. Thomas Whately, to whom it is acknowledged the
Letters were written, died on May 26, 1772. At the time of
receiving the Letters, Franklin did not know to whom they were
written. He received them under certain restrictions, and this
may account for the delay in forwarding them. They had been
six months in America before the Massachusetts Assembly met
in May, 1773. It usually met on the isth of the month.
Hutchinson says, " a few weeks before the session began, it was
whispered that there were letters procured from England, written
by some great men, which were proofs of a conspiracy, etc." ; and
on the 3rd of June, Oliver was writing that he had been betrayed.
We must take it, therefore, that the Letters reached America not
later than November, 1772; and this implies that they left
England somewhere about six weeks earlier — probably in
September. This would suggest that Whately's death made


Franklin feel free to use the Letters, if we did not know that the
giver had, eighteen months before, intended them to be seen in
America. That giver was a member of Parliament. The only
member of Parliament conspicuously mixed up with the business
is Thomas Whately himself. At any rate these dates show that
the originals of the Letters were out of his possession from
November, 1770. Therefore, of course, his brother William "could
not communicate them."

Mr. Bancroft and Biglow with him think that the Letters were
intended to produce an effect on Grenville,^ were shown by
Whately to Grenville, by Grenville to Temple, and at Grenville's
death were among his papers. But this, besides other difficulties,
is incompatible with the Letters being in Franklin's hands before
Grenville's death. We may, perhaps, say with safety that the
Letters were never in the hands of the executors either of George
Grenville or of Thomas Whately— Franklin's possession of them
effectually prevented this. Is it possible that Thomas Whately
himself gave the Letters to Franklin, intending them to be shown ;
but that he could not make up his mind as to the proper time
for showing them — probably for Hutchinson's sake ; and that he
restrained Franklin from time to time during the remaining
eighteen months of his life — never, however, withdrawing the
permission to show them some time ? Mr. Bancroft suggests that
Hutchinson wrote the Letters for Grenville's eye, and there is
no difficulty in supposing this. But in that case Grenville must
either have returned them to Whately, or handed them on till they
reached the unnamed member of Parliament who gave them to
Franklin. It would still be quite possible for this unnamed person
to have been Thomas Whately. William's statement is at second-
hand, and does not tally with a known fact. He says that Temple
told him he had seen the Letters among Thomas' papers, "and
would have them in a day or two." This must mean after Thomas'
death ; and William Whately's account of Temple's looking over
the paper probably suggested the story. But how could Temple
see them there when Franklin had them? Lastly, we have
Franklin's assurance that Temple and William Whately were
" both of them totally ignorant and innocent " ; and Hutchinson's
statement that a year after William Whately told him of some
circumstance which would exonerate Temple. Whately was so
incensed with Temple that he thought of fighting a second
duel — it is not likely he would be over-ready to defend him to
Hutchinson. We must bear in mind that the object of publication
' To induce him to urge coercion more definitely.


was, with both giver and receiver, to lessen the anger of the
colonists with the Home Government.

Notes. — On August 15, 1774, Dartmouth told Hutchinson that "a gentleman
of very good character " had assured him that before the Letters were sent to
America, Temple informed him he had seen them among Whately's papers,
and would have them in a day or two ; that Temple accordingly showed him
a packet addressed to Dr. Franklin, and said these were the Letters referred
to. Dartmouth said, either the gentleman or Temple must have spoken
falsely. Hutchinson remarks, "This leaves the affair still in a strange state."
A few days later, Hutchinson wrote to Dartmouth, to ask whether Temple's
declaration might consist with his having only received the Letters from
Franklin, and sent them back again, without having taken them himself from
Whately's files — "as I wished not to be unjust." — Hutchinson's Diary.

In November of the same year, John Pownall told Hutchinson that
Williams ( ' ' now Commissioner of Customs in America " ) was the man who
told North he saw the Letters directed to Franklin in Temple's possession,
and that it was on this information that Temple was removed. This Williams
made himself very disagreeable to the other Commissioners. — Diary.

The Cabinet prevented Franklin's constituents of New England from
paying him anything, or even reimbursing his expenses, and issued a
special instruction to the Governor not to sign any warrant for that purpose
on the Treasury of Massachusetts. Franklin says, "The injustice of thus
depriving the people there of the use of their own money, to pay an agent
acting in their defence, while the Governor, with a large salary out of the
money extorted from them by act of Parliament, was enabled to pay plentifully
Mauduit and Wedderbum to abuse and defame them and their agent, is so
evident as to need no comment. But this they call Government 1 " (Franklin's
Letter. ) Franklin also says that he was surprised at William Whately's attack.
He could have excused him for not thanking him for saving him a second duel —
it might have looked as if he were afraid. Bnt Franklin had helped him to
recover an estate in Pennsylvania, which had belonged to Whately's grandfather,
a Major Thompson. One day, however, William Strahan, M.P., the King's
Printer, called on Franklin, just after being at the Treasury, and showed him
what he called "a pretty thing" — an order for ;^I50 payable to Dr. Samuel
Johnson, said to be one half his yearly pension, and drawn by the Secretary
to the Treasury on William Whately. "I then considered him as a banker
to the Treasury for the pension money, and thence as having an interested
connexion with Administra,tion, that might induce him to act by direction of
others in harassing me with this suit ; which gave me if possible a still meaner
opinion of him than if he had done it of his own accord." — See "Franklin's

Online LibraryMary A. M MarksEngland and America, 1763 to 1783; the history of a reaction → online text (page 31 of 69)