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31. The

truth about the Stamp




Thirteen years after the passage of the Stamp Act, Benjamin Franklin, Commissioner of the United States at Paris, wrote the following letter to a friend, to clear away any misapprehension as to Grenville's motive in the proposal of that momentous measure. The letter was written about a month after Franklin, with his associates Silas Deane and Arthur Lee, had brought to a successful close his negotiations for a treaty of alliance between France and the United States.

Dear Sir:

Passy, March 12, 1778

In the pamphlets you were so kind as to lend me, there is one important fact misstated, apparently from the writer's not having been furnished with good information. It is the transaction between Mr. Grenville and the colonies, wherein he understands that Mr. Grenville demanded of them a specific sum, that they refused to grant anything, and that it was on their refusal only that he made the motion for the Stamp Act. No one of these particulars was true. 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 ancient, established, and regular method of drawing aid from the colonies was this: The occasion 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 to 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 £200,000 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 the 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 knowledge, as the king, when he would obtain anything 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 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

32. The Cir

cular Letter

setts Bay,



resolutions, and had Mr. Grenville, instead of that act, applied to the 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 the 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 [of the pamphlet which Franklin is criticising] 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 obedient, humble servant,

B. Franklin

The repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766 was accompanied of Massachu- by a Declaratory Act, asserting the right of the British Parliament to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever." "This," said John Dickinson, "was only planting a barren tree that cast a shade indeed over the Colonies, but yielded no fruit." The tree, however, bore bitter fruit the next year in the Townshend Acts. Protests against the renewed determination of the British Parliament to tax the colonies without their consent arose on every hand. The most significant answer to the acts was the appointment, February 4, 1768, of a committee of seven by the Massachusetts House of Representatives "to write to the speakers of the other assemblies with reference to their joining in a petition to the King." Samuel Adams, chairman of the committee, drew up the following letter:


Province of Massachusetts Bay
Feb. 11, 1768

The House of Representatives of this Province have taken into their serious Consideration, the great difficultys that must accrue to themselves & their Constituents by the operation of several acts of Parliament imposing Duties and Taxes on the American Colonys.

As it is a Subject in which every Colony is deeply interested they have no reason to doubt but your Assembly is deeply impressed with its Importance & that such constitutional measures will be come into as are proper. It seems to be necessary, that all possible Care should be taken, that the Representations of the several Assembly upon so delicate a point, should harmonize with each other: the House therefore hope that this letter will be candidly considered in no other Light than as expressing a Disposition freely to communicate their mind to a Sister Colony, upon a common Concern, in the same manner as they would be glad to receive the Sentiments of your or any other House of Assembly on the Continent.

The House have humbly represented to the ministry,1 their own Sentiments that His Majestys high Court of Parliament is the supreme legislative Power over the whole Empire; That in all free States the Constitution is fixd; & as the supreme Legislative derives its Power and Authority from the Constitution, it cannot overleap the Bounds of it without destroying its own foundation; That the Constitution ascertains & limits both Sovereignty & allegiance, & therefore His Majestys American Subjects who acknowledge themselves bound by the Ties of Allegiance, have an equitable Claim to the full enjoymt of the fundamental Rules of the British Constitution: That it is an essential unalterable Right in nature, ingrafted into the British Constitution, as a fundamental Law & ever held sacred & irrevocable by the Subjects within the Realm, that what a man has honestly

1 Letters had been addressed, chiefly by Adams, to Lord Shelburne, January 15; to the Marquis of Rockingham, January 22; to the Lord Chancellor Camden, January 29; to Pitt, Earl of Chatham, February 2; and a petition had been sent to the King, January 20, 1768.

acquired is absolutely his own, which he may freely give, but cannot be taken from him without his consent: That the American Subjects may therefore exclusive of any Consideration of Charter Rights, with a decent firmness adapted to the Character of free men & Subjects assert this natural and constitutional Right.

It is moreover their humble opinion, which they express with the greatest Deferrence to the Wisdom of the Parliament that the Acts made there imposing Duties on the People of this province with the sole & express purpose of raising a Revenue, are Infringements of their natural & constitutional Rights, because as they are not represented in the British Parliam His Majestys Commons in Britain by those Acts grant their Property without their consent.

This House further are of Opinion that their Constituents considering their local Circumstances cannot by any possibility be represented in the Parliament, & that it will forever be impracticable that they should be equally represented there & consequently not at all; being separated by an Ocean of a thousand leagues; and that His Majestys Royal Predecessors for this reason were graciously pleased to form a subordinate legislature here that their Subjects might enjoy the unalienable Right of a Representation. . . .

Upon these principles... this House have preferred a humble dutifull & loyal Petition to our most gracious Sovereign, & made such Representation to his Majestys Ministers, as they apprehended wd tend to obtain redress.

They have also submitted to Consideration whether any People can be said to enjoy any degree of Freedom if the Crown, in addition to its undoubted Authority of constituting a Gov', should also appoint him such a Stipend as it may judge proper without the Consent of the people & at their Expence....

These are the Sentiments & proceedings of this House; & as they have too much reason to believe that the Enemys of the Colonys have represented them to His Majestys Ministers & the parlt as factions disloyal & having a disposition to make themselves independent of the Mother Country, they have taken occasion in the most humble terms to assure His Majesty & his

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