A fragment of a position piece has survived and shows his radical, early view.
In Franklin’s day, William Penn’s sons were the proprietors of Pennsylvania. They grew very rich on the colony and controlled it by appointing its Governor. The Pennsylvania colonists, whose interests often conflicted with the proprietors, controlled the colony’s Assembly, which over some seventy years had built up a body of rights by...
In Franklin’s day, William Penn’s sons were the proprietors of Pennsylvania. They grew very rich on the colony and controlled it by appointing its Governor. The Pennsylvania colonists, whose interests often conflicted with the proprietors, controlled the colony’s Assembly, which over some seventy years had built up a body of rights by managing to control payment of the Governor’s salary.
The right of a colonial Assembly to withhold a governor’s salary if he vetoed a bill it had passed was an important aspect of colonial constitutional law, not merely in Pennsylvania but in other colonies as well. Thus, by the power of the purse, assemblies protected their liberties from royal and proprietary governors. Another right for which the Pennsylvania Assembly (and others) had contended was that any bill passed by it for raising money for the crown had to be either accepted or rejected by the Governor. He could not force its amendment (to cherry-pick the parts acceptable to the proprietors and veto the rest), nor take part in the raising of the money, nor control its disbursement. The King’s government and the proprietors were forever trying to break down these colonial rights; for instance, bills were introduced in Parliament to make royal instructions to governors binding on the colonial assemblies, without regard to the colonial charters or constitutions. And in Pennsylvania, the proprietors from time to time issued secret instructions to their appointees to any veto bill that did not stipulate that it was subject to the King’s approval. Since this would constitute a virtual surrender of power that the Assembly already had, it refused to acquiesce and confrontation resulted. In 1755, the French and Indian War broke out and the frontier settlements in British America were threatened by both the French and their Indian allies. Pennsylvania was particularly vulnerable and the proprietors determined to use this crisis to obtain greater power and authority at the expense of the colonists. They issued just such instructions to their Governor who began vetoing bills the Assembly passed to finance the frontier war and defend the colony. In response, the Assembly’s members refused to yield, and were obliged to raise funds on their own credit to avoid submitting funding bills to the Governor for approval.
For two years, from 1755-7, Franklin took a leading part in this confrontation between the American colonies and the Mother Country’s officials and proprietors, drafting replies the Pennsylvania Assembly made to the Governor’s vetoes, as well as addresses, arguments and other papers on the subject. In doing this work, Franklin acquired a thorough knowledge of the principles of and necessity for colonial liberty.
In 1757, the Pennsylvania Assembly decided it would be beneficial to lay their case before the King, his counsellors, and the Parliament, and selected Franklin as emissary "to represent in England the unhappy situation of the province," and to seek redress by an act of Parliament. Franklin left in the spring on this difficult errand that was to occupy his attentions in London until 1762. One of the documents Franklin composed before he left was issued on February 17, 1757, as the Pennsylvania Assembly Committee’s Report on the Governor’s [Veto] Message. It stated: “…And we can not but regret the Situation of a Governor who finds himself under the Necessity of making them, and pity the Counselors who must approve of them. But much more are we the unhappy People of Pennsylvania to be pitied, who must perish by the Hand of the Enemy, or comply with Instructions, or rather Laws, made for us by ill-informed Proprietaries, at a Thousand Leagues Distance; Laws unsuitable to our Circumstances, impracticable in their Nature, or, if practicable, ineffectual.”
This report was direct and contrary to British aims and policies, but expressing regret and requesting redress, it was not threatening. Around that same time, and perhaps originally intended for the very message quoted above, Franklin composed another draft on the same subject. It contained a sentiment so radical that he likely had second thoughts about using the terminology, and to our knowledge it was never used.
Autograph partial draft in Franklin’s hand, circa February 1757, predicting that British infringements on American liberties would lead to something big. He protests “Instructions infringing their [the assembly’s] Privileges, thereby keeping them in an ill Humour that sooner or later will have ill Effects, and never can have a single good one.” And so it proved, that infringements of the liberties of the colonial assemblies had very historic effects – the American Revolution, in which Franklin played such a key role, was just 18 years away.
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