The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.

VI. Franklin

§ 8. Missions to England

Though Franklin’s political mission was not wholly successful, his residence in England from 1757 to 1762 was highly profitable to him. It developed his talent as a negotiator of public business with strangers; it enabled him to consider British colonial policies from English points of view; and it afforded him many opportunities for general self-improvement. After a fruitless effort to obtain satisfaction from the representatives of the Penn family, dismissing as impractical the hope of procuring for Pennsylvania a royal charter, he appealed to the Crown to exempt the Assembly from the influence of proprietary instructions and to make the proprietary estates bear a more equitable proportion of the taxes. To get the Assembly’s case before the public, he collaborated with an unknown hand on An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania, published in 1759. The result was a compromise which in the circumstances he regarded as a victory. His interest in the wider questions of imperial policy he exhibited in 1760 by aspersing the advocates of a hasty and inconclusive peace with France in his stinging little skit, Of the Meanes of disposing the Enemies to Peace, which he presented as an extract from the work of a Jesuit historian. In 1760, also, he was joint author with Richard Jackson of a notably influential argument for the retention of Canada, The Interest of Great Britain Considered with Regard to Her Colonies; to which was appended his Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc. In the intervals of business, he sat for his portrait, attended the theatre, played upon the harmonica, experimented with electricity and heat, made a tour of the Low Countries, visited the principal cities of England and Scotland, received honorary degrees from the universities, and enjoyed the society of Collinson, Priestley, Price, Hume, Adam Smith, Robertson, and Kames. He returned to America in the latter part of 1762. In 1763 he made a 1600-mile tour of the northern provinces to inspect the postoffices. In the following year he was again in the thick of Pennsylvania politics, working with the party in the Assembly which sought to have the proprietary government of the province replaced by a royal charter. In support of this movement he published in 1764 his Cool Thoughts on the Present Situation of our Public Affairs and his Preface to the Speech of Joseph Galloway, a brilliant and blasting indictment of the proprietors, Thomas and Richard Penn.

In the fall of 1764 Franklin was sent again to England by the Assembly to petition for a royal charter and to express the Assembly’s views with regard to Grenville’s Stamp Act, then impending. On 11 July, 1765, after the obnoxious measure had been passed by an overwhelming majority, Franklin wrote to Charles Thomson:

  • Depend upon it, my good neighbour, I took every step in my power to prevent the passing of the Stamp Act.… But the Tide was too strong against us. The nation was provoked by American Claims of Independence, and all Parties joined in resolving by this act to settle the point. We might as well have hindered the sun’s setting.