Franklin’s Secret Efforts to bring about Reconciliation

Benjamin Franklin and Lady Howe playing chess by Edward H. May, 1867. (Wikimedia Commons)

Benjamin Franklin made two missions to London prior to the Revolution; the first from 1757 to 1762, the second from 1764 to 1775. In the final four months of his second mission he became involved in three efforts to secure a peaceful solution to the constitutional divergence that was growing between England and her American colonies. Because the efforts involved many of the same people, overlapped in time, and involved back-channel meetings, their stories need to be told simultaneously.

November 29, 1774
Caroline Howe, the sister of Rear-Admiral Lord Richard Howe, invites Benjamin Franklin to join her for a game of chess, “fancying she could beat me.” He claimed being “long out of practice,” but agreed to “wait upon the Lady.”[1]

December 1
David Barclay, a Quaker, merchant and banker, visits Franklin to discuss “the meeting of [London] Merchants [and their] Petition to Parliament.” When they were finished, Barclay “spoke of the dangerous Situation of American Affairs and asked Franklin based upon his Knowledge of both Countries” if he thought something could be done to bring about a reconciliation. Franklin said, “I thought an Accommodation impracticable unless both sides wish’d it, and by what I could judge from the Proceedings of the Ministry, I did not believe they had the least Disposition towards it. … To which Barclay responded you judg’d too hardly of the Ministers; he was persuaded they were not all [of] that Temper, and he fancy’d they would be very glad to get out of their present Embarrassment on any Terms. … He wished therefore that I would think of the Matter, and he would call again.”[2]

December 2
Franklin and Caroline Howe play chess for the first time.[3]

December 3
Barclay and Dr. John Fothergill, physician to both Franklin and Lord Dartmouth, invite Franklin to meet the next day “to confer on American affairs … neither of us [are] insensible, that the Affair is of that Magnitude as should almost deter private persons from meddling with it … we are respectively such wellwishers to the cause, that nothing in our power ought to be left undone.”[4]

Dr. John Fothergill, left, by Gilbert Stuart, 1781; David Barclay, right, engraved by Richard Earlom. (Wikimedia Commons)

December 4
Franklin and Caroline Howe play chess for the second time. In the course of conversation she asks, ”And what is to be done with this Dispute between Britain and the Colonies? I hope we are not to have a Civil War … Quarrelling can be of Service to neither but is Ruin to Both … I have often said that I wished the government would employ you to settle the dispute, I am sure nobody could do it as well.”[5]

Franklin, Barclay and Fothergill meet. Fothergill was disappointed that Franklin came to the meeting having “not put Pen to Paper;” he had hoped that Franklin had “form’d some Plan for Consideration,” but he hadn’t. The reason Franklin gave was, “I thought of the Proceedings against the Colonies, the more satisfy’d I was, that there did not exist the least Disposition in the Ministry to an Accommodation [and] that therefore all Plans must be useless.” Fothergill told Franklin if he “would draw a Plan which we three … should judge reasonable, it might be made use of … since he believ’d that either himself or D. Barclay, could get it communicated to some of the most moderate among the Ministers, who would consider it with Attention.” Franklin agreed and promised to meet with them the next day and have “something for their Consideration.”[6] In their own way, Barclay and Fothegill were making the same request of Franklin that Ms. Howe had earlier in the day.

December 6
Barclay, Fothergill and Franklin meet again. Franklin presents “Hints for Conversation upon the Subject of Terms that might probably produce a Durable Union between Great Britain and the Colonies;” each is discussed at length:

  1. The Tea destroyed be paid for.
  2. The Tea-Duty Act be repealed and all the duties received be repaid into the treasuries of the several colonies from which they had been collected.
  3. The Acts of Navigation be re-enacted.
  4. A Naval officer appointed by the Crown reside in each colony, to see that the Acts are observed.
  5. All acts that restrain manufactures in the colonies be reconsidered. All Duties arising from the acts for regulating trade … be for public use … The collectors and custom-house officers be appointed by each governor, and not sent from England.
  6. No requisitions be made from the colonies in time of peace.
  7. No troops to enter and quarter in any colony without the consent of its legislature.
  8. In time of war, the requisition made by the King with the consent of Parliament be based upon one quarter of the land rate charged in England.
  9. Castle William will be restored to the Massachusetts colony.
  10. The Massachusetts and Quebec Acts be repealed and a free government be granted to Canada.
  11. All judges be appointed during “Good Behavior,” with equal permanent salaries, paid out of the colonial revenues.
  12. Governors be supported by the colonial assemblies.
  13. If Britain gives up her monopoly of commerce, requisitions be given in times of peace as well as war.
  14. The Act of Henry VIII stating trials for treason must be held in England to disowned by Parliament.
  15. American Admiralty Courts can only exercise in the colonies the powers they exercise in England.
  16. All powers of internal legislation in the colonies be disowned by Parliament.[7]

December 8
Barclay picks up a “fair copy” (an updated version) of the “Hints” based upon their discussion on the 6th.[8]

December 12
Barclay delivers one copy to Thomas Villiers, Lord Hyde, a former diplomat and advisor to Lord North.

December 13
Lord Hyde, after reading the “Hints” studiously, recommends modifications;[9] Barclay spends the next couple of weeks making them.

December 12-15
Fothergill delivers a copy of the “Hints” to William Legge, Lord Dartmouth, and shows them to Sir Fletcher Norton, Speaker of the House of Commons.[10]

December 17
The Petition of Rights and Grievances adopted by the First Continental Congress arrives in London. It asserted the colonists’ loyalty to the King but not to Parliament and their Coercive Acts, and outlined the colonists’ objections and related grievances. It concluded,

To these grievous acts and measures, Americans cannot submit, but in hopes that their fellow subjects in Great Britain will, on a revision of them, restore us to that state, in which both countries found happiness and prosperity, we have for the present, only resolved to pursue the following peaceable measures: 1) To enter into a non-importation, non-consumption, and non-exportation Association; 2) To prepare an address to the people of Great Britain and a memorial to the inhabitants of America; and 3) to prepare a loyal address to his Majesty, agreeable to resolutions already entered into.[11]

December 18
Barclay writes to Franklin;

I am of the Opinion that it will be advisable to let a little time elapse before any other Steps are pursued, more especially when its consider’d, that at the approaching Season, many People go out of Town and will not return until the commencement of the New Year … our Superiors will have some time for Reflection, and perhaps may contemplate on the propriety of the Hints in their possession.[12]

December 21
Franklin and other colonial agents present The Petition of Rights and Grievances to Lord Dartmouth; “after a day’s Perusal, [Dartmouth] told us it was a decent and proper Petition, and cheerfully undertook to present it to his Majesty.” Three days later, Dartmouth “assur’d us, [the King] was pleased to receive it very graciously, and to promise to lay it before his two Houses of Parliament.”[13]

December 25
Franklin visits Caroline Howe. Shortly after his arrival, Ms. Howe mentions that her brother, Lord Howe, wished to meet him. “Will you give me leave to send for him?” Franklin soon was exchanging plaseantries with him. Lord Howe tells Franklin that his motive for wishing to meet was the “situation of our Affairs with America.” He said, ”no one he was persuaded understood [the situation] better than myself … no man could do more towards reconciling our Differences than I could if I would undertake it … He was desirous of doing what Good he could therefore had wish’d for an opportunity of obtaining my Sentiments on the Means of Reconciling our Differences.” Franklin agreed to share his ideas with Howe if he could “rely on his keeping perfectly secret.” Before departing the two men decided for the future that “as his being seen at my House or me at his might be thought some Speculation, it was concluded to be best to meet at his sister’s.”[14]

December 26
Franklin meets with William Pitt, Lord Chatham, to discuss his “Hints;” “I mentioned to him … that no accommodation could properly be proposed and entered into by the Americans, while the bayonet was at their breasts; that, to have any agreement binding, all force must be withdrawn. His Lordship seemed to think these sentiments had something in them that was Reasonable.”[15]

December 27
Franklin meets with Charles Pratt, Lord Camden. “He seemed anxious that the Americans should continue to act with the same temper, coolness, and wisdom, with which they had hitherto proceeded in most of their public assemblies, in which case he did not doubt they would succeed in establishing their rights and obtain a solid and durable agreement with the mother country.”[16]

Lord Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe by John Singleton Copley, 1794. (Courtesy National Maritime Museum)

December 28
Franklin meets with Lord Howe. “He could now assure me that there was a most sincere disposition in Lord North and Lord Dartmouth to accommodate the differences with America, and to listen favorably to any proposition that might have a probable tendency to answer that salutary purpose …” Howe showed a copy of the “Hints” and asked if Franklin knew anything about it; “I [made] no difficulty in owning to him, that I had been consulted on the subject, and had drawn up that paper. He said, he was sorry to find that the sentiments expressed in it were mine, as it gave him less hopes of promoting the wished for reconciliation … I promised to draw some sketch of a plan, … though I much doubted, I said, whether it would be thought preferable to that he had in his hand.” He asked Franklin’s opinion “on the dispatching of a commissioner to resolve misunderstandings and, with the help of leading Americans, seek means of reconciliation.” Franklin responded that the right man might be “of great use.” Howe thought it might be improper to have the plan seen in Franklin’s handwriting; therefore, it would be better to send it to Ms. Howe, who would copy it and send the copy to be communicated to the ministry.[17]

December 29-31
Franklin’s “Sketch” is delivered to Caroline Howe who copies it and forwards the copy to her brother. It contains five articles:

  1. Repeal all of the laws requested in the petition from Congress.
  2. Remove all troops to Quebec or the Floridas.
  3. Grievances in the Petition left to the magnanimity and justice of the King and Parliament be removed.
  4. The Continental Congress “be authorized by Government” and “a person of weight and dignity to be appointed to preside on behalf of the Crown.”
  5. “Let requisitions be made to the Congress of such points as Government wishes to obtain for its future Security, for Aid, for the Advantage of general Commerce, and for reparation” for the destroyed tea.[18]

Even though these five were more general than his “Hints,” Franklin made no substantive changes to his conditions.

January 2, 1775
Lord Howe informs his sister that he received the Sketch but notes “that the desired accommodation, threatens to be attended with much greater difficulty than I had flattered myself.”[19]

Barclay delivers his modifications of the “Hints” to Franklin. There were four changes: condition 2 omitted “be turned over to the provincial treasuries;” 3 omitted “the statute defining Admiralty jurisdiction be re-enacted;” 10 omitted “required consent of the provincial legislature;” and 17 omitted‘”Parliament renounced its right to legislate on internal colonial affairs.”[20] The last demand was omitted even though it was the initial reason for the conflict.

January 3
Barclay picks up Franklin’s comments on the accommodations.

Fothergill writes to John Pemberton, another Quaker who lives in Philadelphia; “They will pursue, in one shape or other, the same destructive plan – that no abatement of any consequence will be made, no material alterations or concessions … of course if you are as resolute as we seem unhappily to be firm, dissolution must follow.” [21]

January 4
Lord Dartmouth issues a circular letter to all of the colonial governors:

Certain Persons, styling themselves delegates of his Majesty’s colonies in America, having presumed, without his Majesty’s authority or consent, to assemble together at Philadelphia, in the months of September and October last; and having thought fit, among other unwarrantable proceedings, to resolve that it will be necessary that another Congress should be held in this place, on the 10th of May next, unless redress for certain pretended grievances be obtained before that time, and to recommend that all the colonies in North America should choose delegates to attend such Congress. I am commanded by the King to signify to you his Majesty’s pleasure, that you do use your utmost endeavours to prevent such appointment of deputies within the colony under your government; and that you do exhort all persons to desist from such unwarrantable proceedings.[22]

January 7
Caroline Howe shows Franklin a letter she just received from her brother that asks him two questions: “first, would his constituents approve his agreeing to pay for the tea, on the condition that they were promised redress of their grievances when their assembly petitioned for it [and] second, did he still hold to the proposition that he had taken in his “Hints” on aids or requisitions?”[23] Franklin responds, “The people of America conceiving that Parliament has no Right to tax them, and that therefore all that has been extorted from them by the Operation of the Duty Acts, with the Assistance of an armed Force, preceding the Destruction of the Tea, is so much Injury, which ought in order of time to be first repair’d, before a Demand on the Tea can be justly made of them.”[24]

January 19
Lord Howe meets with Franklin. “He thought I had Powers or Instructions from the Congress to make Concessions on Occasion that would be more satisfactory. I disclaim’d the having any … We talk’d over all the Particulars in my Paper … and [I] finally said that if what I had proposed would not do, I should be glad to hear what would do: I wish’d to see some Propositions from the Ministers themselves. His Lordp. was not, he said, as yet fully acquainted with their Sentiments, but should learn more in a few Days.”[25]

Lord Chatham wishes Franklin to come to Parliament the next day when he will present a motion that he believes Franklin will be interested in.

January 20
Lord Chatham presents his Motion on the floor:

… in order to open the Way towards a happy Settlement of the dangerous Troubles in America, by beginning to allay Ferments and soften Animosities there; and above all, for preventing … any sudden and fatal catastrophe at Boston, now suffering under the daily Irritation of an Army before their Eyes, posted in their Town, it may graciously please his Majesty that immediate Orders may be dispatched to General Gage for removing his Majesty’s Forces from the Town of Boston, as soon as the Rigour of the Season and other Circumstances indispensable to the Safety and Accommodation of the said Troops may render the same principle.[26]

January 21
Franklin receives the original paper from which Lord Chatham read his motion.[27]

January 23
The Petition from the merchants, traders, and others concerned in the North American commerce is laid before the House of Commons. [28]

January 27
Franklin meets with Lord Chatham who “acquainted me in a long Conversation with the Outlines of his Plan.” He said he “communicated it only to Lord Camden whose Advice he much rely’d on, particularly the Law … that he would as soon as he could get it transcrib’d put it into my Hands for my Opinion and Advice, but should show it to no other Person before he presented it to the House; and he requested me to make no mention of it, otherwise Parts might be misunderstood and blown upon, beforehand, and others perhaps adopted and produc’d by Ministers as their own.[29]

January 29
Lord Chatham brings Franklin his plan transcribed in the form of an Act of Parliament. “He thought the Errors of Ministers in American Affairs, had been often owing to their not obtaining the best Information: that therefore tho’ he had considered the Business thoroughly in all its Parts, he was not so confident of his own Judgment, but that he came to set it right by mine, as Men set their Watches by a Regulator.”[30]

January 31
Franklin brings Lord Chatham his Notes for a Conversation. Even though their conversation lasts nearly four hours, Franklin later claimed “there was not time to go thro half my Memorandums.” In the end, “the Addition of a single Word only was made at my Instance – ‘Constitutions’ after Charters.”[31]

February 1
Franklin goes Parliament to hear Lord Chatham present his plan entitled A Provisional Act for Settling the Troubles of America and for Asserting the Supreme Legislative Authority and Superintending Power of Great Britain Over the Colonies. When Lord Chatham was finished, Lord Dartmouth rose and said a “Matter of such Weight and Magnitude requir’[d] much consideration and so [he] was willing to let it lye upon the Table”. Lords Sandwich, Hillsborough, and Gower immediately condemned the plan as did several other Lords. Lord Chatham had his supporters, the Duke of Richmond, Lord Camden and Lord Shelburne, but their voices were not enough. After a number of opinions on both sides were aired, Lord Dartmouth rose and said after hearing so many against the proposal he decided to change his position. The Plan was rejected by a vote of sixty-one to thirty-two.[32]

Franklin was dumbfounded:

To hear so many of the Hereditary Legislators declaiming so vehemently against, not Adopting merely, but even the Consideration of a Proposal so important in its Nature, offered by a Person of so weighty a Character … gave me an exceeding mean Opinion of their Abilities, and made their Claim of Sovereignty over three Millions of virtuous sensible People in America, seem the greatest of Absurdities, since they appear’d to have scarce Discretion enough to govern a Herd of Swine.[33]

February 4
Franklin meets with Barclay and Fothergill to review a document entitled Remarks. Its authorship is uncertain, but Lord Hyde is thought to be the most likely candidate. The Remarks were responses to the Franklin’s “Hints” and Barclay’s accommodations. Many of the terms were found acceptable by the author, but acknowledgment of the Supremacy of Parliament remained. Barclay mentions that when he went to see Lord Hyde he found Lord Howe, Hyde’s neighbor, with him and was told “You may speak any thing before Lord Howe, that you have to say to me, for he is Friend in whom I confide.”[34]

Lord Hyde wrote to Lord Dartmouth. He was aware that in mid-January the Cabinet had rejected the idea of a Peace Commission, but Franklin recently had supported the commission and if he would sponsor it in the cabinet, Hyde said he had the man to lead it: Lord Howe.[35]

February 5
Franklin informs Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, that 149 American papers, of which the Petition from the Continental Congress was but one, were laid before the House of Commons by Lord North on January 19 and before the House of Lords on January 20. The Commons referred them to a Committee of the Whole, the Lords laid them on the table. As to Lord Chatham’s bill, it

was treated with as much Contempt as they could have shown to a Ballad offered by a drunken Porter … And this is the Government whose supreme Authority we are to have [or] our Throats cut if we do not acknowledge … It is thought by our Friends that Lord Chatham’s Plan, if it had been enacted, would have prevented present Mischief, and might have been the foundation of a lasting good Agreement.[36]

Lord Hyde writes to Barclay,

Your letter my good friend, raises surprize & concern: The Light I saw is obscured, great hopes are baffled. The rubbs you mention are not to be smoothed by an arbitrary hand, they should be first mollifyed by submission. I felt & saw so much zeal for Conciliatory measures that I craved your’s & the worthy Doctor’s assistance in order to render it general … I will still wish that it may not be lost.[37]

February 6
Fothergill writes to Lord Dartmouth,

I wish it had been in my power to have informed My Noble Friend that our negotiation had been successful; But it is not. Our difficultys arose from the American acts … As a concession to pay a tax was the sine qua non on this side, so a rescinding of those acts, or rather repealing then, in the term of reconciliation on the other … The party we confer’d with, would have no objection to meet the Noble Lords who were pleased to intimate that our endeavours to promote a reconciliation would not be unacceptable, and to consider the whole affair with the utmost candour and privacy.[38]

February 13 or 14
Barclay meets with Franklin. He informs Franklin that he had recently met and discussed the “Hints” with accommodations with Lord Hyde and “he thought himself now fully possess’d of what would do in this Business”. He asks that they meet with Fothergill on the 16th.[39]

February 16
Barclay presents presents his softened Plan of Reconciliation to Franklin and Fothergill. It is different from the modified “Hints” in that two more conditions are omitted: 6, “the Collectors and Custom-house Officers to be appointed by each Governor, and not sent from England” and 8, “no troops to enter and quarter in any colony without the consent of its legislature.” A discussion of the omissions takes up the rest of the evening.[40]

February 17
Franklin, Barclay and Fothergill continue the meeting from the previous night. Franklin presents his comments regarding the plan. Barclay and Fothergill “being of Opinion, that the Repeal of none of the Massachusetts Acts could be obtain’d by my Engaging to pay for the Tea, the Boston Port excepted, and I insisting on a Repeal of all, otherwise declining to make the Offer, that Measure was deferr’d for the present and I pocketed my Drafts. They concluded however to report my Sentiments, and see if any farther Concession could be obtained.”[41]

February 18
Franklin meets with Lord Howe who tells him

He was to be sent Commissioner, for settling the Differences in America; adding … that sensible of his own Unacquaintedness with the Business, and of my Knowledge and Abilities, he could not think of undertaking it without me, but with me he should do it most readily … That he was very sensible if he [should be so happy] as to effect any thing valuable [it] must be wholly owing to the Advice and Assistance [I should afford] him; that he should therefore make no Scruple of giving me upon all occasions the full honour of it … and what he now wish’d was to be authoriz’d by me to say, that I consented to accompany him

Franklin responded, “I shall deem it a great Honour to be in any shape join’d with your Lordship in so good a Work … He then said he wish’d I would discourse with Lord Hyde upon the Business, and ask’d If I had any Objection to meet his Lordship. I answer’d none, not the least.”[42]

February 20
Lord North presents his Resolution on Conciliation in the House of Commons. He and his Cabinet had been discussing it since January 21.[43]

It is the Opinion of [the Ministry], that when the Governor, Council and Assembly or General Court … shall propose to make Provision according to their respective Conditions, Circumstances and situations, for contributing their Proportion to the common Defence … raised under the Authority of the General Court, or General Assembly … and Disposable by Parliament; and shall engage to make Provision also for the Support of the Civil Government, and the Administration of Justice in such Province or Colony; it will be proper, if such Proposal shall be approved by his Majesty in Parliament and for so long as such Provision shall be made accordingly, to forbear in respect of such Province or Colony, to levy any Duties, Tax or Assessment, or to impose any further Duty, Tax or Assessment, except only such Duties as it may be expedient to impose for the Regulation of Commerce[44]

His Resolution surprised many of his supporters outside of the cabinet while his opponents in Parliament saw it as “insincere and insufficient.” Lord Dartmouth attached all of his hopes for reconciliation on the resolution – he believed once the Supremacy of Parliament was acknowledged, the specifics of reconciliation could be discussed. Only a gross misunderstanding of colonial grievances and the rise of colonial unity can explain why so much hope was placed upon the resolution. Lord Howe writes to Franklin, “Not having had a convenient opportunity to talk with Lord Hyde until this morning … [he] apprehends, that on the present American contest, your principles and his, or rather those of Parliament, are as yet so wide from each other, that a meeting merely to discuss them might give you unnecessary trouble.”[45] Franklin writes back, “Having nothing to offer on the American Business in Addition to what Lord Hyde is already acquainted with from the Papers that have passed, it seems most respectful not to give his Lordship the Trouble of a Visit.”[46]

February 27
Lord North’s Resolution was approved by a vote of 274 to 88, unfortunately, it never had a chance of being accepted in the colonies because by the time it reached there, the events of Lexington and Concord were unfolding.

February 28
Franklin tells Caroline Howe that he has not heard from her brother for better than a week. “I suppos’d it owing to his finding what he had propos’d to me was not likely to take place; and I wish’d her to Desire him, if that was the Case, to let me know it by a Line, that I might be at liberty to take other Measures.” When Caroline Howe informed her brother of Franklin’s request, he met with him later in the day.[47] Lord Howe was concerned about what Franklin meant by “take other measures.”

He said my last Paper of Remarks by Mr. Barclay, wherein I made the Indemnification of Boston for the Injury of Stopping its Port, a Condition of my engaging to pay for the Tea, a Condition impossible to be compl’d with, had discourag’d farther Proceeding on that idea. Having a Copy of that Paper in my Pocket, I show’d his Lordship, that I had propos’d no such Condition … nor any other than the repeal of all the Massachusetts Acts. That what follow’d relating to the Indemnification was only expressing my private Opinion that it would be just … as I now explain’d myself it appear’d I had been much misapprehended; and he wished, of all things I would still see Lord Hyde … [I said] I would wait upon Lord Hyde: I knew him to be an early Riser, and would be with him at 8 the next Morning; which Lord Howe undertook to acquaint him with.[48]

March 1
Franklin meets with Lord Hyde for the last time.

He had hoped that Lord North’s Motion would have been satisfactory; and ask’d what could be objected to it. I repl’d the Terms of it were that we should grant Money till Parliament had agreed we had given enough, without having the least share in judging of the Propriety of the Measures for which it was to be granted … that these Grants were also to be made under the Threat of exercising a claimed Right of Taxing us at Pleasure, and compelling such Taxes by an armed Force … the Proposition was similar to … a Highway-man who presents his Pistol and Hat at a Coach-Window, demanding no specific Sum, but if you will give all your Money or what he is pleas’d to think sufficient, he will civilly omit putting his own Hand into your Pockets.[49]

March 4
Caroline Howe writes to Franklin that her brother “begs to have the pleasure of meeting him once more before he goes.”[50]

March 7
Lord Howe meets with Franklin for the last time.

He began by saying, that I had been a better Prophet than himself, in foreseeing that my Interview with Lord Hyde would be of no great Use: and then said, that he hoped I would excuse the Trouble he had given me, as his Intentions had been good both towards me and the Publick; he was sorry that at present there was no Appearance of Things going into the Train he had wished … [but] if he should chance to be sent thither on that important Business, he hop’d he might still expect my Assistance. I assur’d him of my Readiness at all times of co-operating with him.[51]

March 13
Franklin writes to Charles Thomson,

The Petition of the Congress has lain upon the Table of both Houses ever since it was sent down to them among the Papers that accompany’d it from above, and has had no particular Notice taken of it; [Chatham’s] Petition to be heard in support of it, having been … rejected with Scorn in the Commons; which must the future Congress that nothing is to be expected here from that Mode of Application … Our only Safety is in the firmest Union, and keeping strict Faith with each other.[52]

March 17
Barclay and Fothergill meet with Franklin at his home. “They desired me to assure their Friends [in the colonies] from them, that it was now their fix’d Opinion, that nothing could secure the Privileges of America, but a firm sober Adherence to the Terms of the Association made at the Congress, and that the Salvation of English Liberty depended now on the Perseverance and Virtue of America.”[53]

March 18
Barclay writes to James Pemberton of Philadelphia,

We had an Intimation given by a noble person that if we had any Thing to offer more likely to produce the desired end (conciliating Measures) than the Hints which we had lately given, then was the period, before it was too late; declaring at the same time, that he had nothing particular to propose. This produced a Meeting, and a fair discussion of the Articles contained in the Hints, and a declaration, that we were determined to do nothing without Dr. Franklin, who had been instrumental in framing those Hints … after several Conferances enabled us to produce a paper entituled a Plan which we had some reason to believe was not disaproved by the Noble Lord who acted as a Mediator … At the same time a person of high rank (and equal reputation in your Continent) was by both sides agreed to be the most proper person to be sent from hence to effect this business; and our plan was, for Dr. Franklin to go at the same time, with the Ollive Branch. From this Period we could never make any Advancement nor obtain any Concession … How far you will be allur’d thereby, or any other of the present Plans intended to Devide, time must shew.[54]

March 18
Franklin spent the afternoon with Edmund Burke, member of the House of Commons who sympathized with the colonists’ plight. Along with Lord Chatham, Burke pleaded in Parliament for understanding of and compromise with the American colonies. Franklin told him that the affection the colonies had for England was gone forever, that he lamented the separation which he feared was inevitable between England and her colonies, and that peace was lost because of an inability to compromise.

March 19
Franklin had been in England for ten years. In the final four months, he did everything in his power to bring about some form of reconciliation. He spent his last day in London with his friend Joseph Priestley. They discussed the major topics in the London newspapers. Fearing that war now seemed inevitable, Franklin at times had to stop reading because of the tears in his eyes.[55]

Fothergill wrote to Franklin. He asked him when he got back to Philadelphia to gather some of their common friends and “acquaint them with D.B.’s and our united endeavours, and the effects. They will stun at least, if not convince the most courtly, that nothing very favourable is intended … farewel, and befriend this infant, growing empire with the utmost exertion of thy abilitys, and no less philanthropy, both which are beyond my powers to express.”[56]

March 20
Franklin sets out from London for Portsmouth.

March 21
Franklin boards a ship in Portsmouth for Philadelphia.

March 22
In a speech in the House of Commons, Edmund Burke presents On Conciliation with the Colonies. He begins by stating “The proposition is peace. Not peace through the medium of war, not peace to be hunted through the labyrinth of intricate and endless negotiations, not peace to arise out of universal discord … it is simple peace, sought in its natural course and in its ordinary haunts. It is peace sought in the spirit of peace, and laid in principles purely pacific. I propose, by removing the ground of the difference and by restoring the former unsuspecting confidence of the colonies in the mother country subsidies in Parliament.”[57]

Even in his absence, Franklin was attempting one final time to bring about peace.


[1] Benjamin Franklin to William Franklin: Journal of Negotiations in London, March 22, 1775, in William B. Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1978), 21:540b (Journal of Negotiations).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 21:360.

[5] Journal of Negotiations.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Franklin’s ‘Hints’ or Terms for a Durable Union,” Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 21:365-368.

[8] David Barclay to Franklin, December 8, 1774,” ibid., 21:372c.

[9] Kingston Fox, Dr. John Fothergill and his Friends (New York and London: MacMillan & Co., 1919), Appendix, 329.

[10] Ibid.

[11] .

[12] Barclay to Franklin, December 18, 1774, Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 21:390a.

[13] Arthur Lee to Richard Henry Lee, December 22 and 24, 1774,” in Peter Force, ed., American Archives, Fourth Series, Containing a Documentary History of the English Colonies in North America (Washington DC: M. St. Clair Clarke and Peter Force, 1837), I:1058-64.

[14] Journal of Negotiations.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Franklin’s Proposal to Lord Howe for Resolving the Crisis, December, 28 and 31, 1774, Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 21:408.

[19] Lord Howe to Caroline Howe, January 2, 1775, ibid., 21:436a.

[20] Barclay to Franklin, January 2, 1775, ibid., 21:435.

[21] Isaac Sharpless, Quakers in the Revolution (Honolulu. HI: University press of the Pacific, 2002), 113.

[22] Circular Letter from Earl of Dartmouth to the American Governors, January 4, 1775, in William Legge, Documenting the American South,” The Colonial and State Records (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Library, 2004), 9:1108.

[23] Caroline Howe to Franklin, January 7, 1775,” Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 21:444a.

[24] Replies to Questions from Lord Howe, January 7, 1775, ibid., 21:444b.

[25] Journal of Negotiations.

[26] Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (Washington DC: G.P.O., 1889), 38.

[27] Lord Stanhope to Franklin, January 21, 1775,” Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 21:454a.

[28] Petition of Merchants, January 23, 1775, Dartmouth Manuscripts (Stafford, England: William Salt Library), 261-2.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] ‘Franklin’s Notes for a Conversation with Lord Chatham, January 31, 1775, Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 21:459a; Journal of Negotiations.

[32] “Chatham’s Speech in Support of his Provisional Act,” in William Cobbett. The Parliamentary History of England (London:1813), 18:203; William Taylor and John Henry Pringle, eds., Correspondence of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham (London: John Murray, 1840), Appendix, 4:533-36; Cobbett. The Parliamentary History of England, 18:217-18.

[33] Journal of Negotiations.

[34] Remarks on Hints, February 4, 1775, Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 21:383a; ibid., 21:540b.

[35] Ira D. Gruber, The Howe Brothers and the American Revolution (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1972), 55.

[36] Franklin to Charles Thomson, February 5, 1775,” Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 21:475-9.

[37] Lord Hyde to Barclay, February 5, 1775,” in Fox, Dr. John Fothergill and his Friends, Appendix A, 397-8.

[38] John Fothergill to Lord Dartmouth, February 6, 1775, Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 21:479a.

[39] Journal of Negotiations in London.

[40] Barclay’s Plan of Reconciliation, February 16, 1775, Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 21:491b; Dr. John Fothergill and his Friends, Appendix A, 398-400.

[41] Journal of Negotiations.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Cabinet Meeting, January 21, 1775, Dartmouth Manuscripts, 1093.

[44] Force, American Archives, 1:1598.

[45] Lord Howe to Franklin, February 20, 1775,” Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 21:501a.

[46] Franklin to Lord Howe, February 20, 1775, ibid., 21:502a.

[47] Caroline Howe to Franklin, February 28, 1775,” ibid., 21:514a.

[48] Journal of Negotiations.

[49] Ibid.

[50] “From Caroline Howe to Benjamin Franklin, 4 March 1775,” Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 21:515a.

[51] Journal of Negotiations.

[52] Franklin to Thomson, March 13, 1775,” Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 21:475-79.

[53] Journal of Negotiations.

[54] Barclay to James Pemberton: Extract, March 18, 1775,” Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 21:531.

[55] J.T. Rutt, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Joseph Priestley (1817; New York: Thoemmes Press, 1999), 1:227.

[56] Fothergill to Franklin, March 19, 1775,” Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 21:537.

[57] “Burke’s Speech On Conciliation with the Colonies, March 22, 1775,”in Cobbett. The Parliamentary History of England 18:478-538.

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