The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin/Section Sixty Five
Section Sixty Five
After some Days, Dr Fothergill having spoken to the Proprietaries, they agreed to a Meeting with me at Mr T. Penn’s House in Spring Garden. The Conversation at first consisted of mutual Declarations of Disposition to reasonable Accommodation; but I suppose each Party had its own Ideas of what should be meant by reasonable. We then went into Consideration of our several Points of Complaint which I enumerated. The Proprietaries justify’d their Conduct as well as they could, and I the Assembly’s. We now appeared very wide, and so far from each other in our Opinions, as to discourage all Hope of Agreement. However, it was concluded that I should give them the Heads of our Complaints in Writing, and they promis’d then to consider them. I did so soon after; but they put the Paper into the Hands of their Solicitor Ferdinando John Paris, who manag’d for them all their Law Business in their great Suit with the neighboring Proprietary of Maryland, Lord Baltimore, which had subsisted 70 Years, and wrote for them all their Papers & Messages in their Dispute with the Assembly. He was a proud angry Man; and as I had occasionally in the Answers of the Assembly treated his Papers with some Severity, they being really weak in point of Argument, and haughty in Expression, he had conceiv’d a moral Enmity to me, which discovering itself whenever we met, I declin’d the Proprietary’s Proposal that he and I should discuss the Heads of Complaint between our two selves, and refus’d treating with any one but them. They then by his Advice put the Paper into the Hands of the Attorney and Solicitor General for their Opinion and Counsel upon it, where it lay unanswered a Year wanting eight Days, during which time I made frequent Demands of an Answer from the Proprietaries but without obtaining any other than that they had not yet receiv’d the Opinion of the Attorney & Solicitor General. What it was when they did receive it I never learned, for they did not communicate it to me, but sent a long Message to the Assembly drawn & signed by Paris reciting my Paper, complaining of its want of Formality as a Rudeness on my part, and giving a flimsy Justification of their Conduct, adding that they should be willing to accommodate Matters, if the Assembly would send over some Person of Candor to treat with them for that purpose, intimating thereby that I was not such.
The want of Formality or Rudeness, was probably my not having address’d the Paper to them with their assum’d Titles of true and absolute Proprietaries of the Province of Pennsylvania, which I omitted as not thinking it necessary in a Paper the Intention of which was only to reduce to a Certainty by writing what in Conversation I had delivered viva voce. But during this Delay, the Assembly having prevail’d with Govr Denny to pass an Act taxing the Proprietary Estate in common with the Estates of the People, which was the grand Point in Dispute, they omitted answering the Message.When this Act however came over, the Proprietaries counsell’d by Paris determin’d to oppose its receiving the Royal Assent. Accordingly they petition’d the King in Council, and a Hearing was appointed, in which two Lawyers were employ’d by them against the Act, and two by me in Support of it. They alleg’d that the Act was intended to load the Proprietary Estate in order to spare those of the People, and that if it were suffer’d to continue in force, & the Proprietaries who were in Odium with the People, left to their Mercy in proportioning the Taxes, they would inevitably be ruined. We reply’d that the Act had no such Intention and would have no such Effect. That the Assessors were honest & discreet Men, under an Oath to assess fairly & equitably, & that any Advantage each of them might expect in lessening his own Tax by augmenting that of the Proprietaries was too trifling to induce them to perjure themselves. This is the purport of what I remember as urg’d by both Sides, except that we insisted strongly on the mischievous Consequences that must attend a Repeal; for that the Money, 100,000 £, being printed and given to the King’s Use, expended in his Service, & now spread among the People, the Repeal would strike it dead in their Hands to the Ruin of many, & the total Discouragement of future Grants, and the Selfishness of the Proprietors in soliciting such a general Catastrophe, merely from a groundless Fear of their Estate being taxed too highly, was insisted on in the strongest Terms. On this Lord Mansfield, one of the Council, rose, & beckoning to me, took me into the Clerks’ Chamber, while the Lawyers were pleading, and ask’d me if I was really of Opinion that no Injury would be done the Proprietary Estate in the Execution of the Act. I said, Certainly. Then says he, you can have little Objection to enter into an Engagement to assure that Point. I answer’d None at all. He then call’d in Paris, and after some Discourse his Lordship’s Proposition was accepted on both Sides; a Paper to the purpose was drawn up by the Clerk of the Council, which I sign’d with Mr Charles, who was also an Agent of the Province for their ordinary Affairs; when Lord Mansfield return’d to the Council Chamber where finally the Law was allowed to pass. Some Changes were however recommended and we also engag’d they should be made by a subsequent Law; but the Assembly, did not think them necessary, For one Year’s Tax having been levied by the Act, before the Order of Council arrived, they appointed a Committee to examine the Procedings of the Assessors, & On this Committee they put several particular Friends of the Proprietaries. After a full Inquiry they unanimously sign’d a Report that they found the Tax had been assess’d with perfect Equity. The Assembly look’d on my entering into the first Part of the Engagement as an essential Service to the Province, since it secur’d the Credit of the Paper Money then spread over all the Country; and they gave me their Thanks in form when I return’d. But the Proprietaries were enrag’d at Governor Denny for having pass’d the Act, & turn’d him out, with Threats of suing him for Breach of Instructions which he had given Bond to observe. He however having done it at the Instance of the General & for his Majesty’s Service, and having some powerful Interest at Court, despis’d the Threats, and they were never put in Execution [Here Franklin’s account breaks off.]