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Art. II. The Private Correspondence of Dr. Franklin.
[Art. concluded from our last Number, p. 28.] The letters in this collection
which relate more particularly to American politics, and to the negotiations for peace, from their first inauspicious commencement to their final consummation, occupy a large part of the volume. · Dr. Franklin was particularly anxious that not merely a formal peace should prevail between the two countries, but a thorough reconciliation; not merely a cessation of animosity and bloodshed, but a restoration of cordial amity and unsuspecting confidence. For this purpose, he thought that it would have been wise in England to have relinquished her dominion in Canada, in order to avoid those continual probabilities of enmity and dissention, which the contiguity of that country to the United States was likely to produce. We have lived to see that expectation realized; and perhaps not many years will pass away before the possession of Canada will lead to a renewal of hostilities between Great Britain and the American republic. It appears from the present volume that, when the cession of Canada to the United States was mentioned in the British cabinet, “the Marquis of Rockingham and Lord Shelburne, though they spoke reservedly, did not seem very averse to it, but that Mr. Fox seemed startled at the proposition.' P.359. Mr. Fox had too much sagacity not to discern the violent opposition which such a proposal would have had to encounter; and he was no doubt apprehensive lest it should be the means of breaking off the negotiation. No one had scrutinized the precise bearings of the royal mind with more nicety of discernment than Mr. Fox.
During the administration of the Marquis of Rockingham in 1782, Great Britain had two negotiators at Paris, one of whom, Mr. Oswald, was sent by Lord Shelburne, and the other, Mr. Grenville, by Mr. Fox. As Mr. Fox was at that time Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the conduct of the negotiation belonged more particularly to his department: hut Lord Shelburne appears to have been ambitious of having the peace effected under his more immediate auspices; and no cordial harmony ever prevailed between his Lordship and Mr. Fox, the ingenuous simplicity of the latter not being in unison with the more tortuous character of the former. I find myself,' says Dr. Franklin, p. 371., . in some perplexity with regard to these two negotiators. Mr. Oswald appears to have been the choice of Lord Shelburne, Mr. Grenville that of Mr. Secretary Fox. Lord Shelburne is said to have lately acquired much of the King's confidence: Mr. Fox calls himself the
minister of the people, and it is certain his popularity is lately much increased. Lord S. seems to wish to have the management of the treaty; Mr. Fox seems to think it in his department. This struggle was terminated by the death of the Marquis of Rockingham; when Lord Shelburne, who had secretly obtained an audience of the King, had the address to get himself appointed first Lord of the Treasury, without the concurrence of his colleagues; and Mr. Fox and his friends accordingly went out of office. The preliminaries of peace were signed at Paris on the 30th of November 1782, and the ratifications of the definitive treaty were exchanged in May 1784. Thus Dr. Franklin had the happiness of living to see that good work completed, in which he had so long and so anxiously laboured, and to the happy consummation of which he had so materially contributed by his sagacity, his diligence, his patience, his firmness, his moderation, and his probity. His diplomatic ability had not been less efficacious than the military talents of Washington, in raising his country to a high rank in the scale of independent nations; and in procuring for it a degree of practical liberty, greater than any which had yet been enjoyed by either antient or modern nations.
Before Dr. Franklin was placed in any ostensible political situation, his mind had been enriched by patient culture, and his sagacity improved by a large acquaintance with the world, and a familiar intercourse with the different ranks of society. He knew mankind well, for he had studied the human charácter in every variety of circumstance; and to great natural acuteness he added the benefit of multiform experience and comprehensive observation.
In June 1788 the author, writing to M. Dupont de Nemours, when the federal constitution of the United States had not been carried into execution, makes some remarks, the wisdom of which has been fully proved in the awful times in which we have been living almost ever since, when visionaries have imagined that a new constitution might be brought out perfect from the brain, like a Minerva from the head of Jupiter: — but,' said the reflective Franklin, before the world had been enlightened by the political experiment of the French revolution :
"We must not expect that a new government may be formed as a game of chess may be played, by a skilful hand, without a fault. The players of our game are so many, their ideas so different, their prejudices so strong and so various, and their particular interests independent of the general seeming so opposite, that not a move can be made that is not contested; the numerous objec
tions confound the understanding; the wisest must agree to some unreasonable things, that reasonable ones of more consequence may be obtained, and thus chance has its share in many of the determinations, so that the play is more like tric-trac with a box of dice. P. 232.
Previously to the establishment of the American independence, one of the emissaries of the English ministry endeavoured to impress Dr. Franklin with an idea that the United States would not be able to bear the expence of an independent government; to which the Doctor replied: “A virtuous and laborious people may be cheaply governed. Determining as we do to have no offices of profit, nor any sinecures or useless appointments, so common in ancient and corrupted states, we can govern ourselves a year for the sum you pay in a single department, or for what one jobbing-contractor, by the favour of a minister, can cheat you out of in a single article.
Alluding to the several changes in administration which bad taken place in this country during the years 1782 and 1783, Dr. F. says, apparently in a tone between jest and earnest,
• I am not sure that in reforming the constitution which is sometimes talked of, it would not be better to make your great officers of state hereditary than to suffer the inconvenience of such frequent and total changes. Much faction and cabal would be prevented by having an hereditary first Lord of the Treasury, an hereditary Lord Chancellor, Privy Seal, President of Council, Secretary of State, first Lord of the Admiralty, &c. &c. It will not be said that the duties of these offices being important, we cannot trust to nature for the chance of requisite talents, since we have an hereditary set of judges in the last resort, the House of Peers; an hereditary King; and in a certain German University, an here. ditary professor of mathematics.' P.228.
When the Doctor was asked by the Marquis de la Fayette, in the year 1779, what conduct he thought that the English would adopt in the then state of affairs, he answered thus: I have but one rule to go by in judging of those people, which is that whatever is prudent for them to do they will omit; and what is most imprudent to be done, they will do it. This, like other general rules, may sometimes have its exceptions: but I think it will hold good for the most part, at least while the present ministry continues, or rather while the present — has the choice of ministers.' P. 223. Though the above may seem rather too severe a reflection on the want of political wisdom in the ruling powers of this country, yet, when we take a retrospect of our history from the year 1789 to the present period, we have to lament but too many memorable instances of its truth. K 4
The ensuing sentiments were written in the autumn of 1783, and addressed to Sir Edward Newenham, Bart. of Ireland, when the volunteers in that country had signalized themselves so much by their patriotic zeal:
It is a pleasing reflection arising from the contemplation of our successful struggle, and the manly, spirited, and unanimous resolves at Dungannon, that liberty, which some years since appeared in danger of extinction, is now regaining the ground she had lost, that arbitrary governments are likely to become more mild and reasonable, and to expire by degrees, giving place to more equitable forms; one of the effects this of the art of printing, which diffuses so general a light, augmenting with the growing day, and of so penetrating a nature, that all the window-shutters despotism and priestcraft can oppose to keep it out prove insufficient.' P.227.
Many adverse events, which no sagacity could foresee, have conspired to dim the prospect here portrayed, and to chill the hopes here expressed: but still liberty is certainly progressive, though its march is more slow than philanthropy might wish. The political light, which was kindled in the life-time of Franklin, and which has since been so greatly augmented in force and splendour during the tremendous collision of interests which we have witnessed in the progress of the French revolution, is too widely diffused, and too generally cherished, to be extinguished by art or to be repressed by violence. Tyranny and ignorance are boon companions, and cannot well exist apart; but tyranny and knowlege are like those chemical bodies between which no affinity can be produced.
In a letter to B. Vaughan, Esq. in March 1784, we find a weighty remark which would furnish matter for the discussion of volumes: • The making England entirely a free port would have been the wisest step ever taken for its advantage.
The following important fact reflects immortal honour on the memory of Franklin; and happy would it be for the world, if every statesman could justly claim as fair a wreath of laurel to bind around his brow: «I am as much for peace as ever I was, and as heartily desirous of seeing the war ended as I was to prevent its beginning; of which your ministers know I gave a strong proof before I left England, when, in order to an accommodation, I offered at my own risque, without orders for so doing, and without knowing whether I should be owned in doing it, to pay the whole damage of destroying the tea at Boston, provided the acts made against that province were repealed. This offer was refused. P. 264.
At p. 252. Dr. Franklin mentions a circumstance which deserves to be investigated by some future historian of the