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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Franklin before the House of Commons

By Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790)

[From the Report of the Examination, published in 1767.]

Q.WHAT is your name, and place of abode?

A.Franklin, of Philadelphia.

Q.Do the Americans pay any considerable taxes among themselves?

A.Certainly, many, and very heavy taxes.

Q.What are the present taxes in Pennsylvania, laid by the laws of the colony?

A.There are taxes on all estates real and personal; a poll tax; a tax on all offices, professions, trades, and businesses, according to their profits; an excise on all wine, rum and other spirits; and a duty of ten pounds per head on all negroes imported, with some other duties.

Q.For what purposes are those taxes laid?

A.For the support of the civil and military establishments of the country, and to discharge the heavy debt contracted in the last war.

Q.How long are those taxes to continue?

A.Those for discharging the debt are to continue till 1772, and longer if the debt should not be then all discharged. The others must always continue.

Q.Was it not expected that the debt would have been sooner discharged?

A.It was, when the peace was made with France and Spain. But, a fresh war breaking out with the Indians, a fresh load of debt was incurred; and the taxes, of course, continued longer by a new law.

Q.Are not all the people very able to pay those taxes?

A.No. The frontier counties, all along the continent, having been frequently ravaged by the enemy and greatly impoverished, are able to pay very little tax. And therefore, in consideration of their distresses, our late tax laws do expressly favor those counties, excusing the sufferers; and I suppose the same is done in other governments.


Q.What was the temper of America toward Great Britain before the year 1763?

A.The best in the world. They submitted willingly to the government of the crown, and paid, in their courts, obedience to the acts of Parliament. Numerous as the people are in the several old provinces, they cost you nothing in forts, citadels, garrisons, or armies, to keep them in subjection. They were governed by this country at the expense only of a little pen, ink, and paper; they were led by a thread. They had not only a respect, but an affection for Great Britain; for its laws, its customs and manners, and even a fondness for its fashions, that greatly increased the commerce. Natives of Britain were always treated with particular regard; to be an Old-England man was of itself a character of some respect, and gave a kind of rank among us.

Q.And what is their temper now?

A.O, very much altered.


Q.In what light did the people of America use to consider the Parliament of Great Britain?

A.They considered the Parliament as the great bulwark and security of their liberties and privileges, and always spoke of it with the utmost respect and veneration. Arbitrary ministers, they thought, might possibly, at times, attempt to oppress them; but they relied on it that the Parliament, on application, would always give redress. They remembered, with gratitude, a strong instance of this, when a bill was brought into Parliament, with a clause to make royal instructions laws in the colonies, which the House of Commons would not pass, and it was thrown out.

Q.And have they not still the same respect for Parliament?

A.No, it is greatly lessened.

Q.To what cause is that owing?

A.To a concurrence of causes; the restraints lately laid on their trade by which the bringing of foreign gold and silver into the colonies was prevented; the prohibition of making paper money among themselves, and then demanding a new and heavy tax by stamps, taking away, at the same time, trials by juries, and refusing to receive and hear their humble petitions.

Q.Don’t you think they would submit to the Stamp Act, if it was modified, the obnoxious parts taken out, and the duty reduced to some particulars of small moment?

A.No, they will never submit to it.


Q.If the Stamp Act should be repealed, would it induce the assemblies of America to acknowledge the rights of Parliament to tax them, and would they erase their resolutions?

A.No, never.

Q.Are there no means of obliging them to erase those resolutions?

A.None that I know of; they will never do it, unless compelled by force of arms.

Q.Is there a power on earth that can force them to erase them?

A.No power, how great soever, can force men to change their opinions.

Q.Do they consider the post-office as a tax, or as a regulation?

A.Not as a tax, but as a regulation and conveniency; every assembly encouraged it, and supported it in its infancy by grants of money, which they would not otherwise have done; and the people have always paid the postage.

Q.When did you receive the instructions you mentioned?

A.I brought them with me, when I came to England, about fifteen months since.

Q.When did you communicate that instruction to the minister?

A.Soon after my arrival, while the stamping of America was under consideration, and before the bill was brought in.

Q.Would it be most for the interest of Great Britain, to employ the hands of Virginia in tobacco, or in manufactures?

A.In tobacco, to be sure.

Q.What used to be the pride of the Americans?

A.To indulge in the fashions and manufactures of Great Britain.

Q.What is now their pride?

A.To wear their old clothes over again, till they can make new ones.