Today, the Franklin Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers when the gentleman went before the House of Commons to answer questions about America’s opinion of the odious Stamp Act.
Readings in American History, edited by James Alton James, published in 1914, included an excerpt of the questions and Franklin’s answers:
Benjamin Franklin and the Repeal of the Stamp Act
While the repeal of the Stamp Act was under discussion in Parliament, Benjamin Franklin, with others, was ordered to appear before the House of Commons and testify upon the general attitude of America toward the act.
Franklin was at the time the representative of Pennsylvania and some of the other colonies.
The questions answered by Franklin were submitted by friends of the colonies, members of the special committee, and were intended to draw out what Franklin had already expressed on the subject.
The examination was concluded on February 13, 1766, and eleven days later the resolution was offered that the Stamp Act should be repealed. — (T. C. Hansard, The Parliamentary History of England, XVI, 138-160, 1765-71, London, 1813.)
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. From the thinness of the back settlements, would not the Stamp Act be extremely inconvenient to the inhabitants, if executed?
A. To be sure it would; as many of the inhabitants could not get stamps when they had occasion for them without taking long journeys, and spending perhaps three or four pounds, that the crown might get sixpence.
Q. Are not the colonies, from their circumstances, very able to pay the stamp duty?
A. In my opinion there is not gold and silver enough in the colonies to pay the stamp duty for one year.
Q. Don’t you know that the money arising from the stamps was all to be laid out in America?
A. I know it is appropriated by the act to the American service; but it will be spent in the conquered colonies, where the soldiers are, not in the colonies that pay it.
Q. Is there not a balance of trade due from the colonies where the troops are posted, that will bring back the money to the old colonies?
A. I think not. I believe very little would come back. I know of no trade likely to bring it back. I think it would come from the colonies where it was spent directly to England; for I have always observed, that in every colony the more plenty the means of remittance to England, the more goods are sent for, and the more trade with England carried on.
Q. How many white men do you suppose there are in North America?
A. About 300,000, from 16 to 60 years of age.
Q. Have you heard of any difficulties lately laid on the Spanish trade?
A. Yes, I have heard, that it has been greatly obstructed by some new regulations, and by the English men of war and cutters stationed all along the coast of America.
Q. Do you think it right that America should be protected by this country and pay no part of the expense?
A. That is not the case. The colonies raised, cloathed and payed, during the last war, near 25,000 men, and spent many millions.
Q. Were you not reimbursed by parliament?
A. We were only reimbursed what, in your opinion, we had advanced beyond our proportion, or beyond what might reasonably be expected from us; and it was a very small part of what we spent. Pennsylvania, in particular, disbursed about 500,000 £, and the reimbursements, in the whole, did not exceed 60,000 £.
Q. You have said that you pay heavy taxes in Pennsylvania; what do they amount to in the pound?
A. The tax on all estates, real and personal, is eighteen pence in the pound, fully rated; and the tax on the profits of trades and professions, with other taxes, do, I suppose, make full half a crown in the pound.
Q. Do you think the people of America would submit to pay the stamp duty, if it were moderated?
A. No, never, unless compelled by force of arms.
Q. What was the temper of America towards Great Britain before the year 1763?
A. The best in the world. They submitted willingly to the government of the Crown, and paid, in all their courts, obedience to acts of parliament. Numerous as the people are in the several 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 lead 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 a 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. Did you ever hear the authority of parliament to make laws for America questioned till lately?
A. The authority of parliament was allowed to be valid in all laws, except such as should lay internal taxes. It was never disputed in laying duties to regulate commerce.
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 causes 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 amount?
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 no power on earth that can force them to erase them?
A. No power, how great soever, can force men to change their opinions.
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 Americans?
A. To indulge in the fashions and manufactures of Great Britain.
Q. What is now their pride?
A. To wear their old cloaths over again, till they can make new ones.
The Franklin Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of the gentleman before the House of Commons on February 13, 1766.