Quarrels with the Proprietary Governors

In my journey to Boston this year, I met at New York with our new governor, Mr. Morris, just arriv’d there from England, with whom I had been before intimately acquainted. He brought a commission to supersede Mr. Hamilton, who, tir’d with the disputes his proprietary instructions subjected him to, had resign’d. Mr. Morris ask’d me if I thought he must expect as uncomfortable an administration. I said, “No; you may, on the contrary, have a very comfortable one, if you will only take care not to enter into any dispute with the Assembly.” “My dear friend,” says he, pleasantly, “how can you advise my avoiding disputes? You know I love disputing; it is one of my greatest pleasures; however, to show the regard I have for your counsel, I promise you I will, if possible, avoid them.” He had some reason for loving to dispute, being eloquent, an acute sophister, and, therefore, generally successful in argumentative conversation. He had been brought up to it from a boy, his father, as I have heard, accustoming his children to dispute with one another for his diversion, while sitting at table after dinner; but I think the practice was not wise; for, in the course of my observation, these disputing, contradicting, and confuting people are generally unfortunate in their affairs. They get victory sometimes, but they never get good will, which would be of more use to them. We parted, he going to Philadelphia, and I to Boston.

In returning, I met at New York with the votes of the Assembly, by which it appear’d that, notwithstanding his promise to me, he and the House were already in high contention; and it was a continual battle between them as long as he retain’d the government. I had my share of it; for, as soon as I got back to my seat in the Assembly, I was put on every committee for answering his speeches and messages, and by the committees always desired to make the drafts. Our answers, as well as his messages, were often tart, and sometimes indecently abusive; and, as he knew I wrote for the Assembly, one might have imagined that, when we met, we could hardly avoid cutting throats; but he was so good-natur’d a man that no personal difference between him and me was occasion’d by the contest, and we often din’d together.

Meeting in the street.

One afternoon, in the height of this public quarrel, we met in the street. “Franklin,” says he, “you must go home with me and spend the evening; I am to have some company that you will like;” and, taking me by the arm, he led me to his house. In gay conversation over our wine, after supper, he told us, jokingly, that he much admir’d the idea of Sancho Panza,[93] who, when it was proposed to give him a government, requested it might be a government of blacks, as then, if he could not agree with his people, he might sell them. One of his friends, who sat next to me, says, “Franklin, why do you continue to side with these damn’d Quakers? Had not you better sell them? The proprietor would give you a good price.” “The governor,” says I, “has not yet blacked them enough.” He, indeed, had laboured hard to blacken the Assembly in all his messages, but they wip’d off his colouring as fast as he laid it on, and plac’d it, in return, thick upon his own face; so that, finding he was likely to be negrofied himself, he, as well as Mr. Hamilton, grew tir’d of the contest, and quitted the government.

These public quarrels[94] were all at bottom owing to the proprietaries, our hereditary governors, who, when any expense was to be incurred for the defense of their province, with incredible meanness instructed their deputies to pass no act for levying the necessary taxes, unless their vast estates were in the same act expressly excused; and they had even taken bonds of these deputies to observe such instructions. The Assemblies for three years held out against this injustice, tho’ constrained to bend at last. At length Captain Denny, who was Governor Morris’s successor, ventured to disobey those instructions; how that was brought about I shall show hereafter.

But I am got forward too fast with my story: there are still some transactions to be mention’d that happened during the administration of Governor Morris.

War being in a manner commenced with France, the government of Massachusetts Bay projected an attack upon Crown Point,[95] and sent Mr. Quincy to Pennsylvania, and Mr. Pownall, afterward Governor Pownall, to New York, to solicit assistance. As I was in the Assembly, knew its temper, and was Mr. Quincy’s countryman, he appli’d to me for my influence and assistance. I dictated his address to them, which was well received. They voted an aid of ten thousand pounds, to be laid out in provisions. But the governor refusing his assent to their bill (which included this with other sums granted for the use of the crown), unless a clause were inserted exempting the proprietary estate from bearing any part of the tax that would be necessary, the Assembly, tho’ very desirous of making their grant to New England effectual, were at a loss how to accomplish it. Mr. Quincy labored hard with the governor to obtain his assent, but he was obstinate.

I then suggested a method of doing the business without the governor, by orders on the trustees of the Loan office, which, by law, the Assembly had the right of drawing. There was, indeed, little or no money at that time in the office, and therefore I propos’d that the orders should be payable in a year, and to bear an interest of five per cent. With these orders I suppos’d the provisions might easily be purchas’d. The Assembly, with very little hesitation, adopted the proposal. The orders were immediately printed, and I was one of the committee directed to sign and dispose of them. The fund for paying them was the interest of all the paper currency then extant in the province upon loan, together with the revenue arising from the excise, which being known to be more than sufficient, they obtain’d instant credit, and were not only receiv’d in payment for the provisions, but many money’d people, who had cash lying by them, vested it in those orders, which they found advantageous, as they bore interest while upon hand, and might on any occasion be used as money; so that they were eagerly all bought up, and in a few weeks none of them were to be seen. Thus this important affair was by my means completed. Mr. Quincy return’d thanks to the Assembly in a handsome memorial, went home highly pleas’d with this success of his embassy, and ever after bore for me the most cordial and affectionate friendship.

[93]The “round, selfish, and self-important” squire of Don Quixote in Cervantes’ romance of that name.

[94]My acts in Morris’s time, military, etc.—Marg. note.

[95]On Lake Champlain, ninety miles north of Albany. It was captured by the French in 1731, attacked by the English in 1755 and 1756, and abandoned by the French in 1759. It was finally captured from the English by the Americans in 1775.

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