Franklin’s Testimony Before the House of Commons concerning the Stamp Act – February 13, 1766

On March 22, 1765, the Stamp Act was passed without debate. This legislative act was not unique. Indeed, the colonies had suffered for decades under various pieces of inked parchment which favored the interests of mercantilists in the Isles at the expense of colonials. The Hat Act of 1732, the Molasses Act of 1733, the Iron Act of 1750, the Navigation Acts of 1763, etc.

In the name of all that was “fair”, the revenues collected by the levy would remain in the North American colonies to pay for the King’s troops who were there merely to preserve the security of his loyal subjects. Even the collectors of the tax would be by the hands of the colonials themselves. These tax collectors would, of course, have a royal appointment as stamp agents. Given the magnanimity of the King in these terms it was surprising, to those in the halls of power in London, that there had been such a fuss of late in “sail past country”. It is therefore fortunate that Dr. Franklin happened to be available to provide some perspective. I do hope that someone treated him to a bottle of Cheval Blanc afterwards!

Thus is was that Dr. Franklin found himself under examination by the House of Commons that March day.

Q. Are not the colonies, from their circumstances, very able to pay the stamp duty?

— 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?

— 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.

For clarification, the “conquered colonies” would be those areas lost by France and brought into the Empire following the Seven Years War.

Q. Do not you think the people of America would submit to pay the stamp duty, if it was moderated?

— No, never, unless compelled by force of arms.

No mincing words there.

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

— No; it is greatly lessened.

Q. To what cause is that owing?

— 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 demand a new and heavy tax by stamps; taking away at the same, 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?

— No; they will never submit to it.

Repeat the same question asked previously, but reword it slightly. I guess that legalese is the same going back to Sumerian times. Dr. Franklin performed a great service for the colonies with his testimony. The robed and wigged authority figures were just in no particular mood to listen. Go through the motions. Investigate. This too shall pass.

It was business in London as usual.


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