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- The Eve of the Revolution, - 2/28 -


Philadelphia, he found that the new world had not forgotten him. For many days his house was filled from morning till night with a succession of friends, old and new, come to congratulate him on his return; excellent people all, no doubt, and yet presenting, one may suppose, a rather sharp contrast to the "virtuous and elegant minds" from whom he had recently parted in England. The letters he wrote, immediately following his return to America, to his friends William Strahan and Mary Stevenson lack something of the cheerful and contented good humor which is Franklin's most characteristic tone. His thoughts, like those of a homesick man, are ever dwelling on his English friends, and he still nourishes the fond hope of returning, bag and baggage, to England for good and all. The very letter which he begins by relating the cordiality of his reception in Philadelphia he closes by assuring Strahan that "in two years at fartherest I hope to settle all my affairs in such manner as that I may then conveniently remove to England--provided," he adds as an afterthought, "we can persuade the good woman to cross the sea. That will be the great difficulty."

It is not known whether it was this difficulty that prevented the eminent doctor, revered in two continents for his wisdom, from changing the place of his residence. Dear Debby, as docile as a child in most respects, very likely had her settled prejudices, of which the desire to remain on dry land may have been one, and one of the most obstinate. Or it may be that Franklin found himself too much occupied, too much involved in affairs after his long absence, to make even a beginning in his cherished plan; or else, as the months passed and he settled once more to the familiar, humdrum life of the American metropolis, sober second thought may have revealed to him what was doubtless a higher wisdom. "Business, public and private, devours my time," he writes in March, 1764. "I must return to England for repose. With such thoughts I flatter myself, and need some kind friend to put me often in mind THAT OLD TREES CANNOT SAFELY BE TRANSPLANTED." Perhaps, after all, Dear Debby was this kind friend; in which case Americans must all, to this day, be much indebted to the good woman.

At least it was no apprehension of difficulties arising between England and the colonies that induced Franklin to remain in America. The Peace of Paris he regarded as "the most advantageous" of any recorded in British annals, very fitting to mark the close of a successful war, and well suited to usher in the long period of prosperous felicity which should properly distinguish the reign of a virtuous prince. Never before, in Franklin's opinion, were the relations between Britain and her colonies more happy; and there could be, he thought, no good reason to fear that the excellent young King would be distressed, or his prerogative diminished, by factitious parliamentary opposition.

"You now fear for our virtuous young King, that the faction forming will overpower him and render his reign uncomfortable [he writes to Strahan]. On the contrary, I am of opinion that his virtue and the consciousness of his sincere intentions to make his people happy will give him firmness and steadiness in his measures and in the support of the honest friends he has chosen to serve him; and when that firmness is fully perceived, faction will dissolve and be dissipated like a morning fog before the rising sun, leaving the rest of the day clear with a sky serene and cloudless. Such after a few of the first years will be the future course of his Majesty's reign, which I predict will be happy and truly glorious. A new war I cannot yet see reason to apprehend. The peace will I think long continue, and your nation be as happy as they deserve to be."

CHAPTER II. The Burden Of Empire

Nothing of note in Parliament, except one slight day on the American taxes.--Horace Walpole.

There were plenty of men in England, any time before 1763, who found that an excellent arrangement which permitted them to hold office in the colonies while continuing to reside in London. They were thereby enabled to make debts, and sometimes even to pay them, without troubling much about their duties; and one may easily think of them, over their claret, as Mr. Trevelyan says, lamenting the cruelty of a secretary of state who hinted that, for form's sake at least, they had best show themselves once in a while in America. They might have replied with Junius: "It was not Virginia that wanted a governor, but a court favorite that wanted a salary." Certainly Virginia could do with a minimum of royal officials; but most court favorites wanted salaries, for without salaries unendowed gentlemen could not conveniently live in London.

One of these gentlemen, in the year 1763, was Mr. Grosvenor Bedford. He was not, to be sure, a court favorite, but a man, now well along in years, who had long ago been appointed to be Collector of the Customs at the port of Philadelphia. The appointment had been made by the great minister, Robert Walpole, for whom Mr. Bedford had unquestionably done some service or other, and of whose son, Horace Walpole, the letter-writer, he had continued from that day to be a kind of dependent or protege, being precisely the sort of unobtrusive factotum which that fastidious eccentric needed to manage his mundane affairs. But now, after this long time, when the King's business was placed in the hands of George Grenville, who entertained the odd notion that a Collector of the Customs should reside at the port of entry where the customs were collected rather than in London where he drew his salary, it was being noised about, and was presently reported at Strawberry Hill, that Mr. Bedford, along with many other estimable gentlemen, was forthwith to be turned out of his office.

To Horace Walpole it was a point of more than academic importance to know whether gentlemen were to be unceremoniously turned out of their offices. As far back as 1738, while still a lad, he had himself been appointed to be Usher of the Exchequer; and as soon as he came of age, he says, "I took possession of two other little patent places in the Exchequer, called Comptroller of the Pipe, and Clerk of the Estreats"--all these places having been procured for him through the generosity of his father. The duties of these offices, one may suppose, were not arduous, for it seems that they were competently administered by Mr. Grosvenor Bedford, in addition to his duties as Collector of the Customs at the port of Philadelphia; so well administered, indeed, that Horace Walpole's income from them, which in 1740 was perhaps not more than 1500 pounds a year, nearly doubled in the course of a generation. And this income, together with another thousand which he had annually from the Collector's place in the Custom House, added to the interest of 20,000 pounds which he had inherited, enabled him to live very well, with immense leisure for writing odd books, and letters full of extremely interesting comment on the levity and low aims of his contemporaries.

And so Horace Walpole, good patron that he was and competent letter-writer, very naturally, hearing that Mr. Bedford was to lose an office to which in the course of years he had become much accustomed, sat down and wrote a letter to Mr. George Grenville in behalf of his friend and servant. "Though I am sensible I have no pretensions for asking you a favour, ...yet I flatter myself I shall not be thought quite impertinent in interceding for a person, who I can answer has neither been to blame nor any way deserved punishment, and therefore I think you, Sir, will be ready to save him from prejudice. The person I mean is my deputy, Mr. Grosvenor Bedford, who, above five and twenty years ago, was appointed Collector of the Customs in Philadelphia by my father. I hear he is threatened to be turned out. If the least fault can be laid to his charge, I do not desire to have him protected. If there cannot, I am too well persuaded, Sir, of your justice not to be sure you will be pleased to protect him."

George Grenville, a dry, precise man of great knowledge and industry, almost always right in little matters and very patient of the misapprehensions of less exact people, wrote in reply a letter which many would think entirely adequate to the matter in hand: "I have never heard [he began] of any complaint against Mr. Grosvenor Bedford, or of any desire to turn him out; but by the office which you tell me he holds in North America, I believe I know the state of the case, which I will inform you of, that you may be enabled to judge of it yourself. Heavy complaints were last year made in Parliament of the state of our revenues in North America which amount to between 1,000 pounds and 9,000 pounds a year, the collecting of which costs upon the establishment of the Customs in Great Britain between 7,000 pounds and 8,000 pounds a year. This, it was urged, arose from the making all these offices sinecures in England. When I came to the Treasury* I directed the Commissioners of the Customs to be written to, that they might inform us how the revenue might be improved, and to what causes they attributed the present diminished state of it.... The principal cause which they assigned was the absence of the officers who lived in England by leave of the Treasury, which they proposed should be recalled. This we complied with, and ordered them all to their duty, and the Commissioners of the Customs to present others in the room of such as should not obey. I take it for granted that this is Mr. Bedford's case. If it is, it will be attended with difficulty to make an exception, as they are every one of them applying to be excepted out of the orders.... If it is not so, or if Mr. Bedford can suggest to me any proper means of obviating it without overturning the whole regulation, he will do me a sensible pleasure.

* On the resignation of Lord Bute in April, 1763, Grenville formed a ministry, himself taking the two offices of First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

There is no evidence to show that Mr. Bedford was able to do Mr. Grenville this "sensible pleasure." The incident, apparently closed, was one of many indications that a new policy for dealing with America was about to be inaugurated; and although Grenville had been made minister for reasons that were remote enough from any question of efficiency in government, no better man could have been chosen for applying to colonial administration the principles of good business management. His connection with the Treasury, as well as the natural bent of his mind, had made him "confessedly the ablest man of business in the House of Commons." The Governors of the Bank of England, very efficient men certainly, held it a great point in the minister's favor that they "could never do business with any man with the same ease they had done it with him." Undoubtedly the first axiom of business is that one's accounts should be kept straight, one's books nicely balanced; the second, that one's assets should exceed one's liabilities. Mr. Grenville, accordingly, "had studied the revenues with professional assiduity, and something


The Eve of the Revolution, - 2/28

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