Item of the Day: Franklin’s Historical Review of Pensylvania (1759)

Full Title:

An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pensylvania (sic), From Its Origin; So far as Regards the Several Points of Controversy, Which Have, from Time to Time, Arisen between The Several Governors of that Province, and Their Several Assemblies. Founded on Authentic Documents. “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Page 289.”

Attributed to Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790. Contains dedication, contents, introduction, and appendix. Printed in London for R. Griffiths, in Paternoster-Row, 1759.

Introduction (pp. 1-5):

TO obtain an infinite Variety of Purposes, by a few plain Principles, is the Characteristic of Nature. As the Eye is affected, so is the Understanding: Objects at distance strike us according to their Dimensions, or the Quantity of Light thrown upon them; near, according to their Novelty or Familiarity; as they are in motion or at rest. ‘Tis the same with Actions. A Battle is all Motion; a Hero all Glare: While such Images are before us, we can attend to nothing else. Solon and Lycurgus would make no Figure in the same Scene with the King of Prussia; and we are at present so lost in the military Scramble on the Continent next us, in which it must be confes’d we are deeply interested, that we have scarce Time to throw a Glance towards America, where we have also much at Stake, and where, if any where, our Account must be made up at last.

We love to stare more than to reflect, and to be indolently amus’d at our Leisure, than to commit the smallest Trespass on our Patience by winding a painful, tedious Maze, which would pay us in nothing but Knowledge.

But then, as there are some Eyes which can find nothing marvellous, but what is marvellously great, so there are others which are equally disposed to marvel at what is marvellously little: and who can derive as much Entertainment from their Microscope in examining a Mite, as Dr. — in Ascertaining the Geography of the Moon, or measuring the Tail of a Comet.

Let this serve as an Excuse for the Author of these Sheets, if he needs any, for bestowing them on the Transactions of a Colony, till of late hardly mentioned in our Annals; in Point of Establishment one of the last upon the British list, and in point of Rank one of the most subordinate, as being not only subject, in common with the rest, to the Crown, but also to the Claims of a Proprietary, who thinks he does them Honour enough in governing them by Deputy; consequently so much farther remov’d from the Royal Eye; and so much the more expos’d to the Pressure of self-interested Instructions.

Considerable, however, as most of them for the Happiness of Situation, Fertility of Soil, Product of valuable Commodities, Number of Inhabitants, Shipping, Amount of Exportations, Latitude of Rights and Privileges, and every other Requisite for the Being and Well-Being of Society, and more considerable than any of them all for the Celerity of its Growth, unassisted by any human Help but the Vigour and Virtue of its own excellent Constitution.

A Father and his Family, the latter united by Interest and Affection, the former to be rever’d for the Wisdom of his Institutions, and the indulgent Use of his Authority, was the Form it was at first presented in. Those who were only ambitious of Repose found it here; and as none return’d with an evil Report of the Land, Numbers follow’d: All partook of the Leven they found: The Community still wore the same equal Face: Nobody aspir’d: Nobody was oppress’d: Industry was sure of Profit, Knowledge of Esteem, and Virtue of Veneration.

An assuming Land-Lord, strongly disposed to convert free Tenants into abject Vandals, and to reap what he did not sow, countenanc’d and abetted by a few desperate and designing Dependants, on the one Side; and on the other, all who have Sense enough to know their Rights, and Spirit enough to defend them, combin’d as one Man against the said Land-Lord, and his Encroachments, is the Form it has since assum’d.

And surely, to a Nation born to Liberty like This, bound to leave it unimpair’d as They receiv’d it from their Fathers in Perpetuity to their Heirs, and interested in the Conservation of it in every Appendix of the British Empire, the Particulars of such a Contest cannot be wholly indifferent.

On the contrary, it is reasonable to think, the first Workings of Power against Liberty, and the natural Efforts of unbiassed Men to secure themselves, against the first Approaches of Oppression, must have a captivating Power over every Man of sensibility and Discernment amongst us.

Liberty, it seems, thrives best in the Woods. America best cultivates what Germany brought forth. And were it not for certain ugly Comparisons, hard to be suppress’d, the Pleasure arising from such a Research would be without Alloy.

In the Feuds of Florence recorded by Machiavel, we find more to lament and less to praise. Scarce can we believe the first Citizens of the antient Republics had such Pretensions to Consideration, tho’ so highly celebrated in antient Story. And as to ourselves, we need no longer have Recourse to the late glorious Stand of the French Parliaments to excite our Emulation.

It is a known Custom among Farmers to change their Corn from Season to Season for the Sake of filling the Bushel: And in Case the Wisdom of the Age should condescend to make the like Experiment in another Shape, from hence we may learn, whither to repair for the proper Species.

It is not, however, to be presum’d, That for as have long been accustomed to consider the Colonies, in general, as only so many Depedencies on the Council-Board, the Board of Trade, and the Board of Customs; or as a Hot-Bed for Causes, Jobs, and other pecuniary Emoluments, and as bound as effectually by Instruction as by Laws, can be prevail’d upon to consider these Patriot-Rustics with any Degree of Respect.

Derision, on the contrary, must be the Lot of him, who imagines it in the Power of the Pen, to set any Lustre upon them; and Indignation theirs for daring to assert and maintain the Independency inwoven in their Constitution, which now, it seems, is become an improper Ingredient, and therefore to be excised away.

But how contemptibly soever these Gentlemen may talk of the Colonies, how cheap soever they may hold their Assemblies, or how insignificant the Planters and Traders who compose them, Truth will be Truth, and Principle Principle notwithstanding.

Courage, Wisdom, Integrity and Honour are not to be measur’d by the Sphere assigned them to act in, but by the Trials they undergo, and the Vouchers they furnish: And if so manifested, need neither Robes, or Titles to set them off.

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1 Comment

Filed under 1750's, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt, Revolution

One response to “Item of the Day: Franklin’s Historical Review of Pensylvania (1759)

  1. Pingback: Item of the Day: Historical Review of the Consitution and Government of Pensylvania [sic] (1759) « Eighteenth-Century Reading Room

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