Benjamin Franklin's Testimony


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The Testimony of Benjamin Franklin in the British Parliament - 1766
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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 spirit; 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 [Seven Years']
war. . . . 

Q. Are not all the people very able to pay those taxes? 

A. No. The frontier counties, all along the continent, have been frequently
ravaged by the enemy and greatly impoverished, are able to pay very
little tax. . . . 

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. 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, clothed, and paid, 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 pounds, and the reimbursements, in
the whole, did not exceed 60,000 pounds. . . . 

Q. Do you think the people of America would submit to pay the stamp
duty, if it was 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. . . . 

Q. What is your opinion of a future tax, imposed on the same principle
with that of the Stamp Act? How would the Americans receive it? 

A. Just as they do this. They would not pay it. 

Q. Have not you heard of the resolutions of this House, and of the House
of Lords, asserting the right of Parliament relating to America, including a
power to tax the people there? 

A. Yes, I have heard of such resolutions. 

Q. What will be the opinion of the Americans on those resolutions? 

A. They will think them unconstitutional and unjust. 

Q. Was it an opinion in America before 1763 that the Parliament had no
right to lay taxes and duties there? 

A. I never heard any objection to the right of laying duties to regulate
commerce; but a right to lay internal taxes was never supposed to be in
Parliament, as we are not represented there. . . . 

Q. Did the Americans ever dispute the controlling power of Parliament to
regulate the commerce? 

A. No. 

Q. Can anything less than a military force carry the Stamp Act into
execution? 

A. I do not see how a military force can be applied to that purpose. 

Q. Why may it not? 

A. Suppose a military force sent into America; they will find nobody in
arms; what are they then to do? They cannot force a man to take stamps
who chooses to do without them. They will not find a rebellion; they may
indeed make one. 

Q. If the act is not repealed, what do you think will be the
consequences? 

A. A total loss of the respect and affection the people of America bear to
this country, and of all the commerce that depends on that respect and
affection. 

Q. How can the commerce be affected? 

A. You will find that, if the act is not repealed, they will take very little of
your manufactures in a short time. 

Q. Is it in their power to do without them? 

A. I think they may very well do without them. 

Q. Is it their interest not to take them? 

A. The goods they take from Britain are either necessaries, mere
conveniences, or superfluities. The first, as cloth, etc., with a little
industry they can make at home; the second they can do without till they
are able to provide them among themselves; and the last, which are mere
articles of fashion, purchased and consumed because the fashion in a
respected country; but will now be detested and rejected. The people
have already struck off, by general agreement, the use of all goods
fashionable in mourning. . . . 

Q. If the Stamp Act should be repealed, would it induce the assemblies
of America to acknowledge the right of Parliament to tax them, and
would they erase their resolutions [against the Stamp Act]? 

A. No, never. 

Q. Is 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 a power on earth that can force them to erase them? 

A. No power, how greatsoever, can force men to change their
opinions. . . . 

Q. What used to be the pride of the Americans? 

A. To indulge in the fashions and manufactures of Great Britain. 

Q. What is now their pride? 

A. To wear their old clothes over again, till they can make new ones. 

Source: The Parliamentary History of England (London:
1813), XVI, 138-159. 

 

Part of These United Colonies: The American War of Independence exhibit