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tion by those to whom it was addressed. At each sally of Wedderburn's sarcastic wit, the Lords of the Council, with the single exception of Lord North, forgetting their judicial character on this occasion, frequently laughed outright. Dr. Franklin, on the other side, showed perfect self-eommand, calmly listening to the words of his accuser, and never swerving a hair's breadth either in the attitude of his body or the expression of his face. There is no doubt, however, that the iron had entered into his soul; and that the resentment he conceived not only against the English Government but against the English people was both deep and lasting. * The decision of the assembled Privy Councillors was not doubtful, nor yet long delayed. They reported that the petition from Massachusetts had been framed upon “false “and erroneous allegations,” and was “groundless, vexa
... * It has often been related how, in token of his deep resentment, Franklin carefully laid by the dress of “figured Manchester velvet” in which he had stood before the Privy Council, and as carefully resumed it some years afterwards on the day of signing that treaty by which England first acknowledged the independence of America. Mr. Jared Sparks, in his Life of Franklin (note, p. 488.), has given some strong reasons against the truth of this story, above all, that on the day when the treaty was signed there was a Court mourning at Versailles, and that therefore Dr. Franklin came attired, not in “figured Manchester velvet,” but in a suit of black. But Mr. Sparks is scarcely justified in proceeding to say that the statement is therefore “entirely erroneous” — “eagerly seized upon to “gratify the malevolence of a disappointed party.” For it appears from a narrative published by Mr. Sparks himself in Franklin's Writings (vol. iv. p. 453.) — the narrative namely of Dr. Bancroft, an American, and an intimate friend of Franklin — that the incident in question did really occur – not indeed at the Peace of Versailles in 1783, but at the Treaty of Alliance with France in 1778. Here are Dr. Bancroft's words: “When Dr. Franklin “had dressed himself for the day (Feb. 5.) I observed that he wore the “suit in question, which I thought the more extraordinary as it had been “laid aside for many months. This I noticed to Mr. Deane, and soou “after, when a messenger came from Versailles (to postpone the signatures “till the next evening), I said to Mr. Deane, ‘Let us see whether the Doc“‘tor will wear the same suit of clothes to - morrow : if he does I shall ‘‘suspect that he is influenced by a recollection of the treatment which he “‘received at the Cockpit.” The morrow came , and the same clothes were “again worn, and the treaties signed. After which these clothes were laid “aside, and, so far as "my knowledge extends, never worn afterwards. I “once intimated to Dr. Franklin the suspicion which his wearing these * clothes on that occasion had excited in my mind, when he smiled, with“out telling me whether it was well or ill founded." (1853.)
1774. DISMISSAL OF FRANKLIN FROM OFFICE. 343
“tious, and scandalous.” Two days afterwards Dr. Franklin was apprised that the King had no further occasion for his services as Deputy Postmaster General. Several writers, both American and English, have censured this last step of the Government as a fatal error of policy. Yet, considering the transaction relative to the private letters which had now been brought home to Franklin, and considering his position during that transaction as an officer of the Crown, and above all in the department of the Post Office, it appears to me that his subsequent dismissal, however unhappy in its effect upon the Colonies, was scarcely a matter even of choice or option for the Ministers, but rather of clear and unavoidable duty. Shortly before this period, there had commenced the Session of Parliament. Its first votes were of slighter interest, — as to render perpetual the Grenville Act, till them passed only for a term of years, and to convict Mr. Horne the clergyman and Mr.Woodfall the printer of a libel against the Speaker. At the time, however, these were deemed the measures of importance, while the coming resentment of the Colonists was not foreseen, and while one cause of their resentment, the recent scene before the Privy Council, was little dreamed of, or remembered only to exult in. A statesman, even then of some and since of pre-eminent fame, thirty years later took occasion to refer in striking terms to that false and delusive feeling of joy. In May 1803, on the impending renewal of the war with France, Mr. Fox was answering some splendid philippics of Mr. Pitt against the ambition of Bonaparte, – philippics which Mr. Fox admired even while he condemned, - philippics which, he said, “Demosthenes himself, were he among us, would hear with “pleasure, and possibly with envy. But such philippics,” . he added, “are not new to us.” He bade the House recollect, as he did, the eloquent invective of Wedderburn before the Privy Council; how the future Chancellor of England had called the future plenipotentiary of the United States “a hoary headed traitor;” and how, as they walked
away, men were ready to toss up their hats and clap their hands for joy, as if they had obtained a triumph. “Alas, “Sir, we paid a pretty dear price for that triumph afterwards!”* This very period, – the month of February 1774, − proved to be a turning point in Mr. Fox's own career as well as in Dr. Franklin's. His father, Lord Holland, had recently relieved him from embarrassment by paying his debts, contracted mainly through his passion of high play, and amounting (and yet he was not twenty-five) to the enormous sum of 140,000l.” Freed from this burthen Fox became less patient of any other trammels. At the opening of Parliament a few weeks afterwards, though still holding a subordinate office, he showed little regard for the advice or opinion of his chief. On several occasions he appears to have pursued his own independent course. Once, in his zeal against the licentiousness of the press, – in his eagerness, as he declared, “to bring libels of all denominations on the “carpet,” — he urged a complaint against the printer of the Public Advertiser for having inserted aletter reflecting on the principles of the Revolution. Lord North found it necessary to join him in this vote, though against his wishes, and with a hint to that effect to several of his friends. The King in his secret notes at this juncture expresses much resentment at the presumption of this ill-disciplined Lord of the Treasury.*** So high did the Royal or Ministerial indignation rise, that on the 24th of February there was put into Fox's hands a letter from Lord North, couched in the following laconic terms: “Sir, His Majesty has thought proper to “order a new commission of the Treasury to be made out, in “which I do not perceive your name.” Certainly it was no common provocation which could call forth such a letter
. Parl. Hist... vol. xxxvi. p. 1484. Lord Brougham's Characters, vol. i. . 74. ** Gibbon to Holroyd, December 16. 1773. In a previous letter (February 8. 1772) it is stated that on one occasion Fox was engaged at hazard for twenty-two hours without intermission; in that sitting he lost 11,000l. See Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works. *** To Lord North, Feb. 16. and 17. 1774.
1774. RISING FAME OF FOX. 345
from the most courteous and good-natured of Prime Ministers. Thus dismissed from office Fox eagerly threw himself into all the counsels of Opposition. There, so far as the House of Commons was concerned, he found few rivals to compete with him. Burke had greatly impaired his influence, at least on American questions, by accepting two years before the post of agent to the State of New York, with a salary little short of 1,000l. a year.” Since that time his suggestions on the affairs of the Colonies, however wise and however eloquent, were regarded as in some degree the words of a hired advocate. Dowdeswell, for a different reason, received perhaps even less favour from the House. He was acknowledged to be well-informed and upright, but there was some foundation for the epithet — “dull Dowdes“well” — which Lord Chatham had once applied to him.** Moreover his health was rapidly declining; in the course of this spring he found it necessary to retire from politics, and a few months afterwards he died. The gap thus left on the front Opposition benches was much more than supplied by Mr. Fox. Through frequent and assiduous practice he acquired most consummate powers of debate, displaying a degree of ability which had never been suspected either by his opponents or his friends. His new career might leave him open on several questions to a taunt of inconsistency. But fortunately for him the affairs of America had scarce ever come forward during his tenure of office; and thus, amidst all the troubles which followed quick on his dismissal, he was enabled with full energies, and without fear of any taunt, to espouse the popular side. With Burke and with others of his new connexion he speedily formed a close and cordial friendship. And indeed the qualities which raised him so high as a party leader were not merely his eloquence, his wit, his genius, but also his engaging warmth of heart and kindliness of temper. To these a strong testimony may be found in the memoirs of a great historian, by no means blind to his faults, and by no means attached to his principles. On summing up his character many years afterwards, Gibbon writes of Fox as follows: “Perhaps no human being was ever more perfectly “exempt from the taint of malevolence, vanity, or false“hood.”* It will serve in no slight degree to the enhancement of this praise if we consider how much at that period the temper of Fox had been tried by grievous provocations given and received,— how office had more than once already been wrested from his grasp, and was then receding from his view, -how the tide of popular favour, for which he was so ably striving, had wholly ebbed away from him, and bore high upon its waves the vessel of a younger and triumphant rival. * Memoirs, p. 287. Dean Milman's edition.
* Life by Prior, p. 154. ** Chatham Papers, vol. iv. p. 105.