|This Week in American History
June 27 July 3, 1774.
Ben Franklin Sends a 'Projected' Act of Parliament to the American Press
Throughout his life, Benjamin Franklin worked to create the conditions for a better future. His civic improvements in Philadelphia, such as fire protection, lighted streets, a Library Company and a hospital and college, made it the leading city in America. Franklin rejoiced in the fact that the American population was growing, and in 1751, he forecast that it would double in size every 20 years, which was approximately what did happen.
This was not seen as good news in Great Britain, however. As the East India Company completed its takeover of the British government after the French and Indian War, the last thing it wanted was an America whose inhabitants would outnumber Britain. Colonies were for looting, and the British Empire's policy was genocidal. Had the policies of the Empire been enforced to the letter of the law, America's population would have stagnated and then declined. But Americans fought the policies and went around them just enough to keep the population growing.
By 1774, it was clear to many Americans that the British Empire was not keen on the large number of marriages and resulting offspring that America was producing. Franklin was currently serving as a representative of a number of American colonies in London, and he was battling the Empire's policies with everything at his command, which included sending satirical letters to the London press, signed with a number of pseudonyms. The strongly ironic "Legislative Act" which he wrote in the spring of 1774, however, was published in Philadelphia. The seemingly ridiculous fees, criminal penalties, and license for murder contained in the Act served to force the readers to think about how similar were the actual effects of Britain's policies on the possibility for a growing and optimistic population to those targetted in Franklin's satire.
Franklin opened by declaring that, "All the Printers of News Papers in the British Colonies, are requested to publish the following Act of Parliament; which it is said, will be passed the End of the present Session, or the Beginning of the next."
The title of the supposed legislation was listed as, "An Act for the more effectual keeping of his Majesty's American Colonies dependent on the Crown of Great-Britain, and to enforce their Obedience to all such Acts of Parliament as may be necessary for that Purpose."
The Pennsylvania Journal of June 29, 1774 then published the text of the erstwhile bill:
"WHEREAS it is found by experience that Colonies which are planted by Governments, or otherwise dependent on them, do at some time or other, form themselves into unwarrantable and rebellious Associations, and by their perseverance therein, entirely throw off their dependence and subjection to such Parent State:
"And whereas the British Plantations, in America, have of late, discovered a disposition to follow the same steps, and, in all likelihood, will, if not speedily prevented, form themselves into a separate and independent Government, to the great detriment of the other parts of the British Empire, to the dishonour of his Majesty, and to the prejudice of the trade of this Kingdom in particular: and whereas the great ENCREASE of People, in said Colonies, has an immediate tendency to produce this effect
"To the end therefore that such evil designs may not be carried into execution, and that the said Colonies and Plantations may be, at all times hereafter, kept in due subordination to the authority of the British Parliament,
"Be it enacted by the King's most excellent Majesty, by, and with the advice and consent of the Lords spiritual and temporal, and Commons in this present Parliament assembled, and by authority of the same.
"1. That no person whatever who shall, from and after the passing of this Act, transport him or herself, from the Kingdoms of Great-Britain and Ireland, or the Islands thereunto belonging, to any of his Majesty's Plantations in America, with intent to settle and dwell therein for any longer time than the space of seven years, shall presume to depart from the said Kingdoms, until he or she, so transporting him or herself, shall pay, at the Custom-House of the Port, from which such vessel shall take out her clearance, the sum of Fifty Pounds, sterling money of Great-Britain:
"And be it further enacted that for every child, or servant, which shall be so transported by the parent, or master, the like sum of Fifty Pounds shall be paid in manner aforesaid.
"And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that if any person shall transport him, or herself, or procure themselves to be transported, contrary to this Act, every person, so offending, shall be adjudged guilty of felony without benefit of clergyand that the Captain of the vessel, in which such person shall be so transported, contrary to this Act, shall forfeit and pay, for any such person, the sum of 500 Pounds sterling money aforesaid.
"2. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that if any person, who shall transport him, or herself, from the Kingdoms aforesaid, to any of his Majesty's Plantations, in America, with intent to stay and dwell therein, for any space of time less than seven years, shall nevertheless stay, dwell and abide therein, beyond the said space of seven years, such person so staying, dwelling, and abiding, in any of his Majesty's Plantations, in America, shall be adjudged guilty of felony without benefit of clergy.
"3. Provided always, and be it further enacted, that nothing in this Act shall extend, or be construed to extend to his Majesty's Governors of the said Plantations, or to any other person, or persons, in the actual service and employ of his Majesty, as aforesaid."
"4. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that all Marriages in his Majesty's said Plantations shall be performed in consequence of a Licence from the Governor where such Marriage shall be celebrated, for which Licence the sum of Twenty Pounds shall be paid, and no more, and that all Marriages had without such Licence, shall be void in law to every intent and purpose whatever.
"5. And be it further enacted, that on the birth of every male child, the sum of Fifteen Pounds, and on the birth of every female child, the sum of Ten Pounds sterling money shall be paid to the Governor of the Colony or Plantation in which such children shall be born.
"6. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that on the birth of every bastard child in any of his Majesty's said Plantations, the sum of Fifty Pounds sterling money shall be paid by the Mother of such bastard child, to the Governor where such bastard child shall happen to be born, and that in case any person, shall hereafter, either with malice prepense, or otherwise kill or destroy any child or children; such killing or destroying shall not henceforth be deemed or adjudged to be murder in any Court or Courts, nor shall such killing be punished in any way or manner whatever.
"7. Provided always, and it is hereby further enacted, that nothing in this Act shall extend to make any such killing legal, or justifiable, if the child, so killed or destroyed, be above the age of twelve months, but that every such killing and destroying shall be punished as heretofore, any thing in this Act to the contrary in any wise notwithstanding."
The following three items of the supposed legislation stated that any exports of flour or wheat from the colonies to anywhere but the Mother Country would have to pay a premium, but that merchants who shipped via Great Britain would be given a bounty.
Franklin closed his "Act of Parliament" by stating that, "the duties imposed by this act, shall be applied towards RAISING A REVENUE the better to ENABLE his MAJESTY to BUILD FORTS and to GARRISON the same, and to support and maintain such a REGULAR and STANDING ARMY in the said PLANTATIONS, as shall be sufficient to enforce the EXECUTION of all such Acts of the BRITISH PARLIAMENT, as are already passed, or may hereafter be passed, relative to the said AMERICAN COLONIES."