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conversation, and was well prepared. But his replies are truly wonderful in their exquisite shrewdness, the delicate turns of phrase, and the subtle but perfectly clear meaning given to words. The severe training in analyzing and rewriting the essays of the Spectator stood him in good stead that day, and we realize more fully what he himself said, that it was to his mastery of language that he owed his great reputation.
They asked him, for example, "Are you acquainted with Newfoundland ?" He could not tell to what they might be leading him, and some people would have replied no, or yes; but the wily old philosopher contented himself with saying, “I never was there."
They drove him into an awkward corner at one point of the examination. He had been showing that the colonies had no objection to voting of their own free will supplies to the British crown, and had frequently done so in the French and Indian wars.
“But," said his questioner, “suppose one of the colonial assemblies should refuse to raise supplies for its own local government, would it not then be right, in order to preserve order and carry on the government in that locality, that Parliament should tax that colony, inasmuch as it would not tax itself for its own support?"
Franklin parried the question by saying that such a case could not happen, and if it did, it would cur itself by the disorder and confusion that would arise. “But," insisted his tormentor, “just suppose that
it did happen ; should not Parliament have the right to remedy such an evil state of affairs ?"
The philosopher yielded a little to this last question, and said that there might be such a right if it were used only for the good of the people of the colony. This was exactly what they had wanted him to say, so they put the next question which would clinch the nail.
“But who is to judge of that, Britain or the colonies ?"
This was difficult to answer ; but with inimitable sagacity their victim replied,
“Those that feel can best judge."
It was a narrow escape, but he was safely out of the trap. Then they badgered him about the difference between external taxes, such as customs duties and taxes on commerce, which he said the colonists had always been willing to pay, and internal taxes, like the Stamp Tax, which they would never pay and could not be made to pay. He was very positive on this point; so a member asked him whether it was not likely, since the colonists were so opposed to internal taxes, that they would in time assume the same rebellious attitude towards external taxes. Franklin's reply was very subtle in showing how Great Britain was driving the colonies more and more into rebellion :
“They never have hitherto. Many arguments have been lately used here to show them that there is no difference, and that if you have no right to tax them internally, you have none to tax them externally, or make any other law to bind them. At present they do not reason so; but in time they may possibly be convinced by these arguments.”
They reminded him of the clause in the charter of Pennsylvania which expressly allowed Parliament to tax that colony. How, then, they said, can the Pennsylvanians assert that the Stamp Act is an infringement of their rights? This was a poser; but Franklin was equal to the occasion.
“They understand it thus : by the same charter and otherwise they are entitled to all the privileges and liberties of Englishmen. They find in the Great Charters and the Petition and Declaration of Rights that one of the privileges of English subjects is, that they are not to be taxed but by their common consent. They have therefore relied upon it, from the first settlement of the province, that the Parliament never would, nor could, by color of that clause in the charter, assume a right of taxing them till it had qualified itself to exercise such right by admitting representatives from the people to be taxed, who ought to make a part of that common consent."
But to print all the brilliant passages of this examination would require too much space. It should be read entire ; for in its wonderful display of human intelligence we see Franklin at his best.
He never did anything else quite equal to it, and he never again had such an opportunity. It was an ordeal that would have crushed or appalled ordinary men, and would have been too much for some very able men. They would have evaded the severe questions, given commonplace answers, or sought refuge in obscurity, eloquence, or sentiment. But Franklin, with perfect composure, ease, and almost indifference, met every question squarely as it was asked. Many other persons were examined during the long weeks of that investigation, but who now knows who they were? They may have been as well informed as
Franklin, and doubtless many of them were ; but they were submerged in the situation which he made a stepping-stone to greatness.
In nothing that he said can there be discovered the slightest trace of hurry, surprise, or disturbed temper; everything is unruffled and smooth. He guards without effort the beauty and perfection of his language as carefully as its substance. Each reply is complete. Nothing can be added to it, and it would be impossible to abbreviate it. his superb physical constitution that enabled him to bear himself thus. No prize-fighter could have been more self-possessed.
As is well known, he could seldom speak long, especially at this time of his life, without jesting or telling stories; but there is no trace of this in the examination, and the slightest touch of anything of the kind would have marred its wonderful merit. In his previous conversations with members he had been humorous enough. On one occasion a Tory asked him, as he would not agree to the act, to at least help them to amend it. He said he could easily do that by the change of a single word. The act read that it was to be enforced on a certain day in the year one thousand seven hundred and sixtyfive. Just change one to two, he said, and America will have little or no objection to it. During his examination members who favored the repeal asked him questions calculated to bring out his favorite arguments, and one of them, remembering this jest, asked him a question which would lead to it. It seems to have been the only question he evaded;
for, as he has told us, he considered such a jest too light and ridiculous for the occasion.
The Stamp Act was repealed principally through the efforts of the merchants and tradespeople who thronged the lobbies of the House of Commons and clamorously demanded that the Americans should be restored to a condition in which they would be willing to buy British goods; but there is no question that Franklin's efforts and examination greatly assisted, and members of the opposition party thanked him for the aid he had given them in carrying the repeal. Pennsylvania reappointed him her agent, and he continued his life in London as a sort of colonial ambassador. In 1768 Georgia made him her agent, and during the next two years he was appointed agent for both New Jersey and Massachusetts ; so that he was in a sense representing at London the interests of America,
His appointment as the agent of Massachusetts had been opposed by many of the leaders of the liberty party in Boston ; for his opinions were rather too moderate to suit them. He still retained his confidence in George III. as a safe ruler for Ameriica, and he did all he could to soften and accommodate the differences existing between the colonies and the mother country.
His motives were, of course, attacked and his moderation ascribed to his love of office. at that time Postmaster of North America, and as his income of a thousand pounds a year from his partnership with David Hall in the printing business ceased in 1766, he was naturally desirous to retain