The World’s Famous Orations, Vol. 8

Author: Benjamin Franklin  | Date: 1766


His Examination Before the House of Commons*

Q. Do you not 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 spentin 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 twenty-five thousand 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, and the reimbursements, in the whole, did not exceed £60,000.

Q. Do you not 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 toward Great Britain before the year 1763?

A. The best in the world. They submitted willingly to the government of the Crown, andpaid, in their courts, obedience to acts of Parliament. Numerous as the people are in the several old provinces they cost you nothing in forts, citadels, garrisons, or armies, to keep them in subjection. They were governed by this country at the expense only of a little pen, ink, and paper; they were led by a thread. They had not only a respect but an affection for Great Britain; for its laws, its customs, and manners, and even a fondness for its fashions, that greatly increased the commerce. Natives of Britain were always treated with particular regard; to be an Old England-man was of itself a character of some respect, and gave a kind of rank among us.

Q. And what is their temper now?

A. Oh, very much altered!

Q. Did you ever hear the authority of Parliament to make laws for America questioned till lately?

A. The authority of Parliament was allowed to be valid in all laws, except such as should lay internal taxes. It was never disputed in laying duties to regulate commerce.

Q. In what light did the people of America use to consider the Parliament of Great Britain?

A. They considered the Parliament as the great bulwark and security of their liberties and privileges, and always spoke of it with the utmost respect and veneration. Arbitrary ministers, they thought, might possibly, at times, attempt to oppress them; but their relied on it, that the Parliament, on application, would always give redress. They remembered, with gratitude, a strong instance of this, when a bill was brought into Parliament with a clause to make royal instructions laws in the Colonies which the House of Commons would not pass, and it was thrown out.

Q. And have they not still the same respect for Parliament?

A. No; it is greatly lessened.

Q. To what causes is that owing?

A. To a concurrence of causes: the restraints lately laid on their trade, by which the bringing of foreign gold and silver into the Colonies was prevented; the prohibition of making paper money among themselves, and then demanding a new and heavy tax by stamps; taking away, at the same time, trials by juries, and refusing to receive and hear their humble petitions.

Q. Do you not think they would submit to theStamp Act if it was modified, the obnoxious parts taken out, and the duty reduced to some particulars of small moment?

A. No; they will never submit to it.

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 an 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. On what do you found your opinion that the people in America made any distinction?

A. I know that whenever the subject has occurred in conversation where I have been present, it has appeared to be the opinion of every one that we were not represented. But the payment of duties laid by an act of Parliament as regulations of commerce was never disputed.

Q. But can you name any act of assembly or public act of any of your governments that made such distinction?

A. I do not know that there was any. I think there was never an occasion to make any such act till now that you have attempted to tax us; that has occasioned resolutions of assembly declaring the distinction, in which I think every assembly on the continent and every member in every assembly have been unanimous.

Q. You say the Colonies have always submitted to external taxes, and object to the right of Parliament only in laying internal taxes; now can you show that there is any kind of difference between the two taxes to the Colony on which they may be laid?

A. I think the difference is very great. An external tax is a duty laid on commodities imported; that duty is added to the first cost and other charges on the commodity, and, when it is offered for sale, makes a part of the price. If the people do not like it at that price, they refuse it; they are not obliged to pay it. But an internal tax is forced from the people without their consent if not laid by their own representatives. The Stamp Act says we shall have no commerce, make no exchange of property with each other, neither purchase nor grant, nor recover debts; we shall neither marry nor make our wills, unless we pay such and such sums; and thus it is intended to extort our money from us or ruin us by the consequence of refusing to pay it.

Q. But supposing the external tax or duty to be laid on the necessities of life imported into your Colony; will not that be the same thing in its effects as an internal tax?

A. I do not know a single article imported into the northern Colonies but what they can either do without or make themselves.

Q. Do you not think cloth from England absolutely necessary to them?

A. No, by no means absolutely necessary; with industry and good management, they may very well supply themselves with all they want.

Q. Will it not take a long time to establish that manufacture among them; and must they not, in the meanwhile, suffer greatly?

A. I think not. They have made a surprising progress already. And I am of the opinion that before their old clothes are worn out they will have new ones of their own making.

Q. Can they possibly find wool enough in North America?

A. They have taken steps to increase the wool. They entered into general combinations to eat no more lamb, and very few lambs were killed last year. This course persisted in will soon make a prodigious difference in the quantity of wool. And the establishment of great manufactories, like those in the clothing towns here, is not necessary as it is where the business is to be carried on for the purpose of trade. The people will all spin and work for themselves in their own houses.

Q. Considering the resolutions of Parliament, as to the right; do you think if the Stamp Act is repealed that the North Americans will be satisfied?

A. I believe they will.

Q. Why do you think so?

A. I think the resolutions of right will give them very little concern if they are never attempted to be carried into practise. TheColonies will probably consider themselves in the same situation in that respect with Ireland; they know you claim the same right with regard to Ireland, but you never exercise it. And they may believe you never will exercise it in the Colonies any more than in Ireland, unless on some very extraordinary occasion.

Q. But who are to be the judges of that extraordinary occasion? Is it not the Parliament!

A. Tho the Parliament may judge of the occasion, the people will think it can never exercise such right till representatives from the Colonies are admitted into parliament; and that, whenever the occasion arises, representatives will be ordered.

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 can not 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 to 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 much the greatest part, they will strike off immediately. They are mere articles of 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, and many thousand pounds’ worth are sent back as unsalable.

Q. Then no regulation with a tax would be submitted to?

A. Their opinion is that when aids to the Crown are wanted they are to be asked of the several assemblies according to the old-established usage, who will, as they always have done, grant them freely, and that their money ought not to be given away without their consent, by persons at a distance, unacquainted with their circumstances and abilities. Thegranting aids to the Crown is the only means they have of recommending themselves to their sovereign, and they think it extremely hard and unjust that a body of men in which they have no representatives should make a merit to itself of giving and granting what is not its own but theirs, and deprive them of a right they esteem of the utmost value and importance, as it is the security of all their other rights.

Q. Supposing the Stamp Act continued and enforced, do you imagine that ill humor will induce the Americans to give as much for worse manufactures of their own, and use them, preferable to better of ours?

A. Yes, I think so. People will pay as freely to gratify one passion as another—their resentment as their pride.

Q. If the Stamp Act should be repealed, would not the Americans think they could oblige the Parliament to repeal every external tax-law now in force?

A. It is hard to answer questions of what people at such a distance will think.

Q. But what do you imagine they will think were the motives of repealing the Act?

A. I suppose they will think that it was repealed from a conviction of its inexpediency; and they will rely upon it that while the same inexpediency subsists you will never attempt to make such another.

Q. What do you mean by its inexpediency?

A. I mean its inexpediency on severalaccounts: the poverty and inability of those who were to pay the tax, the general discontent it has occasioned, and the impracticability of enforcing it.

Q. But if the legislature should think fit to ascertain its right to lay taxes by any act laying a small tax, contrary to their opinion, would they submit to pay the tax?

A. The proceedings of the people in America have been considered too much together. The proceedings of the assemblies have been very different from those of the mobs, and should be distinguished as having no connection with each other. The assemblies have only peaceably resolved what they take to be their rights; they have taken no measures for opposition by force, they have not built a fort, raised a man, or provided a grain of ammunition, in order to such opposition. The ringleaders of riots, they think, ought to be punished; they would punish them themselves if they could. Every sober, sensible man would wish to see rioters punished, as otherwise peaceable people have no security of person or estate; but as to an internal tax, how small soever, laid by the legislature here on the people there, while they have no representatives in this legislature, I think it will never be submitted to; they will oppose it to the last; they do not consider it as at all necessary for you to raise money on them by your taxes, because they are, and always have been, ready to raise money by taxes among themselvesand to grant large sums, equal to their abilities, upon requisition from the Crown. They have not only granted equal to their abilities, but during all the last war they granted far beyond their proportion with this country (you yourselves being judges) to the amount of many hundred thousand pounds; and this they did freely and readily, only on a sort of promise from the secretary of state that it should be recommended to Parliament to make them compensation. It was accordingly recommended to Parliament in the most honorable manner for them. America has been greatly misrepresented and abused here, in papers and pamphlets and speeches, … as ungrateful and unreasonable and unjust; in having put this nation to immense expense for their defense, and refusing to bear any part of that expense. The Colonies raised, paid, and clothed near twenty-five thousand men during the last war—a number equal to those sent from Britain, and far beyond their proportion; they went deeply into debt in doing this, and all their taxes and estates are mortgaged for many years to come for discharging that debt.

Q. But suppose Great Britain should be engaged in a war in Europe, would North America contribute to the support of it?

A. I do think they would, as far as their circumstances would permit. They consider themselves as a part of the British Empire, and ashaving one common interest with it; they may be looked on her as foreigners, but they do not consider themselves as such. They are zealous for the honor and prosperity of this nation, and while they are well used will always be ready to support it as far as their little power goes. In 1739 they were called upon to assist in the expedition against Cartagena, and they sent three thousand men to join your army. It is true Cartagena is in America, but as remote from the northern Colonies as if it had been in Europe. They make no distinction of wars as to their duty of assisting in them. I know the last war is commonly spoken of here as entered into for the defense or for the sake of the people of America. I think it is quite misunderstood. It began about the limits between Canada and Nova Scotia, about territories to which the Crown indeed laid claim, but which were not claimed by any British Colony; none of the lands had been granted to any colonist; we had, therefore, no particular interest or concern in that dispute. As to the Ohio, the contest there began about your right of trading in the Indian country, a right you had by the treaty of Utrecht, which the French infringed; they seized the traders and their goods, which were your manufactures; they took a fort which a company of your merchants and their factors and correspondents had erected there to secure that trade. Braddock was sent with an army to retake that fort (which was looked on hereas another encroachment on the king’s territory) and to protect your trade. It was not till after his defeat that the Colonies were attacked. They were before in perfect peace with both French and Indians; the troops were not, therefore, sent for their defense. The trade with the Indians, tho carried on in America, is not an American interest. The people of America are chiefly farmers and planters; scarce anything that they raise or produce is an article of commerce with the Indians. The Indian trade is a British interest; it is carried on with British manufactures, for the profit of British merchants and manufacturers; therefore, the war, as it commenced for the defense of territories of the Crown (the property of no American) and for the defense of a trade purely British, was really a British war—and yet the people of America made no scruple of contributing their utmost toward carrying it on, and bringing it to a happy conclusion.

Q. Do you think the assemblies have a right to levy money on the subject there to grant to the Crown?

A. I certainly think so; they have always done it.

Q. Are they acquainted with the Declaration of Rights? And do they know that, by that Statute, money is not to be raised on the subject but by consent of Parliament?

A. They are very well acquainted with it.

Q. How, then, can they think they have aright to levy money for the Crown or for any other than local purposes?

A. They understand that clause to relate to subjects only within the realm; that no money can be levied on them for the Crown but by consent of Parliament. The Colonies are not supposed to be within the realm; they have assemblies of their own, which are their parliaments, and they are, in that respect, in the same situation with Ireland. When money is to be raised for the Crown upon the subject in Ireland, or in the Colonies, the consent is given in the Parliament of Ireland or in the assemblies of the Colonies. They think the Parliament of Great Britain can not properly give that consent till it has representatives from America, for the Petition of Right expressly says it is to be by common consent in Parliament, and the people of America have no representatives in Parliament to make a part of that common consent.

Q. If the Stamp Act should be repealed, and the Crown should make a requisition to the Colonies for a sum of money, would they grant it?

A. I believe they would.

Q. Why do you think so?

A. I can speak for the Colony I live in. I had it in instruction from the Assembly to assure the ministry that as they always had done, so they should always think it their duty to grant such aids to the Crown as were suitable to their circumstances and abilities, whenever calledupon for that purpose, in the usual constitutional manner; and I had the honor of communicating this instruction to that honorable gentleman then minister.

Q. Would they do this for a British concern, as suppose a war in some part of Europe, that did not affect them?

A. Yes; for anything that concerned the general interest. They consider themselves as part of the whole.

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

A. No, never!

Q. Are 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 great soever, 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.

*First published in London in 1766 as "The Examination of Doctor Franklin." Owing to the secrecy of the session of Parliament no clue was given in the pamphlet as to the place where the examination had been held, nor as to where or by whom the pamphlet was printed. J. Almon, who caused it to be printed, feared prosecution, but none having been begun, he next year printed the examination as having taken place "before an honorable assembly relative to the repeal of the American Stamp Act in 1776." A still later edition described the examination as having taken place "before an august assembly." The pamphlet was reprinted in 1766 in several American cities, including Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and New London. In Pennsylvania it was said that the demand for it "from all parts of the province was beyond conception."
It has been often stated that many of the questions propounded to Franklin had already been skilfully arranged for between Franklin and the enemies of the Stamp Act. But John T. Morse, one of Franklin’s biographers, says: "It does not appear that such prearrangements went further than that certain friendly interrogators had discussed the topics with him, so as to be familiar with his views. Every lawyer does this with his witnesses. Nor can it be supposed that the admirable replies which he made to the enemies of America were otherwise than strictly impromptu." Burke likened the proceedings to "an examination of a master, by a parcel of schoolboys." Franklin afterward said that the friends of the repeal "were ready to hug me for the assistance that I afforded them." Among those that asked questions were Grenville, Townshend, North, Thurlow, and Burke. The examination closed on February 15, 1766. Abridged.


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Chicago: Benjamin Franklin, "I His Examination Before the House of Commons (1766)," The World’s Famous Orations, Vol. 8 in The World’s Famous Orations, ed. William Jennings Bryan (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, December, 1906), 38–53. Original Sources, accessed July 24, 2024,

MLA: Franklin, Benjamin. "I His Examination Before the House of Commons (1766)." The World’s Famous Orations, Vol. 8, in The World’s Famous Orations, edited by William Jennings Bryan, Vol. 8, New York, Funk and Wagnalls, December, 1906, pp. 38–53. Original Sources. 24 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Franklin, B, 'I His Examination Before the House of Commons (1766)' in The World’s Famous Orations, Vol. 8. cited in December, 1906, The World’s Famous Orations, ed. , Funk and Wagnalls, New York, pp.38–53. Original Sources, retrieved 24 July 2024, from