“IF THE UNION OF THE WHOLE IS IMPOSSIBLE, THE ATTEMPT OF A PART MUST BE MADNESS”: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN ON THE AMERICAN COLONIES, EXCEEDINGLY SCARCE 1760 FIRST EDITION
[FRANKLIN, Benjamin]. The Interest of Great Britain Considered, With Regard to her Colonies, And the Acquisitions of Canada and Guadaloupe. To which are added, Observations concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, &c. London: Printed for T. Becket, 1760. Slim octavo, 20th-century three-quarter burgundy morocco, marbled endpapers. $11,000.
First edition (preceding the American) of this very scarce and important 1760 Franklin work on the future of the American colonies and Canada at the end of the French and Indian War, with Franklin seeking to quiet British fears about colonial rebellion by noting only "the most grievous tyranny and oppression" could trigger an American revolution—“one of his most important publications in pamphlet form” (Papers of Benjamin Franklin), handsomely bound by Goodspeed of Boston.
In 1760, when Interest in Great Britain was published, Franklin was still "very much the loyal Englishman" (Wood, Americanization, 82). He anticipated British victory in the French and Indian War, urging the English retention of Canada: "Canada in the hands of France has always stinted the growth of our colonies… with Canada in our possession, our people in America will increase amazingly" (19, 23). Of particular note in this work is Franklin's dismissal of British fears that growth of its American colonies might be dangerous to Britain, as Americans might unify and rebel. "The best way to assure continued harmony, he wrote, was to provide safe and abundant land so that the colonies could expand. Franklin had a theory about the underlying cause of the growing friction between Britain and her colonies… The conflicts, he believed, grew from the attitude of British mercantilists, who… viewed the colonies as a market to be exploited" (Isaacson, 201).
In quieting British fears of rebellion, Franklin convincingly argued that the colonies are too divided by separate governments, laws, religions and customs. They could not even "agree to unite for their defence [sic] against the French and Indians… can it be reasonably be supposed there is any danger of uniting against their own nation… a union amongst them for such a purpose is not merely improbable, it is impossible; and if the union of the whole is impossible, the attempt of a part must be madness." Franklin qualified this assurance by claiming only "the most grievous tyranny and oppression" would provoke revolt (39-40). He then prophetically offered "a metaphor that drew from his studies of turbulent waters: 'The waves do not rise, but when the winds blow' . Britain would therefore be best served, he concluded, by treating the people of the colonies as full citizens, with the same liberties and rights and economic aspirations. He would, in the end, fail to sell the British ministry on this expansive vision of imperial harmony. But he and others who argued for Britain's retain of Canada did prevail" (Isaacson, 202). In the Treaty of Paris in 1763, France did cede Canada to England. This work also includes an extract from Franklin's Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind (1751), in which he discusses with remarkable accuracy the inevitable population growth of the colonies, outlines basic differences between life in America and in Europe, and "in some points anticipates the Malthusian theory of population" (DNB). First issued anonymously in London in 1760 (this edition) and quickly followed by a Philadelphia and Boston printing in the same year, Interest was originally—and correctly—attributed to Franklin. While some early scholars attributed the work instead to Richard Jackson, in 1966 the editors of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin returned "The Canada Pamphlet" to the Franklin canon: "in recent years Franklin's authorship has been reestablished in the minds of all but a few doubters, though, as Franklin himself seems to have acknowledged, he received some help from his friend and ally Jackson" (9:53). Evans 8601. Sabin 35450. Howes J26. Ford 262. ESTC T37334. Faint ink notation on title page.