The Hutchinson Letters

Print of Thomas Hutchinson with Death as a skeleton and the Devil nearby
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Although Benjamin Franklin was not officially dismissed as Postmaster General of the Parliamentary Post solely as a result of his role in the scandal surrounding the Hutchinson letters, it is one of the many factors that undoubtedly led to it.

In December, 1772 Franklin anonymously received a number of letters that had been written to the British government by Thomas Hutchinson, Governor of Massachusetts. The letters urged the British to send more troops to suppress the American rebels and Franklin felt that his fellow revolutionaries should be aware of the letters’ content. He circulated them secretly under the condition that they not be made public.

Despite Franklin’s wishes, John Adams published the letters in the Boston Gazette in June, 1773. The Bostonians were furious and Hutchinson was forced to flee the country. The British government desperately sought who had leaked the letters. When three innocent men were accused in December, 1773, Franklin stepped forward and admitted his part in the affair.

As a result of the scandal, Franklin’s reputation in England suffered greatly and he was publicly reprimanded by Parliament and dismissed as Postmaster General. Shortly thereafter he returned to the colonies to help draft the Declaration of Independence.