As we debate the Syrian refugee crisis and the dangers of importing terrorism (note that the murderous Tsarnaev brothers were refugees), let’s look to precedent. There is always precedent, although sometimes the analogy is forced to fit a narrative. I’m not saying this is the perfect analogy, but it’s worth mentioning.

In the years leading up to the American Revolution, the colonists came to see themselves as subjugated by a powerful, unrepresentative government. In a 1751 letter to the Pennsylvania Gazette, Benjamin Franklin (signing himself “Americanus”) satirically attacked the British practice of emptying their prisons and sending criminals to the colonies. He expresses sentiments that are remarkably similar to our modern distrust of and disgust with today’s Washington: Smug superiority, indifference to the will of the people or the fate of the people, and the arbitrary and overriding exercise of power.

Franklin’s conclusion was that the colonists should, by way of returning the favor, send American rattlesnakes to the Prime Minister and his Lords and Members of Parliament. (As an interesting detail that juxtaposes weirdly against the nonsense of the present day, note that Franklin actually puts in a word in favor of climate change!)

This is the text of Franklin’s letter regarding Felons and Rattlesnakes:

To the Printers of the Gazette.

By a Passage in one of your late Papers, I understand that the Government at home will not suffer our mistaken Assemblies to make any Law for preventing or discouraging the Importation of Convicts from Great Britain, for this kind Reason, `That such Laws are against the Publick Utility, as they tend to prevent the IMPROVEMENT and WELL PEOPLING of the Colonies. [Very much as the states are today raising objections that Obama pledges to ignore, by virtue of his moral supremacy.]

Such a tender parental Concern in our Mother Country for the Welfare of her Children, calls aloud for the highest Returns of Gratitude and Duty. This every one must be sensible of: But ’tis said, that in our present Circumstances it is absolutely impossible for us to make such as are adequate to the Favour. I own it; but nevertheless let us do our Endeavour. ‘Tis something to show a grateful Disposition.

In some of the uninhabited Parts of these Provinces, there are Numbers of these venomous Reptiles we call RATTLE-SNAKES; Felons-convict from the Beginning of the World: These, whenever we meet with them, we put to Death, by Virtue of an old Law, Thou shalt bruise his Head <[a reference to Genesis 3:14-15, in consequence of the serpent's deception of Eve]. But as this is a sanguinary Law, and may seem too cruel; and as however mischievous those Creatures are with us, they may possibly change their Natures, if they were to change the Climate; I would humbly propose, that this general Sentence of Death be changed for Transportation.

In the Spring of the Year, when they first creep out of their Holes, they are feeble, heavy, slow, and easily taken; and if a small Bounty were allow’d per Head, some Thousands might be collected annually, and transported to Britain. There I would propose to have them carefully distributed in St. James’s Park, in the Spring-Gardens and other Places of Pleasure about London; in the Gardens of all the Nobility and Gentry throughout the Nation; but particularly in the Gardens of the Prime Ministers, the Lords of Trade and Members of Parliament; for to them we are most particularly obliged.

There is no human Scheme so perfect, but some Inconveniencies may be objected to it: Yet when the Conveniencies far exceed, the Scheme is judg’d rational, and fit to be executed. Thus Inconveniencies have been objected to that good and wise Act of Parliament, by virtue of which all the Newgates and Dungeons in Britain are emptied into the Colonies. It has been said, that these Thieves and Villains introduc’d among us, spoil the Morals of Youth in the Neighbourhoods that entertain them, and perpetrate many horrid Crimes: But let not private Interests obstruct publick Utility. Our Mother knows what is best for us. What is a little Housebreaking, Shoplifting, or Highway Robbing; what is a Son now and then corrupted and hang’d, a Daughter debauch’d and pox’d, a Wife stabb’d, a Husband’s Throat cut, or a Child’s Brains beat out with an Axe, compar’d with this `IMPROVEMENT and WELL PEOPLING of the Colonies!’

“Thus it may perhaps be objected to my Scheme, that the RattleSnake is a mischievous Creature, and that his changing his Nature with the Clime is a mere Supposition, not yet confirm’d by sufficient Facts. What then? Is not Example more prevalent than Precept? And may not the honest rough British Gentry, by a Familiarity with these Reptiles, learn to creep, and to insinuate, and to slaver, and to wriggle into Place (and perhaps to poison such as stand in their Way) Qualities of no small Advantage to Courtiers! In comparison of which “Improvement and Publick Utility,” what is a Child now and then kill’d by their venomous Bite,—or even a favourite Lap-Dog?

I would only add, That this Exporting of Felons to the Colonies, may be consider’d as a Trade, as well as in the Light of a Favour. Now all Commerce implies Returns: Justice requires them: There can be no Trade without them. And Rattle-Snakes seem the most suitable Returns for the Human Serpents sent by our Mother Country. In this, however, as in every other branch of trade, she will have the Advantage of us. She will reap equal Benefits without equal Risk of the Inconveniencies and Dangers. For the Rattle-Snake gives Warning before he attempts his Mischief; which the Convict does not. I am Yours, & .


Who could argue with wise ol’ Ben’s incontrovertible logic? Not I!

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5 Comments | Leave a comment
  1. Cathode Rays says:

    I laughed out loud over the crack about changing the Climate.

  2. tamcat says:

    I enjoy how Franklin wanted to send the Felons from the Motherland to the most high and pleasurable places and to Parliament. Ha Ha.

  3. Alain41 says:

    Ben Franklin liked him some snake imagery.

    Wikip: “In 1754, during the French and Indian War, Franklin published his famous woodcut of a snake cut into eight sections. It represented the colonies, with New England joined together as the head and South Carolina as the tail, following their order along the coast. Under the snake was the message “Join, or Die”. This was the first political cartoon published in an American newspaper.”

    And in 1775, that motif became the Gadsden flag, Don’t Tread On Me.

  4. Pat_S says:

    Strikes me as a curious paradox that Muslims are not Muslims when they are active terrorists but they are all potential terrorists if we do anything to offend Muslims. I have in mind the dire warnings of a recruitment bonanza if we don’t accept Syrian refugees.

  5. Piquerish says:

    We offend the cavemen of Islam by not being the cavemen of Islam.

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