Thomas Pownall, by Henry Cheever Pratt, 1861 165
This treatment of Thomas Pownall is based on a 1777 engraving by Richard Earlom of a portrait by Francis Cotes.
Thomas Pownall (1722–1805) served as governor of Massachusetts from 1757 to 1759. According to John Adams, he was a good governor and for that very reason removed (to Edmund Jenings, 18 July
, vol. 10). Pownall returned to England and sat in Parliament from 1767
to 1780, during which time he was sympathetic to the Americans in their dispute with the mother country, at one point even urging that the colonies be given representatives in Parliament (
; Namier and Brooke, House of Commons
). But Pownall is best known for his seminal work The Administration of the Colonies
(London, 1764), in which he proposed a unified colonial administration that would take full advantage of the colonies' growing economic potential. It was from that work that Pownall derived A Memorial, Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe, on the Present State of Affairs, Between the Old and New World
(London, 1780). The Memorial
, like the Administration
, emphasized North America's growing economic importance, but in it Pownall called for the restoration of peace so that Anglo-American commerce could be restored. By 1780, he believed that the colonies were irretrievably lost and that continued war endangered Britain's vital economic interests.
Thomas Pownall's influence on John Adams has been overlooked. This is unfortunate because the Memorial had a profound effect on Adams' views regarding the prospects for peace, postwar Anglo-American relations, and the course of American foreign policy. Adams believed that the importance of Pownall's work was obscured by the awkwardness of his prose and undertook to revise the Memorial so as to focus its arguments and emphasize those points he believed most crucial. Adams reduced Pownall's 127-page pamphlet by half and sent it off to Congress. He then prepared his manuscript for publication and it subsequently appeared under the titles Pensées sur la révolution de l'Amérique-Unie, extraites de l'ouvrage anglois, intitulé mémoire, addressé aux souverains de l'Europe, sur l'état présent des affaires de l'ancien et du nouveau-monde (Amsterdam, 1780) and A Translation of
the Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe upon the Present State of Affairs Between the Old and New World into Common Sense and Intelligible English (London, 1781). The French version was intended to build support in the Netherlands for the American cause and assist Adams in raising a loan. The English version, which Adams would have preferred to see published in 1780, was part of a concerted effort by Adams to promote an Anglo-American peace in the summer of that year. That effort failed and, in fact, Adams never received credit for the Translation, which was usually attributed to Edmund Jenings.
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.