Introduction by Neil York

The following two documents, reproduced from the originals (with transcriptions), date from February 1773.1 The first is a letter from Joseph Ward to the Earl of Dartmouth; the second is a proposal for imperial reform that Ward enclosed with that letter. Ward was then a Boston school master, after having lived for some years, plying the same trade, in New Hampshire. Dartmouth was secretary of state for American affairs. Given the patronage system that permeated the British Atlantic world at the time, Dartmouth was a logical target for the office-seeking Ward.2

Impatient for a response, Ward had first written to Dartmouth just two months before. It does not appear that the Earl ever replied. Ward presented the reform proposal as someone else’s, and as the product of dangerous thinking by unnamed critics of empire who teetered on the edge of treason. There was of course nothing unique in the proposal. Benjamin Franklin’s 1754 Albany Plan is the most famous of the various suggestions to reform the empire by allowing for an inter-colonial American legislature. There had also been suggestions to seat Americans at the British parliament in Westminster, and, less common, suggestions that a new imperial parliament be created to preside over all of the other legislative bodies in the empire.3

What was the source of Ward’s plan? We do not know. It could have beenWard himself, in an attempt to appeal to Dartmouth as a man in the know, someone who could be relied upon to help keep radicals in check. Not surprisingly, Ward said nothing about his anonymous newspaper pieces defending American rights while critiquing British imperial policy. Whatever its origin, the reform proposal that he sent to Dartmouth, like all of the others made during these years of imperial crisis, went nowhere. That it was made, even though never acted upon, is a reminder that those who led the empire had been warned that there were structural problems demanding some sort of solution.