Present at the Cockpit
Almost everyone who was anyone in England’s power elite crowded into the Cockpit on January 29. Many of those present were—or would be—major players in the drama that pitted the colonists against England in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. The luminaries in attendance ranged from Franklin’s most virulent enemies to relatively sympathetic acquaintances. Four were especially knowledgeable about and interested in colonial affairs. All had met Franklin; some knew him personally. None was a disinterested observer. Wills Hill, Lord Hillsborough, not only was a major irritant to most colonists but was Franklin’s personal nemesis as well. Frederick, Lord North, was already the king’s chief minister, a position he would retain until after the defeat of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781. General Thomas Gage’s presence was fortuitous. He happened to be in England only briefly, checking in with his superiors and enjoying a well-deserved respite from his responsibilities as commander in chief of His Majesty’s North American forces. He would shortly be dispatched to Boston to head a military government aimed at regaining control of Massachusetts in the wake of the Tea Party. Edmund Burke, one of the few Members of Parliament who—to a degree—sympathized with the colonies, was also there. He came away more convinced than ever that American—and perhaps more to the point, British—liberties were in jeopardy.