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Title: Franklin - A Sketch
Author: Bigelow, John
Language: English
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Franklin, Benjamin (1706-1790), one of the most eminent journalists,
diplomatists, statesmen, and philosophers of his time, was born in the
city of Boston, and in the colony of Massachusetts Bay, on the 17th of
January 1706. He was the youngest of ten children, and the youngest son
for five consecutive generations. His father, who was born at Ecton, in
Northamptonshire, England, where the family may be traced back for some
four centuries, married young, and emigrated to America with three
children in 1682, From his parents, who never knew any illness save that
of which they died (the father at eighty and the mother at eighty-five),
he inherited an excellent constitution, and a good share of those heroic
mental and moral qualities by which a good constitution is preserved. In
his eighth year Benjamin, who never could remember when he did not know
how to read, was placed at school, his parents intending him for the
church, That purpose, however, was soon abandoned, and in his tenth year
he was taken from school to assist his father, who, though bred a dyer,
had taken up, on his arrival in New England, the business of
tallow-chandler and soap-boiler. The lad worked at this, to him, most
distasteful business, until his twelfth year, when he was apprenticed to
his elder brother .James, then just returned from England with a new
printing press and fount of type, with which he proposed to establish
himself in the printing business. In 1720-31 James Franklin also started
a newspaper, the second that was published in America, called _The New
England Courant_. Benjamin's tastes inclined him rather to intellectual
than to any other kind of pleasures, and his judgment in the selection
of books was excellent. At an early age he had wade himself familiar
with the _Pilgrim's Progress_, with Locke _On the Understanding_, and
with some odd volumes of the _Spectator_, then the literary novelty of
the day, which he turned to good account in forming the style which made
him what he still remains, the most uniformly readable writer of English
who has yet appeared on his side of the Atlantic. His success in
reproducing articles he had read some days previously in the _Spectator_
led him to try his hand upon an original article for his brother's
paper, which he sent to hire anonymously. It was accepted, and attracted
some attention. The experiment was repeated until Benjamin had satisfied
himself that his success was not an accident, when he threw off his
disguise. He thought that his brother treated him less kindly after this
disclosure; but that did not prevent James from publishing his paper in
Benjamin's name, when, in consequence of some unfortunate paragraphs
which appeared in its columns, he could only obtain his release from
prison, to which the colonial assembly had condemned him, upon on that
he "would no longer print the _New England Courant_." The relations of
the two brothers, however, gradually grew so inharmonious that Benjamin
determined to quit his brother's employment and leave New England. He
sold some of his books, and with the proceeds, in October 1723, he found
his way to the city of Philadelphia, where, 400 miles from home, at the
immature age of seventeen, without an acquaintance, and with only a few
pence in his pocket, he was fortunate enough to get employment with a
Jew printer named Keimer. Keimer was not a man of business, and knew
very little of his trade, nor had he any very competent assistants.
Franklin, who was a rapid composer, ingenious and full of resources,
soon came to be recognized by the public as the master spirit of the
shop, and to receive flattering attentions from prominent citizens who
had had opportunities of appreciating his cleverness. Among others, Sir
William Keith, the governor of the province, who may have possessed all
the qualifications for his station except every one of the few which
are quite indispensable to a gentleman, took him under his patronage,
and proposed to start him in business for himself, and to give hint the
means of going to England and purchasing the material necessary to equip
a new printing office. Franklin, rather against the advice of his
father, whom he revisited in Boston to consult about it, embraced the
governor's proposal, took passage for London, which he paid with his own
money (the governor being more ready with excuses than coin), and on
reaching London in December 1724, where he had been assured he would
find a draft to cover his expenses, discovered too late that he had been
the dupe of Keith, and that he must rely upon his own exertions for his
daily bread. He readily found employment at Palmer's, then a famous
printer in Bartholomew Close, where, and afterwards at Wall's printing
house, he continued to be employed until the 33d of July 1736, when he
again set sail for Philadelphia in company with a Mr Dunham, whose
acquaintance he had made on his voyage out, and who tempted him back by
the offer of a position as clerk in a commercial business which he
proposed to establish in Philadelphia. While in London Franklin had been
engaged in setting up the type of a second edition of Wollaston's
_Religion of Nature_. The perusal of this work led him toy write and
print a small edition of a pamphlet, which he entitled _A Dissertation
on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Paris_. Had he deferred printing
it a few years, it would probably never have been heard of, for he lived
to be rather ashamed of it. It procured him, however, the acquaintance
of Dr Mandeville, author of the _Fable of the Bees_, whom he described
as a most facetious and entertaining companion. Only a few months after
Franklin's return to Philadelphia, the death of Mr Dunham put an end to
his career as a merchant. While awaiting something more favourable, he
was induced by large wages to return to his old employer Keimer. This
led to his making the acquaintance of a young man of the name of
Meredith, whom he afterwards described as a "Welsh Pennsylvanian, thirty
years of age, bred to country work, honest, sensible, who had a great
deal of solid observation, was something of a reader, but given to
drink." He was learning the printer's art, and offered to furnish the
capital to establish a new printing office--his father being a man of
some means--if Franklin would join him and direct the business. This
proposal was accepted, the types were sent for, a house was rented at
£20 a year, part of which was sublet to a glazier who was to board them,
and before the expiration of a year front his return to Philadelphia,
Franklin, for the first time in his life, was in business for himself.
"We had scarce opened our letters and put our press in order," he says,
"before George House, an acquaintance of mine, brought a countryman to
us whom he had met in the street inquiring for a printer. All our cash
was now expended in the variety of particulars we had been obliged to
procure, and this countryman's five shillings, being our first-fruits,
and coming so seasonably, gave us more pleasure than any crown I have
since earned, and the gratitude I felt towards House has made me often
more ready than perhaps I should otherwise leave been to assist young

Almost simultaneously, in September 1729, he bought for a nominal price
the _Pennsylvania Gazette_, a newspaper which Keimer had started nine
months before to defeat a similar project of Franklin's which
accidentally came to his knowledge. It had only 90 subscribers. His
superior arrangement of the paper, his new type, some spirited remarks
on a controversy then waging between the Massachusetts assembly and
Governor Burnet (a son of the celebrated Bishop Gilbert Burnet) brought
his paper into immediate notice, and his success, both as a printer and
as a journalist, was from that time forth assured and complete. The
influence which he was enabled to exert by his pen through his paper,
and by his industry and good sense, bore abundant fruit during the next
seventeen years, during which he was at the head of journalism in
America. In 1731 he established the first circulating library on the
continent; in 1732 he published the first of the _Poor Richard's
Almanacs_, a publication which was continued for twenty-five years, and
attained a marvellous popularity. The annual sale was about 10,000
copies, at that time far in excess of any other publication in the
colonies, and equivalent to a sale at the present time of not less than
300,000. In the next ten years he acquired a convenient familiarity with
the French, Italian, Spanish, and Latin languages.

In 1736 Franklin was chosen a clerk of the general assembly, and was
re-elected the following year. He was then elected a member of assembly,
to which dignity he was re-elected for ten successive years, and was
appointed one of the commissioners to treat with the Indians at
Carlisle. In 17 37 Colonel Spotswood, then postmaster-general, appointed
him deputy postmaster at Philadelphia. About this time he organized the
first police force and fire company in the colonies, and a few years
later initiated the movements which resulted in the foundation of the
university of Pennsylvania and of the American Philosophical Society, in
the organization of a militia force, in the paving of the streets, and
in the foundation of a hospital; in fact, he furnished the impulse to
nearly every measure or project which contemplated the welfare and
prosperity of the city in which he lived. It was during this period, and
in the midst of these very miscellaneous avocations, that he made the
discoveries in electricity which have secured him undisputed rank among
the most eminent of natural philosophers. He was the first to
demonstrate that lightning and electricity were one. The Royal Society,
when an account of his experiments, which had been transmitted to a
scientific friend in England, was laid before it, made sport of them,
and refused to print them. Through the recommendation of his friend they
were printed, however, in an extra number of the _Gentleman's Magazine_,
of which the publisher ultimately sold five editions. A copy chancing to
fall into the hands of Buffon, he saw their value, and advised their
translation and publication in France, where they immediately attracted
attention. The "Philadelphia experiments," as they were called, were
performed in the presence of the royal family in Paris, and became the
sensation of the period. The Royal Society of London found it necessary
to reconsider its action, published a summary of the experiments in its
_Transactions_, and, as Franklin afterwards averred, more than made him
amends for the slight with which it had before treated him, by electing
him an honorary member, exempting him from the customary payments, and
sending him for the rest of his life a copy of the _Transactions_. Since
the introduction of the art of printing, it would be difficult to name
any discovery which has exerted a more important influence upon the
industries and habits of mankind.

In 1754 a war with France was impending, and Franklin, who by this time
had become the most important man in the colony of Pennsylvania, was
sent to a congress of commissioners from the different colonies, ordered
by the Lords of Trade to convene at Albany, to confer with the chiefs of
the Six Nations for their common defence. Franklin there submitted a
plan for organizing a system of colonial defence which was adopted and
reported; it provided for a president-general of all the colonies to be
appointed by the crown, and a grand council to be chosen by the
representatives of the people of the several colonies. The colonies so
united, he thought, would be sufficiently strong to defend themselves;
and there would then be no need of troops from England. Had this course
been pursued, the subsequent pretence for taxing America would not have
been furnished, and the bloody contest it occasioned might have been
avoided. The Lords of Trade, however, feared that any such union of the
colonies would reveal to them their strength; and the project of union,
though accompanied with a recommendation from the governor of the
province of Pennsylvania, when it was brought into the assembly, as it
was during Franklin's casual absence from the hall, was rejected. This
Franklin thought a mistake. "But such mistakes," he said, "are not new;
history is full of the errors of states and princes. Those who govern,
having much business on their hands, do not generally like to take the
trouble of considering and carrying into execution new projects. The
best public measures are there fore seldom adopted from previous wisdom,
but forced by the occasion." Instead of allowing the colonists to unite
and defend themselves, the home Government sent over General Braddock
with two regiments of regular English troops, whom the colonists were
expected to maintain. The proprietaries, Thomas and Richard Penn, sons
of William Penn, and the hereditary governors of the colonies, however,
"with incredible meanness," instructed their deputies--the governors
they seat out--to pass no act for levying the necessary taxes unless
their vast estates were in the same act exempt. They even took bonds of
their deputies to observe these instructions. The assembly finally,
"finding the proprietaries obstinately persisted in manacling their
deputies with instructions inconsistent not only with the privileges of
the people but with the service of the crown,"--we are quoting the
language of Franklin,--"resolved to petition the king against them," and
appointed Franklin as their agent to go to England and present their
petition. He arrived in London on the 27th July 1757, not this time as a
poor printer's boy, but as a messenger to the most powerful sovereign in
the world from a corporate body of some of his most loyal subjects.

Franklin lost no time, after reaching London, in waiting upon Lord
Grenville, then president of the council, and held with him a
conversation which he deemed of so much importance that he made a record
of it immediately upon returning to his lodgings. Nor did he exaggerate
its importance, for in it were the germs of the revolt and independence
of the North American colonies. "You Americans," said Grenville, "have
wrong ideas of the nature of your constitution; you contend that the
king's instructions to his governors are not laws, and think yourselves
at liberty to regard or disregard them at your own discretion. But those
instructions are not like the pocket instructions given to a minister
going abroad for regulating his conduct in some trifling point of
ceremony. They are first drawn up by judges learned in the law; they are
then considered, debated, and perhaps amended in council, after which
they are signed by the king. They are then, so far as they relate to
you, the _law of the land_, for the king is the legislature of the
colonies." Franklin frankly told his lordship that this was new
doctrine,--that he understood from the colonial charters that the laws
of the colonies were to be made by their assemblies, approved by the
king, and when once approved the king alone could neither alter nor
amend them. Franklin admits that he was alarmed by this conversation,
but he was not as much alarmed as he had reason to be, for it distinctly
raised the issue between the king and a fraction of his people which was
to require a seven years' war to decide. Franklin next sought an
interview with the brothers Penn to lay before them the grievances of
the assembly. Finding them entirely inaccessible to his reasonings, he
supplied the material for an historical review of the controversy
between the assembly and the proprietaries, which made an octavo volume
of 500 pages. The success of Franklin's mission thus far was not
encouraging, for he appealed to a class largely interested in the abuses
of which he complained. Meantime, Governor Denny, who had been recently
sent out to the province by the proprietaries, tired of struggling with
the public opinion which was surging about him in Pennsylvania, and in
disregard of his instructions, assented to the passing of laws which
taxed equally the entire landed property of the province, and assumed
that the assembly was the proper judge of the requirements of the people
it represented. An equivalent in paper money was issued upon the faith
of this tax. The proprietaries were very angry with the governor,
recalled him, and threatened to prosecute him for a breach of his
instructions. But they never carried their threat into execution.

The subject of "taxing all estates," after a careful discussion by
counsel on both sides in London, was finally referred to a committee of
the privy council for plantations, who reported adversely to the
petitioners whom Franklin represented. Disappointed, but not
discouraged, he suggested a compromise involving a personal engagement
on his part that, among other things, the assembly should pass an act
exempting from taxation the _unsurveyed_ waste lands of the Penn's'
estate, and secure the assessment of the surveyed waste lands at the
usual rate at which other property of that description was assessed.
Upon this proposal, to the infinite disgust of the Penns, a favourable
report was made, and approved by the king, George II., then within a few
weeks of his death. "Thus," wrote Franklin, a few days later, to Lord
Kames, "the cause is at length ended, and in a great degree to our
satisfaction." Franklin's stipulation gave to the Penns nothing, in
fact, which they had not always had, and therefore the assembly never
passed the superfluous act for securing it. They did, however, relieve
Pennsylvania from the financial embarrassments that must have followed
the repeal of a money bill which had already been a year in operation,
and it established the principle till then denied by the proprietaries,
that their estates were subject to taxation. The success of his first
foreign mission, therefore, was substantial and satisfactory.

During this sojourn of five years in England, Franklin made many
valuable friends outside court and political circles, among whom the
names of Hume, Robertson, and Adam Smith are conspicuous. In the spring
of 1759 he received the degree of doctor of laws from the Scottish
university of St Andrews. He also made active use of his marvellous and
unsurpassed talent for pamphleteering. He wrote for the _Annual
Register_, of which young Edmund Burke was then editor, and with whom,
at a later day, he was destined to have closer relations, a paper "On
the Peopling of Countries," traces of which may readily be discerned in
the first book of The _Wealth of Nations_. In this paper Franklin
combated the popular delusion that the people and wealth of the colonies
were necessarily so much population and wealth abstracted from the
mother country, and he estimated that the population of the colonies, by
doubling once in every twenty-five years, would, at the end of a
century, give a larger English population beyond the Atlantic than in
England, without at all interfering with the growth of England in either
direction. Franklin's conjecture, that the population of the colonies
would double every twenty-five years, commended itself to the judgment
of Adam Smith, who adopted it; and it has thus far been vindicated by
the census.

On the 25th of October 1760 King George II. died, and his grandson
ascended the throne. A clamour for peace followed. Franklin was for a
vigorous prosecution of the war then pending with France, and wrote what
purported to be a chapter from an old book, which he said was written by
a Spanish Jesuit to all ancient king of Spain, entitled, _On the Means
of disposing the Enemy to Peace_. It was ingenious and had a great
effect, and, like everything Franklin wrote, is about as readable to-day
as when first printed. Soon after the capture of Quebec, Franklin wrote
a more elaborate paper, entitled, _The Interests of Great Britain
considered with regard to her Colonies and the Acquisitions of Canada
and Guadeloupe_. Its purpose was to show that, while Canada remained
French, the English colonies of North America could never be safe nor
peace in Europe permanent. Tradition reports that this pamphlet had
great weight in determining the ministry to retain Canada, which, thanks
in a large degree to his foresight and activity, is to-day one of the
brightest jewels in the English crown. "I have long been of opinion," he
wrote about this time to Lord Kames, "that the foundations of the future
grandeur and stability of the British empire lie in America; and though,
like other foundations, they are low and little now, they are,
nevertheless broad and strong enough to support the greatest political
structure that human wisdom ever erected. I am, therefore, by no means
for restoring Canada. If we keep it, all the country from the St
Lawrence to the Mississippi will in another century be filled with
British. Britain will become vastly more populous by the immense
increase of its commerce. The Atlantic sea will be covered with your
trading ships; and your naval power, thence continually increasing,
will extend your influence round the whole globe and awe the world."
What Englishman can read these papers to-day without a feeling of regret
that Franklin was not permitted to occupy a seat in parliament as one of
the representatives of the British colonies, so that England and the
world might have had the advantage in a larger measure of his rare
wisdom, sagacity, and patriotism?

Franklin sailed again for America in August 1762, after an absence of
five years, during which he had found an opportunity of visiting large
portions of the Continent, and of acquiring information about European
affairs both in and out of England, which made him more than ever an
enlightened and trustworthy authority in America upon all foreign
questions affecting the interests of the colonists. The peace with the
proprietary government was only temporary. The question of taxing their
estates had come up in a new form, and finally resulted in a petition
from the assembly drawn by Franklin himself for a charge of government
for Pennsylvania. The election which took place in the fall of 1764
turned upon the issue raised in this petition, and the proprietary party
succeeded, by a majority of 28 votes out of 4000, in depriving Franklin
of the seat to which he had been chosen for fourteen successive years in
the provincial assembly. The victory, however, was a barren one, for no
sooner did the assembly convene than it resolved again to send Franklin
as its special agent to England to take charge of their petition for a
change of government, and to look after the interests of the province
abroad. On the 7th of November following his defeat, he was again on his
way across the Atlantic. We may as well here say at once that the
petition which he brought with him for a change of government came to
nothing. Franklin presented and the Penns opposed it; but matters of so
much graver consequence continually arose between 1765, when it was
presented, and 1775, when the revolution began, that it was left to the
final disposition of time. The Penns at last had the sagacity to sell
betimes what they were not wise enough to keep. The State of
Pennsylvania gave them £130,000 for their interest in its soil, and the
British Government settled upon the head of the family a pension of
£4000 a year.

Early in the year of 1764 Grenville, the prime minister, had sent for
the agents of the American colonies resident in London, and told them
that the war with France which had just terminated had left upon England
a debt of £73,000,000 sterling, and that he proposed to lay a portion of
this burthen upon the shoulders of the colonists by means of a stamp
duty, unless the colonists could propose some other tax equally
productive and less inconvenient. He directed the agents to write to
their several assemblies for instructions upon this point. The assembly
of Pennsylvania, which expressed the sentiment of all the colonies, was
decidedly of the opinion that to tax the colonies, which were already
taxed beyond their strength, and which were surrounded by aboriginal
enemies and exposed to constant expenditures for defence, was cruel,
but to tag them by a parliament in which they were not represented was
an indignity. While such was their feeling, they allowed it to be
understood that they would not reject any requisition of their king for
aid, and if he would only signify his needs in the usual way, the
assembly would do their utmost for him. These views were summed up in a
"resolution" thus expressed: "that, as the assembly always had, so they
always should think it their duty to grant aid to the crown, according
to their abilities, whenever required of them in the usual manner." To
prevent the introduction of such a bill as the ministry proposed, and
which Franklin characterized as "the mother of mischief," he left no
stone unturned, by personal intercession, by private correspondence, and
through the press. At last, in despair, he, with his associate agents,
sought an interview with the minister. They found him inexorable. The
Government wanted the money, and it did not wish to recognize the
principle upon which the colonists resisted the Government method of
obtaining it. The bill was introduced, and was promptly passed, only 50
voting against it in the Commons, and the Lords not dividing upon it.
The sum expected from this tax being only £100,000, it was thought the
colonists would soon be reconciled to it. This was evidently Franklin's
hope, which he did his utmost to realize. Writing home to a friend
shortly after the passage of the Act he said, "The tide was too strong
for us. We might as well have hindered the sun's setting; but since it
is down, my friend, and it may be long before it rises again, let us
make as good a night of it as we can. We may still light candles.
Frugality and industry will go a great way towards indemnifying us.
Idleness and pride tax with a heavier hand than kings and parliament."
But when the news of the passage of the Stamp Act reached the colonies,
and its provisions came to be scanned,[1] the indiscretion of those who
advised it was manifest. Meetings were held in all the colonies, where
resolves were passed unanimously to consume no more British manufactures
until the hateful Act was repealed. For simply recommending a trusty
person to collect the tax, Franklin himself was denounced, and his
family in Philadelphia was in danger of being mobbed. The Act not only
failed of its purpose in producing a revenue, but before it went into
operation a formidable agitation for its repeal had already commenced.

  [1] One clause of the Act provided that the Americans shall have
      no commerce, make no exchange of property with each other, neither
      purchase, nor grant, nor recover debts; they shall neither marry
      nor make their wills unless they pay such and such sums in specie
      for the stamps which are to give validity to the proceedings.
      Franklin testified under oath before a committee of parliament that
      such a tax would drain the Government of all their specie in a
      single year.

The succeeding session of parliament, which began in December 1765, is
specially memorable for Franklin's examination before a committee of the
House on the effects of the Stamp Act; for the magnificent parliamentary
debut of Edmund Burke, whose speeches for the repeal, said Dr Johnson,
"filled the town with wonder;" and for the repeal of the offensive Act
by a majority of 108. The first six weeks of this session were devoted
to taking testimony at the bar of the house on American affairs, and
especially upon the probable advantages and disadvantages of the Stamp
Act. Franklin was the only one of the witnesses who lifted a voice that
could be heard by posterity. Burke said the scene reminded him of a
master examined by a parcel of schoolboys. George Whitfield, the great
field preacher, wrote--"Our trusty friend, Dr Franklin, has gained
immortal honour by his behaviour at the bar of the House. The answer was
always found equal to the questioner. He stood unappalled, gave pleasure
to his friends, and did honour to his country." The examination was
first published in 1767, without the name of printer or of publisher,
and the following remarks upon it appeared in the _Gentleman's Magazine_
for July of that year "From this examination of Dr Franklin the reader
may form a clearer and more comprehensive idea of the state and
disposition of America, of the expediency or inexpediency of the measure
in question, and of the character and conduct of the minister who
proposed it, than from all that has been written upon the subject in
newspapers and pamphlets, under the titles of essays, letters,
speeches, and considerations, from the first moment of its becoming the
object of public attention till now. The questions in general were put
with great subtlety and judgment, and they are answered with such deep
and familiar knowledge of the subject, such precision and perspicuity,
such temper and yet such spirit, as do the greatest honour to Dr
Franklin, and justify the general opinion of his character and

The light thrown upon colonial affairs by Franklin's examination, more
probably than all other causes combined, determined parliament to repeal
the bill almost as soon as it was to have gone into operation, and
immediately upon the conclusion of Franklin's examination. It was to
Franklin a never-to-be-forgotten triumph. He celebrated it
characteristically. "As the Stamp Act," he wrote to his wife, "is at
length repealed, I am willing you should have a new gown, which you may
suppose I did not send sooner as I knew you would not like to be finer
than your neighbours unless in a gown of your own spinning. Had the
trade between the two countries totally ceased, it was a comfort to me
to recollect that I had once been clothed, from head to foot, in woollen
and linen of my wife's manufacture, that I never was prouder of my dress
in my life, and that she and her daughter might do it again if it was
necessary. I told the parliament that it was my opinion, before the old
clothes of the Americans were worn out, they might have new ones of
their own making, I have sent you a fine piece of Pompadour satin, 14
yards, cost 11s. a yard; a silk négligée and petticoat of brocaded lute
string, for my dear Sally [his daughter]; with two dozen gloves, four
bottles of lavender water, and two little reels."

The news of the repeal filled the colonists with delight, and restored
Franklin to their confidence and affection. From that time until the end
of his days he was, on the whole, the most popular man in America.
Unhappily the repeal of the Stamp Act was a concession to the commercial
interests of the mother country not to the political dogmas of the
colonists. The king's party was more irritated than instructed by its
defeat, and instead of surrendering any of its pretensions to tax the
colonies, almost immediately brought in a bill, which was passed,
asserting the absolute supremacy of parliament over the colonies, and in
the succeeding parliament another bill, which also passed, imposing
duties on the paper, paints, glass, and tea imported by the colonies.
This tax was resented by the colonies with no less bitterness and
determination than they had resented the Stamp Act. It conveyed
sterility into their recent triumph, and aroused a feeling akin to
disloyalty. It made the minor differences among the colonists disappear,
and crystallized public opinion with marvellous rapidity around the
principle of "no taxation without representation,"--a principle which it
was impossible to make acceptable to the king, whose old-fashioned
notions of the royal prerogative had only been confirmed and
strengthened by the irritating pertinacity of the colonists. Thus the
issue was gradually made up between the mother country and its American
dependencies. Each party felt that its first duty was to be firm, and
that any concession would be disastrous as well as dishonourable. Such a
state of feeling could terminate but in one way. It is now clear to all,
as it was then clear to a few, that the passing of the tea and paper
bill, made the difference between the crown and the colonists
irreconcilable, and that nothing but the death of the king could prevent
a war. The nine succeeding years were spent by the contending parties in
struggling for position,--the colonies becoming more indifferent to the
mother country, and the mother country less disposed to put up with the
pretensions of her offspring. Franklin, when he went to London in 1764,
confidently expected to return in the following year; but he was not
destined to leave England till ten years later, and then with the
depressing suspicion that the resources of diplomacy were exhausted.
Meantime he remitted no effort to find some middle ground of
conciliation. Equipped with the additional authority derived from
commissions to act as the agent of the provinces of Massachusetts, of
New Jersey, and of Georgia, and with a social influence never possessed
probably by any other American representative at the English court, he
would doubtless have prevented the final alienation of the colonies, if
such a result, under the circumstances, had been possible. But it was
not. The colonists were Englishmen for the most part, and they could not
be brought to make concessions which would have dishonoured them; and
Franklin was not the man to ask of them such concessions. He took the
position that "the parliament had no right to make any law whatever
binding the colonies; that the king, and not the king, Lords, and
Commons collectively, was their sovereign; and that the king, with
_their_ respective parliaments, is their only legislator." In other
words, he asked only what England has since granted to all her colonies,
and what, but for the fatuous obstinacy of the king, who at this time
was rather an object of commiseration than of criticism, she would
undoubtedly have yielded. But under the pressure of the crown,
negotiation and debate seemed rather to aggravate the differences than
to remove them. The solemn petitions of the colonists to the throne were
treated with neglect or derision, and their agents with contumely, and
Franklin was openly insulted in the House of Lords, was deprived of his
office of deputy-postmaster, and was scarcely safe from personal
outrage. Satisfied that his usefulness in England was at an end, he
placed his agencies in the hands of Arthur Lee, an American lawyer
practising at the London bar, and on the 21st of March 1775, again set
sail for Philadelphia. On reaching home his last hope of maintaining the
integrity of the empire was dissipated by the news which awaited him of
collisions which had occurred, some two weeks previous, between the
people and the royal troops at Concord and at Lexington. He found the
colonies in flagrant rebellion, and himself suddenly transformed from a
peacemaker into a warmaker.

The two years which followed were among the busiest of his life. The
very morning of his arrival he was elected, by the assembly of
Pennsylvania, a delegate to that continental congress then sitting in
Philadelphia which consolidated the armies of the colonies, placed
George Washington in command of them, issued the first continental
currency, and assumed the responsibility of resisting the imperial
government. In this congress he served on not less than ten committees.
One of its first measures was to organize a continental postal system
and to make Franklin postmaster-general. Thus he was avenged for his
dismissal 18 months before from the office of deputy by being appointed
to a place of higher rank and augmented authority. He planned all appeal
for aid from the king of the French, and wrote the instructions of Silas
Deane, a member of the congress, who was to convey it; he was sent as
one of three commissioners to Canada, in one of the most inclement
months of the year, on what proved an in effectual mission to persuade
the Canadians to join the new colonial union; he was elected a delegate
from Philadelphia to the conference which met on the 18th of June 1776,
and which, in the name of the people of the colonies, formally renounced
all allegiance to King George, and called for an election of delegates
to a convention to form a constitutional government for the United
Colonies. He was also one of the committee of five which drew up what is
known as the "Declaration of Independence." When about to sign it,
Hancock, one of his colleagues, is reported to have said, "We must be
unanimous; there must be no pulling different ways; we must all hart;
together." "Yes," replied Franklin, "we must hang together, or we will
be pretty sure to hang separately." He was also chosen president of the
convention called to frame a constitution for the State of Pennsylvania,
which commenced its session on the 16th of July 1776. He was selected by
congress to discuss terms of peace with Admiral Lord Howe, who had
arrived in New York harbour on the 12th of July 1776, to take command of
the British naval forces in American waters, and on the 26th of
September, upon the receipt of encouraging news from France, he was
chosen unanimously to be one of three to repair to the court of Louis
XVI. and solicit his support. His colleagues were John Adams, destined
to be Washington's successor in the presidency, and Arthur Lee,
Franklin's successor in the agency in London.

Franklin, now in the seventieth year of his age, proceeded to collect
all the money he could command, amounting to between £3000 or £4000,
lent it to congress, and with two grandsons set sail in the sloop of war
"Reprisal" on the 27th day of October, arriving at Nantes on the 7th of
December, and at Paris towards the end of the same month. With his usual
tact and forecast he found quarters in a house in Passy (then a suburb
but now a part of the city of Paris) belonging to an active friend of
the cause he represented--Le Ray de Chaumont--who held influential
relations with the court, and through whom he was enabled to be in the
fullest communication with the French Government without compromising

At the time of Franklin's arrival in Paris, he was already one of the
most talked about men in the world. He was a member of every important
learned society in Europe; he was a member, and one of the managers of
the Royal Society, and one of eight foreign members of the Royal Academy
of Sciences in Paris. Three editions of his scientific works had already
appeared in Paris, and a new edition, much enlarged, had recently
appeared in London. To all these advantages he added a political
purpose--the dismemberment of the British empire--which was entirely
congenial to every citizen of France. "Franklin's reputation," wrote Mr
Adams, who, unhappily, was never able to regard his colleague's fame
with entire equanimity, "was more universal than that of Leibnitz or
Newton, Frederick or Voltaire, and his character more beloved and
esteemed than all of them.... If a collection could be made of all the
gazettes of Europe for the latter half of the 18th century a greater
number of panegyrical paragraphs upon _le grand Franklin_ would appear,
it is believed, than upon any other roan that ever lived."

"Franklin's appearance in the French salons; even before he began to
negotiate," says the German historian Schlosser, "was an event of great
importance to the whole of Europe.... His dress, the simplicity of his
external appearance, the friendly meekness of the old man, and the
apparent humility of the Quaker, procured for Freedom a mass of votaries
among the court circles who used to be alarmed at its coarseness and
unsophisticated truths." We may here add that such was the number of
portraits, busts, and medallions of him in circulation before he left
Paris that he would have been recognized from them by nearly every adult
citizen in any part of the civilized world. Writing to his daughter in
the third year of his residence in Paris, of a medallion to which she
had alluded, he says--"A variety of others have been made since, of
different sizes; some to be set in the lids of snuff-boxes and some so
small as to be worn in rings, and the numbers sold are incredible.
These, with the pictures, busts, and prints (of which copies are spread
everywhere) have made your father's face as well known as the moon, so
that he durst not do anything that would oblige him to run away, as his
phiz would discover him wherever he should venture to show it."

The story of Franklin's mission to France, as recorded in his own
correspondence, is singularly interesting and romantic. In these
respects it is difficult to find its parallel in the literature of
diplomacy. Its results may be summed up in a few words. He became at
once, as already stated, an object of greater popular interest than any
other man in France,--an interest which, during his eight years' sojourn
there, seemed always on the increase. Streets in numerous cities, and
several societies, were named after him; the French Academy paid him its
highest honours, and he conferred more distinction upon any salon he
frequented than it could reciprocate. He animated French society with a
boundless enthusiasm for the cause of the rebel colonists, persuaded the
Government that the interests of France required her to aid theta,
obtained a treaty of alliance at a crisis in their fortunes in the
winter of 1777, when such an alliance was decisive, and the great moral
advantage of a royal frigate to convey the news of it to America. A few
months later he signed the treaties which bound the two countries to
mutual friendship and defence, and on the morning of the 30th March 1778
the three envoys were formally received by the king at Versailles, and
through them the country they represented was first introduced into the
family of independent nations.

In February of the following year General Lafayette, who had
distinguished himself as a volunteer in the rebel army, returning to
France on leave, brought a commission from the American congress to Dr
Franklin as sole plenipotentiary of the United States to the court of
France. From this time until the close of the war it was Franklin's
paramount duty to encourage the French Government to supply the
colonists with money. How successfully he discharged this duty may be
inferred from the following statement of the advances made by France
upon his solicitation:--In 1777, 2,000,000 francs; in 1778, 3,000,000
francs; in 1779, 1,000,000 francs; in 1780, 4,000,000 francs; in 1781,
10,000,000 francs; in 1782, 6,000,000 francs; in all, 26,000,000
francs. To obtain these aids at a time when France was not only at war,
but practically bankrupt, and in defiance of the strenuous resistance of
Necker, the minister of finance, was an achievement, the credit of
which, there is the best reason for believing, was mainly due to the
matchless diplomacy of Franklin. Writing to the French minister in
Philadelphia, December 4, 1780, the Count de Vergennes said--

     "As to Dr Franklin, his conduct leaves congress nothing to desire.
     It is as zealous and patriotic as it is wise and circumspect, and
     you may affirm with assurance, on all occasions where you think
     proper, that the method he pursues is much more efficacious than it
     would be if he were to assume a tone of importunity in multiplying
     his demands, and above all in supporting them by menaces (an
     allusion to the indiscreet conduct of Franklin's colleagues), to
     which we should give neither credence nor value, and which would
     only tend to render him personally disagreeable."

Again, February 15, 1781, Vergennes wrote:--

     "If you are questioned respecting an opinion of Dr Franklin, you
     may without hesitation say that we esteem him as much on account of
     the patriotism as the wisdom of his conduct; and it has been owing
     in a great part to this cause, and the confidence we put in the
     veracity of Dr Franklin, that we have determined to relieve the
     pecuniary embarrassments in which he has been placed by congress.
     It may be judged from this fact, which is of a personal nature, if
     that minister's conduct has been injurious to the interests of his
     country, or if any other would have had the same advantages."

Franklin had been for some years a martyr to the gout, which, with other
infirmities incident to his advanced age of seventy-five, determined him
to ask congress, in 1781, to relieve him, in a letter so full of dignity
and feeling, that no one can read it even now, after the lapse of nearly
a century, without emotion.

     "I must now," he wrote, after disposing of official topics, "beg
     leave to say something relating to myself--a subject with which I
     have not often troubled congress. I have passed my seventy-fifth
     year, and I find that the long and severe fit of the gout which I
     had the last winter had shaken me exceedingly, and I am yet far
     from having recovered the bodily strength I before enjoyed. I do
     not know that my mental faculties are impaired,--perhaps I shall be
     the last to discover that,--but I am sensible of great diminution
     of my activity, a quality I think particularly necessary in your
     minister at this court. I am afraid, therefore, that your affairs
     may some time or other suffer by my deficiency. I find also that
     the business is too heavy for me and too confining. The constant
     attendance at home, which is necessary for receiving and accepting
     your bills of exchange (a matter foreign to my ministerial
     functions), to answer letters, and perform other parts of my
     employment, pre vents my taking the air and exercise which my
     annual journeys formerly used to afford me, and which contributed
     much to the preservation of my health. There are many other little
     personal attentions which the infirmities of age render necessary
     to an old man's comfort, even in some degree to the continuance of
     his existence, and with which business often interferes.

     "I have been engaged in public affairs, and enjoyed public
     confidence in some shape or other during the long term of fifty
     years, and honour sufficient to satisfy any reasonable ambition;
     and I have no other left but that of repose, which I hope the
     congress will grant me by sending some person to supply my place.
     At the same time I beg they may be assured that it is not any the
     least doubt of their success in the glorious cause, nor any disgust
     received in their service, that induces me to decline it, but
     purely and simply the reasons I have mentioned. And as I cannot at
     present undergo the fatigues of a sea voyage (the last having been
     almost too much for me), and would not again expose myself to the
     hazard of capture and imprisonment in this time of war, I propose
     to remain here at least till the peace--perhaps it may be for the
     remainder of my life--and if any knowledge or experience I have
     acquired here may be thought of use to my successor, I shall freely
     communicate it and assist him with any influence I may be supposed
     to have, or counsel that may be desired of me."

Congress not only declined to receive his resignation, but with its
refusal sent him a commission, jointly with John Adams and John Jay, who
had been the agent of the congress in Spain, to negotiate a peace.
Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown on the 17th of October of that
year, the anniversary of Burgoyne's disastrous surrender at Saratoga
just four years before, and a farther prosecution of the war beyond what
might be necessary to secure the most favourable terms of peace was no
longer advocated by any party in England. Active negotiations with
Franklin and his associates were opened, and on the 30th of November a
preliminary treaty was signed by the English and American commissioners;
a definitive treaty was signed on the 30th of September 1783, and
ratified by congress January 14, 1784, and by the English Government on
the 9th of April following. At the conclusion of the preliminary treaty
Franklin renewed his application to congress to be relieved, to which he
received no answer. A few weeks after signing the definitive treaty, he
renewed it again, but it was not until the 7th of March 1785 that
congress adopted the resolution which permitted "The Honourable Benjamin
Franklin to return to America as soon as convenient," and three days
later it appointed Thomas Jefferson to succeed him.

During his stay in Paris Franklin gave by no means all his time to
political problems. He wrote a paper for the Royal Society on the
subject of balloons, a topic which, under the auspices of the
Montgolfiers, attracted a great deal of attention at that time in
France. Sir Joseph Banks commended it for its completeness. To some one
who asked the use of the new invention Franklin replied by asking, "What
is the use of a new-born baby?" In 1784 he was appointed by the French
Academy one of a commission ordered by the king to investigate the
phenomena of "mesmerism"; and to a large extent he directed the
investigation which resulted in the disgrace and flight of Mesmer and
his final disappearance from the public eye. Franklin's _Information to
those who would Remove to America_, his _New Treatise on Privateering_,
his _Essay on Raising the Wages in Europe by the American Revolution_,
his _Letter to Vaughan on Luxury_, his _Story of the Whistle_, together
with his private as well as official correspondence, kept the world
constantly talking about him and wondering at the inexhaustible variety
and unconventional novelty of his resources. "You replace Dr Franklin,"
I hear, said the Count de Vergennes to Jefferson when they first met. "I
succeed, no one can replace him," was Jefferson's reply.

It was on the 12th of July 1785 that, accompanied by some members of his
family and most intimate friends, he set out for Havre on his return to
America. In view of his infirmities, the queen had placed one of her
litters at his disposal; the next day he was constrained by a most
pressing invitation to accept the hospitality of Cardinal de la
Rochefoucauld at Gaillon. At Rouen, he was waited upon by a deputation
of the Academy of that city. At Portsmouth, where the party joined the
vessel that was to take them home, the bishop of St Asaph's, "the good
bishop," as Franklin used to style him, an old friend and correspondent,
came down with his family to see him, and remained with him for the two
or three days before they sailed.

On the 13th of September Franklin, who had become by far the most widely
known and the most eminent of Americans, disembarked again at the very
wharf in Philadelphia on which, sixty-two years before, he had landed a
homeless, homeless, friendless, and substantially penniless runaway
apprentice of seventeen. The day succeeding his arrival, the assembly of
Pennsylvania voted him a congratulatory address; the public bodies very
generally waited upon him, and General Washington, by letter, asked to
join in the public gratulations upon his safe return to America, and
upon the many eminent services he had rendered. Sensible as his
countrymen were of the magnitude of their obligations to him, and of his
increasing infirmities, it never seems to have occurred to them that
they could dispense with his services. In the month succeeding his
arrival he was chosen a member of the municipal council of Philadelphia,
of which he was also unanimously elected chairman. He was soon after
elected by the executive council and assembly president of Pennsylvania,
by seventy-six out of the seventy-seven votes cast. "I have not firmness
enough," he wrote to an old friend, "to resist the unanimous desire of
my country folks, and I find myself harnessed again to their service
another year. They engrossed the prime of my life. They have, eaten my
flesh, and seem resolved now to pick my bones." At the expiration of his
term in 1786, he was unanimously re-elected, and again unanimously in
1787. He was also chosen a member of the national convention, of which
Washington was a member and president, which met on the second Monday
of May 1787, to frame a constitution for the new confederacy. To the
joint influence of Franklin and Washington probably should be ascribed
the final adoption of the constitution which this convention framed, and
which continues to be the fundamental law of the United States. The most
original, if not the most ingenious, and perhaps, in view of the grave
difficulties it disposed of, the most important feature of the
constitution they constructed--that which gave the States equal
representation in the upper house or senate and in the lower house
representation according to population--was the device of Franklin. For
his three years' service as president of Pennsylvania Franklin refused
to accept any compensation beyond a reimbursement of the postage he had
paid on official letters, amounting to some £77, 5s. 6d., it being one
of his notions, which he advocated in the convention, that the chief
magistrates of a nation should serve without pecuniary compensation.
Franklin survived his retirement from office two years, which he
consecrated almost as exclusively to the public use as any other two of
his life, although most of the time the victim of excruciating pain. His
pen was never more actively nor more effectively employed. He helped to
organize and was president of the first society formed on the American
continent or anywhere else, we believe, for the abolition of slavery,
and as its president wrote and signed the first remonstrance against
slavery addressed to the American congress.

Franklin died in his own house, in Philadelphia, on the 17th of April
1790, and in the eighty-fifth year of his age. Since then, as in life,
his fame has gone on increasing. No American has ever received such
varied and extensive homage from his countrymen. There is no State in
the United States, and there are few counties that have not a town
called Franklin (Ohio has nineteen of them); scarce a town that does not
boast of its Franklin Street, or its Franklin Square, or its Franklin
hotel, or its Franklin bank, or its Franklin insurance company, and so
on; his bust or portrait is everywhere; and some sort of a monument of
Franklin is among the attractions of almost every large city.

When Franklin, the fugitive apprentice boy, in 1723, walked up Market
Street on the morning of his first arrival in Philadelphia, munching the
rolls in which he had invested a portion of the last dollar he had in
the world, the curious spectacle he presented did not escape the
attention of Miss Read, a comely girl of eighteen years who chanced to
be standing in the door of her father's house when he passed. Not long
after, accident gave him an introduction to her; they fell in love, and,
soon after his return from his trip to England, he married her. By her
he had two children, a son who died young, whom Franklin spoke of as the
finest child he ever saw, and a daughter, Sally, who married Richard
Bache, of Yorkshire, England. Mrs Bache had eight children, from whom
are descended all that are now known to inherit any of the blood of
Benjamin Franklin. Before his marriage Franklin had a son whom he named
William, who acted as his secretary during his first official residence
in England, and who, as a compliment to the father, was made governor of
the province of New Jersey. When the rebellion broke out, William
adhered to the mother country, which exposed him to serious indignities
and was a source of profound mortification to his father. Next to the
loss of his only legitimate son, this was perhaps the greatest sorrow of
Franklin's life.

     "You conceived, you say," wrote Franklin to him nine years after
     the rupture, "that your duty to your king and regard for your
     country required this. I ought not to blame you for differing in
     sentiments with me on public affairs. We are men all subject to
     errors. Our opinions are not in our own power. They are formed and
     governed much by circumstances that are often as inexplicable as
     they are irresistible. Your situation was such that few would have
     censured your remaining neuter, though there are natural duties
     which precede political ones, and cannot be extinguished by them."

Without presuming to extenuate anything that was unfilial in Governor
Franklin's conduct, we cannot help remarking that Franklin, with a
blindness common to parents, quite overlooked the fact that his son,
when he determined to adhere to the sovereign whom he had sworn loyally
to serve, was a lusty lad of forty-five years.

In his will the father left William his lands in Nova Scotia, and
forgave him the debts due to him. "The part he acted against me in the
late war," continued the will, "which is of public notoriety, will
account for my leaving him no more of an estate he endeavoured to
deprive me of." Governor Franklin had a son who also was not born in
wedlock, named William Temple Franklin. He was brought up by his
grandfather and served him in the capacity of private secretary daring
most of his residence in France, and after his return to the United
States. Franklin tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to have the young
man appointed to some subordinate mission. He had been brought up in
France, his education was strangely deficient, and he does not seem to
have left an altogether favourable impression upon his countrymen abroad
or at home after his return. It would not be strange if they judged him
more correctly than his grandfather did. To this grandson Franklin
bequeathed most of his books and all his manuscripts and papers, from
which he published the first edition of the writings of his grandfather,
purporting to be complete, in 1816, and after a delay never
satisfactorily explained and apparently inexcusable. A criticism of this
publication, attributed to Jeffrey, appeared in the _Edinburgh Review_,
No. 56, August 1817.

Though spending more than half of his life in the public service,
Franklin was never for a moment dependent upon the Government for his
livelihood. With the aid of his newspaper, his frugality, and his
foresight, he was enabled to command every comfort and luxury he desired
through his long life, and to leave to his descendants a fortune neither
too large nor too small for his fame, and valued at the time of his
death at about £30,000 sterling. Though rendering to his country as a
diplomatist and statesman, and to the world as a philosopher,
incalculable services, he never sought nor received from either of these
sources any pecuniary advantage. Wherever he lived he was the inevitable
centre of a system of influences always important and constantly
enlarging; and dying, he perpetuated it by an autobiography which to
this day not only remains one of the most widely read ant readable books
in our language, but has had the distinction of enriching the
literature of nearly every other. No man has ever lived whose life has
been more universally studied by his countrymen or is more familiar to

Though his pen seemed never idle, the longest production attributed to
his pen was his autobiography, of less than 300 8vo pages, and yet,
whatever subject occupied his pen, he never left the impression of
incompleteness. He was never tedious, and an inexhaustible humour, a
classic simplicity, an exquisite grace, and uniform good sense and taste
informed and gave permanent interest to everything he wrote. Franklin
was not an orator, but when he spoke, as he did occasionally in the
several deliberative bodies of which he was a member, his word, though
brief, was, like his writings, always clear, judicious, felicitous, and
potential. No man ever possessed in a greater degree the gift of putting
an argument into an anecdote.

His country owes much to him for his service in various public
capacities; the world owes much to the fruits of his pen; but his
greatest contribution to the welfare of mankind, probably, was what he
did by his example and life to dignify manual labour. While Diderot was
teaching the dignity of labour in France and the folly of social
standards that proscribed it, Franklin was illustrating it in America,
and proving by his own most conclusive example that

     "Honour and fame from no condition rise."

There are few born into this world so ill-conditioned that they cannot
find comfort and encouragement from some portion of the life of
Franklin; none of any station who may not meditate on it with advantage.
That feature of it which is most valuable will probably be found most
difficult to imitate. It is stated by himself in the following extract
from his diary in 1784:--

     "_Tuesday 27th._--Lord Fitzmaurice called to see me, his father
     having requested that I should give him such instructive hints as
     might be useful to him. I occasionally mentioned the old story of
     Demosthenes's answer to one who demanded what was the first point
     of oratory? _Action_; the second? _Action_; the third?
     _Action_,--which I said had been generally understood to mean the
     action of an orator with his hands in speaking but that I thought
     another kind of 'action' of more importance to an orator who would
     persuade people to follow his advice, viz.,--such a coarse of
     action in the conduct of life as world impress them with an opinion
     of his integrity as well as of his understanding; that this opinion
     once established, all the difficulties, delays, and oppositions
     usually occasioned by doubts and suspicious were prevented; and
     such a man, though a very imperfect speaker, would almost always
     carry his points against the most flourishing orator who had not
     the character of sincerity. To express my sense of the importance
     of a good private character in public affairs more strongly, I said
     the advantage of having it, and the disadvantage of not having it,
     were so great that I even believe if George III. had had a bad
     private character and John Wilkes a good one, the latter might have
     turned the former out of his kingdom."

Though Franklin was far from being insensible to what are termed worldly
considerations, his public life was singularly free from any vulgar or
degrading trace of self seeking; he never is found making the public
interests secondary to his own; though holding office a good portion of
his life, he never treated office holding as a profession, nor the
public treasury as the accumulations of the many for the good of a few.
His private affairs and the public business were never allowed to become
entangled or to depend the one upon the other. Though, from the nature
of his various employments, a target for every form of malevolence and
detraction during the last half of his life, his word was never
impeached, nor his good faith and fairness, even to his enemies,
successfully questioned. Of some irregularities in his youth he early
repented, and for the benefit of mankind made a public confession, and
all the reparation that was possible.

     The most complete edition of Franklin's works is that of Jared
     Sparks, in 10 vols. 8vo, Boston, 1836-40. An edition of the
     autobiography, revised by John Bigelow, from original MSS.,
     appeared in 1868, and again in 1875, 3 viols. Parton's _Life and
     Times of Benjamin Franklin_, 2 vols., was published at New York in

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Note

Page 20 "forcaste" was changed to "forecast" (With his usual tact and

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