A Picture of the Struggles of Our Infant Nation One Hundred Years Ago
by John S. C. Abbott
Mental and Moral
CHAPTER V. The
CHAPTER VII. The
Storms of War.
CHAPTER XI. The
King and Court.
CHAPTER XII. The
Progress of the
War, both of
CHAPTER XIV. The
Next to George Washington, we must write, upon the Catalogue of
American Patriots, the name of Benjamin Franklin. He had so many
virtues that there is no need of exaggerating them; so few
imperfections that they need not be concealed. The writer has
endeavored to give a perfectly accurate view of his character, and of
that great struggle, in which he took so conspicuous a part, which
secured the Independence of the United States. Probably there can no
where be found, within the same limits, so vivid a picture of Life in
America, one hundred years ago, as the career of Franklin presents.
This volume is the twelfth of the Library Series of Pioneers and
Patriots. The series presents a graphic history of our country from its
1. Christopher Columbus reveals to us the West Indies, and
gives a narrative of wonders unsurpassed in fact or fable.
2. De Soto conducts us to Florida, and leads us through
scenes of romance, crime, blood and woethrough many Indian tribes,
across the continent, to the Mississippi, where he finds his melancholy
3. La Salle, and his heroic companions, traversed thousands
of miles of majestic lakes and unknown rivers, and introduces us to
innumerable barbaric tribes. There is no other writer, who, from his
own personal observation, can give one so vivid an idea of Life in the
Indian village and wigwam.
4. Miles Standish was the Captain of the Pilgrims. He
conducts us in the May Flower, across the Atlantic, lands us at
Plymouth, and tells the never to be forgotten story of the heroism of
our fathers in laying the foundations of this great republic.
5. Captain Kidd, and the Buccaneers, reveal to us the awful
condition of North and South America, when there was no protecting law
here, and when pirates swept sea and land, inflicting atrocities, the
narrative of which causes the ear which hears it to tingle.
6. Peter Stuyvesant takes us by the hand, and introduces us
to the Dutch settlement at the mouth of the Hudson, conveys us, in his
schooner, up the solitary river, along whose forest-covered banks
Indian villages were scattered; and reveals to us all the struggles, by
which the Dutch New Amsterdam was converted into the English New York.
7. Benjamin Franklin should chronologically take his place
here. There is probably not, in the compass of all literature, a
biography more full of entertainment and valuable thought, than a
truthful sketch of the career of Benjamin Franklin. He leads us to
Philadelphia, one hundred and fifty years ago, and makes us perfectly
familiar with life there and then. He conducts us across the Atlantic
to the Court of St. James, and the Court of Versailles. There is no
writer, French or English, who has given such vivid sketches of the
scenes which were witnessed there, as came from the pen of Benjamin
Franklin. For half a century Franklin moved amid the most stupendous
events, a graphic history of which his pen has recorded.
8. George Washington has no superior. Humanity is proud of
his name. He seems to have approached as near perfection as any man who
ever lived. In his wonderful career we became familiar with all the
struggles of the American Revolution. With a feeble soldiery, collected
from a population of less than three millions of people, he baffled all
the efforts of the fleets and armies of Great Britain, the most
powerful empire upon this globe.
9. Daniel Boone was the Cowper of the wilderness; a solitary
man loving the silent companionship of the woods. He leads us across
the Alleghanies to the fields of Kentucky, before any white man's foot
had traversed those magnificent realms. No tale of romance could ever
surpass his adventures with the Indians.
10. Kit Carson was the child of the wilderness. He was by
nature a gentleman, and one of the most lovable of men. His weird-like
life passed rapidly away, before the introduction of railroads and
steamboats. His strange, heroic adventures are ever read with
astonishment, and they invariably secure for him the respect and
affection of all who become familiar with his name.
11. Paul Jones was one of the purest patriots, and perhaps
the most heroic naval hero, to whom any country has given birth. He has
been so traduced, by the Tory press of Great Britain, that even the
Americans have not yet done him full justice. This narrative of his
astonishing achievements will, it is hoped, give him rank, in the
opinion of every reader, with Washington, Franklin, Jefferson and
12. David Crockett was a unique man. There is no one like
him. Under no institutions but ours could such a character be formed.
From a log hut, more comfortless than the wigwam of the savage, and
without being able either to read or write, he enters legislative
halls, takes his seat in Congress, and makes the tour of our great
cities, attracting crowds to hear him speak. His life is a wild romance
of undoubted truth.
Such is the character of this little library of twelve volumes. The
writer, who has now entered the evening of life, affectionately
commends them to the young men of America, upon whose footsteps their
morning sun is now rising. The life of each one, if prolonged to three
score years and ten, will surely prove a stormy scene. But it may end
in a serene and tranquil evening, ushering in the glories of an
JOHN S. C. ABBOTT.
FAIR HAVEN, CONN.
As this is not improbably the last book I shall write, it may not be
improper for me to state that, at the age of twenty-four, I commenced
the career of an author, by writing The Mother At Home. I have now
attained the age of three score years and ten. In the meantime I have
written fifty-four volumes of History or Biography. In every one it has
been my endeavor to make the inhabitants of this sad world more
brotherly,better and happier.
The long series is probably closed with the biography of Benjamin
Franklin. Every page has been penned under this impression. A theme
more full of instruction and interest could not be chosen.
And now, in my declining years, as I feel that the battle has been
fought and, I hope, the victory won, it is an unspeakable comfort for
me to reflect, that, in all these fifty-four volumes, there is not one
line which, dying, I could wish to blot.
Parentage and Early Life.
The parentage of FranklinHis parents emigrate to
of his fatherAbiah Folger, his motherBirth and
of his Uncle StrongOf the WhistleChildish
employmentSkill in swimmingEarly readingBoston at that
indentured apprenticeForm of IndentureEnters a printing
officeFondness for readingAnecdotesHabits of studyFondness
argumentAdopts a vegetable dietThe two creeds. 11
Developments of Character.
Views of the SabbathWritings of Collins and ShaftsburyThe creed
of CollinsFranklin at sixteenThe CourantDenunciations of the
paperFranklin's mode of acquiring the art of compositionHis
success as a writerThe Editor prosecutedBenjamin becomes
and PublisherJealousy of his brotherThe runaway
voyage to New YorkGreat disappointmentEventful Journey to
PhiladelphiaGloomy prospectsThe dawn of brighter days. 31
Excursion to England.
Attention to dressReceives a visit from Gov. KeithHis visit to
BostonCollins returns to Philadelphia with himSir William
aidExcursions on the SabbathDifficulty with CollinsSpending
Vernon's moneyHis three friendsEngagement with Deborah
ReadVoyage to EnglandKeith's deceitRalphFranklin enters a
printing house in London. 52
Mental and Moral Conflicts.
Faithfulness to workNeglect of Deborah ReadTreatise on Liberty
and NecessitySkill in swimmingReturn to AmericaMarriage of
ReadSevere sicknessDeath of Mr. DenhamReturns to Keimer's
employThe JuntoHis EpitaphReformation of his treatise on
Liberty and NecessityFranklin's creed. 75
The Dawn of Prosperity.
Franklin takes a houseHis first jobHis industryPlans a
NewspaperEnters the list as a writerAdvocates a Paper
currencyPurchases Keimer's paperCharacter of
of the firmUnexpected assistanceDissolves partnership with
MeredithFranklin's energetic conductHis courtship, and
marriageCharacter of Mrs. FranklinIncrease of luxuryPlans
a libraryProsperity of PennsylvaniaCustoms in
of dress in 1726Franklin's social position in PhiladelphiaHis
successA hard student. 101
Religious and Philosophic Views.
Studious habitsNew religionPersonal habitsChurch of the Free
and EasyHis many accomplishmentsThe career of HemphallBirth
and Death of Franklin's sonThe Ministry of
friendship between the philosopher and the preacherProsperity of
FranklinHis convivial habitsThe defense of PhiladelphiaBirth
a daughterThe Philadelphia Academy. 126
The Tradesman becomes a Philosopher.
Franklin appointed Indian commissionerEffects of RumIndian
logicAccumulating honorsBenevolent enterprisesFranklin's
counsel to TennentEfforts for city
appointed postmasterRumors of WarEngland enlists the Six
in her causeFranklin plans a Confederacy of StatesPlans
rejectedElectrical experimentsFranklin's increase of
incomeFearful experimentsThe kiteNew honorsViews of the
French philosopherFranklin's Religious viewsHis counsel to a
young pleaderPost-office Reforms. 147
The Rising Storms of War.
AristocracyAnecdoteConflicting laws of NationsFranklin's
of colonizationProposal of the British CourtThe foresight of
FranklinBraddock's campaignRemonstrances of Franklin and
WashingtonFranklin's interviews with BraddockFranklin's
efficiencyConfidence of BraddockThe conflict with the
ProprietariesThe non-resistant QuakersFate of the
Moravian villagesThe winter campaignThe camp of
GaudenhuttonAnecdoteRenewal of the strife with the
ProprietariesFranklin recalled to assist the
of the FortClaim of the ProprietariesThe great controversy.
Franklin's Mission to England.
New marks of respectLord LoudounGov. Denny and FranklinVisit
the IndiansFranklin commissioner to EnglandHis constant good
natureLoudoun's delaysWise action of an English captainThe
voyagers land at FalmouthJourney to LondonFranklin's style of
living in LondonHis electrical experimentsHe teaches the
professorComplimentary action of St. AndrewsGov. Denny
and dark clouds arisingFranklin's successful diplomacyHis son
appointed Governor of New JerseyGreat oppositionThe homeward
voyageSavage horrorsRetaliating crueltiesFranklin's efforts
behalf of the Moravian Indians. 190
Franklin's Second Mission to England.
Fiendish conduct of John PennPetition to the crownDebt of
EnglandTwo causes of conflictFranklin sent to EnglandHis
embarkationWise counsel to his daughterThe stamp actAmerican
resolvesEdmund BurkeExamination of FranklinWords of Lord
ChathamDangers to English operativesRepeal of the stamp
in AmericaRoss MackayNew taxes leviedCharacter of George
IIIAccumulation of honors to FranklinWarlike
conscientiousnessUnpopularity of William FranklinMarriage of
Sarah FranklinFranklin's varied investigationsEfforts to
the Sandwich Islands. 215
The Intolerance of King and Court.
Parties in EnglandFranklin the favorite of the oppositionPlans
of the ToriesChristian IIILetter of FranklinDr.
PriestleyParisian courtesyLouis XVVisit to
alteration of the Prayer BookLetter to his sonAstounding
from AmericaWords of John AdamsPetition of the
conspiracy against FranklinHis bearing in the
court-roomWedderburn's infamous chargesLetter of
words of Dr. JohnsonMorals of English lordsCommercial value of
the ColoniesDangers threatening Franklin. 240
The Bloodhounds of War Unleashed.
The mission of Josiah QuincyLove of England by the
AmericansPetition to the kingSickness and death of Mrs.
FranklinLord ChathamHis speech in favor of the colonistsLord
HoweHis interview with FranklinFirmness of FranklinHis
indignationHis mirthFranklin's fableHe embarks for
PhiladelphiaFeeble condition of the coloniesEngland's
of contemptFranklin's reception at PhiladelphiaHis letter to
Edmund BurkePost-office arrangementsDefection and conduct of
William FranklinHis arrest. 265
Progress of the War, both of Diplomacy and the Sword.
Letter of Henry LaurensFranklin visits the army before
BostonLetter of Mrs. AdamsBurning of FalmouthFranklin's
to MontrealThe Declaration of IndependenceAnecdote of the
HatterFraming the ConstitutionLord Howe's
replyThe ConferenceEncouraging letter from FranceFranklin's
embassy to FranceThe two parties in FranceThe voyageThe
reception in France. 292
The Struggles of Diplomacy.
Anecdote of GibbonJohn AdamsResidence at PassyLafayette
introducedCruise of the ReprisalPaul JonesCapture of
BurgoyneAlliance with FranceAnecdote of the CakeExcitement
in EnglandFranklin's introduction to the kingJoy in
AmericaExtraordinary letter of Count WissensteinThe
replyInjustice to Paul JonesFrench troops in
of John AdamsFranklin's mature views of human natureAnecdote
the AngelCapture of CornwallisIts effect in
of Mr. JayTestimony of Dr. SparksJealousy of FranklinShrewd
diplomatic actThe treaty signed. 322
Life's Closing Scenes.
Advice to Thomas PaineScenes at PassyJourney to the
to AmericaElected Governor of PennsylvaniaAttends the
Constitutional ConventionProposes prayersRemarkable
speechLetter to Dr. StilesChrist on the CrossLast sickness
CHAPTER I. Parentage and Early
The parentage of FranklinHis parents emigrate to
AmericaCharacter of his fatherAbiah Folger, his
motherBirth and baptismInfluence of his Uncle StrongOf
the WhistleChildish exploitsUncongenial employmentSkill
in swimming.Early readingBoston at that timeAn
indentured apprenticeForm of IndentureEnters a printing
officeFondness for readingAnecdotesHabits of
studyFondness for argumentAdopts a vegetable dietThe
About the year 1685, Josiah Franklin, with his wife and three
children, emigrated from Banbury, England, to seek his fortune in this
new world. He was in all respects a very worthy man, intelligent,
industrious, and influenced to conduct by high moral and religious
principles. Several of Josiah Franklin's neighbors accompanied him in
Boston was then a straggling village, of five or six thousand
inhabitants. In front spread out its magnificent bay, with its
beautiful islands. In the rear the primeval forest extended, almost
unbroken, through unexplored wilds to the Pacific. His trade was that
of a dyer. Finding, however, but little employment in that business, he
set up as a tallow chandler and soap boiler. Four years of life's usual
joys and sorrows passed away when Mrs. Franklin died, leaving six
children. The eldest was but eleven years of age. This motherless
little family needed a maternal guardian. Within the year, Mr. Franklin
married Abiah Folger, of Nantucket. She was the youngest daughter of
Peter Folger, a man illustrious for many virtues, and of whom it has
been well said, that he was worthy to be the grandfather of Benjamin
Franklin. She proved to be a noble woman, and was all that either
husband or children could wish for. Ten children were the fruit of this
union. Benjamin was born on the sixth of January, (O. S.) 1706.
He was born in the morning of a Sabbath day. His father then resided
directly opposite the Old South Church, in Milk street. The same day,
the babe, whose renown it was then little imagined would subsequently
fill the civilized world, was wrapped in blankets, and carried by his
father across the street through the wintry air, to the Old South
Church, where he was baptized by the Rev. Dr. Willard. He was named
Benjamin, after a much beloved uncle then residing in England. This
uncle was a man of some property, of decided literary tastes, and of
the simple, fervent piety, which characterized the best people of those
days. He took an ever increasing interest in Benjamin. He eventually
came over to this country, and exerted a powerful influence in moulding
the character of his nephew, whose brilliant intellect he appreciated.
Soon after the birth of Benjamin, his father removed to a humble but
comfortable dwelling at the corner of Hanover and Union streets. Here
he passed the remainder of his days. When Franklin had attained the age
of five years, a terrible conflagration took place, since known as the
Great Boston Fire. Just as the cold blasts of winter began to sweep the
streets, this great calamity occurred. The whole heart of the thriving
little town was laid in ashes. Over a hundred families found themselves
in destitution in the streets.
An incident took place when Franklin was about seven years of age,
which left so indelible an impression upon his mind, that it cannot be
omitted in any faithful record of his life. He gave the following
account of the event in his autobiography, written after the lapse of
My friends, on a holiday, filled my pockets with coppers. I
went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children;
and being charmed with the sound of a whistle that I met by
the way in the hands of another boy, I voluntarily gave all
my money for one. I then came home and went whistling all
over the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing
all the family. My brothers and sisters and cousins,
understanding the bargain I had made, told me that I had
given four times as much for it as it was worth; put me in
mind what good things I might have bought with the rest of
the money; and laughed at me so much for my folly, that I
cried with vexation; and the reflection gave me more chagrin
than the whistle gave me pleasure.
This story, as published by Franklin, with his keen practical
reflections, has become as a household word in all the families of
England and America; and has been translated into nearly all the
languages of modern Europe.
From early childhood Franklin was celebrated for his physical
beauty, his athletic vigor and his imperturbable good nature. His
companions invariably recognized him as their natural leader. He was in
no respect what would be called a religious boy, but in many things he
had a high sense of honor.
There was a marsh, flooded at high tides, where the boys used to
fish for minnows. Much trampling had converted the spot into a
quagmire. A man was about to build a house near by, and had carted a
large quantity of stones for the cellar. Franklin called the boys
together and suggested that they should go in the evening, take those
stones, and build a wharf upon which they could stand with dry feet. It
was done. And under the skilful engineering of the youthful Franklin,
it was quite scientifically done. Complaints and detection followed.
Josiah Franklin severely reproved Benjamin for the dishonest act, but
it does not appear that the conscience of the precocious boy was much
troubled. He argued very forcibly that the utility of the measure
proved its necessity.
At the age of eight years, Benjamin entered the Boston Grammar
School. His progress was very rapid, and at the close of the year he
was at the head of his class. The father had hoped to give his
promising boy a liberal education; but his large family and straitened
circumstances rendered it necessary for him to abandon the plan. At the
age of ten years his school life was completed, and he was taken into
his father's shop to run of errands, and to attend to the details of
candle-making, cutting wicks, filling moulds, and waiting upon
customers. He could write a good hand, could read fluently, could
express himself with ease on paper, but in all arithmetical studies was
There is scarcely any sport which has such a charm for boys as
swimming. Franklin excelled all his companions. It is reported that his
skill was wonderful; and that at any time between his twelfth and
sixtieth year, he could with ease have swum across the Hellespont. In
his earliest years, in all his amusements and employments, his
inventive genius was at work in searching out expedients. To facilitate
rapidity in swimming he formed two oval pallets, much resembling those
used by painters, about ten inches long, and six broad. A hole was cut
for the thumb and they were bound fast to the palm of the hand. Sandals
of a somewhat similar construction were bound to the soles of the feet.
With these appliances Franklin found that he could swim more rapidly,
but his wrists soon became greatly fatigued. The sandals also he found
of little avail, as in swimming, the propelling stroke is partly given
by the inside of the feet and ankles, and not entirely by the soles of
In the vicinity of Boston there was a pond a mile wide. Franklin
made a large paper kite, and when the wind blew strongly across the
pond, he raised it, and entering the water and throwing himself upon
his back was borne rapidly to the opposite shore. The motion, he
says, was exceedingly agreeable. A boy carried his clothes around.
Subsequently he wrote to M. Dubourg,
I have never since that time practiced this singular mode
of swimming; though I think it not impossible to cross in
this manner from Dover to Calais. The packet boat, however,
is still preferable.
[Footnote 1: Sparks' Life and Works of Franklin, Vol. 6, p. 291.]
The taste for reading of this wonderful boy was insatiable. He had
access, comparatively, to few books, but those he devoured with the
utmost eagerness. Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress was, so to speak, his
first love. Having read and re-read it until his whole spirit was
incorporated with its nature, he sold the volume and purchased Burton's
Historical Collections. This consisted of quite a series of anecdotes
and adventures, written in an attractive style, and published at a low
price. In those early years he read another book which exerted a
powerful influence in the formation of his character. When eighty years
of age he alludes as follows to this work in a letter to Mr. Samuel
Mather, who was son of the author, Cotton Mather,
When I was a boy I met with a book entitled 'Essays to do
Good,' which I think was written by your father. It had
been so little regarded by a former possessor that several
leaves of it were torn out; but the remainder gave me such a
turn of thinking, as to have an influence on my conduct
through life; for I have always set a greater value on the
character of a doer of good, than on any other kind of a
reputation; and if I have been, as you seem to think, a
useful citizen, the public owe the advantage of it to that
[Footnote 2: This volume has been republished by the Mass. S. S.
When Franklin was twelve years of age, the population of Boston had
increased to about ten thousand. An incident is recorded of Franklin at
this time, which strikingly illustrates the peculiarity of his mental
structure and the want of reverence with which he gradually accustomed
himself to regard religious things. His father's habit, in the long
graces which preceded each meal, rather wearied the temper of his son.
The precocious young skeptic, with characteristic irreverence, ventured
I think, father, that if you were to say grace over the whole cask,
once for all, it would save time.
[Footnote 3: Works of Dr. Franklin by W. Temple Franklin. Vol. I, p.
This was the remark of a boy but twelve years of age. Though it does
not indicate a very devout spirit, it certainly gives evidence of an
intellect of unusual acuteness.
Franklin ever spoke of his boyhood as the very happy period of a
remarkably happy life. His peculiar temperament enabled him to be happy
under circumstances in which others would have been very miserable. His
affections in after years ever yearned toward Boston; he was accustomed
to speak of it as that beloved place. In one of his letters to John
Lathrop he wrote,
The Boston manner, the turn of phrase, and even tone of
voice and accent in pronunciation, all please and seem to
revive and refresh me.
For two years Benjamin continued to assist his father in the
business of soap and candle making. He was continually looking for an
opportunity to escape the drudgery of that employment and enter upon
some more congenial business. Like most adventurous boys, he thought
much of the romance of a sea-life. An elder brother had run away, had
gone to sea, and for years had not been heard from. Benjamin's father
became very anxious as he witnessed the discontent of his son. This
anxiety was increased when an elder brother married, removed to Rhode
Island, and set up a soap and candle establishment for himself. This
seemed to Benjamin to rivet the chains which bound him at home.
Apparently his father could not spare him from the business. Thus he
seemed doomed to spend the remainder of his days in employment which
proved to him increasingly uncongenial.
The judicious father, apprehensive that his son might be lured
secretly to embark for some distant voyage, visited with his son all
the varied workshops of Boston, that he might select that trade which
to him would seem most desirable. Benjamin examined all these workshops
with intensest interest. He selected the employment of a cutler, and
entered upon the business for a few days; but at that time a boy who
was about to learn a trade was apprenticed to a master. As a premium
for learning the business he usually had to pay about one hundred
dollars. Then after a series of years, during which he worked for
nothing, he was entitled for a time to receive journeyman's wages. But
his father, Josiah Franklin, was unable to settle satisfactorily the
terms of indenture, and the cutlery trade was given up.
We have mentioned that Franklin was one of a large family of
children. By the two marriages of his father, there were sixteen sons
and daughters around the family hearth. One of the sons, James, had
been sent to London to learn the trade of a printer. He returned to
Boston and set up business on his own account, when Benjamin was eleven
years of age. It was decided to bind Benjamin to this business.
Reluctantly Benjamin consented to place himself in such subordination
to his brother. He was, however, bound to him for a period of nine
years, from twelve to twenty-one. During the last year he was to
receive a journeyman's wages. The following extract from this form of
indenture of apprenticeship, which was in common use in the reign of
George the First, will be read with interest.
He shall neither buy nor sell without his master's license.
Taverns, inns, or ale-houses he shall not haunt. At cards,
dice, tables, or any other unlawful game he shall not play.
Matrimony he shall not contract; nor from the service of his
said master day nor night absent himself, but in all things,
as an honest and faithful apprentice, shall and will demean
and behave himself towards his said master and all his,
during said term. And the said James Franklin, the master,
for and in consideration of the sum of ten pounds of lawful
British money to him in hand paid by the said Josiah
Franklin, the father, the receipt of which is hereby
acknowledged, the said apprentice in the art of a printer
which he now useth, shall teach and instruct or cause to be
taught and instructed the best way and manner that he can,
finding and allowing unto the said apprentice, meat, drink,
washing, lodging and all other necessaries during the said
Benjamin devoted himself with great assiduity to learn the trade of
a printer. The office in which he worked, stood at the corner of
Franklin avenue and Court street. For three years, Franklin was thus
employed, apparently never seeking recreation, and never having a
moment of leisure save such as he could rescue from sleep or from his
meals. There were at that time several bookstores in Boston. The
eminent men of that province had brought with them to the New World,
literary and scientific tastes of a high order. Even then the axe of
the settler had been heard but at a short distance in the primeval
forests, which still encircled all the large towns. Bears were not
unfrequently shot from Long Wharf, as they swam from island to island,
or endeavored to cross the solitary bay. It is said that at that time
twenty bears were often shot in a week.
Benjamin Franklin, inspired by his love of reading, cultivated
friendly relations with the clerks in the bookstores. From them he
borrowed interesting volumes, which he took home in the evening with
the utmost care, and having spent most of the night in reading, would
return them at an early hour in the morning, before the master of the
shop had time to miss them.
Something in the demeanor of Franklin attracted the attention of a
merchant in Boston by the name of Matthew Adams. He invited him to his
library and loaned him books. The lad's Uncle Benjamin, in England, who
was very fond of composing rhymes which he called poetry, sent many of
his effusions to his favorite nephew, and opened quite a brisk
correspondence with him. Thus Benjamin soon became a fluent rhymester,
and wrote sundry ballads which were sold in the streets and became
quite popular. There was a great demand at that time for narratives of
the exploits of pirates, the doom of murderers, and wild love
adventures. It is said that one of the Boston publishers, in the sale
of ballads alone, found a very lucrative business. Benjamin, who found
it very easy to write doggerel verse, wrote one ballad called The
Light-house Tragedy. It was a graphic, and what would be called at the
present day, a sensational account of a shipwreck, in which the captain
and his two daughters perished. He wrote another which was still more
captivating, and which in all its main features was historically true.
It was an account of the world-renowned pirate, Edward Teach, usually
called Blackbeard. The reader will find a minute narrative of the
career of that monster in the volume of this series of Pioneers and
Patriots entitled Captain Kidd; or the early American Buccaneers. One
stanza has descended to us which it is said composed a portion of this
ballad, and which is certainly a fair specimen of the popular style
then in vogue.
Come all you jolly sailors
You all so stout and brave,
Come hearken and I'll tell you,
What happened on the wave.
Oh 'tis of that bloody Blackbeard
I'm going now for to tell
And as how by gallant Maynard
He soon was sent to Hell.
With a down, down, derry down.
This was indeed wretched stuff, as Franklin afterwards admitted; but
it is to be remembered he was then but a boy of fifteen. Having
composed the ballad and set in type and printed it, he was then sent to
hawk it through the streets. This was certainly a remarkable
achievement for a lad of his years. The eagerness with which both of
the ballads were seized by the public must have greatly gratified the
self-esteem of the young writer.
Addison was a bungler in talk, but every sentence from his pen was
elegant. He once said, I carry no loose change in my pocket, but I can
draw for a thousand pounds. Burke said of Goldsmith, He writes like
an angel, but he talks like poor Poll. Franklin was by no means a
bungler in his speech, but he was not fluent. He hesitated, and was at
a loss for words, but whatever he wrote had a wonderful flow of
harmony. The right word was always in the right place. Doubtless had he
devoted as much attention to the acquirement of conversational ease, as
he did to skill in writing, he would have been as successful in the one
art as in the other. From early life it was his great ambition to be
not merely a fine but a forcible writer. He did not seek splendor of
diction, but that perspicuity, that transparency of expression which
would convey the thought most directly to the mind.
An odd volume of the Spectator fell in his way. He was charmed with
the style. Selecting some interesting incident, he would read it with
the closest care; he would then close the book, endeavoring to retain
the thought only without regard to the expression. Then with pen, in
hand, he would sit down and relate the anecdote or the incident in the
most forceful and graphic words his vocabulary would afford. This he
would correct and re-correct, minutely attending to the capitals and
the punctuation until he had made it in all respects as perfect as it
was in his power. He then compared his narrative with that in the
Spectator. Of course he usually found many faults which he had
committed, but occasionally he could not but admit he had improved upon
his original. This encouraged him with the hope that by long continued
practice, he might become an able writer of the English language. This
practice he continued for months, varying it in many ways. He continued
to rhyme, though he admitted that there was little poetry in his verse.
The exercise, however, he thought useful in giving him a mastery of
Though Franklin wrote ballads, he seemed to be mainly interested in
reading books of the most elevated and instructive character. Locke's
Essay on the Human Understanding, he studied thoroughly. The Art of
Thinking, by the Messrs. de Port Royal, engrossed all his energies.
But perhaps there was no book, at that time, which produced so deep and
abiding impression on his mind as the Memorabilia of Socrates, by
Franklin was fond of arguing; he was naturally disputatious. With
his keen intellect, he was pretty sure to come off as victor, at least
in his own judgment, in discussions with his associates. But the
Socratic method of argumentation, so different from that in which he
had been accustomed to indulge, at once secured his approval and
admiration. Socrates was never guilty of the discourtesy of assailing
an opponent with flat contradiction or positive assertion. With a
politeness which never failed him, and a modesty of demeanor which won
the regard of all others, he would lead his fellow disputant, by a
series of questions, to assent to the views which he advocated.
Franklin immediately commenced practicing upon this newly discovered
art. He was remarkably successful, and became one of the most agreeable
and beloved of companions. But ere long he became satisfied of the
folly of these disputations, in which each party struggles, not for
truth, but for victory. It is simply an exercise of intellectual
gladiatorship, in which the man who has the most skill and muscle
discomfits his antagonist. Jefferson warned his nephew to avoid
disputation. He says, I have never known, during my long life, any
persons' engage in a dispute in which they did not separate, each more
firmly convinced than before of the correctness of his own views.
Franklin enjoyed marvellous health. His digestive powers were
perfect. He could live upon any thing and almost upon nothing without
experiencing any inconvenience. A book advocating purely vegetable diet
accidentally fell into his hands. It urged the pecuniary economy and
the saving of time in adopting a vegetarian diet. Eagerly he adopted
the views presented. He could safely do so, had the author advocated
raw onions and carrots. The stomach of Franklin would have received
them and assimilated them without any remonstrance. He succeeded in
inducing his brother to relinquish one half of his board and allow him
to board himself. Benjamin found that in this way, he saved much time
and much money. A handful of raisins, a roll of bread, and a glass of
water afforded him a dinner. This he could dispose of in from five to
ten minutes, and have the remainder of the dinner hour for reading.
The hours of the night were his own. He often sat up late and rose
early, his soul all absorbed in intellectual vigils.
There are two platforms of morality, in some respects inseparably
blended, in others quite distinctly separated from each other. The one
of these platforms constitutes the low standard of mere worldly
morality. It says,
You must not kill, you must not steal, you must not lie, you
must not slander your neighbor, you must not cheat him in a
But there is another platform which not only includes all this, but
which introduces principles of an infinitely higher grade. It is the
platform enforced by Jesus Christ as essential to a life which shall be
pleasing to our Heavenly Father. Our Saviour says, You must love God in
whom you live and move and have your being: you must daily pray to him
with gratitude for the favors you receive. In the great conflict,
raging here below, between sin and holiness, your whole heart must
yearn with the desire that God's kingdom may come and that His will
may be done on earth as in Heaven. Imitating the example of your
Saviour, who was God manifest in the flesh that by His life He might
show men how to live, you must do everything in your power to lead your
neighbors and friends to love God, to avoid everything in thought,
word, or deed, which you think will be displeasing to Him; and you must
do all in your power to prepare your heart for that world of purity and
love where the spirits of the just are made perfect. No one can be
blind to the fact that these principles are infinitely above the
principles of mere worldly morality. They are not a substitute for
those principles, but an addition to them.
At the age of sixteen, Franklin was disposed to adopt the lower of
these creeds as his rule of life; at times affirming that it was
superior to the teachings of Jesus Christ; while again there would be
the very clear and inconsistent avowal that, in this wicked world,
something more was needed than teachings which he could plainly see
seldom, if ever influenced a lost and degraded man, to be changed from
a Saul of Tarsus to a Paul the Apostle. No one can understand the
peculiar religious and moral character of Benjamin Franklin, without
bearing in mind these distinctions.
CHAPTER II. Developments of
Views of the SabbathWritings of Collins and
ShaftsburyThe creed of CollinsFranklin at sixteenThe
CourantDenunciations of the paperFranklin's mode of
acquiring the art of compositionHis success as a
writerThe Editor prosecutedBenjamin becomes Editor and
PublisherJealousy of his brotherThe runaway
apprenticeThe voyage to New YorkGreat
disappointmentEventful Journey to PhiladelphiaGloomy
prospectsThe dawn of brighter days.
Franklin was never scrupulous in the observance of the Sabbath.
Still, though he but occasionally attended church, he at times very
earnestly urged that duty upon his young friends. It is not probable
that the preaching he heard in those days, was calculated to interest
him. While a child under the parental roof, he ordinarily accompanied
his parents, and seemed to regard it as his duty to do so.
He now, however, with an increasing sense of independence, very much
preferred to spend his precious hours in his chamber, reading books
which engrossed his most intense interest. Unfortunately many treatises
fell into his hands in which unchristian sentiments were conveyed to
his mind, by men of the highest intellectual character, and whose
writings were invested with the most fascinating charms of eloquence.
Robert Boyle, an Irish nobleman of wealth and fervent piety, had
established at Oxford a lectureship, the object of which was to prove
the truth of the Christian religion. These lectures had found their way
in tracts to the little library of Franklin's father. When but fifteen
years of age the boy read them, with a far keener relish than most
school-boys now read the flashy novels of the day. In order to refute
the arguments of the deists, the lecturers were bound to produce those
arguments fairly and forcibly. But to this young boy's piercing mind,
the arguments against Christianity seemed stronger than those which
were brought forward to refute them. Thus the lad became, not a
positive unbeliever, but an honest doubter. He now sought earnestly for
other works upon that all-important subject.
The two most important, influential and popular writers of that day
were perhaps Anthony Collins and the Earl of Shaftsbury. These were
both men of fortune, of polished education, and of great rhetorical and
argumentative skill. Their influence over young minds was greatly
increased by the courtesy and candor which pervaded all their writings.
They ever wrote like gentlemen addressing gentlemen; and the views they
urged were presented with the modesty of men who were earnestly seeking
for the truth.
The main attack of both of these men was directed against the
miracles of the Bible. It was very evident that, the Divine authority
of the Bible being overthrown, the whole structure of the Christian
religion and morality must pass away. Mr. Parton, in his admirable Life
of Franklin, says,
Any one who will turn over an edition of Shaftsbury, and
try to read it with the mind of this merry and receptive
printer's boy, will perceive how entirely captivating it
must have been to him. The raillery that was always the
raillery of a gentleman; the irony so delicate as really to
deceive some men who passed for acute; the fine urbanity
that pervades even the passages called severe; the genuine
reverence of the author for virtue; the spectacle revealed
of a man uniting in himself all that is good in sense, with
all that is agreeable in the man of the world,how pleasing
it must all have been to our inky apprentice as he munched
his noon-day crust.
The practical creed of Collins and Shaftsbury, so far as it can be
gleaned from the obscurity of their brilliant pages, consisted in the
entire renunciation of all that is deemed the spirituality of the
Christian creed, and the simple enforcement of the ordinary principles
of morality in man's intercourse with his brother man. In substance
Be truthful and honest. Do not openly oppose the
institutions of Christianity, for that will render you
obnoxious to your neighbors. Conform to the ordinary usages
of the society in the midst of which you move; and as to
creeds, let them alone as unworthy of a moment's thought.
Franklin, at sixteen years of age, became a thorough convert to
these views. He was virtually without any God. He had no rule of life
but his own instincts; but those instincts were of a high order,
emboldening his character and restraining him from all vulgar vice.
Thus he wandered for many years; though there are many indications of
an occasionally troubled mind, and though he at times struggled with
great eagerness to obtain a higher state of moral perfection, he
certainly never developed the character of a warm-hearted and devoted
follower of Jesus.
[Footnote 4: For some years he wandered in heathenish darkness. He
forsook the safe and good though narrow way of his forefathers, and of
his father and mother, and his gentle Uncle Benjamin, without finding
better and larger ways of his own. He was in danger of becoming a
castaway or a commonplace successful man of the world. He found in due
time, after many trials, and much suffering and many grievous errors,
that the soul of a man does not thrive upon negations, and that, in
very truth a man must believe in order that he may be saved.
Parton's Life of Franklin, Vol. I, p. 71.]
James Franklin was prosperous in his business. On the 17th of
August, 1721, he issued the first number of a newspaper entitled The
New England Courant. Benjamin set the type, struck off the impression
of two or three hundred, with a hand-press, and then traversed the
streets, carrying the diminutive sheet to the homes of the subscribers.
The Courant soon attracted attention. A knot of sparkling writers began
to contribute to its columns, and while the paper was with increasing
eagerness sought for, a clamor was soon raised against it. It was
denounced as radical in its political tendencies, and as speaking
contemptuously of the institutions of religion. Cotton Mather, even,
launched one of his thunderbolts against it. He wrote,
We find a notorious, scandalous paper called 'The Courant'
full freighted with nonsense, unmanliness, raillery,
profaneness, immorality, arrogance, calumnies, lies,
contradictions and what not, all tending to quarrels and
divisions, and to debauch and corrupt the mind and manners
of New England.
Increase Mather also denounced the paper, in terms still more
At this time a strong antipathy was springing up between James, and
his apprentice brother. James assumed the airs of a master, and was
arrogant and domineering, at times in his anger proceeding even to
blows. Benjamin was opinionated, headstrong and very unwilling to yield
to another's guidance. As Benjamin compared his own compositions with
those which were sent to the Courant, he was convinced that he could
write as well, if not better, than others. He, therefore, one evening
prepared an article, before he was sixteen years of age, which, with
the greatest care, was written in pure Addisonian diction. Disguising
his hand, he slipped this at night under the door of the printing
office. The next morning several contributors were chatting together in
the editorial office, as Benjamin stood at the printing case setting
his types. The anonymous article was read and freely commented upon.
The young writer was delighted in finding it highly commended, and in
their guesses for the author, the names of the most distinguished men
in Boston were mentioned.
The singular nom de plume he assumed was Silence Dogood. Over that
signature he wrote many articles before it was ascertained that he was
the author. These articles attracted so much attention that young
Benjamin could not refrain from claiming their paternity. This led his
brother and others to regard him with far more respect than heretofore.
But the Courant, while popular with the masses, became unpopular
with the governmental authorities and with the religious community. As
a slap in the face of the government, a fictitious letter was written,
professedly from Newport, stating that a piratic ship had appeared off
the coast, plundering, burning, and destroying. It was then stated that
the government of Massachusetts was fitting out an armed vessel to
attack the pirate, and that, wind and weather permitting, the vessel
would sail from Boston sometime during the month.
This reflection upon the dilatoriness of government gave great
offence. The members of the Council summoned Franklin before them to
answer for the libel. He admitted that he was the publisher of the
paper, but refused to give the name of the writer. The Council decided
that the paragraph was a high affront to the government, and ordered
his imprisonment in the Boston jail. Here he was incarcerated for a
week. Crushed by his misfortunes he wrote a very humble letter stating
that his close confinement endangered his life, and begging that he
might enjoy the liberty of the jail-yard. His request was granted, and
for three weeks more he remained a prisoner, though with daily
permission to leave his cell.
During this time Benjamin conducted the paper, editing it, setting
the type, printing the sheets and distributing the copies to the
subscribers. He was still but a boy of sixteen. James was eventually
released from prison, but the general character of the Courant remained
unchanged. Unworthy professors of Christianity were incessantly
assailed. The virtues of true Christiansof the multitudes of the
disciples of Jesus, who were mothers in Israel, or who were Israelites
indeed in whom there was no guile, were forgotten; while every mean and
contemptible act of hypocrites and apostates was proclaimed with
At length the Council declared in reference to a peculiarly
obnoxious copy of the paper, that the Courant of that date contained
many passages perverting the Holy Scriptures, and slandering the civil
government, the ministers, and the good people of the land. A committee
of three was appointed to report upon the matter. After two days they
brought in the following decision:
We are humbly of opinion that the tendency of said paper, is
to mock religion and bring it into contempt; that the Holy
Scriptures are therein profanely abused; that the revered and
faithful ministers of the Gospel are ignominiously reflected
on; and that His Majesty's government is affronted; and the
peace and good order of His Majesty's subjects of this
province disturbed by this said Courant.
The committee, therefore, proposed that James Franklin should be
strictly forbidden to print or publish the Courant, or any other paper
of the like nature, unless it were supervised by the secretary of the
James Franklin and his friends, after this decision, met in the
office of the Courant, and adroitly decided to evade the mandate by
canceling the indentures of apprenticeship of Benjamin, and
constituting him the editor and publisher of the journal. This
precocious lad prepared his inaugural. It contained the following
Long has the press groaned in bringing forth a hateful brood
of pamphlets, malicious scribbles, and billingsgate ribaldry.
No generous and impartial person then can blame the present
undertaking which is designed purely for the diversion and
merriment of the reader. Pieces of pleasantry and mirth have
a secret charm in them to allay the heats and tumults of our
spirits, and to make a man forget his restless resentment.
The main design of this weekly paper will be to entertain the
town with the most comical and diverting incidents of human
life, which in so large a place as Boston will not fail of a
universal exemplification. Nor shall we be wanting to fill up
these papers with a grateful interspersion of more serious
morals which may be drawn from the most ludicrous and odd
parts of life.
It cannot be denied that Franklin aimed his keen shafts at many of
the best of men who were consecrating all their energies to the
promotion of the physical, moral, and religious welfare of their fellow
creatures. He had a keen eye to search out their frailties; and though
he seldom if ever, dipped his pen in gall, he did at times succeed in
making them the song of the drunkard, and in turning against them the
derision of all the lewd fellows of the baser sort.
Benjamin, elated by flattery and success, admits that at seventeen
years of age he became in his treatment of his brother saucy and
provoking. James was increasingly jealous and exacting. At length a
very violent quarrel arose between them. The elder brother even
undertook to chastise his younger brother, whom he still affected to
regard as his apprentice. The canceling of the terms of indenture, he
regarded as a secret act, intended merely to outwit his opponent.
Franklin, burning with indignation, resolved no longer to continue in
his brother's employment, and went to several other printers in Boston,
hoping to enter into a new engagement. But his brother had preceded
him, giving his own version of the story, and even declaring his
brilliant brother to be an infidel and an atheist.
Benjamin resolved to run away; for he still felt the binding
obligation of his apprenticeship, while he tried to satisfy his mind
that the unjust conduct of James entitled him to violate the
obligation. There was a vessel about to sail for New York. He sold some
of his books to pay his passage; and going on board secretly at night,
he solicited the captain to aid him in concealing him, with the
false statement that he had become involved in a love adventure
with a young girl; that she had subsequently proved to be a bad
character; that her friends insisted on his marrying her; and that his
only refuge was to be found in flight.
His passage to New York was swift and pleasant. It is said that
having adopted the vegetarian diet, he doubted our right to deprive an
animal of life for our own gratification in eating. The sloop was one
day becalmed off Block Island. The crew found it splendid fishing
ground; the deck was soon covered with cod and haddock. Franklin
denounced catching the fishes, as murderous, as no one could affirm
that these fishes, so happy in the water, had ever conferred any injury
upon their captors. But Benjamin was blessed with a voracious appetite.
The frying pan was busy, and the odor from the fresh fish was
exceedingly alluring. As he watched a sailor cutting open a fish, he
observed in its stomach a smaller fish, which the cod had evidently
Ah! he exclaimed, if you can eat one another, I surely have a
right to eat you.
All his scruples vanished. He sat down with the rest to the
sumptuous repast, and never after seemed to have any hesitancy in
gratifying his appetite.
Benjamin tells this story in his autobiography, and shrewdly adds,
quoting from some one else,
So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable
since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything
one has a mind to do.
It was in the beautiful month of October, 1723, when Benjamin landed
on the wharves of New York. He was not quite eighteen years of age; had
but little money in his purse; and was without any letter of
recommendation or any acquaintance in the town. The place consisted of
but seven or eight thousand inhabitants. The streets were the crooked
lanes which we still find in the vicinity of the Battery. Some of the
most important were uncomfortably paved with cobble stones. Most of the
inhabitants were Dutch, reading and speaking only the Dutch language.
There was at that time indeed, but little encouragement for an English
printer. There was but one bookstore then in New York; and but one
printing office, which was conducted by William Bradford.
The runaway apprentice could find no employment. But William
Bradford had a son in Philadelphia who was also a printer. He said to
He may employ you, as he has recently lost an apprentice by death.
Leaving his chest of clothes to go round by sea to Philadelphia,
Benjamin took passage in a small dilapidated shore boat which crept
along the coast to Amboy. A drunken Dutchman was his only fellow
passenger. The gloom of the primeval forest overshadowed Governor's
Island: not a single cabin as yet had been reared in its solitudes. A
squall struck the boat, split its sail, and pitched the Dutchman
overboard. Franklin caught him by the hair and saved him from drowning.
The sudden tempest increased into a storm, and the boat was driven
fiercely before the gale. The surf dashed so violently upon the shore
that they could not venture to land. Night approached. Exhausted,
drenched and hungry, they cast anchor near the Long Island shore, where
a bend in the land afforded them slight protection while still they
were in great danger. There were one or two log cabins in the vicinity.
Several of the men came to the shore, but could afford them no relief.
They had no provision on board excepting a single bottle of bad rum.
All night long the tempest beat upon them. In the morning the wind had
so far lulled that they were enabled to repair their sail, and to work
their way on to Amboy.
It was late in the afternoon when they reached the port. For thirty
hours they had been without food or water. Such were the perils of a
passage from New York to Philadelphia in the year 1723.
Franklin, in the enjoyment of magnificent health, slept quietly that
night in an humble inn, and awoke in the morning with all his
accustomed vigor. There were still fifty miles of land travel before
him, ere he could cross the forest covered plains of New Jersey to
Burlington, on the banks of the Delaware, which were seventeen miles
above Philadelphia. There was neither railroad, stage-coach nor cart to
convey him through the wilderness. Indeed it was thirty-three years
after this before the first line of stages across New Jersey was
established. There was a rude path, probably following an ancient
Indian trail, along which our solitary adventurer trudged on foot. It
rained; but still Benjamin found it necessary, having so slender a
purse, to press on regardless of discomfort.
Early in the afternoon he came to a hamlet, by the roadside, where
he found himself so exhausted by the unaccustomed toil of walking, and
by exposure to the rain and the miry roads, that he felt it necessary
to remain until the next morning. The aspect he presented was shabby
and dilapidated in the extreme; for he was in his working dress, which
by the wear and tear of travel had become greatly soiled and tattered.
He was not a little mortified to find that the inhabitants of the
cabin, while they treated him kindly, evidently regarded him with
suspicion as a runaway apprentice.
In the gloom of that night, poor Benjamin bitterly repented the step
he had taken, and earnestly wished himself back again in the home which
he had forsaken. Clouds and darkness had gathered around his path and
he could see but little bright beyond. Early the next morning he
resumed his travels, pressing vigorously along all day. When the shades
of night enveloped him he had reached a point within ten miles of
Burlington. He passed the night comfortably in a settler's cabin, and
early the next morning pressed on to the little village of Burlington,
from which he was informed that a boat started every Saturday, to
descend the still silent and almost unfrequented shores of the Delaware
to Philadelphia. Much to his disappointment he reached Burlington just
after the regular Saturday boat had gone, and was informed that there
was no other boat to leave until the next Tuesday. He made his united
breakfast and dinner upon gingerbread, which he bought in the street of
an old woman.
Burlington was on the east side of the river, Philadelphia was on
the west. There was no road between the two places, the communication
being by the river only. It seemed impossible for Benjamin to toil that
distance through the pathless, tangled forest. He had but five
shillings in his pocket. With the utmost economy that would not defray
his expenses at Burlington, for three days, and leave a sufficient sum
to pay his passage down the river.
In his distress and perplexity, our young philosopher, whose renown
for wisdom subsequently filled all Christian lands, turned back to the
poor, aged woman of whom he had bought his gingerbread and solicited
her advice. The good old soul, not insensible to the charms of the
frank and manly looking boy, with motherly tenderness insisted on his
going to her own humble home. Gladly he accepted the invitation. The
dinner consisted of what is called ox-cheek; Franklin contributed a pot
Walking out early in the evening upon the banks of the river, he
found, to his great joy, a chance boat had come along, bound to
Philadelphia and containing many passengers. Eagerly Franklin joined
them, and bidding adieu to his kind entertainer, was soon drifting
slowly down the stream. The night was dark, there was no wind, and no
cheerful gleam from the white man's cabin or the Indian's wigwam met
the eye. It was necessary to resort to rowing. At length, a little
after midnight, several of the passengers insisted that they must have
passed Philadelphia without seeing it, and refused to row any farther.
They therefore ran the boat into a little creek, built a rousing fire,
for the night was damp and chill, and ranging themselves around its
genial warmth awaited the dawn of the morning. The light revealed to
them Philadelphia but a few miles below them. It was Sunday morning. At
nine o'clock the boat was made fast at Market street wharf, and
Franklin, with one silver dollar and one shilling in copper coin in his
pocket, stepped on shore. All his copper coin he paid for his passage.
Such was the introduction of the future Governor of Pennsylvania to
the realm over which he was eventually to preside as Governor, and of
which he became its most illustrious citizen.
He was unquestionably dressed in the peculiar and picturesque
costume of the times. He wore knee breeches of buckskin, and a
voluminous overcoat, lined with pockets of astonishing capacity, which
pockets were crammed with shirts and stockings. A low, battered,
broad-brimmed hat covered his clustering ringlets. His coarse woolen
stockings displayed to advantage the admirably moulded calves of his
legs. Every article of this costume was draggled, shabby, soiled, and
much of it tattered.
With an indescribable feeling of loneliness, exhausted with the
toilsome and sleepless night, and with the cravings of hunger, he
sauntered up into the town. Coming across a baker's shop, he stepped
in, and called for three pennyworth of bread. In Philadelphia, food was
abundant and bread was cheap. To his surprise three long rolls were
given to him. He took one under each arm, and in his hunger the
homeless boy walked along devouring the other. Philadelphia was then a
village widely spread out, with surrounding vegetable gardens, and
containing a population of about seven thousand inhabitants.
Benjamin walked listlessly along as far as Fourth street. He chanced
to pass the house of a Mr. Read, whose very pretty daughter, Deborah,
was standing at the front door. She was eighteen years of age, and was
much amused at the comical appearance which the young man presented as
he passed by.
It is not easy to imagine in these days, the state of society in
these early settlements, hewn out from the forests on the river's
banks, and with the unexplored wilderness spreading out to unimagined
regions in the interior. At night, even from the houses of the village,
the howling of the wolves could be heard as they rushed after their
prey. Bears and deers were shot in abundance. And Indian bands, painted
and plumed, were ever swarming through the streets.
Franklin walked along, devouring his rolls, and returned to the
river for a drink of water. Such was his first breakfast in
Philadelphia. In the boat was a poor woman with her child. Franklin
gave to her the two remaining rolls, which he could not conveniently
carry about with him.
Not knowing what to do, and led by curiosity to explore the town, he
returned to Market street, then one of the chief avenues of the city.
It was a little after ten o'clock in the morning. The street was
crowded with well-dressed people, pressing along to church. There was
one important edifice called the Great Meeting House of the Quakers.
It stood at the corner of Second and Market streets.
Franklin joined the crowd, and took his seat with the vast assembly.
He soon fell soundly asleep. The hour passed away. The congregation
dispersed, and Benjamin was left still asleep. Some one then kindly
awoke the tired traveler, and he again stepped out into the streets so
lonely, where there was not an individual whom he knew, and where
almost without money he could find no refuge which he could call a
As he walked toward the river, he met a young Quaker whose
countenance pleased him. Of him he inquired where he could find a
respectable and comfortable lodging. The friendly Quaker led him to a
tavern, near Chestnut street, called the Crooked Billet. Franklin
ordered a frugal dinner, threw himself upon the bed, and slept till
supper time, and immediately after supper went to bed and slept soundly
till the morning.
He had now been from home eleven days. His money was nearly
expended. His clothes were worn; and almost the only hope remaining was
the very visionary one that Mr. Bradford's son might possibly have some
employment for him. Early in the morning he carefully brushed his
travel-worn clothes, his shoes, his hat, and making himself as
respectable in appearance as possible, went to the house of the
printer, Andrew Bradford. To his surprise and gratification he found
the father there, who had just arrived, having traveled from New York
to Philadelphia on horseback.
Benjamin met with a courteous reception, was invited to breakfast.
He was, however, greatly disappointed in being informed that Andrew
Bradford had just engaged another apprentice to take the place of the
one who was lost. Mr. Bradford, however, stated that there was a man,
by the name of Keimer, who had recently commenced the printing business
in the town, and might have employment for him. The old gentleman
kindly offered to go to the office with Benjamin, and introduce him to
They found Keimer a very eccentric looking individual, in a small
office, with an old dilapidated press, and with a few worn-out types.
He asked the young man a few questions, put a composing stick into his
hands, and professed himself satisfied with his work. He then told
Franklin that he could find no work for him immediately, but he thought
ere long he could employ him. It seems, however, that at once Benjamin
went to work, repairing the dilapidated old press, while he continued
to board at Mr. Bradford's, paying for his board by the work which he
CHAPTER III. Excursion to England.
Attention to dressReceives a visit from Gov. KeithHis
visit to BostonCollins returns to Philadelphia with
himSir William Keith's aidExcursions on the
SabbathDifficulty with CollinsSpending Mr. Vernon's
moneyHis three friendsEngagement with Deborah
ReadVoyage to EnglandKeith's deceitRalphFranklin
enters a printing house in London.
The eccentric Keimer soon found that Franklin was a workman whose
services would be invaluable to him. He had no home of his own, but
became very unwilling that Benjamin, while in his employ, should board
in the family of a rival printer. He therefore made arrangements for
him to board at Mr. Read's, whose pretty daughter, Deborah, had made
herself merry but a few days before in view of his uncouth appearance.
Fortunately for the young man, who was never regardless of the
advantages of a genteel dress, his chest had arrived bringing his
clothing. He was thus able to present himself before the young lady in
attractive costume. And his address was always that of an accomplished
gentleman. As we have mentioned, he was ever in his youth, middle life,
and old age, remarkable for his personal beauty.
Bright and sunny days now dawned upon Franklin. His employer
appreciated his varied and wonderful merits. He received good wages.
The family in which he resided was highly attractive, and he there
found a home congenial with his pure and refined tastes. Several months
passed away before he heard from the friends he had left in Boston. The
tyranny of his brother had so greatly offended him, that for a time he
endeavored to exclude from his mind all thoughts of his home. He heard,
however, that one of his sisters had married Captain Robert Holmes, the
captain of a vessel sailing between Boston and the ports on the
In those piratical days, when the master of a ship was compelled to
sail with guns loaded to the muzzle, and with sharpened sabres, he was
deemed a personage of great importance. No weak or ordinary man could
discharge the responsibilities of such a post. Captain Holmes,
influenced by the love of his wife, wrote to Benjamin informing him of
the grief his departure had caused the family, entreating him to
return, and assuring him that all the past should be forgotten.
Benjamin, in his reply, wrote with such precision and force of
logic, that Captain Holmes became satisfied that he was by no means so
much in the wrong as he had supposed. It so chanced that when the
captain received this letter, he was in company with Sir William Keith,
then the Governor of Pennsylvania. He read the letter to the Governor.
Sir William was charmed with its literary and rhetorical ability; and
could scarcely believe that the writer was but eighteen years of age.
The Philadelphia printers, said he, are wretched ones. Keimer is
a compound of fool and rogue. But this young man is manifestly of great
promise and ought to be encouraged.
One day Benjamin and his master were working together, when they saw
two well-dressed gentlemen approaching. They proved to be the Governor
of Pennsylvania, Sir William Keith, and Franklin's brother-in-law,
Captain Holmes, whom he probably had never before seen. Keimer ran down
stairs to meet them, supposing, of course, that he must be the man who
was entitled to the honor of their visit. To his surprise they inquired
for his apprentice, and went up the stairs to the printing office to
Benjamin was quite overwhelmed by the honors with which he was
greeted. The Governor paid him many compliments, expressed an earnest
desire to make his acquaintance, and politely censured him for not
calling at the gubernatorial mansion upon his arrival in Philadelphia.
The interview was terminated by taking Franklin with them to a
neighboring tavern to dine. There the three met upon apparently perfect
social equality, and very freely discussed many important matters as
they drank their wine.
The Governor, a very plausible, unreliable man, ever lavish of
promises without performance, proposed that Franklin, aided by funds
from his father, should open a printing office for himself. He promised
to exert his influence to secure for his young protegé the public
printing of both the provinces of Pennsylvania and Delaware. When
Franklin suggested that he feared his father would be either unable or
unwilling to furnish the needed funds, the Governor promised to write
to him with his own hand, explaining the advantages of the scheme.
During the protracted interview, it was decided that Benjamin should
return to Boston by the first vessel. He was to take with him Sir
William's letter, and thus aided, endeavor to win over his father to
A week or two elapsed before there was a vessel ready to sail for
Boston. At that time the social rank of a printer was decidedly above
that of other mechanic arts. There was something sacred attached to the
employment, and it was regarded as near akin to the learned
professions. Franklin was frequently invited to dine with the Governor.
His perfect self-possession, his careful dress and polished address,
united with his wonderful conversational powers, rendered him a great
favorite with all the distinguished guests whom he was accustomed to
meet at the table of the Governor.
The latter part of April, 1724, Franklin, then eighteen years of
age, took passage in a small vessel for Boston. His friends in
Philadelphia generally understood that he was going home merely to
visit his friends. It was deemed expedient to throw the veil of great
secrecy over the enterprise in which he was contemplating to engage.
The voyage was exceedingly tempestuous. The vessel sprang a leak.
For some time passengers and crew worked at the pumps night and day.
But after being buffeted by winds and waves for fourteen dreary days,
the little vessel cast anchor in the harbor of Boston. Franklin had
then been absent from home seven months.
His sudden appearance was a great surprise to all the members of the
numerous family. It is not surprising that the young man, elated by his
brilliant prospects, assumed rather lordly airs. His dress was new and
quite elegant. He had purchased a handsome watch, which he was not
reluctant to display. He had in his pocket twenty-five dollars of
Franklin's brother James, from whom he had run away, was greatly
annoyed by the airs of superiority assumed by his old apprentice. With
a cold and almost scornful eye, he scanned his person from head to
foot, scarcely offering his hand in greeting, and soon coldly and
silently returned to his work. But the imperial young man was not thus
to be put down. His former acquaintances gathered eagerly around him
and listened with intensest interest to the narrative of his
adventures. In glowing terms, Benjamin described his new home in
Philadelphia, drew out from his pocket handfuls of silver which he
exhibited to them, and with quite lordly dignity gave his former
fellow-journeymen money to go to the ale-house for a treat.
The candid reader will make some allowances for the conduct of
Benjamin, when he remembers that but a few months before, he had run
away to escape the cudgel of his brother. He will also feel inclined to
make some allowance for James, when informed that he was in adversity,
and struggling severely with pecuniary embarrassment. The Courant,
deprived of the graphic pen of Franklin, was rapidly losing its
subscribers, and soon became extinct.
Benjamin's father Josiah, who needed in his own business every
dollar of the funds he could raise, silently and almost without remark,
read the letter of Sir William Keith, and listened attentively to the
glowing descriptions of his son. Soon after Captain Holmes arrived. The
judicious father conversed fully with him, and expressed his opinion
that Sir William Keith must be a man of but little discretion to think
of setting up independently, in very responsible business, a young man
of but eighteen years of age.
Though Captain Holmes earnestly advocated the views of the Governor,
Josiah Franklin, after mature deliberation, decisively declined
furnishing the necessary funds.
Benjamin, said he, is too young to undertake an enterprise so
important. I am much gratified that he has been able to secure the
approbation of the Governor of Pennsylvania, and that by his industry
and fidelity he has been able to attain prosperity so remarkable. If he
will return to Philadelphia and work diligently until he is twenty-one,
carefully laying up his surplus earnings, I will then do everything in
my power to aid him.
The cautious Christian father then gave his son some very salutary
advice. He entreated him to be more careful in throwing out his arrows
of satire, and to cease presenting, in the aspect of the ridiculous, so
many subjects which religious men regarded with veneration. He wrote a
very courteous letter to Sir William Keith, thanking him for his
kindness to his son, and stating his reasons for declining the proposed
aid. Indeed, Josiah Franklin was intellectually, morally, and in all
sound judgment, immeasurably the superior of the fickle and shallow
Sixty years after this visit of Franklin to his paternal home, he
wrote a letter to the son of the Rev. Cotton Mather, from which we make
the following pleasing extract:
The last time I saw your father was in the beginning of
1724, when I visited him after my first trip to Pennsylvania.
He received me in his library; and on my taking leave showed
me a shorter way out of the house through a narrow passage
which was crossed by a beam overhead. We were still talking
as I withdrew, he accompanying me behind, and I, turning
partly toward him, when he said hastily, stoop, stoop!
did not understand him till I felt my head hit against the
beam. He was a man that never missed any occasion of giving
instruction; and upon this he said to me 'You are young and
have the world before you. Stoop as you go through it, and
you will miss many hard thumps.' This advice, thus beat into
my head, has frequently been of use to me. And I often think
of it when I see pride mortified and misfortunes brought
upon people by their carrying their heads too high.
There was in Boston a young man by the name of Collins, a reckless,
dissipated spendthrift, of very considerable personal attractions. He
had been quite an intimate friend of Franklin; and was so pleased with
his descriptions of Philadelphia that he decided to remove there. This
proved one of the calamities of Franklin's life.
Franklin eventually embarked, in a sloop, for his return. It touched
at Newport. His brother John lived there, pursuing the trade of a
candle-maker. Benjamin was received by him with great cordiality. At
Newport, among the other passengers, two young girls were taken on
board for New York. They were showy, voluble, gaudily dressed. All
their arts were exerted to secure intimate association with Franklin.
A venerable Quaker lady on board called the inexperienced young man
aside, and with motherly tenderness warned him against their wiles.
Though he doubted the necessity of this caution, he was put upon his
guard. When the girls left at New York, he declined their pressing
invitation for him to visit them at their home, and he learned from the
captain that they had undoubtedly stolen from him a silver spoon, an
article then not often seen in common life, and highly prized. They
were charged with the crime, convicted, and it is said that they were
publicly whipped in the market place.
Upon Franklin's arrival at New York, Collins, the playmate of his
childhood, was one of the first to meet him. In his earlier days he had
been sober, industrious, and was highly esteemed for his mental powers
and attainments. But he had become intemperate and a gambler, and was
every day intoxicated. Reduced almost to beggary, Franklin felt
compelled to furnish him with money to save him from starvation.
Penniless he had come on board the boat at New York, and Franklin paid
his passage to Philadelphia.
William Burnett was then Governor of New York. He was very fond of
books and had collected a large library. Franklin also had the same
taste and had a large number of books which he was conveying to
Philadelphia. The captain informed the Governor that he had a young man
on board fond of books, and of superior literary attainments. The
Governor begged the captain to bring young Franklin to see him.
I waited upon him, wrote Franklin, and would have taken Collins
with me had he been sober. The Governor received me with great
civility; and we had a good deal of conversation relative to books and
authors. This was the second Governor who had done me the honor to take
notice of me, and to a poor boy like me it was very pleasing.
Upon reaching Philadelphia, Franklin presented the letter of his
father to Sir William Keith. The Governor, upon reading the letter,
Your father is too prudent. There is a great difference in persons.
Discretion does not always accompany years; nor is youth always without
it. But since he will not set you up, I will do it myself. Give me an
inventory of the things necessary to be had from England, and I will
send for them. You shall repay me when you are able. I am resolved to
have a good printer here and I am sure you must succeed.
Franklin supposed of course, that he could rely upon the word of the
Governor. He drew up an inventory of goods to the amount of about five
hundred dollars. The strange Governor, who found it very easy to talk,
ran his eye over the list and as if money were a consideration of no
moment to him, and suggested that Franklin should go to London in
person. Greatly elated at this idea, young Franklin eagerly embraced
it, and the Governor directed him to be ready to embark in the London
Hope, a ship which sailed regularly between London and Philadelphia,
leaving each port once a year.
Several months would elapse before the ship would sail. Sir William
enjoined it upon Franklin to keep their plans in the utmost secrecy.
Consequently, Franklin continued to work for Keimer, not giving him the
slightest intimation that measures were in progress for the
establishment in Philadelphia, of a printing house which would entirely
overshadow his own. This secrecy which was practiced also prevented any
one from informing Franklin of the Governor's real character, as a
vain, unreliable, gasconading boaster.
Six months passed away. They were with Franklin happy months. He was
in perfect health, greatly enjoyed his own physical and intellectual
attributes, was much caressed, and was engaged in lucrative employment.
He was highly convivial in his tastes, very fond of social pleasures,
of the wine cup and of the song: and on Sundays in particular, the
enchanting forests of the Schuylkill resounded with the songs and the
shouts of the merry bacchanals, led by Franklin, who was ever
recognized as their chief.
There probably never was a young man more skillful than Benjamin
Franklin in plucking the rose and avoiding the thorn. In all his
festivities he was the thoughtful philosopher. Never did he drink to
excess; no money was squandered at the gaming table. Carefully he
avoided all views which he deemed vulgar and degrading; and he made it
the general rule of his life, to avoid everything which would bring
pain to his body, or remorse to his soul.
Still man is born to mourn. Even Franklin could not escape the
general lot. The drunken Collins became his constant scourge. Franklin
felt constrained to lend his old friend money. He had been entrusted by
a family friend, a Mr. Vernon, to collect a debt of about fifty
dollars. This money he was to retain till called for. But to meet his
own expenses and those of his spendthrift companion, he began to draw
upon it, until it all disappeared. He was then troubled with the
apprehension that the money might be demanded. Bitter were the quarrels
which arose between him and John Collins. His standard of morality
which was perhaps not less elevated than that which the majority of
imperfect professing Christians practice, was certainly below that
which the religion of Jesus Christ enjoins. Had he been a true
Christian according to the doctrines and precepts of Jesus, he would
have escaped these accumulating sorrows.
This breaking in upon his friend Vernon's money, and spending it, he
pronounces in his autobiography, to have been the first great error
of his life. Though it so chanced that the money was not required until
Franklin was able to pay it, yet for several months he was in the
endurance of intense mental anxiety and constant self-reproach.
At length, Collins and Franklin became so antagonistic to each other
as to proceed to violence. They were on a pleasure party in a boat down
the river. Collins, as usual, was intoxicated. The wrath of the
muscular Benjamin was so aroused, by some act of abuse, that he seized
the fellow by the collar and pitched him overboard. Collins was a good
swimmer. They therefore kept him in the water till he was nearly
drowned. When pretty thoroughly humbled, and upon his most solemn
promise of good behavior, he was again taken on board. Seldom after
this was a word exchanged between them. Collins, deeply indebted to
Franklin, accepted of some business offer at Barbadoes. He sailed for
that island, and was never heard of more.
Almost every young man has a few particular friends. The three most
intimate companions of Benjamin Franklin were young men of his own rank
and age, of very dissimilar characters, but having a common taste for
business. They were all clerks. One of these, Joseph Watson, was,
according to Franklin's description, a pious, sensible young man of
great integrity. It would seem that they were all persons of very
estimable character, though some of them had imbibed Franklin's
skeptical opinions. They spent many of their Sabbaths, wandering on the
banks of the romantic Schuylkill, reading to each other their
compositions in prose and verse.
James Ralph, who was very emphatic in his deistical views, in his
enthusiasm, decided to devote himself to the art of rhyming. The
sensible Franklin tried to dissuade him from his folly, but in vain. On
one occasion they all agreed to attempt a version of the Eighteenth
Psalm. This sublime production of an inspired pen contains, in fifty
verses, imagery as grand and sentiments as beautiful, as perhaps can
anywhere else be found, within the same compass, in any language. It
certainly speaks well for the intellectual acumen of these young men,
and for their devotional instincts, that they should have selected so
noble a theme. As their main object was to improve themselves in the
command of language, and in the power of expression, they could not
have chosen a subject more appropriate, than the Psalmist's description
of the descent of God to earth.
He bowed the heavens also and came down; and darkness was
And He rode upon a cherub and did fly;
Yea he did fly upon the wings of the wind.
He made darkness his secret place.
His pavilion round about him were dark waters, thick clouds of
At the brightness which was before him his thick clouds
Hail stones and coals of fire.
[Footnote 5: The intelligent reader will recall the glowing version
of this Psalm, by Steinhold.
The Lord descended from above,
And bowed the heavens most high;
And underneath his feet he cast
The darkness of the sky.
On cherub and on cherubim,
Full royally he rode;
And on the wings of mighty winds,
Came flying all abroad.]
Joseph Watson died quite young, in the arms of Franklin. Charles
Osborne acquired money and reputation, as a lawyer. Removing to the
West Indies, he died, in the prime of life.
Franklin and Osborne entered into the agreement, which has so often
been made, that whichever should first die, should, if possible, return
to the other and reveal to him the secrets of the spirit land. It is
hardly necessary to say that Franklin watched long in vain, for a visit
from his departed companion.
Two months before Franklin sailed for London, Mr. Read, with whom he
boarded, died. With the father, mother, and very pretty and amiable
daughter, Deborah, Franklin had found a happy home. A strong affection
apparently sprang up between the two young people. She was seventeen
years of age, and Franklin eighteen. Their union would be eminently
fitting, as in fortune and position in society, they were on the same
Franklin, enjoying the patronage of the governor, and with, as he
supposed, very brilliant prospects before him, entered into an
engagement with Deborah, and was anxious to be married before he
embarked for England, designing to leave his young bride at home with
her mother. But Mrs. Read, in consideration of their youth, urged that
the nuptials should be postponed until after his return.
Sir William Keith continued to invite Franklin to his house, and
lavished commendation and promises upon him. Still he continually
postponed giving him any letters of credit with which he could purchase
types, paper and press. Though, as the hour for sailing approached,
Franklin called again and again to obtain the needful documents, he was
continually met with apologies. At length, the day for the ship to
weigh anchor arrived. It was about the 5th of November, 1724.
At that late hour the private secretary of the Governor called upon
Franklin and informed him that Sir William would meet him at Newcastle,
where the vessel was to cast anchor, and would then and there, deliver
to him all the important documents. Franklin went on board. The ship
dropped down the broad and beautiful Delaware, whose banks were
brilliant with foliage in their richest autumnal brilliance, about
thirty-two miles below Philadelphia, to Newcastle. To the great
disappointment of Franklin, the Governor still did not appear. He
however sent his secretary, with a profusion of excuses, and professing
to be pressed with business of the utmost importance, promised to send
the letters to the captain before the vessel would be permitted to
Franklin, naturally buoyant and hopeful, did not even then, consider
it possible that the Governor was intending to deceive him. Neither was
it possible to conceive of any motive which would induce Sir William to
betray him by so deceptive a game. At length a bag from the Governor,
apparently filled with letters and dispatches, was brought on board,
and again the vessel unfurled her sails. Franklin, with some
solicitude, asked for those which were directed to him. But Captain
Annis, all engrossed with the cares of embarkation, said that he was
too busy to examine the bag at that time, but that they would, at their
leisure, on the voyage select the letters.
On the 10th of November, 1724, the good ship, the London Hope,
pushed out from the Delaware upon the broad Atlantic. We know not
whether Franklin was surprised to find on board, as one of the
passengers, his poetical deistical friend James Ralph. This young man,
who had renounced Christianity, in the adoption of principles, which he
professed to believe conducive to the formation of a much higher moral
character, had deliberately abandoned his wife and child to seek his
fortune in London. He had deceived them by the most false
representation. Carefully he concealed from Franklin, his unprincipled
conduct and visionary schemes.
The voyage was long and rough, as the vessel did not reach London
until the twenty-fourth of November. On the passage he very carefully,
with the captain, examined the letter-bag. But no letter was found
addressed to him. There were several, however, addressed to other
persons, with Franklin's name upon the envelope as if they were in his
care. As one of these was addressed to the king's printer and another
to a stationer in London, the sanguine young man through all the dreary
and protracted voyage, clung to the hope that all was right.
Upon arriving in London, Franklin hastened first to the stationer's
and presented him with the letter, saying to him, Here is a letter
from Governor Keith, of Pennsylvania. The stationer looked up with
surprise and said:
Governor Keith! I do not know of any such person. Then breaking
the seal, and looking at the signature, he said very contemptuously,
Riddlesden. I have lately found him to be a complete rascal. I will
have nothing to do with him, nor receive any letters from him.
[Footnote 6: We both of us happen to know, as well as the stationer,
that Riddlesden, the attorney, was a very knave. He had half ruined
Miss Read's father by persuading him to be bound for him. By his letter
it appeared there was a secret scheme on foot to the prejudice of Mr.
Hamilton; that Keith was concerned in it with Riddlesden.Works of
Franklin, by Sparks, Vol. i, p. 55.]
So saying he thrust the letter back into Franklin's hand, and turned
away to serve a customer. Franklin was almost stunned with this
intelligence. He immediately conferred with a Mr. Denham, a judicious
friend whose acquaintance he had made on board the ship. They
ascertained that the infamous Governor, from motives which it is
difficult to comprehend, had not furnished Franklin with a single
document. There was not a bill of credit or a single letter of
introduction, commending the young adventurer to people in London.
Denham then told him that no one who knew Keith had the slightest
confidence in his promises. That the idea that he would furnish him
with any letters of credit was preposterous, since Sir William had no
credit with any body.
And thus Franklin found himself with his companion James Ralph,
alone in the great world of London, without any letters of
introduction, without any prospect of employment, and almost without
money. The virtues of Franklin had exerted a restraining influence upon
the unprincipled Ralph, and Franklin had not as yet become acquainted
with the true basis of his character. The two young men met together to
consult in this dilemma and to examine their finances. It appeared that
Ralph had scarcely one penny in his pocket. He had intended to be a
hanger-on upon Franklin, in whose ability to take care of himself and
others he had the greatest confidence. Franklin's purse contained about
Again he returned to consult with Mr. Denham. He very wisely advised
Franklin to seek employment in some of the printing offices in London.
He encouraged him with the thought that thus with a few months' labor,
he might not only pay his expenses, but also lay up a sufficient sum to
defray his passage home.
Franklin gradually perceived to his dismay, what an old man of the
sea he had got upon his shoulders in the person of James Ralph. The
following is his calm comment upon the atrocious conduct of Keith:
What shall we think, he writes, of a governor playing such
pitiful tricks, and imposing so grossly upon a poor ignorant boy? It
was a habit he had acquired; he wished to please every body, and having
little to give, he gave expectations. He was otherwise an ingenuous,
sensible man, a pretty good writer, and a good governor for the people,
though not for his constituents the proprietaries. Several of our best
laws were of his planning, and passed during his administration.
The entire absence of anger in this statement, has won for Franklin
With his dependent protegé Ralph, he took humble lodgings in Little
Britain street. Ralph had remarkable powers of conversation, with much
more than ordinary literary talent, and could, whenever he wished, make
himself very agreeable and almost fascinating as a companion. But he
was quite a child as to all ability to take care of himself. Franklin
really loved him at that time. He was a very handsome young man,
graceful in his demeanor; and those who listened to his eloquent
harangues would imagine that he was destined to attain to greatness.
Franklin immediately applied for work at the great printing
establishment of Palmer in Bartholomew Close. Fifty journeymen were
here employed. He promptly entered into a contract with the proprieter
for the remuneration of about six dollars a week. Ralph,
characteristically hurried to the theatre to enter upon the profession
of a play-actor. Being disappointed in that attempt, his next plan was
to edit a newspaper to be called the Spectator. Not being able to find
a publisher, he then went the rounds of the law offices, in search of
copying, but not even this, could he obtain. In the meantime they were
both supported by the purse of Franklin. With fifty dollars in his
pocket, and earning six dollars a week, he felt quite easy in his
circumstances, and was quite generous in his expenditure for their
CHAPTER IV. Mental and Moral
Faithfulness to workNeglect of Deborah ReadTreatise on
Liberty and NecessitySkill in swimmingReturn to
AmericaMarriage of Miss ReadSevere sicknessDeath of
Mr. DenhamReturns to Keimer's employThe JuntoHis
EpitaphReformation of his treatise on Liberty and
Franklin and Ralph were essentially congenial in their tastes.
Neither of them were religiously inclined in the ordinary acceptation
of those words. But the thoughtful philosophy of Franklin has by many
been regarded as the development of an instinctively religious
character. They were both exceedingly fond of amusement and especially
of pleasure excursions on the Sabbath. Very seldom, did either the
intellect or the heart lure them to listen to such teachings as they
would hear from the pulpit. It certainly would have been better for
them both, had they been church-going young men. There was no pulpit in
all London from which they would not hear the reiterated counsel, Cease
to do evil; learn to do well.
Franklin was faithful in the highest degree to his employer. Weary
with the day's toil, which with his active mind was highly intellectual
as well as mechanical, he almost invariably in the evening sought
recreation with Ralph in the theatre. It is safe to infer that the best
productions of our best dramatists, were those which would most
interest the mind of our young philosopher. Ralph was daily gaining an
increasing influence over his mind. It is said that we are prone to
love more ardently those upon whom we confer favors than those from
whom we receive them.
To these two young men the pleasures of London seemed inexhaustible.
Franklin began to forget his old home and his friends. He began to
think that London was a very pleasant place of residence, and that it
was doubtful whether he should ever return to America again. He had
constant employment, the prospect of an increasing income, and with his
economical habits he had ample funds to relieve himself from all
pecuniary embarrassment. With his friend Ralph, he was leading a very
jovial life, free from all care.
His love for Deborah Read began to vanish away. He thought very
seldom of her: seldom could he find time to write to her; and ere long
his letters ceased altogether; and she was cruelly left to the
uncertainty of whether he was alive or dead. Ralph had entirely
forgotten his wife and child, and Franklin had equally forgotten his
affianced. In subsequent years the memory of this desertion seems to
have weighed heavily on him. He wrote in his advanced life in reference
to his treatment of Deborah,
This was another of the great errors of my life; which I
could wish to correct were I to live it over again.
For nearly a year, Franklin thus continued in the employment of Mr.
Palmer, receiving good wages and spending them freely. A very highly
esteemed clergyman of the Church of England named Wollaston, had
written a book entitled, The Religion of Nature Delineated. It was a
work which obtained much celebrity in those days and was published by
Mr. Palmer. It was of the general character of Butler's Analogy, and
was intended to prove that the morality enjoined by Jesus Christ, was
founded in the very nature of man; and that the principles of that
morality were immutable, even though deists should succeed in
destroying the public faith in the divine authority of Christianity. It
was eminently an amiable book, written with great charity and candor,
and without any dogmatic assumptions.
It chanced to fall to Franklin to set up the type. As was customary
with him, he made himself thoroughly acquainted with the treatise of
which he thus became the compositor. His mind was in such a state in
reference to the claims of that Christianity which certainly did not
commend the mode of life he was living, that it excited not only
antagonistic but even angry emotions. So thoroughly were his feelings
aroused, that he wrote and published a pamphlet of thirty-two pages, in
refutation of the theory of Mr. Wollaston.
Franklin dedicated his work, which was entitled A dissertation on
Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain, to James Ralph. Fortunately,
the treatise has descended to us unmutilated. He commences with the
I have here given you my present thoughts upon the general
state of things in the universe.
The production was certainly a very able one to come from the pen of
a young printer of but nineteen years. Mr. Palmer, while recognizing
its ability, pronounced its principles to be atrocious and
demoralizing. The production of such a work, literary, philosophical
and religious, by probably the youngest companion of the journeymen
printers, caused them all to open their eyes with astonishment, and he
was regarded at once as a great man among them.
[Footnote 7: In this extraordinary document our young deist writes,
There is said to be a first mover, who is called God, who is all wise,
all good, all powerful. If he is all good, whatsoever he doeth must be
good. If he is all wise, whatever he doeth must be wise. That there are
things to which we give the name of Evil, is not to be
deniedsuch as theft, murder, etc. But these are not in reality evils.
To suppose anything to exist or to be done contrary to the will of the
Almighty is to suppose him not Almighty. There is nothing done but God
either does or permits. Though a creature may do many actions, which,
by his fellow creatures, will be named evil, yet he can not act what
will be in itself displeasing to God.
We will sum up the argument thus, When the Creator first designed
the universe, either it was his will that all should exist and be in
the manner they are at this time, or it was his will that they should
be otherwise. To say it was His will things should be otherwise, is to
say that somewhat hath contradicted His will; which is impossible.
Therefore we must allow that all things exist now in a manner agreeable
to His will; and, in consequence of that, all are equally good and
therefore equally esteemed by Him. No condition of life or being is
better or preferable to another.
This whole treatise may be found in the appendix to the first volume
of Parton's Life of Franklin.]
The deists of London, who had united in a club of merry
free-thinkers, holding their meetings at an ale-house, sought out
Franklin and drew him into their convivial gatherings. These men had no
common principle of belief; they were united only in the negative
principle of unbelief in the Christian religion. Ralph had formed a
connection with a young milliner, by whom, through his many
fascinations, he was mainly supported.
Franklin, with his increasing expenditures, was now disposed to
shake off Ralph, as he needed all his money for his own convivial
enjoyments. Ralph went into the country and opened a school, where he
utterly failed. The unhappy milliner, ruined in character, and with a
little child, wrote to Franklin imploring aid. Her letters touched his
kindly heart. He could never see sorrow without wishing to relieve it.
He furnished her with money, in small sums, to the amount of one
hundred and thirty dollars; and worst of all, we regret to say that he
commenced treating her with such familiarity, that she, still faithful
to Ralph, repulsed him indignantly.
[Footnote 8: Franklin writes in his autobiography, I grew fond of
her company, and being at that time under no religious restraint, and
taking advantage of my importance to her, I attempted to take some
liberties with her, another erratum, which she repulsed with a
proper degree of resentment. She wrote to Ralph and acquainted him with
my conduct. This occasioned a breach between us; and when he returned
to London, he let me know he considered all the obligations he had been
under to me as annulled.Works of Franklin, Vol. i, p. 59.]
Franklin does not conceal these foibles, as he regarded them,
these sins as Christianity pronounces them. He declares this
simply to have been another of the great errors of his youth. She
informed Ralph of his conduct. He was enraged, broke off all further
communication with Franklin, and thirty-five years passed away before
they met again. Ralph, goaded to desperation, gained a wretched living
in various literary adventures; writing for any body, on any side, and
for any price. Indeed he eventually gained quite an ephemeral
reputation. He could express himself with vivacity, and several quite
prominent politicians sought the aid of his pen.
Franklin, thus relieved from the support of Ralph, soon after
entered a more extensive printing house, at Lincoln's Inn Fields.
Though he was exceedingly fond of a sparkling glass of wine in his
convivial hours, he was too much of a philosopher to stupefy his brain
in guzzling beer. His habitual daily beverage was cold water.
My companion at the press, he wrote, drank every day a
pint before breakfast, a pint at breakfast with his bread and
cheese, a pint between breakfast and dinner, a pint at
dinner, and another when he had done his day's work. I
thought it a detestable custom. But it was necessary, he
supposed, to drink strong beer that he might be strong to
labor. I endeavored to convince him that the bodily strength
afforded by beer could only be in proportion to the grain or
the barley dissolved in the water of which it was made; that
there was more flour in a pennyworth of bread, and,
therefore, if he could eat that with a pint of water, it
would give him more strength than a quart of beer. He drank
on, however, and had four or five shillings to pay, out of
his wages, every Saturday night, for that vile liquor; an
expense I was free from; and thus these poor devils keep
themselves always under.
Again Franklin wrote in characteristic phrase, in reference to the
influence of his example over some of his companions,
From my example, a great many of them left their muddling
breakfast of bread, beer and cheese, finding they could,
with me, be supplied from a neighboring house, with a large
porringer of hot water gruel, sprinkled with pepper,
crumbled with bread and a bit of butter in it, for the price
of a pint of beer,three half-pence. This was a more
comfortable, as well as a cheaper breakfast, and kept their
heads clearer. Those who continued sotting with their beer
all day, were often, by not paying, out of credit at the
ale-house; and used to make interest with me to get beer;
their light as they phrased it being out. I watched the
pay table on Saturday night, and collected what I stood
engaged for them, having to pay sometimes on their account.
Franklin's skill in swimming, as we have mentioned was very
remarkable. At one time he swam from London to Chelsea, a distance of
four miles. Several of his companions he taught to swim in two lessons.
His celebrity was such that he was urged to open a swimming school.
The life of self-indulgence he was now living in London, was not such
as even his loose religious principles could approve. He had abandoned
the faith of his fathers, and had adopted, for his rule of conduct, the
principle, that it was right to yield to any indulgences to which his
passions incited him. He became tired of London, and probably found it
necessary to break away from the influences and associates with which
he had surrounded himself.
[Footnote 9: On one of these days I was, to my surprise, sent for
by a great man I knew only by name, Sir William Wyndham. He had heard
of my swimming from Chelsea to Blackfriars and of my teaching Wygate
and another young man to swim in a few hours. He had two sons about to
set out on their travels. He wished to have them first taught swimming,
and proposed to gratify me handsomely if I would teach them. They were
not yet come to town, and my stay was uncertain, so I could not
undertake it. But from the incident I thought it likely that if I were
to remain in England and opened a swimming-school I might get a good
deal of money. And it struck me so strongly that had the overture been
made me sooner, probably I should not so soon have returned to
America.Autobiography, Vol. I. p. 66.]
Mr. Denham, his companion of voyage, had decided to return to
Philadelphia, and open an extensive store. He offered Franklin two
hundred and fifty dollars a year as book-keeper. Though this was less
than the sum Franklin was then earning, as compositor, there were
prospects of his advancement. This consideration, in addition to his
desire to escape from London, led him to accept the offer. He was now
twenty years of age. It does not appear that he had thus far formed any
deliberate plan for his life's work. He floated along as the current of
events drifted him.
On the twenty-first of July, 1726, Franklin embarked on board the
ship Berkshire for Philadelphia. He had been absent from America but
little more than a year and a half. During this time he had not
increased his fortune, for he had spent his money as fast as he had
earned it. After a voyage of eighty days, the ship cast anchor before
Philadelphia. At that time ships were often from three to seven months
effecting the passage across the Atlantic.
As usual Franklin kept a diary punctually during his long voyage.
Its pages were replete with pithy remarks of wit and wisdom. He was
very fond of a game of checkers, and in that amusement beguiled many
weary hours. We find the following striking comments upon the diversion
in his journal:
It is a game I much delight in. But it requires a clear head
and undisturbed. The persons playing, if they would play
well, ought not much to regard the consequences of the
game; for that diverts and withdraws the mind from the game
itself, and makes the player liable to make many false, open
moves. I will venture to lay it down for an infallible rule
that if two persons equal in judgment, play for a
considerable sum, he that loves money most, shall lose. His
anxiety for the success of the game confounds him. Courage is
almost as requisite for the good conduct of this game as in a
real battle; for if the player imagines himself opposed by
one that is much his superior in skill, his mind is so intent
on the defensive part, that an advantage passes unobserved.
The Governor of the Isle of Wight had died, leaving the reputation
of having been one of the most consummate scoundrels who ever exercised
despotic power. Franklin, in his treatise upon Liberty and Necessity,
written but a few months before, had assumed that there was no such
thing as good and evil; that God ordered and controlled every event;
and that consequently every event was in accordance with His will, and
alike pleasing in His sight. But now we find the following record in
his journal, which most readers will recognize as inconsistent with the
young philosopher's theological opinions. He writes:
At the death of this governor, it appeared that he was a
great villain, and a great politician. There was no crime so
damnable, which he would stick at in the execution of his
designs. And yet he had the art of covering all so thick,
that with almost all men in general, while he lived he passed
for a saint. In short, I believe it is impossible for a man,
though he has all the cunning of a devil, to live and die a
villain, and yet conceal it so well as to carry the name of
an honest fellow to the grave with him, but some one by some
accident or other, shall discover him. Truth and sincerity
have a certain distinguishing, native lustre about them,
which cannot be perfectly counterfeited. They are like fire
and flame that cannot be painted.
We should infer, from some intimations in Franklin's diary, that he
was troubled by some qualms of conscience, in view of his abandonment
of Miss Read, and his irregular life in London. He has left a paper in
which he stated that he had never formed any regular plan for the
control of his conduct: that he was now about to enter on a new life;
and that he was resolved that henceforth he would speak the truth, be
industrious in his business, and speak ill of no man. These were rather
meagre resolutions for a young man under these circumstances to adopt.
Soon after landing at Philadelphia, Franklin chanced to meet Sir
William Keith in the streets. The governor seemed much embarrassed, and
passed by without speaking. It does not appear that the acquaintance
was ever resumed. The governor lived nearly twenty-five years
afterward, a dishonored and ruined man, and died in the extreme of
Poor Miss Read, heart-broken, and deeming herself forever abandoned,
yielded to the importunities of her friends and married a mechanic by
the name of Rogers. He proved to be a thoroughly worthless fellow. His
unconcealed profligacy, and unfaithfulness to his wife, compelled her,
after a few months of wretchedness, to return to her mother, and to
resume her maiden name. The profligate husband fled from his creditors
to the West Indies. Rumors soon reached Philadelphia of his death,
leaving probably another wife.
Franklin entered upon his duties as clerk of Mr. Denham, with his
accustomed energy and skill. He carried into his new vocation, all his
intellectual sagacity, and speedily won not only the confidence but the
affection of his employer. He lived with Mr. Denham, and being always
disposed to look upon the bright side of everything, even of his own
imperfections, notwithstanding his infidelity to Miss Read, he seems to
have been a very happy and even jovial young man.
Four months after Franklin had entered upon his mercantile career,
both Mr. Denham and Franklin were seized with the pleurisy. Mr. Denham
died. Franklin, though brought near to the grave, recovered. He writes:
I suffered a great deal; gave up the point in my own mind;
and was at the time rather disappointed when I found myself
recovering; regretting in some degree that I must now,
sometime or other, have all that disagreeable work to do over
The death of Mr. Denham broke up the establishment, and Franklin was
thrown out of employment. Keimer, in whose service he had formerly been
engaged, again made him an offer to superintend a printing office.
Franklin accepted the proposition. There were five inefficient hands,
whom Franklin was expected to transform into accomplished printers.
With these, and a few others, he organized a literary club, called the
Junto; or the Leathern Apron Club, as nearly every member was a
The club met every Friday evening, and the wine cup, to stimulate
conviviality, passed freely among them. There were twenty-four
questions, which were every evening read, to which answers were to be
returned by any one who could answer them. Between each question, it
was expected that each member would fill, and empty, his glass. One
would think that the wine must have been very weak, or the heads of
these young men very strong, to enable them to quaff twenty-four
glasses unharmed. We give a few of the questions as specimens of their
1. Have you met with anything in the author you last read?
3. Has any citizen in your knowledge failed, and have you
heard the cause?
7. What unhappy effects of intemperance have you lately
12. Has any deserving stranger arrived in town since your
16. Has anybody attacked your reputation lately?
23. Is there any difficulty which you would gladly have
discussed at this time?
Debates, declamation, and the reading of essays added to the
entertainment of these gatherings. Stories were told, and bacchanal
songs sung. No man could tell a better story, and few men could sing a
better song than Benjamin Franklin. No one was deemed a suitable member
of the club, who would not contribute his full quota to the
entertainment or instruction. The questions proposed by Franklin for
discussion, developed the elevated intellectual region his thoughts
were accustomed to range. We give a few as specimens.
Can any one particular form of government suit all mankind?
Should it be the aim of philosophy to eradicate the
Is perfection attainable in this life?
What general conduct of life is most suitable for men in
such circumstances as most of the members of the Junto are?
The Junto was limited to twelve members. It soon became so popular
that applications for admission became very frequent. Six months passed
rapidly away, when Keimer, who was an exceedingly immoral and worthless
man, and was fast going to ruin, in some fit of drunkenness, or
ungovernable irritation, entered the office, and assailed Franklin with
such abuse, that he took his hat, and repaired to his lodgings,
resolved never to return.
Franklin was twenty-one years of age. He had laid up no money. He
was still but a journeyman printer. The draft which he had received
from Mr. Vernon for fifty dollars had not yet been paid. He was
exceedingly mortified when he allowed himself to reflect upon this
delinquency which certainly approached dishonesty. In this emergence he
conferred with a fellow journeyman by the name of Hugh Meredith, whose
father was a gentleman of considerable property. Meredith proposed that
they should enter into partnership, he furnishing the funds, and
Franklin the business capacity.
At that time Franklin, remembering his narrow escape from the grave
by the pleurisy, wrote his own epitaph which has been greatly
celebrated. It has generally been admired; but some of more sensitive
minds perceive in it a tone which is somewhat repulsive.
(Like the cover of an old book,
Its contents torn out,
And stripped of its lettering and gilding,)
Lies here, food for worms.
Yet the work itself shall not be lost,
For it will, as he believed, appear once more,
In a new
And more beautiful edition,
Corrected and amended
The excellencies of Franklin did not run in the line of exquisite
sensibilities. At the early age of fifteen he began to cast off the
restraints of the religion of his father and mother. Nearly all his
associates were what were called Free-thinkers. He could not be blind
to their moral imperfections. Mr. Parton writes,
His old friend Collins, he remembered, was a Free-thinker,
and Collins had gone astray. Ralph was a Free-thinker, and
Ralph was a great sinner. Keith was a Free-thinker, and
Keith was the greatest liar in Pennsylvania. Benjamin
Franklin was a Free-thinker, and how shamefully he had
behaved to Ralph's mistress, to Mr. Vernon and Miss Read,
whose young life had been blighted through him.
[Footnote 10: Parton's Life of Franklin, Vol. I, p. 168.]
Franklin's creed thus far, consisted only of negations. He had no
belief; he had only unbelief. Indeed he seems to have become quite
ashamed of his treatise upon Liberty and Necessity, published in
London, and felt constrained to write a refutation of it. As this
strange young man in his discontent looked over the religions of the
world, he could find no one that met his views. He therefore
deliberately and thoughtfully sat down to form a religion of his own.
Many such persons have appeared in the lapse of the ages, and almost
invariably they have announced their creeds with the words, Thus saith
the Lord. But our young printer of twenty-two years, made no
profession whatever, of any divine aid. He simply said, Thus saith my
thoughts. One would think he could not have much confidence in those
thoughts, when it is remembered that at this time he was writing a
refutation of the opinions, which he had published in London but a few
[Footnote 11: My arguments perverted some others, especially
Collins and Ralph. But each of these having wronged me greatly without
the least compunction; and recollecting Keith's conduct towards me, who
was another Free-thinker, and my own towards Vernon and Miss Read,
which at times gave me great trouble, I began to suspect that this
doctrine, though it might be true, was not very useful. My London
pamphlet, printed in 1725, and which had for its motto,
'Whatever is is right,'
and which from the attributes of God, His infinite wisdom, goodness
and power, concluded that nothing could possibly be wrong in the world,
and that vice and virtue were empty distinctions, no such things
existing, appeared now not so clever a performance, as I once thought
it; and I doubted whether some error had not insinuated itself
unperceived into my argument.
In the year 1779, Dr. Franklin wrote to Dr. Benjamin Vaughn
respecting this pamphlet.
There were only one hundred copies printed, of which I gave a few
to friends. Afterwards, disliking the piece, I burnt the rest, except
one copy. I was not nineteen years of age when it was written. In 1730,
I wrote a piece on the other side of the question, which began with
laying for its foundation that almost all men, in all ages and
countries, have at times made use of prayer.
Thence I reasoned that if all things are ordained, prayer must be
among the rest ordained; but as prayer can procure no change in things
that are ordained, praying must then be useless and an absurdity. God
would, therefore, not ordain praying if everything else was ordained.
But praying exists, therefore all other things are not ordained. This
manuscript was never printed. The great uncertainty I found in
metaphysical reasoning disgusted me, and I quitted that kind of reading
and study for others more satisfactory.Autobiography, p. 76.]
The book which Franklin thus prepared was entitled Articles of
Belief, and Acts of Religion. His simple creed was that there was one
Supreme God who had created many minor gods; that the supreme God was
so great that he did not desire the worship of man but was far above
The minor gods are perhaps immortal, and perhaps after the ages
lapse they are changed, others supplying their place. Each of these
subordinate gods has created for himself a sun with its planetary
system, over which he presides and from the inhabitants of which he
expects adoration. He writes,
It is that particular wise and good God, who is the author
and owner of our system that I propose for the object of my
praise and adoration. It is to be inferred that this God is
not above caring for us, is pleased with our praise, and
offended when we slight him.
He then prepares an invocation to this god of our solar system. It
is founded on the style of the Psalms, but is immeasurably inferior to
most of those sublime utterances of the Psalmist of Israel. And still
the sentiments breathed were ennobling in their character; they proved
that Franklin was vastly superior to the thoughtless, reckless deists
who surrounded him, and that his soul was reaching forth and yearning
for higher and holier attainments. In this invocation, the whole of
which we cannot quote, he writes,
O Creator! O Father! I believe that thou art good; and that
thou art pleased with the pleasure of thy children. Praised
be thy name forever. By thy power thou hast made the
glorious sun with his attending worlds. By thy wisdom thou
hast formed all things. Thy wisdom, thy power, and thy
goodness are everywhere clearly seen. Thou abhorrest in thy
creatures treachery and deceit, malice, revenge,
intemperance, and every other hurtful vice. But thou art a
lover of justice and sincerity, of friendship and
benevolence, and every virtue. Thou art my friend, my
father, and my benefactor. Praised be thy name; O God,
The prayer which followed, doubtless giving utterance to his most
inward feelings, is beautiful.
Inasmuch, he wrote, as by reason of our ignorance, we
cannot be certain that many things, which we often hear
mentioned in the petitions of men to the Deity, would prove
real goods if they were in our possession, and as I have
reason to hope and believe that the goodness of my Heavenly
Father will not withhold from me a suitable share of temporal
blessings, if by a virtuous and holy life I conciliate his
favor and kindness; therefore I presume not to ask such
things; but rather humbly and with a sincere heart, express
my earnest desire that he would graciously assist my
continual endeavors and resolutions of eschewing vice and
embracing virtue, which kind of supplication will at the same
time remind me in a solemn manner of my extensive duty.
He then added the supplication that he might be preserved from
atheism, impiety and profaneness; that he might be loyal to his prince;
that he might be gracious to those below him; that he might refrain
from calumny and detraction; that he might be sincere in friendship,
just in his dealings, grateful to his benefactors, patient in
affliction; that he might have tenderness for the weak, and that,
rejoicing in the good of others, he might become truly virtuous and
It is very evident that some unexplained circumstances had called
the attention of Franklin very earnestly to the subject of religion. He
wrote very much upon that theme, and published a new version of the
Lord's Prayer, and a lecture upon Providence and Predestination. He,
however, admits that he very seldom attended any public worship,
I had still an opinion of its propriety and its utility,
when rightly conducted; and I regularly paid my annual
subscription for the support of the only Presbyterian
Rumors soon reached Franklin's good father of Boston, of his son's
free-thinking, and he wrote to his son in much alarm. In Franklin's
reply, he said,
All that should be expected from me, is to keep my mind
open to conviction; to hear patiently and examine
attentively whatever is offered me for that end. And if
after all I continue in the same errors, I believe your
usual charity will induce you rather to pity and excuse,
than to blame me. In the meantime, your care and concern for
me, is what I am very thankful for. My mother grieves that
one of her sons is an Arian, and another an Arminian. What
an Arminian or an Arian is, I cannot say that I very well
know. The truth is, I make such distinctions very little my
study. I think vital religion has always suffered when
orthodoxy is more regarded than virtue. And the Scriptures
assure me that at the last day we shall not be examined what
we thought but what we did.
Franklin, having no revealed religion to guide him, and having no
foundation for his faith, but the ever-changing vagaries of his own
fantastic imagination, could have no belief to-day, of which he had any
certainty that he would hold the same to-morrow. He was continually
abandoning one after another of the articles of his fantastical creed,
and adopting others in their place. At length he settled down upon the
following simple belief, which with very considerable tenacity, but
without any attempt to promulgate it, he adhered to for many years. It
consisted of the six following articles which we give in briefest
1. There is one God.
2. He governs the world.
3. He ought to be worshipped.
4. Doing good is the service most acceptable to him.
5. Man is immortal.
6. In the future world the souls of men will be dealt with
It is very evident that Franklin had no great confidence in his
theological opinions. He studiously avoided all writing upon the
subject, and as far as possible all conversation. Still, with his keen
sense of humor, he could not refrain from occasionally plunging a
pretty sharp dagger's thrust into the palpable imperfections of the
various and contending sects.
There was very little moral power, in the creed he professed, to
arrest young men, of glowing passions, and exposed to the most
difficult temptations, in their downward career. No voice of Franklin
was heard with potency calling upon those who were thronging the broad
road. In a lecture upon Providence, to his companions of the Junto,
which was subsequently published, and which reflects some considerable
honor upon the earnestness of his thoughts, he wrote,
I am especially discouraged when I reflect that you are all
my intimate pot-companions, who have heard me say a
thousand silly things in conversation, and therefore have
not that laudable partiality and veneration for whatever I
shall deliver that good people have for their spiritual
guides; that you have no reverence for my habit, nor for the
sanctity of my countenance; that you do not believe me
inspired, nor divinely assisted; and therefore will think
yourself at liberty to assert, or dissert, approve or
disapprove of anything I advance, canvassing and sifting it
as the private opinion of one of your acquaintance.
Though it was Franklin's assumption that his religion was one of
works and not of faith, still it must be admitted that his life was
very inconsistent with those principles of purity, moral loveliness and
good report which the Gospel enjoins. With his remarkable honesty of
mind, in strains which we are constrained, though with regret to
record, he writes,
That hard-to-be governed passion of youth had hurried me
frequently into intrigues with low women that fell in my
way, which were attended with some expense and great
inconvenience, besides a continual risk to my health by
distemper, which of all things I dreaded, though by great
luck I escaped it.
Mr. Parton writes, It was perhaps owing to his frequent
delinquencies in this way, that his liturgy contains no allusion to a
vice, which is of all others the most alluring to a youth of Franklin's
temperament. He was too sincere and logical a man to go before his God
and ask assistance against a fault which he had not fully resolved to
overcome, and that immediately. About a year after the date of his
liturgy was born his illegitimate son William Franklin, who became
Governor of New Jersey. If laws were as easily executed as enacted,
Benjamin Franklin would have received, upon this occasion, twenty-one
lashings at the public whipping-post of Philadelphia.
CHAPTER V. The Dawn of Prosperity.
Franklin takes a houseHis first jobHis industryPlans a
NewspaperEnters the list as a writerAdvocates a Paper
currencyPurchases Keimer's paperCharacter of
MeredithStruggles of the firmUnexpected
assistanceDissolves partnership with MeredithFranklin's
energetic conductHis courtship, and marriageCharacter of
Mrs. FranklinIncrease of luxuryPlans for a
libraryProsperity of PennsylvaniaCustoms in
PhiladelphiaStyle of dress in 1726Franklin's social
position in PhiladelphiaHis successA hard student.
Franklin had now reached the end of life as an apprentice and a
journeyman. With his friend Meredith he hired a house in the lower part
of Market street, at the rent of about one hundred and twenty dollars a
year. A large portion of this house he prudently re-let to another
mechanic who was a member of the Junto. It would seem that Meredith was
disappointed in the amount of money he expected to raise. Consequently
after utterly exhausting their stock of cash, they still found it
necessary to run deeply into debt for those appurtenances of a printing
office which were absolutely necessary.
Just as they got ready for work, quite to their delight, a
countryman came in introduced by one of the Junto, George House, who
wanted a five shilling job executed.
This man's five shillings, writes Franklin, being our first
fruits, and coming so seasonably, gave me more pleasure than any crown
I have since earned. And from the gratitude I felt toward House, has
made me often more ready, than perhaps I otherwise should have been, to
assist young beginners.
The two young men devoted themselves to their work, with assiduity
which was a sure precursor of success. Often Franklin was found
diligently employed until eleven o'clock at night. His industry and
energy soon attracted attention. A gentleman living near the office
said to some of his friends:
The industry of that Franklin is superior to anything I ever saw of
the kind. I see him still at work when I go home from the club, and he
is at work again before his neighbors are out of bed.
This statement produced such an impression upon a merchant who was
present, that he called upon the young men and offered to supply them
with stationery on credit. Franklin's literary taste, and his
remarkable success as a writer, led him ever to cherish, as a darling
project, the idea of the establishing of a newspaper. In a few months
he had quite deliberately formed his plan; but in some way Keimer got
wind of it, and immediately issued a prospectus for the establishment
of a paper of his own. Though he was totally unqualified for the task
of editorship, yet his project was quite hurtful to the plans of
Very much annoyed by the treachery which had revealed his plans to
Keimer, and perceiving that his paper was unpopular and heavy, Franklin
very wisely decided to establish his own reputation as a vivacious
writer, before entering upon the important undertaking of issuing a
journal in his own name. There was a small paper then published in the
city called The Mercury. He commenced writing a series of very witty
and satirical articles over the signature of Busy Body. The first
number contained the following sentences as intimations of what was to
It is probable that I may displease a great number of your
readers who will not very well like to pay ten shillings a
year for being told of their faults, but as most people
delight in censure when they themselves are not the object of
it, if any are offended at my publicly exposing their private
vices, I promise they shall have the satisfaction in a very
little time, in seeing their good friends and neighbors in
the same circumstances.
These sparkling contributions of Franklin attracted much attention,
and created for him a growing literary reputation. The subject of paper
money which agitated our country, was then being discussed in
Pennsylvania with intense interest. Franklin wrote a carefully studied
pamphlet entitled A Modest Inquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a
This treatise, written by a young printer of but twenty-three years,
upon one of the most difficult questions of finance, displayed great
ability. Warmly he advocated a paper currency. His arguments, however,
were such as would not now probably exert much influence upon the
public mind. The main proposition he endeavored to sustain was, that
there was not a sufficiency of gold and silver in Pennsylvania, for
carrying on the trade of the province. He therefore argued that all
branches of industry must languish unless the currency were increased
by an issue of paper.
[Footnote 12: This pamphlet may be found in Sparks' Works of
Franklin, Vol. ii, p. 253.]
It has been suggested that Franklin might have been unconsciously
influenced in his views, by the fact that he had been very successful
in printing paper money, and that he anticipated still more employment
in that line. It is certain that Franklin's pamphlet exerted a powerful
influence at the time, and a new issue of paper currency was ordered.
Franklin thought that the effect was highly conducive to the prosperity
of the province, and he never swerved from the views which he had so
earnestly and successfully urged in his pamphlet.
Franklin's sun was rapidly rising. Keimer's was as rapidly sinking.
After publishing thirty-nine numbers of the Universal Instructor and
the subscription list having dwindled to ninety, he gladly sold the
paper for a trifle to Franklin and Meredith. The genius of Franklin was
immediately displayed in the improved literary character of the paper,
and in its mechanical execution. The name was changed to the
Pennsylvania Gazette. The first number issued by him was on Oct. 2,
The subject of religion was almost entirely ignored. Franklin seems
to have become weary of the darkness and the fogs through which his
unillumined mind had been so long painfully floundering, without coming
to any results upon which he could place reliance. Christianity he
generally treated with respect, though he could not refrain from
occasionally giving a sly thrust at those imperfections of Christians
which were so palpable to his observant mind. And though he never
assailed that which was not inherently bad, it cannot be denied that
occasionally his keen sarcasms brought Christianity itself into
reproach, as if it were a religion which produced no better fruits,
perhaps not so good, as no religion at all.
The business of this young firm of Franklin and Meredith, viewed in
the light of the grand printing enterprises of the present day, was
indeed trivial. The two young men did all the work themselves without
even a boy to help them. In fact Meredith, who at the best was a poor
workman, and who fell into intemperate habits, neglected his business,
frequented the ale-houses, and left all responsibility resting upon the
efficient shoulders of his partner.
Franklin, who endeavored to be perfect in every thing he undertook,
printed his paper so admirably that it is said that there is probably
not a journal now in Philadelphia which is issued in better style than
The Pennsylvania Gazette of 1729.
For seven years Franklin had been embarrassed by the thought of the
fifty dollars which he had received from Mr. Vernon, and which had not
yet been repaid. Mr. Vernon wrote him a very gentle intimation, stating
that it would be very convenient for him to receive the money. Franklin
returned a contrite and magnanimous letter. He made no attempt to
extenuate his fault, promised immediately to strain every nerve to meet
the debt, and in a few months paid the whole, principal and interest.
Still the infant firm was struggling with adversity. The partners
had commenced operations with scarcely any capital excepting promises.
Their outfit cost about a thousand dollars. Mr. Meredith had been
unfortunate in business, and found himself unable to pay the second
instalment promised of five hundred dollars. The stationers who
furnished paper began to be uneasy, for they could not but see that
Meredith was fast going to ruin.
Franklin was seldom in the habit of dwelling upon his misfortunes.
In these dark hours he wrote,
In this distress two true friends whose kindness I have
never forgotten, nor ever shall forget while I can remember
anything, came to me separately, unknown to each other, and
without any application from me, offered each of them to
advance me all the money that should be necessary to take
the whole business upon myself; but they did not like my
continuing in partnership with Meredith, who, as they said,
was often seen drunk in the street, playing at low games in
ale-houses, much to our discredit.
Franklin generously was very reluctant to throw aside Meredith.
Dissolute as the young man had become, he could not forget that he was
the son of a man who had been his friend; but after carefully pondering
the question and seeing ruin stare him in the face, he said one day to
Perhaps your father is dissatisfied at the part you have undertaken
in this affair of ours; and is unwilling to advance for you and me,
what he would for you. If that is the case tell me, and I will resign
the whole to you and go about my business.
My father has really been disappointed, and is really unable. I am
unwilling to distress him further. I see this is a business I am unfit
for. I was bred a farmer and it was folly in me to come to town, and
put myself at thirty years of age an apprentice to learn a new trade.
Many of our Welsh people are going to settle in North Carolina where
land is cheap. I am inclined to go with them, and follow my old
employment. If you will take the debts of the company upon you, return
to my father the hundred pounds he has advanced, pay my little personal
debts, and give me thirty pounds and a new saddle, I will relinquish
the partnership, and leave the whole in your hands.
These were hard terms; but there was no other way in which Franklin
could escape from the embarrassments of this untoward partnership. He
accepted the proposal at once; borrowed the needful money of his
friends; and became his own sole partner.
True prosperity now began to attend his indomitable industry,
frugality, and wisdom. The advance of the young man was necessarily
slow, but it was sure. Well aware that his reputation with the
community would be invaluable to him, he not only endeavored to be
industrious, but to let it be seen by his neighbors that he left no
stone unturned to accomplish his purposes.
He would trundle, through the streets of Philadelphia, in a
wheel-barrow, the paper which he purchased, by no means seeking
by-streets where his more fashionable companions would not see him. He
dressed with the utmost simplicity, but always in clean garments, well
cut, and which presented his admirable form to great advantage. Never
did he allow himself to sink to the vulgarity of a slatternly
appearance. He was ever ready, when engaged in the most busy
employments of his office, to receive without a blush, any guests,
however high, who might chance to call.
The tranquil months glided on. Franklin was prospered in business,
paid his debts, and began to accumulate a little property. Our young
philosopher was never an impassioned lover. As he would contemplate, in
his increasing prosperity, removing to another more commodious office,
so he now thought, having reached the age of twenty-four, that it might
be expedient for him to have a home of his own, and a wife to take care
of his domestic affairs.
He had let a portion of the house which he used for his printing
office, to a mechanic of the Junto by the name of Godfrey. He conferred
with Mrs. Godfrey upon the subject. She had a relative, a very pretty
girl, Miss Godfrey, whom she highly recommended and brought, as it were
by accident, to take tea with Franklin. She was graceful, amiable, and
a child of parents well to do in the world. Franklin was a remarkably
handsome and fascinating young man. The courtship proceeded
successfully and rapidly.
The reader will be interested in seeing Franklin's own account of
this affair. He writes, in his Autobiography:
Mrs. Godfrey projected a match with a relation's daughter,
took opportunities of bringing us often together, till a
serious courtship on my part ensued; the girl being, in
herself, very deserving. The old folks encouraged me by
continual invitations to supper, and by leaving us together,
till at length it was time to explain. Mrs. Godfrey managed
our little treaty. I let her know I expected as much money
with their daughter as would pay off my remaining debt for
the printing house; which I believe was not then above a
hundred pounds. She brought me word they had no such sum to
spare; I said they might mortgage their house in the
loan-office. The answer to this, after some days, was, that
they did not approve the match; that, on inquiry of Mr.
Bradford, they had been informed the printing business was
not a profitable one, the types would soon be worn out, and
more wanted; that Keimer and David Harvy had failed one after
the other, and I should probably soon follow them; and
therefore I was forbidden the house, and the daughter was
Occasionally Franklin had gone to the home of Mrs. Read, the mother
of the unhappy Deborah. His conscience reproached him for his conduct
to that good girl. She was always dejected and solitary, and with a
broken heart clung to her mother, her only friend. It is doubtful
whether she were ever legally married to Rogers. It was rumored that at
the time of their marriage, he was the husband of one, if not more
wives. If legally married, there was another serious obstacle in her
path. Rogers had run away to the West Indies. Rumor alone had announced
his death. He might be still living.
Franklin's sympathy gradually became excited in her behalf. And at
length he proposed that, regardless of all the risks, they should be
married. It seems that he had announced to her very distinctly that he
had a living child, and very honorably he had decided that that child
of dishonor was to be taken home and trained as his own.
These were sad nuptials. The world-weary wife knew not but that she
had another husband still living, and a stigma, indelible, rested upon
Franklin. The marriage took place on the first of September, 1730. It
subsequently appears that Rogers, the potter, was really dead. The
child was taken home and reared with all possible tenderness and care.
It is a little remarkable that nothing is known of what became of the
mother of that child. The boy grew up to manhood, espoused the Tory
cause, when the Tories were hunting his father to hang him, and by his
ungrateful, rebellious conduct, pierced his heart with a thousand
Mrs. Franklin proved in all respects an excellent woman, and an
admirable wife for her calm, philosophic and unimpassioned husband.
Franklin never had a journeyman in his office who performed his
functions more entirely to his satisfaction, than his wife discharged
her responsible duties. She was always amiable, industrious and
There was a little shop attached to the printing office which Mrs.
Franklin tended. She also aided her husband in folding and distributing
the papers, and with a mother's love trained, in the rudiments of
education, the child whose mother was lost.
Franklin, in his characteristic, kindly appreciation of the services
of all who were faithful in his employ, speaks in the following
commendatory terms of the industrial excellencies of his wife. When far
away dazzled by the splendors, and bewildered by the flattery of
European courts, he wrote to her,
It was a comfort to me to recollect that I had once been
clothed, from head to foot, in woolen and linen of my wife's
manufacture, and that I never was prouder of any dress in my
In Franklin's Autobiography, as published by Sparks, we read, We
have an English proverb that says, 'He that would thrive, must ask his
wife.' It was lucky for me that I had one as much disposed to industry
and frugality as myself. She assisted me cheerfully in my business,
folding and stitching pamphlets, tending shop, purchasing old linen
rags, for the paper-makers, etc. We kept no idle servants; our table
was plain and simple, our furniture of the cheapest. For instance, my
breakfast was, for a long time, bread and milk, (no tea) and I ate it
out of a two-penny earthern porringer, with a pewter-spoon.
But mark how luxury will enter families, and make a progress in
spite of principle. Being called one morning to breakfast, I found it
in a china bowl, with a spoon of silver. They had been bought for me
without my knowledge, by my wife, and had cost her the enormous sum of
three and twenty shillings; for which she had no other excuse or
apology to make, but that she thought her husband deserved a silver
spoon and china bowl, as well as any of his neighbors. This was the
first appearance of plate or china in our house; which afterward, in a
course of years, as our wealth increased, augmented gradually to
several hundred pounds in value.
[Footnote 13: Life of Franklin, by Sparks, p. 102.]
While thus engaged he conceived the idea of establishing a public
subscription library. His knowledge of human nature taught him that if
he presented the enterprise as his own, feelings of jealousy might be
excited, and it might be imagined that he was influenced by personal
ambition. He therefore said that a number of gentlemen had adopted the
plan, and had requested him to visit the lovers of books and of
reading, and solicit their subscriptions. Each subscriber was to
contribute two pounds to start the enterprise, and to pay a yearly
assessment of ten shillings.
By the arduous labors of five months, Franklin obtained fifty names.
With this the enterprise commenced. Such was the origin of the
Philadelphia Library, now one of the most important institutions of the
kind in our land. In the year 1861, seventy thousand volumes were
reported as on its shelves.
Philadelphia contained a population of nearly ten thousand people.
Pennsylvania was decidedly the central point for European emigration.
Its climate was delightful; its soil fertile; and William Penn's humane
policy with the Indians had secured for the colony peace and friendship
with the native inhabitants for more than fifty years.
The white man, on this continent, has told his own story. The
Indians have had no historians. But nothing is more clear than that in
almost every instance they were goaded to war by the unendurable wrongs
which were inflicted upon them. Until Braddock's dreadful defeat,
Pennsylvania had scarcely known a single alarm. In the summer of 1749,
twelve thousand Germans landed at Philadelphia. This was the average
number for many years. The policy of William Penn had been to establish
upon the banks of the Delaware, an extended and beautiful village,
where every house should have its lawn and its garden for vegetables
and flowers. In the year 1732, when Franklin was twenty-six years of
age, the dwellings of this village were mostly of brick or stone, and
were spread along the banks of the river for the distance of a mile,
with streets running back into the interior to the distance of about
half a mile.
[Footnote 14: No other British colony admits of the evidence of an
Indian against a white man; nor are the complaints of Indians against
white men duly regarded in other colonies; whereby these poor people
endure the most cruel treatment from the very worst of our own people,
without hope of redress. And all the Indian wars in our colonies were
occasioned by such means.
Importance of the British Plantations in America to these Kingdoms,
The prosperity of Philadelphia, indeed of Pennsylvania, was
remarkable. Provisions and the most delicious fruits were in great
abundance. Even the pigs were fattened upon the most luscious peaches.
Each family in the city kept its cow, which grazed upon the common
lands on the outskirts of the town. The Philadelphia of that period was
a green village, beautifully shaded by trees, and presenting to every
visitor an aspect of rare attractions. Professor Peter Kalm, who
published an exceedingly interesting account of his travels in North
America between the years 1748 and 1751, writes,
There were fine orchards all about the city. The country
people in Sweden and Finland guard their turnips more
carefully than the people here do the most exquisite fruits.
A Philadelphian has so much liberty and abundance that he
lives in his house like a king.
The Quakers, or as they prefer to be called, the Friends, at that
time composed about one-third of the population of Philadelphia, and
one-half of the State of Pennsylvania. They were a remarkably
intelligent, industrious and worthy people. Probably a better and more
thrifty community was never colonized on this globe.
The state of society has greatly changed since that day, and
customs, which were then deemed essential, have since become obsolete.
For instance, the whipping-post, the pillory, and the stocks, were
prominent in the market-place and were in frequent use. There was a
public whipper, who, for his repulsive services, received a salary of
fifty dollars a year. Until as late as 1760, women were frequently
publicly whipped. It is said that a whipping occurred on an average,
twice a month.
The dress of gentlemen was gaudy and extravagant, unsurpassed by
that of French or British courtiers. Immense wigs, with their profusion
of waves or curls, were in use by the gentry. Very tight knee-breeches
were worn, with silk stockings, and shoes embellished with immense
silver buckles, highly polished. Their coats were richly embroidered,
often of silk velvet, and their full flow reached below the knees.
Ruffled shirts and ruffled wrist-bands of linen, of snowy whiteness,
added to the beauty of the dress. A jewelled scabbard containing a
polished sword hung by the side. A three-cornered hat completed this
showy attire. There is not a Rocky Mountain Indian in his most gorgeous
war-dress of paint and plumes, who would attract more attention walking
down Broadway, than would Benjamin Franklin as he was painted in 1726.
His portrait was taken when he was in London, working as a
journeyman printer. Contrary to the general impression, Franklin was
then, and through all his life, fully conscious of the advantages which
dress confers. When surrounded by the homage of the court of
Versailles, there was no courtier in those magnificent saloons more
attentive to his attire than was Benjamin Franklin. His keen sagacity
taught him the advantage of appearing in a dress entirely different
from that of the splendid assembly around him, and thus he attracted
universal observation. But never did he appear in the presence of these
lords and ladies but in a costly garb to which he had devoted much
Mr. Parton, speaking of the portrait which Franklin then had painted
in London, says,
The fair, full, smiling face of Franklin is surrounded in
this picture by a vast and stiff horse-hair wig; and his
well-developed figure shows imposingly in a voluminous and
decorated coat that reaches nearly to his heels. Under his
left arm he carries his cocked hat. His manly bosom heaves
under snowy ruffles, and his extensive wrist-bands are
exposed to view by the shortness of his coat sleeves.
Between the years 1740 and 1775, while abundance reigned in
Pennsylvania, and there was peace in all her borders, a more happy and
prosperous population could not perhaps be found on this globe. In
every home there was comfort. The people generally were highly moral,
and knowledge was extensively diffused. Americans, who visited Europe,
were deeply impressed by the contrast. In the Old World they saw
everywhere indications of poverty and suffering. Franklin wrote, after
a tour in Great Britain in 1772,
Had I never been in the American colonies, but were to form
my judgment of civil society by what I have lately seen, I
should never advise a nation of savages to admit of
civilization. For, I assure you, that in the possession and
enjoyment of the various comforts of life, compared with
these people, every Indian is a gentleman; and the effect of
this kind of civil society seems to be the depressing
multitudes below the savage state, that a few may be raised
Yet let it not be supposed that the effects of the fall were not
visible here, or that man's inhumanity to man had ceased. There were
bickerings, and heart burnings, and intense political struggles, in
which the strong endeavored to extend their power, and the weak
endeavored to throw off the shackles with which they were bound.
William Penn complains of the ambitious politicians who he said
thoughtnothing taller than themselves but the trees. John Adams
denounced in severest terms the tricks of the petty politicians; and
speaking of the more ambitious ones who sought the positions of
governor or custom-house officers, he writes:
These seekers are actuated by a more ravenous sort of
ambition and avarice.
For twenty years Franklin continued a prosperous but uneventful
life, as an active business man in Philadelphia. His integrity, his
sagacity, and his prosperity, rapidly increased the esteem in which he
was held. But still he was engaged in business as a printer and a
shop-keeper, which would not now give him admission into what he called
the higher circles of society.
He not only edited, printed and published his newspaper, but he also
kept books for sale and a small quantity of stationery, and also was a
binder of books. He made and sold ink; was an extensive dealer in rags;
and soap and feathers could be purchased at his shop. We find in his
advertisements the announcement of coffee and other groceries for sale.
And still his printing office gradually became the nucleus for the
gathering of the most intelligent and influential men. If any important
project was on foot, it was deemed essential to consult Benjamin
Franklin. His Gazette proved a great success, and was incomparably the
ablest paper published in the colonies.
[Footnote 15: Life and Works of John Adams, Vol. ii, p. 165.]
Franklin's editorials were very sparkling, and are considered as
among the most brilliant of his intellectual efforts. He was almost
invariably good natured, and the design of all he wrote, was to promote
integrity and kindly feeling. He would write an article, as if from a
correspondent, which would give him an opportunity to return an amusing
article in the next number. A complete file of the paper is preserved
in the Philadelphia Library.
In 1732, Franklin issued the first number of the Almanac, called
Poor Richard, which subsequently attained such wide renown. The
popularity of the work was astonishing; for twenty-five years it
averaged ten thousand copies a year. This was a wonderful sale in those
times. Everybody was quoting the pithy sayings of Poor Richard.
[Footnote 16: And now after the lapse of one hundred and thirty
years, we find persons willing to give twenty-five dollars for a single
number, and several hundred dollars for a complete set. Nay, the
reading matter of several of the numbers, has been republished within
these few years, and that republication already begins to command the
price of a rarity.Parton's Life of Franklin, Vol. i, p. 231.]
Franklin was an extensive reader. He had a memory almost miraculous;
and his mind was so constituted, that it eagerly grasped and retained
any sharp or witty sayings. Thus, though many of the maxims of Poor
Richard originated with him, others were gleaned from the witticisms of
past ages, upon which Franklin placed the imprint of his own peculiar
genius. I give a few of those renowned maxims which soon became as
household words, in every shop and dwelling of our land.
There is no little enemy. Three may keep a secret if two
of them are dead. He is no clown who drives the plough, but
he that does clownish things. Wealth is not his that has
it, but his that enjoys it. The noblest question in the
world is, 'what good may I do in it.' Keep your eye wide
open before marriage; half shut afterward.
Franklin was not a poet. He could scheme easily, but even his rhymes
were poor. His sense of delicacy was quite obtuse, but perhaps not more
so, than we ought to expect from the unrefined times in which he
[Footnote 17: Poor Richard, at this day, would be reckoned an
indecent production. All great humorists were all indecent, before
Charles Dickens. They used certain words which are now never pronounced
by polite persons, and are never printed by respectable printers; and
they referred freely to certain subjects which are familiar to every
living creature, but which it is now agreed among civilized beings,
shall not be topics of conversation. In this respect Poor Richard was
no worse, and not much better than other colonial periodicals, some of
which contain things incredibly obscene, as much so as the strongest
passages of Sterne, Smollet and De Foe.Parton.]
The increasing circulation of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the
extensive sale of Poor Richard, and the success of many of the small
books which Franklin published, soon placed the finances of Franklin in
a very flourishing condition. This enabled him to send for every
important work published in England. As he was never an hour in
idleness, and seldom entered any place of popular amusement, he found
time to study all these solid and useful works. The superior powers
with which God had endowed him, enabled him to glean from their pages,
and store up in his memory, all that was most valuable. By these
indefatigable studies, he was rapidly becoming one of the most learned
of men, and was preparing himself for that brilliant career, in which,
as a statesman and a philosopher, he stood in the first ranks of those
who had been deemed the great men of earth.
His first entrance to public life was as Clerk to the General
Assembly, which was then the Legislature of the Pennsylvania Colony.
This was an office of but little emolument or honor. His first election
was unanimous. The second year, though successful, he was opposed by an
Franklin, who wished to have every one his friend, was anxious to
conciliate him. He accomplished his purpose shrewdlyperhaps
cunningly, is not too strong a word to use. Having heard that the
gentleman had a very rare and valuable book in his library, he wrote
him a very polite and flattering letter, soliciting the loan of it. No
man could pen such an epistle more adroitly than Franklin.
After a few days he returned the book with one of his most exquisite
notes of thanks. The gentleman was caught in the trap. Charmed with the
urbanity Franklin displayed in the correspondence, the next time he met
the philosopher, he grasped him cordially by the hand. Though he had
never spoken to him before, he invited him to his house.
Franklin, commenting upon this adventure, writes,
He ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all
occasions, so that we became great friends, and our
friendship continued to his death. This is another instance
of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says 'He
that hath once done you a kindness will be more ready to do
you another than he whom you yourself have obliged,' and it
shows how much more profitable it is prudently to remove
than to resent, return, and continue inimical proceedings.
There was something in this transaction, an apparent want of
sincerity, an approach to trickery, which will impress many readers
painfully. It was a shrewd manoeuvre, skillfully contrived, and
successfully executed. The perfect sincerity of a friendly and
magnanimous mind is the safest guide in all the emergencies of life.
CHAPTER VI. Religious and
Studious habitsNew religionPersonal habitsChurch of
the Free and EasyHis many accomplishmentsThe career of
HemphallBirth and Death of Franklin's sonThe Ministry of
WhitefieldRemarkable friendship between the philosopher
and the preacherProsperity of FranklinHis convivial
habitsThe defense of PhiladelphiaBirth of a
daughterThe Philadelphia Academy.
Franklin was a perservering and laborious student, for whatever he
read he studied. With increasing intellectual tastes, he found time
every day to devote many hours to his books. His reading was of the
most elevated and instructive kind. It consisted almost exclusively of
scientific treatises, and of history, biography, voyages and travels.
His mind was still struggling and floundering in the midst of
religious and philosophical speculations. He seems, from some
unexplained reason, to have been very unwilling to accept the religion
of Jesus Christ; and yet he was inspired undeniably by a very noble
desire to be a good man, to attain a high position in morality.
Earnestly he endeavored to frame for himself some scheme which would
enable him to accomplish that purpose.
At this time he wrote,
Few in public affairs act from a mere view of the good of
their country, whatever they may pretend. Fewer still in
public affairs act with a view to the good of mankind. There
seems to me, at present, great occasion to raise a 'United
Party for Virtue,' by forming the virtuous and good of all
nations into a regular body, to be governed by suitable good
and wise rules, which good and wise men may probably be more
unanimous in their obedience to, than common people are to
common laws. I at present, think, that whoever attempts this
aright, and is well qualified, cannot fail of pleasing God,
and of meeting with success.
Influenced by these exalted motives, he concentrated all the
energies of his well informed mind to the organization of a new
religion. To this church he gave the name of The Society of the Free
and Easy. The members were to be Free from vice, and consequently,
Easy in mind. The first article of his creed was that he would have no
creed. And yet this religion, which drew an antagonistic distinction
between faith and works, denouncing all faith at the same time
announced that its fundamental and absolutely essential faith was that
piety consisted in cherishing the ordinarily recognized virtues. These
were Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry,
Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquillity, Charity and
His ritual consisted in devoting one week to the cultivation of each
of these virtues. He had no Sabbath, no preached Gospel, no Sacraments.
But his creed, with its corresponding practice, certainly exerted a
very powerful influence, and in many respects beneficial, upon his own
With his list of virtues before him, this remarkable young man
commenced the effort vigorously to attain perfection. The Christian
reader will not be at all surprised to read from Franklin's pen the
following account of the result:
I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than
I had imagined. But I had the satisfaction of seeing them
diminish. After a while I went through one course only in a
year, and afterwards only one in several years; till at
length I omitted them entirely, being employed in voyages and
business abroad, with a multiplicity of affairs that
Franklin was a very proud man. He could not but be conscious of his
great superiority over most of those with whom he associated. He avows
that the virtue of humility he never could attain. The semblance of
that virtue he could easily assume, but he says that the pride of his
heart was such that had he attained it, he would have been proud of his
humility. He adopted the following as the ordinary routine of life.
He rose at five, very carefully performed his ablutions, and then
offered a brief prayer to a being whom he called Powerful Goodness.
Why he should have preferred that address to the more simple one of
Our Heavenly Father, we know not. He then laid out the business of
the day, and for a short time directed his mind to the especial virtue
which he intended that day and week to cherish.
[Footnote 18: It was about this time I conceived the bold and
arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live
without committing any fault at any time. As I knew, or thought I knew
what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the
one and avoid the other. But I soon found that I had undertaken a task
of more difficulty than I had imagined.Autobiography, p. 105.]
In the freshness of all his morning energies he devoted himself to
his books for an hour and a half. This brought him to breakfast-time.
At eight o'clock he commenced work in his shop, to which he devoted
himself assiduously until twelve. An hour was then allowed for dinner
and rest. At one he returned to the arduous labors of his shop, labors
which engrossed all his energies, and continued the employment until
six. His day's hard work was then ordinarily closed. He took his
supper, received his friends, or more commonly read and studied until
ten o'clock at night, when almost invariably he retired to his bed.
His mind still for a time continued much interested in his plan for
the church of the Free and Easy. We find among his papers that he
decided that candidates for admission should, after a careful
examination, to ascertain that their creed was, to have no creed, and
that their faith was, to abjure all faith, be subject to a probation of
thirteen weeks. It seems that no candidate ever applied for admission.
There were no apostles to wander abroad proclaiming the new gospel.
Increasing business absorbed Franklin's time, and the new church was
The sole motive which Franklin urged to inspire to action, was
self-interest. You should be honest, he would say, because it is
politic. You abstain from vice for the same reason that you should not
drink poison, for it will hurt you. In the enforcement of these views
It was my design to explain and enforce this doctrine,
that vicious actions are not hurtful because they are
forbidden, but forbidden because they are hurtful. It was,
therefore, every one's interest to be virtuous who wished to
be happy in this world. And I should from this circumstance
(there being always in the world a number of rich
merchants, nobility, states and princes, who have need of
honest instruments for the management of their affairs, and
such being so rare) have endeavored to convince young
persons that no qualities are so likely to make a poor man's
fortune as those of probity and integrity.
It may be doubted whether such considerations ever made a truly good
man. Virtue must be loved for its own sake. Vice must be deserted for
its inherent baseness, even though it may bring a great reward.
Franklin, in the prosecution of his studies, devoted himself to
French, Spanish, Italian, and even to Latin. In all these he became a
proficient. His mind was wonderfully prompt in the acquisition of
knowledge. He could hardly have devoted himself more assiduously and
successfully to these studies, had some good angel whispered in the ear
of the young printer the astounding intelligence, You are yet to be
the ambassador of the United States to European courts. You are to
appear in those glittering assemblages as the equal of the highest
noble; and are to enjoy the hospitalities of kings and queens.
Familiarity with these languages, and the intellectual culture you are
thus acquiring will be of more value to you than mines of gold.
This remarkable man prized all branches of knowledge; and seemed to
excel in all. He devoted much attention to music. With much skill he
played upon the harp, the guitar, the violin, and the violincello.
In the year 1734, a young preacher by the name of Hemphall came to
Philadelphia from England. He was deemed by the orthodox clergy, very
heterodox in his opinions. Probably suspicions of his orthodoxy were
enhanced from the fact that he brought high testimonials of eloquence
from several of the most prominent deists and free-thinkers in England.
He was very fluent, at times very eloquent, and Franklin was charmed
with the man and his doctrines.
Boldly denouncing all creeds, and all religious faith, he announced
it as his creed and his faith that piety consists in
conduct alone. Crowds flocked to hear him. One day, after preaching a
very eloquent sermon, some one discovered that he had stolen that
sermon from Dr. James Foster, the most popular preacher in London. An
investigation took place, in which he was compelled to acknowledge that
he had stolen every one of his sermons. Franklin writes,
This detection gave many of our party disgust, who
accordingly abandoned his cause, and occasioned our more
speedy discomfiture in the synod. I stuck by him, however. I
rather approved his giving us good sermons composed by
others, than bad ones of his own, though the latter was the
practice of our common teachers.
Had the young man said frankly, I am rehearsing to you the most
eloquent sermons of the most eloquent English divines, no one could
have found any fault. But for him to assume that the sermons were his
own, and that he personally was entitled to the credit of whatever
power they exhibited, was certainly practicing deception. It was a
gross violation of Franklin's cardinal virtue of sincerity. It was
unworthy of Franklin, in his charitable regard for the offender, to
gloss over the real criminality of the offence.
A year after Franklin's marriage, a son was born to him, to whom he
gave the name of Francis Folger Franklin. All accounts agree in
describing the child as endowed with remarkable beauty and
intelligence. Probably Franklin never loved any being as he loved that
child. In the year 1736, when this wonderful boy was but four years of
age, he was seized with the small-pox and died. Even the philosophic
Franklin was almost crushed by the terrible calamity. The cheering
views of the Christian faith could not sustain him. He had no vivid
conception of his cherub boy an angel in Heaven awaiting his father's
arrival. He could only say that I am inclined to believe that
my child has not passed away into utter annihilation; but who knows?
Many of the wisest and best on earth utterly discard the idea of a
future existence. They deem the thought the conceit of ignorance and
We read the following epitaph on his little grave-stone with much
sympathy for the bereaved father. He could only write
Son of Benjamin and Deborah
Deceased November 12, 1736,
Aged four years, one month and one day.
The delight of all who knew him.
In the year 1739, Rev. George Whitefield arrived in Philadelphia. It
is remarkable that a warm friendship should have sprung up between men
so very diverse in character. But Franklin could not be insensible to
the wonderful power of this preacher, in promoting public morals, and
in transforming the worst of men into valuable citizens, faithfully
performing all the duties of life. It is surprising that this effect of
the Gospel did not teach him that Christianity is the wisdom of God,
and the power of God to salvation. Love was emphatically the
message which Whitefield, with tearful eyes and throbbing heart,
proclaimed to the wicked and the sorrowing. God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him
should not perish but should have everlasting life. Christ came not
into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him
might be saved.
Such were the themes which this apostolic preacher unfolded, and
which moved human hearts, in these new colonies as seventeen hundred
years ago they were moved by the preaching of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and his disciple Paul, upon the plains of Asia.
Whitefield taught that belief controlled conduct. As a man
sincerely believes so will he act. Franklin, with his accustomed
candor, in his Autobiography, wrote in the following terms, the effects
of the preaching of this remarkable reformer:
The multitudes of all sects and denominations that attended
his sermons were enormous. It was wonderful to see the
change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From
being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed
as if all the world were growing religious; so that one
could not walk through the town, in an evening, without
hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.
Mr. Whitefield, on leaving us, went preaching all the way
through the colonies to Georgia. The settlement of that
province had been lately begun; but instead of being made
with hardy, industrious husbandmen, accustomed to labor, the
only people fit for such an enterprise, it was with families
of broken shop-keepers, and other insolvent debtors; many of
indolent and idle habits, taken out of the jails who, being
set down in the woods, unqualified for clearing land, and
unable to endure the hardships of a new settlement, perished
in numbers, leaving many helpless children unprovided for.
The sight of their miserable situation inspired the
benevolent heart of Mr. Whitefield with the idea of building
an Orphan House there in which they might be supported and
educated. Returning northward, he preached up this charity,
and made large collections.
I did not disapprove of the design; but as Georgia was then
destitute of materials and workmen, and it was proposed to
send them from Philadelphia at a great expense, I thought it
would have been better to have built the house at
Philadelphia, and brought the children to it. This I
advised. But he was resolute in his first project, rejected
my counsel, and I therefore refused to contribute.
I happened soon after to attend one of his sermons, in the
course of which I perceived he intended to finish with a
collection, and I silently resolved he should get nothing
from me. I had in my pocket a handful of copper money, three
or four silver dollars, and five pistoles in gold, (about
twenty-five dollars). As he proceeded I began to soften, and
concluded to give the copper; another stroke of his oratory
made me ashamed of that, and determined me to give the
silver; and he finished so admirably that I emptied my
pockets wholly into the collector's dish, gold and all.
Some of Mr. Whitefield's enemies affected to suppose that
he would apply these collections to his own private
emolument. But I, who was intimately acquainted with him,
being employed in printing his sermons and journals, never
had the least suspicion of his integrity; but am to this day
decidedly of the opinion, that he was in all his conduct a
perfectly honest man; and methinks my testimony ought have
the more weight, as we had no religious connection. He used,
indeed, sometimes to pray for my conversion, but never had
the satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard.
Ours was a friendship sincere on both sides, and lasted to
[Footnote 19: Autobiography of Franklin, as given by Sparks, p.
At one time Franklin wrote to Whitefield, in Boston, inviting him,
as he was about to come to Philadelphia, to make his house his home.
The devout preacher replied,
If you make this offer for Christ's sake you will not lose your
Promptly the philosopher rejected any such motive, and rejoined,
Do not be mistaken. It was not for Christ's sake I invited you, but
for your own sake.
In all the numerous letters, essays, and philosophical and religious
disquisitions of Franklin, we seldom, I think, find a sentiment
indicative of any high appreciation of the character of Jesus Christ;
or the debt of gratitude we owe to him, either for his teaching or for
his example. As Franklin discarded all idea of the Atonement, he of
course could not express any gratitude for that which is, to the
Christian, the crowning act even of divine love. This Saviour, to
millions who cannot be counted, has proved, even if the comfort be a
delusion, in temptation, disappointment, and death, more precious than
it is in the power of words to declare.
One article from Franklin's newspaper, published in the year 1740,
gives an idea of the extraordinary interest which the preaching of
On Thursday last the Reverend Mr. Whitefield left this city,
and was accompanied to Chester by about one hundred and
fifty horse; and preached there to about seven thousand
people. On Friday he preached twice at Willings Town to about
five thousand. On Saturday, at Newcastle, to about two
thousand five hundred; and the same evening at Christiana
Bridge to about three thousand; on Sunday at White Clay
Creek, he preached twice, resting about half an hour between
the sermons, to eight thousand, of whom three thousand, it is
computed, came on horseback. It rained most of the time, and
yet they stood in the open air.
The keenness of the scrutiny with which Franklin watched all the
operations of nature, led him to the discovery of the before unknown
fact that the fierce north-east storms which sweep our Atlantic coast
invariably begin in the south-west, and move backwards, diminishing in
violence as they go. He also, about this time, invented the Franklin
stove, which in the day when wood was the only fuel consumed has
invested so many firesides with a rare aspect of cheerfulness. He wrote
a very ingenious pamphlet, elucidating the philosophy of house-warming.
There is great moral power in prosperity, when wisely accepted and
enjoyed. Franklin was now a prosperous man. His income was constantly
increasing. His virtues, and they were great ones, proved in all
respects promotive of his worldly welfare. His journal was the leading
paper, certainly in all that region, and had not its superior in any of
the colonies. His renowned almanac, Poor Richard, attained an
unexampled sale. The work executed in his printing office was so
excellent as to bring in to him many orders even from the other
provinces. The various books and pamphlets he had published had all
been successful. Philadelphia had already become the chief town of the
Notwithstanding Franklin's devotion to books, to business, and to
philosophical research, he is represented to have been at this time, a
jovial man, very fond of convivial gatherings. He could not only write
a good song, but he could sing it, to the acceptance of his companions.
One of these songs entitled The Old Man's Wish he says he sang over a
thousand times. We give the concluding stanza, illustrative of its
With a courage undaunted, may I face the last day,
And when I am gone may the better sort say,
In the morning when sober, in the evening when mellow,
He has gone and not left behind him his fellow,
For he governed his passions with absolute sway.
There was, as usual, war in Europe. Enormous armies were burning
cities and villages, drenching the trampled harvest fields with blood,
and filling the humble hamlets of the poor with misery. There was every
reason to fear that these awful storms, raised by the passions of
depraved men, would reach the peaceful shores of the Delaware.
Philadelphia was entirely undefended. It is said that there was not an
available cannon in Pennsylvania.
A well-armed privateer could at any hour, seize and sack the city.
Quaker influence so far prevailed that the legislature could not be
induced to raise a battery, or purchase a gun. Franklin wrote a very
powerful pamphlet, called Plain Truth, urging the necessity of adopting
some measures of defence. He showed how the colony could, at any time,
be ravaged by a few vessels from any European nation then in conflict
with England. I give a few extracts from this admirable pamphlet:
On the first alarm, terror will spread over all. Many will
seek safety by flight. Those that are reputed rich will
flee, through fear of torture to make them produce more than
they are able. The man that has a wife and children, will
find them hanging on his neck, beseeching him to quit the
city, and save his life. All will run into confusion, amid
cries and lamentations, and the hurry and disorder of
departures. The few that remain, will be unable to resist.
Sacking the city will be the first; and burning it, in all
probability, the last act of the enemy. This I believe will
be the case, if you have timely notice. But what must be
your condition, if suddenly surprised without previous
alarm, perhaps in the night. Confined to your houses, you
will have nothing to trust but the enemy's mercy. Your best
fortune will be to fall under the power of commanders of
king's ships, able to control the mariners, and not into the
hands of licentious privateers.
Who can without the utmost horror, conceive the miseries of
the latter when your persons, fortunes, wives and daughters,
shall be subject to the wanton and unbridled rage, rapine,
and lust, of negroes, mulattoes, and others, the vilest and
most abandoned of mankind?
This warning effectually roused the community. A public meeting was
summoned, in the immense building erected to accommodate the crowds who
flocked to hear Whitefield. Here Franklin harangued the multitude. An
Association of Defence was organized. Ten thousand persons enrolled
their names. In a few days nearly every man in the province, who was
not a Quaker, had joined some military organization. Each man purchased
for himself a weapon, and was learning how to use it.
Eighty companies were organized and disciplined. The companies in
Philadelphia united in a regiment, and chose Franklin their colonel.
Wisely he declined the office, conceiving myself unfit, he says. A
battery was thrown up below the town. Some cannon were sent for from
Boston. Several eighteen-pounders were obtained in New York, and more
were ordered from London. In manning the battery, Franklin took his
turn of duty as a common soldier.
There was not a little opposition to these measures, but still the
strong current of popular opinion was in their favor. Even the young
Quakers, though anxious to avoid wounding the feelings of their
parents, secretly gave their influence to these preparations of
defence. The peace of Aix la Chapelle in 1748, terminated these alarms.
But the wisdom and energy which Franklin had displayed, caused him to
be regarded as the most prominent man in Pennsylvania. The masses of
the people regarded him with singular homage and confidence.
In 1744, Franklin had a daughter born, to whom he gave the name of
Sarah. His motherless son William, who was destined to give his father
great trouble, was growing up, stout, idle, and intractable. Early in
the war he had run away, and enlisted on board a privateer. With much
difficulty his father rescued him from these engagements. Franklin was
evidently embarrassed to know what to do with the boy. He allowed him,
when but sixteen years of age, to enlist as a soldier in an expedition
About this time Franklin wrote to his sister Jane, whose son had
also run away to enlist as a privateer. He wished to console her by the
assurance that it was not in consequence of unkind treatment, that the
boys were induced thus to act. He wrote:
When boys see prizes brought in, and quantities of money
shared among the men, and their gay living, it fills their
heads with notions that half distract them; and puts them
quite out of conceit with trades and the dull ways of getting
money by working. My only son left my house unknown to us
all, and got on board a privateer, from whence I fetched him.
No one imagined it was hard usage at home that made him do
this. Every one that knows me thinks I am too indulgent a
parent, as well as master.
The father of Benjamin Franklin died in Boston, at the great age of
eighty-nine years. He had secured, in a very high degree, the respect
of the people, not only by his irreproachable morals, but by his
unfeigned piety. The Boston News Letter, of January 17, 1745, in the
following brief obituary, chronicles his death:
Last night died Mr. Josiah Franklin, tallow chandler, and
soap maker. By the force of steady temperance he had made a
constitution, none of the strongest, last with comfort to the
age of eighty-nine years. And by an entire dependence on his
Redeemer, and a constant course of the strictest piety and
virtue, he was enabled to die as he lived, with cheerfulness
and peace, leaving a numerous posterity the honor of being
descended from a person who, through a long life, supported
the character of an honest man.
In the year 1743 Franklin drew up a plan for an Academy in
Philadelphia. In consequence of the troubled times the tract was not
published until the year 1749. It was entitled, Proposals Relating to
the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania. The suggestions he presented
indicated a wide acquaintance with the writings of the most eminent
philosophers. He marked out minutely, and with great wisdom, the course
of study to be pursued. It is pleasant to read the following statement,
in this programme. Urging the study of History, he writes,
History will also afford frequent opportunities of showing
the necessity of a public religion, from its usefulness
the public; the advantages of a religious character among
private persons; the mischiefs of superstition and the
excellency of the Christian religion above all others,
ancient and modern.
Perhaps this tribute to the excellence of Christianity ought in some
degree to modify the impression left upon the mind, by Franklin's
studious avoidal, in all his writings, of any allusion to the name of
Jesus Christ its founder.
Twenty-five thousand dollars were speedily raised for this
institution. All the religious sects harmoniously united. One
individual from each sect was appointed, to form the corporate body
intrusted with the funds. But almost the entire care and trouble of
rearing the building, and organizing the institution fell upon
Franklin. He was found to be fully adequate to all these
CHAPTER VII. The Tradesman becomes
Franklin appointed Indian commissionerEffects of
RumIndian logicAccumulating honorsBenevolent
enterprisesFranklin's counsel to TennentEfforts for city
postmasterRumors of WarEngland enlists the Six Nations
in her causeFranklin plans a Confederacy of StatesPlans
rejectedElectrical experimentsFranklin's increase of
incomeFearful experimentsThe kiteNew honorsViews of
the French philosopherFranklin's Religious viewsHis
counsel to a young pleaderPost-office Reforms.
In the year 1740, Franklin, then forty-four years of age, was
appointed on a commission to form a treaty with the Indians at
Carlisle. Franklin, knowing the frenzy to which the savages were
plunged by intoxication, promised them that, if they would keep
entirely sober until the treaty was concluded, they should then have an
ample supply of rum. The agreement was made and faithfully kept.
They then, writes Franklin, claimed and received the rum.
This was in the afternoon. They were near one hundred men,
women and children, and were lodged in temporary cabins,
built in the form of a square, just without the town. In the
evening, hearing a great noise among them, the commissioners
walked to see what was the matter.
We found that they had made a great bonfire in the middle of
the square; that they were all drunk, men and women
quarreling and fighting. Their dark-colored bodies,
half-naked, seen only by the gloomy light of the bonfire,
running after and beating one another with firebrands,
accompanied by their horrid yellings, formed a scene the most
resembling our ideas of hell, that could well be imagined.
There was no appeasing the tumult, and we returned to our
lodgings. At midnight a number of them came thundering at our
door demanding more rum, of which we took no notice.
The next morning they all seemed very much ashamed of the
disgraceful orgies in which they had indulged. There was a
law written in their own hearts, which told them that they
had done wrong. Three chiefs were appointed to call upon the
commissioners with an humble apology. With downcast looks
they confessed their fault, and then with logic which more
intelligent men sometimes use, endeavored to throw the blame
upon God. In remarkable speech one of them said,
'The Great Spirit, who made all things, made everything for
some use. Whatever use he designed anything for, that use it
should be always put to. Now, when he made rum, he said, Let
this be for the Indians to get drunk with! and it must be
The Governor at this time appointed Franklin a Justice of Peace.
Franklin says he was much flattered by these accumulating honors. Soon
he was elected to a seat, as one of the Legislators in the Assembly.
Mainly through his influence, a hospital for the sick was established
in Philadelphia. Though the measure encountered much opposition, he
carried it; and the institution proved of incalculable benefit.
The Rev. Gilbert Tennent solicited Franklin's aid in raising money
for building a Meeting House. As Franklin had been so continually
engaged in asking for money for various objects of benevolence, he was
afraid he should become obnoxious to his fellow-citizens, and declined.
Mr. Tennent then requested him to give him a list of the names of those
influential persons upon whom it would be well for him to call. Every
Christian minister who reads this, will appreciate the nature of his
embarrassment. Franklin says that he thought it would be unbecoming in
him, after having emptied the purses of his friends, to send other
beggars to them, with renewed importunities. This request he therefore
declined. Mr. Tennent then urged him to give him some advice. Franklin
That I will willingly do. In the first place, I advise you to apply
to all those who you know will do something; next, to those who you are
uncertain whether they will give anything or not, and show them the
list of those who have given; and lastly, do not neglect those who you
are sure will give nothing, for in some of them you may be mistaken.
Mr. Tennent laughed heartily, and declared that he would rigorously
follow out this advice. He did so. His success was wonderful; a much
larger sum was raised than he had anticipated, and soon a capacious and
beautiful Meeting House rose in Arch street.
The streets of Philadelphia, though laid out with great regularity,
were unpaved, and in wet weather were almost impassable quagmires.
Franklin, by talking with his friends, and by urging the subject in his
paper, at length succeeded in having a sidewalk paved with stone, upon
one of the most important streets. It gave great satisfaction, but the
rest of the street not being paved, the mud was thrown by passing
carriages upon it, and as the city employed no street cleaners, the
sidewalk soon ceased to afford a clean passage to pedestrians.
Franklin found an industrious man who was willing to sweep the
pavement twice a week, carrying off the dirt from before all the doors,
for the sum of sixpence a month, to be paid by each house.
The philosophic Franklin then, having started this enterprise,
printed on a sheet of paper the great advantages of keeping the
sidewalk clean, and sent one of these papers to each house. He urged
that much of the soiling of the interior of the houses would thus be
avoided, that an attractive sidewalk would lure passengers to the
shops; and that, in windy weather, their goods would be preserved from
After a few days he called, in person, at each house and shop to see
who would subscribe sixpence a month. It was a great success. The
cleanliness of the pavement in the important streets surrounding the
market, greatly delighted the people, and prepared the way for carrying
a bill which Franklin presented to the Assembly for paving and lighting
all the important streets of the city.
A gentleman, by the name of John Clifton, had placed a lamp before
his door. This suggested the idea. Lamps were sent for from London.
Globes were furnished. They were expensive. The smoke circulated in the
globe and obstructed the light. They had to be wiped clean each day. An
accidental stroke demolished the whole globe. Franklin suggested four
flat panes. One might be broken, and easily replaced. Crevices were
left below to admit a current of air, and a funnel to draw off the
smoke. Thus for a long time the glass remained undimmed.
Wherever Franklin went, he carried with him this spirit of
improvement. When in London, he found the streets wretchedly dirty. One
morning he found a poor woman at his door in Craven street, sweeping
the sidewalk with a wretched broom. Her pallid and exhausted appearance
touched the sympathies of Franklin. He asked who employed her. She
Nobody. I am poor and in distress. I sweeps before gentlefolks's
doors, and hopes they will give me something.
Franklin immediately engaged her to sweep the whole street. It was
nine o'clock in the morning. She was so languid and debilitated that he
thought it would take her nearly all day. But in three hours she came
for her shilling. Franklin thought she could not have done her work
faithfully. He sent his servant to examine. He reported that the work
was thoroughly done. A new problem rose before Franklin: If this feeble
woman could in so short a time sweep such a street, a strong man, with
a suitable broom, could certainly do it in half of the time. He
therefore drew up a plan for cleaning the streets of London and
Westminster, which was placed in the hands of one of the most
influential of the public-spirited men of London.
Franklin apologizes for speaking in his autobiography of such
trifles. Very truly, he says,
Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of
good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages
that occur every day. Thus if you teach a poor young man to
shave himself and keep his razor in order, you may
contribute more to the happiness of his life than in giving
him a thousand guineas. This sum may be soon spent, the
regret only remaining of having foolishly consumed it. But
in the other case, he escapes the frequent vexation of
waiting for barbers, and of their sometimes dirty fingers,
offensive breath, and dull razors. He shaves when most
convenient to him, and enjoys daily the pleasure of its
being done with a good instrument.
Nearly all the important offices in the colonies were filled by
appointments from the British Crown. For some time, Franklin had been
employed as an assistant to the Postmaster General, in simplifying and
bringing regularity into his accounts. Upon the death of the American
Postmaster, Franklin, in 1753, was appointed jointly with Sir William
Hunter to succeed him. The appointment was made by the Postmaster
General in England.
The post-office department had scarcely been self-supporting. It had
never paid anything to the crown. The salary offered to the two
postmasters was three thousand dollars a year each, if they could save
that sum from the profits of the office. Franklin writes,
To do this a variety of improvements was necessary. Some of
these were inevitably, at first, expensive; so that in the
first four years, the office became above nine hundred
pounds in debt to us. But it soon after began to repay us.
And before I was displaced by a freak of the ministers, of
which I shall hereafter speak, we had brought it to yield
three times as much clear revenue to the crown as the
post-office of Ireland. Since that imprudent transaction,
they have received from it not one farthing.
Again there were menaces of war, insane and demoniac, to fill the
world with tears and woe. As we read the record of these horrid
outrages which through all the centuries have desolated this globe, it
would seem that there must be a vein of insanity as well as of
depravity, in the heart of fallen man. England and France were again
marshaling their armies, and accumulating their fleets, for the
It was certain that France, in Canada, and England, in her colonies,
could not live in peace here, while the volcanic throes of war were
shaking the island of Great Britain, and the Continent of Europe.
In the heart of New York, then almost an unbroken wilderness, there
were six exceedingly fierce and war-like tribes called the Six Nations.
Like the wolves they delighted in war. The greatness of a man depended
on the number of scalps with which he could fringe his dress. These
savage warriors were ready and eager to engage as the allies of those
who would pay them the highest price. Mercy was an attribute of which
they knew not even the name.
It was not doubted that France would immediately send her emissaries
from Canada to enlist these savages on her side. Awful would be the
woes with which these demoniac men could sweep our defenceless
frontiers; with the tomahawk and the scalping knife, exterminating
families, burning villages, and loading their pack-horses with plunder.
To forestall the French, and to turn these woes from our own frontier
to the humble homes of the Canadian emigrants, the English government
appointed a commissioner to visit the chiefs of these tribes in the
The all important council was to be held in Albany. Governor
Hamilton appointed four commissioners, of whom Franklin was one, to act
in behalf of Pennsylvania. They were furnished with rich gifts with
which to purchase the favor of the Indians. It was a long and tedious
journey from Philadelphia to Albany.
Franklin, on this journey, was deeply impressed with the importance
of a union of the colonies for self-defence. He therefore drew up a
plan for such union. Several gentlemen of the highest intelligence in
New York, having examined it, gave it their cordial approval. He
accordingly laid it before Congress.
There were several other persons in other colonies who were
impressed as deeply as Franklin with a sense of the importance of such
a confederacy, and they also sent in their suggestions.
Congress appointed a committee of one from each province, to
consider the several plans. The committee approved of Franklin's plan,
and reported accordingly. While the commissioners were conferring with
the Indians in Albany, Congress was engaged in discussing the plans of
a confederacy. Franklin's plan was finally rejected. It did not meet
the views either of the Assembly, or of the British Court. And here we
see, perhaps the germs of the great conflict which soon culminated in
the cruel war of the Revolution.
The Assembly objected to the plan as too aristocratic, conferring
too much power upon the crown. The court emphatically rejected it as
too democratic, investing the people with too much power. Franklin ever
affirmed that his plan was the true medium. Even the royalist governor
of Pennsylvania warmly commended the compromise he urged.
In visiting Boston he was shown an electric tube, recently sent from
England. With this tube some very surprising electrical experiments
were performed, ushering in a new science, of which then but very
little was known. Franklin became intensely interested in the subject.
Upon his return to Philadelphia, he devoted himself, with great
assiduity, to experimenting with electric tubes. At this time he wrote
to a friend,
I never was before engaged in any study that so totally
engrossed my attention and my time, as this has lately done;
for what with making experiments when I can be alone, and
repeating them to my friends and acquaintances, who, from
the novelty of the thing, come continually in crowds to see
them, I have little leisure for anything else.
This was during the winter of 1746-7. Franklin suggested that the
electricity was collected, not created by friction. He also propounded
the theory of positive and negative electricity. He was, at this time,
comparatively a wealthy man, and consequently could afford to devote
his time to philosophical investigation. It is estimated that his
income, from his estates, amounted to about seven hundred pounds a
year; this was equal to about six or seven thousand dollars at the
present time. Mr. Parton writes,
Besides this independence, Franklin was the holder of two
offices, worth together perhaps one hundred and fifty pounds
a year. His business, then more flourishing than ever,
produced an annual profit, as before computed, of two
thousand pounds; bringing up his income to the troublesome
and absurd amount of nearly three thousand pounds; three
times the revenue of a colonial governor.
Under these prosperous circumstances, Franklin withdrew from active
business, became a silent partner in the firm, and devoted nearly all
his time to the new science. He wrote, in the autumn of 1748, to his
friend Cadwallader Colden of New York,
I have removed to a more quiet part of the town, where I am
settling my old accounts, and hope soon to be quite master
of my own time, and no longer, as the song has it, 'at every
one's call but my own.'
Thus you see I am in a fair way of having no other tasks
than such as I shall like to give myself, and of enjoying
what I look upon as a great happiness, leisure to read,
study, make experiments, and converse at large with such
ingenious and worthy men, as are pleased to honor me with
their friendship or acquaintance, on such points as may
produce something for the common benefit of mankind,
uninterrupted by the cares and fatigues of business.
He wrote a treatise upon thundergusts, which displayed wonderful
sagacity, and which arrested the attention of nearly all the
philosophers in Europe and America. The all-important topics of this
exceedingly important document, were the power of points to draw off
electricity, and also the similarity of electricity and lightning. He
therefore urged that metallic rods might be attached to buildings and
ships, which, pushing their needle points above roofs and masts, might
draw the electric fire harmlessly from the clouds. He confesses that he
cannot imagine why the points should possess this curious power, but
urges that facts seem to demonstrate it.
One day, for the entertainment of his friends, he had made
arrangements to kill a turkey with an electric shock. Two large jars
were heavily charged. Incautiously manipulating, he took the shock
himself. In the following language, he describes the effect:
The flash was very great, and the crack was as loud as a
pistol; yet my senses being instantly gone, I neither saw
the one nor heard the other; nor did I feel the stroke on my
hand, though I afterwards found it raised a round swelling
where the fire entered, as big as half a pistol bullet.
I then felt what I know not well how to describe, a
universal blow throughout my whole body from head to foot,
which seemed within as well as without; after which the
first thing I took notice of was a violent, quick shaking of
my body, which gradually remitting, my sense as gradually
returned, and then, I thought the bottle must be discharged,
but could not conceive how, till at last I perceived the
chain in my hand, and recollected what I had been about to
That part of my hand and fingers which held the chain, was
left white as though the blood had been driven out; and
remained so eight or ten minutes after, feeling like dead
flesh; and I had numbness in my arms and the back of my neck
which continued to the next morning, but wore off.
Franklin was much mortified at his awkwardness in this experiment.
He declared it to be a notorious blunder, and compared it with the
folly of the Irishman, who wishing to steal some gun-powder, bored a
hole through the cask with red hot iron. But notwithstanding this
warning, not long afterwards, in endeavoring to give a shock to a
paralytic patient, he received the whole charge himself, and was
knocked flat and senseless on the floor.
In the spring of 1752, Franklin tried his world renowned experiment
with the kite. A June thunder cloud was rising in all its majesty.
Franklin, accompanied by his son, repaired to a field secretly, being
afraid of the ridicule of the people. Here he raised the kite, made of
a large silk handkerchief. The top of the perpendicular stick was
pointed with a sharp metallic rod. The string was hemp with the
exception of the part held in the hand, which was silk; at the end of
the hempen string a common key was suspended. With intense anxiety and
no slight apprehension of danger, he held the line. Soon he observed
the fibres of the hempen string to rise and separate themselves, as was
the case of the hair on the head, when any one was placed on an
insulating stool. He applied his knuckle to the key, and received an
unmistakable spark. As the story is generally told, with occasionally
slight contradictions, he applied his knuckle again and again to the
key with a similar result. He charged a Leyden jar with the fluid and
both he and his son took a shock. He then drew in his kite, packed up
his apparatus and returned to his laboratory probably the most exultant
and happy man in this wide world.
Most of the English and many of the French philosophers were very
unwilling to believe that an obscure American, in what they deemed the
savage and uncultivated wilds of the New World, was outstripping them
in philosophical research. They were unwilling to acknowledge the
reality of his experiments; but in France, where an American would
receive more impartial treatment, three of the most eminent
philosophers, Count de Buffon, M. Dalibard and M. de Lor, at different
places, raised the apparatus Franklin had recommended to draw
electricity from the clouds. Their success was unmistakable; the
results of these experiments were proclaimed throughout Europe.
Franklin had now obtained renown. No one could deny that he merited
a high position among the most eminent philosophers. The experiments he
had suggested were tried by scientists in the philosophical circles of
every country in Europe.
Both Yale and Harvard, in this country, conferred upon him the
honorary degree of Master of Arts, and the Royal Society, in Europe, by
a unanimous vote, elected him a member, remitting the usual initiation
fee of five guineas, and the annual charge of two and a half guineas.
The next year this Society conferred upon him the Copley medal.
For seven years Franklin continued to devote himself almost
exclusively to this science, and he became, without doubt, the most
accomplished electrician in the world. At the same time his mind was
ever active in devising new schemes for the welfare of humanity. The
most trivial events would often suggest to him measures conducive to
the most beneficial results. It is said that Franklin saw one day in a
ditch the fragments of a basket of yellow willow, in which some foreign
commodity had been imported to this country. One of the twigs had
sprouted. He planted it; and it became the parent of all the yellow
willows in our country.
Franklin was best loved where he was best known. And this was right;
for he was ever conferring deeds of kindness upon his neighbors. His
religious views excited sorrow among his Christian friends. Others,
composing perhaps a majority, cared nothing about what he believed. In
conversation he ever frankly avowed himself a deist, though generally
he made no attempt to convert others to his views. It is not improbable
that he was in some degree influenced by the beneficial effect produced
upon the popular mind by the preaching of his friend Mr. Whitefield.
The writer was once, in Paris, conversing with one of the most
illustrious of the French philosophers. He said to the philosopher, I
am much interested to ascertain the views of gentlemen of your
intellectual position respecting the Christian religion. He with
perfect frankness replied, I think that there are no men of high
culture in France, with a few exceptions, who believe in the divine
origin of Christianity. But there is no philanthropist who will say so.
We have been taught, by the horrors of the French Revolution, that the
masses of the people can only be restrained from violence by the
superstitious restraints which Christianity presents. We therefore
think that every man, who is a gentleman, will do what he can to
sustain the church and the clergy. Men of culture and refinement, are
governed by principles of honor, and they do not need the superstitious
motives of Christianity to influence them.
I may remark, in passing, that this gentlemanly philosopher had
abandoned his own wife, and was then living with the wife of another
man. It is not improbable that Franklin, as he looked upon the
tumultuous and passion-tossed young men of Philadelphia, did not deem
it expedient to say to them,
The Bible is a fable. The Sabbath is no more sacred than any other
day. The church is merely a human club without any divine authority.
Marriage is an institution which is not founded upon any decree which
God has issued, but one of the expediency of which each individual must
judge for himself. The Sacraments of Baptism, and the Lord's Supper,
are mere human contrivances. The preaching of the Gospel had better be
laid aside for literary and scientific disquisitions.
With the eye of a benevolent philosopher, Franklin, as we have seen,
had watched the effect of the preaching of Mr. Whitefield, and had
candidly acknowledged its power in reforming society. It is improbable
that, in his heart, he felt that the preaching of pure deism could ever
secure such results. In 1753 he wrote to Mr. Whitefield, in reply to a
communication from him upon the Christian faith:
The faith you mention certainly has its use in the world. I
do not desire to see it diminished, nor would I endeavor to
lessen it in any man.
Franklin had resolved to decline all office, that he might devote
himself to his studies. But his reputation for wisdom was such, that he
found it very difficult to persevere in this plan. Menaces of war were
continually arising. The majority of the members, in the Assembly, were
Quakers. It was a small body consisting of but forty delegates. The
Quakers opposed every measure for public defence. Franklin, as we have
mentioned, became a Justice of the Peace. Soon after he was an
Alderman, and then he took his seat in the General Assembly.
I was a bad speaker, he writes, never eloquent; subject to much
hesitation in the choice of words; and yet I generally carried my
He adds, in language which every young man should treasure up in his
memory, I retained the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest
diffidence; never using, when I advanced anything that might possibly
be disputed, the words, certainly, undoubtedly, or any
others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather, I
conceive, or apprehend a thing to be so and so. It
appears to me, or, I should not think it so for such and such
reasons, or, I imagine it to be so, or, It is so if I am
not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to
me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions; and to persuade
men into measures that I have been from time to time proposing.
When Franklin assumed the charge of the post-office, the department
was in a feeble and peculiar condition. As late as the year 1757, the
mail-bag in Virginia was passed from planter to planter. Each one was
required to forward it promptly, under the penalty of forfeiting a
hogshead of tobacco. Every man took, from the bag, what belonged to his
family, and sent on the rest. The line of post-offices then extended
from Boston, Mass., to Charleston, S. C. It was twenty years after
this, before any governmental mail penetrated the interior.
In the year 1753, Franklin visited every post-office excepting that
of Charleston. His wisdom introduced reforms, some of which have
continued to the present day. A newspaper was charged nine pence a
year, for a distance of fifty miles, and eighteen pence for one hundred
miles or more. In the large towns a penny post was established, and all
letters left remaining in the office were advertised.
A mail was conveyed from Philadelphia to New York once a week in
summer, and once in two weeks in winter. Franklin started a mail to
leave each of these cities three times a week in summer, and twice in
winter. It generally required six weeks to obtain an answer from a
letter sent to Boston. Most of the roads, into the interior, consisted
of narrow passages, cut through the forest, called Bridle Paths,
because the pack horses were led through them, in single file by the
CHAPTER VIII. The Rising Storms
AristocracyAnecdoteConflicting laws of
NationsFranklin's scheme of colonizationProposal of the
British CourtThe foresight of FranklinBraddock's
campaignRemonstrances of Franklin and
WashingtonFranklin's interviews with BraddockFranklin's
efficiencyConfidence of BraddockThe conflict with the
ProprietariesThe non-resistant QuakersFate of the
Moravian villagesThe winter campaignThe camp of
GaudenhuttonAnecdoteRenewal of the strife with the
ProprietariesFranklin recalled to assist the
AssemblyDestruction of the FortClaim of the
ProprietariesThe great controversy.
With increasing wealth the spirit of aristocratic exclusiveness
gained strength in the higher circles of Philadelphia. Some of the more
opulent families planned for a series of dancing entertainments during
the winter. It was proposed among other rules that no mechanic, or
mechanic's wife or daughter, should be invited. The rules were shown to
Franklin. He glanced his eye over them and pithily remarked,
Why these rules would exclude God Almighty!
How so? inquired the manager.
Because, Franklin replied, the Almighty, as all know, is the
greatest mechanic in the universe. In six days he made all things. The
obnoxious article was stricken out.
The following incident, narrated by Franklin, illustrates a very
important principle in political economy, which those are apt to
ignore, who denounce all the elegancies and luxuries of life.
Mrs. Franklin received some small favor from the captain of a little
coaster, which ran between Cape May and Philadelphia. He declined to
receive any remuneration for his trifling services. Mrs. Franklin,
learning that he had a pretty daughter, sent her a new-fashioned
Philadelphia cap or bonnet. Three years after, the captain called again
at the house of Mr. Franklin. A very plain but intelligent farmer
accompanied him. The captain expressed his thanks to Mrs. Franklin for
the gift she had sent his daughter, and rather discourteously added,
But it proved a dear cap to our congregation. When my daughter
appeared with it at meeting, it was so much admired that all the girls
resolved to get such caps from Philadelphia. And my wife and I computed
that the whole could not have cost less than a hundred pounds.
The farmer, with far higher intelligence, said, This is true; but
you do not tell the whole story. I think the cap was nevertheless an
advantage to us. It was the first thing that put our girls upon
knitting worsted mittens, for sale at Philadelphia, that they might
have wherewithal to buy caps and ribbons there. And you know that that
industry has continued and is likely to continue and increase, to a
much greater value, and answer better purposes.
Thus by a profitable exchange, the industrious girls at Cape May
had pretty bonnets, and the girls at Philadelphia had warm mittens.
For seventy-five years it had been the constant design of the
British government to drive the French from North America. England
claimed the whole country, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, because
her ships had first sailed along the Atlantic coast. It was one of the
recognized laws of nations that a newly discovered region belonged to
the nation who had first raised upon it its flag.
France, admitting the claim of England to the Atlantic coast,
asserted her right to the great valleys of the interior, those of the
Ohio and the Mississippi, because her boatmen had first discovered
those magnificent rivers, had explored them throughout, and had
established upon them her trading and military posts. It was a
recognized law of nations, that the power which discovered, explored,
and took possession of a new river, was the rightful possessor of the
valley which that river watered. Thus the conflict of claims
To add to the intensity of the insane strife, which caused an amount
of blood and misery which no tongue can tell, religious bitterness was
aroused, and the French Roman Catholic was arrayed against the British
Three wars, bloody and woful, had already ravaged this continent. We
have before alluded to the menace of a new war in the year 1754, and to
Franklin's mission to Albany to enlist the chiefs of the Six Nations to
become allies of the English. We have also alluded to the plan, which
Franklin drew up on this journey, for the union of the colonies, and
which was rejected. The wisdom of this plan was, however, subsequently
developed by the fact that it was remarkably like that by which
eventually the colonies were bound together as a nation.
Assuming that the English were right in their claim for the whole
continent, Franklin urged the eminently wise measure of establishing
strong colonies, in villages of a hundred families each, on the
luxuriant banks of the western rivers. But the haughty British
government would receive no instructions from American provincials.
Governor Shirley, of Boston, showed Mr. Franklin a plan, drawn up in
England, for conducting the war. It developed consummate ignorance of
the difficulties of carrying on war in the pathless wilderness; and
also a great disregard of the political rights of the American
citizens. According to this document, the British court was to
originate and execute all the measures for the conduct of the war; and
the British Parliament was to assess whatever tax it deemed expedient
upon the American people to defray the expenses. The Americans were to
have no representation in Parliament, and no voice whatever in deciding
upon the sum which they were to pay.
Franklin examined the document carefully, and returned it with his
written objections. In this remarkable paper, he anticipated the
arguments which our most distinguished statesmen and logicians urged
against the Stamp Actagainst Taxation without Representation. A brief
extract from this important paper, will give the reader some idea of
The colonists are Englishmen. The accident of living in a
colony deprives them of no right secured by Magna Charta. The
people in the colonies, who are to feel the immediate
mischiefs of invasion and conquest by an enemy, in the loss
of their estates, lives and liberties, are likely to be
better judges of the quantity of forces necessary to be
raised and maintained, and supported, and of their own
ability to bear the expense, than the Parliament of England,
at so great a distance. Compelling the colonists to pay money
without their consent, would be rather like raising
contributions in an enemy's country, than taxing of
Englishmen for their own public benefit. It would be treating
them as a conquered people, and not as true British
At length the brave, but self-conceited and haughty General Braddock
came with his army of British Regulars. Frenchmen, Indians, and
Americans, he alike regarded with contempt. His troops were
rendezvoused at Fredericktown, in Maryland. A bridle path led through
the wilderness to this place, from Philadelphia, a distance of a
hundred and twenty miles.
Intelligent American gentlemen were much alarmed, by the reckless
and perilous measures which the ignorant British general declared his
intention to pursue. He became very angry with Pennsylvanians, because
they were so unwilling to fall in with his plans. It was said that, in
his anger, he manifested more desire to ravage Pennsylvania than to
defeat the French.
The Assembly at Philadelphia appointed a commission, consisting of
Benjamin Franklin and his son, a resolute, insubordinate man of thirty
years, and of the Governors of New York and Massachusetts, to visit the
arrogant British officer, and to endeavor, in some way, to influence
him to wiser measures. It was the middle of April, a beautiful season
in that climate, of swelling buds, and opening leaves.
Each of the four gentlemen was attended by servants, as was
customary in those days. They were all finely mounted. Joyfully they
rode along, seeking entertainment each night at the residence of some
planter. A courier was always sent forward to announce their coming,
and the planter, accompanied by one or two of his servants, would
generally ride forward a few miles to meet them, and escort them to his
Franklin was received by Gen. Braddock with the condescension with
which, in that day, English gentlemen were ever accustomed to regard
Americans of whatever name or note. The little army, which was to march
upon Fort Duquesne, was to traverse the dreary and pathless ridges and
ravines of the Alleghany mountains, and force their way through a
tangled wilderness, for a distance of several hundred miles. During all
this march they were hourly exposed to be attacked by an overpowering
force of French and Indians. The French could easily descend to the
Ohio, in their boats from Canada, and nearly all the Indians of this
vast interior, were in alliance with them.
Braddock insisted upon encumbering his march with heavily laden
wagons, which were to penetrate savage regions through which he must,
every mile, construct his road. There was a young American in the camp
by the name of George Washington. He was a man of the highest rank, and
of commanding influence, having obtained much experience in Indian
warfare. Modestly, but warmly, he remonstrated against this folly. He
not only feared, but was fully assured that such a measure would lead
to the inevitable destruction of the army. He urged that pack horses
only should be employed, and as few of them as possible; and that thus
they should hurry along as rapidly and in as compact a mass as they
But Braddock was inexorable. He demanded his two hundred and fifty
wagons, and a large train of pack horses, to be laden with sumptuous
provisions for his officers. The farmers of Maryland and Virginia were
reluctant to expose the few wagons and teams they had, to such
inevitable destruction. Neither had they any confidence that the
British Government would ever remunerate them in case of their loss.
Four-wheeled vehicles were very scarce in the colonies. There were
many people who had never seen one. The general, after exhausting all
his efforts, could obtain but twenty-four. One day as he was giving
vent to his indignation, Franklin suggested that it would probably be
much more easy to obtain wagons in the more densely settled parts of
Pennsylvania. Braddock immediately urged him to undertake the
enterprise. Unwisely, we think, he consented. With his son he hastened
to Pennsylvania, and selected Lancaster, York, and Carlisle as his
centres of operation.
Whatever Franklin undertook, he was pretty sure to accomplish. In
twenty days he obtained one hundred and fifty four-horse wagons, and
two hundred and fifty-nine pack-horses. He did not accomplish this feat
however, until he had exhausted all the money which Braddock had
furnished him, had spent over a thousand dollars of his own money, and
had given bonds for the safe return of horses and wagons, whose money
value was estimated at one hundred thousand dollars.
Braddock was lavish in his compliments. Franklin dined with him
daily. The idea seemed never to have entered Braddock's mind that
British Regulars, under his command, could ever be seriously annoyed by
bands of French and Indians. He said one day,
After taking Fort Duquesne, I shall go to Niagara. Having taken
that, if the season will permit, I shall proceed to Fort Frontenac.
Fort Duquesne can hardly detain me more than three or four days.
Franklin, who was well aware that Braddock was entering upon a far
more formidable campaign than he anticipated, ventured very modestly to
To be sure, sir, if you arrive well before Duquesne with the fine
troops so well provided with artillery, the fort, though completely
fortified, and assisted with a very strong garrison, can probably make
but a short resistance. The only danger I apprehend of obstruction to
your march, is of ambuscades of the Indians, who, by constant practice,
are dexterous in laying and executing them. And the slender line, near
four miles long, which your army must make, may expose it to be
attacked by surprise in its flanks, and to be cut like a thread into
several pieces, which, from their distance, cannot come up in time to
support each other.
Braddock smiled derisively, at this ignorance of a benighted
American. These savages may indeed, he said, be a formidable enemy
to your raw American militia. But upon the king's regular and
disciplined troops, it is impossible that they should make any
Colonel Washington regarded the wagons, and the long array of
pack-horses, as so many nuisances, arresting the rapidity of their
march, and inviting attacks which it would be impossible to repel. At
length the army was in motion. The progress was very slow. Franklin was
continually forwarding supplies; and even advanced between six and
seven thousand dollars, from his own purse, to expedite purchases. A
part of this he never received back.
The attack upon Braddock's army, and its terrible defeat soon came.
A minute account of the conflict is given in the Life of George
Washington, one of the volumes of this series. The teamsters cut the
traces of their horses, mounted the swiftest, and, in the frenzy of
their panic, rushed for home. The other horses and the wagons, with
their abounding supplies, were left to magnify the triumph of the
exultant Indians. Disastrous as was the campaign, Franklin obtained
much credit for the efficient services he had rendered.
War, with all its horrors, had now penetrated the beautiful region
of Pennsylvania, which had enjoyed eighty years of peace, through the
Christian philanthropy of William Penn. Nearly all of the Indians,
beyond the mountains, were allies of the French. The news of Braddock's
defeat reached Philadelphia about the middle of July, 1755. Immediately
a violent conflict arose between the royalist governor Morris, and the
Colonial Assembly. The Legislative body voted liberal taxes for the
public defence. But very justly it was enacted that these taxes should
be assessed impartially upon all estates alike, upon those of the
wealthy Proprietaries, as well as upon the few hundred acres which were
owned by the humble farmers. The Proprietaries, consisting of two of
the sons of William Penn, revolted against this. The Governor,
appointed by them, as their agent of course, united with them in
opposition. For many weeks the conflict between the Assembly and the
Governor as agent of the Proprietaries, raged fiercely. Under these
circumstances no military supplies could be voted, and the peril of the
community was very great.
Franklin warmly espoused and eloquently advocated the claim of the
Assembly. During the months of July and August, the Indians, satiated
with the vast plunder of Braddock's camp, made no attempt to cross the
Alleghanies, in predatory excursions against the more settled portions
of Pennsylvania. But September and October ushered in scenes of horror
and carnage, too awful to be depicted. Villages were laid in ashes,
cottages were burned, families tomahawked and scalped, women and
children carried into captivity, and many poor creatures perished at
the stake, in the endurance of all the tortures which savage ingenuity
And still the Quakers, adhering to their principle of
non-resistance, refused to contribute any money, or in any way to unite
in any military organization for self-defence. But in candor it must be
admitted, that had the principles of the Quakers been adopted by the
British court, this whole disastrous war might have been avoided. It
was a war of invasion commenced by the English. They were determined,
by force of arms, to drive the French out of the magnificent valleys
beyond the mountains. In the conflict which ensued, both parties
enlisted all the savages they could, as allies. Will not England at the
judgment be held responsible for this war and its woes?
To rouse the Quakers to a sense of shame, the bodies of a whole
murdered family, mutilated and gory, were brought to Philadelphia and
paraded through all its streets, in an open wagon. In November, as the
Indians, often led by French officers, were sweeping the frontier in
all directions, killing, burning, destroying, the antagonistic parties
in the Assembly, for a time laid aside their quarrels, and with the
exception of the Quakers, adopted vigorous military measures. The
Quakers were generally the most opulent people in the State. It is not
strange that the common people should be reluctant to volunteer to
defend the property of the Quakers, since they refused either to
shoulder a musket, or to contribute a dollar.
The pen of Franklin rendered wonderful service in this crisis. With
his accustomed toleration, he could make allowance for the frailties of
conscience-bound men. He wrote a very witty pamphlet which was very
widely read, and produced a powerful impression. Its character may be
inferred from the following brief quotation:
'For my part,' says A., 'I am no coward; but hang me if I
fight to save the Quakers.'
'That is to say,' B. replied, 'you will not pump the
sinking ship, because it will save the rats as well as
The dialogue ends with the following admirable words:
O! my friends, the glory of serving and saving others is
superior to the advantage of being served and secured. Let
us resolutely and generously unite in our country's cause,
in which to die is the sweetest of all deaths; and may the
God of armies bless our honest endeavors.
The colonists of Pennsylvania now generally rushed to arms. There
were, on the frontiers, several flourishing Moravian villages. They
were occupied by a peculiarly industrious and religious people. The
traveller through their quiet streets heard, morning and evening, the
voice of prayer ascending from many firesides, and the melody of
Christian hymns. Guadenhutton, perhaps the most flourishing of them,
was attacked by the Indians, burned, and the inhabitants all massacred
or carried into captivity. Terrible was the panic in the other
villages. They were liable at any day, to experience the same fate.
Under these circumstances the Governor raised five hundred and forty
volunteers, and placed them under the command of Franklin, with the
title of General. He was to lead them, as rapidly as possible, to
Northampton county, for the protection of these people. His son,
William, was his aid-de-camp. He proved an efficient and valiant
It was the middle of December when this heroic little band commenced
its march. Snow whitened the hills. Wintry gales swept the bleak
plains, and moaned through the forests. The roads were almost
impassable. Fierce storms often entirely arrested their march. The
wilderness was very thinly inhabited. It required the toil of a month,
for Franklin to force his way through these many obstructions to the
base of his operations, though it was distant not more than ninety
The troops moved very cautiously to guard against ambush. The
philosopher, Franklin, though he had never received a military
education, and was quite inexperienced in military affairs, was the
last man to be drawn into such a net as that in which the army of
Braddock was destroyed.
Franklin, as a philosopher, could appreciate the powerful influence
of religious motives upon the mind. Rev. Mr. Beatty was his chaplain,
whose worth of character Franklin appreciated. Before commencing their
march, all the troops were assembled for a religious service. After an
earnest exhortation to fidelity and duty, a fervent prayer was offered.
The march was conducted with great regularity. First, scouts
advanced in a semi-circular line, ranging the woods. Then came the
advanced guard, at a few hundred paces behind. The centre followed,
with all the wagons and baggage. Then came the rear guard, with scouts
on each flank, and spies on every hill.
Upon reaching Guadenhutton, an awful scene of desolation and carnage
met the eye. The once happy village presented now but a revolting
expanse of blackened ruins. The mangled bodies of the dead strewed the
ground, mutilated alike by the savages and the howling wolves. Franklin
ordered huts immediately to be reared to protect his troops from the
inclemency of the weather. No man knew better than he, how to make them
comfortable and cheerful with the least expense.
A fort was promptly constructed, which he called Fort Allen, and
which could easily repel any attack the Indians might make, unless they
approached with formidable French artillery. There were many
indications that the Indians, in large numbers, were hovering around,
watching all their movements. But the sagacity of Franklin baffled
them. They kept concealed without any attack. The savages were very
cautious men; they would seldom engage in a battle, unless they were
sure of victory.
A trifling incident occurred at this time, worthy of record as
illustrative of the shrewdness of General Franklin.
The chaplain complained that the men were remiss in attending
prayers. Franklin suggested that though it might not be exactly
consistent with the dignity of the chaplain to become himself the
steward of the rum, still, if he would order it to be distributed
immediately after prayers, he would probably have all the men gathering
He liked the thought, Franklin wrote, under took the task, and
with the help of a few hands to measure out the liquor, executed it to
satisfaction. Never were prayers more generally and more punctually
attended. So that I think this method preferable to the punishment
inflicted by some military laws for non-attendance on divine worship.
Bitter quarrels were renewed in the Assembly. The presence of
Franklin was indispensable to allay the strife. Governor Morris wrote
entreating him immediately to return to Philadelphia. It so happened at
this time, that Col. Clapham, a New England soldier of experience and
high repute, visited the camp at Guadenhutton. Franklin placed him in
command, and warmly commending him to the confidence of the troops,
hurried home. He reached Philadelphia on the 10th of February, 1756,
after two months' service in the field. Universal applause greeted him.
Several military companies, in Philadelphia, united in a regiment of
about twelve hundred men. Franklin was promptly elected their colonel,
which office he accepted.
In tracing the disasters of war, it is interesting to observe how
many of those disasters are owing to unpardonable folly. Some months
after Franklin's departure, on a cold, bleak day in November, a large
part of the garrison, unmindful of danger, were skating, like
school-boys on the Lehigh river. The vigilant Indians saw their
opportunity. Like howling wolves they made a rush upon the fort,
entered its open gates, and killed or captured all its inmates. The
skaters fled into the woods. They were pursued. Some were killed or
captured. Some perished miserably of cold and starvation. Probably a
few escaped. The triumphant savages, having plundered the fort and the
dwellings of all their contents, applied the torch, and again
Guadenhutton was reduced to a pile of ashes.
The controversy which arose between the Governor and the Assembly
became acrimonious in the extreme. The principles there contended for,
involved the very existence of anything like American liberty. For
fifteen years the pen and voice of Franklin were influential in this
controversy. He probably did more than any other man to prepare the
colonists to resist the despotism of the British court, and to proclaim
On the 5th of January, 1681, King Charles the Second had conferred
upon William Penn twenty-six million acres of the best land in the
universe. This land was in the New World, and received the name of
Pennsylvania. In return for this grant, Penn agreed to pay annually, at
Windsor Castle, two beaver skins, and one-fifth of the gold and silver
which the province might yield. He also promised to govern the province
in conformity with the laws of England.
He could treat with the savages, appoint ordinary magistrates, and
pardon petty crimes. But he could lay no tax, and impose no law without
consent of the freemen of the province, represented in the Assembly.
Of this whole wide realm, Penn was the absolute proprietor. He
refused to sell a single acre, absolutely, but in all the sales
reserved for himself what may be called a ground-rent. Immense tracts
were sold at forty shillings, about ten dollars, for one hundred acres,
reserving a rent of one shilling for each hundred acres. He also
reserved, entirely to himself, various portions of the territory which
promised to become the site of important cities and villages. All these
rights descended to the heirs of William Penn.
Seventy-four years passed away, when the estate thus founded, was
estimated to be worth ten millions sterling, and popular belief
affirmed that it produced a revenue of one hundred thousand pounds.
Penn, when he died, bequeathed the province to his three sons, John,
Thomas, and Richard. To John he gave a double part, or one-half of
Pennsylvania. John died and left his half to Thomas, who thus became
proprietor of three-fourths of the province, while Richard held
one-fourth. Thus there were but two proprietors, Thomas and Richard
Penn. They were both weak men; resided in England, were thoroughly
imbued with Tory principles, and, in the consciousness of their vast
estates, assumed to be lords and princes.
They ruled their province by a deputy-governor. His position was
indeed no sinecure. The two proprietaries, who appointed him, could at
any time deprive him of office. The Assembly could refuse to vote his
salary, and if he displeased the king of England, he might lose, not
only his office, but his head.
The controversy which had arisen, in consequence of these
involvements between the proprietaries and the people, engrossed
universal attention. During the four years between 1754 and 1758, the
ravaged colony of Pennsylvania had raised the sum of two hundred and
eighteen thousand pounds sterling, (over a million of dollars,) for
defending its borders. And still the two lordly proprietaries demanded
that their vast possessions should be entirely exempt from taxation.
To an earnest remonstrance of the Assembly, they returned an
insulting answer, in which they said,
We are no more bound to pay taxes than any other chief governor of
the King's colonies. Your agitation of this matter is a new trick to
secure your re-election. We advise you to show us the respect due to
the rank which the crown has been pleased to bestow upon us. The people
of Pennsylvania, in ordinary times, are so lightly taxed, that they
hardly know that they are taxed. What fools you are to be agitating
this dangerous topic of American taxation. It is beneath the dignity of
the Assembly to make trouble about such small sums of money. We do not
deny that you have been at some expense in pacifying the Indians, but
that is no affair of ours. We already give the province a larger sum
per annum, than our share of the taxes would amount to. One of us, for
example, sent over four hundred pounds' worth of cannon, for the
defence of our city of Philadelphia.
Such was their answer. It was conveyed in sixteen sentences which
were numbered and which were very similar to the ones we have given.
The communication excited great displeasure. It was considered alike
false and insolent. Even the tranquil mind of Franklin was fired with
indignation. He replied to the document with a power of eloquence and
logic which carried the convictions of nearly all the colonists.
CHAPTER IX. Franklin's Mission to
New marks of respectLord LoudounGov. Denny and
FranklinVisit the IndiansFranklin commissioner to
EnglandHis constant good natureLoudoun's delaysWise
action of an English captainThe voyagers land at
FalmouthJourney to LondonFranklin's style of living in
LondonHis electrical experimentsHe teaches the Cambridge
professorComplimentary action of St. AndrewsGov. Denny
displaced, and dark clouds arisingFranklin's successful
diplomacyHis son appointed Governor of New JerseyGreat
oppositionThe homeward voyageSavage horrorsRetaliating
crueltiesFranklin's efforts in behalf of the Moravian
The general impression, produced throughout the colonies, by the
controversy with the proprietaries, was that they were very weak men.
Indeed it does not appear that they were much regarded even in London.
A gentleman, writing from that city, said, They are hardly to be found
in the herd of gentry; not in court, not in office, not in parliament.
In March, Franklin left his home for a post-office tour. Some forty
of the officers of his regiment, well mounted, and in rich uniform,
without Franklin's knowledge, came to his door, to escort him out of
the village. Franklin says,
I had not previously been made acquainted with their
project, or I should have prevented it, being naturally
averse to the assuming of state on any occasion.
The proprietaries in London heard an account of this affair. They
were very much displeased, saying they had never been thus honored, and
that princes of the blood alone were entitled to such distinction. The
war was still raging. Large bodies of troops were crossing the ocean to
be united with the colonial forces.
Lord Loudoun was appointed by the court commander-in-chief for
America. He was an exceedingly weak and inefficient man; scarcely a
soldier in the ranks could be found more incompetent for the situation.
Governor Morris, of Pennsylvania, worn out with his unavailing
conflicts with the Assembly, was withdrawn, and the proprietaries sent
out Captain William Denny as their obsequious servant in his stead. The
Philadelphians, hoping to conciliate him, received him cordially, and
with a public entertainment. William Franklin wrote:
Change of devils, according to the Scotch proverb, is
At the close of the feast, when most of the party were making
themselves merry over their wine, Governor Denny took Franklin aside
into an adjoining room, and endeavored, by the most abounding flattery,
and by the bribe of rich promises, to induce him to espouse the cause
of the proprietaries. But he soon learned that Franklin could not be
influenced by any of his bribes.
There was but a brief lull in the storm. Governor Denny had no power
of his own. He could only obey the peremptory instructions he had
received. These instructions were irreconcilably hostile to the
resolves of the Assembly. Franklin was the all-powerful leader of the
popular party. There was something in his imperturbable good nature
which it is difficult to explain. No scenes of woe seemed to depress
his cheerful spirits. No atrocities of oppression could excite his
indignation. He could thrust his keen dagger points into the vitals of
his antagonist, with a smile upon his face and jokes upon his lips
which would convulse both friend and foe with laughter. He was the most
unrelenting antagonist of Governor Denny in the Assembly, and yet he
was the only man who remained on good terms with the governor, visiting
him, and dining with him.
Governor Denny was a gentleman, and well educated, and few men could
appear to better advantage in the saloons of fashion. But he was
trammeled beyond all independent action, by the instructions he had
received from the proprietaries. He was right in heart, was in sympathy
with Franklin, and with reluctance endeavored to enforce the arbitrary
measures with which he was entrusted.
Franklin was one of the most companionable of men. His wonderful
powers of conversation, his sweetness of temper, and his entire
ignoring of all aristocratic assumption, made him one of the most
fascinating of guests in every circle. He charmed alike the rich and
the poor, the learned and the ignorant.
In November, 1756, he accompanied Governor Denny to the frontier to
confer with the chiefs of several Indian tribes. The savages, to say
the least, were as punctilious in the observance of the laws of honor,
in securing the safety of the ambassadors on such an occasion, as were
The governor and the philosopher rode side by side on horseback,
accompanied by only a few body servants. The governor, familiar with
the clubs and the wits of England, entertained Franklin, in the highest
degree, with the literary gossip of London, and probably excited in his
mind an intense desire to visit those scenes, which he himself was so
calculated to enjoy and to embellish. On the journey he wrote the
following comic letter to his wife. He had been disappointed in not
receiving a line from her by a certain messenger.
I had a good mind not to write to you by this opportunity,
but I never can be ill-natured enough even when there is
most occasion. I think I won't tell you that we are well,
and that we expect to return about the middle of the week,
nor will I send you a word of news; that's poz. My duty to
mother, love to the children, and to Miss Betsy and Gracie.
I am your loving husband.
P. S. I have scratched out the loving words, being writ
in haste by mistake, when I forgot I was angry.
Gov. Denny, unable to accomplish his purposes with the Assembly,
resolved to make a final appeal to the king. The House promptly decided
to imitate his example. Its Speaker, Mr. Norris, and Benjamin Franklin,
were appointed commissioners. The Speaker declined the office, and
Franklin was left as sole commissioner. He probably was not at all
reluctant to be introduced to the statesmen, the philosophers, and the
fashionable circles of the Old World. To defray his expenses the
Assembly voted a sum of nearly eight thousand dollars. He had also
wealth of his own. By correspondence, he was quite intimately
acquainted with very many of the scientific men of England and France.
It was very certain that he would have the entrée to any circle
which he might wish to honor with his presence.
It was at that time a very serious affair to cross the Atlantic. The
ocean swarmed with pirates, privateers, and men-of-war. On the fourth
of April, 1757, Franklin, with his son William, set out from
Philadelphia. His cheerfulness of spirits did not forsake him as he
left a home where he had been remarkably happy for twenty-six years.
The family he left behind him consisted of his wife, his wife's aged
mother, his daughter Sarah, a beautiful child of twelve years, one or
two nieces, and an old nurse of the family.
Franklin had written to the governor to ascertain the precise time
when the packet would sail. The reply he received from him was,
I have given out that the ship is to sail on Saturday next.
But I may let you know entre nous that if you are there
Monday morning you will be in time; but do not delay any
Franklin was accompanied by a number of his friends as far as
Trenton, where they spent a very joyful evening together. At one of the
ferries on this road, they were delayed by obstructions so that they
could not reach the Hudson River until noon of Monday. Franklin feared
that the ship might sail without him; but upon reaching the river he
was relieved by seeing the vessel still in the stream.
Eleven weeks passed before Lord Loudoun would issue his permission
for the ship to sail. Every day this most dilatory and incompetent of
men announced that the packet would sail to-morrow. And thus the weeks
rolled on while Franklin was waiting, but we do not hear a single word
of impatience or remonstrance from his lips. His philosophy taught him
to be happy under all circumstances. With a smiling face he called upon
Lord Loudoun and dined with him. He endeavored, but in vain, to obtain
a settlement of his claims for supplies furnished to Braddock's army.
He found much in the society of New York to entertain him. And more
than all, and above all, he was doing everything that could be done for
the accomplishment of his mission. Why, then, should he worry?
New York, he records, was growing immensely rich by money brought
into it from all quarters for the pay and subsistence of the troops.
Franklin was remarkably gallant in his intercourse with ladies. He
kept up quite a brisk correspondence with several of the most brilliant
ladies of the day. No man could more prettily pay a compliment. To his
lively and beautiful friend Miss Ray he wrote upon his departure,
Present my best compliments to all that love me; I should
have said all that love you, but that would be giving you
too much trouble.
At length Lord Loudoun granted permission for the packet to drop
down to the Lower Bay, where a large fleet of ninety vessels was
assembled, fitted out for an attack upon the French at Louisburg.
Franklin and his friends went on board, as it was announced that the
vessel would certainly sail to-morrow. For six weeks longer the
packet rode there at anchor. Franklin and his companions had for the
third time consumed all the provisions they had laid in store for the
voyage. Still we hear not a murmur from our imperturbable philosopher.
At length the signal for sailing was given. The whole squadron put
to sea, and the London packet, with all the rest, was swept forward
toward Louisburg. After a voyage of five days, a letter was placed in
the hands of the captain, authorizing him to quit the fleet and steer
The days and nights of a long voyage came and went, when the packet
at midnight in a gale of wind, and enveloped in fogs, was approaching
Falmouth. A light-house, upon some rocks, had not been visible.
Suddenly the lifting of the fog revealed the light-house and the craggy
shore, over which the surf was fearfully breaking, at the distance of
but a few rods. A captain of the Royal Navy, who chanced to be near the
helmsman, sprang to the helm, called upon the sailors instantly to wear
ship, and thus, at the risk of snapping every mast, saved the vessel
and the crew from otherwise immediate and certain destruction.
There was not, at that time, a single light-house on the North
American coast. The event impressed the mind of Franklin deeply, and he
resolved that upon his return, light-houses should be constructed.
About nine o'clock the next morning the fog was slowly dispersed,
and Falmouth, with its extended tower, its battlemented castles, and
the forests of masts, was opened before the weary voyagers. It was
Sunday morning and the bells were ringing for church. The vessel glided
into the harbor, and joyfully the passengers landed. Franklin writes,
The bell ringing for church, we went thither immediately,
and with hearts full of gratitude returned sincere thanks to
God far the mercies we had received.
We know not whether this devout act was suggested by Franklin, or
whether he courteously fell in with the arrangement proposed, perhaps,
by some religious companion. It is, however, certain that the sentence
which next followed, in his letter, came gushing from his own mind.
Were I a Roman Catholic, perhaps I should, on this
occasion, vow to build a chapel to some saint. But as I am
not, if I were to vow at all it should be to build a
It required a journey of two hundred and fifty miles to reach
London. Franklin and his son posted to London, which was the
most rapid mode of traveling in those days. They seem to have enjoyed
the journey in the highest degree, through blooming, beautiful, highly
cultivated England. Almost every thing in the charming landscape,
appeared different from the rude settlements which were springing up
amid the primeval forests of the New World.
They visited the Cathedral at Salisbury, Stonehenge, Wilton Hall,
the palatial mansion of the Earl of Pembroke. England was in her
loveliest attire. Perhaps there could not then be found, upon this
globe, a more lovely drive, than that through luxuriant Devonshire, and
over the Hampshire Downs.
Peter Collinson, a gentleman of great wealth, first received the
travelers to his own hospitable mansion. Here Franklin was the object
of marked attentions from the most distinguished scientists of England.
Other gentlemen of high distinction honored themselves by honoring him.
Franklin visited the old printing house, where he had worked forty
years before, and treated the workmen with that beer, which he had
formerly so efficiently denounced in that same place.
Soon he took lodgings with a very agreeable landlady, Mrs.
Stevenson, No. 7, Craven street, Strand. He adopted, not an
ostentatious, but a very genteel style of living. Both he and his son
had brought with them each a body servant from America. He set up a
modest carriage, that he might worthily present himself at the doors of
cabinet ministers and members of parliament.
The Proprietaries received him very coldly, almost insolently. They
were haughty, reserved and totally uninfluenced by his arguments. He
presented to them a brief memorandum, which very lucidly explained the
views of the Assembly. It was as follows,
1. The Royal Charter gives the Assembly the power to make
laws; the proprietary instructions deprive it of that power.
2. The Royal Charter confers on the Assembly the right to
grant or withhold supplies; the instructions neutralize that
right. 3. The exemption of the proprietary estate from
taxation is unjust. 4. The proprietaries are besought to
consider these grievances seriously and redress them, that
harmony may be restored.
The Penn brothers denounced this brief document, as vague, and
disrespectful. It was evident that Franklin had nothing to hope from
them. He therefore directed all his energies to win to his side the
Lords of Trade, and the members of the King's Council, to whom the
final decision must be referred. Twelve months elapsed, during which
nothing was accomplished. But we hear not a murmur from his lips. He
was not only contented but jovial. For two whole years he remained in
England, apparently accomplishing nothing. These hours of leisure he
devoted to the enjoyment of fashionable, intellectual and scientific
society. No man could be a more welcome guest, in such elevated
circles, for no man could enjoy more richly the charms of such society,
or could contribute more liberally to its fascination. Electricity was
still a very popular branch of natural science. The brilliant
experiments Franklin performed, lured many to his apartments. His
machine was the largest which had been made, and would emit a spark
nine inches in length. He had invented, or greatly improved, a new
musical machine of glass goblets, called the Armonica.
It was listened to with much admiration, as it gave forth the
sweetest tones. He played upon this instrument with great effect.
The theatre was to Franklin an inexhaustible source of enjoyment.
Garrick was then in the meridian of his fame. He loved a good dinner,
and could, without inconvenience, empty the second bottle of claret. He
wrote to a friend,
I find that I love company, chat, a laugh, a glass, and
even a song as well as ever.
At one time he took quite an extensive tour through England,
visiting the University at Cambridge. He was received with the most
flattering attentions from the chancellor and others of the prominent
members of the faculty. Indeed every summer, during his stay in
England, Franklin and his son spent a few weeks visiting the most
attractive scenes of the beautiful island. Wherever he went, he left an
impression behind him, which greatly increased his reputation.
At Cambridge he visited the chemical laboratory, with the
distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Dr. Hadley. Franklin suggested
that temperature could be astonishingly reduced by evaporation. It was
entirely a new idea to the Professor. They both with others repaired to
Franklin's room. He had ether there, and a thermometer. To the
astonishment of the Professor of Chemistry in Cambridge University, the
printer from Philadelphia showed him that by dipping the ball into the
ether, and then blowing upon it with bellows to increase the
evaporation, the mercury rapidly sunk twenty-five degrees below the
freezing point. Ice was formed a quarter of an inch thick, all around
the ball. Thus, surrounded by the professors of one of the most
distinguished universities of Europe, Benjamin Franklin was the teacher
of the teachers.
The father and the son visited the villages where their ancestors
had lived. They sought out poor relations, and examined the tombstones.
In the spring of 1769, they spent six weeks in Scotland. The University
of St. Andrews conferred upon Franklin the honorary title of doctor, by
which he has since been generally known. Other universities received
him with great distinction. The corporation of Edinburgh voted him the
freedom of the city. All the saloons of fashion were not only open to
receive him, but his presence, at every brilliant entertainment, was
eagerly sought. The most distinguished men of letters crowded around
him. Hume, Robertson and Lord Kames became his intimate friends.
These were honors sufficient to turn the head of almost any man. But
Franklin, who allowed no adversity to annoy him, could not be unduly
elated by any prosperity or flattery.
On the whole, writes Franklin, I must say, that the time
we spent there (Scotland) was six weeks of the densest
happiness I have met with in any part of my life.
Still it is evident that occasionally he felt some slight yearnings
for the joys of that home, over which his highly esteemed wife presided
with such economy and skill. He wrote to her,
The regard and friendship I meet with from persons of worth,
and the conversation of ingenuous men give me no small
pleasure. But at this time of life, domestic comforts afford
the most solid satisfaction; and my uneasiness at being
absent from my family and longing desire to be with them,
make me often sigh, in the midst of cheerful company.
[Footnote 20: Franklin was then 53 years of age.]
An English gentleman, Mr. Strahan, wrote to Mrs. Franklin, urging
her to come over to England and join her husband. In this letter he
I never saw a man who was, in every respect, so perfectly
agreeable to me. Some are amiable in one view, some in
another; he in all.
Three years thus passed away. It must not be supposed that the
patriotic and faithful Franklin lost any opportunity whatever, to urge
the all important cause with which he was entrusted. His philosophy
taught him that when he absolutely could not do any thing but wait, it was best to wait in the most agreeable and profitable manner.
It was one of his strong desires, which he was compelled to abandon,
to convert the proprietary province of Pennsylvania into a royal
province. After Franklin left Philadelphia, the strife between the
Assembly, and Governor Denny, as the representative of the
proprietaries, became more violent than ever. The governor, worn out by
the ceaseless struggle, yielded in some points. This offended the
proprietaries. Indignantly they dismissed him and appointed, in his
place, Mr. James Hamilton, a more obsequious servant.
By the royal charter it was provided that all laws, passed by the
Assembly and signed by the governor, should be sent to the king, for
his approval. One of the bills which the governor, compelled as it were
by the peril of public affairs, had signed, allowed the Assembly to
raise a sum of about five hundred thousand dollars, to be raised by a
tax on all estates. This was a dangerous precedent. The
aristocratic court of England repealed it, as an encroachment upon the
rights of the privileged classes. It was a severe blow to the Assembly.
The speaker wrote to Franklin:
We are among rocks and sands, in a stormy season. It depends
upon you to do every thing in your power in the present
crisis. It is too late for us to give you any assistance.
When Franklin received the crushing report against the Assembly he
was just setting off for a pleasant June excursion in Ireland.
Immediately he unpacked his saddle-bags, and consecrated all his
energies to avert the impending evils. He enlisted the sympathies of
Lord Mansfield, and accomplished the astonishing feat in diplomacy, of
inducing the British Lords of Commission to reverse their decision, and
to vote that the act of the Assembly should stand unrepealed.
His business detained Franklin in London all summer. In the autumn
he took a tour into the west of England and Wales. The gales of winter
were now sweeping the Atlantic. No man in his senses would expose
himself to a winter passage across the ocean, unless it was absolutely
necessary. Indeed it would appear that Franklin was so happy in
England, that he was not very impatient to see his home again. Though
he had been absent three years from his wife and child, still two years
more elapsed before he embarked for his native land.
On the 25th of October George II. died. His grandson, a stupid,
stubborn fanatically conscientious young man ascended the throne, with
the title of George III. It would be difficult to compute the
multitudes in Europe, Asia and America, whom his arrogance and ambition
caused to perish on the battle field. During these two years there was
nothing of very special moment which occurred in the life of Franklin.
Able as he was as a statesman, science was the favorite object of his
pursuit. He wrote several very strong pamphlets upon the political
agitations of those tumultuous days, when all nations seem to have been
roused to cutting each other's throats. He continued to occupy a
prominent position wherever he was, and devoted much time in collecting
his thoughts upon a treatise to be designated The Art of Virtue. The
treatise, however, was never written.
His influential and wealthy friend, Mr. Strahan, was anxious to
unite their two families by the marriage of his worthy and prosperous
son to Mr. Franklin's beautiful daughter, Sarah. But the plan failed.
Franklin also made an effort to marry his only son William, who, it
will be remembered, was not born in wedlock, to a very lovely English
lady, Miss Stephenson. But this young man, who, renouncing revealed
religion, was a law unto himself, had already become a father without
being a husband. Miss Stephenson had probably learned this fact and,
greatly to the disappointment of Franklin, declined the alliance. The
unhappy boy, the dishonored son of a dishonored father, was born about
the year 1760. Nothing is known of what became of the discarded mother.
He received the name of William Temple Franklin.
Benjamin Franklin, as in duty bound, recognized him as his grandson,
and received him warmly to his house and his heart. The reader will
hereafter become better acquainted with the character and career of
this young man. In the spring of 1762, Franklin commenced preparations
for his return home. He did not reach Philadelphia until late in the
autumn. Upon his departure from England, the University of Oxford
conferred upon him the distinction of an honorary degree.
William Franklin, though devoid of moral principle, was a man of
highly respectable abilities, of pleasing manners, and was an
entertaining companion. Lord Bute, who was in power, was the warm
friend of Dr. Franklin. He therefore caused his son William to be
appointed governor of New Jersey. It is positively asserted that
Franklin did not solicit the favor. Indeed it was not a very desirable
office. Its emoluments amounted to but about three thousand dollars a
year. The governorship of the colonies was generally conferred upon the
needy sons of the British aristocracy. So many of them had developed
characters weak and unworthy, that they were not regarded with much
William Franklin was married on the 2d of September, 1762, to Miss
Elizabeth Downes. The announcement of the marriage in London, and of
his appointment to the governorship of New Jersey, created some
sensation. Mr. John Penn, son of one of the proprietaries, and who was
soon to become governor of Pennsylvania, affected great indignation in
view of the fact that William Franklin was to be a brother governor. He
wrote to Lord Stirling,
It is no less amazing than true, that Mr. William Franklin,
son of Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia, is appointed to be
governor of the province of New Jersey. I make no doubt that
the people of New Jersey will make some remonstrances at
this indignity put upon them. You are full as well
acquainted with the character and principles of this person
as myself, and are as able to judge of the impropriety of
such an appointment. What a dishonor and a disgrace it must
be to a country to have such a man at the head of it, and to
sit down contented. I should hope that some effort will be
made before our Jersey friends would put up with such an
insult. If any gentleman had been appointed, it would
been a different case. But I cannot look upon the person in
question in that light by any means. I may perhaps be too
strong in my expressions, but I am so extremely astonished
and enraged at it, that I am hardly able to contain myself
at the thought of it.
Franklin sailed from Portsmouth the latter part of August. Quite a
fleet of American merchantmen sailed together. The weather during a
voyage of nine weeks, was most of the time delightful. Often the
vessels glided along so gently over a waveless sea, that the passengers
could visit, and exchange invitations for dinner parties.
On the first of November, Franklin reached his home. He had been
absent nearly six years. All were well. His daughter, whom he had left
a child of twelve, was now a remarkably beautiful and accomplished
maiden of eighteen. Franklin was received not only with affection, but
with enthusiasm. The Assembly voted him fifteen thousand dollars for
his services in England.
His son William, with his bride, did not arrive until the next
February. Franklin accompanied him to New Jersey. The people there gave
the governor a very kind greeting. He took up his residence in
Burlington, within fifteen miles of the home of his father.
Franklin had attained the age of fifty-seven. He was in perfect
health, had an ample fortune, and excelled most men in his dignified
bearing and his attractive features. Probably there never was a more
happy man. He had leisure to devote himself to his beloved sciences. It
was his dream, his castle in the air, to withdraw from political life,
and devote the remainder of his days to philosophical research.
In the year 1763 terminated the seven years' war. There was peace in
Europe, peace on the ocean, but not peace along the blood crimsoned
frontiers of the wilderness of America. England and France had been
hurling savage warriors by tens of thousands against each other, and
against the helpless emigrants in their defenceless villages and their
lonely cabins. The belligerent powers of Europe, in their ambitious
struggles, cared very little for the savages of North America. Like the
hungry wolf they had lapped blood. Plunder had become as attractive to
them as to the privateersman and the pirate. During the summer of 1763,
the western regions of Pennsylvania were fearfully ravaged by these
fierce bands. Thousands of settlers were driven from their homes, their
buildings laid in ashes, and their farms utterly desolated.
In all the churches contributions were raised, in behalf of the
victims of this insane and utterly needless war. Christ Church alone
raised between three and four thousand dollars; and sent a missionary
to expend the sum among these starving, woe-stricken families. The
missionary reported seven hundred and fifty farms in Pennsylvania
alone, utterly abandoned. Two hundred and fifty women and children,
destitute and despairing, had fled to Fort Pitt for protection.
In the midst of these awful scenes, Governor Hamilton resigned, and
the weak, haughty John Penn arriving, took his place. The Assembly, as
usual, gave him a courteous reception, wishing, if possible, to avert a
quarrel. There were many fanatics in those days. Some of these assumed
that God was displeased, because the heathen Indians had not been
entirely exterminated. The savages had perpetrated such horrors, that
by them no distinction was made between those friendly to the English,
and those hostile. The very name of Indian was loathed.
In the vicinity of Lancaster, there was the feeble remnant of a once
powerful tribe. The philanthropy of William Penn had won them to love
the English. No one of them had ever been known to lift his hand
against a white man. There were but twenty remaining, seven men, five
women and eight children. They were an industrious, peaceful, harmless
people, having adopted English names, English customs and the Christian
A vagabond party of Scotch-Irish, from Paxton, set out, in the
morning of the 14th of December, for their destruction. They were well
mounted and well armed. It so happened that there were but six Indians
at home. They made no defence. Parents and children knelt, as in
prayer, and silently received the death blow. Every head was cleft by
the hatchet. These poor creatures were very affectionate, and had
greatly endeared themselves to their neighbors. This deed of infamous
assassination roused the indignation of many of the most worthy people
in the province. But there were thousands of the baser sort, who deemed
it no crime to kill an Indian, any more than a wolf or a bear.
Franklin wrote, to the people of Pennsylvania, a noble letter of
indignant remonstrance, denouncing the deed as atrocious murder.
Vividly he pictured the scene of the assassination, and gave the names,
ages and characters of the victims. A hundred and forty Moravian
Indians, the firm and unsuspected friends of the English, terrified by
this massacre, fled to Philadelphia for protection. The letter of
Franklin had excited much sympathy in their behalf. The people rallied
for their protection. The Paxton murderers, several hundred in number,
pursued the fugitives, avowing their determination to put every one to
death. The imbecile governor was at his wits' end. Franklin was
He, at once, proclaimed his house headquarters; rallied a regiment
of a thousand men, and made efficient arrangements to give the
murderers a warm reception. The Paxton band reached Germantown.
Franklin, anxious to avoid bloodshed, rode out with three aids, to
confer with the leaders. He writes,
The fighting face we had put on, and the reasonings we used
with the insurgents, having turned them back, and restored
quiet to the city, I became a less man than ever; for I had,
by this transaction, made myself many enemies among the
CHAPTER X. Franklin's Second
Mission to England.
Fiendish conduct of John PennPetition to the crownDebt
of EnglandTwo causes of conflictFranklin sent to
EnglandHis embarkationWise counsel to his daughterThe
stamp actAmerican resolvesEdmund BurkeExamination of
FranklinWords of Lord ChathamDangers to English
operativesRepeal of the stamp actJoy in AmericaRoss
MackayNew taxes leviedCharacter of George
IIIAccumulation of honors to FranklinWarlike
preparationsHuman conscientiousnessUnpopularity of
William FranklinMarriage of Sarah FranklinFranklin's
varied investigationsEfforts to civilize the Sandwich
It is scarcely too severe to say that Governor John Penn was both
knave and fool. To ingratiate himself with the vile Paxton men and
their partisans, he issued a proclamation, offering for every captive
male Indian, of any hostile tribe, one hundred and fifty dollars, for
every female, one hundred and thirty-eight dollars. For the scalp of a
male, the bounty was one hundred and thirty-eight dollars; for the
scalp of a female fifty dollars. Of course it would be impossible, when
the scalps were brought in to decide whether they were stripped from
friendly or hostile heads.
Curiously two political parties were thus organized. The governor,
intensely inimical to Franklin, led all the loose fellows who approved
of the massacre of the friendly Indians. Franklin was supported by the
humane portion of the community, who regarded that massacre with
There was much bitterness engendered. Franklin was assailed and
calumniated as one of the worst of men. He, as usual, wrote a pamphlet,
which was read far and wide. Earnestly he urged that the crown, as it
had a right to do, should, by purchase, take possession of the province
and convert its government into that of a royal colony. It should be
remembered that this was several years before the troubles of the
revolution arose. The people were in heart true Englishmen. Fond of
their nationality, sincere patriotism glowed in all bosoms. They ever
spoke of England as home. When the Assembly met again three thousand
citizens, influenced mainly by Franklin's pamphlet, sent in a petition
that the province might revert to the crown. The Penns succeeded in
presenting a counter petition signed by three hundred.
The British cabinet, in its insatiable thirst for universal
conquest, or impelled by necessity to repel the encroachments of other
nations, equally wicked and equally grasping, had been by fleet and
army, fighting all over the world. After spending every dollar which
the most cruel taxation could extort from the laboring and impoverished
masses, the government had incurred the enormous debt of seventy-three
millions sterling. This amounted to over three hundred and sixty-five
millions of our money.
The government decided to tax the Americans to help pay the interest
on this vast sum. But the colonies were already taxed almost beyond
endurance, to carry on the terrible war against the French and Indians.
This war was not one of their own choosing. It had been forced upon
them by the British Cabinet, in its resolve to drive the French off the
continent of North America. The Americans were allowed no
representation in Parliament. They were to be taxed according to the
caprice of the government. Franklin, with patriotic foresight,
vehemently, and with resistless force of logic, resisted the outrage.
It will be perceived that there were now two quite distinct sources
of controversy. First came the conflict with the proprietaries, and
then rose the still more important strife with the cabinet of Great
Britain, to repel the principle of taxation without representation.
This principle once admitted, the crown could tax the Americans to any
amount whatever it pleased. Many unreflecting people could not
appreciate these disastrous results.
Thus all the partisans of the Penns, and all the office holders of
the crown and their friends, and there were many such, became not only
opposed to Franklin, but implacable in their hostility. The majority of
the Assembly was with him. He was chosen Speaker, and then was elected
to go again to England, to carry with him to the British Court the
remonstrances of the people against taxation without representation,
and their earnest petition to be delivered from the tyranny of the
Penns. More unwelcome messages to the British Court and aristocracy, he
could not well convey. It was certain that the Penns and their powerful
coadjutors, would set many influences in array against him. Mr.
Dickinson, in the Assembly, remonstrating against this appointment,
declared that there was no man in Pennsylvania who was more the object
of popular dislike than Benjamin Franklin.
But two years had elapsed since Franklin's return to America, after
an absence from his home of six years. He still remembered fondly the
dense happiness which he had enjoyed in the brilliant circles abroad.
This, added to an intensity of patriotism, which rendered him second to
none but Washington, among the heroes of the Revolution, induced him
promptly to accept the all important mission. He allowed but twelve
days to prepare for his embarkation. The treasury was empty, and money
for his expenses had to be raised by a loan. A packet ship, bound for
London was riding at Chester, fifteen miles below the city. Three
hundred of the citizens of Philadelphia, on horseback, escorted
Franklin to the ship.
He seldom attended church, though he always encouraged his wife and
daughter to do so. It was genteel; it was politic. A family could
scarcely command the respect of the community, which, in the midst of a
religious people, should be living without any apparent object of
worship. The preacher of Christ Church, which the family attended, was
a partisan of the Penns. Sometimes he meddled with politics. Franklin
in his parting letter, from on shipboard, wrote to his daughter:
Go constantly to church, whoever preaches. The active
devotion in the common prayer-book, is your principal
business there, and if properly attended to, will do more
towards amending the heart, than sermons generally can do.
For they were composed by men of much greater piety and
wisdom, than our common composers of sermons can pretend to
be. Therefore I wish that you would never miss the prayer
days. Yet I do not mean you should despise sermons, even of
the preachers you dislike; for the discourse is often much
better than the man, as sweet and clear waters come through
very dirty earth.
The voyage was stormy; it lasted thirty days. On the evening of the
tenth of December, 1764, he again took up his residence in the house of
Mrs. Stephenson and her daughter, where he was received with delight.
He found several other agents of the colonies in London, who had also
been sent to remonstrate against the despotic measures which the
British Cabinet threatened, of taxing the Americans at its pleasure,
without allowing them to have any voice in deciding upon the sums which
they should pay.
Grenville was prime minister. He was about to introduce the Stamp
Act, as an initiatory measure. It imposed but a trivial tax, in itself
of but little importance, but was intended as an experiment, to
ascertain whether the Americans would submit to the principle. This
fact being once established, the government could then proceed to
demand money at its pleasure. Franklin opposed the tax with all his
energies. He declared it, in his own forceful language, to be the
mother of mischiefs. With four other colonial agents, he held an
interview with Lord Grenville. The usual arguments were employed on
both sides. Lord Grenville was courteous, but very decided. The
Americans he declared must help England pay the interest on her debt,
and the parliament of Great Britain alone could decide how large an
amount of money the Americans should pay. The bill was introduced to
parliament, and passed by a large majority. The king signed it in a
scrawling hand, which some think indicated the insanity he was
beginning to develop.
The trivial sum expected to be raised by the Stamp Act amounted to
scarcely one hundred thousand pounds a year. It was thought that the
Americans would not venture upon any decisive opposition to England for
such a trifle. Franklin wrote to a friend:
I took every step in my power, to prevent the passing of the
Stamp Act. But the tide was too strong against us. The nation
was provoked by American claims of legislative independence;
and all parties joined in resolving, by this act, to settle
Thus Franklin entirely failed in arresting the passing of the Stamp
Act. He was also equally unsuccessful in his endeavor to promote a
change of government, from the proprietary to the royal. And still his
mission proved a success. By conversations, pamphlets and articles in
the newspapers, he raised throughout the country such an opposition to
the measure that parliament was compelled to repeal it. The tidings of
the passage of the Stamp Act was received in intelligent America, with
universal expressions of displeasure, and with resolves to oppose its
operation in every possible way.
It is remarked of a celebrated theological professor, that he once
said to his pupils,
When you go to the city to preach, take your best coat; when to the
country, take your best sermon.
The lords and gentry of England were astonished at the intelligence
displayed in the opposition, by the rural population of America. They
fancied the colonists to be an ignorant, ragged people, living in log
cabins, scattered through the wilderness, and, in social position, two
or three degrees below European and Irish peasantry. Great was their
surprise to hear from all the colonies, and from the remotest districts
in each colony, the voice of intelligent and dignified rebuke.
The Act was to go into execution on the first of November, 1765.
Before that time, Franklin had spread, through all the mechanical,
mercantile and commercial classes, the conviction that they would
suffer ten-fold more, by the interruptions of trade which the Stamp Act
would introduce, than government could hope to gain by the measure. He
spread abroad the intelligence which came by every fresh arrival, that
the Americans were resolving, with wonderful unanimity, that they would
consume no more English manufactures, that they would purchase no more
British goods, and that, as far as possible, in food, clothing, and
household furniture, they would depend upon their own productions. They
had even passed resolves to eat no more lamb, that their flocks might
so increase that they should have wool enough to manufacture their own
England had thus far furnished nearly all the supplies for the
rapidly increasing colonies, already numbering a population of between
two and three millions. The sudden cessation of this trade was felt in
nearly every warehouse of industry. No more orders came. Goods
accumulated without purchasers. Violent opposition arose, and vast
meetings were held in the manufacturing districts, to remonstrate
against the measures of the government. Edmund Burke, a host in
himself, headed the opposition in parliament.
Burke and Franklin were intimate friends, and the renowned orator
obtained from the renowned philosopher, many of those arguments and
captivating illustrations, which, uttered on the floor of parliament,
astonished England, and reaching our shores, electrified America. The
state of affairs became alarming. In some places the stamps were
destroyed, in others, no one could be found who would venture upon the
obnoxious task of offering to sell them. The parliament resolved itself
into a committee of the whole house, and spent six weeks in hearing
testimony respecting the operation of the act in America. The hall was
crowded with eager listeners. The industrial prosperity of the nation
seemed at stake. Franklin was the principal witness. His testimony
overshadowed all the rest. The record of it was read with admiration.
Seldom has a man been placed in a more embarrassing situation, and
never has one, under such circumstances, acquitted himself more
He was examined and cross-examined, before this vast and imposing
assemblage, by the shrewdest lawyers of the crown. Every attempt was
made to throw him into embarrassment, to trip him in his speech. But
never for a moment did Franklin lose his self-possession. Never for an
instant, did he hesitate in his reply. In the judgment of all his
friends, not a mistake did he make. His mind seemed to be omnisciently
furnished, with all the needful statistics for as rigorous an
examination as any mortal was ever exposed to. Burke wrote to a friend,
that Franklin, as he stood before the bar of parliament, presented
such an aspect of dignity and intellectual superiority, as to remind
him of a schoolmaster questioned by school boys. Rev. George
Our worthy friend, Dr. Franklin, has gained immortal honor,
by his behavior at the bar of the house. The answer was
always found equal, if not superior to the questioner. He
stood unappalled, gave pleasure to his friends, and did
honor to his country.
After great agitation and many and stormy debates, the haughty
government was compelled to yield to the demands of the industrial
classes. Indeed, with those in England, who cried most loudly for the
repeal of the stamp act, there were comparatively few who were
influenced by any sympathy for the Americans, or by any appreciation of
the justice of their cause. The loss of the American trade was
impoverishing them. Selfish considerations alone,their own personal
interestsmoved them to action.
There were individuals, in and out of Parliament, who recognized the
rights of Englishmen, and regarding the Americans as Englishmen, and
America as a portion of the British empire, were in heart and with all
their energies, in sympathy with the Americans in their struggle for
their rights. When the despotism of the British court led that court to
the infamous measure of sending fleets and armies, to compel the
Americans to submission, and the feeble colonists, less than three
millions in number, performing the boldest and most heroic deeds ever
yet recorded in history, grasped their arms in self-defence, thus to
wage war against the most powerful naval and military empire upon this
globe, Lord Chatham, with moral courage rarely surpassed, boldly
exclaimed in the House of Lords, Were I an American, as I am an
Englishman, I would never lay down my arms, never, never,
In all England, there was no man more determined in his resolve to
bring the Americans to servile obedience, than the stubborn king,
George III. The repeal gave him intense offence. The equally
unprincipled, but more intelligent, ministers were compelled to the
measure, as they saw clearly that England was menaced with civil war,
which would array the industrial classes generally against the
aristocracy. In such a conflict it was far from improbable that the
aristocracy would be brought to grief. Horace Walpole wrote,
It was the clamor of trade, of merchants, and of
manufacturing towns, that had borne down all opposition. A
general insurrection was apprehended, as the immediate
consequence of upholding the bill. The revolt of America,
and the destruction of trade, was the prospect in future.
Still the question of the repeal was carried in the House but by a
majority of one hundred and eight votes. Of course Franklin now
solicited permission to return home. The Assembly, instead of granting
his request, elected him agent for another year. It does not appear
that Franklin was disappointed.
The report of his splendid and triumphant examination, before the
Commons, and the republication of many of his pamphlets, had raised him
to the highest position of popularity. The Americans, throughout all
the provinces, received tidings of the Repeal with unbounded delight.
Bells were rung, bon-fires blazed, cannon were fired.
I never heard so much noise in my life, wrote Sally to her
honored papa. The very children seemed distracted.
The Tory party in England developed no little malignity in their
anger, in view of the discomfiture of their plans. The bigoted Tory,
Dr. Johnson, wrote to Bishop White of Pennsylvania, that if he had been
Prime Minister, instead of repealing the act, he would have sent a
man-of-war, and laid one or more of our largest cities in ashes.
[Footnote 21: Wilson's Life of Bishop White, p. 89.]
The king felt personally aggrieved. His denunciations of those who
favored the Repeal were so indecent, that some of his most influential
friends ventured to intimate to him that it was highly impolitic.
Indeed, as the previous narrative has shown, many who were in entire
sympathy with the king, and who were bitterly opposed to any concession
to the Americans, felt compelled to vote for the Repeal.
To propitiate the unrelenting and half-crazed monarch, with his
obdurate court, a Declaratory Act, as it was called, was passed, which
affirmed the absolute supremacy of Parliament over the colonies.
We hear very much of the corruption of our own Congress. It is said
that votes are sometimes bought and sold. Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, who
was a member of Parliament during all this period, declares, in his
intensely interesting and undoubtedly honest Memoir, that under the
ministry of Lord Bute, Ross Mackay was employed by him as
corrupter-general whose mission it was to carry important measures of
government by bribery. Wraxall writes that Ross Mackay said to him, at
a dinner party given by Lord Besborough, as the illustrious guests were
sipping their wine,
The peace of 1763 was carried through and approved by a
pecuniary dispensation. Nothing else could have surmounted
the difficulty. I was myself the channel through which the
money passed. With my own hand I secured above one hundred
and twenty votes on that most important question to
ministers. Eighty thousand pounds were set apart for the
purpose. Forty members of the House of Commons received from
me a thousand pounds each. To eighty others I paid five
hundred pounds a-piece.
The unrelenting king was still determined that the Americans,
unrepresented in Parliament, should still pay into his treasury
whatever sums of money he might exact. Calling to his aid courtiers
more shrewd than himself, they devised a very cunning act, to attain
that object in a way which would hardly be likely to excite opposition.
They laid a tax, insignificant really in its amount, upon paper, paint,
glass, and tea. This tax was to be collected at the custom-houses in
the few ports of entry in the colonies. The whole amount thus raised
would not exceed forty thousand pounds. It was thought that the
Americans would never make opposition to so trivial a payment.
But it established a principle that England could tax the colonies
without allowing those colonies any representation in Parliament. If
the Court had a right thus to demand forty thousand pounds, they had a
right to demand so many millions, should it seem expedient to king and
cabinet so to do.
The great blunder which the court committed, was in not appreciating
the wide-spread intelligence of the American people. In New England
particularly, and throughout the colonies generally, there was scarcely
a farmer who did not perceive the trick, and despise it. They deemed it
an insult to their intelligence.
Instantly there arose, throughout all the provinces, the most
determined opposition to the measure. It was in fact merely a renewal
of the Stamp Act, under slightly modified forms. If they admitted the
justice of this act, it was only declaring that they had acted with
unpardonable folly, in opposing the tax under the previous form.
Dr. Franklin, with honest shrewdness, not with trickery or with
cunning, but with a sincere and penetrating mind, eagerly scrutinized
all the measures of the Court. George III. was a gentleman. He was
irreproachable in all his domestic relations. He was, in a sense,
conscientious; for certainly he was not disposed to do anything which
he thought to be wrong. Conscientious men have burned their
fellow-Christians at the stake. It is said that George the Third was a
Christian. He certainly was a full believer in the religion of Jesus
Christ; and earnestly advocated the support and extension of that
religion. God makes great allowance for the frailties of his fallen
children. It requires the wisdom of omniscience to decide how much
wickedness there may be in the heart, consistently with piety. No man
During the reign of George III., terrible wars were waged throughout
all the world, mainly incited by the British Court. Millions perished.
The moans of widows and orphans ascended from every hand. This wicked
Christian king sent his navy and his army to burn down our cities and
villages, and to shoot husbands, fathers, and sons, until he could
compel America to submit to his despotism. The population of England
being exhausted by those wide spread wars, he hired, of the petty
princes of Europe, innocent peasantry, to abandon their homes in
Germany, to burn and destroy the homes of Americans. Finding that not
sufficient, he sent his agents through the wilderness to rouse, by
bribes, savage men, who knew no better, to ravage our frontiers, to
burn the cabins of lonely farmers, to tomahawk and scalp their wives
Such a man may be a good Christian. God, who can read the secrets of
the heart, and who is infinite in his love and charity, alone can
decide. But if we imagine that man, George Guelph, at the bar of
judgment, and thronging up as witnesses against him, the millions whose
earthly homes he converted into abodes of misery and despair, it is
difficult to imagine in our frail natures, how our Heavenly Father, who
loves all his children alike, and who, as revealed in the person of
Jesus, could weep over the woes of humanity, could look with a loving
smile upon him and say, Well done, good and faithful servant, enter
thou into the joy of thy Lord.
Franklin of course continued in as determined an opposition to the
new tax as to the old one. He wrote,
I have some little property in America. I will freely spend
nineteen shillings in the pound to defend my right of giving
or refusing the other shilling. And after all, if I cannot
defend that right, I can retire cheerfully with my little
family into the boundless woods of America, which are sure
to afford freedom and subsistence to any man who can bait a
hook or pull a trigger.
The ability which Franklin had displayed as the agent of
Pennsylvania before the court of St. James, gave him, as we have said,
a high reputation in all the colonies. In the spring of 1768 he was
highly gratified by the intelligence that he was appointed, by the
young colony of Georgia, its London agent. The next year New Jersey
conferred the same honor upon him, and the year after, he was appointed
agent of his native province of Massachusetts. These several
appointments detained him ten years in England.
During all this time he did not visit home. The equanimity of his
joyful spirit seems never to have been disturbed. His pen describes
only pleasant scenes. No murmurs are recorded, no yearnings of
But month after month the animosity of the British Court towards the
Americans was increasing. The king grew more and more fixed in his
purpose, to compel the liberty-loving Americans to submission. Hostile
movements were multiplied to indicate that if the opposition to his
measures was continued, English fleets and armies would soon commence
Several thousand troops were landed in Boston. Fourteen men-of-war
were anchored before the town, with the cannon of their broad-sides
loaded and primed, ready, at the slightest provocation to lay the whole
town in ashes. Protected by this terrible menace, two British regiments
paraded the streets, with their muskets charged, with gleaming sabres
and bayonets, with formidable artillery prepared to vomit forth the
most horrible discharges of grape shot, with haughty English officers
well mounted, and soldiers and officers alike in imposing uniforms.
This invincible band of highly disciplined soldiers, as a peace
measure, took possession of the Common, the State House, the Court
House and Faneuil Hall.
Even now, after the lapse of more than a hundred years, it makes the
blood of an American boil to contemplate this insult. Who can imagine
the feelings of exasperation that must have glowed in the bosoms of our
Franklin, in England, was treated with ever increasing disrespect.
Lord Hillsborough, then in charge of American affairs, told him
peremptorily, even insolently, that America could expect no favors
while he himself was in power, and that he was determined to persevere
with firmness in the policy which the king was pursuing. The king was
so shielded by his ministers that Franklin knew but little about him.
Even at this time he wrote,
I can scarcely conceive a king of better dispositions, of
more exemplary virtues, or more truly desirous of promoting
the welfare of his subjects.
Franklin never had occasion to speak differently of his domestic
virtues. Nay, it is more than probable that the king daily, in prayer,
looked to God for guidance, and that he thought that he was doing that
which was promotive of the interests of England. Alas for man! He can
perpetrate the most atrocious crimes, honestly believing that he is
doing God's will. He can burn aged women under the charge of their
being witches. He can torture, in the infliction of unutterable
anguish, his brother manmothers and daughters, under the charge of
heresy. He can hurl hundreds of thousands of men against each other in
most horrible and woe-inflicting wars, while falling upon his knees and
praying to God to bless his murderous armies.
Franklin had with him his grandson, William Temple Franklin, the
dishonored son of William Franklin, then Governor of New Jersey. He was
a bright and promising boy, and developed an estimable character, under
the guidance of his grandfather, who loved him.
William Franklin in New Jersey was, however, becoming increasingly
the scourge of his father. It would seem that Providence was thus, in
some measure, punishing Franklin for his sin. The governor, appointed
by the Court of England to his office, which he highly prized, and
which he feared to lose, was siding with the Court. He perceived that
the storm of political agitation was increasing in severity. He felt
that the power of the colonies was as nothing compared with the power
of the British government. Gradually he became one of the most violent
of the Tories.
The moderation of Franklin, and his extraordinarily charitable
disposition, led him to refrain from all denunciations of his
ungrateful son, or even reproaches, until his conduct became absolutely
infamous. In 1773, he wrote, in reference to the course which the
governor was pursuing,
I only wish you to act uprightly and steadily, avoiding
that duplicity which, in Hutchinson, adds contempt to
indignation. If you can promote the prosperity of your
people, and leave them happier than you found them, whatever
your political principles are, your memory will be honored.
While Franklin was absent, a young merchant of Philadelphia, Richard
Bache, offered his hand to Franklin's only daughter, from whom the
father had been absent nearly all of her life. Sarah was then
twenty-three years of age, so beautiful as to become quite a celebrity,
and she was highly accomplished. Mr. Bache was not successful in
business, and the young couple resided under the roof of Mrs. Franklin
for eight years. The husband, with an increasing family, appealed to
his illustrious father-in-law, to obtain for him a governmental
appointment. Franklin wrote to his daughter,
I am of opinion, that almost any profession a man has been
educated in, is preferable to an office held at pleasure, as
rendering him more independent, more a free man, and less
subject to the caprices of his superiors. I think that in
keeping a store, if it be where you dwell, you can be
serviceable to him, as your mother was to me; for you are
not deficient in capacity, and I hope you are not too proud.
You might easily learn accounts; and you can copy letters,
or write them very well on occasion. By industry and
frugality you may get forward in the world, being both of
you very young. And then what we may leave you at our death,
will be a pretty addition, though of itself far from
sufficient to maintain and bring up a family.
Franklin gave his son-in-law about a thousand dollars to assist him
in the purchase of a stock of merchandise. The children, born to this
happy couple, were intelligent and beautiful, and they greatly
contributed to the happiness of their grandmother, who cherished them
with a grandmother's most tender love. In the year 1862, there were one
hundred and ten surviving descendants of Richard Bache and Sarah
Franklin. Ten of these were serving in the Union army perilling their
lives to maintain that national fabric, which their illustrious
ancestor had done so much to establish. Franklin was by no means a man
of one idea. His comprehensive mind seemed to grasp all questions of
statesmanship, of philanthropy, of philosophy.
During the ten years of his residence in England he visited the
hospitals, carefully examined their management, and transmitted to his
home the result of his observations. This was probably the origin of
the celebrity which the medical schools of Philadelphia have attained.
He visited the silk manufactories, and urged the adoption of that
branch of industry, as peculiarly adapted to our climate and people.
Ere long he had the pleasure of presenting to the queen a piece of
American silk, which she accepted and wore as a dress. As silk was an
article not produced in England, the government was not offended by the
introduction of that branch of industry. For Hartford college he
procured a telescope, which cost about five hundred dollars. This was,
in those days, an important event.
The renowned Captain Cook returned from his first voyage around the
world. The narrative of his adventures, in the discovery of new
islands, and new races of men, excited almost every mind in England and
America. Franklin was prominent in the movement, to raise seventy-five
thousand dollars, to fit out an expedition to send to those benighted
islanders the fowls, the quadrupeds and the seeds of Europe. He wrote,
in an admirable strain,
Many voyages have been undertaken with views of profit or
of plunder, or to gratify resentment. But a voyage is now
proposed to visit a distant people on the other side of the
globe, not to cheat them, not to rob them: not to seize
their lands or to enslave their persons, but merely to do
them good, and make them, as far as in our power lies, to
live as comfortable as ourselves.
There can be no national prosperity without virtue. There can not be
a happy people who do not do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with
God. It was a noble enterprise to send to those naked savages corn and
hoes, with horses, pigs and poultry. But the Christian conscience awoke
to the conviction that something more than this was necessary. They
sent, to the dreary huts of the Pacific, ambassadors of the religion of
Jesus, to gather the children in schools, to establish the sanctity of
the family relation, and to proclaim to all, the glad tidings of that
divine Saviour, who has come to earth to seek and to save the lost.
CHAPTER XI. The Intolerance of
King and Court.
Parties in EnglandFranklin the favorite of the
oppositionPlans of the ToriesChristian IIILetter of
FranklinDr. PriestleyParisian courtesyLouis XVVisit
to IrelandAttempted alteration of the Prayer BookLetter
to his sonAstounding letters from AmericaWords of John
AdamsPetition of the AssemblyViolent conspiracy against
FranklinHis bearing in the court-roomWedderburn's
infamous chargesLetter of FranklinBitter words of Dr.
JohnsonMorals of English lordsCommercial value of the
ColoniesDangers threatening Franklin.
Wherever there is a government there must be an opposition. Those
who are out of office wish to eject those in office, that they may take
their places. There was a pretty strong party in what was called the
Opposition. But it was composed of persons animated by very different
motives. The first consisted of those intelligent, high minded,
virtuous statesmen, who were indignant in view of the wrong which the
haughty, unprincipled Tory government was inflicting upon the American
people. The second gathered those who were in trade. They cared nothing
for the Americans. They cared nothing for government right or wrong.
They wished to sell their hats, their cutlery, and their cotton and
woolen goods to the Americans. This they could not do while government
was despotically enforcing the Stamp Act or the Revenue Bill. Then came
a third class, who had no goods to sell, and no conscience to guide to
action. They were merely ambitious politicians. They wished to thrust
the Tories out of office simply that they might rush into the occupancy
of all the places of honor, emolument or power.
Franklin was in high favor with the opposition. He furnished their
orators in Parliament with arguments, with illustrations, with accurate
statistical information. Many of the most telling passages in
parliamentary speeches, were placed on the lips of the speakers by
Benjamin Franklin. He wrote pamphlets of marvellous popular power,
which were read in all the workshops, and greatly increased the number
and the intelligence of the foes of the government measures. Thus
Franklin became the favorite of the popular party. They lavished all
honors upon him. In the same measure he became obnoxious to the
haughty, aristocratic Tory government. Its ranks were filled with the
lords, the governmental officials, and all their dependents. This made
a party very powerful in numbers, and still more powerful in wealth and
influence. They were watching for opportunities to traduce Franklin, to
ruin his reputation, and if possible, to bring him into contempt.
This will explain the honors which were conferred upon him by one
party, and the indignities to which he was subjected from the other. At
times, the Tories would make efforts by flattery, by offers of
position, of emolument, by various occult forms of bribery, to draw
Franklin to their side. He might very easily have attained almost any
amount of wealth and high official dignity.
The king of Denmark, Christian VII., was brother-in-law of George
III. He visited England; a mere boy in years, and still more a weak boy
in insipidity of character. A large dinner-party was given in his honor
at the Royal Palace. Franklin was one of the guests. In some way
unexplained, he impressed the boy-king with a sense of his inherent and
peculiar greatness. Christian invited a select circle of but sixteen
men to dine with him. Among those thus carefully selected, Franklin was
honored with an invitation. Though sixty-seven years of age he still
enjoyed in the highest degree, convivial scenes. He could tell stories,
and sing songs which gave delight to all. It was his boast that he
could empty his two bottles of wine, and still retain entire sobriety.
He wrote to Hugh Roberts,
I wish you would continue to meet the Junto. It wants but
about two years of forty since it was established. We loved,
and still love one another; we have grown grey together, and
yet it is too early to part. Let us sit till the evening of
life is spent; the last hours are always the most joyous.
When we can stay no longer, it is time enough to bid each
other good night, separate, and go quietly to bed.
Franklin was the last person to find any enjoyment in the society of
vulgar and dissolute men. In those days, it was scarcely a reproach for
a young lord to be carried home from a festivity in deadly
intoxication. Witticisms were admitted into such circles which
respectable men would not tolerate now. Franklin's most intimate
friends in London were found among Unitarian clergymen, and those
philosophers who were in sympathy with him in his rejection of the
Christian religion. Dr. Richard Price, and Dr. Joseph Priestly, men
both eminent for intellectual ability and virtues, were his bosom
Dr. Priestly, who had many conversations with Franklin upon
religious topics, deeply deplored the looseness of his views. Though
Dr. Priestly rejected the divinity of Christ, he still firmly adhered
to the belief that Christianity was of divine origin. In his
autobiography, Dr. Priestly writes:
It is much to be lamented that a man of Dr. Franklin's
generally good character and great influence, should have
been an unbeliever in Christianity, and also have done so
much as he did to make others unbelievers. To me, however,
he acknowledged that he had not given so much attention as
he ought to have done to the evidences of Christianity; and
he desired me to recommend him a few treatises on the
subject, such as I thought most deserving his notice.
Priestly did so; but Franklin, all absorbed in his social
festivities, his scientific researches, and his intense patriotic
labors, could find no time to devote to that subjectthe immortal
destiny of man,which is infinitely more important to each individual
than all others combined. It was indeed a sad circle of
unbelievers, into whose intimacy Franklin was thrown. Dr. Priestly
In Paris, in 1774, all the philosophical persons to whom I
was introduced, were unbelievers in Christianity, and even
professed atheists. I was told by some of them, that I was
the only person they had ever met, of whose understanding
they had any opinion, who professed to believe in
Christianity. But I soon found they did not really know what
[Footnote 22: Mr. Parton, in his excellent Life of Franklin, one of
the best biographies which was ever written, objects to this
withholding of the Christian name from Dr. Franklin. He writes,
I do not understand what Dr. Priestly meant, by saying that
Franklin was an unbeliever in Christianity, since he himself
was open to the same charge from nine-tenths of the
inhabitants of christendom. Perhaps, if the two men were now
alive, we might express the theological difference between
them by saying that Priestly was a Unitarian of the Channing
school, and Franklin of that of Theodore Parker. Again he
writes, I have ventured to call Franklin the consummate
Christian of his time. Indeed I know not who, of any time,
has exhibited more of the Spirit of Christ.Parton's
Franklin Vol. 1. p. 546. Vol. 2. p. 646.]
It was Franklin's practice to spend a part of every summer in
traveling. In 1767, accompanied by Sir John Pringle, he visited Paris.
With Franklin, one of the first of earthly virtues was courtesy. He was
charmed with the politeness of the French people. Even the most humble
of the working classes, were gentlemanly; and from the highest to the
lowest, he, simply as a stranger, was treated with consideration which
surprised him. He writes,
The civilities we everywhere receive, give us the strongest
impressions of the French politeness. It seems to be a point
settled here universally, that strangers are to be treated
with respect; and one has just the same deference shown one
here, by being a stranger, as in England, by being a lady.
Two dozen bottles of port-wine were given them at Bordeaux. These,
as the law required, were seized by the custom-house officers, as they
entered Paris by the Porte St. Denis; but as soon as it was ascertained
that they were strangers, the wine was remitted.
There was a magnificent illumination of the Church of Notre Dame, in
honor of the deceased Dauphiness. Thousands could not obtain admission.
An officer, learning merely that they were strangers, took them in
charge, conducted them through the vast edifice, and showed them every
Franklin and his companion had the honor of a presentation to the
king, Louis XV., at Versailles. This monarch was as vile a man as ever
occupied a throne. But he had the virtue of courtesy, which Franklin
placed at the head of religious principle. The philosopher simply
The king spoke to both of us very graciously and very
cheerfully. He is a handsome man, has a very lively look,
and appears younger than he is.
In 1772, Franklin visited Ireland. He was treated there with great
honor; but the poverty of the Irish peasantry overwhelmed his
benevolent heart with astonishment and dismay. He writes,
I thought often of the happiness of New England, where
every man is a free-holder, has a vote in public affairs,
lives in a tidy, warm house, has plenty of good food and
fuel, with whole clothes from head to foot, the manufacture
perhaps of his own family. Long may they continue in this
In the year 1773, Franklin spent several weeks in the beautiful
mansion of his friend, Lord Despencer. We read with astonishment, that
Franklin, who openly renounced all belief in the divine origin of
Christianity, should have undertaken, with Lord Despencer, an
abbreviation of the prayer-book of the Church of England. It is
surprising, that he could have thought it possible, that the eminent
Christians, clergy and laity of that church, would accept at the hands
of a deist, their form of worship. But Franklin was faithful in the
abbreviation, not to make the slightest change in the evangelical
character of that admirable work, which through ages has guided the
devotion of millions. The abbreviated service, cut down one-half,
attracted no attention, and scarcely a copy was sold.
At this time, Franklin's reputation was in its meridian altitude.
There was scarcely a man in Europe or America, more prominent. Every
learned body in Europe, of any importance, had elected him a member.
Splendid editions of his works were published in London; and three
editions were issued from the press in Paris.
In France, Franklin met with no insults, with no opposition. All
alike smiled upon him, and the voices of commendation alone fell upon
Returning to England, his reputation there, as a man of high moral
worth, and of almost the highest intellectual attainments, and a man
honored in the most remarkable degree with all the highest offices
which his countrymen could confer upon him, swept contumely from his
path, and even his enemies were ashamed to manifest their hostility.
From London he wrote to his son,
As to my situation here, nothing can be more agreeable.
Learned and ingenious foreigners that come to England,
almost all make a point of visiting me; for my reputation is
still higher abroad, than here. Several of the foreign
ambassadors have assiduously cultivated my acquaintance,
treating me as one of their corps, partly, I believe, from
the desire they have from time to time, of hearing something
of American affairs; an object become of importance in
foreign courts, who begin to hope Britain's alarming power
will be diminished by the defection of her colonies.
[Footnote 23: For dinner parties Franklin was in such demand that,
during the London season, he sometimes dined out six days in the week
for several weeks together. He also confesses that occasionally he
drank more wine than became a philosopher. It would indeed have been
extremely difficult to avoid it, in that soaking age, when a man's
force was reckoned by the number of bottles he could empty.
Parton's Life of Franklin, Vol. i, p. 540.
As an illustration of the state of the times, I give the following
verse from one of the songs which Franklin wrote, and which he was
accustomed to sing with great applause. At the meetings of the Junto,
all the club joined in the chorus,
Fair Venus calls; her voice obey
In beauty's arms spend night and day.
The joys of love all joys excel,
And loving's certainly doing well.
For honest souls still know
Friends and the bottle still bear the bell.
It is well, Mr. Parton writes, for us, in these days, to consider
the spectacle of this large, robust soul, sporting in this simple,
homely way. This superb Franklin of ours, who spent some evenings in
mere jollity, passed nearly all his days in labor most fruitful of
benefit to his country.Life of Franklin, Vol. i, p. 262.]
In the latter part of the year 1772, Franklin, in his ever
courteous, but decisive language, was conversing with an influential
member of Parliament, respecting the violent proceedings of the
ministry, in quartering troops upon the citizens of Boston. The member,
in reply, said,
You are deceived in supposing these measures to originate with the
ministry. The sending out of the troops, and all the hostile measures,
of which you complain, have not only been suggested, but solicited, by
prominent men of your own country. They have urged that troops should
be sent, and that fleets should enter your harbors, declaring that in
no other way, than by this menace of power, can the turbulent Americans
be brought to see their guilt and danger, and return to obedience.
Franklin expressed his doubts of this statement. I will bring you
proof, the gentleman replied. A few days after, he visited Franklin,
and brought with him a packet of letters, written by persons of high
official station in the colonies, and native born Americans. The
signatures of these letters were effaced; but the letters themselves
were presented, and Franklin was confidentially informed of their
writers. They were addressed to Mr. William Whately, an influential
member of Parliament, who had recently died.
Franklin read them with astonishment and indignation. He found the
representation of the gentleman entirely true. Six of the letters were
written by Thomas Hutchinson, Governor of Massachusetts. He was a
native of the colony he governed, a graduate of Harvard, and in his
religious position a Puritan. Four were written by Andrew Oliver,
Lieutenant-governor, and also a native of Massachusetts.
The rest were written by custom-house officers and other servants of
the Crown. The openly avowed design of these letters was, that they
should be exhibited to the Ministry, to excite them to prompt, vigorous
and hostile measures. They teemed with misrepresentations, and often
with downright falsehoods. The perusal of these infamous productions
elicited from Franklin first a burst of indignation. The second effect
was greatly to mitigate his resentment against the British government.
The ministry, it seemed, were acting in accordance with solicitations
received from Americans, native born, and occupying the highest posts
of honor and influence.
The gentleman who obtained these letters and showed them to
Franklin, was very unwilling to have his agency in the affair made
public. After much solicitation, he consented to have Franklin send the
letters to America, though he would not give permission to have any
copies taken. It was his hope, that the letters would calm the rising
animosity in America, by showing that the British ministry was pursuing
a course of menace, which many of the most distinguished Americans
declared to be essential, to save the country from anarchy and ruin.
Franklin's object was to cause these traitorous office-holders to be
ejected from their positions of influence, that others, more patriotic,
might occupy the stations which they disgraced.
On the 2d of December, 1772, Franklin inclosed the letters in an
official package, directed to Thomas Cushing. He wrote,
I am not at liberty to make the letters public. I can only
allow them to be seen by yourself, by the other gentlemen of
the Committee of Correspondence, by Messrs. Bowdoin and
Pitts of the Council, and Drs. Chauncy, Cooper, and
Winthrop, and a few such other gentlemen as you may think
fit to show them to. After being some months in your
possession, you are requested to return them to me.
The reading of the letters created intense anger and disgust. John
Adams, after perusing them, recorded in his diary, alluding to
Hutchinson, Cool, thinking deliberate villain, malicious and
vindictive. He carried the documents around to read to all his male
and female friends, and was not sparing in his vehement comments.
Again he wrote, Bone of our bone; born and educated among us! Mr.
Hancock is deeply affected; is determined, in conjunction with Major
Hawley, to watch the vile serpent, and his deputy, Brattle. The
subtlety of this serpent is equal to that of the old one.
For two months the letters were privately yet extensively
circulated. Hutchinson himself soon found out the storm which was
gathering against him. The hand-writing of all the writers was known.
In June, the Massachusetts Assembly met. In secret session the letters
were read. Soon some copies were printed. It was said that some one had
obtained, from England, copies of the letters from which the printed
impressions were taken. But the mystery of their publication was never
The Assembly sent a petition to the king of England, imploring that
Thomas Hutchinson and Andrew Oliver, should be removed from their
posts, and that such good men as the king might select, should be
placed in their stead. The petition, eminently respectful, but drawn up
in very forcible language, expressive of the ruinous consequences
caused by the measures which these officials had recommended, was
transmitted to Franklin, the latter part of the summer of 1773. He
immediately forwarded it to Lord Dartmouth. With it he sent a very
polite and conciliatory letter, in which he declared, that the
Americans were very desirous of being on good terms with the mother
country, that their resentment against the government was greatly
abated, by finding that Americans had urged the obnoxious measures
which had been adopted; and that the present was a very favorable time
to introduce cordial, friendly relations between the king and the
Lord Dartmouth returned a very polite reply, laid the all-important
petition aside, and for five months never alluded to it, by word or
letter. In the meantime, some of the printed copies reached London. The
Tories thought that perhaps the long sought opportunity had come when
they might pounce upon Franklin, and at least greatly impair his
influence. Franklin had nothing to conceal. He had received the letters
from a friend, who authorized him to send them to America, that their
contents might be made known there.
In all this he had done absolutely nothing, which any one could
pronounce to be wrong. But the Court, being determined to stir up
strife, began to demand who it was that had obtained and delivered up
the letters. Franklin was absent from London. He soon heard tidings of
the great commotion that was excited, and that two gentlemen, who had
nothing to do with the matter, were each accused of having dishonorably
obtained the letters. This led to a duel. Franklin immediately wrote,
I think it incumbent for me to declare that I alone am the
person who obtained and transmitted to Boston, the letters
The Court decided to summon Franklin to meet the Committee for
Plantation Affairs, to explain the reasons for the petition against
Hutchinson and Oliver. To the surprise of Franklin, it appeared that
they were organizing quite a formidable trial; and very able counsel
was appointed to defend the culprits.
Thus Franklin, who simply presented the petition of the Assembly,
was forced into the obnoxious position of a prosecutor. The array
against him was so strong, that it became necessary for him also to
have counsel. It was manifest to all the friends of Franklin, that the
British Court was rousing all its energies to crush him.
The meeting was held on the 11th of January, 1773. Four of the
Cabinet ministers were present, and several Lords of the Privy Council.
They addressed Franklin as a culprit, who had brought slanderous
charges against his majesty's faithful officers in the colonies. He was
treated not only with disrespect but with absolute insolence. But
nothing could disturb his equanimity. Not for one moment did he lose
serenity of mind.
There was an adjournment, to meet on the 29th of the month. In the
meantime one of the court party, who had received many favors from
Franklin, commenced a chancery suit against him, accusing him of
stealing the letters, and being by trade a printer, of having secretly
published them, and sold immense numbers, the profits of which he had
placed in his own pocket. All this Franklin denied on oath. The charge
was so absurd, and so manifestly malignant, that his foes withdrew the
suit. Franklin was however assured that the Court was clamoring for his
punishment and disgrace.
All London was agitated by the commotion which these extraordinary
events created. At the appointed day, the Council again met. The
assembly was held in a large apartment in the drawing-room style. At
one end was the entrance door; at the other the fire-place, with
recesses on each side of the chimney. A broad table extended from the
fire-place to the door. The Privy Council, thirty-five in number, sat
at this table. They were inveterate Tories, resolved to bring the
Americans down upon their knees, and, as a preliminary step, to inflict
indelible disgrace upon Franklin. Lord North, the implacable Prime
Minister was there. The Archbishop of Canterbury was present. As
Franklin cast his eye along the line of these haughty nobles, he could
not see the face of a friend.
The remainder of the room was crowded with spectators. From them
many a sympathizing glance fell upon him. Priestly and Burke gave him
their silent but cordial sympathy. There were also quite a number of
Americans and prominent members of the opposition, whose presence was a
support to Franklin, during the ordeal through which he was to pass. He
stood at the edge of the recess formed by the chimney, with one elbow
resting upon the mantel, and his cheek upon his hand. He was motionless
as a statue, and had composed his features into such calm and serene
rigidity, that not the movement of a muscle could be detected. As
usual, he was dressed simply, but with great elegance. A large flowing
wig, with abundant curls, such as were used by elderly gentlemen at
that day, covered his head. His costume, which was admirably fitted to
a form as perfect as Grecian sculptor ever chiseled, was of rich
figured silk velvet. In all that room, there was not an individual, who
in physical beauty, was the peer of Franklin. In all that room there
was not another, who in intellectual greatness could have met the trial
It will be remembered that the Assembly of Massachusetts had
petitioned for the removal of an obnoxious governor and lieutenant
governor. Franklin, as the agent in London of that colony, had
presented the petition to the crown. He was now summoned to appear
before the privy council, to bring forward and substantiate charges
against these officers. The council had appointed a lawyer to defend
Hutchinson and Oliver. His name was Wedderburn. He had already obtained
celebrity for the savage skill with which he could browbeat a witness,
and for his wonderful command of the vocabulary of vituperation and
abuse. Before commencing the examination, he addressed the assembly in
a long speech. After eulogizing Governor Hutchinson, as one of the best
and most loyal of the officers of the crown, who merited the gratitude
of king and court, he turned upon Franklin, and assailed him with a
storm of vituperative epithets, such as never before, and never since,
has fallen upon the head of a man. The council were in sympathy with
the speaker. Often his malignant thrusts would elicit from those lords
a general shout of derisive laughter.
Such was the treatment which one of the most illustrious and honored
of American citizens received from the privy council of king George
III., when he appeared before that council as a friendly ambassador
from his native land, seeking only conciliation and peace.
Wedderburn accused Franklin of stealing private letters, of
misrepresenting their contents, that he might excite hostility against
the loyal officers of the king. He accused him of doing this that he
might eject them from office, so as to obtain the positions for himself
and his friends. Still more, he accused him of having in an unexampled
spirit of meanness, availed himself of his skill as a printer, to
publish these letters, and that he sold them far and wide, that he
might enrich himself. Charges better calculated to ruin a man, in the
view of these proud lords, can scarcely be conceived. It is doubtful
whether there were another man in the world, who could have received
them so calmly, and in the end could have so magnificently triumphed
During all this really terrific assailment, Franklin stood with his
head resting on his left hand, apparently unmoved. At the close, he
declined answering any questions. The committee of the council reported
on that same day, the lords of the committee, do agree humbly to
report as their opinion to your majesty, that the said petition is
founded upon resolution's, formed upon false and erroneous allegations,
and that the same is false, vexatious and scandalous; and calculated
only for the seditious purposes of keeping up a spirit of clamor and
discontent in said province. The king accepted the report, and acted
accordingly. Franklin went home alone. We know not why his friends thus
apparently deserted him.
The next morning, which was Sunday, Priestly breakfasted at
Franklin's table. He represents him as saying that he could not have
borne the insults heaped upon him by the privy council, but for the
consciousness, that he had done only that which was right. On Monday
morning Franklin received a laconic letter from the Postmaster General,
informing him that the king had found it necessary to dismiss him from
the office of deputy Postmaster General in America.
This outrage, inflicted by the privy council of Great Britain, upon
a friendly ambassador from her colonies, who had visited her court with
the desire to promote union and harmony, was one of the most atrocious
acts ever perpetrated by men above the rank of vagabonds in their
drunken carousals. Franklin, in transmitting an account to
Massachusetts, writes in a noble strain:
What I feel on my own account, is half lost in what I feel
for the public. When I see that all petitions and complaints
of grievances, are so odious to government, that even the
mere pipe which conveys them, becomes obnoxious, I am at a
loss to know how peace and union are to be maintained, and
restored between the different parts of the empire.
Grievances cannot be redressed, unless they are known. And
they cannot be known, but through complaints and petitions.
If these are deemed affronts, and the messengers punished as
offenders, who will henceforth send petitions? and who will
The speech of Wedderburn gave great delight to all the Tory party.
It was derisively said, that the lords of the council, went to their
chamber, as to a bull-baiting, and hounded on the Solicitor General
with loud applause and laughter. Mr. Fox, writing of the assault said,
All men tossed up their hats and clapped their hands, in boundless
When the tidings of the affair reached America, it added intensity
to the animosity, then rapidly increasing, against the British
government. The dismissal of Franklin from the post-office, was deemed
equivalent to the seizure, by the crown, of that important branch of
the government. None but the creatures of the Ministry were to be
postmasters. Consequently patriotic Americans could no longer entrust
their letters to the mail. Private arrangements were immediately made
for the conveyance of letters; and with so much efficiency, that the
general office, which had heretofore contributed fifteen thousand
dollars annually to the public treasury, never after paid into it one
[Footnote 24: It may be worthy of record, that Wedderburn became the
hero of the clubs and the favorite of the Tory party. Wealth and honors
were lavished upon him. He rose to the dignity of an earl and lord
chancellor, and yet we do not find, in any of the annals of those days,
that he is spoken of otherwise than as a shallow, unprincipled man.
When his death, after a few hours' illness, was announced to the king,
he scornfully said, He has not left a worse man behind him.]
The spirit of the Tories may be inferred from that of one of the
most applauded and influential of their leaders. Dr. Samuel Johnson,
who wrote the notorious Taxation no Tyranny, said,
The Americans are a race of convicts. They ought to be thankful for
any thing we can give them. I am willing to love all mankind except an
American. Boswell in quoting one of his insane tirades writes, His
inflammable corruption, bursting into horrid fire, he breathed out
threatenings and slaughter, calling them rascals, robbers, pirates, and
exclaiming that he would burn and destroy them.
It was a day of vicious indulgence, of dissipation in every form,
when it was fashionable to be godless, and to sneer at all the
restraints of the Christian religion. Volumes might be filled with
accounts of the atrocities perpetrated by drunken lords at the gaming
table and in midnight revel through the streets. Such men of influence
and rank as Fox, Lord Derby, the Duke of Ancaster, inflamed with wine,
could set the police at defiance. They were constantly engaged in
orgies which would disgrace the most degraded wretches, in the vilest
haunts of infamy in our cities. Instead of gambling for copper, they
gambled for gold. Horace Walpole testifies that at one of the most
fashionable clubs, at Almack's, they played only for rouleaux of two
hundred and fifty dollars each. There were often fifty thousand dollars
in specie on the gaming tables, around which these bloated inebriates
were gathered. It is said that Lord Holland paid the gambling debts of
his two sons to the amount of one hundred thousand dollars.
The trade of the colonies had become of immense value to the mother
country. It amounted to six and a half millions sterling a year.
Philadelphia numbered forty thousand inhabitants. Charleston, South
Carolina, had become one of the most beautiful and healthy cities in
America. The harbor was crowded with shipping, the streets were lined
with mansions of great architectural beauty. Gorgeous equipages were
seen, almost rivaling the display in French and English capitals. But
there were many Tories in Charleston, as malignant in their opposition
to the popular cause in America, as any of the aristocrats to be found
The unpardonable insult which Franklin had received, closed his
official labors in London. His personal friends and the Opposition
rallied more affectionately than ever around him. But he ceased to
appear at court and was seldom present at the dinner-parties of the
ministers. Still he was constantly and efficiently employed in behalf
of his country. The leaders of the opposition were in constant
conference with him. He wrote many pamphlets and published articles in
the journals, which exerted an extended and powerful influence. He
wrote to his friends at home, in October, 1774,
My situation here is thought, by many, to be a little
hazardous; for if by some accident the troops and people of
New England should come to blows, I should probably be
taken up; the ministerial people, affecting everywhere to
represent me as the cause of all the misunderstanding. And I
have been frequently cautioned to secure all my papers, and
by some advised to withdraw. But I venture to stay, in
compliance with the wish of others, till the result of the
Congress arrives, since they suppose my being here might, on
that occasion, be of use. And I confide in my innocence,
that the worst that can happen to me will be an imprisonment
upon suspicion; though that is a thing I should much desire
to avoid, as it may be expensive and vexatious, as well as
dangerous to my health.
CHAPTER XII. The Bloodhounds of
The mission of Josiah QuincyLove of England by the
AmericansPetition to the kingSickness and death of Mrs.
FranklinLord ChathamHis speech in favor of the
colonistsLord HoweHis interview with FranklinFirmness
of FranklinHis indignationHis mirthFranklin's
fableHe embarks for PhiladelphiaFeeble condition of the
coloniesEngland's expressions of contemptFranklin's
reception at PhiladelphiaHis letter to Edmund
BurkePost-office arrangementsDefection and conduct of
William FranklinHis arrest.
Young Josiah Quincy, of Boston, one of the noblest of patriots, who
was dying of consumption, visited London, with instructions to confer
with Franklin upon the posture of affairs. He wrote home, in the most
commendatory terms, of the zeal and sagacity with which Franklin was
devoting himself to the interests of his country. Tory spies were
watching his every movement, and listening to catch every word which
fell from his lips. Lord Hillsborough, in a debate in the House of
There are two men, walking in the streets of London, who ought to
be in Newgate or at Tyburn.
The duke of Richmond demanded their names, saying that if such were
the fact the ministry were severely to be blamed. Hillsborough declined
to give their names; but it was generally known that he referred to Dr.
Franklin and Josiah Quincy.
The policy of Franklin was clearly defined, and unchanging. He said
virtually, to his countrymen, Perform no political act against the
government, utter no menace, and do no act of violence whatever. But
firmly and perseveringly unite in consuming no English goods. There is
nothing in this which any one will pronounce to be, in the slightest
degree, illegal. The sudden and total loss of the trade with America,
will, in one year, create such a clamor, from the capitalists and
industrial classes of England, Ireland and Scotland, that the despotic
government will be compelled to retrace its steps.
Even at this time the Americans had no desire to break loose from
the government of Great Britain. England was emphatically their home.
Englishmen were their brothers. In England their fathers were gathered
to the grave. The Americans did not assume a new name. They still
called themselves Englishmen. They were proud to be members of the
majestic kingdom, which then stood at the head of the world.
Congress met. Its members, perhaps without exception, were yearning
for reconciliation with the mother-country, and for sincere and cordial
friendship. It was resolved to make another solemn appeal to the king,
whom they had ever been accustomed to revere, and, in a fraternal
spirit, to address their brethren, the people of England, whom they
wished to regard with all the respect due to elder brothers.
The intelligence of Christendom has applauded the dignity and the
pathos of these documents. The appeal fell upon the profane, gambling,
wine-bloated aristocrats of the court, as if it had been addressed to
the marble statuary in the British Museum. Nay worse. Those statues
would have listened in respectful silence. No contemptuous laughter,
and no oaths of menace, would have burst from their marble lips. The
following brief extract will show the spirit which pervaded these noble
documents. It is one of the closing sentences of the address to the
Permit us then, most gracious sovereign, in the name of all
your faithful people in America, with the utmost humility to
implore you, for the honor of Almighty God, whose pure
religion our enemies are undermining; for the glory which
can be advanced only by rendering your subjects happy and
keeping them united; for the interests of your family,
depending on an adherence to the principle that enthroned
it; for the safety and welfare of your kingdom and
dominions, threatened with unavoidable dangers, and
distresses; that your majesty, as the loving father of your
whole people, connected by the same bands of law, loyalty,
faith and blood, though dwelling in various countries, will
not suffer the transcendent relation, formed by these ties,
to be further violated, in uncertain expectation of effects
which, if attained, never can compensate for the calamities
through which they must be gained.
This petition was sent to Franklin, and the other colony agents, to
be presented by them to the king. They were instructed also to publish
both the Petition and the Address, in the newspapers, and to give them
as wide a circulation as possible.
Dr. Franklin, with two other agents, Arthur Lee and Mr. Bollan,
presented to Lord Dartmouth the petition to be handed by him to the
king. They were soon informed that the king received it graciously, and
would submit the consideration of it to Parliament. It was thought not
respectful to the king to publish it before he had presented it to that
body. But as usual, the infatuation of both king and court was such,
that everything that came from the Americans was treated with neglect,
if not with contempt. The all-important petition was buried in a pile
of documents upon all conceivable subjects, and not one word was said
to commend it to the consideration of either house. For three days it
remained unnoticed. Dr. Franklin, then, with his two companions,
solicited permission to be heard at the bar of the house. Their request
was refused. This brought the question into debate.
The House of Commons was at that time but a reflected image of the
House of Lords. It was composed almost exclusively, of the younger sons
of the nobles, and such other obsequious servants of the aristocracy,
as they, with their vast wealth and patronage, saw fit to have elected.
There was an immense Tory majority in the House. They assailed the
petition with vulgarity of abuse, which could scarcely be exceeded; and
then dismissed it from further consideration. Noble lords made
themselves merry in depicting the alacrity with which a whole army of
Americans would disperse at the very sound of a British cannon.
While these disastrous events were taking place in Englandevents,
sure to usher in a cruel and bloody war, bearing on its wings terror
and conflagration, tears and blood, a domestic tragedy was taking place
in the far distant home of Franklin on the banks of the Delaware. Mrs.
Franklin had been separated from her husband for nearly ten years. She
was a cheerful, motherly woman, ever blessing her home with smiles and
with kindly words; and in the society of her daughter and her
grandchildren, she found a constant joy. The lapse of three-score years
and ten, had not brought their usual infirmities. Though yearning
intensely for the return of her husband, she did not allow the
separation seriously to mar her happiness. Every spring she was
confident that he would return the next autumn, and then bore her
disappointment bravely in the assurance that she should see him the
In December, 1774, she was suddenly stricken down by a paralytic
stroke. Five days of unconscious slumber passed away, when she fell
into that deep and dreamless sleep, which has no earthly waking. Her
funeral was attended by a large concourse of citizens, with every
testimonial of respect. Some of Franklin's oldest friends bore the
coffin to the churchyard, where the remains of the affectionate wife
and mother who had so nobly fulfilled life's duties, were placed by the
side of her father, her mother, and her infant son.
Feelingly does Mr. Parton write, It is mournful to think that for
so many years, she should have been deprived of her husband's society.
The very qualities which made her so good a wife, rendered it possible
for him to remain absent from his affairs.
Franklin, all unconscious of the calamity which had darkened his
home, and weary of the conflict with the British court, was eagerly
making preparations to return to Philadelphia.
The aged, illustrious, eloquent Earl of Chatham, one of the noblest
of England's all grasping and ambitious sons, sought an interview with
Franklin. He utterly condemned the policy of the British cabinet. His
sympathies were, not only from principles of policy, but from
convictions of justice, cordially with the Americans. He felt sure that
unless the court should retrace its steps, war would ensue, and
American Independence would follow, and that England, with the loss of
her colonies, would find mercantile impoverishment and political
weakness. In the course of conversation, he implied that America might
be even then, contemplating independence. Franklin, in his account of
the interview writes,
I assured him that having more than once traveled almost
from one end of the continent to the other, and kept a great
variety of company, eating, drinking and conversing with
them freely, I had never heard in any conversation from any
person, drunk or sober, the least expression of a wish for a
separation, or a hint that such a thing would be
advantageous to America.
In a subsequent interview, the Earl of Chatham, alluding to the
conduct of Congress, in drawing up the petition and address, said,
They have acted with so much temper, moderation and wisdom, that I
think it the most honorable assembly of statesmen since those of the
Greeks and Romans, of the most virtuous times.
In a subsequent interview, Dr. Franklin expressed, to the earl, his
apprehension that the continuance of the British army in Boston, which
was the source of constant irritation to the people, might eventually
lead to a quarrel, perhaps between a drunken porter and a soldier, and
that thus tumult and bloodshed might be introduced, leading to
consequences which no one could foresee.
Lord Chatham felt the force of these remarks, which soon received
their striking illustration, in what was called the Boston Massacre. He
therefore declared his intention of repairing to the House of Lords, to
introduce a resolve for the immediate withdrawal of the troops from
Boston. The tidings were soon noised abroad that the eloquent earl,
then probably the most illustrious man in England, was to make a speech
in favor of America. The eventful day arrived. The hall was crowded.
Dr. Franklin had a special invitation from the earl to be present. The
friends of America were there, few in numbers, and the enemies in all
Lord Chatham made a speech, which in logical power and glowing
eloquence, has perhaps never been surpassed. Franklin had impressed him
with the conviction that the determination of the Americans to defend
their rights was such, that if, with fleet and army, the government
were to ravage all the coast and burn all the cities, the Americans
would retreat back into the forests, in the maintenance of their
liberty. Full of this idea, Lord Chatham exclaimed, with prophetic
We shall be forced ultimately to retract. Let us retract while we
can, not when we must. I say we must necessarily undo these violent
oppressive acts. You will repeal them. I pledge myself for it. I stake
my reputation on it. I will consent to be taken for an idiot, if they
are not finally repealed.
Franklin writes, All availed no more than the whistling of the
wind. The motion was rejected. Sixteen Scotch peers and twenty-four
bishops, with all the lords in possession or expectation of places,
when they vote together unanimously for ministerial measures, as they
generally do, make a dead majority, that renders all debate ridiculous
in itself, since it can answer no end.
Though the speech produced no impression upon the obdurate House of
Lords, it had a very powerful effect upon the public mind. It was read
in America, in collegiate halls, in the work-shop and at the farmer's
fireside, with delight which cannot be described. A few days after the
speech, Dr. Franklin, writing to Lord Stanhope, said,
Dr. Franklin is filled with admiration of that truly great
man. He has seen, in the course of life, sometimes eloquence
without wisdom, and often wisdom without eloquence; in the
present instance he sees both united, and both he thinks in
the highest degree possible.
Slowly the ministry were awaking to the conviction that American
affairs, if not settled, might yet cause them much trouble. In various
underhand ways, they approached Franklin. It was generally understood
that every man had his price; that the influence of one man could be
bought for a few hundred pounds; that another would require a lucrative
and honorable office. Though the reputation of Franklin was such, that
it was a delicate matter to approach him with bribes, still some of
them now commenced a course of flattery, endeavoring to secure his
coöperation. It was thought that his influence with his countrymen was
so great, that they would accede to any terms he should recommend.
Lord Howe called upon Franklin, and, in the name of Lord North and
Lord Dartmouth, the two most influential members of the ministry,
informed him that they sincerely sought reconciliation, and that they
were prepared to listen favorably, to any reasonable propositions he
might offer. Lord Howe was the friend of Franklin and of America. These
unexpected and joyful tidings affected Franklin so deeply, that he
could not conceal the tears which rolled down his cheeks.
Lord Howe then added that he was instructed to say, that the service
he would thus render both England and America, would be of priceless
value, and that though the ministers could not think of influencing him
by any selfish motives, he might expect, in return, any reward which
it was in the power of government to bestow. This, said Franklin,
was what the French vulgarly called spitting in the soup.
But again there was a meeting of Parliament. Again it became evident
that the ministry would accede to no terms, which did not secure the
entire subjugation of America. Lord Chatham made a renewed attempt to
conciliate. His propositions were rejected with scorn. In the meantime
Dr. Franklin had presented some Hints, drawn up in the most liberal
spirit of compromise, but which still maintained the American
principle, that the colonists could not be taxed at the pleasure of the
court, without having any voice themselves in the amount which they
were to pay.
Soon after this, Mr. Barclay called upon Franklin in the name of the
government, and after a long, and to Franklin, disgusting diplomatic
harangue, ventured to say to him, that if he would only comply with the
wishes of the ministry, he might expect almost any reward he could wish
for. Even the imperturbable spirit of Franklin was roused. He replied,
The ministry, I am sure, would rather give me a place in a cart to
Tyburn, than any other place whatever. I sincerely wish to be
serviceable; and I need no other inducement that I might be so.
In another interview, which soon followed, it appeared that the
government refused to concede a single point which the Americans deemed
essential. They refused to withdraw the troops; refused to allow the
colonial governors to appoint the collectors of the customs; persisted
in building fortresses to hold the people in subjection; and adhered to
the claim of Parliament to legislate for the colonies. Franklin said,
While Parliament claims the power of altering our constitution at
pleasure, there can be no agreement. We are rendered unsafe in every
privilege, and are secure in nothing.
Mr. Barclay insolently replied, It would be well for the Americans
to come to an agreement with the court of Great Britain. They ought not
to forget how easy a thing it will be for the British men-of-war to lay
all their seaport towns in ashes.
I grew warm, writes Franklin; said that the chief part of my
little property consisted of houses in those towns; that they might
make bon-fires of them whenever they pleased; that the fear of losing
them would never alter my resolution to resist to the last, such claims
of Parliament; and that it behoved this country to take care what
mischief it did us; for that sooner or later it would certainly be
obliged to make good all damages, with interest.
Still again these corrupt men, who are selling themselves and buying
others, approached Franklin with attempts to bribe him. They could not
comprehend that any man could be above the reach of such influences. It
was contemplated sending Lord Howe to America as a Commissioner. He
applied to Franklin to go with him as friend, assistant or secretary.
Lord Howe said to Franklin, that he could not think of undertaking
the mission without him; that if he effected any thing valuable, it
must be owing to the advice Franklin would afford him; and that he
should make no scruple of giving him the full honor of it. He assured
him that the ministry did not expect his assistance without a proper
consideration; that they wished to make generous and ample appointments
for those who aided them, and also would give them the promise of
subsequent more ample rewards.
And, said he, with marked emphasis, that the ministry may have an
opportunity of showing their good disposition toward yourself, will you
give me leave, Mr. Franklin, to procure for you, previously, some mark
of it; suppose the payment here, of the arrears of your salary as agent
for New England, which, I understand, they have stopped for some time
It will be remembered that Lord Howe was sincerely the friend of
America, and that he anxiously desired to see friendly relations
restored. Franklin therefore restrained his displeasure, and
My Lord, I shall deem it a great honor to be, in any shape, joined
with your lordship in so good a work. But if you hope service from any
influence I may be supposed to have, drop all thoughts of procuring me
any previous favors from ministers. My accepting them would destroy the
very influence you propose to make use of. They would be considered as
so many bribes to betray the interests of my country. Only let me see
the propositions and I shall not hesitate for a moment.
Repeated interviews ensued, between Franklin and both the friends
and the enemies of the Americans. There were interminable conferences.
But the court was implacable in its resolve, to maintain a supreme and
exclusive control over the colonies. Every hour of Franklin's time was
engrossed. Merchants and manufacturers, Tories and the opposition,
lords temporal, and lords spiritual, all called upon him with their
several plans. There were many Americans in London, including a large
number of Quakers. These crowded the apartment of Franklin. The
negotiations were terminated by a debate in the House of Lords, in
which the Americans were assailed in the vilest language of insult and
abuse which can be coined. Franklin was present. He writes,
We were treated with the utmost contempt, as the lowest of
mankind, and almost of a different species from the English
of Britain. Particularly American honesty was abused by some
of the lords, who asserted that we were all knaves, and
wanted only, by this dispute, to avoid paying our debts.
Franklin returned to his home, with feelings of indignation, which
his calm spirit had rarely before experienced. He resolved no longer to
have any thing to do with the hostile governing powers of England. He
had loved the British empire. He felt proud of its renown, and that
America was but part and parcel of its greatness. But there was no
longer hope, that there could be any escape from the awful appeal to
arms. Though that measure would be fraught with inconceivable woes for
his countrymen, he was assured that they would never submit. They would
now march to independence though the path led through scenes of
conflagration, blood and unutterable woe. His experience placed him in
advance of all his countrymen.
Franklin immediately commenced packing his trunks. Astonishing,
almost incredible as it may appear, the evidence seems conclusive that
through all these trying scenes, Franklin was a cheerful, it is hardly
too strong a word to use, a jovial man. It has been well said,
that to be angry is to punish one's self for the sins of another. Our
philosopher had no idea of making himself unhappy, because British
lords behaved like knaves. He continued to be one of the most
entertaining of companions. A cloudless sun seemed to shine wherever he
moved. He made witty speeches. He wrote the most amusing articles for
the journals, and the invariable gayety of his mind caused his society
to be eagerly sought for.
One evening he attended quite a brilliant party at a nobleman's
house, who was a friend to America. The conversation chanced to turn
upon Esop's fables. It was said that that mine of illustration was
exhausted. Franklin, after a moment's thought, remarked, that many new
fables could be invented, as instructive as any of those of Esop, Gay,
or La Fontaine. Can you think of one now, asked a lord. I think so,
said Franklin, if you will furnish me with pencil and paper. He
immediately sat down, surrounded by the gay assembly, and wrote, as
rapidly as his pencil could move,
THE EAGLE AND THE CAT.
Once upon a time an eagle, scaling round a farmer's barn,
and espying a hare, darted down upon him like a sunbeam,
seized him in his claws, and remounted with him into the
air. He soon found that he had a creature of more courage
and strength than the hare; for which he had mistaken a cat.
The snarling and scrambling of his prey were very
inconvenient. And what was worse, she had disengaged herself
from his talons, grasped his body with her four limbs, so as
to stop his breath, and seized fast hold of his throat, with
'Pray,' said the eagle, 'let go your hold, and I will
'Very fine,' said the cat. 'But I have no fancy to fall
from this height, and to be crushed to death. You have taken
me up, and you shall stoop and let me down.'
The eagle thought it necessary to stoop accordingly.
This admirable fable was read to the company; and, as all were in
sympathy with America, it was received with great applause. Little,
however, did any of them then imagine, how invincible was the animal
the British government was about to clutch in its talons, supposing it
to be a defenseless hare.
Franklin spent his last day in London with Dr. Priestly. The Doctor
bears glowing testimony to his admirable character. Many thought Dr.
Franklin heartless, since, in view of all the horrors of a civil war,
his hilarity was never interrupted. Priestly, alluding to this charge
against Franklin, says, that they spent the day looking over the
American papers, and extracting from them passages to be published in
England. In reading them, he writes, Franklin was frequently not
able to proceed for the tears literally running down his cheeks. Upon
his departure, he surrendered his agency to Arthur Lee. It was the 21st
of March, 1775, when Franklin embarked at Portsmouth, in a Pennsylvania
Franklin was apprehensive until the last moment, that he would not
be permitted to depart; that the court, which had repeatedly denounced
him as a traitor, would arrest him on some frivolous charge. On the
voyage he wrote a minute narrative of his diplomatic career, occupying
two hundred and fifty pages of foolscap. This important document was
given to his son William Franklin, who was daily becoming a more
inveterate Tory, endeavoring to ingratiate himself into favor with the
court, from which he had received the appointment of governor.
Franklin also sent a copy to Mr. Jefferson, perhaps apprehensive
that his son might not deal fairly with a document which so terribly
condemned the British government. The Governor subsequently published
the narrative. But there is reason to suppose that he suppressed those
passages, which revealed most clearly the atrocious conduct of the
British cabinet. Jefferson wrote some years later, alluding to this
I remember that Lord North's answers were dry, unyielding,
in the spirit of unconditional submission, and betrayed an
absolute indifference to the occurrence of a rupture. And he
said to the mediators distinctly, at last, that a rebellion
was not to be deprecated on the part of Great Britain; that
the confiscations it would produce, would provide for many
of their friends.
The idea that the feeble Americans, scattered along a coast more
than a thousand miles in extent, without a fortress, a vessel of war,
or a regiment of regular troops, could withstand the fleets and armies
of Great Britain, was never entertained for a moment. Indeed, as we now
contemplate the fearful odds, it causes one's heart to throb, and we
cannot but be amazed at the courage which our patriotic fathers
It was a common boast in England, that one regiment of British
regulars could march from Boston to Charleston, and sweep all
opposition before them. A band of ten wolves can put a flock of ten
thousand sheep to flight. It was quite a pleasant thought, to the
haughty court, that one or two ships of war, and two or three regiments
could be sent across the Atlantic, seize and hang Washington, Franklin,
Adams, Jefferson, and others of our leading patriots, and confiscate
the property of hundreds of others, for the enrichment of the favorites
of the crown.
There will be no fighting; these deluded men said, it will be a
mere holiday excursion. The turbulent and foolhardy Americans will be
brought to their senses, and, like whipped spaniels, will fawn upon the
hand which has chastised them.
The voyage across the Atlantic occupied six weeks. In the evening
twilight of the 5th of May, the ship dropped anchor in the Delaware,
opposite Philadelphia. Franklin landed, and walked alone through the
darkened streets towards his home. It is difficult to imagine the
emotions with which his heart must have been agitated in that hour. Ten
years had elapsed since he left his home. In the meantime his wife had
reared another dwelling, in Market street, and there she had died. He
had left his daughter Sarah, a child of twelve years. He was to find
her a matron surrounded by her babes.
Cordially Franklin was welcomed home. The whole country resounded
with the praises he so richly merited. The morning after his arrival he
was unanimously chosen by the Assembly, then in session, as a member of
the Continental Congress, which was to meet on the 10th of the month,
in that city. Sixteen days before Franklin's arrival the memorable
conflicts of Lexington and Concord had taken place. Probably never were
men more astounded, than were the members of the British cabinet, in
learning that the British regulars had been defeated, routed and put to
precipitate flight by American farmers with their fowling-pieces. In
this heroic conflict, whose echoes reverberated around the world, the
Americans lost in killed and wounded eighty-three. The British lost two
hundred and seventy-three. Franklin wrote to his friend Edmund Burke,
Gen. Gage's troops made a most vigorous retreattwenty
miles in three hoursscarce to be paralleled in history.
The feeble Americans, who pelted them all the way, could
scarce keep up with them.
On the 10th of May Congress met. There were still two parties, one
in favor of renewed attempts at conciliation, before drawing the sword
and throwing away the scabbard; the other felt that the powers of
conciliation were exhausted, and that nothing now remained, but the
arbitrament of war.
George Washington was chosen, by the Assembly, Commander-in-Chief of
the American forces. On the 17th of June the battle of Bunker Hill was
fought. Mr. John Dickinson trembled in view of his great wealth. His
wife entreated him to withdraw from the conflict. Piteously she urged
the considerations, that he would be hung, his wife left a widow, and
his children beggared and rendered infamous. He succeeded in passing a
resolution in favor of a second petition to the king, which he drew up,
and which the Tory Governor Richard Penn was to present. John Adams,
who was weary of having his country continue in the attitude of a
suppliant kneeling at the foot of the throne, opposed this petition, as
a measure of imbecility.
One of the first acts of Congress was to organize a system for the
safe conveyance of letters, which could no longer be trusted in the
hands of the agents of the British Court. Franklin was appointed
Postmaster General. He had attained the age of sixty nine years.
Notwithstanding his gravity of character and his great wisdom, he had
unfortunately become an inveterate joker. He could not refrain from
inserting, even in his most serious and earnest documents, some
witticism, which men of the intensity of soul of John Adams and Thomas
Jefferson, felt to be out of place. Still the wisdom of his counsels
invariably commanded respect. Upon learning of the burning of
Charleston, he wrote to Dr. Priestly,
England has begun to burn our seaport towns, secure, I
suppose, that we shall never be able to return the outrage
in kind. She may, doubtless, destroy them all. But if she
wishes to recover our commerce, are these the probable
means? She must certainly be distracted; for no tradesman,
out of Bedlam, ever thought of increasing the number of his
customers by knocking them in the head; or of enabling them
to pay their debts by burning their houses.
[Footnote 25: And here perhaps we have one of the reasons why Dr.
Franklin, who was universally confessed to be the ablest pen in
America, was not always asked to write the great documents of the
Revolution. He would have put a joke into the Declaration of
Independence, if it had fallen to him to write it. At this time he was
a humorist of fifty years standing, and had become fixed in the habit
of illustrating great truths by grotesque and familiar similes. His
jokes, the circulating medium of Congress, were as helpful to the
cause, as Jay's conscience or Adams' fire; they restored good humor,
and relieved the tedium of delay, but were out of place in formal,
exact and authoritative papers.Parton's Franklin, Vol. 2. p.
One of Franklin's jokes, in Congress, is very characteristic of the
man. It was urged that the Episcopal clergy should be directed to
refrain from praying for the king. Franklin quenched the injudicious
movement with a witticism.
The measure is quite unnecessary, said he. The Episcopal clergy,
to my certain knowledge, have been constantly praying, these twenty
years, that 'God would give to the king and council wisdom.' And we all
know that not the least notice has been taken of that prayer. So it's
plain that those gentlemen have no interest in the court of Heaven.
If we sow the wind we must reap the whirlwind. Terrible was the
mortification and mental suffering which Franklin endured from the
governor of New Jersey. He had lived down the prejudices connected with
his birth and had become an influential and popular man. He, with
increasing tenacity adhered to the British Government, and became even
the malignant opponent of the Americans. He pronounced the idea of
their successfully resisting the power of Great Britain, as utterly
absurd. His measures became so atrocious, as to excite the indignation
of the people of New Jersey. The Assembly finally arrested him and sent
him, under guard, to Burlington. As he continued contumacious and
menacing, Congress ordered him to be removed to Connecticut. The
Constitutional Gazette of July 13th, 1776, contains the following
allusion to this affair:
Day before yesterday Governor Franklin, of New Jersey,
passed through Hartford, on his way to Governor Trumbull.
Mr. Franklin is a noted Tory and ministerial tool, and has
been exceedingly busy in perplexing the cause of liberty,
and in serving the designs of the British king and his
He is son to Dr. Benjamin Franklin, the genius of the day,
and the great patron of American liberty. If his excellency
escapes the vengeance of the people, due to the enormity of
his crimes, his redemption will flow, not from his personal
merit, but from the high esteem and veneration which the
country entertains for his honored father.
His family was left in deep affliction. Franklin sent them both
sympathy and money. The captive governor resided at Middletown on
parole. Here the infatuated man gathered around him a band of Tories,
many of whom were rich, and held convivial meetings exceedingly
exasperating, when British armies were threatening the people with
conflagration and carnage.
Inflamed with wine, these bacchanals sang treasonable songs, the
whole company joining in chorus, with uproar which drew large groups
around the house. The Tories professed utterly to despise the patriots,
and doubted not that their leaders would all soon be hung. One midnight
the governor, with his boon companions, having indulged in the wildest
of their orgies, sallied into the streets, with such uproar as to make
night hideous. The watch found it needful to interfere. The drunken
governor called one of them a damned villain and threatened to flog
him. A report of these proceedings was sent to Congress.
Soon after it was ascertained that he was an active agent for the
British ministry. He was then confined in Litchfield jail, and deprived
of pen, ink and paper. For two years he suffered this well-merited
imprisonment. Mrs. governor Franklin never saw her husband again.
Grief-stricken, she fell sick, and died in New York in July, 1778.
After an imprisonment of two years and four months, William Franklin
was exchanged, and he took refuge within the British lines at New York.
He received a pension from the British government, lived hilariously,
and devoted his energies to a vigorous prosecution of the war against
his countrymen. Franklin felt deeply this defection of his son. After
the lapse of nine years he wrote,
Nothing has ever affected me with such keen sensations, as
to find myself deserted in my old age by my only son; and
not only deserted but to find him taking up arms in a cause
wherein my good fame, fortune and life were at stake.
[Footnote 26: Upon the overthrow of the royalist cause, Governor
Franklin with other Tories went to England. Government gave him
outright eighteen hundred pounds, and settled upon him a pension of
eight hundred pounds a year. After the lapse of ten years he sought
reconciliation with his father. He lived to the age of eighty-two and
died in London, in 1813.]
CHAPTER XIII. Progress of the
War, both of Diplomacy and the Sword.
Letter of Henry LaurensFranklin visits the army before
BostonLetter of Mrs. AdamsBurning of
FalmouthFranklin's journey to MontrealThe Declaration of
IndependenceAnecdote of the HatterFraming the
ConstitutionLord Howe's DeclarationFranklin's replyThe
ConferenceEncouraging letter from FranceFranklin's
embassy to FranceThe two parties in FranceThe
voyageThe reception in France.
The spirit which, almost to that hour, had animated the people of
America,the most illustrious statesmen and common people, was
attachment to Old England. Their intense desire to maintain friendly
relations with the mother country, their home, their revered and
beloved home, may be inferred from the following extract from a letter,
which one of the noblest of South Carolinians, Hon. Henry Laurens,
wrote to his son John. It bears the date of 1776. He writes, alluding
to the separation from England, then beginning to be contemplated:
I can not rejoice in the downfall of an old friend, of a
parent from whose nurturing breasts I have drawn my support
and strength. Every evil which befalls old England grieves
me. Would to God she had listened, in time, to the cries of
her children. If my own interests, if my own rights alone
had been concerned, I would most freely have given the whole
to the demands and disposal of her ministers, in preference
to a separation. But the rights of posterity were involved
in the question. I happened to stand as one of their
representatives, and dared not betray their trust.
Washington, Adams, Jay, would have made almost any conceivable
sacrifice of their personal interest, if they could have averted the
calamity of a separation from the home of their ancestors. But the
conduct of the British Cabinet was not only despotic, in the highest
degree, but it was insolent and contemptuous beyond all endurance. It
seemed to be generally assumed that a man, if born on the majestic
continent of North America, instead of being born on their little
island, must be an inferior being. They regarded Americans as
slave-holders were accustomed to regard the negro. Almost every
interview resolved itself into an insult. Courteous intercourse was
impossible. Affection gave place to detestation.
On the 13th of September, 1775, Congress assembled in Philadelphia.
Lexington, Bunker Hill, and other hostile acts of our implacable foes,
had thrown the whole country into the most intense agitation. Military
companies were every where being organized. Musket manufactories and
powder mills were reared. Ladies were busy scraping lint, and preparing
bandages. And what was the cause of all this commotion, which converted
America, for seven years, into an Aceldama of blood and woe?
It was that haughty, insolent men in England, claimed the right to
impose taxes, to whatever amount they pleased, upon their brother men
in America. They did not blush to say, It is the prerogative of us
Englishmen to demand of you Americans such sums of money as we want.
Unless, like obsequious slaves, you pay the money, without murmuring,
we will burn your cities and deluge your whole land in blood.
Washington was assembling quite an army of American troops around
Boston, holding the foe in close siege there. Franklin was sent, by
Congress, as one of a committee of three, to confer with Washington
upon raising and supplying the American army. Amidst all these terrific
excitements and perils this wonderful man could not refrain from giving
expression to his sense of the ludicrous. The day before leaving
Philadelphia, he wrote to Dr. Priestly the following humorous summary
of the result of the British operations thus far.
Britain at the expense of three millions, has killed one
hundred and fifty Yankees this campaign, which is twenty
thousand pounds a head. And, at Bunker Hill, she gained a
mile of ground, half of which she lost again by our taking
post on Ploughed Hill. During the same time sixty thousand
children have been born in America. From these data, Dr.
Price's mathematical head will easily calculate the time and
expense necessary to kill us all, and conquer our whole
It required a journey of thirteen days, for the Commissioners to
pass from Philadelphia to Cambridge. On the 4th of October they reached
the camp. Mrs. John Adams, who was equal to her husband in patriotism,
in intellectual ability and in self-denial, writes,
I had the pleasure of dining with Dr. Franklin, and of
admiring him whose character, from infancy, I had been
taught to venerate. I found him social, but not talkative;
and when he spoke, something useful dropped from his tongue.
He was grave, yet pleasant and affable. You know I make some
pretensions to physiognomy, and I thought that I could read
in his countenance, the virtues of his heart; and with that
is blended every virtue of a Christian.
The conference lasted four days, and resulted in the adoption of
very important measures. While in the camp, news came of the burning of
Portland, then Falmouth. It was a deed which would have disgraced
American savages. The town was entirely defenceless. It held out no
menace whatever to the foe. The cold blasts of a Maine winter were at
hand. A British man-of-war entered the harbor, and giving but a few
hours notice, that the sick and the dying might be removed, and that
the women and children might escape from shot and shell, to the frozen
fields, one hundred and thirty humble, peaceful homes were laid in
ashes. The cruel flames consumed nearly all their household furniture,
their clothing and the frugal food they had laid in store for their
long and dreary winter. A few houses escaped the shells. Marines were
landed to apply the torch to them, that the destruction might be
There were several vessels in the harbor. The freezing, starving,
homeless wives and daughters who had not strength to toil through the
wilderness to seek distant cabins of refuge, might perhaps escape in
them. To prevent this they were burned to the water's edge. It was an
infernal deed. It struck to the very heart of America. Even now, after
a lapse of one hundred years, no American can read an account of this
outrage without the flushed cheek and the moistened eye which
indignation creates. Mrs. Adams wrote,
I could not join to-day in the petitions of our worthy
pastor for a reconciliation between our no longer parent,
but tyrant state, and these colonies. Let us separate. They
are no longer worthy to be our brethren. Let us renounce
them, and instead of supplications, as formerly for their
prosperity and happiness, let us beseech the Almighty to
blast their councils and bring to naught all their devices.
Though Franklin was the sweetest tempered of men, he returned to
Philadelphia with his spirit greatly embittered against the demoniac
foes of his country. For some time no jokes escaped his lips or pen. In
December, Arnold, then a patriot and a brave soldier, had made an
unsuccessful attack upon Quebec. He had retired to Montreal. Franklin
was again appointed one of these commissioners, to visit Arnold and
advise respecting Canadian affairs.
Most of the Canadians were Catholics. One of the commissioners was
Charles Carroll of Carollton. He had a brother John, a Catholic priest,
a man of high culture, of irreproachable character and a sincere
patriot. He was perfectly familiar with the French language. By the
solicitation of Congress he was induced to accompany his brother on
this mission. It was hoped that he would be able to exert a powerful
influence over the Canadian clergy. Franklin and John Carroll became
intimate and loving friends. It speaks well for both, that the
free-thinking philosopher, and the Catholic priest could so recognize
each other's virtues, as to forget their speculative differences in
There was before the commissioners, a very laborious journey of five
hundred miles, much of it leading through an almost unexplored
wilderness. It shows great zeal in Franklin, that at the age of
seventy, he was willing to encounter such exposure.
Late in March, the commissioners left Philadelphia. In two days they
reached New York. They found the place deserted of its inhabitants. It
was held but by a few soldiers, as it was hourly expected that the
British, from their fleet and batteries, would open upon it a terrific
bombardment. How little can we imagine the sufferings which must ensue,
when thousands of families are driven, in terror, from their homes,
from all their means of support, to go they know not where, and to live
they know not how.
A few sad days were passed in the ruined town, and on the 2d of
April the party embarked, at five in the afternoon, in a packet for
Albany. At seven o'clock in the morning of the 4th day, after an
eventful voyage, in which they narrowly escaped shipwreck from a gale
in the Highlands, they landed at Albany, where they were hospitably
entertained by General Schuyler.
After a brief rest, on the 9th, they set out for Saratoga, which was
distant about thirty-two miles. They were conveyed over an exceedingly
rough road of rocks, and corduroy and mire, in a large, heavy, country
wagon. From this place, Franklin wrote,
I begin to apprehend that I have undertaken a fatigue
which, at my time of life, may prove too much for me.
After a short tarry at the country seat of General Sullivan at
Saratoga, the party moved on toward Lake George. In those northern
latitudes the ground was still covered with snow, and the lake was
filled with floating ice. Two days of very exhausting travel brought
them to the southern shore of the beautiful but then dreary lake. Here
they took a large boat, thirty-six feet long, and eight broad. It was
what was called a bateau, which was flat-bottomed, and was but one foot
in depth. There was one mast, and a blanket sail, which was available
when the wind was directly aft. There was no cabin. A mere awning
sheltered partially from wind and rain.
Thus they crept across the lake, through masses of ice, a distance
of thirty-six miles, in thirty-six hours. There was a neck of land,
four miles in breadth, which separated Lake George from Lake Champlain.
The heavy boat, placed on wheels, was dragged across by six yoke of
oxen. A delay of five days was thus caused, before they were ready to
embark on the latter lake. The navigation of this small sheet of water,
surrounded by the primeval forest, and with scarcely the cabin of a
white man to be seen, must have been romantic indeed.
They sailed when the wind favored, and rowed when it was adverse. At
night they ran ashore, built their camp fire, which illumined lake and
forest, boiled their coffee, cooked their viands, and, some under the
awning, and some under the shelter of a hastily constructed camp, slept
sweetly. The ice greatly impeded their progress. In three and a half
days, they reached St. John's, near the upper end of the lake. The
toilsome journey of another day, brought them to Montreal. None of the
commissioners were accustomed to thus roughing it. All were greatly
A council of war was convened. Canada was clearly lost to the
Americans. It was at once decided that nothing remained but to withdraw
the troops. Early in June, Franklin reached Philadelphia, from his
toilsome journey. He had been absent about ten weeks. The doom of the
proprietary government over Pennsylvania, was now sealed. Congress had
voted that all authority derived from the king of England, was extinct.
A conference of delegates was appointed to organize a new government
for the province. Franklin was, of course, one of these delegates. A
committee had been appointed, by Congress, to draw up a Declaration of
Independence. The committee consisted of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams,
Livingston, and Sherman.
The immortal document, as all the world knows, came from the pen of
Jefferson. It was offered to Congress for acceptance. Many frivolous
objections were, of course, presented. One man thought this phrase a
little too severe. Another thought that a little too lenient. Franklin
sat by the side of Jefferson, as the admirable document was subjected
to this assailment. Turning to him he said, in one of the most
characteristic and popular of all his utterances,
When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an
apprenticed hatter, was about to open a shop for himself. His first
concern was to have a handsome sign-board, with a proper inscription.
He composed it in these words,
John Thompson, Hatter, makes and sells Hats for ready Money.
But he thought he would submit it to his friends for their
amendments. The first he showed it to, thought the word hatter
tautologous; because followed by the words makes hats, which
showed that he was a hatter. It was struck out. The next observed that
the word makes, might as well be omitted, because his customers
would not care who made the hats; if good, and to their mind, they
would buy, by whomsoever made. He struck it out. A third said he
thought the words, for ready money, were useless; as it was not
the custom of the place to sell on credit. Every one who purchased,
expected to pay. They were parted with. The inscription now stood,
John Thompson sells hats.
Sells hats, says his next friend. Why nobody will expect
you to give them away. What then is the use of that word? It was
stricken out, and hats followed, the rather as there was one
painted on the board. So his inscription was reduced ultimately to
John Thompson, with the figure of a hat subjoined.
It will be remembered the readiness with which Dr. Franklin, on the
spur of the moment, threw off the admirable fable of the Eagle and the
Hare. It is altogether probable that, in the inexhaustible resources of
his genius, he improvised this anecdote to meet the exigencies of the
When the Hessian troops, whom England had hired of a German prince,
arrived, intelligent men in this country pitied rather than blamed
those simple hearted peasants, who had no animosity whatever, against
the Americans. They had been compelled, by their feudal lord, who was
really their slave master, to leave their lowly homes on the Rhine, to
unite with English regulars and painted savages, in burning the homes
and butchering the people struggling for existence in the wilderness of
the New World.
Again the all availing pen of Franklin was called into requisition.
By direction of Congress he drew up a friendly address to these
unfortunate men, offering every German, who would abandon the
ignominious service to which his prince had sold him, a tract of rich
land sufficient for an ample farm. The address was translated into
German. Various were the devices adopted, to give the document
circulation in the Hessian camp. It doubtless exerted a powerful
influence, in disarming these highly disciplined troops of all
animosity. The effect was perhaps seen in the spectacle witnessed a few
weeks afterwards, when nine hundred of these soldiers were led through
the streets of Philadelphia, prisoners of war. It is not improbable
that many of them were more than willing to throw down their arms.
On the 20th of July, 1776, Franklin was chosen by the Convention,
one of nine delegates to represent Pennsylvania in the national
Congress. One of the great difficulties to be surmounted, in a union of
the States, was to give the great States, like New York and
Pennsylvania, their own preponderance in the confederacy, while the
minor states, like New Jersey and Delaware, should not be shorn of
their influence. The difficulty was finally obviated by the present
admirable arrangement, by which each State, great or small, has two
representatives in the Senate, while their representation in the House
depends upon the number of the population.
Franklin excelled in the art of putting things. He silenced the
demand of the smaller States, to be, in all respects, on an equality
with the larger, by saying,
Let the smaller colonies give equal money and men, and then have an
equal vote. But if they have an equal vote, without bearing equal
burdens, a confederation, upon such iniquitous principles, will never
The convention, to form a constitution for the State of
Pennsylvania, met at Philadelphia on the 16th of July, 1776. Franklin
was unanimously chosen President. No pen can describe the intensity of
his labors. All appreciated his consummate wisdom, and yielded readily
to his suggestions. Troops were hurrying to and fro. One hundred and
twenty British war vessels were in New York harbor. No one knew upon
what seaport the thunderbolts of this formidable armament would be
hurled. The Americans had been defeated on Long Island in August, 1776,
and had almost miraculously escaped with their field pieces and stores,
across the East River to New York. This brilliant retreat was deemed,
by the Americans, almost equivalent to a victory.
Lord Howe, the old friend of Franklin and a humane and respected
Englishman, who was sincerely desirous of peace with the Colonies, was
appointed Admiral of the king's naval forces. He accepted the
appointment, with the hope that, by the aid of Franklin, reconciliation
might be effected. Still he was an Englishman and could not conceive
that Americans had any rights which the English government was bound to
respect. The degree of his infatuation may be inferred from the fact
that, as soon as he reached our shores, he published a Declaration,
which he circulated far and wide, stating that if the Americans would
only give up the conflict and return to implicit submission, the
British Government would forgive their sins, pardon the guilty ones,
with a few exceptions, and receive them again to favor. The weak man
seemed really to think, that this was an extraordinary act of clemency
on the part of the English Court.
The reply, which Franklin drew up, to the Declaration, was grand.
And it was the more grand when we reflect that it was addressed to a
man who was supported by an army, of we know not how many thousand
British regulars, and by a fleet of one hundred and twenty war vessels,
many of which were of gigantic armament. Admiral Howe had written a
courteous private letter to Dr. Franklin, in which he enclosed the
Declaration. Congress gave Franklin permission to reply. He wrote,
My lord; the official despatches to which you refer me,
contain nothing more than offers of pardon upon submission.
Directing pardon to be offered to the colonies, who are the
very parties injured, expresses indeed that opinion of our
ignorance, baseness, and insensibility which your uninformed
and proud nation has long been pleased to entertain of us.
It is impossible that we should think of submission to a
government that has, with the most wanton barbarity and
cruelty, burnt our defenseless towns, in the midst of
winter, excited the savages to massacre our farmers, and
our slaves to murder their masters, and is, even now,
bringing foreign mercenaries to deluge our settlements with
I have not space to copy the remainder of this admirable letter. It
was delivered to Lord Howe, on board his flag ship in New York harbor,
ten days after its date. As he read it his countenance expressed
surprise, and almost his only remark was, My old friend has expressed
himself very warmly.
A few weeks later this good natured but weak man paroled General
Sullivan, who was a prisoner of war, and sent him to Philadelphia, with
a message to Congress which Lord Howe cautiously declined to put upon
paper. General Sullivan reduced the message to writing and presented it
to Congress. It was in substance as follows:
The government of England cannot admit that Congress is a
legitimate body, to be recognized by any diplomatic relations whatever.
It is but a tumultous assembly of men who have treasonably conspired
against their lawful sovereign. Still the government is willing that
Lord Howe should confer with some of the members of congress, as
private gentlemen, to see if some terms of accommodation cannot be
After much and earnest discussion, in which a great diversity of
opinion prevailed, it was voted that General Sullivan should inform
Admiral Howe, that a committee of three would be sent to ascertain
whether he has any authority to treat with persons, authorized by
Congress for that purpose.
Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Edward Rutledge composed this
committee. An antique house, nearly a hundred years old, formerly the
abode of wealth and splendor, which stood in a green lawn, but a few
rods from the beach on the western shore of Staten Island, was chosen
as the place for the conference. A two days' journey conveyed the
committee to Amboy, opposite the house. Adams traveled on horseback:
Franklin and Rutledge in a two wheel chaise.
Admiral Howe sent a boat, under the protection of a flag of truce,
with an officer, who stated that he was to be left behind as a hostage
for their safe return. Promptly they declined manifesting any such
distrust of the honor of Admiral Howe, and took the hostage back in the
boat with them. The barge, propelled by lusty rowers, soon reached the
Staten Island shore. A large apartment of the old stone house had been
richly decorated with moss and branches in honor of the occasion.
A regiment of Hessians was posted at that spot. The colonel drew
them up in two lines and through this lane of soldiers the
commissioners advanced from the beach to the house. When Admiral Howe
saw that the officer he had sent as a hostage had been returned, he
Gentlemen, you pay me a high compliment.
Cordially the kind-hearted admiral received his guests, and invited
them to an ample collation of cold ham, tongues, mutton and wine. Mr.
Henry Strachey, secretary of Lord Howe, wrote a very full report of the
interview, which accords entirely with the narrative which John Adams
presented to Congress. In as sincere and friendly words as human lips
could pronounce, the Admiral assured the American gentlemen of his
earnest desire to promote reconciliation between the colonists and the
mother country. He alluded to the fact that in England he had been
regarded as the friend of America, and to the honor Massachusetts had
conferred upon his family by rearing a monument to his brother, who had
fallen at Ticonderoga. Franklin well knew that Howe was regarded as the
friend of America.
I assure you, gentlemen, said Lord Howe, that I esteem that honor
to my family, above all things in this world. Such is my gratitude and
affection to this country, on that account, that I feel for America as
for a brother. And if America should fall, I should feel and lament it
like the loss of a brother. The reply of Franklin to these sincere
words, seems a little discourteous. Assuming an air of great
indifference and confidence, as though the fall of America was an idea
not to be thought of, he bowed, and with one of his blandest smiles
said, I assure you, my lord, that we will do everything in our power
to save your lordship from that mortification.
The admiral was feeling too deeply for jokes. He was wounded by the
rebuke apparently contained in the reply of his old friend. But it must
not be forgotten that Franklin, the sweetest tempered of men, had not
yet recovered from the indignation caused by the barbarities inflicted
by the British government upon the families of Falmouth. Every day was
bringing tidings of the atrocities which England, through its savage
allies, was perpetrating on the frontiers, burning the cabins of lonely
farmers, and tomahawking and scalping women and children. And he was
constrained to look upon Lord Howe as the agent of that government,
commissioned to bear to the patriots of America only the insulting
messages, that the king and his ministers would graciously pardon them
the crime of attempting to resist their despotism, if they would ask
forgiveness, and in future submit uncomplainingly to the requirements
of the crown.
Thus, while the kind-hearted admiral, with a bosom glowing with
brotherly sympathy, was acting upon the assumption that the Americans
should cherish undying emotions of gratitude to the king, that he was
so ready to forgive their disobedience to his commands, Franklin and
his companions, found it difficult to restrain their emotions of
indignation, in view of the truly diabolical course pursued by the
British government. The court, in their judgment, merited the
execrations not only of Americans but of all humanity.
Lord Howe very emphatically wished the commissioners to understand
that he met them merely as private individuals, and that he could not,
in the slightest degree, recognize any authority in Congress. Franklin
Your lordship may consider us in any view you may think proper. We,
on our part, are at liberty to consider ourselves in our real
John Adams replied with warmth, characteristic of his impetuous
nature, Your lordship may consider me in what light you please.
Indeed I should be willing to consider myself, for a few moments, in
any character which would be agreeable to your lordship, except that
of a British subject.
As the conversation was continued, Franklin said, We have been
deputed, by Congress, simply to inquire of your lordship what
proposition you have to offer for the consideration of Congress.
British troops have ravaged our country and burnt our towns. We cannot
again be happy under the government of Great Britain. All former
attachments are obliterated. America can never return to the domination
of Great Britain.
Mr. Adams added, My lord, it is not in our power to treat otherwise
than as independent states. For my part, I avow my determination
never to depart from the idea of independency.
Mr Rutledge gave emphasis to these decisive words by saying, With
regard to the people consenting to come again under the English
government, it is impossible. I can answer for South Carolina.
The royal government there was very oppressive. At last we took the
government into our own hands. The people are now settled, and happy,
under that government. They would not now return to the king's
government even if Congress should desire it.
Here the conference ended, by Lord Howe's stating, that, as they
insisted upon independence, no accommodation was possible. Lord
Howe courteously accompanied the American gentlemen to the barge, and
they were rowed over to the New Jersey shore. In the report they made
to Congress they stated, that the commission of Lord Howe only
conferred upon him authority to grant pardon to the Americans, with a
few exceptions, upon their entire submission to the king.
It required, in those days, a long time to cross the Atlantic.
Seldom could an answer be obtained to a letter in less than four or
five months. To the usual delays and perils attached to the navigation
of that stormy sea, there was now to be added the danger of capture
from the swarm of British cruisers. Congress had several agents on the
continent. But months passed away, during which no letters were
received from them. This painful suspense was relieved, in September,
1776, by a long letter to Dr. Franklin, from a French gentleman, Dr.
Dubourg. He was one of the prominent philosophers of Paris, and, by the
request of Count du Buffon, had translated into French, Franklin's
treatise upon electricity.
This letter was very cautiously written. It covered many sheets of
paper. The all important substance of the letter was almost concealed
from view by the mass of verbiage in which it was enveloped. But a
careful reading indicated that the French ministry and the nation were
in sympathy with the Americans; that while the ministry wished to avoid
war with England they would gladly, if it could be done secretly, send
the Americans money and powder, cannon and muskets, and that many
French generals of note were eager to join the American army, and
confer upon it the benefit of their experience.
This news sent a thrill of joy through hearts which recent reverses
had rendered somewhat desponding. It was decided immediately to send an
embassy of highest character to France. Three were to be chosen by
ballot. On the first ballot Dr. Franklin was unanimously elected. He
was seventy years old. And yet probably there was not another man in
America so well qualified to fill that difficult, delicate and
responsible post. Franklin, in the saloons of diplomacy, was fully the
peer of Washington on the field of war. When the result of the ballot
was announced Franklin turned to Dr. Rush, who was at his side, and
I am old and good for nothing. But as the store-keepers say of
their remnants of cloth, 'I am but a fag end, and you may have me for
what you please.'
Thomas Jefferson, then thirty-three years of age, and as pure a
patriot as ever lived, was next chosen. He was already renowned in
France as the writer of the Declaration of Independence. Silas Deane, a
native of Connecticut, and a graduate of Yale, then one of the agents
in Europe, was the third.
It required no little courage to cross the ocean, swept by the
fleets of Great Britain. Had Franklin or Jefferson fallen into the
hands of the British government, it is certain that they would have
suffered severe imprisonment; it is by no means improbable that they
would have been promptly hung as traitors. It was a noble sacrifice for
country which led Franklin, having numbered his three-score years and
ten, to incur these perils.
[Footnote 27: In the year 1780, Mr. Henry Laurens, formerly
President of Congress, was sent as ambassador to Holland. The ship was
captured off Newfoundland, after a chase of five hours. The unfortunate
man was thrown into the Tower, where he was imprisoned fifteen months,
where he wrote to Mr. Burke, I suffered under a degree of rigor,
almost if not altogether unexampled in modern British history.]
Jefferson was compelled to decline the mission, as his wife, whom he
loved with devotion rarely equalled, and perhaps never surpassed, was
sick and dying. Arthur Lee, then in Europe, was elected in his stead.
He was a querulous, ill-natured man, ever in a broil. A more unsuitable
man for the office could scarcely have been found.
There were two parties in France who favored the Americans. One
consisted of enthusiastic young men, who were enamored with the idea of
republican liberty. They were weary of Bourbon despotism. The character
of Louis XV., as vile a king as ever sat upon a throne, was loathsome
to them. They had read Jefferson's Declaration, with delight; and had
engraven its immortal principles upon their hearts. The Marquis de
Lafayette was perhaps the most prominent member of this party.
France hated England. That haughty government had long been the most
unpopular on the globe. England had made great conquests from France,
and was rich, intelligent and powerful beyond any other nation.
Prosperity had given her arrogance, and she had placed her heel upon
her humiliated neighbors. There was not a court in Europe which would
not have rejoiced to see England humbled. The despotic court of France,
and the most haughty nobles, were ready to encounter any perils which
held out a reasonable hope that England might be weakened. Thus the
sympathies of all France were united in favor of America.
And now the hour had come. By aiding the Americans, who had boldly
declared their independence, they might not only deprive England of
those colonies whose trade was already invaluable to England, and which
were rapidly increasing in population, wealth and power, but also they
might awaken such gratitude in the bosoms of Americans, that the trade
of the new nation would be mainly transferred to France.
Thus the court and the nobles, intent upon this object, did not
hesitate to aid in the establishment of those principles of liberty,
fraternity and equality in America, which eventually whelmed in ruin
the palaces and the castles of France.
It was deemed important to conceal, as long as possible, from the
British government the sympathy and aid which France was about to
manifest for the Americans. Arthur Lee reported that an agent of the
French government had promised to send from Holland, two thousand
pounds worth of military stores. They were to be forwarded to one of
the French West India islands, ostensibly for the service of those
islands. The governor was, however, instructed to surrender them to a
secret agent of the American Congress. The plan failed. I have not
space to record all the various stratagems which were devised to aid
the Americans, while the movement was carefully concealed from the
vigilant eyes of the English.
Franklin, with nobility of soul which should command the love of
every American, as one of his last deeds before he left his country
perhaps never to return, collected all the money he could command,
about twelve thousand dollars, and loaned it to the government, whose
treasury was utterly impoverished. In those dark days, even that small
sum was of essential aid. In one of the last of Franklin's letters,
before he sailed, he wrote,
As to our public affairs, I hope our people will keep up
their courage. I have no doubt of their finally succeeding
by the blessing of God; nor have I any doubt that so good a
cause will fail of that blessing. It is computed that we
have already taken a million sterling from the enemy. They
must soon be sick of their piratical project.
Franklin embarked in the Reprisal, a rapid sailing sloop of war of
sixteen guns. He took with him his grandson, William Temple Franklin,
son of the Tory governor, then a very handsome boy of eighteen, and
Benjamin Franklin Bache, eldest son of his daughter, a lad of seven
years. William Temple Franklin adhered firmly to the political views of
his grandfather. Dr. Franklin intended to place Benjamin in a school in
Tory spies were watching every movement of Congress. This mission to
France was kept a profound secret. Had the British government known
that Benjamin Franklin was about to cross the ocean, almost every ship
in the British navy would have been sent in chase of him. On the 26th
of October, 1776, he left Philadelphia, every precaution having been
adopted to keep his departure a secret. The vessel was at anchor at
Marcus Hook, in the Delaware, three miles beyond Chester.
Fierce gales drove them rapidly across the Atlantic. Captain Wickes
had received instructions to avoid fighting, if possible. He was to
devote all his energies to transporting his precious passenger as
rapidly as possible, from shore to shore. They were often chased by
cruisers. The vessel was small, and Franklin, in his old age, was sadly
cramped by his narrow accommodations. He says that of all his eight
voyages this was the most distressing. When near the coast of France
they captured an English brig, with a cargo of lumber and wine. On the
afternoon of the same day, they took another brig, loaded with brandy
and flax seed. England was almost delirious with rage, in finding that
the Americans were bearing away their prizes from the channel itself,
thus bidding proud defiance to those frigates and fortresses of Great
Britain which had overawed the world.
On the 29th of November the Reprisal cast anchor in Quiberon Bay.
Franklin there obtained a post chaise to convey him to Nantes. He
The carriage was a miserable one, with tired horses, the
evening dark, scarce a traveller but ourselves on the road.
And to make it more comfortable, the driver stopped
wood we were to pass through, to tell us that a gang of
eighteen robbers infested that wood, who, but two weeks ago,
had robbed and murdered some travellers on that very spot.
Though absolutely no one in Europe knew that Franklin was expected,
his fame had preceded him. The scientists of France were eager to
render him their homage. French statesmen had learned, at the Court of
St. James, to respect his grandeur of character, and his diplomatic
abilities. He was a very handsome man, with a genial smile, which won
love at sight. The invariable remark of every one, who chanced to meet
him for five minutes was, What a delightful man. Franklin had none of
the brusqueness which characterizes John Bull. He was always a
gentleman, scrupulously attentive to his rich, elegant, yet simple
dress. He manifested his knowledge of human nature, in carefully
preserving his national garb,the old continental costume.
Thus wherever he appeared he attracted attention. No man was ever
more courteous. The French Court, at that time, was bound by the
shackles of etiquette, to an almost inconceivable degree. But Franklin
was never embarrassed. He needed no one to teach him etiquette.
Instinct taught him what to do, so that, in the bearing of a well bred
gentleman, he was a model man, even in the court where Louis XIV. and
Louis XV. had reigned with omnipotent sway. The most beautiful duchess,
radiant in her courtly costume, and glittering with jewels, felt proud
of being seated on the sofa by the side of this true gentleman, whose
dress, simple as it was, was in harmony with her own. The popular
impression is entirely an erroneous one, that there was anything
rustic, anything which reminded one of the work shop or the blouse, in the demeanor of Benjamin Franklin, as he moved, unembarrassed, in
the highest circles of fashion then known in the world.
Franklin was received to the hospitalities of a French gentleman of
wealth and distinction, by the name of Gruel. His elegant apartments
were always crowded with visitors, eager to manifest their respect for
the trans-Atlantic philosopher. Horace Walpole, a warm friend of the
An account came that Dr. Franklin, at the age of 72, or 74,
and, at the risk of his head, had bravely embarked, on board
an American frigate, and, with two prizes taken on the way,
had landed, at Nantes, in France, and was to be at Paris on
the 14th, where the highest admiration and expectation of
him were raised.
Upon his arrival Mr. Deane exultingly wrote, Here is the hero and
philosopher, and patriot, all united in this celebrated American, who,
at the age of seventy four, risks all dangers for his country.
CHAPTER XIV. The Struggles of
Anecdote of GibbonJohn AdamsResidence at
PassyLafayette introducedCruise of the ReprisalPaul
JonesCapture of BurgoyneAlliance with FranceAnecdote
of the CakeExcitement in EnglandFranklin's introduction
to the kingJoy in AmericaExtraordinary letter of Count
WissensteinThe replyInjustice to Paul JonesFrench
troops in AmericaCharacter of John AdamsFranklin's
mature views of human natureAnecdote of the AngelCapture
of CornwallisIts effect in EnglandPrejudices of Mr.
JayTestimony of Dr. SparksJealousy of FranklinShrewd
diplomatic actThe treaty signed.
In the journey from Nantes to Paris, a curious incident occurred,
which is well worth recording. It so admirably illustrates the
character of two distinguished men, as to bear internal evidence of its
truthfulness. At one of the inns, at which Franklin stopped, he was
informed that Mr. Gibbon, the illustrious author of the Decline and
Fall of the Roman Empire, was also tarrying.
Mr. Gibbon was an Englishman. He was a deist, being in entire
sympathy with Franklin in his views of Christianity. He was also a man
of letters. Mr. Franklin addressed a very polite note to Mr. Gibbon,
sending his compliments, and soliciting the pleasure of spending the
evening with him. Mr. Gibbon, who was never renowned for amiability of
character, replied, in substance, we have not his exact words,
Notwithstanding my regard for Dr. Franklin, as a man and a
philosopher, I cannot reconcile it with my duty to my king, to have any
conversation with a revolted subject.
Franklin responded to this by writing, Though Mr. Gibbon's
principles have compelled him to withhold the pleasure of his
conversation, Dr. Franklin has still such a respect for the character
of Mr. Gibbon, as a gentleman and a historian, that when, in the course
of his writing the history of the 'Decline and Fall of Empires,' the
decline and fall of the British Empire shall come to be his subject, as
will probably soon be the case, Dr. Franklin would be happy to furnish
him with ample materials, which are in his possession.
[Footnote 28: This anecdote has had a wide circulation in the
newspapers. Mr. William Cobbett inserts it in his Works, with the
following comment, characteristic of the spirit of most of the higher
class of Englishmen, in those days:
Whether this anecdote record a truth or not I shall not pretend to
say. But it must be confessed, that the expressions imputed to the two
personages were strictly in character. In Gibbon, we see the faithful
subject, and the man of candor and honor. In Franklin the treacherous
and malicious old Zanga, of Boston.Works of William Cobbett. Vol.
vii, p. 244.]
Gibbon was a Tory. He supported Lord North in all his measures. The
government rewarded him with a pension of eight hundred pounds a year.
This was equivalent to considerable more than four thousand dollars at
the present time. Franklin was received, in Paris, by the whole
population, court and canaille, with enthusiasm which that
excitable capital had rarely witnessed. The most humble of the
population were familiar with the pithy sayings of Poor Richard. The
savants admitted their obligations to him, for the solution of some
of the most difficult problems of philosophy. The fashionable world
were delighted with his urbanity; and in his society found rare and
unequalled pleasure. The republicans regarded him as the
personification of a free government; and even the nobles and the
ministry were cheered by the hope that, with his aid, haughty England
could be weakened and humbled, and that thus a new era of commercial
prosperity was about to dawn upon France.
John Adams was not popular in Paris. He was a man of great
abilities, of irreproachable character, and was animated by as pure
principles of patriotism as ever glowed in a human bosom. But he was a
genuine Puritan, inheriting the virtues and the foibles of the best of
that class. Though not wanting in magnanimity, he could not fail from
being disturbed, by the caresses with which Franklin was ever greeted,
contrasted with the cold and respectful courtesy with which he was
received. It was always the same, in the Court, in the saloons, and on
the Boulevards. In Mr. Adams' diary, written some years later, we find
the following insertion, which, in some degree, reveals his feelings.
He is recording a conversation with the French minister.
All religions, said Marbois, are tolerated in America.
The ambassadors have a right, in all the courts of Europe,
to a chapel in their own way. But Mr. Franklin never had
No, said I laughing, because Mr. Franklin has no
I was going to say what I did not say, and will not say
here. I stopped short, and laughed.
No, said M. Marbois. Mr. Franklin adores only great
Nature; which has interested a great many people of both
sexes in his favor.
Yes, said I laughing, all the atheists, deists and
libertines, as well as the philosophers and ladies are in
[Footnote 29: Works of John Adams, Vol. III, p. 220.]
The English lords were exasperated by the reception France had given
Franklin. They fully comprehended its significance. France was in
sympathy with the Americans, in their heroic endeavor to escape from
the despotism of the British crown. Thus the traffic which had enriched
England, would be transferred to France.
Even the Earl of Chatham said, in one of the most eloquent of his
France, my lords, has insulted you. She has encouraged and
sustained America. And whether America be wrong or right, the dignity
of this country ought to spurn at the officiousness of the French
interference. The ministers and ambassadors of those who are called
rebels, are in Paris. In Paris they transact the reciprocal business of
America and France. Can there be a more mortifying insult? Can even our
ministers sustain a more humiliating disgrace? Do they dare to resent
Franklin was assailed in England, in innumerable pamphlets of abuse.
The sin of his youth still pursued him. Many an envenomed arrow pierced
[Footnote 30: This is a delicate subject, but it must not be
ignored. Mr. Parton writes,One penny-a-liner informed the public
that Dr. Franklin had a son, who, though illegitimate, was a much more
honest man than his father. As to the mother of that son, nothing was
known of her, except that her seducer let her die in the streets.
There was no end to those attacks. They were attended by every
exaggeration of malignity which hatred could engender. It is certain
that Franklin would have been saved from these woes could he, as a
young man, have embraced the faith of the religion of Jesus, and
developed that faith in his practice.]
But it must not be forgotten that there were many of the noblest men
in England, who were the warm friends of Franklin, and who cordially
espoused the American cause. Among these were Fox, Burke, Rockingham,
Shelburne, Chatham, Priestley and Price.
Many beautiful villages surrounded Paris. One of the most lovely,
embowered in foliage, was Passy. It is now included within the city
walls. It was then but two miles from the centre of the city. A
munificent friend of America, M. de Chaumont, invited Franklin to the
hospitality of one of his sumptuous mansions in that place. Franklin
accepted the invitation, assuring him that at the close of the war,
Congress would insist upon granting him a tract of land, in recognition
of his kindness to America in the hour of need.
Early in the year 1777, Franklin took up his residence at Passy, and
there he continued to reside while he remained in France. He lived
liberally, had an ample retinue of servants, and entertained his guests
with elegance. His annual expenditures were about thirteen thousand
dollars. This sum would then purchase twice the amount of conveniences
and luxuries which could be purchased by the same sum at the present
day. He had his own servants, and commanded a handsome carriage with
Mrs. Adams writes, With seven servants, and hiring a charwoman upon
occasion of company, we may possibly keep house. With less we should be
hooted at as ridiculous, and could not entertain any company.
Though Franklin took every thing by the smooth handle, he did not,
on that account, intermit any intensity of labor to accomplish his
purposes. There were then three American envoys in Paris, Franklin,
Deane, and Lee. Five days after the arrival of Franklin, they, on the
28th of December, 1777, held their first interview with the French
Minister, Count de Vergennes. They were received with all that
cordiality and courtesy which are marked characteristics of the French
people. But still the commissioners were embarrassed. The prospects of
America were doubtful. General Burgoyne was on the eve of sailing for
America with a formidable fleet, and an army of eight or ten thousand
highly disciplined troops. In the course of the conversation, the
minister said that France was not yet ready to enter into open
collision with England, and to declare war.
But, said he, if a couple of millions of francs, to be
repaid without interest after the war, will be of use to you, they are
at your service. Only do not say that you had it from us.
This was indeed, under the doubtful circumstances, a very generous
offer. It was at this dark hour that the noble Lafayette decided to
consecrate his fortune, and to peril his life, for the cause of
American freedom. It was proclaimed that Burgoyne's expedition was
fitted out to rouse the slaves to insurrection, and to lay the mansions
of the planters in ashes. Arthur Lee was very much alarmed. These
splendid estates were generally situated in romantic spots, upon the
banks of the navigable rivers, where the dwellings, often quite
magnificent, could easily be demolished by shot and shell thrown from
The Reprisal, Captain Wickes, was the first American vessel of war
which ventured into European waters. The channel swarmed with British
vessels. The Reprisal took prize after prize, and conveyed them into
Nantes. As France was not at war with England, Count de Vergennes was
compelled to order the Reprisal, with her prizes, to leave the harbor.
Captain Wickes took some of the Nantes merchants on board his vessel,
and, just outside the port, sold the prizes to them. The French
merchants then returned, with their property, into the harbor.
Captain Wickes soon united with him the Lexington of fourteen guns,
and a cutter, the Dolphin, of ten guns. With this little fleet the hero
sailed completely around Ireland, capturing or destroying sixteen
prizes. The British were astounded at this audacity. Merchants and
under-writers were quite terror-stricken. They had never dreamed that
the despised Americans could strike them any blows. And when,
soon after, Paul Jones, one of the noblest of all naval heroes,
appeared in their waters, it is not too much to say that
consternation pervaded the coasts of both England and Ireland.
[Footnote 31: The wonderful achievements of this patriot are fully
recorded in one of the volumes of this series.]
It requires many and aggravated wrongs to rouse a naturally amiable
man to the highest pitch of indignation. But when thus roused, he is
ready for any vigor of action. Franklin's blood was up. England was
bribing slaves to murder their masters; was rousing the savages to
massacre the families of poor, hard-working frontiersmen; was wantonly
bombarding defenceless seaports, and with inhumanity, rarely known in
civilized warfare, was laying villages in ashes, consigning women and
children to beggary and starvation. In the prison hulks of New York,
our most illustrious men were in the endurance, as prisoners of war, of
woes unsurpassed by Algerine barbarism. Many of our common sailors,
England was compelling, by the terrors of the lash, to man her ships,
and to fight their own countrymen. Maddened by these atrocities, Mr.
Franklin wrote to his English friend, David Hartley, a member of
Parliament, a letter, which all the few friends of America in England,
read with great satisfaction, and which must have produced a very
powerful moral impression in France. It is too long to be inserted
here. In conclusion he said to his friend,
In reviewing what I have written, I found too much warmth in
it, and was about to strike out some parts. Yet I let them
go, as it will afford you this one reflection,
'If a man naturally cool, and rendered still cooler by old
age, is so warmed by our treatment of his country, how much
must those people in general be exasperated against us. And
why are we making inveterate enemies, by our barbarity, not
only of the present inhabitants of a great country, but of
their infinitely more numerous posterity; who will, in
future ages, detest the name of Englishman, as much as the
children in Holland now do those of Alva and Spaniard.'
William Temple Franklin inherited the attractions of person, and the
fascination of manners, so conspicuous in his grandfather. He was a
great favorite in the social circles of the gay metropolis. Dark days
came, with tidings of discomfiture. Franklin devoted twelve hours out
of the twenty-four, to the arduous duties of his mission. Philadelphia
Well, Doctor, said an Englishman in Paris, with the customary
courtesy of his nation, Howe has taken Philadelphia.
I beg your pardon, Franklin replied, Philadelphia has taken
The result proved that Franklin's joke was almost a reality.
Burgoyne surrendered. His whole army was taken captive.
Massachusetts immediately sent John Loring Austin to convey the
rapturous tidings to Franklin. This great success would doubtless
encourage France to open action. No tongue can tell the emotions
excited in the bosoms of Franklin, Lee and Deane, as Austin entered
their presence at Passy, with the announcement, General Burgoyne
and his whole army are prisoners of war.
There were no shoutings, no rushing into each other's arms. But
tears filled their eyes. They felt assured that France would come
openly to their aid, and that the independence of their country was no
longer doubtful. Silently they returned to Franklin's spacious
apartment, where they spent the whole day in reading the enrapturing
dispatches, and in preparing for immediate alliance with France. France
made no attempt to conceal its joy. A treaty of alliance was soon
formed. Nobly the Count de Vergennes said,
We wish to take no advantage of your situation. We desire no terms
which you may hereafter regret having made; but would enter into
arrangements of mutual interest, which may last as long as human
England was now greatly alarmed from fear that the trade of the
colonies might be transferred to France. Envoys were sent to Passy to
offer the American ambassadors everything they had demanded at the
commencement of the conflict. But it was too late. America now demanded
Independence, and would accept nothing less.
A large cake was one day sent to the ambassador's apartment, at
Passy, with the inscription Le Digne Franklin, the worthy Franklin.
Mr. Lee said, Well, Doctor, we have to thank you for our
accommodations, and to appropriate your present to our use.
Not at all, said Franklin. This cake is for all the
Commissioners. The French, not being able to write good English, do not
spell our names correctly. The meaning doubtless is Lee, Deane,
The memorable treaty was signed on the 5th of February, 1778. It was
stated that the object of the treaty was to establish the independence
of the United States, and that neither party should conclude either
truce or peace with England, without the consent of the other.
Tidings of the treaty, which for a short time was kept secret, had
been whispered in England, causing intense excitement. On the 17th of
February, 1778, the House of Parliament was crowded. Lord North, amid
breathless silence, presented a Conciliation Bill, granting
everything which Franklin had demanded. Fox, who was in the Opposition,
arose and announced the treaty. The astonishment, writes Walpole,
was totally indescribable.
Soon the fact of the treaty of alliance, was formally announced in
France. The American envoys were invited to an audience with the king.
Franklin was richly dressed. His hair was carefully arranged by a
French perruquier. He wore an admirably fitting suit of plain, black,
silk velvet. Ruffles of elaborate embroidery and snowy whiteness
adorned his wrists and bosom. White silk stockings aided in displaying
the perfect proportions of his frame. Large silver buckles were on his
No one could accuse him of failing in due respect for the king, by
appearing in his presence in slatternly dress. His costume was superb,
and was such as was then worn, on important occasions, by American
gentlemen of the highest rank. The audience took place at Versailles,
on the morning of the 20th of March. Each of the American envoys rode
in his own carriage, attended by the usual retinue of servants. On the
way they were cheered with the utmost enthusiasm by the crowd. The
king, Louis XVI., received them with extreme courtesy, and the queen,
Marie Antoinette, was marked in her attentions to Franklin. The British
ambassador, Lord Stormont, was so enraged, that, regardless of all the
claims of courtesy, he immediately returned to England, without even
taking leave of the king.
Who can describe the exultation, the rapture, the tears, with which
these tidings were received by the patriots of America. On the 6th of
May, George Washington drew up his little band at Valley Forge, to
announce the great event, and to offer to God prayers and
thanksgivings. The tone of the English was immediately changed. They
abandoned threats and tried the effect of entreaties. Several
emissaries, from the government, approached Dr. Franklin, all bearing
in substance the same message. They said,
We cannot endure the thought that our beloved colonists should
enter into alliance with our hereditary natural enemy, France. Can you,
who are Protestants, consent to unite with a nation of Roman Catholics?
If you will remain firm in your adhesion to England, we will grant you
all you ever wished for, and even more. But do not forsake your mother
country to swell the pride and power of perfidious France.
But all these efforts were unavailing. The colonists began to
despise England. They had no wish for war with their unnatural parent,
and they knew that their independence was assured; and that no efforts
which England could possibly make, could now prevent it. All alike felt
disposed to spurn the bribes which England so lavishly offered.
A very extraordinary letter was sent to Dr. Franklin, which was
signed, Charles de Wissenstein. Franklin, who was accustomed to sifting
evidence, became satisfied that the message came from king George III.
himself. The letter declared that the perfidious French would certainly
deceive the Americans with false promises, and defraud them. After
making the most liberal offers of popular rights, if the Americans
would continue to remain colonists under the British crown, the
document presented the following extraordinary promise to those
American patriots whom England had denounced as traitors, and doomed to
be hung. It was deemed a bribe which human virtue could not resist.
As it is unreasonable that their (the American patriots)
services to their country should deprive them of those
advantages which their talents would otherwise have gained
them, the following persons shall have offices or pensions
for life, at their option, namely, Franklin, Washington,
Adams, Hancock, etc. In case his Majesty, or his successors,
should ever create American peers, then those persons, or
their descendants, shall be among the first created if they
Franklin, after conference with his colleagues, replied to the
letter. His soul was all on fire with the insults our country had
received, and the wrongs she had endured. He wrote as if personally
addressing the king. We can only give the concluding paragraph. After
stating that the independence of America was secured, that all attempts
of England to prevent it would be impotent, and that consequently it
was quite a matter of indifference to the Americans whether England
acknowledged it or not, he wrote,
This proposition, of delivering ourselves bound and gagged,
ready for hanging, without even a right to complain, and
without a friend to be found afterward among all mankind,
you would have us embrace upon the faith of an Act of
Parliament. Good God! an act of your Parliament. This
demonstrates that you do not yet know us; and that you fancy
that we do not know you. But it is not merely this flimsy
faith that we are to act upon. You offer us hope, the hope
of PLACES, PENSIONS and PEERAGES.
These, judging from yourselves, you think are motives
irresistible. This offer to corrupt us, sir, is with me,
your credential; and convinces me that you are not a private
volunteer in your application. It bears the stamp of British
Court character. It is even the signature of your king. But
think, for a moment, in what light it must be viewed in
By PLACES, you mean places among us; for you take care, by
a special article, to secure your own to yourselves. We must
then pay the salaries in order to enrich ourselves with
those places. But you will give us PENSIONS, probably to be
paid too out of your expected American revenue, and which
none of us can accept without deserving, and perhaps
PEERAGES! Alas! in our long observation of the vast servile
majority of your peers, voting constantly for every measure
proposed by a minister, however weak or wicked, leaves us
small respect for that title. We consider it as a sort of
tar-and-feather honor, or a mixture of foulness and folly,
which every man among us, who should accept it from your
king, would be obliged to renounce, or exchange for that
confessed by the mobs of their own country, or wear it with
[Footnote 32: In reference to the promises contained in the letter,
Franklin referred to a book which it was said George III. had carefully
studied, called Arcana Imperii. A prince, to appease a revolt,
had promised indemnity to the revolters. The question was submitted to
the keepers of the king's conscience, whether he were bound to keep his
promises. The reply was,
No! It was right to make the promises, because the revolt could not
otherwise be suppressed. It would be wrong to keep them, because
revolters ought to be punished.]
[Footnote 33: Sparks' Franklin, Vol. iii, p. 278.]
In the spring of 1778, Paul Jones entered upon his brilliant career,
bidding defiance, with his infant fleet, to all the naval power of
Great Britain, agitating entire England with the terror of his name.
Franklin was his affectionate friend, and, in all his many trials, he
leaned upon Franklin for sympathy. So tremendously was he maligned by
the English press, that American historians, unconsciously thus
influenced, have never done him justice. As a patriot, and a noble man,
he deserves to take rank with his friends, Washington and Franklin.
In 1779, Lafayette, returning to France, from America, brought the
news that Franklin was appointed by Congress as sole plenipotentiary of
the new nation of the United States, to the generous kingdom, which had
acknowledged our independence, and whose fleets and armies were now
united with ours. All France rejoiced. With great eclat the new
ambassadors were presented to the king.
No man of force of character can escape having enemies. Franklin had
many and bitter ones. A cabal plotted the removal of his excellent
grandson, William Temple Franklin. It gives us an insight to the heart
of this venerable septuagenarian to read from his pen,
It is enough that I have lost my son. Would they add my
grandson. An old man of seventy, I undertook a winter
voyage, at the command of Congress, with no other attendant
to take care of me. I am continued here, in a foreign
country, where, if I am sick, his filial attention comforts
me. And if I die, I have a child to close my eyes and take
care of my remains. His dutiful behavior toward me, and his
diligence and fidelity in business, are both pleasing and
useful to me. His conduct, as my private secretary, has been
unexceptionable; and I am confident the Congress will never
think of separating us.
Franklin's great endeavor now was to obtain money. Without it we
could have neither fleet nor army. The treasury of France was empty,
almost to bankruptcy. Never did he struggle against greater obstacles
than during the next three years. It has been truly said, that
Franklin, without intending it, helped to bleed the French monarchy to
death. In addition to the employment of both army and navy, the French
government conferred upon Congress, in gifts or loans, the sum of
twenty-six million francs.
The French troops were received in America with boundless
enthusiasm. Their discipline was admirable. Their respect for the
rights of property was such, that not a barn, orchard or hen-roost was
John Adams was sent to join Franklin, to aid him in framing terms of
peace, whenever England should be disposed to make such advances. He
was a man of great abilities, of irreproachable integrity, but he had
inherited, from his English ancestry, not only repulsive brusqueness,
but also a prejudice against the French, which nothing could remove.
His want of courtesy; his unconcealed assumption that France was acting
out of unmitigated selfishness, and that consequently the Americans
owed the French no debt of gratitude, often caused Franklin much
embarrassment. This blunt man, at one time wrote so uncourteous, not to
say insulting a letter, to M. de Vergennes, that the French minister
declined having any more correspondence with him. Both Franklin and
Congress condemned the incivility of Mr. Adams. He only escaped a
motion of censure from the full conviction of Congress of the purity of
his patriotism, and of his intentions.
[Footnote 34: Mr. Jefferson, after an intimacy of seven months with
John Adams, in Paris, wrote of him: He is vain, irritable, and a bad
calculator of the force and probable effect of the motives which govern
men. This is all the ill which can possibly be said of him. He is as
disinterested as the Being who made him.]
Franklin had been requested to forward the correspondence to
Congress. As in duty bound, he did so; accompanying it with a
magnanimous letter. Mr. Adams was very angry. Every impartial reader
will admit that, in this embarrassing affair, Franklin conducted with
delicacy and discretion. The British troops in America were still
conducting like savages. Congress requested Franklin to prepare a
school-book, with thirty-five prints, each depicting one or more of the
acts of English brutality. The object was to impress the minds of
children with a deep sense of the insatiable and bloody malice with
which the English had pursued the Americans. The plan was never
In the year 1781, Franklin, then seventy-five years of age, and
having been engaged in public service for fifty years, wrote to
Congress, begging permission to retire from his responsible office.
Congress could not spare his services. They gave him an additional
appointment. He was commissioned to unite with Adams and Jay, in those
negotiations for peace which, it was evident, must soon take place.
Franklin loved the French, he could smile at their foibles, in
dressing their hair so that they could not wear a hat, but were
compelled to carry it under their arms; also in filling their noses
with tobacco. These, said he, are mere follies. There is nothing
wanting, in the character of a Frenchman, that belongs to that of an
agreeable and worthy man.
It may perhaps be mentioned, as a defect in the character of
Franklin, that when in France he could see nothing but the beautiful.
His eye was turned from every revolting spectacle. In the society of
elegantly dressed, highly educated, refined French ladies,at dinner
parties, glittering with gold and silver plate,in social intercourse
with men whose philosophical attainments were of the highest order, and
whose politeness of speech and bearing rendered them delightful
companions, Franklin found his time and thoughts engrossed. In all his
voluminous writings we find no allusion to those tremendous wrongs,
which Louis XIV. and Louis XV. had entailed upon the people,wrongs
which soon convulsed society with the volcanic throes of the French
Jefferson, who succeeded Franklin, was cast in a different mould. He
saw and fully comprehended the misery under which the millions of the
French peasantry were groaning. And this led him to the conviction,
that no people could be safe, unless the government were placed in
their own hands.
Still Franklin, like his brother deists, Hume and Voltaire, seeing
how impotent were all the motives they could urge to make man virtuous,
became thoroughly disgusted with human nature. He even went beyond Paul
in his description of the hopeless depravity of man. The idea of
reclaiming him by his philosophy was abandoned entirely. And yet he was
not prepared to embrace that gospel, which the experience of ages has
proved to be the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation.
He enlarges, writes Mr. Parton, upon this theme, in his most
delightful manner, in another letter to Dr. Priestley. In this letter
he says in his usual jocular strain, that the more he studies the moral
part of nature the more he is disgusted; that he finds men very badly
constructed; that they are more prone to do evil than to do good; that
they take great pleasure in killing one another, and that he doubts
whether the species is worth preserving. He intimates that every
attempt to save their souls is an idle amusement.
As you grow older, he writes, you may perhaps repent of having
murdered, in mephitic air, so many honest, harmless mice, and wish
that, to prevent mischief, you had used boys and girls instead of
In this singular letter he represents a young angel having been sent
to this world, under the guidance of an old courier spirit. They arrive
over the seas of Martinico, in the midst of the horrible fight between
the fleets of Rodney and De Grasse.
When, he writes, through the clouds of smoke, he (the young
angel) saw the fire of the guns, the decks covered with mangled limbs
and bodies, dead or dying; the ships sinking, burning, or blown into
the air; and the quantity of pain, misery and destruction the crews,
yet alive, were with so much eagerness dealing round to one another, he
turned angrily to his guide and said,
'You blundering blockhead; you are ignorant of your business. You
undertook to conduct me to the earth; and you have brought me into
'No sir,' said the guide, 'I have made no such mistake. This is
really the earth, and these are men. Devils never treat one another in
this cruel manner. They have more sense, and more of what men (vainly)
It was after the study of human nature, under the most favorable of
possible circumstances, for more than three-quarters of a century, that
this philosopher wrote these terrible comments upon our fallen race.
The latter part of October, 1781, Lord Cornwallis surrendered his
whole army, of over seven thousand men, at Yorktown. The French fleet
cut off his escape by sea. Seven thousand French soldiers, united with
five thousand American troops, prevented any retreat by land. The
Americans had thus captured two British armies. It was in vain for
England to think of sending a third. The conflict was virtually
The Prime Minister, Lord North, it is said, received the tidings
as he would have taken a ball in his breast. He threw his arms apart.
He paced wildly up and down the room, exclaiming, from time to time,
'Oh God! it is all over.'
All England now was clamoring against the war. Thousands of persons
had perished in the campaigns, and financial embarrassments had come to
nearly all her institutions of industry. The English government made
vigorous endeavors, offering great bribes, to induce the American
envoys at Paris to abandon their French allies, and make a separate
peace. Franklin wrote to Mr. Hartley, through whom he received these
I believe there is not a man in America, a few English
Tories excepted, that would not spurn the thought of
deserting a noble and generous friend, for the sake of a
truce with an unjust and cruel enemy.
British diplomacy tried all its arts of intrigue to separate America
from France in the negotiations for peace, but all in vain. The British
minister, Mr. Grenville, in an interview with Mr. Franklin, ridiculed
the idea that America owed France any gratitude, urging that France
sought only her own selfish interests.
I told him, Franklin writes, that I was so strongly
impressed with the kind assistance afforded us by France, in
our distress, and the generous and noble manner in which it
was granted, without exacting or stipulating for a single
privilege, or particular advantage to herself in our commerce
or otherwise, that I could never suffer myself to think of
such reasonings for lessening the obligation.
On the 28th of February, 1782, General Conway, one of the leaders of
the Opposition, the same who had moved the repeal of the stamp act,
seventeen years before, presented a resolution in the House of Commons
THE REDUCTION OF THE COLONIES BY FORCE OF ARMS IS
A violent, even fierce debate ensued, which was continued until one
o'clock in the morning. Then the cry of question became general.
The vote was carried by a majority of nineteen. This terminated the
American war. The people of England had decided against it.
Acclamations, writes Wraxall, pierced the roof, and might have been
heard in Westminster Hall.
This great victory was followed by another resolve. It was an
address to George III. soliciting him to Stop the prosecution of any
further hostilities against the revolted colonies, for the purpose of
reducing them to obedience by force.
Notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, these votes were
immediately communicated to the king, who was in a pitiable condition,
aged, nearly blind, half crazed, and stubborn even to insanity, in his
determination to subjugate the Americans. The poor old man, in his
rage, threatened to abandon England, to renounce the crown, and to
cloister himself in his estate of Hanover. He was however compelled to
yield, to dismiss his Tory ministers and to accept a whig cabinet.
Edmund Burke wrote a warm, congratulatory letter to Franklin.
[Footnote 35: Edmund Burke wrote to Dr. Franklin that The motion
was the declaration of two hundred and thirty four members; but
it was the opinion, he thought, of the whole house.]
And now the final struggle arose respecting the terms of peace. The
three great questions discussed, as diplomatic arrangements, were
gradually and very cautiously entered into, were: 1. What shall be the
boundaries of the United States. 2. Shall the Americans be allowed to
fish on the great banks. 3. What provision shall be made for the Tories
in America, whose estates have been confiscated?
There were many preliminary meetings, private, semi-official, and
official. There was a general impression that Franklin was the man
whose opinion would entirely control that of his countrymen. He was
approached in every way, and the utmost endeavors were made to induce
the American Commissioners to enter into a private treaty, without
consulting the French ministry.
A full account of the diplomatic conflict which ensued, would fill a
volume. On one occasion the British minister, Mr. Grenville, said,
In case England grants America Independence.
The French minister, M. de Vergennes, smiled and said, America has
already won her Independence. She does not ask it of you. There is Dr.
Franklin; he will answer you on that point.
To be sure, Franklin said, we do not consider it necessary to
bargain for that which is our own. We have bought our Independence at
the expense of much blood and treasure, and are in full possession of
Many of these preliminary interviews took place in Paris. The amount
of money and blood which the pugnacious government of England had
expended in totally needless wars, can not be computed. The misery with
which those wars had deluged this unhappy globe, God only can
comprehend. Mr. Richard Oswald, a retired London merchant, of vast
wealth, was sent, by Lord Shelburne, prime minister, as a confidential
messenger, to sound Dr. Franklin. He was frank in the extreme.
Peace, said he, is absolutely necessary for England. The nation
has been foolishly involved in four wars, and can no longer raise money
to carry them on. If continued, it will be absolutely necessary to stop
the payment of interest money on the public debt.
Mr. Adams and Mr. Jay were soon associated with Dr. Franklin in
these negotiations. Mr. Jay was in entire sympathy with Mr. Adams in
his antipathy to the French. They both assumed that France was meanly
seeking only her own interests, making use of America simply as an
instrument for the accomplishment of her selfish purposes.
[Footnote 36: Mr. Adams wrote, in his diary, November, 1782, Mr.
Jay don't like any Frenchman. The Marquis de la Fayette is clever, but
he is a Frenchman.]
Dr. Jared Sparks, after carefully examining, in the Office of
Foreign Affairs in London, the correspondence of the French ministers
with the American envoys, during the whole war, writes,
After examining the subject, with all the care and accuracy
which these means of information have enabled me to give to
it, I am prepared to express my belief, most fully, that Mr.
Jay was mistaken, both in regard to the aims of the French
court and the plans pursued by them to gain their supposed
[Footnote 37: Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution,
V. viii, p. 209.]
Mr. Jay was so insanely suspicious of the French, that he was afraid
that the French ministry would send spies, to pick the locks in his
lodgings, and steal his important papers. He therefore always carried
them about his person. He also believed that Count de Vergennes had
actually proposed to the British minister, that they should unite their
armies, seize the United States, and divide America between them.
Such were the colleagues united with Franklin, in the negotiations
for peace. It required all his consummate wisdom to be able to guide
affairs wisely under such difficult circumstances. It may be doubted
whether there was another man in America, who could have surmounted the
obstacles over which he triumphed. Both of Franklin's colleagues
regarded him with suspicion. They believed that he had been won over to
such sympathy with the French, that he would be willing to sacrifice
the interests of his own country to please them. They wrote letters
home severely denouncing him; and they seemed to stand more in fear of
France than of England.
Dr. Franklin, wrote Mr. Adams, is very staunch against the
Tories; more decided, a great deal, upon that point, than Mr.
Jay or myself.
The British ministers insisted that the confiscated estates of the
American Tories should be restored to them, and all their losses
reimbursed. Franklin silenced the demand by drawing from his pocket the
following articles, which he proposed should be added to the treaty,
It is agreed that his Britannic Majesty will earnestly
recommend it to his Parliament, to provide for and make a
compensation to the merchants and shop-keepers of Boston,
whose goods and merchandise were seized and taken out of
their stores, ware-houses and shops, by order of General
Gage, and others of his commanding officers there; and also
to the inhabitants of Philadelphia for the goods taken away
by his army there; and to make compensation also for the
tobacco, rice, indigo and negroes seized and carried off by
his armies, under Generals Arnold, Cornwallis and others,
from the States of Virginia, North and South Carolina and
Georgia, and for all the vessels and cargoes belonging to
the inhabitants of the said United States, which were
stopped, seized or taken, either in the ports or on the
seas, by his governors or by his ships of war, before the
declaration of war against the United States. And it is
further agreed that his Britannic Majesty will also
earnestly recommend it to his Parliament to make
compensation for all the towns, villages and farms, burnt
and destroyed by his troops, or adherents in these United
The three British commissioners were confounded by these counter
demands, and said not another word about reimbursing the American
Tories. On the 30th of November, 1782, the preliminaries were signed,
subject to the assent of the French ministers, who were also to submit
their preliminaries to the American envoys. By these articles: 1. The
boundaries were established. 2. The Americans could fish on the banks
of Newfoundland, and cure their fish on the unsettled shores of Nova
Scotia and Labrador. 3. Congress was to recommend to the several
States, to restore the confiscated property of real British subjects.
4. Private debts were to be paid. 5. There were to be no more
confiscations or prosecutions, on either side, for acts during the war.
6. The British troops were to be withdrawn. 7. The navigation of the
Mississippi was declared to be free. 8. And any place captured, after
the signing of these articles, was to be restored.
On the 13th of January, Count de Vergennes, and the British minister
Mr. Fitzherbert, signed their preliminaries in the presence of Dr.
Franklin and Mr. Adams. Not till then did the English order hostilities
to be suspended, and declare the senseless war to be at an end.
There was universal satisfaction in America. With the exception of
the king and a few of his ministers, there was general satisfaction in
England. It is true that the national pride was sorely humiliated. But
after all these woes which England had inflicted upon America, her own
statesmen, with almost undivided voice, declared that the interests of
both nations were alike promoted, by having a few feeble colonies
elevated into the rich and flourishing republic of the United States.
Thus the war of the American revolution must be pronounced to have
been, on the part of England, which forced it, one of the most
disastrous and senseless of those blunders which have ever accompanied
the progress of our race.
[Footnote 38: Contemplate the still greater blunder of our civil
war. It was forced upon the nation by the slave traders, that they
might perpetuate slavery. And now after the infliction of woes
which no finite imagination can gauge, these very slave-holders declare
with one voice, that nothing would induce them to reinstate the
execrable institution. How much misery would have been averted, and
what a comparative paradise would our southern country now have been,
if before, instead of after the war, the oppressed had been allowed to
CHAPTER XV. Life's Closing
Advice to Thomas PaineScenes at PassyJourney to the
CoastReturn to AmericaElected Governor of
PennsylvaniaAttends the Constitutional
ConventionProposes prayersRemarkable speechLetter to
Dr. StilesChrist on the CrossLast sickness and death.
About this time some one, knowing Dr. Franklin's deistical views,
presented, for his opinion, a treatise denouncing the idea, that there
was any God, who manifested any interest in the affairs of men, that
there was any Particular Providence. Though Franklin did not
accept the idea, that Jesus Christ was a divine messenger, and that the
Bible was a supernatural revelation of God's will, he certainly did
not, in his latter years, deny that there was a God, who superintended
the affairs of this world, and whom it was proper to worship. It is
generally supposed that Thomas Paine was the author of this treatise,
and that it was a portion of his Age of Reason. Franklin, in his
memorable reply, wrote,
I have read your manuscript with some attention. By the
argument it contains against a particular Providence, though
you allow a general Providence, you strike at the
foundations of all religion. For without the belief of a
providence that takes cognizance of, guards and guides and
may favor particular persons, there is no motive to worship
a deity, to fear his displeasure or to pray for his
protection. I will not enter into any discussion of your
principles, though you seem to desire it. At present I shall
only give you my opinion that, though your reasonings are
subtile, and may prevail with some readers, you will not
succeed so as to change the general sentiments of mankind on
that subject; and the consequence of printing this piece
will be, a great deal of odium drawn upon yourself; mischief
to you and no benefit to others. He that spits against the
wind, spits in his own face.
I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining
the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any
other person; whereby you will save yourself a great deal of
mortification, by the enemies it may raise against you, and
perhaps a good deal of regret and repentance. If men are so
wicked with religion, what would they be if without
Franklin testifies to the remarkable courtesy which characterized
all the movements of the French minister, during these protracted and
delicate negotiations. The definitive treaty was signed on the 3d of
September, 1783. It was unanimously ratified by Congress on the 14th of
January, 1784. The king of England gave it his signature on the 9th of
April. Thus two years and three months passed between the beginning of
negotiations and the conclusion of the treaty of peace.
At the termination of the war crowds of Englishmen flocked to Paris.
Franklin was then recognized as incomparably the most illustrious man
on the continent of Europe. His apartments were ever thronged with men
of highest note from all the nations. He was then seventy-eight years
of age, suffering severely from the gout and the gravel. He often
received his guests in his bed chamber, sitting in his night gown,
wrapped in flannels, and reclining on a pillow. Yet his mind retained
all its brilliance. All who saw him were charmed. Mr. Baynes wrote,
Of all the celebrated persons whom, in my life, I have
chanced to see, Dr. Franklin, both from his appearance and
his conversation, seemed to me the most remarkable. His
venerable, patriarchal appearance, the simplicity of his
manner and language, and the novelty of his observations
impressed me as one of the most extraordinary men that ever
At this time he wrote several essays, which are esteemed among the
best of his writings. He was awaiting permission from Congress to
return to America. His son, the governor, who was receiving a pension
of eight hundred pounds from the British Government, came over from
England to his illustrious father, soliciting reconciliation. This was
after the separation of many years. Franklin responded kindly, though
he said that nothing had ever wounded him so keenly as to find himself
deserted in his old age, by his only son; and to see him taking up arms
against a cause, upon which he had staked life, fortune and honor.
A year passed before Franklin was recalled. He was then so feeble
that he could not walk, and could only ride in a litter. Mr. Jefferson
succeeded him. Upon his arrival in Paris, the Count de Vergennes said,
You replace Dr. Franklin, I understand.
No! Mr. Jefferson replied, I succeed him. No man can
Franklin's infirmities were such that he could not call upon the
king or the minister for an audience of leave. He, however, wrote to
Count de Vergennes a very grateful and affectionate letter, in which he
May I beg the favor of you, sir, to express respectfully
for me, to his majesty, the deep sense I have of all the
inestimable benefits his goodness has conferred on my
country; a sentiment that it will be the business of the
little remainder of the life now left me, to impress equally
on the minds of all my countrymen. My sincere prayers are
that God may shower down his blessings on the king, the
queen, their children and all the royal family, to the
The reply was equally cordial and affectionate. As a parting gift
the king sent Franklin his portrait, decorated with four hundred and
eight diamonds. Its estimated value was ten thousand dollars.
On the 12th of July, 1785, Franklin, accompanied by many admiring
friends in carriages, commenced his slow journey in a litter, from
Passy to Havre. It was four o'clock in the afternoon. The litter was
borne by two mules. The first night they stopped at St. Germain. Thence
the journey was continued at the rate of about eighteen miles a day.
The motion of the litter did not seriously incommode him. The cardinal
of Rochefoucald, archbishop of Rouen, insisted upon his accepting the
hospitality of his mansion at Gaillon. It was a superb chateau,
commanding a magnificent prospect, with galleries crowded with
paintings and the most valuable works of art.
The cardinal, writes Franklin, is much respected, and
beloved by the people of this country; bearing in all
respects, a most excellent character.
Though entreated to prolong his visit, Franklin resumed his journey
at an early hour the next morning. At Rouen he was again received with
the most flattering attentions. The elite of the city gave a
very brilliant supper in his honor. Thus journeying in a truly
triumphant march, Franklin reached Havre on the 18th of July. After a
delay of three days he crossed the channel to Southampton. His old
friends came in crowds, and from great distances, to see him. Even the
British government had the courtesy to send an order exempting his
effects from custom-house duties.
It will be remembered that Franklin was a remarkable swimmer. There
are some human bodies much more buoyant than others. He records the
singular fact that, taking a warm, salt water bath here, he fell asleep
floating on his back, and did not awake for an hour. This, he writes,
is a thing which I never did before, and would hardly have thought
On the 28th of July, 1785, the ship spread her sails. The voyage
lasted seven weeks. This extraordinary man, then seventy-nine years of
age, wrote, on the passage, three essays, which are estimated among the
most useful and able of any which emanated from his pen.
On the 13th of September the ship entered Delaware Bay, and the next
morning cast anchor opposite Philadelphia. He wrote,
My son-in-law came with a boat for us. We landed at Market
street wharf, where we were received by a crowd of people
with huzzahs, and accompanied with acclamations, quite to my
door. Found my family well. God be praised and thanked for
all his mercies.
The Assembly was in session, and immediately voted him a
congratulatory address. Washington also wrote to him a letter of
cordial welcome. The long sea voyage proved very beneficial to his
health. He was immediately elected to the Supreme Executive, and was
chosen chairman of that body. It is evident that he was gratified by
this token of popular regard. He wrote to a friend,
I had not firmness enough to resist the unanimous desire of
my country folk; and I find myself harnessed again in their
service for another year. They engrossed the prime of my
life. They have eaten my flesh and seem resolved now to pick
Soon after he was elected President, or as we should now say,
Governor of Pennsylvania. The vote rested with the Executive Council
and the Assembly, seventy-seven in all. He received seventy-six votes.
Notwithstanding the ravages of war, peace came with her usual blessings
in her hand. The Tory journals of England, were presenting deplorable
views of the ruin of the country since deprived of the beneficial
government of the British cabinet. Franklin wrote to his old friend,
Your newspapers are filled with accounts of distresses and
miseries, that these states are plunged into, since their
separation from Britain. You may believe me when I tell you
that there is no truth in those accounts. I find all
property in land and houses, augmented vastly in value; that
of houses in town at least four-fold. The crops have been
plentiful; and yet the produce sells high, to the great
profit of the farmer. Working people have plenty of employ,
and high pay for their labor.
There were many imperfections attending the old Confederacy. In the
year 1787, a convention met in Philadelphia, to frame a new
constitution. There was strong opposition to this movement. Washington
and Franklin were both delegates. Washington took the chair. The good
nature and wisdom of Franklin ruled the house. The convention met in
the State House. Franklin, eighty-one years of age, was regularly in
his seat, five hours a day, for four months. He was thoroughly
democratic in his views, and opposed every measure which had any
tendency to extend aristocratic privilege. He had seen that the British
government was in the hands of the nobles. And silent, as prudence
rendered it necessary for him to be, in reference to the arbitrary
government of France, he could not but see that the peasantry were
subject to the most intolerable abuses. This led him to detest a
monarchy, and to do every thing in his power to place the government of
this country in the hands of the people.
Much time was occupied in deciding upon the terms of union between
the smaller and the larger States. It will be remembered that this was
the subject of very excited debates in the convention of 1776. The
discussion was earnest, often acrimonious. Such bitterness of feeling
was engendered that, for some time it was feared that no union could be
It is evident that Franklin, as he approached the grave, became more
devout, and that he lost all confidence in the powers of philosophical
speculations to reform or regenerate fallen man. He saw that the
interposition of a divine power was needed to allay the intense
excitement in the convention, and to lead the impassioned members to
act under the conviction that they were responsible to God. On the 28th
of June, this venerable, patriarchal man offered the following
Resolved, That henceforth prayers, imploring the assistance
of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held
in the Assembly every morning before we proceed to business;
and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested
to officiate in that service.
The speech which accompanied this motion will forever be conspicuous
in our annals. He said:
Mr. President! The small progress we have made, after four or five
weeks close attendence and continual reasonings with each other; our
different sentiments on almost every question, is, methinks, a
melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding.
In this situation of this Assembly groping, as it were, in the
dark, to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when
presented to us, how has it happened, sir, that we have not yet
hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to
illuminate our understandings?
In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible
of danger, we had daily prayers, in this room, for divine protection!
Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of
us, who were engaged in the struggle, must have observed frequent
instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind
Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting, in peace, on
the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now
forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need
I have lived, sir, a long time. And the longer I live, the more
convincing proofs I see of this truth; That God governs in the
affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without
his notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his aid? We
have been assured, sir, in the Sacred Writings, that 'except the Lord
build the house, they labor in vain that build it.' I firmly believe
this. And I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall
succeed in this political building, no better than the building of
It is almost incomprehensible that, under the influence of such an
appeal, the great majority of the Assembly should have voted against
seeking divine aid. In a note appended to this speech, Franklin writes,
The convention, except three or four persons, thought
[Footnote 39: Mr. Parton undoubtedly suggested the true reason for
this strange refusal to seek divine guidance. He writes,
I think it not improbable that the cause of this opposition
to a proposal so seldom negatived in the United States, was
the prevalence in the Convention of the French tone of
feeling with regard to religious observances. If so, it was
the more remarkable to see the aged Franklin, who was a deist
at fifteen, and had just returned from France, coming back to
the sentiments of his ancestors.Parton's Franklin
2, p. 575.]
The convention came to a triumphant close, early in September, 1787.
Behind the speaker's chair there was a picture of the Rising Sun. While
the members were signing, Franklin turned to Mr. Madison, and said,
I have often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of
my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at the picture behind the
President, without being able to tell whether the sun were rising or
setting. But now at length, I have the happiness to know that it is a
rising, not a setting sun.
Washington was universally revered. Franklin was both revered and
loved. It was almost the universal feeling that, next to Washington,
our nation was indebted to Franklin for its Independence. Franklin
occupied, in the arduous field of diplomacy, the position which
Washington occupied at the head of our armies. It was certain that
Franklin had, at one period of his life, entirely renounced his belief
in Christianity, as a divine revelation. His Christian friends,
numbering hundreds, encouraged by some of the utterances of his old
age, were anxious to know if he had returned to the faith of his
fathers. Dr. Ezra Stiles, President of Yale College, was a friend of
Franklin's of many years standing. When the revered patriot had reached
his eighty-fifth year, Dr. Stiles wrote, soliciting his portrait for
the college library. In this letter, he says,
I wish to know the opinion of my venerable friend,
concerning Jesus of Nazareth. He will not impute this to
impertinence; or improper curiosity in one, who, for so many
years, has continued to love, esteem and reverence his
abilities and literary character, with an ardor and
affection bordering on adoration.
What Dr. Stiles, and the community in general, wished to know was,
whether Dr. Franklin recognized the Divine, supernatural origin of
Christianity. Franklin evaded the question. This evasion of course
indicates that he did not recognize, in the religion of Jesus, the
authority of, Thus saith the Lord. But he wished to avoid wounding
the feelings of his Christian friends by this avowal. He wrote,
This is my creed. I believe in God, the Creator of the
Universe; that he governs it by his Providence; that he
ought to be worshiped; that the most acceptable service we
render to him, is doing good to his other children; that the
soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in
another life, respecting its conduct in this. These I take
to be fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard
them as you do, in whatever sect I meet with them.
As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you
particularly desire, I think his system of morals and his
religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever
saw, or is like to see. But I apprehend it has received
various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the
Dissenters in England, some doubts as to his Divinity;
though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having
never studied it. And I think it needless to busy myself
with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing
the truth with less trouble.
I see however no harm in its being believed, if that belief
has the good consequence, as probably it has, of making his
doctrines more respected and observed; especially as I do
not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by
distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of this
world, with any peculiar marks of his displeasure. I shall
only add respecting myself, that, having experienced the
goodness of that Being, in conducting me prosperously
through a long life, I have no doubt of its continuance in
the next, though without the smallest conceit of meriting
He then adds the following suggestive postscript. I confide that
you will not expose me to criticism and censures, by publishing any
part of this communication to you. I have ever let others enjoy their
religious sentiments, without reflecting on them, for those that
appeared to me unsupportable, or even absurd. All sects here, and we
have a great variety, have experienced my good will, in assisting them
with subscriptions for the building their new places of worship. And,
as I have never opposed any of their doctrines, I hope to go out of the
world in peace with them all.
Much of his time, in these hours of sickness, he employed in writing
his Autobiography. The sufferings he endured were at times very severe.
But when he spoke of his approaching departure, it was with composure.
At one time, when his daughter expressed the wish that he might yet
live many years, he replied I hope not.
A clerical friend visited him, just as one of his paroxysms of pain
came on. As his friend in consequence was about to retire, he said,
Oh no; don't go away. These pains will soon be over. They are for
my good. And besides, what are the pains of a moment in comparison with
the pleasures of eternity.
There was, in one of the chambers of his house, a very beautiful
painting of Christ on the Cross. He requested his nurse, a very worthy
woman, of the Friends' persuasion, to bring it down, and place it
directly before him. The Rev. David Ritter, a great admirer of
Franklin, called to see him. He had, however, but a few moments before,
breathed his last. Sarah Humphries, the nurse, invited David into the
chamber, to view the remains. Mr. Ritter expressed surprise in seeing
the picture of the Saviour on the cross occupying so conspicuous a
position, saying, You know, Sarah, that many people think that Dr.
Franklin was not after this sort.
Yes, she replied, but thee knows, David, that many make a great
fuss about religion, who have very little. And many, who say but
little, have a good deal. He was never satisfied, if a day passed away
unless he had done some one a service. Benjamin Franklin was one of
that sort. I will tell thee how the picture came here. Many weeks ago,
as he lay, he beckoned me to him, and told me of this picture, up
stairs, and begged I would bring it to him. I brought it. His face
brightened up, as he looked at it, and he said,
'Ay Sarah; there is a picture worth looking at. That is the picture
of him who came into the world to teach men to love one another.'
After looking at it wistfully for some time, he said, 'Sarah, set
this picture up over the mantel-piece, right before me as I lie. I like
to look at it.'
When I fixed it up he looked at it very much; and indeed died with
his eyes fixed upon it.
[Footnote 40: This reminds us of the exclamation of the Emperor
Titus, who, at the close of a day in which he could not perceive that
he had done any good, exclaimed, sadly, Perdidi Diem. I have lost
a day. Beautifully has the sentiment been expressed in the words,
which it would be well for all to treasure up,
Count that day lost, whose low descending sun,
Views at thy hand no worthy action done.]
However deeply Franklin, in these dying hours may have pondered the
sublimities of Immortalitythe Resurrectionthe Judgment Thronethe
Final VerdictHeavenHell,he was very reticent respecting those
themes. We certainly see none of the triumph of Paul, and of thousands
of others, who have in varied language, expressed the sentiment that,
Jesus can make a dying bed
Feel soft as downy pillows are.
A few hours before his death, as some one urged him to change his
position, that he might breathe easier he replied, a dying man can do
nothing easy. These were his last words. He then sank into a lethargy,
from which he passed into that sleep which has no earthly waking. It
was eleven o'clock at night, April 17, 1790. He had lived eighty-four
years, three months and eleven days.
But no candid and charitable reader can peruse this narrative,
without the admission that Benjamin Franklin, notwithstanding his
imperfections, was one of the wisest and best of all the fallen
children of Adam. From his dying hour to the present day his memory has
been justly cherished with reverence and affection, throughout the
civilized world. And there is no fear that this verdict will ever be