Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin
Part 10 – 1762 to 1764 – Briefly Home Chapter 17 Home, another mission, once more to England The next few months were a glorious period for Franklin. Upon landing in Philadelphia he was informed he had once more been unanimously elected assemblyman. His followers planned an escort of 500 horsemen for his entry into the city but Franklin refused the honor. Instead, he entered the city quietly to reunite with Deborah and his daughter. He wrote to Strahan a few weeks later and said, “My house has been full of a succession from morning to night, ever since my arrival, congratulating me on my return with the utmost cordiality and affection.”
William and Sarah (Sally) One of his first duties was to accompany William as he was sworn in as Governor of New Jersey. Father and son rode together, through winter snow, to Perth Amboy. There were many warm exchanges between William and those he was about to govern in the days leading up to the ceremony. As his son placed his hand on the Bible and swore to obey and uphold the authority of George III in the province of New Jersey Benjamin Franklin stood proudly by. After catching up with his business affairs in Philadelphia and his business partners in New York and Boston Franklin tended to some of his duties as Pennsylvania Assemblyman. Then he went on another tour of his postal routes and offices in New England and this time he was accompanied by his daughter, Sarah. The Seven Years War had been won. By destroying the French and Spanish navies England became the world’s sole super power and the treaties and concessions that followed established an Atlantic Empire reminiscent of the Mediterranean Empire of the Romans. Administration and management of the vast territories was now necessary and a reliable postal system was essential. Franklin and his counterpart for the southern colonies, Foxcroft, made it happen through a series of impressive initiatives. Service between Quebec and the colonies was firmly established before the summer of 1763. Delivery times between the cities on the eastern seaboard were reduced. The time for a letter to travel from New York to Philadelphia was reduced from one week to two days, between Philadelphia and Boston from three weeks to six days and from Boston to New York from fifteen to four days. This was accomplished through the use of a bold innovation; the carriers traveled day and night.
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin His sixteen hundred-mile tour with “Sally” began in June of 1763. They were honored and entertained in Woodbridge and Elizabeth, New Jersey, New York City, New Haven, Connecticut, Providence and Boston. In Boston Franklin fell and dislocated his shoulder. His sister, Mrs. Mecom and his cousins, the Williams cared for him and despite his discomfort his return to Boston, as a royal officer and American lawmaker, was very gratifying. Meanwhile, the Indian tribes of western Pennsylvania, in alliance with the Ottowa chief, Pontiac were attacking farms and settlements near Pittsburgh and elsewhere. On his return to Philadelphia, Franklin and the Assembly dealt with this new and very serious problem. The Penn’s defeat in the Privy Council at Franklin’s hand and the establishment of William Franklin as the Governor of New Jersey created a shift in the balance of power in Pennsylvania. To deal with their new status, and change it, the proprietary family sent John Penn, William Penn’s grandson, to the province as the new governor. Franklin and the Assembly enjoyed cordial relations with the new governor for six weeks at which time events changed everything. The government’s response to the trouble on the frontier was inadequate. Hundreds of farms were being abandoned and the people were becoming desperate. A group of Scotch-Irish Presbyterian farmers from Paxton and Donegal Townships attacked the Conestoga tribe near Lancaster and killed six of its members. The attack was completely misdirected as the Conestoga were a peaceful band and among those who signed treaties with William Penn and the original settlers of Pennsylvania. They had no affiliation with Pontiac. After the six were killed, the remaining fourteen members of the tribe were taken to Lancaster and given refuge in the jail. The “Paxton Boys” rode into Lancaster, stormed the jail, and killed the remaining fourteen Indians, most of whom were women and children. Franklin and the Quakers were appalled and they spoke out. Others, enraged at the atrocities committed by Pontiac’s bands, treated the Paxton Boys as heroes. When the mob descended upon Philadelphia to kill hundreds more who had taken refuge in the city John Penn turned to Franklin. Franklin called on the Junto, the Fire Department and the Military Association and quickly assembled one thousand men. They met the men from Paxton and Donnegal at the outskirts of the city and Franklin convinced them they were wrong to attack innocent Indians and they would not be allowed to do so in Philadelphia. They returned to their homes, pillaging a few farms as they went, and no one was killed. John Penn’s decision to enlist Franklin’s help was sound but it showed how weak Penn was and this loss of face infuriated the governor. He turned on Franklin and the old quarrels between the Assembly and the governor were renewed. As the principal spokesman for his side, Franklin was attacked. Both sides published obscene and defaming articles and pamphlets. William’s illegitimacy was held up once again and Franklin’s life was searched for scandal. The situation could not continue. With the branches of government in combat with each other, the people, particularly those exposed to the perils of the frontier, suffered. Franklin and his allies were determined to correct these ills. The King had to take over the government of Pennsylvania and abolish the proprietorship. Isaac Norris, and old friend of Franklin’s, had been speaker of the Assembly for fourteen years. His son-in-law, John Dickinson was an outspoken supporter of the Proprietary Party and the conflict between his daughter’s husband and his old friend was so distasteful Norris resigned. Franklin was immediately elected by the Assembly to replace Norris as speaker. A petition, written by Franklin and passed by a solid majority of the Assembly, asked the King to take control and remove the proprietors. On October 26, 1764 Franklin was appointed as Pennsylvania’s agent in England to present the petition and the case. There was little cash in the treasury so the merchants of the city contributed eleven hundred pounds for the expenses and Franklin, home for only two years, once again prepared to cross the Atlantic. He had reason to believe this time his request would be quickly granted. George III was to be the middle class King. He didn’t love the aristocracy or the customs and habits of the royal court. He was thought by all to be a virtuous man and a just monarch and as such Franklin believed he would agree with the terms and requests of the petition. In a 1763 letter to William Strahan he wrote: You now fear for our virtuous young King, that the Faction forming will overpower him and render his reign uncomfortable. On the contrary, I am of Opinion that his Virtue and the Consciousness of his sin-
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin cere Intentions to make his People happy will give him Firmness and Steadiness in his Measures and in the Support of the honest Friends he has chosen to serve him; and when that Firmness is full perceiv’d, Faction will dissolve and be dissipated like a Morning Fog before the rising Sun, leaving the rest of the Day clear with a Sky serene and cloudless. Although driven out of influence by Prime Minister Grenville shortly before Franklin’s arrival, the King’s principal advisor, Lord Bute, a Scot and man of honor, was connected with the Scottish clan who were Franklin’s friends. These affiliations gave Franklin even more hope that the King would side with him rather than the Penns. On November 7, 1764 Franklin left Chester, Pennsylvania aboard the King of Prussia. He tried to persuade Deborah to come with him but her dread of the sea prevented it. She also denied his request to have Sally accompany him. Even though he only expected to be gone one year, Deborah refused to part with her. A storm carried the vessel swiftly out to sea and gales continued the entire trip bringing them to England in only thirty days. The storms of Franklin’s passage would not however, equal the tempests to come.
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin
Part 11 – 1764 to 1775 – A New World Chapter 18 Early Conflicts Franklin once again took up residence with Mrs. Stevenson and her daughter Polly on Craven Street. They were thrilled to have him and surprised he was back so soon. The political storm he’d fled embittered him. Although he hid his feelings from most, Mrs. Stevenson sensed his unhappiness and felt he might remain with her now rather than return to America at the end of his mission. In spite of Franklin’s hopes regarding George III’s leadership and example, the political climate in England was difficult. The Whigs were determined to keep effective power from the King while they fought each other. Lord Grenville distrusted the others with whom he should have allied. If they had cooperated with Lord Temple, William Pitt, now Lord Chatham, and others, the government might have successfully dealt with England’s high unemployment, high cost of living, low wages and the poor administration of the colonies. It might even have been able to manage its huge war debt. But with Parliament divided and the cabinet consisting of a coalition the government was weak. The other colonial agents and spokesmen visited Franklin and he quickly became acclimated. The most important news was about the Stamp Act, which would, for the first time, require Americans to pay direct taxes to Parliament in order to carry out their business and personal affairs. Every legal document, from wills to leases to licenses and certificates of all kinds would bear a royal stamp purchased from a tax collector. Newspapers, almanacs, diplomas and even playing cards and dice were to carry the stamps. Duties on imports and exports had always been imposed but these were used as a means to regulate trade and seen as necessary and the importers and exporters handled duties with the expense rolled into the final cost of the goods. In many cases, if the goods were too expensive, they simply weren’t purchased. The Stamp Act was very different. This new, internal tax, as it was called, was far more heavy-handed and intrusive and the Americans would not stand for it. Opposition to the act was universal in America and many letters of protest were sent to England but there was no organized movement to stop its implementation. The other agents had met with Lord Grenville in May of 1764 to find out such rudimentary facts as how much money would the colonies be expected to provide and Grenville wouldn’t say. In fact, he told the agents he would meet with them again immediately before Parliament convened only if the colonial Assemblies agreed to the principals of the act. Another meeting with Grenville was scheduled. Speaking for the colonies would be the two agents who were also members of Parliament, Charles Garth and Richard Jackson, Jared Ingersoll of Connecticut and Franklin. So very early in his third visit to Mother England Franklin’s role became far different than he originally intended. This meeting with Grenville would be his first official encounter with men at the summit of English power and its purpose involved all the colonies, not just Pennsylvania. In this pivotal period in history Franklin became a key player. February 2, 1765, the day of Franklin’s meeting with Grenville, would be an important day for both men, and the World. Grenville was a master of detail and an able politician. He was also quite arrogant. Franklin, an English patriot and very respectful of the office of the Prime Minister, listened as Jackson began the exchange. As a member of the House of Commons, Jackson was perfectly comfortable with an aggressive approach. He frankly stated his fear that the Stamp Act would only be the beginning of a trend. If taxes were imposed upon the Americans rather than conceived in their Assemblies their representative form of government would wither. Grenville was unmoved. The colonial agents then put forth the obvious alternative, which of course had been suggested before, to have the colonies raise the money on their own. Grenville’s lack of respect for his guests and for America became obvious when he asked if the colonies could agree on how much each one would pay. Jackson would have had to remind Grenville that he hadn’t told the Americans how much was expected of them. Rather than answer a question for which Grenville already knew the answer Jackson said the assemblies themselves could establish the proportions. Grenville obviously had no regard for the
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin concerns and objections of the Americans or their agents and the meeting ended in less than thirty minutes. In the next few days Franklin polled his friends and others in Parliament. Grenville’s attitude and variations of it were common. Many believed American independence was inevitable and England should get as much money as possible from her before it was too late. Another common position was the recent war was fought chiefly for the benefit of the Americans and they should pay for it. And most members of Parliament held the belief that they should be able to impose measures as they saw fit and they were tired of the objections of underrepresented colonists. Franklin saw the big picture. He knew that eventually the center of power would shift toward America. Her population was doubling every twenty-five years while England’s remained essentially static and America’s resources were immense. Grenville and the others who took the rights of English subjects in America lightly were shortsighted and their policies would be short-lived. To Franklin, The Stamp Act was absurd. It was bad legislation and it would not last but until it was repealed it was the law of the land and he largely accepted it. His countrymen in North America did not. Their response was well beyond what anyone in England, including Franklin, expected. It was a storm. In New England and Virginia the protests were loudest. Journalists and lawyers, professionals with more influence and with stronger voices than most, were particularly burdened by the new tax and they were the first to howl. The merchants soon followed and then the general public. In Virginia, Patrick Henry spoke passionately in the House of Burgesses. He said, “Ceasar had his Brutus, Charles the First, his Cromwell, and George the Third may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.” His speech was reprinted in England and around the world. Men in England took notice and so did many in France. The Virginia Assembly defied their governor and claimed Parliament did not have the power to lay the stamp tax and other assemblies, in various ways, followed Virginia’s example. Franklin’s enemies in Pennsylvania took advantage of the public outrage and managed to turn it on him. They pointed out that his mission to England was to place the colony’s administration in the hands of the authors of the Stamp Act, the King and his ministers. They accused him of helping them and claimed he and his son William would personally profit from the tax. His reputation suffered and his family was physically threatened. Deborah gathered arms and ammunition to defend herself and Sally. Her cousin Davenport came to live with her to help defend the Franklin home but fortunately the attack never came. Many of the Stamp Commissioners were not so lucky. In Newport, Boston, New Haven and elsewhere, angry mobs attacked their homes. Franklin had nominated his friend, John Hughes, to be the Commissioner in Philadelphia and Hughes wrote to Franklin stating he too feared violence. Franklin did not support revolt. He was an Englishman and a patriot and he had faith in his country and its institutions. Because of that faith he felt free to support his countrymen in America by writing about their cause. With letters and newspaper articles he stated their case. He even had a cartoon drawn that showed a woman representing the colonies, her arms and legs severed from her torso with the names New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New England on the limbs. Other writers attacked the Americans and the London newspapers in the spring and summer of 1765 were full of insults and denunciations of the colonists. With all the turmoil Grenville lost support and then his position as Prime Minister. His replacement, the second Marquis of Rockingham, Charles Watson-Wentworth, was one of the few outspoken opponents of the Stamp Act. The political tide had turned and Franklin was called upon to strike the final blow that would bring the repeal of the unpopular bill. Early in 1766 he was one of the last of many called to the House of Commons to tell its members how the Stamp Act would harm not only America but the Empire. Franklin prepared the questions himself which were asked of him by friends. It was all thoroughly rehearsed. For three hours he answered their questions. The opposition completely failed in their attempts to refute him. The act and even its basis were flawed and Franklin’s knowledge of American affairs was complete. Facts concerning populations, taxes, incomes, military dispositions and many other matters were fresh in his mind and at his disposal. Finally, he was able also to speak from his heart. Near the end of the questioning he was asked, “What was the temper of America toward Great Britain before 1763?”
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin He replied, “The best in the world. They submitted willingly to the government of the Crown, and paid, in their courts, obedience to the acts of Parliament. Numerous as the people are in the several old provinces, they cost you nothing in forts, citadels, garrisons, or armies to keep them in subjection. They were governed by this country at the expense only of a little pen, ink, and paper; they were led by a thread. They had not only a respect, but an affection for Great Britain; for its laws, its customs and manners, and even a fondness for its fashions, that greatly increased the commerce. Natives of Britain were always treated with particular regard. To be and Old-England man was, of itself, a character of some respect, and gave a kind of rank among us.” “And what is the temper now?” “Oh, very much altered.” “If the Act is not repealed, what do you think will be the consequences?” “A total loss of the respect and affection the people of America bear to this country, and of all the commerce that depends on that respect and affection.” “What used to be the pride of the Americans?” “To indulge in the fashions and manufactures of Great Britain.” “What is now their pride?” “To wear old clothes over again, till they can make new ones.” One week later the Stamp Act was repealed. America rejoiced and Franklin received much of the credit. His testimony before the House was reprinted in almost every colony. But the victory was temporary. England’s authority still existed and now, somehow, it had to be exerted. If the Parliamentary defeat did not result in enlightenment and a change of policy the trouble would not be over.
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin
Chapter 19 A “prime conductor” Unfortunately, at a time when strong, enlightened leadership was needed factions were running the country. The great William Pitt had guided the nation to victory in the last war and he became Prime Minister again in 1766. He was instrumental in the defeat of the Stamp Act but he was now ill and unable to lead Parliament in enacting the reforms he knew were necessary. Instead of recognizing the strength of the American argument and granting them representation, Parliament continued to treat them with petulance. Charles Townshend took over for Pitt and his policies became the catalyst for American discontent and rebellion. The Townshend Acts, as they were called, laid import duties on a long list of items imported by the Americans and they created a system of vice-admiralty courts with power over the people. “Writs of assistance” issued by these courts allowed treasury agents to enter warehouses, ships and homes without search warrants. These acts and others led to the Boston Massacre in 1770 and the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Through it all Franklin remained in England playing the role of moderate spokesman. He tried to convince government ministers, members of Parliament and the King that America’s position was correct. He also wrote about England’s need to govern and urged the Americans to be patient. His experience in Pennsylvania, where at first he tried to be the moderator between the Assembly and the Penns, taught him hard lessons and as time passed he began to see he would have to choose a side. He delayed doing so because of his love of England. He knew America would be great, it was a mathematical certainty, but he still hoped it would remain British. Until very late he hoped that as a consequence of America’s greatness the British Empire would be the light of the world. As he worked for reconciliation by presenting the American case to men in power he lobbied for alternative legislation to draw revenue from the colonies and he conducted a vigorous campaign to affect public opinion. Articles and letters penned by Franklin appeared in London’s newspapers on a very regular basis. Most were serious but many employed humor to outstanding affect. After the repeal of the Stamp Act Grenville and others claimed America should pay for all the losses suffered by the stamp agents and they insisted that at the very least the colonists should pay for the millions of stamps that were printed and never used. Grenville’s proposal reminded Franklin of a story and like most of his political satires, this one found its way to the pages of a London newspaper. A Frenchman stationed on a bridge over the Seine threatened passing Englishmen and others with a red-hot iron. After bowing to the confused traveler the Frenchman said, “Pray, Monsieur Anglais, do me the favor to let me have the honour of thrusting this hot iron into your backside.” “Zoons, what does this fellow mean!” replied the surprised Englishman. “Begone with your iron or I’ll break your head!” “Non, Monsieur,” answered the Frenchman, “if you do not choose it, I do not insist upon it, but at least, you will in justice have the goodness to pay me something for the heating of my iron.” As time went on and Franklin’s patience with the English leadership waned, his writing became increasingly bold. He began to attack government officials directly and by name. He bluntly called the anti-Americans enemies of liberty. The circumstances were extremely distressing for Franklin, not only because of his belief in the American cause and love of England but also because of his son. William was a loyal British subject and he would remain so. If the Empire lost America, Franklin would lose his son. In the end, all the efforts from 1765 to 1775 to repair the rift between Great Britain and her thirteen North American colonies failed. In fact, there had been few if any genuine proposals aimed at reconciliation. The English sought only to exercise their authority and the Americans refused to accept it. Few on either side cared to accommodate or understand the other. The political problems of the day were never far from Franklin’s mind but during this time he managed to enjoy himself. Mrs. Stevenson and her daughter Polly loved him dearly and they made sure he was well taken care of in their home. And every year he traveled. In 1766 he went to Germany and he kept in contact with his acquaintances there his entire life. There were trips to the English Midlands, Wales, Ireland and Scotland and twice he went to France. On each trip he met with prominent individuals and attempted to understand the people. He commented that the Irish were “disposed to be friends of
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin America with the expectation that our growing weight in time be thrown into their scale, and by joining our interest with theirs might be obtained for them as well as for us, a more equitable treatment.” One of his trips to Ireland could well have been the experience that finally galvanized his opposition to English control of America. He wrote, “The appearance of general extreme poverty among the lower people are amazing. They live in wretched hovels of mud and straw, are clothed in rags, and subsist chiefly on potatoes. Our New England farmers, of the poorest type, in regard to the enjoyment of all the comforts of life are princes when compared to them. Such is the effect of the discouragements of industry, the nonresidence not only of pensioners, but of many original landlords, who lease their lands in gross to undertakers that rack the tenants and fleece them skin and all to make estates to themselves, while the rents, as well as most of the pensions are spent out of the country.” Lord Grenville’s estate was in Northern Ireland. In France, where the study of both the physical and social sciences was flourishing, Franklin began what would become a lifelong love of the “French race.” One group of economists, led by, among others, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours were known as physiocrats. Central to their creed was the belief that government and business should have as little to do with each other as possible. du Pont, of course, latter moved to America where his son founded the DuPont Company and a corporate dynasty. Franklin also met and dined with Louis XV. In 1771 during an extended stay with Jonathan Shipley (the Bishop of St. Asaph) and his daughters at their country home near Southampton Franklin began his autobiography. The most famous of his century, it began, “Dear Son”. By addressing his story to William it read like a letter and it was a personal expression. The first paragraphs were a recollection of their journey together in 1757 to the Franklin family home. He thought it was important to fully describe his humble beginnings and the fact that he had virtually no formal education. His rise from candle maker to wealth and world fame was remarkable. For his time it was almost impossible. That fact, perhaps more than any other, established his identity. On his return trip to London that summer Kitty Shipley, the eleven-year-old daughter of the Bishop, accompanied him. His letter to Kitty’s mother after the journey may be the best example of Franklin’s character and grace. The first stage we were rather pensive. I tried several topics of conversation, but none would hold. But after breakfast we began to recover spirits and had a good deal of chat. Would you hear some of it? We talked of her brother, she wished he was married. And don’t you wish your sisters married too? Yes. All but Emily; I would not have her married. Why? Because I can’t spare her, I can’t part with her. The rest may marry as soon as they please, so they do but get good husbands. We then took upon us to consider for ‘em what sort of husband would be fitted for every one of them. We began with Georgiana. She thought a country gentleman that loved traveling and would take her with him, that loved books and would hear her read to him. I added that had a good estate and was a Member of Parliament and loved to see an experiment now and then. This she agreed to. So we set him down for Georgiana and went on to Betsy. Betsy, says I, seems of a sweet mild temper, and if we should give her a country squire, and he should happen to be of a rough, passionate turn, and be angry now and then, it might break her heart! O none of ‘em must be so; for then they would not be good husbands. To make sure of this point, however, for Betsy, shall we give her a Bishop? O no, that won’t do. They all declare against the church, and against the army; not one of them will marry a clergyman or an officer; that they are resolved upon. What can be the reason for that? Why, you know that when a clergyman or an officer dies, the income goes with ‘em; and then what is there to maintain the family? There is the point. Then suppose we give her a good, honest, sensible city merchant who will love her dearly and is very rich? I don’t know but that may do. We proceeded to Emily, her dear Emily. I was afraid we should hardly find anything good enough for Emily; but at last, after settling that if she did marry, Kitty was to live a good deal with her, we agreed that as Emily is very handsome we might expect an earl for her. So having fixed her, as I thought, a countess, we went on the Anna Maria. She, says Kitty, should have a rich man that has a large family and a great many things to take care of; for she is very good at managing, helps my mamma very much, can look over bills, and order all sorts of family business. Very well, and as there is a grace and dig-
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin nity in her manner that would become the station, what do you think of giving her a duke? O no! I’ll have the duke for Emily. You may give the earl to Anna Maria if you please: but Emily shall have the duke. I contested this matter some time; but at length was forced to give up the point, leave Emily in possession of the duke and content myself with the earl for Anna Maria. And now what shall we do for Kitty? We have forgot her, all this time. Well, and what will we do for her? I suppose that though the rest have resolved against the army, she may not yet have made so rash a resolution. Yes, but she has; Unless now an old one, an old general that has done fighting, and is rich, such a one as General Rufane. I like him a good deal; you must know that I like an old man, indeed I do. And somehow or other all the old men take to me; all that come to the house like me better than my sisters. I go to them and ask them how they do, and they like it mightily; and the maids take notice of it, and when they see an old man come, there’s a friend of yours Miss Kitty. But then as you like an old general, hadn’t you better take him while he’s a young officer, and let him grow old upon your hands? Because then you’ll like him better every year as he grows older and older? No, that won’t do. He must be an old man of 70 or 80, and take me when I’m about 30. And then you know I may be a rich young widow. Although his vision for the future was clear, Franklin lived for the moment. His ability to do so combined with his intelligence and compassion brightened the lives of many of his contemporaries. Upon reading his letter, Kitty Shipley’s mother had to have smiled, for herself and her daughter. Upon returning to London that summer Franklin continued to represent Pennsylvania but after the battle over the Stamp Act, his original mission, of removing the Penns and replacing them with the King became moot. His role expanded and eventually he became the agent for three other colonies: New Jersey, Georgia and Massachusetts. Accepting the appointment from Massachusetts put him in a difficult position. The radicals from his birthplace represented the extreme faction on the American side. In order to represent them Franklin’s role as moderate would shift, but he could not refuse their request. They were all in it together. A series of events occurred in 1774 in rapid succession that brought Franklin’s efforts to keep America in the British Empire to a close. The first had to do with letters written by Thomas Hutchinson, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Franklin came into possession of letters that Hutchinson and his lieutenant governor, Andrew Oliver, wrote in 1768 and 1769 when Boston was suffering through riots over the Townshend Acts. In the eighteenth century personal letters were often opened and read by officials and others. The government had copies of all the letters Franklin wrote to William and to his political lieutenant in Philadelphia, Joseph Galloway. Hutchinson’s and Oliver’s letters written to Thomas Whately, one of Grenville’s secretaries, may have come to Franklin with or without his asking from a number of sources after Whately died, without a will, in May of 1772. While the disturbances in Boston were threatening the city Hutchinson warned the ministry of anarchy. He asked for a limited form of martial law and suggested Crown officers be made independent of the Assembly. Measures of this type, eventually enacted in one form or another, were the basis of American discontent and it was assumed they were conceived in England. Huthinson was born in Boston and lived there his entire life so English statesman were not the only ones to recommend the measures considered most onerous. At that time he was still playing the role of the moderate so Franklin sent these letters to Thomas Cushing and allowed they be shown to certain others to assuage the anger toward England. Franklin’s instruction not to release the letters was not followed and they were published in the Boston Gazette. The Massachusetts Assembly, furious with their governor for instigating the repression, petitioned the King for his removal. As the agent for the colony it was Franklin’s task to present the petition to the King. To make matters much worse, the letters were published in London and Whately’s brother, William, who was executor of his brother’s estate, accused John Temple, Franklin’s friend since his 1757 voyage to England, of being the one who took the letters for Franklin. Temple and Whately exchanged insults verbally and then through the London papers. Temple eventually challenged Whately to a duel. They began with pistols but both missed and they drew swords. Whately, a banker, was no swordsman. After a brief and clumsy fight Temple pierced Whately in the side and then in the shoulder but neither
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin man was satisfied. Whately vowed to take lessons and as soon as his wounds healed he would take his revenge on Temple. To prevent further bloodshed Franklin published a note in the Public Advertiser on Christmas Day, 1773, which stated he alone was the person who obtained and transmitted the letters to Boston. It also said the letters “were written by public officers to persons in public stations, on public affairs, and intended to procure public measures.” He said they had been passed to numerous public officials other than the addressee and the only caution in them regarding privacy was that colonial agents shouldn’t see them. Two weeks later, Franklin was informed the Massachusetts petition to remove Hutchinson would receive a formal hearing before the Privy Council’s Committee for Plantation Affairs in the “Cockpit”, a large meeting room overlooking St. James Place where Henry VIII once held cockfights. On January 29, 1774 Benjamin Franklin entered the customary meeting place of the Privy Council, to play the primary role in one of the most important hours in world history. Thirty-six lords were there to witness a performance, “an entertainment”, as Franklin would later put it. Never before had so many attended a Council meeting and they were dressed as they would for court, all their ribbons and royal orders proudly displayed. Dozens of others, including ladies and many of Franklin’s friends were seated about the main floor and in the balconies. Ten days before, news of the events in Boston on the night of December 16, 1773 arrived. Fifty men disguised as Indians hurled 300 chests of East India tea from the decks of the British ships Beaver, Dartmouth and Eleanor. This bold act of defiance inflamed Londoners and their government. The King was determined to bring matters to a head. Alexander Wedderburn, the Kings solicitor general, a mean and treacherous lawyer, would attack Franklin. This meeting between America’s most famous son and the King’s counselors would be the stage upon which England would rebuke her rebellious colonies across the Atlantic. Franklin, then sixty-eight, dressed well but plainly stood erect as his lawyers John Dunning and John Lee began the meeting by stating the matter before the council was not a legal issue. They and Wedderburn were not needed as the petition asked for a political remedy. It sought replacement of the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a political appointment. Wedderburn took his turn claiming what was at stake was whether or not the British Government could appoint or employ men of its own choosing to carry out its affairs on its territory. He then assumed his natural manner, loud and confrontational. Even though Hutchinson and Oliver had been at odds with the assembly since the start of the troubles, Wedderburn claimed there was no basis for the petition Franklin was presenting. The loss of confidence cited in the petition was strictly the result of publication of the letters that were obtained improperly by Franklin. “Dr. Franklin, therefore, stands in the light of the first mover and prime conductor of this whole contrivance against His Majesty’s two governors; and having, by the help of his own special confidants and party leaders, first made the Assembly his agents in carrying out his own secret designs, he now appears before Your Lordships to give the finishing stroke to the work of his own hands.” Adding ferocity to Wedderburn’s attack was true or feigned indignation made believable by the fact that he and the deceased were good friends and shared bachelor quarters for several years. According to him Mr. Whately was very protective of his correspondence and they were probably in his possession at the time of his death. “Nothing, then, will acquit Dr. Franklin of the charge of obtaining them by fraudulent or corrupt means for the most malignant purposes, unless he stole them from the person who stole them. This argument is irrefragable. I hope My Lords, that you will mark and brand the man, for the honor of this country, of Europe, and of mankind.” Wedderburn went on, first claiming that Franklin was responsible for the duel and near death of Whatley’s brother. He said Franklin’s ego was greatly inflated by the way the newspapers reported on his movements and he acted as if he were a foreign ambassador and immune to the laws of his host country. Pounding the table in front of him Wedderburn claimed Franklin sought the governor’s post for himself.
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin
In The Cockpit
Given Franklin’s recent past and his written attacks against the English establishment it was absurd to think that he might receive the appointment but Wedderburn went on, saying Franklin would create “A tyranny greater than the Roman.” Franklin stood, unmoving and silent for an hour. Wedderburn’s most ingenious insults prompted waves of laughter. As he endured this abuse the hopelessness of it all must have struck him. There could be no reconciliation. He had dealt with a line of English statesman from Grenville to Hillsborough to the current Prime Minister Lord North and all had failed miserably to understand their predicament much less its remedy. The King himself proved to be even less capable. By unleashing his dog, Wedderburn, George III made it very clear that rather than devise the resolution, he would preside over the greatest loss the British Empire would ever suffer. Franklin’s friends who were there were amazed at his self-control. For nearly one hour he stood next to the fireplace at the end of the chamber, unmoving and silent. Among Franklin’s allies in attendance were Edmund Burke, Joseph Priestly, Ralph Izard and Lord Shelburne. Priestly was appalled, Burke said Wedderburn’s actions were “beyond all bounds and measure” and Shelburne labeled the solicitor general’s attack “scurrilous invective.” William Bollan, agent for the Massachusetts Council, said it was “incompatible with the principles of law, truth, justice, propriety and humanity.” Izard knew that if he had been in Franklin’s place he would have responded hotly or walked out. Franklin however, was quiet, still and expressionless, and if he’d been given foresight of what he was to endure or if ten years afterward he’d asked himself what should he have done he could not have prepared or reconstructed a better response. In emergencies men revert to their training, their instincts and their true character. Franklin didn’t need to plan his course. As Wedderburn raged Franklin was patient and magnanimous because that was his nature and it was his best defense. Although many of the spectators enjoyed what they assumed was Franklin’s humiliation, they, and history, soon judged the affair as Bollan had. He appeared passive but Franklin’s silence did not imply resignation or even an absence of anger, which he once called “that temporary madness”, for after the show, as the Lords and Ladies moved out into an anteroom, Wedderburn and Franklin found themselves side by side. Franklin leaned toward his tormentor and said softly, “I will make your master a little king for this.”
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin
Chapter 20 “. . . hope becomes despair” Two days after the Cockpit episode Franklin received a letter from the government dismissing him from his post as Deputy Postmaster General for America. Franklin’s debasement in front of the Privy Council and this act, a formal rejection by the King and his Government, was the final combination blow to moderates seeking reconciliation on either side of the Atlantic. No one remained who might have averted the disaster. The rules for operating the post office had changed also. The new postmaster could not appoint his own subordinates. Rather, the ministry in England would select them. Franklin wrote, “How safe the correspondence of our Assembly committees along the continent will be through the hands of such officers may now be worth consideration, especially as the Post Office Act of Parliament allows a postmaster to open letters, if warranted to do so by the order of a Secretary of State, and every provisional secretary may be deemed a Secretary of State in his own province.” His countrymen responded by ceasing to use the British postal service and opening their own independent post office. The postal service thereby became one of the first, if not the first, British government agency abandoned by the Americans. Writing to Thomas Cushing in Boston in February Franklin expressed the true significance of the Cockpit affair for himself and for history. Of the spectators Franklin wrote: Not one of their lordships checked and recalled the orator, a very few accepted, they seemed to enjoy highly the entertainment, and frequently broke out into loud applauses. It may be supposed that I am very angry on this occasion, but indeed 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 or 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 deliver them? It has been thought a dangerous thing in any state to stop up the vent of griefs. Wise governments have therefore generally received petitions with some indulgence, even when but slightly founded. Those who think themselves injured by their rulers are sometimes by a mild and prudent answer convinced of their error. But where complaining is a crime, hope becomes despair.” Until the encounter with Wedderburn, Franklin was a loyal and patriotic British subject and the vast majority of Americans were similarly aligned. As the idea of independence grew, attitudes changed and although Franklin’s loyalty to the Crown was eroding most of his countrymen in America continued to assume Franklin was one of the King’s men. His position as a Crown officer and his crusade to rest control of Pennsylvania from the Penns and place it in the hands of George III were circumstances that still supported some in their assumption that Franklin was more English than American. However, the considerable publicity that accompanied the show in the Cockpit popularized Franklin. His condemnation by the Crown was specific and focused. The insults were no longer applied to “those Americans” but rather to “that American, Benjamin Franklin”. This new status caused all the colonies to rally around Franklin and it made him the American most at risk. Unrest in America was growing daily and England’s approach to dealing with it was becoming more heavy-handed. If Wedderburn’s assault was justified Franklin could very well find himself in the Tower Of London. Despite the mounting risks Franklin stayed in England until March 25, 1775. In those fifteen months from Wedderburn’s tirade until his departure Franklin continued to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict. His friends and allies were with him as before and others sought his participation in maneuvers that would lead to power shifts and new parliamentary alliances. Events in the colonies kept the political atmosphere charged and Franklin felt he should stay in England to take advantage of any opportunities that might arise. Although he no longer dealt with the Ministry, many members of Parliament, several prominent newspapers and a significant minority of the English public supported the Americans. He still hoped the
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin political tide would shift before blood was spilled. Lord North had succeeded Townshend and the new ministry responded to the growing crisis by issuing a series of punitive and ill-conceived measures, which became known in America as the Intolerable Acts. The port of Boston was closed and the Massachusetts assembly was stripped of its powers. British troops were quartered in private homes and finally the King appointed General Thomas Gage, the Commander-In-Chief of the British Army in North America as governor and de facto dictator of Massachusetts. Resistance was immediate. In New England secret societies and revolutionary organizations called for independence and harassed the royalists. British officials were tarred, feathered and carried on rails through the villages of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Many in America believed all the colonies would soon be subjected to the measures being endured by Massachusetts but rather than shun Massachusetts as North and his ministers planned, Boston’s neighbors and the southern colonies brought her aid. South Carolina sent rice, Connecticut sent sheep, Virginia sent money and nine thousand barrels of flour and Rhode Island built a new meetinghouse to provide employment for Boston’s carpenters. The most significant development however was the decision by colonial leaders through their committees of correspondence to convene the First Continental Congress. The flint that would ignite the Revolution had been struck and the colonies were uniting to stoke the flame. Letters were exchanged between Franklin and his son and between William and his boss, Lord Dartmouth, who was Lord North’s stepbrother and the colonial secretary. William made his stance clear to his family and his superiors. To Dartmouth he wrote, “His Majesty may be assured that I shall omit nothing in my power to keep this province quiet, and that, let the event be what it may, no attachment or connections shall ever make me swerve from the duty of my station.” The seeds of their estrangement were sown and Franklin knew what would be the inevitable harvest. Recalling their travels and campaigns, the kite experiment and family events Benjamin and William Franklin must have been as keenly affected by the early phases of the Revolution as any father and son in England or America. Benjamin informed William his position as Deputy-Postmaster had been taken from him and he wrote, “Some tell me that it is determined to displace you likewise, but I do not know it as certain. Perhaps they may expect that your resentment of their treatment of me may induce you to resign, and save them the shame of depriving you when they ought to promote. But this I would not advise you to do. Let them take your place if they want it, tho’ in truth I think it scarce worth your keeping, since it has not afforded you sufficient to prevent your running every year behindhand with me. But one may make something of an injury, nothing of a resignation.” At any time, Poor Richard might take Franklin’s pen. Franklin and Joseph Galloway in Philadelphia wrote to each other on the need for a constitution for the colonies. Galloway prepared an updated version of Franklin’s Albany Plan that specified rights for the Americans and a plan for unification of the colonies but it did not call for independence from Britain. Galloway, a Pennsylvania delegate, submitted the plan to the First Continental Congress when it convened in Philadelphia in September of 1774. By the time he received word that it was voted down by the Congress 6 to 5 Franklin was no longer a supporter of his own brainchild. Writing to Galloway he said: “I have not heard what objections were made to the plan in the Congress, nor would I make more than this one, that when I consider the extreme corruption prevalent among all orders of men in this rotten state, and the glorious publick virtue so predominant in our rising country, I cannot but apprehend more mischief than benefit from a closer union. I fear they will drag us after them in all the plundering wars, which their desperate circumstances, injustice and rapacity may prompt them to undertake; and their wide, wasting prodigality and profusion is a gulph that will swallow up every aid we may distress ourselves to afford them. . . . However, I would try anything, and bear anything that can be borne with safety to our liberties, rather than engage in a war with such near relations, unless compelled to it by dire necessity in our own defense.” Franklin knew the risk he was taking by writing so harshly but as America’s most prominent representative in England he had to explicitly state his convictions. In letters to Cushing, Galloway and his sister Jane Mecom he revealed con-
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin cerns for his fate in the event of violence and the resultant crackdown by the government. To Galloway he wrote, “My situation here is thought by many to be a little hazardous; for that if by accident the troops and people of New England should come to blows I should probably be taken in; the ministerial people affecting everywhere to represent me as the cause of all the misunderstanding and I have been frequently cautioned to secure my papers, and by some advised to withdraw. But I venture to stay, in compliance with the wish of others.” His primary reason for remaining in England was to receive the declaration or petition that would come from the Philadelphia Congress in September. His activism continued through all of 1774 but he was cautious and since he had to wait for the Congress to conclude and present their proposal he had time to work on his other projects. The past nine years in England included many, such as the invention of the armonica, a musical instrument that consisted of a series of crystal bowls played with moistened fingers, the fifth edition of his scientific works in English and the first in Italian, innumerable letters encouraging trade, industry and agriculture and publication of a pamphlet on how to calm the sea with oil. Mozart and Beethoven composed pieces for Franklin’s armonica. He assisted George Whately with his book on trade, worked on an investigation he’d started years earlier on the culture of silk worms in America and aided Thomas Paine in his quest to settle in the new world. Paine, then thirty-seven, had decided to emigrate to America after his marriage and his careers in corset making and civil service failed. Satisfied that Paine was a talented writer and of sound character Franklin gave him materials sufficient to complete a history of the recent transactions and letters of introduction to numerous Philadelphians including his son-in-law, Richard Bache (pronounced “Beech”). As the other colonies came to Boston’s aid and the protests in America continued the Ministry in London became desperate. They realized the nation was on the brink of civil war. In November they approached Franklin but their pride prevented direct or official contact. Instead, they enlisted the aid of the sister of Rear Admiral Richard Lord Howe and two of Franklin’s Quaker friends, David Barclay, a businessman with interests in America and Dr. John Fothergill, Franklin’s earlier advisor. Miss Howe, whose other brothers included Sir William Howe, an army General and George Augustus Lord Howe, who was killed fighting alongside Americans at Fort Ticonderoga in the French and Indian War, invited Franklin to her home to play chess. Her invitation came through a member of the Royal Society at the same time Dr. Fothergill, Lord Dartmouth’s physician, approached Franklin. Miss Howe and Fothergill both suggested that Franklin could be the one to mediate a solution to the conflict. They also said, in very similar language, they believed others wished to have Franklin’s help as well. Franklin agreed to work with them but he warned that the outcome of the Continental Congress would supercede any plan they might produce. The petition from the Continental Congress arrived in early December. The cover letter, addressed to Franklin and the other colonial agents, instructed them to make it public and submit it to the King. Most of the agents chose not to risk associating themselves with what could be viewed as a treasonous document. Many claimed to be ill and unavailable while others left town. One of them, Paul Wentworth, the New Hampshire agent, met with the British Secret Service and enlisted as a spy. Copies of the petition were circulated privately and Franklin gave it to Lord Dartmouth, who reviewed it for a day, pronounced it “a decent and proper petition” and delivered it to the King. On Christmas Day Miss Howe and Franklin were playing chess when she mentioned her brother, Lord Richard, and how much Admiral Howe respected the Doctor. She told Franklin her brother had just then arrived and asked if he would like to be introduced. Of course Franklin agreed. The two liked each other. Howe was considerate and generous and every bit a man’s man. Franklin could easily picture him leading sailors into battle. Howe claimed he was “unconnected with the ministry” but it was clear he was acting as an unofficial envoy and he and Franklin were to negotiate a settlement. Like his sister and others, Howe lamented Wedderburn’s treatment of Franklin in the Cockpit and he assured him several of the ministers “were ashamed of it and sorry it had happened”. Franklin assured him he would not permit his personal feelings to interfere with his public duty. Franklin and Howe, two reasonable men, disposed to appreciate the other’s position, could see how to remedy the
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin crisis. Viewed dispassionately, the position of the Continental Congress was reasonable. Primarily it called for recognition of the fact that Americans were British subjects and were entitled to the rights provided by English common law. The petition stated that the measures recently enacted were in violation of those rights and should be rescinded. The final clause read: To these grievous acts and measures Americans cannot submit, but in hopes that their fellow subjects in Great Britain will, on a revision of them, restore us to that state in which both countries found happiness and prosperity, we have for the present only resolved to pursue the following peaceable measures: 1st. To enter into a non-importation, non-consumption, and non-exportation agreement or association. 2. To prepare an address to the people of Great Britain, and a memorial to the inhabitants of British America, & 3. To prepare a loyal address to his Majesty, agreeable to resolutions already entered into.
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin
Part 12 – 1775 to 1776 – Revolution Chapter 21 Last Chance The events of December of 1774 were a ray of hope. Howe, Barclay and Fothergil were discussing the details with Franklin and Lord Dartmouth had issued approving statements. Rumors the crisis might be resolved sent stocks on the London exchange soaring. Franklin saw other elements of ministerial maneuvers and Court intrigue as others approached him and offers were extended. Thomas Pownall, an ex-governor of Massachusetts and a member of Parliament told Franklin Lord North was coming around even though he was still no friend of Franklin. Pownall pictured himself as an envoy to America with Franklin at his side. Howe, meanwhile, resorted to the time tested British custom of bribery and told Franklin if he cooperated, the government would reward him. Of this attempt Franklin wrote, “This to me was what the French call ‘spitting in the soup.’ ” In the end, the government’s attempts to deal with the crisis through second and third parties was only further evidence of their incompetence. Now that Americans were united, the authority to negotiate for the American side was with the Continental Congress. Franklin could not alter the demands and conditions imposed by Congress. He could only restate them. This he did. In one of the final days of 1774 Franklin sent to Howe’s sister one of greatest notes he ever wrote. That the ministry chose to ignore its direction and sentiment is one of the most profound errors ever committed by any government in history. It is supposed to be the wish on both sides not merely to put a stop to the mischief at present threatening the general welfare, but to cement a cordial union, and remove, not only every real grievance, but every cause of jealousy and suspicion. With this view, the first thing necessary is to know what is, by the different parties in the dispute, thought essentially necessary for the obtaining such a union. The American Congress in their petition to the King have been explicit, declaring that by a repeal of the oppressive acts therein complained of, the harmony between Great Britain and the colonies, so necessary to the happiness of both and so ardently desired of them, will, with the usual intercourse, be immediately restored. If it has been thought reasonable here to expect that, previous to an alteration of measures, the colonies should make some declaration respecting their future conduct, they have also done that by adding: That when the causes of their apprehensions are removed, their future conduct will prove them not unworthy of the regard they have been accustomed in their happier days to enjoy. For their sincerity in these declarations, they solemnly call to witness the searcher of all hearts. If Britain can have any reliance on these declarations (and perhaps none to be extorted by force can be more relied on than these, which are thus freely made), she may without hazard to herself try the expedient proposed, since if it fails she has it in her power at any time to resume her present measures. It is then proposed: That Britain should show some confidence in these declarations, by repealing all the laws, or parts of laws, that are requested to be repealed in the petition of the Congress to the King; And that at the same time, orders should be given to withdraw the fleet from Boston, and remove all the troops to Quebec or the Floridas, that the colonies may be left at perfect liberty in their future stipulations. That this may, for the honour of Britain, appear not the effect of any apprehension from the measures entered into and recommended to the people by the Congress, but from good will, and a change of disposition towards the colonies, with a sincere desire of reconciliation, let some of their other grievances, which in their petition they have left to the magnanimity and justice of the King and Parliament, be at the same time
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin removed, such as those relating to the payment of governors’ and judges’ salaries, and the instructions for dissolving Assemblies, etc. And to give the colonies an immediate opportunity to demonstrating the reality of their professions, let their proposed ensuing Congress be authorized by government (as was that held at Albany in 1754), and a person of weight and dignity of character be appointed to preside at it on behalf of the Crown. And then let requisition be made to the Congress, of such points as government wishes to obtain for its future security, for aids, for the advantage of general commerce, for reparation to the India Company, etc., etc. A generous confidence thus placed in the colonies will give ground to the friends of government there, in their endeavours to procure from America every reasonable concession or engagement, and every substantial aid that can fairly be desired. Lord Howe forwarded the message to the ministry. They, through Howe, posed few questions and those they did ask left Franklin cold. Earlier in 1774 Franklin offered to personally pay for the tea that was tossed into Boston harbor. Now the ministry asked for the payment and Franklin replied that it should have been accepted when offered. Now “twenty times as much injury” had been done to the people of Boston by blocking their port and they would likely not approve of another American being further bled. In addition to Howe and the others Franklin was in regular contact with Lord Chatham who enthusiastically approved of the petition. A new Parliament had just been elected and Chatham invited Franklin to attend its first session for the purpose of submitting it to them. Chatham created a scene at the entrance to the chamber when he loudly declared, “This is Dr. Franklin, whom I would have admitted to the House.” After the stir subsided a debate ensued. Lord Suffolk spoke for the ministry when he said, “The mother country should never relax till America confessed her supremacy,” and it was, “high time for the mother country to exert her authority, or forever relinquish it.” Confessing further his sin and admitting his weakness he said, “I take particular pride in avowing those sentiments; and mean steadily to abide by them at all events.” Lords Chatham, Camden and a few others spoke in favor of the petition but when the vote to submit the petition for review was cast it was defeated by a factor of four to one on the grounds the Continental Congress was an illegal body and had no right to petition the government. England’s lords were as proud and as blind as her king. Chatham continued to work on a plan of reconciliation and he conferred with Franklin in the process. When he submitted it for a vote in early February Franklin was once again in attendance. Chatham had called on Franklin twice at Mrs. Stevenson’s house on Craven Street to work on the bill and this was known by all those who make it their business to know such things. As Chatham’s motion was being discussed in the House of Lords, Lord Sandwich leaped to his feet and delivered what Franklin called a “petulant, vehement speech”. Sandwich called for the rejection of Chatham’s plan and said he did not believe it “to be the production of any British peer.” He said it was more likely “the work of some American”, at which point he turned toward Franklin and said, “one of the bitterest and most mischievous enemies this country has ever known.” Franklin didn’t flinch. Lord Chatham slowly rose and informed the Lords the document was his. He went on to say if he was the First Minister and had, “the care of settling this momentous business” he would not hesitate “calling to his assistance a person so perfectly acquainted with the whole of American affairs” a man “whom all Europe held in high estimation for his knowledge and wisdom”. Sandwich and the others were not swayed and the motion to reject Chatham’s bill passed by a margin of two to one. Four days later, in a letter to Charles Thomson, Franklin wrote, “tho’ on so important an issue, and supported by such able and learned speakers [their bill] was treated with as much contempt as they could have shown to a ballad offered by a drunken porter.” Chatham’s bill was the last, best hope and it, like all the others had failed. At this dark time, when Franklin knew the disaster was imminent the situation became much worse. Word came that on December 19, 1774 Deborah Franklin suffered a stroke and died. Franklin had been told that she wept when word reached her he would not return after the Cockpit humili-
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin ation. She said that it meant that she would never see her Pappy again. They had not seen each other for ten years but the nature of his character and devotion made it certain she was always in his heart. What must the winter nights of 1775 been like for Benjamin Franklin? His country in turmoil, prison a possibility, William allied with those who would become his enemies, his daughter now married with children he had never seen, and his wife gone and died alone. How many Americans understand the depth of the sacrifice some men have made for our country or how richly their memorial is deserved? Lying in his bed in Mrs. Stevensonâ€™s house with personal and historic problems swirling through his great mind Benjamin Franklin must have reflected on his life. If so he surely recalled the beaches of Boston and the forests of Pennsylvania and the homes of his family. As the events of his sixty-nine remarkable years drifted through his fading consciousness he might have thought the highest and lowest points had already passed, but no, even after all heâ€™d been through, the best, and the worst were yet to come.
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin
Chapter 22 “My time never was more fully employed.” Upon hearing of Deborah’s passing Franklin resolved to return home and nothing happened in England during the next several weeks to change his mind although the ministry did make one final bungling attempt to bring the colonies back under England’s wing. On February 20th Lord North addressed Parliament to inform the colonies taxes would be removed on any one of them whose assembly voted to pay the salaries of their governors and courts. America rejected the proposal as it appeared to be a bribe and another attempt to divide the colonies and since it was not offered to the Continental Congress. The ministry flatly and stubbornly refused to recognize the Congress. Franklin saw the plan for what it was and urged everyone in America to remain united. He wrote: “The eyes of all Christendom are now upon us . . . our honour as a people has become a matter of the utmost consequence to be taken care of. If we tamely give up our rights in this contest, a century to come will not restore us in the opinion of the world; we shall be stamped with the character of dastards, poltroons and fools; and be despised and trampled upon, not by this haughty, insolent nation only, but by all mankind.” England became intolerable for Franklin. His countrymen were insulted constantly. Lord Sandwich rose in Parliament and called American troops “raw, undisciplined, cowardly men.” When Lord Camden reminded Sandwich of the numbers of men the Americans could place under arms he replied, “I wish instead of 40 or 50,000 of these ‘brave’ fellows, they would produce in the field at least 200,000, the more the better, the easier would be the conquest; if they did not run away, they would starve themselves into compliance with our measures.” William Strahan told Franklin a Scotch sergeant in Boston, acting alone, captured forty American militiamen. Franklin said Americans were treated, “with the utmost contempt, as the lowest of mankind, and almost of a different species from the English of Britain.” It was clear war was now very close. Franklin took his grandson, William Temple Franklin out of school and reserved a cabin on the Pennsylvania packet. Franklin’s last day in London was spent with Joseph Priestly, his friend and scientific colleague. Priestly shared Franklin’s interest in electricity but he is best known as a chemist and the co-discoverer of oxygen. The two may have discussed science but much of the time was spent going through American newspapers that had just arrived. They decided which articles should be reprinted in the English papers but Franklin’s heart was breaking and their work went poorly. Priestly said, “He was frequently not able to proceed for the tears literally running down his cheeks.” The patriarch and his grandson enjoyed a calm passage. Franklin had with him all his papers of the recent negotiations and he compiled a report while the events were still fresh in his mind. Significantly, he chose to put it in the form of a letter to his son. He also studied the Gulf Stream and came to the conclusions he would eventually collect in a treatise that would aid navigators for years to come. With writing, scientific investigation, his grandson and a calm sea the trip was probably very good for the old man. He would have a month of nights on a gently rocking ship and mornings leaning on the rail to view the rising sun before he would land and be told of the shot heard round the world.
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin
Chapter 23 On the Verge of World War After ten years abroad the shores of the Delaware Bay and River and the forests of New Jersey and Pennsylvania must have put a smile on his lips. Thoughts of Deborah, his daughter, and William may have also brought a tear to his eye. But the news he was about to hear would overshadow all. The first to board Franklin’s boat after it dropped anchor in the Delaware River off Philadelphia on the evening of May 5, 1775 told him of the events of April 19 at Lexington and Concord. Thomas Gage had been ordered to take action against the rebels but the Boston patriots learned of his plans and the leaders left town. Gage and 700 soldiers marched out of Boston on the night of April 18 and headed for Concord with the purpose of capturing or destroying the weapons and powder stored there by the rebels. On detecting the British movements Dr. Joseph Warren, the head of the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, sent two riders, William Dawes, by way of Roxbury, and Paul Revere, by way of Charlestown, to give the alarm to the people living on the roads to Concord, and the minutemen, highly trained members of the militia. About seventy minutemen engaged Gage’s force in Lexington, less than six miles east of Concord. It isn’t known which side fired the first shot but when the skirmish was over eight Americans were dead and ten were wounded. One British soldier was hurt. Once in Concord there was a brief clash at North Bridge and the British were turned back after losing three men. The Americans lost two. Patriots, behind cover, continued to fire on the retreating column as it made its way back to Boston, a distance of seventeen miles. By the end of the day, 273 redcoats and ninety Americans lay dead. After a joyous reception at his home with his daughter, his son-in-law, Richard Bache, and his grandchildren Franklin asked about his son. Now that shots had been exchanged and soldiers killed everyone would have to choose sides. Had William resigned? Sarah solemnly explained that William felt obligated to the King and the ministry and he remained the Governor of New Jersey. Father and son had very different definitions of honor and Franklin considered the dangers William was facing. He also considered the plight of his friend Joseph Galloway, whose stance as a loyalist was well known. Franklin realized the middle road was closed and if the fighting spread, the loyalists, his friends and son included, would become his enemies. The people of Philadelphia were preparing for war. The heirs of the organizations Franklin founded thirty years before were recruiting men. Military drills were being conducted every day all over the city. Franklin was appointed to Pennsylvania’s Committee of Safety where plans for the defense of the Province were devised. He designed pikes for the militia and directed that galley type gunboats be built. Obstructions were placed in the Delaware River, a fort was built below Gloucester, New Jersey and lookouts were stationed at Cape Henlopen at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. The Committee met every day and with the exception of two days in August, Franklin attended every meeting. His work on the Committee of Safety was vital and demanding but it was by no means all he tended to. The day after his return to America he was unanimously elected by the Pennsylvania Assembly to be one of its representatives to Congress. On May 9 the other delegations to Congress began to arrive in Philadelphia beginning with the representatives from South Carolina who arrived by sea. The same day the delegates from North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware rode in. They were met on the road six miles from town by five-hundred mounted officers and gentlemen. Two miles from town they were joined by rifleman and infantry who accompanied them through the streets of Philadelphia. The church bells were rung and bands played while thousands watched the procession. The next day the delegations from Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts arrived and they too were ceremoniously received. During the first day of the Congress, May 10th, Peyton Randolph of Virginia was elected president and Charles Thomson of Pennsylvania became secretary. On the second day the letter written by Franklin, William Bollan and Arthur Lee on the King’s and Parliament’s rejection of the petition of the first Congress was read. Most of the second day however was devoted to hearing depositions of the battles at Lexington and Concord. Franklin wrote to Edmund Burke afterward: “You will see by the papers that General Gage called his Assembly together to propose Lord North’s pacific plan; but before they could meet, drew the sword and began the war. His troops made a most vigorous retreat – twenty miles in three hours – scarce to be paralleled in history; the feeble Americans who pelted them all the way, could scarce keep up with them.”
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin Franklin was appointed to several crucial committees and his views were respected but his power was limited. Having been away so long and with his son and his closest associate on the other side, many had doubts about Franklin. Most of the delegates were much younger, some were two generations his junior and few of his contemporaries were for independence. Instead of the leader of a powerful coalition that included the former governor of New Jersey and one of Pennsylvania’s most prominent statesmen Franklin was an isolated member of a delegation headed by his long time nemesis John Dickinson. He said little as others debated the issues. Years after the war Thomas Jefferson said, “I served with General Washington in the legislature of Virginia before the revolution and with Dr. Franklin in Congress. I never heard either of them speak ten minutes at a time, nor to any but the main point which was to decide the question. They laid their shoulders to the great points, knowing that the little ones would follow of themselves.” Late in May Franklin met with both Galloway and William. The three enjoyed Madeira and each other’s company for several hours before Franklin asked each where they stood. After denouncing Gage’s actions as stupid William tried to convince his father that his own loyalty was well placed. As an officer of the Crown his duty was to uphold and abide by the decisions of his King. The father’s heart ached for his son because Franklin had already judged George III, and Gage’s stupidity was no worse than that which Franklin had repeatedly encountered in England. Galloway didn’t grasp some of the fundamental differences that now existed between America and Europe. Although an American, he was very much a product of England’s class system and he strongly opposed a Congress whose ranks were filled with tradesman and mechanics. It was a prejudice that he shared with many in Parliament and the ministry. He’d been ridiculed and even threatened for trying to reconcile with England as Franklin had but unlike Franklin he still believed England should prevail. After listening to William and Galloway Franklin stated flatly he was for independence, shocking the two younger men. They must have found it difficult to adjust to the idea he supported a policy that would lead to drastic and irrevocable change. As their teacher and example Franklin had always seen the truth and solved problems in business, politics and science through his understanding. Franklin understood the nature of the schism between their native and ancestral homes and accepted it but the younger men could not. Their faith in their mentor dissolved and with it their bond. Franklin’s early efforts in The Continental Congress included a plan of federal union of the English colonies of America, the West Indies and Ireland. Representatives in this union would be elected yearly and their residence was to change with each new Congress. This legislative body would in turn elect an executive council whose members would serve three-year terms. Although Thomas Jefferson and a few others supported Franklin’s plan the majority of the delegates were not so progressive and it was ignored and not even entered into the Congressional record. His parliamentary successes during this period were few but his practical work as a member of no fewer than ten committees was very satisfying. His committee’s objectives included the printing of paper currency and the manufacture of saltpeter for gunpowder and in July of 1775 he was appointed postmaster-general. He quickly organized the service and established routes from Maine to Georgia. Writing to Joseph Priestly on July 7th Franklin said, “My time was never more fully employed. In the morning at six I am at the Committee of Safety… which holds till near nine, when I am at the Congress, and that sits till after four in the afternoon. Both these bodies proceed with the greatest unanimity, and their meetings are well attended. It will scarce be credited in Britain that men can be as diligent with us from zeal for the public good as with you for thousands per annum. Such is the difference between uncorrupted new states and corrupted old ones.” If Franklin still held any affection for England or hope of reconciliation both were extinguished entirely in June. To conserve food the British in Boston were evicting many and Jane Mecom, Franklin’s sixty-three year old sister, who was a widow and asthmatic, was one of the refugees. A heartbreaking letter from her described how she and a granddaughter loaded a wagon with “what I expected to have liberty to carry out, intending to seek my fortune with hundreds of others not knowing whither.” This news was particularly distressing for Franklin because she was his favorite sister and she’d had a very difficult life already. She’d lost her husband after a long illness and six of her nine children were dead and both of her remaining sons were insane. Franklin supported Edward, the older of the two, and the other, Benjamin, suffered a breakdown more recently after ten years as a printer. Franklin was paying for his care also.
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin She was taken in, with sixteen others, by Franklin’s old friend Catherine Ray in Rhode Island. He wrote to his sister on June 17th to urge her to come to Philadelphia or accept William’s invitation to join him in his new home in Perth Amboy saying, “Perhaps that may be a retreat less liable to disturbance than this: God only knows.” On the same day Franklin wrote to Jane Mecom, the American army was attacked by the British on Breed’s Hill on Charlestown Heights north of Boston. Congress was given the complete details on June 26th. General Gage was expecting reinforcements from England and he planned to fortify the Charlestown Peninsula after they arrived. The Americans heard of his plan and occupied the heights at midnight on June 16th. Digging furiously for four hours they built a formidable earthworks. By 4 a.m. their presence was discovered and British warships began the bombardment. At first light 6500 British troops prepared for battle and at 3:30 in the afternoon 2400 of them, with General William Howe in the lead, faced Colonel William Prescott and his men on top of Breed’s Hill. The British attacked and retreated twice before the Americans ran out of powder. Between 2500 and 4000 Americans actually fought on Breeds Hill but the total American force, including reinforcements and one artillery company totaled nearly 10,000. On the third assault the British finally breached the breastworks of the American redoubt. The reinforcements from Bunker Hill could not get through and the Americans retreated. The British finally took both hills but it cost them 1054 casualties (228 dead, 826 wounded). Most of the American casualties, totaling 441 including 30 captured, occurred during the retreat. British General John Burgoyne later wrote this eyewitness account of the battle: “And now ensued one of the greatest scenes of war that can be conceived. If we look to the heights, Howe’s corps ascending the hill in the face of entrenchments and in a very disadvantageous ground was much engaged. To the left the enemy pouring in fresh troops by the thousands over land, and in the arm of the sea our ships and floating batteries cannonading them. Straight before us a large and noble town in one great blaze. The church steeples being of timber were great pyramids of fire above the rest. Behind us the church steeples and heights of our own camp, covered with spectators. The hills around the country covered with spectators. The enemy all in anxious suspense. The roar of cannon, mortars and musketry, the crash of churches, ships upon the stocks and whole streets falling together in ruins to fill the air; the storm of the redoubt… filled the eye and the reflection that perhaps defeat was a final loss to the British Empire [of] America to fill the mind, made the whole a picture and a complication of horror and importance beyond anything that ever came to my lot to witness to.” Although considered a British victory the inaccurately name Battle of Bunker Hill was a boost for American morale for it had proven the British Army was not invincible. The Patriarch listened to the reports read in Congress and his anger rose. Colossal misunderstanding and shortsightedness had resulted in the deaths of hundreds of men and thousands more would follow. Even so, Franklin was forced to listen as Dickinson read his proposal of reconciliation, his “olive branch petition”, which the Congress would adopt as its final offer to the King. Franklin knew it was pointless particularly now that both sides had suffered heavy losses. He wrote to his old friend in London William Strahan. Philadelphia, July 5, 1775 Mr. Strahan: You are a member of Parliament and one of that majority which has doomed my country to destruction. You have begun to burn our towns and murder our people. Look upon your hands! They are stained with the blood of your relations! You and I were long friends. You are now my enemy and I am Yours, B. Franklin This letter was not sent to William Strahan but it was widely published and reprinted throughout Europe and America. On July 7th he wrote to Bishop Jonathon Shipley. Franklin described the battle and the burning of Charlestown and wrote: “In all our wars from our first settlement in America to the present time, we never received so much damage from the Indian savages as in this one day . . . . Perhaps ministers may think this a means of dispos-
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin ing us to reconciliation. I feel and see everywhere the reverse. . . . I am not half so reconcilable now as I was a month ago. The Congress will send one more petition to the King which I suppose will be treated as the former was, and therefore will be the last. . . . You see I am warm; and if a temper naturally cool and phlegmatic can, in old age, which often cools the warmest, be thus heated, you will judge by that of the general temper here, which is now short of madness.” Franklin’s desire for independence placed him in the minority of the Congress and the population. John Adams estimated that in the summer of 1775 one-third of the people wanted to remain British subjects, one-third preferred independence and the remaining third were indifferent. His estimate was biased toward the pro-independence camp which was really only about one-fifth. Although Congress was actually preparing for battle those preparations were also a tactic to convince the King the colonies were serious. Most were terrified at the concept of war with the world’s best army and mightiest navy but Franklin, and a few others, realized that despite the military imbalance America would win a long war. There were two factors that made America’s victory in a prolonged fight a near certainty. The first was a result of the evolution of political and individual freedom throughout Europe and particularly the British Isles in the eighteenth century. In England basic individual freedoms had become cornerstones of government but the class system was still the framework of society. Rank absolutely had its privileges. The colonists felt an attachment to England but by 1760, when the troubles more or less began, they were not English. The practical demands of the new land resulted in a different social order. Americans were not subordinated to the English aristocracy and the class distinctions that were accepted as the natural order in the British Isles didn’t exist in America. They came to resent Britain’s attempts to subordinate them through taxation and the British ruling class, who were accustomed to having their way, insisted on compliance. As Americans voiced their objections and demanded their rights many in England agreed. One reason George III hired German mercenaries to fight the Americans was because so many Englishman were disposed not to fight. The country was seriously divided and would therefor not persevere through years of conflict. The other factor was geography. The expense of fighting a long war so far off would be devastating. The British fleet was capable of blockading the American ports but it would not be able to do so and complete its other missions around the empire and the Army could only hope to control the seaboard. It would be consumed in the vastness of the American interior. An American army, adequately funded and competently led could prolong the war and exhaust their enemy’s resources and spirit. In August Franklin went to Perth Amboy to persuade William to resign his post. After the events of the summer the public sentiment was shifting toward independence and Tory governors would soon be in peril. George Washington was in Massachusetts in command of the “Grand American Army”. The British were hiring mercenaries and treating the people inside occupied Boston cruelly. War was coming and the British would not prevail. Now was the time for William to join the American cause. As one of the few Americans with military experience he would instantly receive a General’s commission. Given his administrative and political background he could excel in any one of dozens of other posts in the new government. William listened and countered with logical arguments of his own. The majority of the people were not for independence and the acts of the radical minority in Massachusetts forced the British to respond as they had. Lord North’s conciliatory proposal, which William supported, was still before the New Jersey Assembly. It was quite possible his colony would pull out of the Continental Congress. Finally, it was absurd to think a poor country with a fledgling army and no navy could defeat the most powerful nation in the world. Ultimately the two would not agree because at the core of the disagreement was the basis of each of their lives. Benjamin Franklin lived from one new beginning to another and his spirit sustained him at every turn. Even at the age of seventy he had the vitality to help found and form a new nation based on freedom. William suffered through a childhood in which he was only partly accepted but in England and as the Governor of New Jersey he had a sense of belonging and achievement. He did not care to start over. His grandson’s role in fulfilling another of Franklin’s ambitions was another reason why Franklin hoped to change his son’s mind. Franklin always dreamed of founding a dynasty. Temple spent a joyous summer with his father and his new
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin mother, Elizabeth. William married Elizabeth Downes, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy Barbados sugar planter before leaving England in 1762. She was extremely kind and affectionate toward Temple and he responded in kind. He was thriving in his new home but it was time for him to attend college so it was decided he would return to Philadelphia with his grandfather to attend the university there. If the revolution came and William didn’t switch to the American side Temple’s father and grandfather would be enemies. With Franklin, as he returned to Philadelphia, on the road he’d first walked fifty-two years before, was the boy who was his last hope. Late in September Franklin, Thomas Lynch of South Carolina and Benjamin Harrison of Virginia were appointed to the Congressional committee assigned to review and reorganize the army. The three met with Generals Washington and Mifflin at Washington’s camp in Cambridge on October 17. For three days they worked on plans for forming the army and conducting the war. The Continental army was then composed of New England volunteers whose terms of enlistment were nearly over. Many planned to return to their homes in the coming weeks. The Council of War established the rules for the army and determined it would consist of thirty-six regiments. They worked out the system through which men would be recruited into the army, the means of provisioning and the basis for collaborating with the Indians. The appearance of the congressional delegation was significant for the volunteers and the populace of New England who until then weren’t certain the entire nation was behind them in their struggle. Harrison was a very important member of the Virginia Assembly and well known for his good sense, character and firmness. Lynch, a Cambridge graduate and commander of the South Carolina regiment had recently been appointed to the Congress to replace his ailing father. By sending Franklin and these two gentlemen, both from wealthy and prominent southern families, Congress hoped to make it clear to the people of New England that the other colonies were with them. On his way to their meeting with the Generals Franklin met with postmasters, journalists and printers and while in Cambridge dined with friends and others. Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John in Philadelphia of Franklin: “from my infancy I had been taught to venerate [Dr. Franklin]. 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 of physiognomy, and I thought I could read in his countenance the virtues of his heart; among which patriotism shone in its full lustre, and with this is blended every virtue of a Christian: for a true patriot must be a religious man.” General Nathaniel Greene, commander of the Rhode Island Regiment, met the committee on their arrival in Cambridge. Being the husband of Catherine Ray’s niece he had heard of Franklin his entire life and having now met him said, “I had the honor to be introduced to that very great man, Dr. Franklin, whom I viewed with silent admiration the whole evening. Attention watched his lips and conviction closed his periods.” Before leaving New England Franklin stopped at Catherine Ray Greene’s home in Warwick, Rhode Island and picked up his poor sister, Jane Mecom, and Catherine’s young son, Ray. Both accompanied Franklin to Philadelphia. Jane was extremely relieved to be with her brother and she wrote to Catherine Greene, “My seat (in the coach) was exceeding easy and journey very pleasant. My dear brother’s conversation was more than an equivalent to all the fine weather imaginable.” They stayed overnight at Perth Amboy where William informed his father of his momentous decision to call for a meeting of the New Jersey Assembly on November 15, 1775. William’s position was unique among the royal governors. He had served in his post for twelve years, his name was well known, New Jersey had no strong revolutionary movements and no urban centers where agitators could prosper and their groups organize, and there was no newspaper based in the province that would keep the people stirred. And although he supported the Crown he had often declared the rights of the people had to be respected. When the Continental Congress began drafting men into the militia and laying taxes the reaction in New Jersey was mixed. Many weren’t yet ready to recognize the new government and William decided to take advantage of the schism. Speaking to the assembly on November 16 he explained that he had not fled as other governors had because New Jersey was not in rebellion and he urged them to consider the dire consequences of war with England. He also announced
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin the King had finally approved a measure that had been pressed for ten years allowing the printing of currency that would provide 100,000 pounds in bills of credit. His timing was sound and his warning heeded, for the Assembly issued orders to their delegates in Philadelphia “not to give their assent… to any propositions . . .that may separate this colony from the mother country or change the form of government thereof.” They also resolved to petition the King to “use his interposition to prevent the effusion of blood and to express the great desire this house hath to restoration of peace and harmony with the parent state on constitutional principles.” William’s move was nearly a masterstroke. Maryland and New York were not ready for independence and had instructed their delegates accordingly and if the King offered other colonies the same kind of compensation he had granted New Jersey, American unity might dissolve. It was daring and Congress responded immediately. A committee consisting of John Dickinson, George Wythe of Virginia and John Jay of New York was sent to New Jersey to convince the Assembly not to send the petition, for even though the Congress had not yet settled on either reconciliation or independence, they knew they had to remain united. William’s actions were devastating to his father’s prestige. John Dickinson, Franklin’s political nemesis in Pennsylvania, led the committee sent to counter William’s potentially ruinous plan. Despite the Governor’s attempts to have the delegation turned away Dickinson and Jay were heard from the floor of the Assembly. Dickinson, a skilled orator, spoke first. Pointing out that the New Jersey petition would be seen by the King as capitulation he pleaded with the members of the assembly to remain united with the others. George III, his ministers and his subjects had to believe that American resolve was not “a rope of sand” or their grievances would not be redressed. John Jay pointed out that Dickinson’s olive branch petition adopted by the Congress had been sent to the King and had not yet been answered. He suggested they wait to see the outcome of that petition before forwarding their own. Despite William’s objections it was agreed they would wait. His bold attempt to derail the revolution was, at least temporarily, thwarted. Despite the affects of his son’s maneuver’s, Franklin remained one of the most useful members of Congress. The best example of his utility and value, even more than his appointment to the war council, was his assignment late in November of 1775 to the Committee of Secret Correspondence. The other members were Dickinson, Harrison, Jay and Thomas Johnson of Maryland. This committee was the origin of the American Department of State and its purpose was to correspond with friends in Great Britain, Ireland and other parts of the world. One of their first actions was to instruct Arthur Lee, who was still in London to learn as best he could, how the various European powers were disposed to America. Franklin already had extensive contacts across Europe so the majority of the correspondence fell upon him alone. As it turned out at least one European state was disposed to deal with America. French agents were already in Philadelphia and closely following the events in Congress. In December Francis Daymon, the French-born librarian of the Philadelphia Library, called on Franklin to inform him that another Frenchman, Achard de Bonvouloir, wanted to meet him. The committee met secretly and at night with Bonvouloir several times and Franklin believed the Frenchman was sent by none other than the French Foreign Minister, the Count de Vergennes. By the third meeting Franklin was emboldened enough to inform Bonvouloir that Congress believed the American army would have enough men and ammunition to defeat the British Army but foreign help would be needed to fight the Royal Navy. Only France or Spain could provide the assistance the Americans would need and whichever one allied themselves first with the new North American power would receive the most favored trading partnership. They would also be favored when it came to sharing the vast areas of the continent that were still unsettled. Ships of the line were not yet needed but Franklin did ask for muskets and engineering officers and the significance of these small tokens greatly exceeded their face value. They would be the first aid France would provide and the beginning of one of the most important alliances in history. In March Congress voted to send Silas Deane, a former Congressional delegate from Connecticut, to France to seek assistance or trade. Franklin provided Deane with instructions on how to approach and deal with the French foreign minister and where to go if the French were unwilling to help. He also provided Deane with letters to all of Franklin’s friends in France. It was clear from the instructions given to Deane how critically important Franklin’s contacts and diplomatic experi-
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin ence were to the American cause. Franklin not only told Deane who to contact for help in France, Holland and London he described in detail how to deal with European noblemen who would undoubtedly feel superior to a Connecticut businessman.
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin
Chapter 24 Common Sense In the first few weeks of 1776 one of the most significant events of the pre-independence period occurred and once again, Franklin played a part. Thomas Paine the clerk and ex-corset maker that Franklin introduced to Philadelphia published a forty-seven-page pamphlet called Common Sense. It sold for two shillings and it was a brilliant treatise on government, society and the fallacies of monarchy. It stated in extremely clear language why independence was not only inevitable, but Americans were under a nearly sacred obligation to secure it. It was so popular four editions sold out in the first month and in the first three months 120,000 copies were sold. The first one off the press went to Benjamin Franklin.
Thomas Paine Paine was obviously completely caught up in the American cause and his masterwork flowed from cold and logical to impassioned. It began with: Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher. Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamities are heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer! Many of his common sense statements were exactly what the advocates of independence were feeling if not articulat-
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin ing: Small islands not capable of protecting themselves, are the proper objects of kingdoms to take under their care but there is something very absurd, in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island. In no instance hath nature made the satellite larger than its primary planet, and as England and America, with respect to each other, reverses the common order of nature, it is evident they belong to different systems: England to Europe, America to itself. After explaining the flaws in the English constitution and the injustice inherent in monarchies Paine addressed America’s situation, reducing it to a personal level: Men of passive tempers look somewhat lightly over the offenses of Britain, and, still hoping for the best, are apt to call out, ‘Come, we shall be friends again for all this.’ But examine the passions and feelings of mankind. Bring the doctrine of reconciliation to the touchstone of nature, and then tell me, whether you can hereafter love, honor, and faithfully serve the power that hath carried fire and sword into your land… But if you say, you can still pass the violations over, then I ask, Hath your house been burnt? Hath your property been destroyed before your face? Are your wife and children destitute of a bed to lie on, or bread to live on? Have you lost a parent or a child by their hands, and yourself the ruined and wretched survivor? If you have not, then are you not a judge of those who have. But if you have, and can still shake hands with the murderers, then you are not worthy the name of husband, father, friend, or lover, and whatever may be your rank or title in life, you have the heart of a coward and the spirit of a sycophant. This is not infaming or exaggerating matters, but trying them by those feelings and affections which nature justifies, and without which, we should be incapable of discharging the social duties of life, or enjoying the felicities of it. I mean not to exhibit horror for the purpose of provoking revenge, but to awaken us from fatal and unmanly slumbers, that we may pursue some fixed object. . . . The present winter is worth an age if rightly employed, but if lost or neglected, the whole continent will partake of misfortune; and there is no punishment which that man will not deserve, be he who, or what, or where he will, that may be the means of sacrificing a season so precious and useful.
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin
Chapter 25 Unity & Independence True to his nature, George III rejected the olive branch petition, declared the colonies in open rebellion and in December, 1775 his Prohibitory Act barred trade with the colonies. Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s Royal Governor responded by forming a loyalist army and offering to free the slaves who took up arms on Britain’s side. This force, which included between 1,000 and 2,000 blacks, attacked and burned Norfolk. As a result Congress passed a resolution on January 2, 1776 directing local authorities to crack down on those who supported the royal government. The head of the New Jersey State militia, William Alexander, who improperly referred to himself as Lord Stirling, had his men seize the Governor’s mail. In it they found a thick packet addressed to Lord Dartmouth that contained William Franklin’s assessment of the independence movement, his reports on the speeches given by Dickinson, Wythe and Jay and other materials. Particularly damaging were examples of radical propaganda that would be used as evidence of treason if Britain won the war. Militiamen surrounded the Governor’s mansion at 2 A.M. on the night of January eighth and the colonel in command ordered Franklin not to leave the province. William agreed stating that he had no intention of leaving “unless compelled by violence.” Apparently Benjamin Franklin didn’t tell Temple or the others in his home about the incident in Perth Amboy. A letter to William from Temple written on January 15 didn’t mention the affair but William’s reply was heated. He described the scene and Elizabeth’s frightened response telling his son about “being awakened with a violent knocking at the door about two o’clock in the morning and seeing the house surrounded by a large party of armed men with guns and bayonets.” Temple wrote back to his father immediately to express his sympathy and concern but Benjamin Franklin remained silent, choosing not to contact William. His son had chosen his own path and there was nothing the father could do. On February 15th Franklin, now seventy-years-old, was assigned by Congress to go to Canada to convince the French Canadians to join the colonies against Britain. On the 27th he resigned from Pennsylvania’s Committee of Safety and from the Assembly, saying, “It would be a happiness to me if I could serve the public duly in all these stations but aged as I am, I feel myself unequal to so much business and on that account think it my duty to decline a part of it.” Another reason for choosing to leave the Assembly may have been John Dickinson, whose power was increasing. Dickinson was still against independence and if his influence over the others in the State Assembly resulted in another appeal for reconciliation Franklin did not want to be a part of it. Also in February Washington and his men were working to liberate Boston. By March 4th they’d finished placing heavy artillery on Dorchester Heights above Howe’s encamped troops. The guns were seized at Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point on Lake Champlain by troops led by Colonels Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold in May of 1775. Throughout the winter troops pulled them on sleds through New York and Massachusetts. Howe was completely exposed so he loaded his troops on ships and evacuated Boston on March 17th. Franklin’s trip north was arduous and its chances for success minimal. Most of the French Canadians were Catholic and the animosities the English colonists felt toward the Pope and Catholicism were well known. In November of 1775, after word came that the British were planning to raid New York from Canada, Generals Phillip Schuyler and Richard Montgomery led American forces north and captured Montreal. The occupying forces did not respect the Catholic Church and its role in public affairs. The American commander even ordered all churches closed on Christmas Eve and told the committee of Catholics who sought a hearing, “I regard you all as enemies and rascals.” Benedict Arnold, then a Brigadier General, attacked Quebec on December 31, 1775 but failed to take the city and for the rest of the winter managed only to maintain a weak cordon around it. Bishop Jean Briant, the ruling Catholic prelate, denounced the Americans from inside Quebec and instructed all priests to withhold the sacraments from anyone who supported the Americans, who he called the Bostonnais. Making the journey with Franklin were Maryland delegates Samuel Chase and Charles Carroll of Carrollton and Charles’ cousin John Carroll, a Jesuit priest who would eventually become the first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States. Chase, the Carrolls and Franklin got along very well. When Chase told Franklin of Charles Carroll’s role in the burning of a tea ship in Maryland Franklin knew his companion was a man of conviction and they became friends. Carroll wrote
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin to his father, “Doctor Franklin is a most engaging and entertaining companion of a sweet, even and lively temper, full of facetious stories and always applied with judgment and introduced apropos. He is a man of extensive reading, deep thought and curious in all his inquiries. In short, I am quite charmed with him. Even his age makes all these happy endowments more interesting, uncommon and captivating.” All of Franklin’s traveling companions were considerably younger than he. The oldest, Samual Chase was forty-one, Charles Carroll was thirty-nine and John Carroll was thirty-seven. The company was the only pleasant aspect of the trip, which began in the last week in March. They sailed up the Hudson aboard a small sloop into a cold northeast wind that carried a chill rain. At one point a gust tore the mainsail and they were forced to seek shelter in Thunder Hill Bay. It took five days to reach Albany where they were met by General Schuyler, who took them to his spacious town house and then on to his county home in Saratoga. The thirty-six mile wagon ride over rutted and winding roads was exhausting. Franklin believed he was dying and even wrote farewell letters to friends. It took a seven-day layover and the constant care of Mrs. Schuyler to restore Franklin. Six inches of snow had fallen before they embarked on the next leg of their journey, a two-day trek on horseback to Lake George. It took another fifteen days aboard thirty-foot, open boats fitted with awnings to traverse Lake George and then Lake Champlain. Brigadier General Benedict Arnold greeted the commissioners and escorted them to the home of Thomas Walker, a supporter of the American cause. Their mission failed. The citizenry and leadership of Montreal had no desire to side with the Americans. Due to the hopelessness of the situation Franklin stayed for only twelve days. Chase and Charles Carroll remained to decide how to deal with the deplorable state of the American Army in Canada but Franklin had to go. His health was breaking down. Father Carroll accompanied Franklin and cared for him until they reached the Schuyler home where once again, Mrs. Schuyler nursed Franklin. The two men then proceeded on, finally reaching New York City on May 27, 1776. Franklin was extremely grateful for Carroll’s kindness and informed the commissioners he’d left behind that without the Father’s help he might not have survived the trip. While Franklin was away the public sentiment toward independence had grown and one by one, beginning with North Carolina on April 12th, the colonies were instructing their delegations in Congress to vote for independence. Congress also adopted a resolution that opened American ports to all nations except Great Britain and another that eliminated all forms of royal government in the colonies. Every government post required an oath of loyalty to the King and after a year of warfare such oaths were, according to the language of the resolution, “absolutely irreconcilable to reason and good conscience.” William Franklin was defiant and called for a meeting of the New Jersey Assembly. Britain’s colonial secretary had informed him that England was still willing to negotiate for peace with individual colonies. The Assembly concluded this latest attempt by the King to divide the colonies was subversive and William’s participation was “in direct contempt and violation of the Continental Congress.” They called him “an enemy of the liberties of this country” and called for his arrest but the detaining officers were directed to handle the arrest “with all the delicacy and tenderness which the nature of the business could possibly admit.” They also granted Governor Franklin the opportunity to sign a parole and live freely on his farm at Rancocas Creek south of Burlington. William rejected the parole and insisted they had no right to arrest him. He was insolent before the committee of the New Jersey Assembly to which he was taken and the Congress resolved he be sent under guard to Governor Trumbell of Connecticut. Franklin was stricken with the gout on his return from Canada and was bedridden for three weeks. A letter to Washington written on the 21st spoke of the illness as if it were over so he was probably at his seat in Congress on June 24th when it was decided William would be sent to Connecticut. To save other members the embarrassment it is likely he actually wrote the resolution that Secretary Thompson recorded: “that William Franklin be sent under guard to Governor Trumbull who is desired to take his parole, and if Mr. Franklin refuses to give his parole, that Governor Trumbull be desired to treat him agreeable to the resolutions of Congress respecting prisoners.” Temple received a letter from his father that carried bitter denunciations but ended poignantly, “God bless you, my dear boy; be dutiful and attentive to your grandfather, to whom you owe great obligations. Love Mrs. Franklin for she loves
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin you, and will do all she can for you if I should never return more. If we survive the present storm, we may all meet and enjoy the sweets of peace with greater relish.” One can only wonder if William considered his own obligations to his father. Due to his health and the fact that the inevitable result of the previous twenty-six years was coming about, Franklin’s role in the Congress diminished. He had done his part to form the new nation when he fought the Stamp Act, affected public opinion in England and withstood the attack in the Cockpit. He had already laid the foundation for American independence and the rest of the nation was now following through. John and Samuel Adams dominated the Congress but Franklin agreed strongly with their strident call for independence so he spoke little, satisfied to defend a few principles, particularly proportional representation. Franklin’s own state finally came around as well when in June Dickinson and his allies lost their power base. The events of the past year and Thomas Paine’s writing had an effect on the people and the majority of Pennsylvanians now favored separation from England. On July 2nd, the Pennsylvania delegation, by a vote of 3 to 2 became the last to vote for independence. On June 7th Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced in Congress the famous resolution, “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states” but after two days of debate the delegates were still not unanimous on the issue. On June 11th a committee consisting of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston of New York and Roger Sherman of Connecticut was appointed to write a declaration of independence should Lee’s resolution be adopted. The committee appointed Jefferson to write the draft and on its completion found it to be in need of very little modification. Jefferson submitted it to Adams and Franklin for review but Livingston and Sherman had little to do with the document. Franklin and Adams made minor changes. Jefferson’s draft read, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable.” Franklin changed the phrase to, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” In the forth paragraph where Jefferson states that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish destructive government he said, “…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them to arbitrary power” Franklin changed it to “reduce them to “absolute despotism.” Jefferson said American judges were dependent on the king’s will “for the tenure of their offices and amount of their salaries.” Franklin made it more specific by saying “the amount and payment of their salaries” and where Jefferson charged the king allowed acts “for taking away our charters, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments” Franklin added a third clause between the others: “abolishing our most valuable laws.” This was in reference to the acts passed by colonial assemblies and invalidated by Parliament. Franklin strengthened Jefferson’s assertion that American petitions had been “answered by repeated injury” by instead asserting that the petitions had been “answered only by repeated injury” and in reference to the king’s hiring of mercenaries who were being sent to “deluge us in blood” Franklin wrote “destroy us.” Franklin’s changes improved the writing slightly but he did not insert or delete sentiments. Congress was not so kind. They struck long passages including one that condemned the slave trade and another that was deemed offensive to the English people and likely to alienate American supporters in Great Britain. Finally, in deference to the Scottish-American members of congress, a section that mentioned the British Army’s use of Scottish mercenaries was eliminated. Franklin was seated next to Jefferson as these changes were discussed and implemented and he noticed his young colleague’s agitation. He told Jefferson writing documents for public bodies is a difficult task and one he typically avoids and he related a story he later recorded: When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an apprenticed hatter, having served out his time, was about to have a shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome signboard with a proper inscription. He composed it in these words: “John Thompson, Hatter, makes and sells Hats for ready Money”, with a figure of a hat subjoined. 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 [it was] followed by the words “makes hats”, which showed 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
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin 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; and the inscription now stood, “John Thompson sells hats.” “Sells Hats?” says his next friend, “Why nobody will expect to give them away. What then is the use of that word?” It was stricken out and “hats” followed it, the rather as there was one painted on the board. So the inscription was reduced ultimately to “John Thompson”, with the figure of a hat subjoined. On July 4th the final version of the Declaration of Independence was agreed to. It was read to a crowd in front of the State House in Philadelphia at noon on the 8th and it was signed by most of the delegates on August 2nd. Others signed it later as did some who didn’t vote for it at all. One of the legends associated with the signing has John Hancock, as president of the Congress writing his name first and saying, “We must be unanimous; there must be no pulling different ways; we must all hang together.” Franklin is said to have replied, “Yes, we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” The lives, fortunes and families of all those who signed that page were at risk. No one who was there recorded those legendary words, and they may not have been spoken, but they are so like Franklin that if he did not utter them, what he did say at that moment, when the world was on the brink of a new era, was certainly no less to the point.
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin
John Trumbullâ€™s Painting of the Five-Man Drafting Committee Presenting Their Draft of the Declaration to Congress on June 28, 1776
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin
Chapter 26 “… abounding pride and deficient wisdom …“ Lives reach critical stages when important events precipitate a rapid succession of decisions and actions. Prisoners escape the hounds and sea captains emerge from the storm with their ships intact and crews alive only if they choose quickly and correctly. Decisions made in the heat of the chase and orders given in the teeth of the gale make the difference between life and death; freedom and bondage. The last six months of 1776 were such a period for the United States of America. Both sides had made their declarations and battles were being waged. The lives of the men of the American Congress and the Continental Army and the fate of an infant nation now depended on a handful of men and the outcome of their decisions. At the same time the Declaration of Independence was being celebrated in Philadelphia, Franklin’s old friend Lord Richard Howe and his fleet arrived in New York harbor. His brother, Major General William Howe and the British Army that had evacuated Boston were already on Staten Island and with them were nine thousand Hessians. General Washington and his army were on Long Island ready to engage the British force. Outnumbered two to one by a force superior in training and equipment Washington did not expect to hold New York but he would make the British fight for it. More British forces under the command of Generals Burgoyne and Carleton were advancing from Canada. The English strategy was to cut off New England from the other colonies. Soon after Lord Howe set up his new headquarters he wrote to Franklin and offered pardons in exchange for a return to the way things were. He could not write to Congress since England did not recognize it and he didn’t mention any exclusions from the pardon. The King however would not pardon John Adams and it was later rumored Samuel Adams, Richard Henry Lee and Franklin were also excluded. Franklin’s response to Howe plainly expressed his own, as well as congressional indignity. “Directing pardons 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; but it can have no other effect than that of increasing our resentments. 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 peaceful farmers and our slaves to murder their masters, and is even now bringing foreign mercenaries to deluge our settlements with blood. These atrocious injuries have extinguished every remaining spark of affection for that parent country we once held so dear; but were it possible for us to forget and forgive them, it is not possible for you (I mean the British people) to forgive the people you have so heavily injured.” According to Howe the King wanted peace. Franklin went on: “If by peace is here meant a peace to be entered into between Britain and America, as distinct states now at war, and His Majesty has given your lordship powers to treat with us of such a peace, I may venture to say, though without authority, that I think a treaty for that purpose not yet quite impracticable, before we enter into foreign alliances. But I am persuaded you have no such powers. Your nation might recover a great share of our regard and the greatest part of our growing commerce, with all the advantage of that additional strength to be derived from a friendship with us; but I know too well her abounding pride and deficient wisdom to believe she will ever take such salutary measures. Her fondness for conquest as a warlike nation, her lust of dominion as an ambitious one, and her wish for a gainful monopoly as a commercial one (none of them legitimate causes of war) will all join to hide from her eyes every view of her true interests and continually goad her on in those ruinous distant expeditions, so destructive both of lives and treasure, that must prove as pernicious to her in the end as the Crusades formerly were to most of the nations of Europe. “I have not the vanity, my lord, to think of intimidating by thus predicting the effects of this war; for I
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin know it will in England have the fate of all my former predictions, not to be believed till the event shall verify it. “Long did I endeavor with unfeigned and unwearied zeal to preserve from breaking that fine and noble vase the British Empire; for I knew that, once being broken, the separate parts could not retain even their share of the strength and value that existed in the whole, and that a perfect reunion of those parts could scarce ever be hoped for. Your lordship may possibly remember the tears of joy that wet my cheek when at your dear sister’s in London, you once gave me expectations that a reconciliation might soon take place. I had the misfortune to find those expectations disappointed, and to be treated as the cause of the mischief I was laboring to prevent. My consolation under that groundless and malevolent treatment was that I retained the friendship of many wise and good men in that country, and among them rest some share in the regard of Lord Howe.” It was common knowledge, and Howe and others had freely and coldly stated, that Britain’s primary concern with the colonies was trade. Franklin pointed out how callous, mercenary and ultimately unprofitable it was to wage war for the sake of trade. “ To me it seems that neither the obtaining or retaining of any trade, how valuable soever, is an object for which men may justly spill each other’s blood; that the true and sure means of extending and securing commerce is the goodness and cheapness of commodities; and that the profit of no trade can ever be equal to the expense of compelling it, and of holding it, by fleets and armies. I consider this war against us therefore, as both unjust and unwise; and I am persuaded that cool, dispassionate posterity will condemn to infamy those who have advised it; and that even success will not save from some degree of dishonor those who voluntarily engaged to conduct it. I know your great motive in coming hither was the hope of being instrumental in a reconciliation; and I believe, when you find that to be impossible on any terms given you to propose you will relinquish so odious a command, and return to a more honorable private station.” Franklin’s response to Howe’s overture was scarcely open to interpretation. The military threat remained imminent but other needs had to be met as well. Now that the colonies were independent each had to establish their own governments. Franklin was energized by the events of July. He was given the leadership of his state’s congressional delegation and he became President of Pennsylvania’s Constitutional Convention. The final document was remarkably progressive and it included many of the features of his Albany Plan for federal union. It called for an Assembly elected annually, an executive body drawn from the assembly and a council of censors elected by the people who would review the actions of all other elected officials to ensure the constitution was being followed. It specified term limits for all offices and allowed impeachment by the assembly of elected and appointed officers and stated that taxes could be imposed only if specific laws calling for the tax were passed. It also called for proportional representation. Franklin opposed two house parliamentary systems and used at least two allegories to illustrate why. The first compared such an arrangement to a wagon hitched to two pairs of steers, one at the front and the other at the rear under the pretext of making descent from a mountain easier. The other described a twoheaded snake on her way to a brook for a drink. While passing through a hedge a twig obstructed the direct route. One head chose the right path and the other the left and before the decision was completed the snake died of thirst. The national government also had to be constituted, and quickly. A war was being fought and the government waging it did not have the sort of formal and permanent authority required in treaties and contracts. Congress chose John Dickinson to chair the committee that was assigned the task and they gave him Franklin’s original Articles of Confederation as a guide. Dickinson, of course, disapproved of Franklin’s plan and the most important change he proposed was to the key premise of proportional representation. He preferred each state have the same influence. This would not satisfy the large and powerful colonies of Virginia, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and to Franklin it was a recipe for disaster. He said, “Let the smaller
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin 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 last.” The feud between the small states who felt their interests would be completely neglected and the large ones who had more voters dragged on. By the end of August they still had not agreed on representation, executive powers or taxation. Some of the Congressmen, Samuel Chase among them, went home in disgust. Congress didn’t agree to a draft form of the Articles until November of 1777. Fortunately the States recognized the importance of remaining united so they continued to support the national government even without a formal arrangement. On August 27th the British left their camp on Staten Island and attacked Washington on Long Island. Hundreds of men were lost on both sides and the British prevailed forcing Washington to complete a skillful retreat to Manhattan. After the British victory Howe sent a captured American General, John Sullivan, to Philadelphia to express the admiral’s desire to meet with colonial representatives about peace. Congress appointed Franklin, John Adams and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina to the task and on September 9th the three left Philadelphia for Perth Amboy. All roads to New York were busy with troop movements to and from Washington’s camp and accommodations were limited. Adams and Franklin were forced to share the same small bed and before they settled in to sleep Adams closed the window. Franklin, accustomed to sleeping with the windows open, objected. Adams remembered, “The window was open and I, who was an invalid and afraid of the night air shut it close. ‘Oh!’ says Franklin, ‘don’t shut the window; we shall be suffocated.’ I answered I was afraid of the evening air. Dr. Franklin replied” ‘The air within the chamber will soon be, and indeed is now, worse than that without doors. Come open the window and come to bed, and I will convince you. I believe you are not acquainted with my theory of colds.” Reluctantly Adams complied and Franklin explained how cold, even moist air did not give people colds. “People often catch cold from one another when shut up together in closed rooms, coaches, &c., and when sitting near and conversing so as to breath in each other’s transpiration.” But no one ever caught cold from being cold. Initially, Adams was interested in Franklin’s theory but fatigue overtook him and he fell asleep before the explanation was through. Howe greeted them on the shore at Staten Island. Hessians, appearing in Adam’s words, “fierce as ten furies,” lined the route from the beach to Billopp House, a large stone mansion. The home in which they met had been thoroughly sacked and vandalized by the Hessians. One large room was roughly decorated with branches and moss and a table was set with cold meat and wine. Howe’s secretary Henry Strachey and the Hessian colonel dined with them. They engaged in polite small talk during lunch and when the table was cleared the Hessian excused himself and the conversation turned to the serious matters at hand. Howe began by expressing his honest affection for America, saying he felt for America, “as for a brother, and if America should fall, I should feel and lament it like the loss of a brother.” As he had in his letter, Franklin responded to Howe’s thoughtless arrogance. “My Lord, we will use our utmost endeavors to save your lordship that mortification.” This remark stung Howe. Referring to Franklin’s letter and its mention of foreign alliances Howe said, “I suppose you will endeavor to give us employment in Europe.” To this the Americans did not respond and Howe went on. He noted if the current problems were remedied through negotiation rather than warfare American independence would not be the result and the current American Congress would cease to exist. He therefore was satisfied with his instructions from the King not to deal with Congress. He considered the delegation before him to be prominent private citizens capable of influencing the American Army, among others, but not members of the illegal Congress. Howe’s secretary recorded, “Dr. Franklin said that his lordship might consider the gentlemen present in any view he thought proper; that they were also at liberty to consider themselves in their proper character; that there was no necessity on this occasion to distinguish between Congress and the individuals; and that the conversation might be held as amongst friends.” Adams and Rutledge agreed. Howe explained the king’s “most earnest desire was to make his American subjects happy, to cause a reform in what-
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin ever affected the freedom of their legislation, and to concur with his Parliament in the redress of any real grievances”, and the committee “knew we expected aid from America; that the dispute seemed to be only concerning the mode of obtaining it. “Dr. Franklin here said” ‘That we never refused, upon requisition.’” Howe replied money wasn’t important. There were “more solid advantages to Great Britain” through America’s “commerce, her strength, her men.” “Here Dr. Franklin said with rather a sneering laugh: ‘Aye, my lord, we have a pretty considerable manufactory of men’ alluding as it should seem to their numerous army.” (The secretary’s guess of Franklin’s meaning was corrected in the margin, presumably by Howe: “No, to their increasing population.”) Howe concluded by repeating the king wanted peace and asking, “Is there no way of treading back this step of independency and opening the door to a full discussion?” “Dr. Franklin said he supposed his lordship had seen the resolution of the Congress which had sent them hither; that the resolution contained the whole of their commission; that if this conversation was productive of no immediate good effect it might be of service at a future time; that America had considered the Prohibitory Act as the answer to her petition to the king; forces had been sent out and towns destroyed; that they could not expect happiness now under the domination of Great Britain; that all former attachment was obliterated; that America could not return again to the domination of Great Britain and therefore imagined that Great Britain meant to rest it upon force. ‘The other gentlemen will deliver their sentiments.’” Adams said he could be considered as anyone at all by Lord Howe as long as he was not considered a British subject. He declared he was for independence along with the Congress and the people. Rutledge spoke longer and pointed out that South Carolina had accepted its own independence and would not return to British rule under any circumstances. The committee reported that Howe only had the authority to grant pardons, which would only be granted if the colonies submitted, and upon submission there was no certainty America’s grievances would be redressed. Howe abandoned his diplomatic role and resumed his military mission. On September 15th he and his brother attacked the Americans on Manhattan. Once again Washington was soundly beaten and as in the aftermath of the battle of Long Island British hesitancy combined with Washington’s skillful retreat, first to Harlem Heights and then to White Plains, saved the American army. A fire began during the evacuation and a third of the city burned and on September 21st, while on a mission behind the British lines in New York, twenty-one-year-old Ranger captain, Nathan Hale disguised as a Dutch schoolmaster, was captured. General William Howe gave the order and the next day Hale was hanged as a spy. With the army out matched in Canada and New York and Congress unable to settle on the key features of a federal constitution matters were becoming desperate. The mood in Philadelphia was so tenuous many of the congressmen went home. Some of the states weren’t even represented. Silas Deane had not been heard from and Arthur Lee hadn’t communicated anything of import. In his letters and discussions with Howe Franklin had alluded to foreign alliances but he hoped they would not be immediately necessary. In the Congressional debates on the subject he said, “a virgin state should preserve the virgin character, and not go about suitoring for alliances, but wait with descent dignity for the application of others.” Unfortunately, events were forcing their hands and the new nation’s dignity would have to be compromised. On September 28th, in strict secrecy, Congress appointed Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Silas Deane as America’s commissioners to the court of France. Franklin was seventy years old. The rigors of another ocean voyage could kill him and should his vessel be intercepted by one of the many British ships that patrolled the Atlantic he would be taken to England, convicted of treason, and hung. His recent brush with death while returning from Canada must have made these possibilities seem quite real. The mission was necessary however and he accepted it. He told fellow delegate Benjamin Rush, a close friend and prominent Philadelphia physician, “I am old and good for nothing; but as the storekeepers say of their remnants of cloth, ‘I am but a fag end, and you may have me for what you please,’ just so my country may command my services in any way they choose.” Leaving the Bache’s, his daughter Sarah and his little grandchildren was an unpleasant prospect as well. Sadly, William had already been cut off but Franklin would not abandon Temple who was in New Jersey at the time
Lone Traveler: The Singular Life of Benjamin Franklin with his stepmother, Elizabeth. Secrecy had to be maintained but Franklin immediately wrote to his grandson. “I hope… that your mother will make no objection to it, something offering here that will be much to your advantage if you are not out of the way.” Temple was told of the trip to France on October 3rd. Although he had been vainly trying to comfort his imprisoned father the prospect of a European adventure excited the seventeen-year-old and he agreed to go. The opportunity probably saved Temple from joining his father on the side of the loyalists. Another grandson, Sarah’s six-year-old, was to go along as well. Benjamin Franklin Bache was highly intelligent and may have reminded Franklin of his own son, Francis, whom Benjamin and Deborah lost forty years earlier. Philadelphia could be attacked in the coming months and the child’s education would suffer so the Bache’s agreed their young son should go with his grandfather. This would turn out to be another fateful decision for in the decade following Franklin’s death, Benny Bache would become an important player in the early trials of the American republic and his years in Europe with his grandfather would serve him and his country well. On September 30th Franklin received good news arrived from Arthur Lee. The French were preparing to send a huge shipment of arms and ammunition, worth 200,000 pounds sterling, to America by way of the West Indies. On the same day Franklin was stopped on the street and asked about his mission to France. Obviously, the secret was not kept so Franklin and Robert Morris, the only other member of the secret committee in Philadelphia at the time, with the concurrence of a very few others, chose not to tell Congress of the arms shipment until it was received. In the final days before their departure Franklin pledged his property in Philadelphia and lent all the cash he could accumulate, 4000 pounds, to Congress. He visited James Galloway and learned his good friend had switched to the American side and was raising a regiment. This pleased Franklin greatly and he asked Galloway if he would keep Franklin’s papers. Galloway agreed and all of Franklin’s letters and written works, including the only manuscript of the Autobiography, were delivered to Trevose, Galloway’s country home. At the last moment, due to his wife’s illness, Jefferson withdrew from the mission and was replaced by Arthur Lee, who was already in Europe. On October 26th Franklin said goodbye to his daughter and her family. As old as he was, he was fairly certain he would not return so his goodbye was forever. The unusual group, a child, a teenager and an old man spent the night in Chester and went the next day to Marcus Hook. There they boarded the sixteen-gun sloop, Reprisal, for France.
Published on Jul 31, 2013
Chapter 17 Home, Another Mission, Once More To England Chapter 18 Early Conflicts Chapter 19 A "prime conductor" Chapter 20 "... ho...