Part 7 – 1748 to 1753 – Science, Publishing & The Mail Chapter 11 Father and Son Make History Benjamin Franklin and his twenty-one-year-old son were prepared on that hot and humid day in June of 1752. As huge thunderheads rolled over Philadelphia and most people took cover, William and his father hurried to the “commons”, the grazing grounds near their home at Race and Second Streets. Some of the things they needed for the experiment were already in a shed at the edge of the field. The rest, including a silk kite with a fifteen-inch metal wire attached to the top of its spine had been quickly gathered from the laboratory in their house. As the final preparations were made the sky darkened and a few heavy drops began to fall. The father took cover, actually he hid in the shed as the son ran with the kite. The elder Franklin, his reputation at stake, could not be seen running through a pasture with a child’s toy, nor did he want to be ridiculed if his bold experiment failed or disproved his theory. For four years his experiments with electricity had occupied nearly all his time. He moved to the house on Race Street to distance himself from friends and associates who were regularly interrupting his work. The relative isolation permitted the thought and experiments that produced significant contributions to the field. Among them was clarification of the models that described electrical phenomena by coining the terms “negative” and “positive” to describe electrical charges, replacing the much less descriptive, “viscous” and “resinous”. He was also first to use the terms battery, conductor and condenser and by storing the charge in a cloud in a simple capacitor called a Leyden Jar, he would test his most daring hypothesis; that lightning and electricity are the same thing. The wind became brisk as the storm front passed over. William launched the kite on the far side of the field and ran across it, playing out the string as he went. When he reached his father in the shed, he gave him the tether. Franklin tied the string and a strip of silk to a key. Holding the silk, which was an insulator, he then waited for the charge to build. He was now in a very dangerous position and he and his son both knew it. He had already killed animals with electricity and twice, by accident, he had knocked himself unconscious with it. On one occasion he had stunned and incapacitated six grown men with a sudden discharge and he’d seen drain spouts and sections of metallic roofs reduced to molten jelly. Now, by holding the kite string, Franklin was at the bottom of a likely path of a lightning stroke; a shaft of energy carrying millions of volts that heats the air around it to tens of thousands of degrees. As the kite danced about overhead he touched his knuckle to the key, hoping to feel a spark. There was nothing. He waited and with each second the likelihood father and son would become charred corpses increased but still the key carried no charge. Thunder rumbled and lightning flashed around them. William pointed out a huge cloud coming toward them. Thunder boomed from it as it passed directly over them. The little kite darted and dove in the gusts near the base of the cloud and again Benjamin Franklin touched the key. Still, there was nothing. His heart sank. His mind raced as he thought back on the hundreds of experiments he had conducted. Now he was trying to deduce why his theory, which seemed so clear in the laboratory, was incorrect. Then his
gaze drifted toward the string and with an exclamation of joy he clapped his son on the back and pointed at the tether. The loose strands were standing erect, just as they had in the laboratory. Slowly, Franklin touched the key and the sensation he and other experimenters knew so well passed into his arm. He touched it again and then had William touch it too. Now was the point of maximum danger for they had in fact created a charged path. At any moment a discharge that could kill them both was possible, but the experiment wasn’t over. The rain became heavy as Franklin picked up the Leyden jar and touched its center conductor to the key. Electricity from the charged air poured into the jar. Father and son were jubilant. They had proven lightning was electricity! Minutes later the storm passed and they reeled in the kite. Franklin told his son to tell no one of their triumph. First, he must compile his findings and publish the results to the scientific community. For most of that summer father and son kept the momentous secret that would make Benjamin Franklin a world figure. Franklin’s interests in science were practical. For him, investigation and experimentation had to be for some useful purpose, so when he published the results of the kite experiment he included a description of the lightning rod. He didn’t patent it or any of the other inventions he devised throughout his life but rather gave it freely to all. Although there were still some who questioned the benefits of the lightning rod there was little question that Franklin’s conclusions about lightning were correct. The honors and recognition that followed were phenomenal and they elevated Franklin to very highly honored status. The Royal Society of London made him a member and awarded him the Copley Medal. William Pitt, the great English statesman told the House of Lords Franklin ranked with Isaac Newton, and the King of France, Louis XV, wrote to Franklin, congratulating him on his accomplishments. Such recognition by the scientists and royal courts of Europe had an affect on all the colonies. Franklin was from Philadelphia, not London, Paris or Vienna. A candle maker’s son had taken thunder from the Gods and it was suddenly apparent America was not a continent peopled only by savages and outcasts. As Franklin’s stature rose, so did his country’s. Such recognition by the Europeans had a profound affect on Franklin’s fellow Americans. Their respect for their native son, already great, increased tremendously. If Kings and English statesmen had such high opinions of their neighbor than he was a resource that they must tap. Benjamin Franklin became a very valuable asset indeed.
Chapter 12 Politics and the Mail Franklin was always willing to work for his community and the political parties and coalitions in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey respected him. They sought his cooperation and he gave it. There was a lot to be done and Franklin worked with the City Council and the Pennsylvania Assembly to improve their city and province. One of the key roles Franklin played in Pennsylvania politics was as a champion of the people and their Assembly, and counter to the proprietors, the Penns. A trinity of the Assembly, the proprietors and the Quakers ruled the colony. Franklin felt the Assembly, the representative body, was best suited to govern the province and he respected the Quakers for their beliefs and success. The proprietors, on the other hand, were an outdated institution and selfish. Although they held thousands of acres and profited handsomely from their holdings, their contribution to Pennsylvania’s and Philadelphia’s treasuries was minor. This became a major source of conflict as the Assembly sought to finance the defense of the province after war broke out in 1740. For nearly twenty-five years Europe had enjoyed peace. Louis XV of France was still popular with his subjects in 1740 and George II was benefiting from the peace, bountiful harvests and a thriving economy. There was little internal descent in either country but prosperity bred very strong commercial interests that led to new friction between the European powers. Finally, the desire for monopolies coupled with a rivalry of civilizations and aggression in Austria led to war, with England and Austria on one side and Prussia, France, and Spain on the other. In Europe the war was named The War Of The Austrian Succession and in America it was King George’s War. In North America, England and France clashed. Indians joined the French and attacked settlers on the Pennsylvania frontier and the navies of England, France and Spain harassed each other in the Atlantic and Caribbean. Franklin’s newspaper became the central source in Philadelphia for news on the war and the politics and policies behind it. The middle and working class people who both suffered and benefited from the conflict were the demographic to which The Pennsylvania Gazette was directed. Reports and editorials from The Gazette were reprinted in papers that Franklin’s previous employees established in cities from South Carolina to Rhode Island. By the time the war ended in 1748, when Franklin was forty-two, his personal fortune was sufficient for him to retire from the printing business. For the next few years he devoted himself to his experiments in electricity, his writing, and community service. In 1753, after enlisting the support of powerful friends in London and America, Franklin was appointed Deputy Postmaster General of North America Post. He was already the postmaster of Philadelphia, a position that helped ensure timely and dependable delivery of his newspaper. The new position presented Franklin with tremendous opportunity. First, the pay was 300 pounds per year, but more importantly it facilitated distribution of his newspaper and other writing and it gave him reason and opportunity to associate with influential men throughout the northern colonies. It also gave Franklin the authority to appoint the other local postmasters in Boston, New York and elsewhere. Where possible, his family and friends received the available positions. Immediately upon his appointment Franklin embarked on a tour of the facilities and routes under his authority and the improvements he achieved were spectacular. First he abolished the practice of favoring one newspaper in a region over others. He required postmasters to keep precise accounts and initiated the practice of
mail delivery to the recipient. Previously, mail only went as far as the post office. Franklinâ€™s postmasters would hold mail for one day and if it wasnâ€™t picked up it was delivered for an extra penny. He devised new routes, placed ferries and established an esprit de corps that brought a new vitality to the service. The postal service became much more reliable and more popular than it had ever been.
Part 8 – 1754 to 1757 – War & Politics Chapter 13 War In 1754 another war between England and France began. In America it was called The French and Indian War. In Europe it was The Seven Years War. This was the fourth in sixty-five years between the two European powers but unlike the other three, this one began in North America. The fight was for the huge territories between the Allegheny and Mississippi Rivers and around the Great Lakes. In 1753 the French built forts along the Allegheny River in western Pennsylvania. The Governor of Virginia sent George Washington, then an unknown officer of militia, to the commander of the new forts to protest their presence. The French forces remained. Washington returned the next year with a small force and was defeated in the first battle of the war. On May 9, 1754 The Gazette carried a report from Washington, which described how French forces took over a small fort on the Monongahela River near present day Pittsburgh. With the Indians fighting on the side of the French, settlers all over Pennsylvania were in grave danger. Franklin understood the importance of this incident and he used a novel device to illustrate what the consequence could be. Beneath the news article was America’s first political cartoon, a snake broken into eight parts. The caption read JOIN, OR DIE. It was clear to Franklin the colonies must unite against the French. He sent the article and the cartoon to Pennsylvania’s agent in London. The Board of Trade in London was also aware of at least one problem with disunity. The French dealt with the Indians with one voice and one purse. They lavished gifts upon the Iroquois and other tribes and they didn’t settle on the land as the English did. The colonies dealt individually with the Indians and were therefore much weaker in the eyes of the natives. The authorities in London ordered their governors to come together to deal with the Iroquois nation. Franklin had barely returned from his first tour of the post offices when he was enlisted to represent Pennsylvania at a meeting of all the northern colonies in Albany, New York. Franklin’s ideas were different than the Board of Trade’s. He drafted a plan for a government formed through a union of the colonies under an executive officer appointed by the King and a council of representatives elected by the colonial assemblies. It was a model of fair government and the others in Albany accepted Franklin’s plan. Refining it became the business of the Albany Conference. They returned to their respective colonies and proposed it’s implementation but the governors and assemblies rejected it. They were happy to keep their powers and London found it far too ambitious. Isolated colonies were difficult enough to control. A united America would be impossible. But the idea of union had been proposed and the continent would never be the same. People on both sides of the Atlantic started to ask, “what if”, and the Americans, more and more, asked “why not”. Franklin, a loyal subject, saw unity and equitable representation in Parliament as a natural state and the logical solution to many of the problems facing the colonies. This would be his position and goal until 1775. He would repeatedly seek to convince English statesman and the King that Americans were loyal to the crown and they should have the rights and privileges of all Englishmen. The King and his government only saw the threat Americans posed to their power and as long as trade continued the rights of the colonists were unimportant. England sent troops to deal with the French and their allies, the Iroquois in February of 1755 and gave
command of them to Major General Edward Braddock. In April Franklin and his son William rode 120 miles to Frederick, Maryland and met with the General. Upon arrival the Franklins found him in an extremely agitated state with his American aide, George Washington, attempting to defend America’s reputation. The General was thoroughly disgusted with everything American. The supplies provided by colonial contractors for over 2200 men were completely inadequate. There were only twenty-five wagons and much of the food was spoiled. By then Braddock’s demands had been rejected by several governors and assemblies. He promised Franklin that if proper materiel and food wasn’t provided before he broke camp he would take what he needed as he traveled through Pennsylvania. Franklin knew this was no bluff and he assured Braddock the farmers of Pennsylvania would freely supply food, horses and wagons. He told the General that for 15 shillings a day he could get a team of four horses, a wagon and a driver. At that, the General took 100 pounds from his cash box and told Franklin to see to it. Once again Franklin put pen to paper. Several thousand copies of a handbill were made and distributed to the Quaker and German immigrant farmers of Lancaster, York and Cumberland Counties. In it Franklin told them the King’s “brave troops” would be in an exceedingly bad mood as they marched through Pennsylvania if the farmers didn’t accept “such good pay and reasonable terms”. He went on further to state their loyalty would be strongly suspected and the passage of the troops would be “attended with many and great inconveniences”. Those aware of the methods of European armies and their plundering knew full well what Franklin meant. The handbill was instrumental in securing the transport the Army would need but to guarantee that the Quaker farmers and others would not suffer Braddock’s rage, Franklin posted a personal bond for 20,000 pounds. Well before the deadline, 150 wagons with four-horse teams and 259 packhorses arrived in Braddock’s camp. Braddock was extremely pleased and the entire Army was aware of Franklin’s role. They were particularly impressed with the last clause in the handbill that identified one of Braddock’s commanders as a Hussar, a particularly ruthless line of German and Austrian cavalryman. Pennsylvania’s German immigrants knew full well what to expect from Hussars. As they waited for the horse teams to arrive Franklin and his son lodged with Braddock and his staff in a tavern. Braddock liked Franklin and he showed his new friend the route his army would take to Fort Duquesne on the forks of the Monongahela. While looking at the map, Franklin pictured the Redcoats strung out on the narrow trail. In single file Braddock’s men would form a line nearly four miles long! Couldn’t the Indians ambush an army spread out in such a manner and cut it into small pieces? Braddock assured him that although savages could defeat American troops the seasoned British troops would have no trouble. Braddock’s assessment of the Indian’s fighting ability was severely flawed and his disregard for the experience the French now had at wilderness warfare was foolish. In the dead of summer, 1755, word reached Philadelphia that on July 9th, Braddock was attacked just nine miles from Fort Duquesne. Nine hundred French and Indians fired from cover as the British assembled after crossing a river. For two hours they blasted the British. Most of the officers, mounted and easy targets, were killed first. The troops, in their bright red coats, and without officers to direct them, were quickly dispatched as well. Two-thirds of Braddock’s force of 1,300 men were killed or wounded and the rest fled. Washington led some of the men in an ordered retreat and he would report that in the end many of the British “broke and ran as sheep pursued by dogs.” Three-quarters of the officers were casualties and Braddock himself was mortally wounded, dying on the way back to Fort Necessity four days after the battle.
Franklin was stunned. The French fighting tactics were excellent and waiting until the British were at the end of their journey through the wilderness gave the French an advantage in the battle and a prize afterward. Braddock and his men were exhausted, and the road through the wilderness formed by the doomed army was now available for the French assault. For the rest of the summer and into the fall of 1755 farms and settlements as close as eighty miles from Philadelphia were attacked. The British retreated all the way to Philadelphia and on their way they plundered and stripped the inhabitants, leaving some families ruined. It was now up to the colonists to defend themselves. Raiding parties struck Berks and Northampton Counties. Settlers and their families were brutally killed and the survivors begged the governor, Robert Morris, for help. The governor and the Assembly argued over who should pay and when help didn’t come a thousand German immigrants with a wagon full of scalped corpses marched to the governor’s mansion in Philadelphia. The grisly procession then parked in front of the Assembly. Only a few days earlier, Thomas Penn donated 5,000 pounds to the cause and after the gruesome visit from the desperate farmers, the Assembly, under Franklin’s leadership, voted 60,000 pounds to raise and equip troops. In accordance with the bill written by Franklin a militia was formed. In late November of 1755 a Shawnee war party attacked the Moravian village of Gnadenhutten. All but a handful of people who escaped into the woods were massacred. Franklin was given the task to organize the region for defense. He put his son William, a British grenadier and veteran of service in King George’s War in charge of the military details while he handled political diplomacy. The two Franklin’s set out for Bethlehem and then Easton. Some in the assembly thought the Militia Bill was absurd and unworkable but when the settlers on the frontiers saw real leadership they volunteered and within weeks hundreds of men were under arms and calling Benjamin Franklin “General”. William and his father led an armed column in cold January rain through the narrow Lehigh Gap to Allentown. There they built Fort Allen and two smaller stockades to the east and west. By early February the region was secure. Franklin turned his command over to Colonel William Clapham, a professional Indian-fighter and returned to Philadelphia. The old battle between the Proprietors and the Assembly was now at a pitch. England’s new Commander-in-Chief of North America, Lord Loudon, demanded cash from Pennsylvania to support his northern offensive. “All estates, real and personal”, including the Proprietors’, were taxed. The governor and his council demanded so many exceptions for the proprietors that the effect was to relieve Thomas Penn and his family of almost all contribution. The Assembly was enraged and they decided to send an emissary to London to petition the King and a multitude of others to rescind the charter that placed Pennsylvania under the control of an absent and selfish master. For that complicated, challenging and politically charged task they selected Benjamin Franklin.
Chapter 14 To England Although a patriot, by now Franklin was growing less fond of many aspects of the political system under which he lived and served, a system built around favoritism and affiliations. The privileges granted the Penns were only one example. Franklin’s assessment of Lord Loudon’s conduct of the war detailed another. On the whole, I wonder’d much how such a man came to be intrusted with so important a business as the conduct of a great army; but, having since seen more of the great world, and the means of obtaining, and motives for giving places, my wonder is diminished. General Shirley, on whom the command of the army devolved upon the death of Braddock, would, in my opinion, if continued in place, have made a much better campaign than that of Loudoun in 1757, which was frivolous, expensive, and disgraceful to our nation beyond conception; for, tho’ Shirley was not a bred soldier, he was sensible and sagacious in himself, and attentive to good advice from others, capable of forming judicious plans, and quick and active in carrying them into execution. Loudoun, instead of defending the colonies with his great army, left them totally expos’d while he paraded idly at Halifax, by which means Fort George was lost, besides, he derang’d all our mercantile operations, and distress’d our trade, by a long embargo on the exportation of provisions, on pretence of keeping supplies from being obtain’d by the enemy, but in reality for beating down their price in favor of the contractors, in whose profits, it was said, perhaps from suspicion only, he had a share. And, when at length the embargo was taken off, by neglecting to send notice of it to Charlestown, the Carolina fleet was detain’d near three months longer, whereby their bottoms were so much damaged by the worm that a great part of them foundered in their passage home. The Pennsylvania Assembly sent its agent to London to correct the iniquities of the Penn’s charter and its successor document The Charter of Privileges. Franklin meant to fulfill that mission, but his ultimate goal was far more ambitious. He saw America eventually becoming the economic center of the British Empire. The motherland would remain the spiritual and political hub and the principles of the Magna Carta the guiding light but the vast area, population and resources of the New World would be the sustenance. Although the colonies had rejected his Albany Plan and the Board of Trade’s interest was too narrow, the King and his ministers might see how such a confederation would strengthen the Empire. Franklin hoped this would be the crowning achievement of his latter years. In a letter to his friend in England, the great Methodist preacher, George Whitefield, Franklin said: Life, like a dramatic Piece should not only be conducted with Regularity, but methinks it should finnish handsomely. Being now in the last act I begin to cast about for something fit to end with. Or if mine be more properly compar’d to an Epigram, as some of its few Lines are but barely tolerable, I am very desirous of concluding with a bright Point. On this, his second voyage to London, Franklin took his son William and although Franklin wanted Deborah’s company too, she refused. A terrible fear of the sea would keep her forever on shore. William, on the other hand, was thrilled and Franklin himself was delighted to be returning “home” to
England and to London herself, the spectacular metropolis and summit of imperial power. As worldly as Philadelphia fancied itself, it was a village compared to London and the Franklins were eager to explore this most exciting and enticing of European capitals. Their voyage was aboard a small packet ship called the General Wall. It was one of a half-dozen that carried mail, newspapers and military dispatches to and from London. Speed and maneuverability were paramount for these vessels in order to avoid and outrun the French privateers that preyed on English shipping. Constantly during the thirty-day crossing all hands and passengers were on the lookout for the marauder’s sails and on several occasions they outran pursuers. Franklin busied himself studying the ship itself and the peculiarities of each officer’s sailing techniques. The Captain, Walter Lutwidge, claimed his vessel could make thirteen knots. Another naval officer, Captain Archibald Kennedy, was on board and after a quick survey of the vessel and rigging he wagered Lutwidge’s claim was merely boast. Lutwidge ordered the ballast shifted and on a day when the wind was right the vessel did indeed make thirteen knots. Franklin was intrigued. Here were two experienced captains willing to place a wager on a vessel’s performance yet both should have known from examination the vessels capabilities. Franklin also noted that very often the watch officer would change the sails when he came on duty even though the officer before him had trimmed the sails to his liking. Franklin surmised that a set of experiments might be devised that would result in a table or set of data that would take the guesswork out of sailing and ship design. He also worked on the twenty-sixth edition of Poor Richard’s Almanac, the periodical he’d started years before and which was largely responsible for his wealth and fame. This one would have particular significance. In it he mentioned that other authors and critics said little in the past about his writing. He noted however how his axioms and adages were often repeated and cited by the common man. To illustrate this he described a scene supposedly witnessed by the fictional editor of the almanac, Richard Saunders, in which a certain “Father Abraham” advised a crowd waiting for a shop to open for a special sale. The old gentleman was asked about the taxes then being imposed. He replied, “Idleness taxes many of us much more… sloth like rust consumes faster than labor wears, while the used key is always bright, as Poor Richard says… Lost time is never found again and what we call time enough always proves little enough, let us then be up and be doing, and doing to the purpose, so by diligence shall we do more with less perplexity. Sloth makes all things difficult but industry all easy, as Poor Richard says.” Father Abraham went on in this vein for some time and his sermon was the preface for the 1758 and last edition of the almanac. It was reprinted under the title The Way to Wealth and it became an immensely popular self-help pamphlet, particularly in France where Franklin would serve in years to come. Since its original printing it has gone through over 1300 editions. William passed the time in the company of John Temple. This handsome, refined and witty young man was the Boston-born cousin of some of the most powerful men in England. Members of his family included three ministers; Lord Temple, the head of the House of Commons, George Grenville a future Prime Minister and William Pitt perhaps the greatest Englishman of his century. William hoped an association with John Temple would further his own career which already had considerable promise. Their last night aboard the General Wall was nearly their last night all together. From soundings taken on Saturday, July 16, Captain Lutwidge knew they were nearly to the Scilly Islands just off the southwest tip of England. He decided to ride a very brisk wind through the night and head straight for their destination, Falmouth. This would get them through the passage where French privateers were probably lurking when they
wouldn’t be seen, but it trusted to luck and the lookout that they would not crash on the rocks. The little ship rode huge swells through the night and the call to the lookout in the bow came very regularly, “Look well out before there,” and the answer, “Ay, ay.” After several hours the urgency of the call diminished and the response became automatic. The lookout might have dozed, for in the last crucial moments he failed to see the lighthouse dead ahead. With all its canvas spread and sails outboard the helmsman and the rest of the watch could not see forward but as they crested a wave they saw the lighthouse and the rock on which it stood and all cried out. Franklin and the others, with the exception of Captain Lutwidge who slept through it all, rushed on deck. Franklin said the light looked “as big as a cart wheel.” Captain Kennedy had his wits about him and shouted the order the “Wear ship!” This directed the helmsman to turn into the wind and with all sails out it was likely the masts would snap. The rigging strained and the masts groaned but didn’t break. They sped past the rocks and back out into open water, narrowly escaping a terrible crash. A thick fog obscured the dawn but by taking soundings Captain Lutwidge was able to guide them to Falmouth harbor. At nine o’clock the fog lifted as Franklin said, “like the curtain at a playhouse,” revealing the harbor, the town and the fields surrounding it.
Part 9 – 1757 to 1762 – Limits on Proprietorship Chapter 15 Realization As they went ashore that fine Sunday morning, church bells rang. Franklin wrote to Deborah later that day: “… and with hearts full of gratitude, returned sincere thanks to God for the mercies we had received… If I were Roman Catholic, perhaps I should on this occasion vow to build a chapel to some saint, but as I am not, if I were to vow at all, it should be to build a lighthouse.” Deborah was vindicated in her refusal to accompany her husband and risk destruction on the sea. William too must have been more respectful of her fears for he wrote to Elizabeth Graeme, the love he left behind, “Dearest Betsy, let the pleasures of this country be ever so great, they are dearly earn’d by a voyage across the Atlantick. Few are the inducements that will tempt me to pass the ocean again, if ever I am so happy to return to my native country.” Father and son rode through the green countryside of southwest England to Salisbury Plain where they stopped to view ancient Stonehenge. From there they went to Lord Pembroke’s house to view the gardens and nearby medieval ruins and then on to London, where they arrived on the 27th of July, 1757. Franklin wasted no time tending to his mission. After settling in his lodgings and paying respects to a few old friends he called on Dr. John Fothergill. Fothergill was an excellent and prominent physician and a friend of the Quakers. He was very well connected in England and Franklin was told to seek his advice before forming any plans. Fothergill told Franklin the timing of his mission was poor. The nation was fighting a war on three continents and two oceans and the conflict between one colony and its proprietor was of very minor concern to the ministers that Franklin needed to influence. Furthermore, trying to affect government policy without intimate knowledge of the various offices and their priorities, personalities and politics would be far more likely to hurt their cause than further it. He urged Franklin to seek cooperation from Thomas Penn himself. Franklin agreed with Fothergill but before the meeting with William Penn’s son was arranged, John Hanbury, a wealthy Virginia tobacco merchant, called on Franklin and asked if he might introduce Franklin to Lord Grenville, then president of the Privy Council. As head of the Crown’s principal advisory body and conduit to the rest of the government Grenville was quite powerful, particularly in regard to American affairs. Their meeting did not go well. They had a fundamental disagreement about the role of the colonial assemblies. Grenville told Franklin, “You Americans have wrong ideas of the nature of your constitution. You contend that the king’s instructions to his governors are not laws, and think yourselves at liberty to regard or disregard them at your discretion.” He went on to say any such instructions are first drawn up by judges, carefully reviewed and, in some cases amended in Council, then signed by the king. “They are then, as far as they relate to you, the law of the land, for the king is the legislator of the colonies.” Franklin replied, “This is new doctrine to me. I always understood from our charters that our laws were to be made by our Assemblies, to be presented indeed to the king for his royal assent, but that being once given the king could not repeal or alter them. And as the Assemblies could not make permanent laws without his assent, so neither could he make a law for them without theirs.” Franklin’s assertion was based on a clause in a bill passed by Parliament twenty years earlier but Grenville assured him he was totally mistaken.
Lord Grenville’s words and interpretations must have made an important impression on Franklin. He may have been chilled. If a nobleman of Grenville’s stature had such an attitude toward America, others certainly did as well and Franklin’s task would be difficult if not insurmountable. His meeting with Thomas Penn was no more encouraging. After some days, Dr. Fothergil, having spoken to the proprietaries, they agreed to a meeting with me at Mr. T. Penn’s house in Spring Garden. The conversation at first consisted of mutual declarations of disposition to reasonable accommodations, but I suppose each party had its own ideas of what should be meant by reasonable. We then went into consideration of our several points of complaint, which I enumerated. The proprietaries justify’d their conduct as well as they could, and I the Assembly’s. We now appeared very wide, and so far from each other in our opinions as to discourage all hope of agreement. However, it was concluded that I should give them the heads of our complaints in writing, and they promis’d then to consider them. I did so soon after, but they put the paper into the hands of their solicitor, Ferdinand John Paris, who managed for them all their law business in their great suit with the neighbouring proprietary of Maryland, Lord Baltimore, which had subsisted 70 years, and wrote for them all their papers and messages in their dispute with the Assembly. He was a proud, angry man, and as I had occasionally in the answers of the Assembly treated his papers with some severity, they being really weak in point of argument and haughty in expression, he had conceived a mortal enmity to me, which discovering itself whenever we met, I declin’d the proprietary’s proposal that he and I should discuss the heads of complaint between our two selves, and refus’d treating with any one but them. They then by his advice put the paper into the hands of the Attorney and Solicitor-General for their opinion and counsel upon it, where it lay unanswered a year wanting eight days, during which time I made frequent demands of an answer from the proprietaries, but without obtaining any other than that they had not yet received the opinion of the Attorney and Solicitor-General. What it was when they did receive it I never learnt, for they did not communicate it to me, but sent a long message to the Assembly drawn and signed by Paris, reciting my paper, complaining of its want of formality, as a rudeness on my part, and giving a flimsy justification of their conduct, adding that they should be willing to accommodate matters if the Assembly would send out some person of candour to treat with them for that purpose, intimating thereby that I was not such. The want of formality or rudeness was, probably, my not having address’d the paper to them with their assum’d titles of True and Absolute Proprietaries of the Province of Pennsylvania, which I omitted as not thinking it necessary in a paper, the intention of which was only to reduce to a certainty by writing, what in conversation I had delivered viva voce. When working with men of good faith, Franklin was amiable and generous. His proposals, like the switch from beer drinking in the London printing shop, were often good for all parties. He arrived at the correct solutions through the use of the same powers of observation that made him a competent scientist and he was imbued with an innate understanding of human nature and a love for humankind. Franklin’s thoughtfulness when dealing with others was often disarming. Some of his adversaries took his good nature as an indication of
duplicity and it must have boosted the confidence of others but it was a mistake to ever underestimate Benjamin Franklin. He was as tenacious as Churchill and he lived by the words of Poor Richard, â€œHe that can have patience can have what he will.â€?
Chapter 16 Victory While the Solicitor-General and his bureaucracy slowly reviewed the complaints posed in the paper given to Penn’s attorney, Benjamin and William Franklin and Richard Jackson, a lawyer, amateur scientist and friend, wrote a book entitled, An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania. William did most of the writing but his father’s hand was evident throughout. The motto on the title page read, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty or safety.” It was an engaging work with stories of the hardships suffered by the early settlers and it was very critical of William Penn and his descendants. It gave accounts of the injustices inflicted upon the Indians at a time when the North American indigenous peoples were being romanticized in popular literature. In addition to the book, Franklin continued writing letters and essays. The restrictions on the liberties of England’s subjects in America would be known. He and William also toured the British Isles. First they visited the ancestral home of the Franklins in Ecton, England where they found cousins and the house where generations of their family lived and which was still known as the “Franklin House.” They went on to Coventry and on the way visited many of Deborah’s relatives. Seeing the country they loved and hearing the tales of generations past had a profound affect on William Franklin. Before their trip William was an Englishman and an American, but their travels through the motherland solidified the attachment that would latter tear him from America and his father’s heart. They toured Scotland and stayed in the homes of her most prominent citizens. The elder Franklin was made burgess and guild brother of Edinburgh and he received a Doctor of Laws degree from the University of St. Andrews. From then on his friends called him “Doctor Franklin”. He and William enjoyed themselves immensely. Back in London he told Lord Kames, one of the gentleman who hosted the Franklin’s in Scotland, “On the whole I must say, I think the time we spent [in Scotland] was six weeks of the densest happiness I have met with in any part of my life.” His time in London was not always so pleasant despite the many warm friendships he developed there. His progress toward reconciling the differences between Penn and the Assembly was slow and although the war with the French ended while the Franklins were in Scotland, criticism of Americans in the press and in Parliament continued. Franklin found himself regularly defending his countrymen in writing and in conversation. Through the newspapers, magazines and perhaps especially the taverns of London, Franklin was gaining influence. Thomas Penn countered by orchestrating personal attacks on Franklin and even went so far as to claim, through William Smith, the clergyman Franklin hired as head of the Philadelphia Academy, that Franklin’s work in electricity was actually performed by another. Smith wrote to Oxford University, asserting Franklin didn’t deserve the Doctor of Laws degree that was about to be bestowed upon him. The men at the University knew the truth of the matter and awarded Franklin the degree but the libelous accusations were upsetting and some took them seriously. Another problem was even more troublesome. William, like his father before him, sired an illegitimate son whom he named William Temple Franklin. Since William’s only income was what he received as comptroller of the Philadelphia post office, Benjamin Franklin provided the funds to care for the boy. Finally, in August of 1760, Franklin’s steady labors and a number of circumstances converged. William Pitt, an American supporter, was the Prime Minister guiding the British war effort. Access to him was extremely
limited so Franklin had resolved to work through Pitt’s secretaries. But when word came that the Committee of Plantation Affairs of the Privy Council was opposing a money bill in the Pennsylvania Assembly; a bill that would tax the Proprietors estates at the same rate as all others, Franklin became frantic. He managed to get a letter in the hands of Pitt who took time from more pressing matters to review the Pennsylvania matter. At the same time Franklin enlisted the help of powerful merchants in the Pennsylvania trade. The result was a conference between Franklin and his lawyer and the Committee. By now Franklin’s popular campaign had born fruit and many in the Committee were influenced by it. They approved the compromise Franklin proposed and the Privy Council and the King gave their assent. The Penns from then on would be taxed the same as others. This was the task Franklin was sent to accomplish and it was a great victory. Through a similar series of events, William would achieve his goal as well. Once established among a certain set of political elite in London, William sought a government appointment. He would have been satisfied with a judgeship or customs post but the position he was finally given was far more important, for him and his father. William was appointed Governor of New Jersey! The events that led to the appointment began with the death of George II in the autumn of 1760. His grandson, George III, only twenty-two, ascended the throne and a new group of men entered the inner circle of imperial power. The new king was devoted to his tutor, Lord Bute, a Scot. Bute’s physician, John Pringle, was a close friend of both Franklins. Pringle suggested to Bute that William would be a good choice for governor of Pennsylvania’s eastern neighbor and the appointment followed. It was now the summer of 1762 and with their respective goals achieved it was time for Franklin to return to Philadelphia. William would stay until September for the formal appointment to his new post but Benjamin left for home in August and arrived in Philadelphia in October. Leaving England was difficult for Franklin. Very strong friendships were formed. William Strahan, the Scot printer and publisher who had been Franklin’s regular companion and colleague would be particularly missed as would Franklin’s landlady and her daughter. Margaret Stevenson and her daughter Polly were devoted to Dr. Franklin. He became family to them. Polly thought of him as the father she had lost and Franklin cherished her as well. To Strahan he wrote, “The attraction of reason is at present for the other side of the water, but that of inclination will be for this side. You know which usually prevails. I shall probably make but this one vibration and settle here forever. Nothing will prevent it, if I can, as I hope I can, prevail with Mrs. F. to accompany me.” In his farewell letter to Polly he wrote, “Adieu, my dearest child: I will call you so; why should I not call you so, since I love you with all the tenderness, all the fondness of a father? Adieu.” So he returned to Philadelphia, victorious in his battle with the Penns but without the fulfillment of his dream to unite the colonies and glorify the Empire. His final “Bright Point” was yet to come.
At The Age Of Fifty-Three In 1759