Benjamin Franklin


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Benjamin FranklinFranklin, BENJAMIN, statesman; born in Boston, Jan. 17, 1706. His father was from England; his mother was a daughter of Peter Folger, the Quaker poet of Nantucket. He learned the art of printing with his brother; but due to disagreements, Benjamin left Boston when seventeen years of age, sought employment in New York. Not succeeding there, he went to Philadelphia. He soon attracted the attention of Governor Keith as a very bright lad, who, making him a promise of the government printing, induced young Franklin, at the age of eighteen, to go to England and purchase printing material. He was deceived, and remained there eighteen months, working as a journeyman printer in London. He returned to Philadelphia late in 1726, and in 1729 established himself there as a printer. He started the Pennsylvania Gazette, and married Deborah Read, a young woman whose husband had absconded. For many years he published an almanac under the assumed name of Richard Saunders. It became widely known as Poor Richard's Almanac, as it contained many wise and useful maxims, mostly from the ancients. Franklin was soon marked as a wise, prudent, and sagacious man, full of well-directed public spirit. He was the chief founder of the Philadelphia Library in 1731. He became clerk of the Provincial Assembly in 1736, and postmaster of Philadelphia the next year. He was the founder of the University of Pennsylvania and the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia in 1744, and was elected a member of the Provincial Assembly in 1750. In 1753 he was appointed deputy postmaster for the English-American colonies; and in 1754 he was a delegate to the Colonial Congress of Albany, in which he prepared a plan of union for the colonies, which was the basis of the Articles of Confederation adopted by Congress more than twenty years afterwards.

Benjamin Franklin's Experiment With Kite

Benjamin Franklin's Electrical Experiments with the Kite

Franklin had begun his investigations and experiments in electricity, by which he demonstrated its identity with lightning as early as 1746. The publication of his account of these experiments procured for him membership in the Royal Society, the Copley gold medal, and the degree of LL.D. from Oxford and Edinburgh in 1762. Harvard and Yale colleges had previously conferred upon him the decree of Master of Arts. Franklin was for many years a member of the Assembly and advocated the rights of the people in opposition to the claims of the proprietaries; and in 1764 he was sent to England as agent of the colonial legislature, in which capacity he afterwards acted for several other colonies. His representation to the British ministry, in 1765-66, of the temper of the Americans on the subject of taxation by Parliament did much in effecting the repeal of the Stamp Act. He tried to avert the calamity of a rupture between Great Britain and her colonies; but, failing in this, he returned to America in 1775, after which he was constantly employed at home and abroad in the service of his countrymen struggling for political independence.

General Franklin as an ApprenticeIn Congress, he advocated, helped to prepare and signed the Declaration of Independence; and in the fall of 1776 he was sent as ambassador to France, as the colleague of Silas Deane and Arthur Lee. To him was chiefly due the successful negotiation of the treaty of alliance with France, and he continued to represent his country there until 1785, when he returned home. While he was in France, and residing at Passy in 1777, a medallion likeness of him was made in the red clay of that region.  He took an important part in the negotiation of the treaties of peace. In 1786 he was elected governor of Pennsylvania, and served one term; and he was a leading member in the convention, in 1787, that framed the national Constitution. His last public act was the signing of a memorial to Congress on the subject of slavery by the Abolition Society of Pennsylvania, of which he was the founder and president. Dr. Franklin performed extraordinary labors of usefulness for his fellow-men. In addition to scientific and literary institutions, he was the founder of the first fire-company in Philadelphia in 1738; organized a volunteer military association for the defense of the province in 1744; and was colonel of a regiment, and built forts for the defense of the frontiers in 1755. He was the inventor of the FRANKLIN STOVE, which in modified forms is still in use. He was also the inventor of the lightning-rod. Franklin left two children, a son, William, and a daughter. He died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 17, 1790.

Benjamin Franklin Sent to England

In 1752 the Pennsylvania, Assembly, yielding to the urgency of public affairs in the midst of war, voted a levy of $500,000 without insisting upon their claim to tax the proprietary estates. They protested that they did it through compulsion; and they sent Franklin to England as their agent to urge their complaint against the proprietaries. This was his first mission abroad. At the beginning of the French and Indian War (1754) the colonists, as well as the royal governors, saw the necessity of a colonial union in order to present a solid front of British subjects to the French. Dr. Franklin labored  earnestly to this end, and in 1755 he went to Boston to confer with Governor Shirley on the subject. At the governor's house they discussed the subject long and earnestly. Shirley was favorable to union, but he desired it to be effected by the fiat of the British government and by the spontaneous act of the colonists. Franklin, on the contrary, animated by a love of popular liberty, would not consent to that method of forming a colonial union. He knew the true source of power was lodged with the people, and that a good government should be formed by the people for the people; and he left Shirley in disappointment. Shirley not only condemned the idea of a popular colonial government, but assured Franklin that he should immediately propose a plan of union to the ministry and Parliament, and also a tax on the colonies.

In February, 1766, Dr. Franklin was examined before the House of Commons relative to the STAMP ACT. At that examination he fairly illustrated the spirit which animated the colonies. When asked, " Do you think the people of America would submit to the stamp duty if it were moderated?" he answered, " No, never, unless compelled by force of arms." To the question," What was the temper of America towards Great Britain before the year 1763?" 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 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 peculiar regard. To be an  'Old England man' was of itself a character of some respect, and gave a kind of rank among us." It was asked, " What is their temper now?" and Franklin replied, " Oh, very much altered." He declared that all laws of Parliament had been held valid by the Americans, excepting such as laid internal taxes; and that its authority was never disputed in levying duties to regulate commerce. When asked, "Can you name any act of Assembly or public act of your government that made such distinction?" Franklin replied, " I do not know that there was any; I think there never was occasion to make such an act till now that you have attempted to tax us; that has occasioned acts of Assembly declaring the distinction, on which, I think, every Assembly on the continent, and every member of every Assembly, have been unanimous." This examination was one of the causes which led to a speedy repeal of the Stamp Act.

Benjamin Franklin's PressLate in 1773 Dr. Franklin presented to Lord Dartmouth, to be laid before the King, a petition from Massachusetts for the removal of Governor Hutchinson and Chief - Justice Oliver from office. They were charged with conspiracy against the colony, as appeared by certain letters which had been published. A rumor found utterance in the newspapers that the letters had been dishonestly obtained through John Temple, who had been permitted to examine the papers of the deceased Mr. Whately, to whom the letters were addressed. That permission had been given by William Whately, brother and executor of the deceased. Whately never made a suggestion that Temple had taken the letters away, but he published such an evasive card that it seemed not to relieve Temple from the implication. The latter challenged Whately to mortal combat. They fought, but were unhurt. Another duel was likely to ensue, when Dr. Franklin, to prevent bloodshed, publicly said: " I alone am the person who obtained and transmitted to Boston the letters in question." This frank and courageous avowal drew upon him the wrath of the ministry. He was summoned before the privy council (Jan. 8, 1774) to consider the petition. He appeared with counsel. A crowd was presentónot less than thirty-five peers. Wedderburn, the solicitor-general (of whom the King said, at his death, " He has not left a greater knave behind him in my kingdom "), abused Franklin most shamefully with unjust and coarse invectives, while not an emotion was manifested in the face of the abused statesman. The ill-bred lords of that day seconded Wedderburn's abuse by derisive laughter, instead of treating Franklin with decency. At the end of the solictor's ribald speech the petition was dismissed as "groundless, scandalous, and vexatious." " I have never been so sensible of the power of a good conscience," Franklin said to Dr. Priestley, with whom he breakfasted the next morning. When he went home from the council he laid aside the suit of clothes he wore, making a vow that he would never put them on again until he should sign the degradation of England by a dismemberment of the British Empire and the independence of America. He kept his word, and, as commissioner for negotiating peace almost ten years afterwards, he performed the act that permitted him to wear the garments again.

Benjamin Franklin in England

Benjamin Franklin standing before the Lords in Council in Whitehall Chapel, London in 1774, presenting the concerns of the American colonists

Franklin, in England in 1774, was a perfect enigma to the British ministry. They were perplexed with doubts of the intentions of the defiant colonists. They believed Franklin possessed the coveted secret, and tried in vain to draw it from him. He was an expert chess-player, and well known as such. Lord Howe (afterwards admiral on our coast) was intimate with leading ministers. His sister-in-law, Mrs. Howe, was also an expert chess-player, and an adroit diplomatist. She sent Franklin an invitation to her house to play chess, with the hope that in the freedom of social conversation she might obtain the secret. He went; was charmed with the lady's mind and manners ; played a few games; and accepted an invitation to repeat the visit and the amusement. On his second visit, after playing a short time, they entered into conversation, when Mrs. Howe put questions adroitly to the sage, calculated to elicit the information she desired. He answered without reserve and with apparent frankness. He was introduced to her brother, Lord Howe, and talked freely with him on the subject of the great dispute; but, having early perceived the designs of the diplomatists, his usual caution had never allowed him to betray a single secret worth preserving. At the end of several interviews, enlivened by chess-playing, his questioners were no wiser than at the beginning.

While the Continental Congress was in session in the fall of 1774, much anxiety was felt in political circles in England concerning the result. The ministry, in particular, were anxious to know, and Franklin was solicited by persons high in authority to promulgate the extent of the demands of his countrymen. So urgent were these requests that, without waiting to receive a record of the proceedings of the Congress, he prepared a paper entitled Hints for Conversation upon the Subject of Terms that may probably produce a durable Union between Britain and the Colonies, in seventeen propositions. The substance of the whole was that the colonies should be reinstated in the position which they held, in relation to the imperial government, before the obnoxious acts then complained of became laws, by a repeal, and by a destruction of the whole brood of enactments in reference to America hatched since the accession of George III. In a word, he proposed that English subjects in America should enjoy all the essential rights and privileges claimed as the birthright of subjects in England. Nothing came of the Hints.

After the attack by Wedderburne when before the privy council, and his dismissal from the office of postmaster-general for the colonies, Franklin was subjected to the danger of arrest, and possibly a trial, for treason; for the ministry, angry because he had exposed Hutchinson's letters, made serious threats. Conscious of rectitude, he neither left England then nor swerved a line from his course of duty. When, in February, 1776, Lord North endeavored to find out from him what the Americans wanted, "We desire nothing," said Franklin, " but what is necessary to our security and well-being." After stating that some of the obnoxious acts would probably be repealed, Lord North said the Massachusetts acts must be continued, both "as real amendments" of the constitution of that province, and " as a standing example of the power of Parliament." Franklin replied: "While Parliament claims the right of altering American constitutions at pleasure, there can be no agreement, for we are rendered unsafe in every privilege." North answered: "An agreement is necessary for America; it is so easy for Britain to burn all your seaport towns." Franklin coolly answered: " My little property consists in houses in those towns; you may make bonfires of them whenever you please; the fear of losing them will never alter my resolution to resist to the last the claim of Parliament."

Mr. Strahan, of London, had been a sort of go-between through whom Dr. Franklin had communicated with Lord North. On July 5, 1776, Franklin wrote to him: " 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."

Benjamin Franklin's Reception in France

Benjamin Franklin's Reception in France

Late in the autumn of 1776 Dr. Franklin was sent as a diplomatic agent to France in the ship Reprisal. The passage occupied thirty days, during which that vessel had been chased by British cruisers and had taken two British brigantines as prizes. He landed at Nantes on Dec. 7. Europe was surprised, for no notice had been given of his coming. His fame was world-wide. The courts were filled with conjectures. The story was spread in England that he was a fugitive for safety. Burke said, " I never will believe that he is going to conclude a long life, which has brightened every hour it has continued, with so foul and dishonorable a flight." On the Continent it was rightly concluded that he was on an important mission. To the French people he spoke frankly, saying that twenty successful campaigns could not subdue the Americans; that their decision for independence was irrevocable; and that they would be forever independent States. On the morning of December 28, Franklin, with the other commissioners (Silas Deane and Arthur Lee), waited upon Vergennes, the French minister for foreign affairs, when he presented the plan of Congress for a treaty. Vergennes spoke of the attachment of the French nation to the American cause; requested a paper from Franklin on the condition of America; and that, in future, intercourse with the sage might be in secret, without the intervention of a third person. Personal friendship between these two distinguished men became strong and abiding. He told Franklin that as Spain and France were in perfect accord he might communicate freely with the Spanish minister, the Count de Aranda. With him the commissioners held secret but barren interviews as Aranda would only promise the freedom of Spanish ports to American vessels.

Benjamin Franklin Traveling to France

Vindication of the Colonies.

-On June, 15, 1775, Franklin issued the following address to the public:

Forasmuch as the enemies of America in the Parliament of Great Britain, to render us odious to the nation, and give an ill impression of us in the minds of other European powers, having represented us as unjust and ungrateful in the highest degree; asserting, on every occasion, that the colonies were settled at the expense of Britain; that they were, at the expense of the same, protected in their infancy; that they now ungratefully and unjustly refuse to contribute to their own protection, and the common defense of the nation; that they intend an abolition of the navigation acts; and that they are fraudulent in their commercial dealings, and propose to cheat their creditors in Britain, by avoiding the payment of their just debts; And as by frequent repetitions these groundless assertions and malicious calumnies may, if not contradicted and refuted, obtain further credit, and be injurious throughout Europe to the reputation and interest of the Confederate colonies, it seems proper and necessary to examine them in our own just vindication.

With regard to the first, that the colonies were settled at the expense of Britain, it is a known fact that none of the twelve united colonies were settled, or even discovered, at the expense of England. Henry VII., indeed, granted a commission to Sebastian Cabot, a Venetian, and his sons to sail into western seas for the discovery of new countries; but it was to be "suis corum propriis sumptibus et expensis," at their own cost and charges. They discovered, but soon slighted and neglected these northern territories; which were, after more than a hundred years' dereliction, purchased of the natives, and settled at the charge and by the labor of private men and bodies of men, our ancestors, who came over hither for that purpose. But our adversaries have never been able to produce any record that ever the Parliament or government of England was at the smallest expense on these ac-counts; on the contrary, there exists on the journals of Parliament a solemn declaration in 1642 (only twenty-two years after the first settlement of the Massachusetts colony, when, if such expense had ever been incurred, some of the members must have known and remembered it), " that these colonies had been planted and established without any expense to the state."

New York is the only colony in the founding of which England can pretend to have been at any expense, and that was only the charge of a small armament to take it from the Dutch, who planted it. But to retain this colony at the peace, another at that time fully as valuable, planted by private countrymen of ours, was given up by the crown to the Dutch in exchange-viz., Surinam, now a wealthy sugar colony in Guiana, and which, but for that cession, might still have remained in our possession. Of late, indeed, Britain has been at some expense in planting two colonies, Georgia and Nova Scotia, but those are not in our confederacy; and the expense she has been at in their name has chiefly been in grants of sums unnecessarily large, by way of salaries to officers sent from England, and in jobs to friends, whereby dependants might be provided for; those excessive grants not being requisite to the welfare and good government of the colonies, which good government (as experience in many instances of other colonies has taught us) may be much more frugally, and full as effectually, provided for and supported.

With regard to the second assertion, that these colonies were protected in their infant state by England, it is a notorious fact, that, in none of the many wars with the Indian natives, sustained by our infant settlements for a century after our arrival, were ever any troops or forces of any kind sent from England to assist us; nor were any forts built at her expense, to secure our seaports from foreign invaders; nor any ships of war sent to protect our trade till many years after our first settlement, when our commerce became an object of revenue, or of advantage to British merchants; and then it was thought necessary to have a frigate in some of our ports, during peace, to give weight to the authority of custom-house officers, who were to restrain that commerce for the benefit of England. Our own arms, with our poverty, and the care of a kind Providence, were all this time our only protection; while we were neglected by the English government; which either thought us not worth its care, or, having no good will to some of us, on account of our different sentiments in religion and politics, was indifferent what became of us.

On the other hand, the colonies have not been wanting to do what they could in every war for annoying the enemies of Britain. They formerly assisted her in the conquest of Nova Scotia. In the war before last they took Louisburg, and put it into her hands. She made her peace with that strong fortress by restoring it to France, greatly to their detriment. In the last war, it is true, Britain sent a fleet and army, who acted with an equal army of ours, in the reduction of Canada, and perhaps thereby did more for us, than we in our preceding wars had done for her. Let it be remembered, however, that she rejected the plan we formed in the Congress at Albany, in 1754, for our own defense, by a union of the colonies; a union she was jealous of, and therefore chose to send her own forces; otherwise her aid to protect us was not wanted. And from our first settlement to that time, her military operations in our favor were small, compared with the advantages she drew from her exclusive commerce with us. We are, however, willing to give full weight to this obligation ; and, as we are daily growing stronger, and our assistance to her becomes of more importance, we should with pleasure embrace the first opportunity of showing our gratitude by returning the favor in kind.

Ben Franklin in FranceBut, when Britain values herself as affording us protection, we desire it may be considered that we have followed her in all her wars, and joined with her at our own expense against all she thought fit to quarrel with. This she has required of us; and would never permit us to keep peace with any power she declared her enemy; though by separate treaties we might have done it. Under such circumstances, when at her instance we made nations our enemies, we submit it to the common-sense of mankind, whether her protection of us in those wars was not our just due, and to be claimed of right, instead of being received as a favor? And whether, when all the parts exert themselves to do the utmost in their common defense, and in annoying the common enemy, it is not as well the parts that protect the whole, as the whole that protects the parts? The protection then has been proportionately mutual. And whenever the time shall come that our abilities may as far exceed hers as hers have exceeded ours, we hope we shall be reason-able enough to rest satisfied with her proportionable exertions, and not think we do too much for a part of the empire, when that part does as much as it can for the whole.

To charge against us that we refuse to contribute to our own protection, appears from the above to be groundless; but we further declare it to be absolutely false; for it is well known, that 'we ever held it as our duty to grant aids to the crown, upon requisition, towards carrying on its wars; which duty we have cheerfully complied with, to the utmost of our abilities, insomuch that prudent and grateful acknowledgments thereof by King and Parliament appear on the records. But, as Britain has enjoyed a most gainful monopoly of our commerce; the same, with our maintaining the dignity of the King's representative in each colony, and all our own separate establishments of government, civil and military; has ever hitherto been deemed an equivalent for such aids as might otherwise be expected from us in time of peace. And we hereby declare that on a reconciliation with Britain, we shall not only continue to grant aids in time of war, as aforesaid; but whenever she shall think fit to abolish her monopoly, and give us the same privileges of trade as Scotland received at the union, and allow us a free commerce with the rest of the world; we shall willingly agree (and we doubt not it will be ratified by our constituents) to give and pay into the sinking fund £100,000 sterling per annum for the term of 100 years, which duly, faithfully, and inviolably applied to that purpose, is demonstrably more than sufficient to extinguish all her present national debt; since it will in that time amount, at legal British interest, to more than £230,000,000.

But if Britain does not think fit to accept this proposition, we, in order to remove her groundless jealousies, that we aim at independence and an abolition of the navigation act (which hath in truth never been our intention), and to avoid all future disputes about the right of making that and other acts for regulating our commerce, do hereby declare ourselves ready and willing to enter into a covenant with Britain, that she shall fully possess, enjoy, and exercise the right, for 100 years to come; the same being bona fide used for the common benefit; and, in case of such agreement, that every Assembly be advised by us to confirm it solemnly by laws of their own, which, once made, cannot be repealed without the assent of the crown.

The last charge, that we are dishonest traders, and aim at defrauding our credit-ors in Britain, is sufficiently and authentically refuted by the solemn declarations of the British merchants to Parliament (both at the time of the Stamp Act and in the last session), who bore ample testimony to the general good faith and fair dealing of the Americans, and declared their confidence in our integrity; for which we refer to their petitions on the journals of the House of Commons. And we presume we may safely call on the body of the British tradesmen, who have had experience of both, to say, whether they have not received much more punctual payment from us, than they generally have from the members of their own two Houses of Parliament.

On the whole of the above it appears that the charge of ingratitude towards the mother - country, brought with so much confidence against the colonies, is totally without foundation; and that there is much more reason for retorting that charge on Britain, who, not only never contributes any aid, nor affords, by an exclusive commerce, any advantages to Saxony, her mother - country ; but no longer since than in the last war, without the least provocation, subsidized the King of Prussia while he ravaged that mother-country, and carried fire and sword into its capital, the fine city of Dresden ! An example we hope no provocation will induce us to imitate.

Benjamin Franklin's Return to Philadelphia

Benjamin Franklin's Return to Philadelphia in 1785



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