Benjamin Franklin, A Picture of the Struggles of Our Infant Nation One Hundred Years Ago - American Pioneers and Patriots Series
by John S. C. Abbott
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His influential and wealthy friend, Mr. Strahan, was anxious to unite their two families by the marriage of his worthy and prosperous son to Mr. Franklin's beautiful daughter, Sarah. But the plan failed. Franklin also made an effort to marry his only son William, who, it will be remembered, was not born in wedlock, to a very lovely English lady, Miss Stephenson. But this young man, who, renouncing revealed religion, was a law unto himself, had already become a father without being a husband. Miss Stephenson had probably learned this fact and, greatly to the disappointment of Franklin, declined the alliance. The unhappy boy, the dishonored son of a dishonored father, was born about the year 1760. Nothing is known of what became of the discarded mother. He received the name of William Temple Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin, as in duty bound, recognized him as his grandson, and received him warmly to his house and his heart. The reader will hereafter become better acquainted with the character and career of this young man. In the spring of 1762, Franklin commenced preparations for his return home. He did not reach Philadelphia until late in the autumn. Upon his departure from England, the University of Oxford conferred upon him the distinction of an honorary degree.

William Franklin, though devoid of moral principle, was a man of highly respectable abilities, of pleasing manners, and was an entertaining companion. Lord Bute, who was in power, was the warm friend of Dr. Franklin. He therefore caused his son William to be appointed governor of New Jersey. It is positively asserted that Franklin did not solicit the favor. Indeed it was not a very desirable office. Its emoluments amounted to but about three thousand dollars a year. The governorship of the colonies was generally conferred upon the needy sons of the British aristocracy. So many of them had developed characters weak and unworthy, that they were not regarded with much esteem.

William Franklin was married on the 2d of September, 1762, to Miss Elizabeth Downes. The announcement of the marriage in London, and of his appointment to the governorship of New Jersey, created some sensation. Mr. John Penn, son of one of the proprietaries, and who was soon to become governor of Pennsylvania, affected great indignation in view of the fact that William Franklin was to be a brother governor. He wrote to Lord Stirling,

"It is no less amazing than true, that Mr. William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia, is appointed to be governor of the province of New Jersey. I make no doubt that the people of New Jersey will make some remonstrances at this indignity put upon them. You are full as well acquainted with the character and principles of this person as myself, and are as able to judge of the impropriety of such an appointment. What a dishonor and a disgrace it must be to a country to have such a man at the head of it, and to sit down contented. I should hope that some effort will be made before our Jersey friends would put up with such an insult. If any gentleman had been appointed, it would have been a different case. But I cannot look upon the person in question in that light by any means. I may perhaps be too strong in my expressions, but I am so extremely astonished and enraged at it, that I am hardly able to contain myself at the thought of it."

Franklin sailed from Portsmouth the latter part of August. Quite a fleet of American merchantmen sailed together. The weather during a voyage of nine weeks, was most of the time delightful. Often the vessels glided along so gently over a waveless sea, that the passengers could visit, and exchange invitations for dinner parties.

On the first of November, Franklin reached his home. He had been absent nearly six years. All were well. His daughter, whom he had left a child of twelve, was now a remarkably beautiful and accomplished maiden of eighteen. Franklin was received not only with affection, but with enthusiasm. The Assembly voted him fifteen thousand dollars for his services in England.

His son William, with his bride, did not arrive until the next February. Franklin accompanied him to New Jersey. The people there gave the governor a very kind greeting. He took up his residence in Burlington, within fifteen miles of the home of his father.

Franklin had attained the age of fifty-seven. He was in perfect health, had an ample fortune, and excelled most men in his dignified bearing and his attractive features. Probably there never was a more happy man. He had leisure to devote himself to his beloved sciences. It was his dream, his castle in the air, to withdraw from political life, and devote the remainder of his days to philosophical research.

In the year 1763 terminated the seven years' war. There was peace in Europe, peace on the ocean, but not peace along the blood crimsoned frontiers of the wilderness of America. England and France had been hurling savage warriors by tens of thousands against each other, and against the helpless emigrants in their defenceless villages and their lonely cabins. The belligerent powers of Europe, in their ambitious struggles, cared very little for the savages of North America. Like the hungry wolf they had lapped blood. Plunder had become as attractive to them as to the privateersman and the pirate. During the summer of 1763, the western regions of Pennsylvania were fearfully ravaged by these fierce bands. Thousands of settlers were driven from their homes, their buildings laid in ashes, and their farms utterly desolated.

In all the churches contributions were raised, in behalf of the victims of this insane and utterly needless war. Christ Church alone raised between three and four thousand dollars; and sent a missionary to expend the sum among these starving, woe-stricken families. The missionary reported seven hundred and fifty farms in Pennsylvania alone, utterly abandoned. Two hundred and fifty women and children, destitute and despairing, had fled to Fort Pitt for protection.

In the midst of these awful scenes, Governor Hamilton resigned, and the weak, haughty John Penn arriving, took his place. The Assembly, as usual, gave him a courteous reception, wishing, if possible, to avert a quarrel. There were many fanatics in those days. Some of these assumed that God was displeased, because the heathen Indians had not been entirely exterminated. The savages had perpetrated such horrors, that by them no distinction was made between those friendly to the English, and those hostile. The very name of Indian was loathed.

In the vicinity of Lancaster, there was the feeble remnant of a once powerful tribe. The philanthropy of William Penn had won them to love the English. No one of them had ever been known to lift his hand against a white man. There were but twenty remaining, seven men, five women and eight children. They were an industrious, peaceful, harmless people, having adopted English names, English customs and the Christian religion.

A vagabond party of Scotch-Irish, from Paxton, set out, in the morning of the 14th of December, for their destruction. They were well mounted and well armed. It so happened that there were but six Indians at home. They made no defence. Parents and children knelt, as in prayer, and silently received the death blow. Every head was cleft by the hatchet. These poor creatures were very affectionate, and had greatly endeared themselves to their neighbors. This deed of infamous assassination roused the indignation of many of the most worthy people in the province. But there were thousands of the baser sort, who deemed it no crime to kill an Indian, any more than a wolf or a bear.

Franklin wrote, to the people of Pennsylvania, a noble letter of indignant remonstrance, denouncing the deed as atrocious murder. Vividly he pictured the scene of the assassination, and gave the names, ages and characters of the victims. A hundred and forty Moravian Indians, the firm and unsuspected friends of the English, terrified by this massacre, fled to Philadelphia for protection. The letter of Franklin had excited much sympathy in their behalf. The people rallied for their protection. The Paxton murderers, several hundred in number, pursued the fugitives, avowing their determination to put every one to death. The imbecile governor was at his wits' end. Franklin was summoned.

He, at once, proclaimed his house headquarters; rallied a regiment of a thousand men, and made efficient arrangements to give the murderers a warm reception. The Paxton band reached Germantown. Franklin, anxious to avoid bloodshed, rode out with three aids, to confer with the leaders. He writes,

"The fighting face we had put on, and the reasonings we used with the insurgents, having turned them back, and restored quiet to the city, I became a less man than ever; for I had, by this transaction, made myself many enemies among the populace."


Franklin's Second Mission to England.

Fiendish conduct of John Penn—Petition to the crown—Debt of England—Two causes of conflict—Franklin sent to England—His embarkation—Wise counsel to his daughter—The stamp act—American resolves—Edmund Burke—Examination of Franklin—Words of Lord Chatham—Dangers to English operatives—Repeal of the stamp act—Joy in America—Ross Mackay—New taxes levied—Character of George III—Accumulation of honors to Franklin—Warlike preparations—Human conscientiousness—Unpopularity of William Franklin—Marriage of Sarah Franklin—Franklin's varied investigations—Efforts to civilize the Sandwich Islands.

It is scarcely too severe to say that Governor John Penn was both knave and fool. To ingratiate himself with the vile Paxton men and their partisans, he issued a proclamation, offering for every captive male Indian, of any hostile tribe, one hundred and fifty dollars, for every female, one hundred and thirty-eight dollars. For the scalp of a male, the bounty was one hundred and thirty-eight dollars; for the scalp of a female fifty dollars. Of course it would be impossible, when the scalps were brought in to decide whether they were stripped from friendly or hostile heads.

Curiously two political parties were thus organized. The governor, intensely inimical to Franklin, led all the loose fellows who approved of the massacre of the friendly Indians. Franklin was supported by the humane portion of the community, who regarded that massacre with horror.

There was much bitterness engendered. Franklin was assailed and calumniated as one of the worst of men. He, as usual, wrote a pamphlet, which was read far and wide. Earnestly he urged that the crown, as it had a right to do, should, by purchase, take possession of the province and convert its government into that of a royal colony. It should be remembered that this was several years before the troubles of the revolution arose. The people were in heart true Englishmen. Fond of their nationality, sincere patriotism glowed in all bosoms. They ever spoke of England as "home." When the Assembly met again three thousand citizens, influenced mainly by Franklin's pamphlet, sent in a petition that the province might revert to the crown. The Penns succeeded in presenting a counter petition signed by three hundred.

The British cabinet, in its insatiable thirst for universal conquest, or impelled by necessity to repel the encroachments of other nations, equally wicked and equally grasping, had been by fleet and army, fighting all over the world. After spending every dollar which the most cruel taxation could extort from the laboring and impoverished masses, the government had incurred the enormous debt of seventy-three millions sterling. This amounted to over three hundred and sixty-five millions of our money.

The government decided to tax the Americans to help pay the interest on this vast sum. But the colonies were already taxed almost beyond endurance, to carry on the terrible war against the French and Indians. This war was not one of their own choosing. It had been forced upon them by the British Cabinet, in its resolve to drive the French off the continent of North America. The Americans were allowed no representation in Parliament. They were to be taxed according to the caprice of the government. Franklin, with patriotic foresight, vehemently, and with resistless force of logic, resisted the outrage.

It will be perceived that there were now two quite distinct sources of controversy. First came the conflict with the proprietaries, and then rose the still more important strife with the cabinet of Great Britain, to repel the principle of taxation without representation. This principle once admitted, the crown could tax the Americans to any amount whatever it pleased. Many unreflecting people could not appreciate these disastrous results.

Thus all the partisans of the Penns, and all the office holders of the crown and their friends, and there were many such, became not only opposed to Franklin, but implacable in their hostility. The majority of the Assembly was with him. He was chosen Speaker, and then was elected to go again to England, to carry with him to the British Court the remonstrances of the people against "taxation without representation," and their earnest petition to be delivered from the tyranny of the Penns. More unwelcome messages to the British Court and aristocracy, he could not well convey. It was certain that the Penns and their powerful coadjutors, would set many influences in array against him. Mr. Dickinson, in the Assembly, remonstrating against this appointment, declared that there was no man in Pennsylvania who was more the object of popular dislike than Benjamin Franklin.

But two years had elapsed since Franklin's return to America, after an absence from his home of six years. He still remembered fondly the "dense happiness" which he had enjoyed in the brilliant circles abroad. This, added to an intensity of patriotism, which rendered him second to none but Washington, among the heroes of the Revolution, induced him promptly to accept the all important mission. He allowed but twelve days to prepare for his embarkation. The treasury was empty, and money for his expenses had to be raised by a loan. A packet ship, bound for London was riding at Chester, fifteen miles below the city. Three hundred of the citizens of Philadelphia, on horseback, escorted Franklin to the ship.

He seldom attended church, though he always encouraged his wife and daughter to do so. It was genteel; it was politic. A family could scarcely command the respect of the community, which, in the midst of a religious people, should be living without any apparent object of worship. The preacher of Christ Church, which the family attended, was a partisan of the Penns. Sometimes he "meddled with politics." Franklin in his parting letter, from on shipboard, wrote to his daughter:

"Go constantly to church, whoever preaches. The active devotion in the common prayer-book, is your principal business there, and if properly attended to, will do more towards amending the heart, than sermons generally can do. For they were composed by men of much greater piety and wisdom, than our common composers of sermons can pretend to be. Therefore I wish that you would never miss the prayer days. Yet I do not mean you should despise sermons, even of the preachers you dislike; for the discourse is often much better than the man, as sweet and clear waters come through very dirty earth."

The voyage was stormy; it lasted thirty days. On the evening of the tenth of December, 1764, he again took up his residence in the house of Mrs. Stephenson and her daughter, where he was received with delight. He found several other agents of the colonies in London, who had also been sent to remonstrate against the despotic measures which the British Cabinet threatened, of taxing the Americans at its pleasure, without allowing them to have any voice in deciding upon the sums which they should pay.

Grenville was prime minister. He was about to introduce the Stamp Act, as an initiatory measure. It imposed but a trivial tax, in itself of but little importance, but was intended as an experiment, to ascertain whether the Americans would submit to the principle. This fact being once established, the government could then proceed to demand money at its pleasure. Franklin opposed the tax with all his energies. He declared it, in his own forceful language, to be the "mother of mischiefs." With four other colonial agents, he held an interview with Lord Grenville. The usual arguments were employed on both sides. Lord Grenville was courteous, but very decided. The Americans he declared must help England pay the interest on her debt, and the parliament of Great Britain alone could decide how large an amount of money the Americans should pay. The bill was introduced to parliament, and passed by a large majority. The king signed it in a scrawling hand, which some think indicated the insanity he was beginning to develop.

The trivial sum expected to be raised by the Stamp Act amounted to scarcely one hundred thousand pounds a year. It was thought that the Americans would not venture upon any decisive opposition to England for such a trifle. Franklin wrote to a friend:

"I took every step in my power, to prevent the passing of the Stamp Act. But the tide was too strong against us. The nation was provoked by American claims of legislative independence; and all parties joined in resolving, by this act, to settle the point."

Thus Franklin entirely failed in arresting the passing of the Stamp Act. He was also equally unsuccessful in his endeavor to promote a change of government, from the proprietary to the royal. And still his mission proved a success. By conversations, pamphlets and articles in the newspapers, he raised throughout the country such an opposition to the measure that parliament was compelled to repeal it. The tidings of the passage of the Stamp Act was received in intelligent America, with universal expressions of displeasure, and with resolves to oppose its operation in every possible way.

It is remarked of a celebrated theological professor, that he once said to his pupils,

"When you go to the city to preach, take your best coat; when to the country, take your best sermon."

The lords and gentry of England were astonished at the intelligence displayed in the opposition, by the rural population of America. They fancied the colonists to be an ignorant, ragged people, living in log cabins, scattered through the wilderness, and, in social position, two or three degrees below European and Irish peasantry. Great was their surprise to hear from all the colonies, and from the remotest districts in each colony, the voice of intelligent and dignified rebuke.

The Act was to go into execution on the first of November, 1765. Before that time, Franklin had spread, through all the mechanical, mercantile and commercial classes, the conviction that they would suffer ten-fold more, by the interruptions of trade which the Stamp Act would introduce, than government could hope to gain by the measure. He spread abroad the intelligence which came by every fresh arrival, that the Americans were resolving, with wonderful unanimity, that they would consume no more English manufactures, that they would purchase no more British goods, and that, as far as possible, in food, clothing, and household furniture, they would depend upon their own productions. They had even passed resolves to eat no more lamb, that their flocks might so increase that they should have wool enough to manufacture their own clothing.

England had thus far furnished nearly all the supplies for the rapidly increasing colonies, already numbering a population of between two and three millions. The sudden cessation of this trade was felt in nearly every warehouse of industry. No more orders came. Goods accumulated without purchasers. Violent opposition arose, and vast meetings were held in the manufacturing districts, to remonstrate against the measures of the government. Edmund Burke, a host in himself, headed the opposition in parliament.

Burke and Franklin were intimate friends, and the renowned orator obtained from the renowned philosopher, many of those arguments and captivating illustrations, which, uttered on the floor of parliament, astonished England, and reaching our shores, electrified America. The state of affairs became alarming. In some places the stamps were destroyed, in others, no one could be found who would venture upon the obnoxious task of offering to sell them. The parliament resolved itself into a committee of the whole house, and spent six weeks in hearing testimony respecting the operation of the act in America. The hall was crowded with eager listeners. The industrial prosperity of the nation seemed at stake. Franklin was the principal witness. His testimony overshadowed all the rest. The record of it was read with admiration. Seldom has a man been placed in a more embarrassing situation, and never has one, under such circumstances, acquitted himself more triumphantly.

He was examined and cross-examined, before this vast and imposing assemblage, by the shrewdest lawyers of the crown. Every attempt was made to throw him into embarrassment, to trip him in his speech. But never for a moment did Franklin lose his self-possession. Never for an instant, did he hesitate in his reply. In the judgment of all his friends, not a mistake did he make. His mind seemed to be omnisciently furnished, with all the needful statistics for as rigorous an examination as any mortal was ever exposed to. Burke wrote to a friend, "that Franklin, as he stood before the bar of parliament, presented such an aspect of dignity and intellectual superiority, as to remind him of a schoolmaster questioned by school boys." Rev. George Whitefield wrote,

"Our worthy friend, Dr. Franklin, has gained immortal honor, by his behavior at the bar of the house. The answer was always found equal, if not superior to the questioner. He stood unappalled, gave pleasure to his friends, and did honor to his country."

After great agitation and many and stormy debates, the haughty government was compelled to yield to the demands of the industrial classes. Indeed, with those in England, who cried most loudly for the repeal of the stamp act, there were comparatively few who were influenced by any sympathy for the Americans, or by any appreciation of the justice of their cause. The loss of the American trade was impoverishing them. Selfish considerations alone,—their own personal interests—moved them to action.

There were individuals, in and out of Parliament, who recognized the rights of Englishmen, and regarding the Americans as Englishmen, and America as a portion of the British empire, were in heart and with all their energies, in sympathy with the Americans in their struggle for their rights. When the despotism of the British court led that court to the infamous measure of sending fleets and armies, to compel the Americans to submission, and the feeble colonists, less than three millions in number, performing the boldest and most heroic deeds ever yet recorded in history, grasped their arms in self-defence, thus to wage war against the most powerful naval and military empire upon this globe, Lord Chatham, with moral courage rarely surpassed, boldly exclaimed in the House of Lords, "Were I an American, as I am an Englishman, I would never lay down my arms, never, never, NEVER."

In all England, there was no man more determined in his resolve to bring the Americans to servile obedience, than the stubborn king, George III. The repeal gave him intense offence. The equally unprincipled, but more intelligent, ministers were compelled to the measure, as they saw clearly that England was menaced with civil war, which would array the industrial classes generally against the aristocracy. In such a conflict it was far from improbable that the aristocracy would be brought to grief. Horace Walpole wrote,

"It was the clamor of trade, of merchants, and of manufacturing towns, that had borne down all opposition. A general insurrection was apprehended, as the immediate consequence of upholding the bill. The revolt of America, and the destruction of trade, was the prospect in future."

Still the question of the repeal was carried in the House but by a majority of one hundred and eight votes. Of course Franklin now solicited permission to return home. The Assembly, instead of granting his request, elected him agent for another year. It does not appear that Franklin was disappointed.

The report of his splendid and triumphant examination, before the Commons, and the republication of many of his pamphlets, had raised him to the highest position of popularity. The Americans, throughout all the provinces, received tidings of the Repeal with unbounded delight. Bells were rung, bon-fires blazed, cannon were fired.

"I never heard so much noise in my life," wrote Sally to her "honored papa." "The very children seemed distracted."

The Tory party in England developed no little malignity in their anger, in view of the discomfiture of their plans. The bigoted Tory, Dr. Johnson, wrote to Bishop White of Pennsylvania, that if he had been Prime Minister, instead of repealing the act, he would have sent a man-of-war, and laid one or more of our largest cities in ashes.[21]

[Footnote 21: Wilson's Life of Bishop White, p. 89.]

The king felt personally aggrieved. His denunciations of those who favored the Repeal were so indecent, that some of his most influential friends ventured to intimate to him that it was highly impolitic. Indeed, as the previous narrative has shown, many who were in entire sympathy with the king, and who were bitterly opposed to any concession to the Americans, felt compelled to vote for the Repeal.

To propitiate the unrelenting and half-crazed monarch, with his obdurate court, a Declaratory Act, as it was called, was passed, which affirmed the absolute supremacy of Parliament over the colonies.

We hear very much of the corruption of our own Congress. It is said that votes are sometimes bought and sold. Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, who was a member of Parliament during all this period, declares, in his intensely interesting and undoubtedly honest Memoir, that under the ministry of Lord Bute, Ross Mackay was employed by him as "corrupter-general" whose mission it was to carry important measures of government by bribery. Wraxall writes that Ross Mackay said to him, at a dinner party given by Lord Besborough, as the illustrious guests were sipping their wine,

"The peace of 1763 was carried through and approved by a pecuniary dispensation. Nothing else could have surmounted the difficulty. I was myself the channel through which the money passed. With my own hand I secured above one hundred and twenty votes on that most important question to ministers. Eighty thousand pounds were set apart for the purpose. Forty members of the House of Commons received from me a thousand pounds each. To eighty others I paid five hundred pounds a-piece."

The unrelenting king was still determined that the Americans, unrepresented in Parliament, should still pay into his treasury whatever sums of money he might exact. Calling to his aid courtiers more shrewd than himself, they devised a very cunning act, to attain that object in a way which would hardly be likely to excite opposition. They laid a tax, insignificant really in its amount, upon paper, paint, glass, and tea. This tax was to be collected at the custom-houses in the few ports of entry in the colonies. The whole amount thus raised would not exceed forty thousand pounds. It was thought that the Americans would never make opposition to so trivial a payment.

But it established a principle that England could tax the colonies without allowing those colonies any representation in Parliament. If the Court had a right thus to demand forty thousand pounds, they had a right to demand so many millions, should it seem expedient to king and cabinet so to do.

The great blunder which the court committed, was in not appreciating the wide-spread intelligence of the American people. In New England particularly, and throughout the colonies generally, there was scarcely a farmer who did not perceive the trick, and despise it. They deemed it an insult to their intelligence.

Instantly there arose, throughout all the provinces, the most determined opposition to the measure. It was in fact merely a renewal of the Stamp Act, under slightly modified forms. If they admitted the justice of this act, it was only declaring that they had acted with unpardonable folly, in opposing the tax under the previous form.

Dr. Franklin, with honest shrewdness, not with trickery or with cunning, but with a sincere and penetrating mind, eagerly scrutinized all the measures of the Court. George III. was a gentleman. He was irreproachable in all his domestic relations. He was, in a sense, conscientious; for certainly he was not disposed to do anything which he thought to be wrong. Conscientious men have burned their fellow-Christians at the stake. It is said that George the Third was a Christian. He certainly was a full believer in the religion of Jesus Christ; and earnestly advocated the support and extension of that religion. God makes great allowance for the frailties of his fallen children. It requires the wisdom of omniscience to decide how much wickedness there may be in the heart, consistently with piety. No man is perfect.

During the reign of George III., terrible wars were waged throughout all the world, mainly incited by the British Court. Millions perished. The moans of widows and orphans ascended from every hand. This wicked Christian king sent his navy and his army to burn down our cities and villages, and to shoot husbands, fathers, and sons, until he could compel America to submit to his despotism. The population of England being exhausted by those wide spread wars, he hired, of the petty princes of Europe, innocent peasantry, to abandon their homes in Germany, to burn and destroy the homes of Americans. Finding that not sufficient, he sent his agents through the wilderness to rouse, by bribes, savage men, who knew no better, to ravage our frontiers, to burn the cabins of lonely farmers, to tomahawk and scalp their wives and children.

Such a man may be a good Christian. God, who can read the secrets of the heart, and who is infinite in his love and charity, alone can decide. But if we imagine that man, George Guelph, at the bar of judgment, and thronging up as witnesses against him, the millions whose earthly homes he converted into abodes of misery and despair, it is difficult to imagine in our frail natures, how our Heavenly Father, who loves all his children alike, and who, as revealed in the person of Jesus, could weep over the woes of humanity, could look with a loving smile upon him and say, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

Franklin of course continued in as determined an opposition to the new tax as to the old one. He wrote,

"I have some little property in America. I will freely spend nineteen shillings in the pound to defend my right of giving or refusing the other shilling. And after all, if I cannot defend that right, I can retire cheerfully with my little family into the boundless woods of America, which are sure to afford freedom and subsistence to any man who can bait a hook or pull a trigger."

The ability which Franklin had displayed as the agent of Pennsylvania before the court of St. James, gave him, as we have said, a high reputation in all the colonies. In the spring of 1768 he was highly gratified by the intelligence that he was appointed, by the young colony of Georgia, its London agent. The next year New Jersey conferred the same honor upon him, and the year after, he was appointed agent of his native province of Massachusetts. These several appointments detained him ten years in England.

During all this time he did not visit home. The equanimity of his joyful spirit seems never to have been disturbed. His pen describes only pleasant scenes. No murmurs are recorded, no yearnings of home-sickness.

But month after month the animosity of the British Court towards the Americans was increasing. The king grew more and more fixed in his purpose, to compel the liberty-loving Americans to submission. Hostile movements were multiplied to indicate that if the opposition to his measures was continued, English fleets and armies would soon commence operations.

Several thousand troops were landed in Boston. Fourteen men-of-war were anchored before the town, with the cannon of their broad-sides loaded and primed, ready, at the slightest provocation to lay the whole town in ashes. Protected by this terrible menace, two British regiments paraded the streets, with their muskets charged, with gleaming sabres and bayonets, with formidable artillery prepared to vomit forth the most horrible discharges of grape shot, with haughty English officers well mounted, and soldiers and officers alike in imposing uniforms. This invincible band of highly disciplined soldiers, as a peace measure, took possession of the Common, the State House, the Court House and Faneuil Hall.

Even now, after the lapse of more than a hundred years, it makes the blood of an American boil to contemplate this insult. Who can imagine the feelings of exasperation that must have glowed in the bosoms of our patriotic fathers!

Franklin, in England, was treated with ever increasing disrespect. Lord Hillsborough, then in charge of American affairs, told him peremptorily, even insolently, that America could expect no favors while he himself was in power, and that he was determined to persevere with firmness in the policy which the king was pursuing. The king was so shielded by his ministers that Franklin knew but little about him. Even at this time he wrote,

"I can scarcely conceive a king of better dispositions, of more exemplary virtues, or more truly desirous of promoting the welfare of his subjects."

Franklin never had occasion to speak differently of his domestic virtues. Nay, it is more than probable that the king daily, in prayer, looked to God for guidance, and that he thought that he was doing that which was promotive of the interests of England. Alas for man! He can perpetrate the most atrocious crimes, honestly believing that he is doing God's will. He can burn aged women under the charge of their being witches. He can torture, in the infliction of unutterable anguish, his brother man—mothers and daughters, under the charge of heresy. He can hurl hundreds of thousands of men against each other in most horrible and woe-inflicting wars, while falling upon his knees and praying to God to bless his murderous armies.

Franklin had with him his grandson, William Temple Franklin, the dishonored son of William Franklin, then Governor of New Jersey. He was a bright and promising boy, and developed an estimable character, under the guidance of his grandfather, who loved him.

William Franklin in New Jersey was, however, becoming increasingly the scourge of his father. It would seem that Providence was thus, in some measure, punishing Franklin for his sin. The governor, appointed by the Court of England to his office, which he highly prized, and which he feared to lose, was siding with the Court. He perceived that the storm of political agitation was increasing in severity. He felt that the power of the colonies was as nothing compared with the power of the British government. Gradually he became one of the most violent of the Tories.

The moderation of Franklin, and his extraordinarily charitable disposition, led him to refrain from all denunciations of his ungrateful son, or even reproaches, until his conduct became absolutely infamous. In 1773, he wrote, in reference to the course which the governor was pursuing,

"I only wish you to act uprightly and steadily, avoiding that duplicity which, in Hutchinson, adds contempt to indignation. If you can promote the prosperity of your people, and leave them happier than you found them, whatever your political principles are, your memory will be honored."

While Franklin was absent, a young merchant of Philadelphia, Richard Bache, offered his hand to Franklin's only daughter, from whom the father had been absent nearly all of her life. Sarah was then twenty-three years of age, so beautiful as to become quite a celebrity, and she was highly accomplished. Mr. Bache was not successful in business, and the young couple resided under the roof of Mrs. Franklin for eight years. The husband, with an increasing family, appealed to his illustrious father-in-law, to obtain for him a governmental appointment. Franklin wrote to his daughter,

"I am of opinion, that almost any profession a man has been educated in, is preferable to an office held at pleasure, as rendering him more independent, more a free man, and less subject to the caprices of his superiors. I think that in keeping a store, if it be where you dwell, you can be serviceable to him, as your mother was to me; for you are not deficient in capacity, and I hope you are not too proud. You might easily learn accounts; and you can copy letters, or write them very well on occasion. By industry and frugality you may get forward in the world, being both of you very young. And then what we may leave you at our death, will be a pretty addition, though of itself far from sufficient to maintain and bring up a family."

Franklin gave his son-in-law about a thousand dollars to assist him in the purchase of a stock of merchandise. The children, born to this happy couple, were intelligent and beautiful, and they greatly contributed to the happiness of their grandmother, who cherished them with a grandmother's most tender love. In the year 1862, there were one hundred and ten surviving descendants of Richard Bache and Sarah Franklin. Ten of these were serving in the Union army perilling their lives to maintain that national fabric, which their illustrious ancestor had done so much to establish. Franklin was by no means a man of one idea. His comprehensive mind seemed to grasp all questions of statesmanship, of philanthropy, of philosophy.

During the ten years of his residence in England he visited the hospitals, carefully examined their management, and transmitted to his home the result of his observations. This was probably the origin of the celebrity which the medical schools of Philadelphia have attained. He visited the silk manufactories, and urged the adoption of that branch of industry, as peculiarly adapted to our climate and people. Ere long he had the pleasure of presenting to the queen a piece of American silk, which she accepted and wore as a dress. As silk was an article not produced in England, the government was not offended by the introduction of that branch of industry. For Hartford college he procured a telescope, which cost about five hundred dollars. This was, in those days, an important event.

The renowned Captain Cook returned from his first voyage around the world. The narrative of his adventures, in the discovery of new islands, and new races of men, excited almost every mind in England and America. Franklin was prominent in the movement, to raise seventy-five thousand dollars, to fit out an expedition to send to those benighted islanders the fowls, the quadrupeds and the seeds of Europe. He wrote, in an admirable strain,

"Many voyages have been undertaken with views of profit or of plunder, or to gratify resentment. But a voyage is now proposed to visit a distant people on the other side of the globe, not to cheat them, not to rob them: not to seize their lands or to enslave their persons, but merely to do them good, and make them, as far as in our power lies, to live as comfortable as ourselves."

There can be no national prosperity without virtue. There can not be a happy people who do not "do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God." It was a noble enterprise to send to those naked savages corn and hoes, with horses, pigs and poultry. But the Christian conscience awoke to the conviction that something more than this was necessary. They sent, to the dreary huts of the Pacific, ambassadors of the religion of Jesus, to gather the children in schools, to establish the sanctity of the family relation, and to proclaim to all, the glad tidings of that divine Saviour, who has come to earth "to seek and to save the lost."


The Intolerance of King and Court.

Parties in England—Franklin the favorite of the opposition—Plans of the Tories—Christian III—Letter of Franklin—Dr. Priestley—Parisian courtesy—Louis XV—Visit to Ireland—Attempted alteration of the Prayer Book—Letter to his son—Astounding letters from America—Words of John Adams—Petition of the Assembly—Violent conspiracy against Franklin—His bearing in the court-room—Wedderburn's infamous charges—Letter of Franklin—Bitter words of Dr. Johnson—Morals of English lords—Commercial value of the Colonies—Dangers threatening Franklin.

Wherever there is a government there must be an opposition. Those who are out of office wish to eject those in office, that they may take their places. There was a pretty strong party in what was called the Opposition. But it was composed of persons animated by very different motives. The first consisted of those intelligent, high minded, virtuous statesmen, who were indignant in view of the wrong which the haughty, unprincipled Tory government was inflicting upon the American people. The second gathered those who were in trade. They cared nothing for the Americans. They cared nothing for government right or wrong. They wished to sell their hats, their cutlery, and their cotton and woolen goods to the Americans. This they could not do while government was despotically enforcing the Stamp Act or the Revenue Bill. Then came a third class, who had no goods to sell, and no conscience to guide to action. They were merely ambitious politicians. They wished to thrust the Tories out of office simply that they might rush into the occupancy of all the places of honor, emolument or power.

Franklin was in high favor with the opposition. He furnished their orators in Parliament with arguments, with illustrations, with accurate statistical information. Many of the most telling passages in parliamentary speeches, were placed on the lips of the speakers by Benjamin Franklin. He wrote pamphlets of marvellous popular power, which were read in all the workshops, and greatly increased the number and the intelligence of the foes of the government measures. Thus Franklin became the favorite of the popular party. They lavished all honors upon him. In the same measure he became obnoxious to the haughty, aristocratic Tory government. Its ranks were filled with the lords, the governmental officials, and all their dependents. This made a party very powerful in numbers, and still more powerful in wealth and influence. They were watching for opportunities to traduce Franklin, to ruin his reputation, and if possible, to bring him into contempt.

This will explain the honors which were conferred upon him by one party, and the indignities to which he was subjected from the other. At times, the Tories would make efforts by flattery, by offers of position, of emolument, by various occult forms of bribery, to draw Franklin to their side. He might very easily have attained almost any amount of wealth and high official dignity.

The king of Denmark, Christian VII., was brother-in-law of George III. He visited England; a mere boy in years, and still more a weak boy in insipidity of character. A large dinner-party was given in his honor at the Royal Palace. Franklin was one of the guests. In some way unexplained, he impressed the boy-king with a sense of his inherent and peculiar greatness. Christian invited a select circle of but sixteen men to dine with him. Among those thus carefully selected, Franklin was honored with an invitation. Though sixty-seven years of age he still enjoyed in the highest degree, convivial scenes. He could tell stories, and sing songs which gave delight to all. It was his boast that he could empty his two bottles of wine, and still retain entire sobriety. He wrote to Hugh Roberts,

"I wish you would continue to meet the Junto. It wants but about two years of forty since it was established. We loved, and still love one another; we have grown grey together, and yet it is too early to part. Let us sit till the evening of life is spent; the last hours are always the most joyous. When we can stay no longer, it is time enough to bid each other good night, separate, and go quietly to bed."

Franklin was the last person to find any enjoyment in the society of vulgar and dissolute men. In those days, it was scarcely a reproach for a young lord to be carried home from a festivity in deadly intoxication. Witticisms were admitted into such circles which respectable men would not tolerate now. Franklin's most intimate friends in London were found among Unitarian clergymen, and those philosophers who were in sympathy with him in his rejection of the Christian religion. Dr. Richard Price, and Dr. Joseph Priestly, men both eminent for intellectual ability and virtues, were his bosom friends.

Dr. Priestly, who had many conversations with Franklin upon religious topics, deeply deplored the looseness of his views. Though Dr. Priestly rejected the divinity of Christ, he still firmly adhered to the belief that Christianity was of divine origin. In his autobiography, Dr. Priestly writes:

"It is much to be lamented that a man of Dr. Franklin's generally good character and great influence, should have been an unbeliever in Christianity, and also have done so much as he did to make others unbelievers. To me, however, he acknowledged that he had not given so much attention as he ought to have done to the evidences of Christianity; and he desired me to recommend him a few treatises on the subject, such as I thought most deserving his notice."

Priestly did so; but Franklin, all absorbed in his social festivities, his scientific researches, and his intense patriotic labors, could find no time to devote to that subject—the immortal destiny of man,—which is infinitely more important to each individual than all others combined.[22] It was indeed a sad circle of unbelievers, into whose intimacy Franklin was thrown. Dr. Priestly writes,

"In Paris, in 1774, all the philosophical persons to whom I was introduced, were unbelievers in Christianity, and even professed atheists. I was told by some of them, that I was the only person they had ever met, of whose understanding they had any opinion, who professed to believe in Christianity. But I soon found they did not really know what Christianity was."

[Footnote 22: Mr. Parton, in his excellent Life of Franklin, one of the best biographies which was ever written, objects to this withholding of the Christian name from Dr. Franklin. He writes,

"I do not understand what Dr. Priestly meant, by saying that Franklin was an unbeliever in Christianity, since he himself was open to the same charge from nine-tenths of the inhabitants of christendom. Perhaps, if the two men were now alive, we might express the theological difference between them by saying that Priestly was a Unitarian of the Channing school, and Franklin of that of Theodore Parker." Again he writes, "I have ventured to call Franklin the consummate Christian of his time. Indeed I know not who, of any time, has exhibited more of the Spirit of Christ."—Parton's Franklin Vol. 1. p. 546. Vol. 2. p. 646.]

It was Franklin's practice to spend a part of every summer in traveling. In 1767, accompanied by Sir John Pringle, he visited Paris. With Franklin, one of the first of earthly virtues was courtesy. He was charmed with the politeness of the French people. Even the most humble of the working classes, were gentlemanly; and from the highest to the lowest, he, simply as a stranger, was treated with consideration which surprised him. He writes,

"The civilities we everywhere receive, give us the strongest impressions of the French politeness. It seems to be a point settled here universally, that strangers are to be treated with respect; and one has just the same deference shown one here, by being a stranger, as in England, by being a lady."

Two dozen bottles of port-wine were given them at Bordeaux. These, as the law required, were seized by the custom-house officers, as they entered Paris by the Porte St. Denis; but as soon as it was ascertained that they were strangers, the wine was remitted.

There was a magnificent illumination of the Church of Notre Dame, in honor of the deceased Dauphiness. Thousands could not obtain admission. An officer, learning merely that they were strangers, took them in charge, conducted them through the vast edifice, and showed them every thing.

Franklin and his companion had the honor of a presentation to the king, Louis XV., at Versailles. This monarch was as vile a man as ever occupied a throne. But he had the virtue of courtesy, which Franklin placed at the head of religious principle. The philosopher simply records,

"The king spoke to both of us very graciously and very cheerfully. He is a handsome man, has a very lively look, and appears younger than he is."

In 1772, Franklin visited Ireland. He was treated there with great honor; but the poverty of the Irish peasantry overwhelmed his benevolent heart with astonishment and dismay. He writes,

"I thought often of the happiness of New England, where every man is a free-holder, has a vote in public affairs, lives in a tidy, warm house, has plenty of good food and fuel, with whole clothes from head to foot, the manufacture perhaps of his own family. Long may they continue in this situation."

In the year 1773, Franklin spent several weeks in the beautiful mansion of his friend, Lord Despencer. We read with astonishment, that Franklin, who openly renounced all belief in the divine origin of Christianity, should have undertaken, with Lord Despencer, an abbreviation of the prayer-book of the Church of England. It is surprising, that he could have thought it possible, that the eminent Christians, clergy and laity of that church, would accept at the hands of a deist, their form of worship. But Franklin was faithful in the abbreviation, not to make the slightest change in the evangelical character of that admirable work, which through ages has guided the devotion of millions. The abbreviated service, cut down one-half, attracted no attention, and scarcely a copy was sold.

At this time, Franklin's reputation was in its meridian altitude. There was scarcely a man in Europe or America, more prominent. Every learned body in Europe, of any importance, had elected him a member. Splendid editions of his works were published in London; and three editions were issued from the press in Paris.

In France, Franklin met with no insults, with no opposition. All alike smiled upon him, and the voices of commendation alone fell upon his ear.

Returning to England, his reputation there, as a man of high moral worth, and of almost the highest intellectual attainments, and a man honored in the most remarkable degree with all the highest offices which his countrymen could confer upon him, swept contumely from his path, and even his enemies were ashamed to manifest their hostility. From London he wrote to his son,

"As to my situation here, nothing can be more agreeable. Learned and ingenious foreigners that come to England, almost all make a point of visiting me; for my reputation is still higher abroad, than here. Several of the foreign ambassadors have assiduously cultivated my acquaintance, treating me as one of their corps, partly, I believe, from the desire they have from time to time, of hearing something of American affairs; an object become of importance in foreign courts, who begin to hope Britain's alarming power will be diminished by the defection of her colonies."[23]

[Footnote 23: "For dinner parties Franklin was in such demand that, during the London season, he sometimes dined out six days in the week for several weeks together. He also confesses that occasionally he drank more wine than became a philosopher. It would indeed have been extremely difficult to avoid it, in that soaking age, when a man's force was reckoned by the number of bottles he could empty."—Parton's Life of Franklin, Vol. i, p. 540.

As an illustration of the state of the times, I give the following verse from one of the songs which Franklin wrote, and which he was accustomed to sing with great applause. At the meetings of the Junto, all the club joined in the chorus,

"Fair Venus calls; her voice obey In beauty's arms spend night and day. The joys of love all joys excel, And loving's certainly doing well.


Oh! no! Not so! For honest souls still know Friends and the bottle still bear the bell."

"It is well," Mr. Parton writes, "for us, in these days, to consider the spectacle of this large, robust soul, sporting in this simple, homely way. This superb Franklin of ours, who spent some evenings in mere jollity, passed nearly all his days in labor most fruitful of benefit to his country."—Life of Franklin, Vol. i, p. 262.]

In the latter part of the year 1772, Franklin, in his ever courteous, but decisive language, was conversing with an influential member of Parliament, respecting the violent proceedings of the ministry, in quartering troops upon the citizens of Boston. The member, in reply, said,

"You are deceived in supposing these measures to originate with the ministry. The sending out of the troops, and all the hostile measures, of which you complain, have not only been suggested, but solicited, by prominent men of your own country. They have urged that troops should be sent, and that fleets should enter your harbors, declaring that in no other way, than by this menace of power, can the turbulent Americans be brought to see their guilt and danger, and return to obedience."

Franklin expressed his doubts of this statement. "I will bring you proof," the gentleman replied. A few days after, he visited Franklin, and brought with him a packet of letters, written by persons of high official station in the colonies, and native born Americans. The signatures of these letters were effaced; but the letters themselves were presented, and Franklin was confidentially informed of their writers. They were addressed to Mr. William Whately, an influential member of Parliament, who had recently died.

Franklin read them with astonishment and indignation. He found the representation of the gentleman entirely true. Six of the letters were written by Thomas Hutchinson, Governor of Massachusetts. He was a native of the colony he governed, a graduate of Harvard, and in his religious position a Puritan. Four were written by Andrew Oliver, Lieutenant-governor, and also a native of Massachusetts.

The rest were written by custom-house officers and other servants of the Crown. The openly avowed design of these letters was, that they should be exhibited to the Ministry, to excite them to prompt, vigorous and hostile measures. They teemed with misrepresentations, and often with downright falsehoods. The perusal of these infamous productions elicited from Franklin first a burst of indignation. The second effect was greatly to mitigate his resentment against the British government. The ministry, it seemed, were acting in accordance with solicitations received from Americans, native born, and occupying the highest posts of honor and influence.

The gentleman who obtained these letters and showed them to Franklin, was very unwilling to have his agency in the affair made public. After much solicitation, he consented to have Franklin send the letters to America, though he would not give permission to have any copies taken. It was his hope, that the letters would calm the rising animosity in America, by showing that the British ministry was pursuing a course of menace, which many of the most distinguished Americans declared to be essential, to save the country from anarchy and ruin. Franklin's object was to cause these traitorous office-holders to be ejected from their positions of influence, that others, more patriotic, might occupy the stations which they disgraced.

On the 2d of December, 1772, Franklin inclosed the letters in an official package, directed to Thomas Cushing. He wrote,

"I am not at liberty to make the letters public. I can only allow them to be seen by yourself, by the other gentlemen of the Committee of Correspondence, by Messrs. Bowdoin and Pitts of the Council, and Drs. Chauncy, Cooper, and Winthrop, and a few such other gentlemen as you may think fit to show them to. After being some months in your possession, you are requested to return them to me."

The reading of the letters created intense anger and disgust. John Adams, after perusing them, recorded in his diary, alluding to Hutchinson, "Cool, thinking deliberate villain, malicious and vindictive." He carried the documents around to read to all his male and female friends, and was not sparing in his vehement comments.

Again he wrote, "Bone of our bone; born and educated among us! Mr. Hancock is deeply affected; is determined, in conjunction with Major Hawley, to watch the vile serpent, and his deputy, Brattle. The subtlety of this serpent is equal to that of the old one."

For two months the letters were privately yet extensively circulated. Hutchinson himself soon found out the storm which was gathering against him. The hand-writing of all the writers was known. In June, the Massachusetts Assembly met. In secret session the letters were read. Soon some copies were printed. It was said that some one had obtained, from England, copies of the letters from which the printed impressions were taken. But the mystery of their publication was never solved.

The Assembly sent a petition to the king of England, imploring that Thomas Hutchinson and Andrew Oliver, should be removed from their posts, and that such good men as the king might select, should be placed in their stead. The petition, eminently respectful, but drawn up in very forcible language, expressive of the ruinous consequences caused by the measures which these officials had recommended, was transmitted to Franklin, the latter part of the summer of 1773. He immediately forwarded it to Lord Dartmouth. With it he sent a very polite and conciliatory letter, in which he declared, that the Americans were very desirous of being on good terms with the mother country, that their resentment against the government was greatly abated, by finding that Americans had urged the obnoxious measures which had been adopted; and that the present was a very favorable time to introduce cordial, friendly relations between the king and the colonists.

Lord Dartmouth returned a very polite reply, laid the all-important petition aside, and for five months never alluded to it, by word or letter. In the meantime, some of the printed copies reached London. The Tories thought that perhaps the long sought opportunity had come when they might pounce upon Franklin, and at least greatly impair his influence. Franklin had nothing to conceal. He had received the letters from a friend, who authorized him to send them to America, that their contents might be made known there.

In all this he had done absolutely nothing, which any one could pronounce to be wrong. But the Court, being determined to stir up strife, began to demand who it was that had obtained and delivered up the letters. Franklin was absent from London. He soon heard tidings of the great commotion that was excited, and that two gentlemen, who had nothing to do with the matter, were each accused of having dishonorably obtained the letters. This led to a duel. Franklin immediately wrote,

"I think it incumbent for me to declare that I alone am the person who obtained and transmitted to Boston, the letters in question."

The Court decided to summon Franklin to meet the "Committee for Plantation Affairs," to explain the reasons for the petition against Hutchinson and Oliver. To the surprise of Franklin, it appeared that they were organizing quite a formidable trial; and very able counsel was appointed to defend the culprits.

Thus Franklin, who simply presented the petition of the Assembly, was forced into the obnoxious position of a prosecutor. The array against him was so strong, that it became necessary for him also to have counsel. It was manifest to all the friends of Franklin, that the British Court was rousing all its energies to crush him.

The meeting was held on the 11th of January, 1773. Four of the Cabinet ministers were present, and several Lords of the Privy Council. They addressed Franklin as a culprit, who had brought slanderous charges against his majesty's faithful officers in the colonies. He was treated not only with disrespect but with absolute insolence. But nothing could disturb his equanimity. Not for one moment did he lose serenity of mind.

There was an adjournment, to meet on the 29th of the month. In the meantime one of the court party, who had received many favors from Franklin, commenced a chancery suit against him, accusing him of stealing the letters, and being by trade a printer, of having secretly published them, and sold immense numbers, the profits of which he had placed in his own pocket. All this Franklin denied on oath. The charge was so absurd, and so manifestly malignant, that his foes withdrew the suit. Franklin was however assured that the Court was clamoring for his punishment and disgrace.

All London was agitated by the commotion which these extraordinary events created. At the appointed day, the Council again met. The assembly was held in a large apartment in the drawing-room style. At one end was the entrance door; at the other the fire-place, with recesses on each side of the chimney. A broad table extended from the fire-place to the door. The Privy Council, thirty-five in number, sat at this table. They were inveterate Tories, resolved to bring the Americans down upon their knees, and, as a preliminary step, to inflict indelible disgrace upon Franklin. Lord North, the implacable Prime Minister was there. The Archbishop of Canterbury was present. As Franklin cast his eye along the line of these haughty nobles, he could not see the face of a friend.

The remainder of the room was crowded with spectators. From them many a sympathizing glance fell upon him. Priestly and Burke gave him their silent but cordial sympathy. There were also quite a number of Americans and prominent members of the opposition, whose presence was a support to Franklin, during the ordeal through which he was to pass. He stood at the edge of the recess formed by the chimney, with one elbow resting upon the mantel, and his cheek upon his hand. He was motionless as a statue, and had composed his features into such calm and serene rigidity, that not the movement of a muscle could be detected. As usual, he was dressed simply, but with great elegance. A large flowing wig, with abundant curls, such as were used by elderly gentlemen at that day, covered his head. His costume, which was admirably fitted to a form as perfect as Grecian sculptor ever chiseled, was of rich figured silk velvet. In all that room, there was not an individual, who in physical beauty, was the peer of Franklin. In all that room there was not another, who in intellectual greatness could have met the trial so grandly.

It will be remembered that the Assembly of Massachusetts had petitioned for the removal of an obnoxious governor and lieutenant governor. Franklin, as the agent in London of that colony, had presented the petition to the crown. He was now summoned to appear before the privy council, to bring forward and substantiate charges against these officers. The council had appointed a lawyer to defend Hutchinson and Oliver. His name was Wedderburn. He had already obtained celebrity for the savage skill with which he could browbeat a witness, and for his wonderful command of the vocabulary of vituperation and abuse. Before commencing the examination, he addressed the assembly in a long speech. After eulogizing Governor Hutchinson, as one of the best and most loyal of the officers of the crown, who merited the gratitude of king and court, he turned upon Franklin, and assailed him with a storm of vituperative epithets, such as never before, and never since, has fallen upon the head of a man. The council were in sympathy with the speaker. Often his malignant thrusts would elicit from those lords a general shout of derisive laughter.

Such was the treatment which one of the most illustrious and honored of American citizens received from the privy council of king George III., when he appeared before that council as a friendly ambassador from his native land, seeking only conciliation and peace.

Wedderburn accused Franklin of stealing private letters, of misrepresenting their contents, that he might excite hostility against the loyal officers of the king. He accused him of doing this that he might eject them from office, so as to obtain the positions for himself and his friends. Still more, he accused him of having in an unexampled spirit of meanness, availed himself of his skill as a printer, to publish these letters, and that he sold them far and wide, that he might enrich himself. Charges better calculated to ruin a man, in the view of these proud lords, can scarcely be conceived. It is doubtful whether there were another man in the world, who could have received them so calmly, and in the end could have so magnificently triumphed over them.

During all this really terrific assailment, Franklin stood with his head resting on his left hand, apparently unmoved. At the close, he declined answering any questions. The committee of the council reported on that same day, "the lords of the committee, do agree humbly to report as their opinion to your majesty, that the said petition is founded upon resolution's, formed upon false and erroneous allegations, and that the same is false, vexatious and scandalous; and calculated only for the seditious purposes of keeping up a spirit of clamor and discontent in said province." The king accepted the report, and acted accordingly. Franklin went home alone. We know not why his friends thus apparently deserted him.

The next morning, which was Sunday, Priestly breakfasted at Franklin's table. He represents him as saying that he could not have borne the insults heaped upon him by the privy council, but for the consciousness, that he had done only that which was right. On Monday morning Franklin received a laconic letter from the Postmaster General, informing him that the king had found it necessary to dismiss him from the office of deputy Postmaster General in America.

This outrage, inflicted by the privy council of Great Britain, upon a friendly ambassador from her colonies, who had visited her court with the desire to promote union and harmony, was one of the most atrocious acts ever perpetrated by men above the rank of vagabonds in their drunken carousals. Franklin, in transmitting an account to Massachusetts, writes in a noble strain:

"What I feel on my own account, is half lost in what I feel for the public. When I see that all petitions and complaints of grievances, are so odious to government, that even the mere pipe which conveys them, becomes obnoxious, I am at a loss to know how peace and union are to be maintained, and restored between the different parts of the empire. Grievances cannot be redressed, unless they are known. And they cannot be known, but through complaints and petitions. If these are deemed affronts, and the messengers punished as offenders, who will henceforth send petitions? and who will deliver them?"

The speech of Wedderburn gave great delight to all the Tory party. It was derisively said, "that the lords of the council, went to their chamber, as to a bull-baiting, and hounded on the Solicitor General with loud applause and laughter." Mr. Fox, writing of the assault said, "All men tossed up their hats and clapped their hands, in boundless delight."

When the tidings of the affair reached America, it added intensity to the animosity, then rapidly increasing, against the British government. The dismissal of Franklin from the post-office, was deemed equivalent to the seizure, by the crown, of that important branch of the government. None but the creatures of the Ministry were to be postmasters. Consequently patriotic Americans could no longer entrust their letters to the mail. Private arrangements were immediately made for the conveyance of letters; and with so much efficiency, that the general office, which had heretofore contributed fifteen thousand dollars annually to the public treasury, never after paid into it one farthing.[24]

[Footnote 24: It may be worthy of record, that Wedderburn became the hero of the clubs and the favorite of the Tory party. Wealth and honors were lavished upon him. He rose to the dignity of an earl and lord chancellor, and yet we do not find, in any of the annals of those days, that he is spoken of otherwise than as a shallow, unprincipled man. When his death, after a few hours' illness, was announced to the king, he scornfully said, "He has not left a worse man behind him."]

The spirit of the Tories may be inferred from that of one of the most applauded and influential of their leaders. Dr. Samuel Johnson, who wrote the notorious "Taxation no Tyranny," said,

"The Americans are a race of convicts. They ought to be thankful for any thing we can give them. I am willing to love all mankind except an American." Boswell in quoting one of his insane tirades writes, "His inflammable corruption, bursting into horrid fire, he breathed out threatenings and slaughter, calling them rascals, robbers, pirates, and exclaiming that he would burn and destroy them."

It was a day of vicious indulgence, of dissipation in every form, when it was fashionable to be godless, and to sneer at all the restraints of the Christian religion. Volumes might be filled with accounts of the atrocities perpetrated by drunken lords at the gaming table and in midnight revel through the streets. Such men of influence and rank as Fox, Lord Derby, the Duke of Ancaster, inflamed with wine, could set the police at defiance. They were constantly engaged in orgies which would disgrace the most degraded wretches, in the vilest haunts of infamy in our cities. Instead of gambling for copper, they gambled for gold. Horace Walpole testifies that at one of the most fashionable clubs, at Almack's, they played only for rouleaux of two hundred and fifty dollars each. There were often fifty thousand dollars in specie on the gaming tables, around which these bloated inebriates were gathered. It is said that Lord Holland paid the gambling debts of his two sons to the amount of one hundred thousand dollars.

The trade of the colonies had become of immense value to the mother country. It amounted to six and a half millions sterling a year. Philadelphia numbered forty thousand inhabitants. Charleston, South Carolina, had become one of the most beautiful and healthy cities in America. The harbor was crowded with shipping, the streets were lined with mansions of great architectural beauty. Gorgeous equipages were seen, almost rivaling the display in French and English capitals. But there were many Tories in Charleston, as malignant in their opposition to the popular cause in America, as any of the aristocrats to be found in London.

The unpardonable insult which Franklin had received, closed his official labors in London. His personal friends and the Opposition rallied more affectionately than ever around him. But he ceased to appear at court and was seldom present at the dinner-parties of the ministers. Still he was constantly and efficiently employed in behalf of his country. The leaders of the opposition were in constant conference with him. He wrote many pamphlets and published articles in the journals, which exerted an extended and powerful influence. He wrote to his friends at home, in October, 1774,

"My situation here is thought, by many, to be a little hazardous; for if by some accident the troops and people of New England should come to blows, I should probably be taken up; the ministerial people, affecting everywhere to represent me as the cause of all the misunderstanding. And I have been frequently cautioned to secure all my papers, and by some advised to withdraw. But I venture to stay, in compliance with the wish of others, till the result of the Congress arrives, since they suppose my being here might, on that occasion, be of use. And I confide in my innocence, that the worst that can happen to me will be an imprisonment upon suspicion; though that is a thing I should much desire to avoid, as it may be expensive and vexatious, as well as dangerous to my health."


The Bloodhounds of War Unleashed.

The mission of Josiah Quincy—Love of England by the Americans—Petition to the king—Sickness and death of Mrs. Franklin—Lord Chatham—His speech in favor of the colonists—Lord Howe—His interview with Franklin—Firmness of Franklin—His indignation—His mirth—Franklin's fable—He embarks for Philadelphia—Feeble condition of the colonies—England's expressions of contempt—Franklin's reception at Philadelphia—His letter to Edmund Burke—Post-office arrangements—Defection and conduct of William Franklin—His arrest.

Young Josiah Quincy, of Boston, one of the noblest of patriots, who was dying of consumption, visited London, with instructions to confer with Franklin upon the posture of affairs. He wrote home, in the most commendatory terms, of the zeal and sagacity with which Franklin was devoting himself to the interests of his country. Tory spies were watching his every movement, and listening to catch every word which fell from his lips. Lord Hillsborough, in a debate in the House of Lords, said,

"There are two men, walking in the streets of London, who ought to be in Newgate or at Tyburn."

The duke of Richmond demanded their names, saying that if such were the fact the ministry were severely to be blamed. Hillsborough declined to give their names; but it was generally known that he referred to Dr. Franklin and Josiah Quincy.

The policy of Franklin was clearly defined, and unchanging. He said virtually, to his countrymen, "Perform no political act against the government, utter no menace, and do no act of violence whatever. But firmly and perseveringly unite in consuming no English goods. There is nothing in this which any one will pronounce to be, in the slightest degree, illegal. The sudden and total loss of the trade with America, will, in one year, create such a clamor, from the capitalists and industrial classes of England, Ireland and Scotland, that the despotic government will be compelled to retrace its steps."

Even at this time the Americans had no desire to break loose from the government of Great Britain. England was emphatically their home. Englishmen were their brothers. In England their fathers were gathered to the grave. The Americans did not assume a new name. They still called themselves Englishmen. They were proud to be members of the majestic kingdom, which then stood at the head of the world.

Congress met. Its members, perhaps without exception, were yearning for reconciliation with the mother-country, and for sincere and cordial friendship. It was resolved to make another solemn appeal to the king, whom they had ever been accustomed to revere, and, in a fraternal spirit, to address their brethren, the people of England, whom they wished to regard with all the respect due to elder brothers.

The intelligence of Christendom has applauded the dignity and the pathos of these documents. The appeal fell upon the profane, gambling, wine-bloated aristocrats of the court, as if it had been addressed to the marble statuary in the British Museum. Nay worse. Those statues would have listened in respectful silence. No contemptuous laughter, and no oaths of menace, would have burst from their marble lips. The following brief extract will show the spirit which pervaded these noble documents. It is one of the closing sentences of the address to the king:

"Permit us then, most gracious sovereign, in the name of all your faithful people in America, with the utmost humility to implore you, for the honor of Almighty God, whose pure religion our enemies are undermining; for the glory which can be advanced only by rendering your subjects happy and keeping them united; for the interests of your family, depending on an adherence to the principle that enthroned it; for the safety and welfare of your kingdom and dominions, threatened with unavoidable dangers, and distresses; that your majesty, as the loving father of your whole people, connected by the same bands of law, loyalty, faith and blood, though dwelling in various countries, will not suffer the transcendent relation, formed by these ties, to be further violated, in uncertain expectation of effects which, if attained, never can compensate for the calamities through which they must be gained."

This petition was sent to Franklin, and the other colony agents, to be presented by them to the king. They were instructed also to publish both the Petition and the Address, in the newspapers, and to give them as wide a circulation as possible.

Dr. Franklin, with two other agents, Arthur Lee and Mr. Bollan, presented to Lord Dartmouth the petition to be handed by him to the king. They were soon informed that the king received it graciously, and would submit the consideration of it to Parliament. It was thought not respectful to the king to publish it before he had presented it to that body. But as usual, the infatuation of both king and court was such, that everything that came from the Americans was treated with neglect, if not with contempt. The all-important petition was buried in a pile of documents upon all conceivable subjects, and not one word was said to commend it to the consideration of either house. For three days it remained unnoticed. Dr. Franklin, then, with his two companions, solicited permission to be heard at the bar of the house. Their request was refused. This brought the question into debate.

The House of Commons was at that time but a reflected image of the House of Lords. It was composed almost exclusively, of the younger sons of the nobles, and such other obsequious servants of the aristocracy, as they, with their vast wealth and patronage, saw fit to have elected. There was an immense Tory majority in the House. They assailed the petition with vulgarity of abuse, which could scarcely be exceeded; and then dismissed it from further consideration. Noble lords made themselves merry in depicting the alacrity with which a whole army of Americans would disperse at the very sound of a British cannon.

While these disastrous events were taking place in England—events, sure to usher in a cruel and bloody war, bearing on its wings terror and conflagration, tears and blood, a domestic tragedy was taking place in the far distant home of Franklin on the banks of the Delaware. Mrs. Franklin had been separated from her husband for nearly ten years. She was a cheerful, motherly woman, ever blessing her home with smiles and with kindly words; and in the society of her daughter and her grandchildren, she found a constant joy. The lapse of three-score years and ten, had not brought their usual infirmities. Though yearning intensely for the return of her husband, she did not allow the separation seriously to mar her happiness. Every spring she was confident that he would return the next autumn, and then bore her disappointment bravely in the assurance that she should see him the coming spring.

In December, 1774, she was suddenly stricken down by a paralytic stroke. Five days of unconscious slumber passed away, when she fell into that deep and dreamless sleep, which has no earthly waking. Her funeral was attended by a large concourse of citizens, with every testimonial of respect. Some of Franklin's oldest friends bore the coffin to the churchyard, where the remains of the affectionate wife and mother who had so nobly fulfilled life's duties, were placed by the side of her father, her mother, and her infant son.

Feelingly does Mr. Parton write, "It is mournful to think that for so many years, she should have been deprived of her husband's society. The very qualities which made her so good a wife, rendered it possible for him to remain absent from his affairs."

Franklin, all unconscious of the calamity which had darkened his home, and weary of the conflict with the British court, was eagerly making preparations to return to Philadelphia.

The aged, illustrious, eloquent Earl of Chatham, one of the noblest of England's all grasping and ambitious sons, sought an interview with Franklin. He utterly condemned the policy of the British cabinet. His sympathies were, not only from principles of policy, but from convictions of justice, cordially with the Americans. He felt sure that unless the court should retrace its steps, war would ensue, and American Independence would follow, and that England, with the loss of her colonies, would find mercantile impoverishment and political weakness. In the course of conversation, he implied that America might be even then, contemplating independence. Franklin, in his account of the interview writes,

"I assured him that having more than once traveled almost from one end of the continent to the other, and kept a great variety of company, eating, drinking and conversing with them freely, I had never heard in any conversation from any person, drunk or sober, the least expression of a wish for a separation, or a hint that such a thing would be advantageous to America."

In a subsequent interview, the Earl of Chatham, alluding to the conduct of Congress, in drawing up the petition and address, said,

"They have acted with so much temper, moderation and wisdom, that I think it the most honorable assembly of statesmen since those of the Greeks and Romans, of the most virtuous times."

In a subsequent interview, Dr. Franklin expressed, to the earl, his apprehension that the continuance of the British army in Boston, which was the source of constant irritation to the people, might eventually lead to a quarrel, perhaps between a drunken porter and a soldier, and that thus tumult and bloodshed might be introduced, leading to consequences which no one could foresee.

Lord Chatham felt the force of these remarks, which soon received their striking illustration, in what was called the Boston Massacre. He therefore declared his intention of repairing to the House of Lords, to introduce a resolve for the immediate withdrawal of the troops from Boston. The tidings were soon noised abroad that the eloquent earl, then probably the most illustrious man in England, was to make a speech in favor of America. The eventful day arrived. The hall was crowded. Dr. Franklin had a special invitation from the earl to be present. The friends of America were there, few in numbers, and the enemies in all their strength.

Lord Chatham made a speech, which in logical power and glowing eloquence, has perhaps never been surpassed. Franklin had impressed him with the conviction that the determination of the Americans to defend their rights was such, that if, with fleet and army, the government were to ravage all the coast and burn all the cities, the Americans would retreat back into the forests, in the maintenance of their liberty. Full of this idea, Lord Chatham exclaimed, with prophetic power,

"We shall be forced ultimately to retract. Let us retract while we can, not when we must. I say we must necessarily undo these violent oppressive acts. You will repeal them. I pledge myself for it. I stake my reputation on it. I will consent to be taken for an idiot, if they are not finally repealed."

Franklin writes, "All availed no more than the whistling of the wind. The motion was rejected. Sixteen Scotch peers and twenty-four bishops, with all the lords in possession or expectation of places, when they vote together unanimously for ministerial measures, as they generally do, make a dead majority, that renders all debate ridiculous in itself, since it can answer no end."

Though the speech produced no impression upon the obdurate House of Lords, it had a very powerful effect upon the public mind. It was read in America, in collegiate halls, in the work-shop and at the farmer's fireside, with delight which cannot be described. A few days after the speech, Dr. Franklin, writing to Lord Stanhope, said,

"Dr. Franklin is filled with admiration of that truly great man. He has seen, in the course of life, sometimes eloquence without wisdom, and often wisdom without eloquence; in the present instance he sees both united, and both he thinks in the highest degree possible."

Slowly the ministry were awaking to the conviction that American affairs, if not settled, might yet cause them much trouble. In various underhand ways, they approached Franklin. It was generally understood that every man had his price; that the influence of one man could be bought for a few hundred pounds; that another would require a lucrative and honorable office. Though the reputation of Franklin was such, that it was a delicate matter to approach him with bribes, still some of them now commenced a course of flattery, endeavoring to secure his cooperation. It was thought that his influence with his countrymen was so great, that they would accede to any terms he should recommend.

Lord Howe called upon Franklin, and, in the name of Lord North and Lord Dartmouth, the two most influential members of the ministry, informed him that they sincerely sought reconciliation, and that they were prepared to listen favorably, to any reasonable propositions he might offer. Lord Howe was the friend of Franklin and of America. These unexpected and joyful tidings affected Franklin so deeply, that he could not conceal the tears which rolled down his cheeks.

Lord Howe then added that he was instructed to say, that the service he would thus render both England and America, would be of priceless value, and that though the ministers could not think of influencing him by any selfish motives, he might expect, in return, any reward which it was in the power of government to bestow. "This," said Franklin, "was what the French vulgarly called spitting in the soup."

But again there was a meeting of Parliament. Again it became evident that the ministry would accede to no terms, which did not secure the entire subjugation of America. Lord Chatham made a renewed attempt to conciliate. His propositions were rejected with scorn. In the meantime Dr. Franklin had presented some Hints, drawn up in the most liberal spirit of compromise, but which still maintained the American principle, that the colonists could not be taxed at the pleasure of the court, without having any voice themselves in the amount which they were to pay.

Soon after this, Mr. Barclay called upon Franklin in the name of the government, and after a long, and to Franklin, disgusting diplomatic harangue, ventured to say to him, that if he would only comply with the wishes of the ministry, he might expect almost any reward he could wish for. Even the imperturbable spirit of Franklin was roused. He replied,

"The ministry, I am sure, would rather give me a place in a cart to Tyburn, than any other place whatever. I sincerely wish to be serviceable; and I need no other inducement that I might be so."

In another interview, which soon followed, it appeared that the government refused to concede a single point which the Americans deemed essential. They refused to withdraw the troops; refused to allow the colonial governors to appoint the collectors of the customs; persisted in building fortresses to hold the people in subjection; and adhered to the claim of Parliament to legislate for the colonies. Franklin said,

"While Parliament claims the power of altering our constitution at pleasure, there can be no agreement. We are rendered unsafe in every privilege, and are secure in nothing."

Mr. Barclay insolently replied, "It would be well for the Americans to come to an agreement with the court of Great Britain. They ought not to forget how easy a thing it will be for the British men-of-war to lay all their seaport towns in ashes."

"I grew warm," writes Franklin; "said that the chief part of my little property consisted of houses in those towns; that they might make bon-fires of them whenever they pleased; that the fear of losing them would never alter my resolution to resist to the last, such claims of Parliament; and that it behoved this country to take care what mischief it did us; for that sooner or later it would certainly be obliged to make good all damages, with interest."

Still again these corrupt men, who are selling themselves and buying others, approached Franklin with attempts to bribe him. "They could not comprehend that any man could be above the reach of such influences. It was contemplated sending Lord Howe to America as a Commissioner. He applied to Franklin to go with him as friend, assistant or secretary.

Lord Howe said to Franklin, that he could not think of undertaking the mission without him; that if he effected any thing valuable, it must be owing to the advice Franklin would afford him; and that he should make no scruple of giving him the full honor of it. He assured him that the ministry did not expect his assistance without a proper consideration; that they wished to make generous and ample appointments for those who aided them, and also would give them the promise of subsequent more ample rewards.

"And," said he, with marked emphasis, "that the ministry may have an opportunity of showing their good disposition toward yourself, will you give me leave, Mr. Franklin, to procure for you, previously, some mark of it; suppose the payment here, of the arrears of your salary as agent for New England, which, I understand, they have stopped for some time past."

It will be remembered that Lord Howe was sincerely the friend of America, and that he anxiously desired to see friendly relations restored. Franklin therefore restrained his displeasure, and courteously replied,

"My Lord, I shall deem it a great honor to be, in any shape, joined with your lordship in so good a work. But if you hope service from any influence I may be supposed to have, drop all thoughts of procuring me any previous favors from ministers. My accepting them would destroy the very influence you propose to make use of. They would be considered as so many bribes to betray the interests of my country. Only let me see the propositions and I shall not hesitate for a moment."

Repeated interviews ensued, between Franklin and both the friends and the enemies of the Americans. There were interminable conferences. But the court was implacable in its resolve, to maintain a supreme and exclusive control over the colonies. Every hour of Franklin's time was engrossed. Merchants and manufacturers, Tories and the opposition, lords temporal, and lords spiritual, all called upon him with their several plans. There were many Americans in London, including a large number of Quakers. These crowded the apartment of Franklin. The negotiations were terminated by a debate in the House of Lords, in which the Americans were assailed in the vilest language of insult and abuse which can be coined. Franklin was present. He writes,

"We were treated with the utmost contempt, as the lowest of mankind, and almost of a different species from the English of Britain. Particularly American honesty was abused by some of the lords, who asserted that we were all knaves, and wanted only, by this dispute, to avoid paying our debts."

Franklin returned to his home, with feelings of indignation, which his calm spirit had rarely before experienced. He resolved no longer to have any thing to do with the hostile governing powers of England. He had loved the British empire. He felt proud of its renown, and that America was but part and parcel of its greatness. But there was no longer hope, that there could be any escape from the awful appeal to arms. Though that measure would be fraught with inconceivable woes for his countrymen, he was assured that they would never submit. They would now march to independence though the path led through scenes of conflagration, blood and unutterable woe. His experience placed him in advance of all his countrymen.

Franklin immediately commenced packing his trunks. Astonishing, almost incredible as it may appear, the evidence seems conclusive that through all these trying scenes, Franklin was a cheerful, it is hardly too strong a word to use, a jovial man. It has been well said, that to be angry is to punish one's self for the sins of another. Our philosopher had no idea of making himself unhappy, because British lords behaved like knaves. He continued to be one of the most entertaining of companions. A cloudless sun seemed to shine wherever he moved. He made witty speeches. He wrote the most amusing articles for the journals, and the invariable gayety of his mind caused his society to be eagerly sought for.

One evening he attended quite a brilliant party at a nobleman's house, who was a friend to America. The conversation chanced to turn upon Esop's fables. It was said that that mine of illustration was exhausted. Franklin, after a moment's thought, remarked, that many new fables could be invented, as instructive as any of those of Esop, Gay, or La Fontaine. Can you think of one now, asked a lord. "I think so," said Franklin, "if you will furnish me with pencil and paper." He immediately sat down, surrounded by the gay assembly, and wrote, as rapidly as his pencil could move,


"Once upon a time an eagle, scaling round a farmer's barn, and espying a hare, darted down upon him like a sunbeam, seized him in his claws, and remounted with him into the air. He soon found that he had a creature of more courage and strength than the hare; for which he had mistaken a cat. The snarling and scrambling of his prey were very inconvenient. And what was worse, she had disengaged herself from his talons, grasped his body with her four limbs, so as to stop his breath, and seized fast hold of his throat, with her teeth.

"'Pray,' said the eagle, 'let go your hold, and I will release you.'

"'Very fine,' said the cat. 'But I have no fancy to fall from this height, and to be crushed to death. You have taken me up, and you shall stoop and let me down.'

"The eagle thought it necessary to stoop accordingly."

This admirable fable was read to the company; and, as all were in sympathy with America, it was received with great applause. Little, however, did any of them then imagine, how invincible was the animal the British government was about to clutch in its talons, supposing it to be a defenseless hare.

Franklin spent his last day in London with Dr. Priestly. The Doctor bears glowing testimony to his admirable character. Many thought Dr. Franklin heartless, since, in view of all the horrors of a civil war, his hilarity was never interrupted. Priestly, alluding to this charge against Franklin, says, that they spent the day looking over the American papers, and extracting from them passages to be published in England. "In reading them," he writes, "Franklin was frequently not able to proceed for the tears literally running down his cheeks." Upon his departure, he surrendered his agency to Arthur Lee. It was the 21st of March, 1775, when Franklin embarked at Portsmouth, in a Pennsylvania packet.

Franklin was apprehensive until the last moment, that he would not be permitted to depart; that the court, which had repeatedly denounced him as a traitor, would arrest him on some frivolous charge. On the voyage he wrote a minute narrative of his diplomatic career, occupying two hundred and fifty pages of foolscap. This important document was given to his son William Franklin, who was daily becoming a more inveterate Tory, endeavoring to ingratiate himself into favor with the court, from which he had received the appointment of governor.

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