Franklin also sent a copy to Mr. Jefferson, perhaps apprehensive that his son might not deal fairly with a document which so terribly condemned the British government. The Governor subsequently published the narrative. But there is reason to suppose that he suppressed those passages, which revealed most clearly the atrocious conduct of the British cabinet. Jefferson wrote some years later, alluding to this document:
"I remember that Lord North's answers were dry, unyielding, in the spirit of unconditional submission, and betrayed an absolute indifference to the occurrence of a rupture. And he said to the mediators distinctly, at last, that a rebellion was not to be deprecated on the part of Great Britain; that the confiscations it would produce, would provide for many of their friends."
The idea that the feeble Americans, scattered along a coast more than a thousand miles in extent, without a fortress, a vessel of war, or a regiment of regular troops, could withstand the fleets and armies of Great Britain, was never entertained for a moment. Indeed, as we now contemplate the fearful odds, it causes one's heart to throb, and we cannot but be amazed at the courage which our patriotic fathers displayed.
It was a common boast in England, that one regiment of British regulars could march from Boston to Charleston, and sweep all opposition before them. A band of ten wolves can put a flock of ten thousand sheep to flight. It was quite a pleasant thought, to the haughty court, that one or two ships of war, and two or three regiments could be sent across the Atlantic, seize and hang Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, and others of our leading patriots, and confiscate the property of hundreds of others, for the enrichment of the favorites of the crown.
"There will be no fighting;" these deluded men said, "it will be a mere holiday excursion. The turbulent and foolhardy Americans will be brought to their senses, and, like whipped spaniels, will fawn upon the hand which has chastised them."
The voyage across the Atlantic occupied six weeks. In the evening twilight of the 5th of May, the ship dropped anchor in the Delaware, opposite Philadelphia. Franklin landed, and walked alone through the darkened streets towards his home. It is difficult to imagine the emotions with which his heart must have been agitated in that hour. Ten years had elapsed since he left his home. In the meantime his wife had reared another dwelling, in Market street, and there she had died. He had left his daughter Sarah, a child of twelve years. He was to find her a matron surrounded by her babes.
Cordially Franklin was welcomed home. The whole country resounded with the praises he so richly merited. The morning after his arrival he was unanimously chosen by the Assembly, then in session, as a member of the Continental Congress, which was to meet on the 10th of the month, in that city. Sixteen days before Franklin's arrival the memorable conflicts of Lexington and Concord had taken place. Probably never were men more astounded, than were the members of the British cabinet, in learning that the British regulars had been defeated, routed and put to precipitate flight by American farmers with their fowling-pieces. In this heroic conflict, whose echoes reverberated around the world, the Americans lost in killed and wounded eighty-three. The British lost two hundred and seventy-three. Franklin wrote to his friend Edmund Burke,
"Gen. Gage's troops made a most vigorous retreat—twenty miles in three hours—scarce to be paralleled in history. The feeble Americans, who pelted them all the way, could scarce keep up with them."
On the 10th of May Congress met. There were still two parties, one in favor of renewed attempts at conciliation, before drawing the sword and throwing away the scabbard; the other felt that the powers of conciliation were exhausted, and that nothing now remained, but the arbitrament of war.
George Washington was chosen, by the Assembly, Commander-in-Chief of the American forces. On the 17th of June the battle of Bunker Hill was fought. Mr. John Dickinson trembled in view of his great wealth. His wife entreated him to withdraw from the conflict. Piteously she urged the considerations, that he would be hung, his wife left a widow, and his children beggared and rendered infamous. He succeeded in passing a resolution in favor of a second petition to the king, which he drew up, and which the Tory Governor Richard Penn was to present. John Adams, who was weary of having his country continue in the attitude of a suppliant kneeling at the foot of the throne, opposed this petition, as a "measure of imbecility."
One of the first acts of Congress was to organize a system for the safe conveyance of letters, which could no longer be trusted in the hands of the agents of the British Court. Franklin was appointed Postmaster General. He had attained the age of sixty nine years. Notwithstanding his gravity of character and his great wisdom, he had unfortunately become an inveterate joker. He could not refrain from inserting, even in his most serious and earnest documents, some witticism, which men of the intensity of soul of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, felt to be out of place. Still the wisdom of his counsels invariably commanded respect. Upon learning of the burning of Charleston, he wrote to Dr. Priestly,
"England has begun to burn our seaport towns, secure, I suppose, that we shall never be able to return the outrage in kind. She may, doubtless, destroy them all. But if she wishes to recover our commerce, are these the probable means? She must certainly be distracted; for no tradesman, out of Bedlam, ever thought of increasing the number of his customers by knocking them in the head; or of enabling them to pay their debts by burning their houses."
[Footnote 25: "And here perhaps we have one of the reasons why Dr. Franklin, who was universally confessed to be the ablest pen in America, was not always asked to write the great documents of the Revolution. He would have put a joke into the Declaration of Independence, if it had fallen to him to write it. At this time he was a humorist of fifty years standing, and had become fixed in the habit of illustrating great truths by grotesque and familiar similes. His jokes, the circulating medium of Congress, were as helpful to the cause, as Jay's conscience or Adams' fire; they restored good humor, and relieved the tedium of delay, but were out of place in formal, exact and authoritative papers."—Parton's Franklin, Vol. 2. p. 85.]
One of Franklin's jokes, in Congress, is very characteristic of the man. It was urged that the Episcopal clergy should be directed to refrain from praying for the king. Franklin quenched the injudicious movement with a witticism.
"The measure is quite unnecessary," said he. "The Episcopal clergy, to my certain knowledge, have been constantly praying, these twenty years, that 'God would give to the king and council wisdom.' And we all know that not the least notice has been taken of that prayer. So it's plain that those gentlemen have no interest in the court of Heaven."
If we sow the wind we must reap the whirlwind. Terrible was the mortification and mental suffering which Franklin endured from the governor of New Jersey. He had lived down the prejudices connected with his birth and had become an influential and popular man. He, with increasing tenacity adhered to the British Government, and became even the malignant opponent of the Americans. He pronounced the idea of their successfully resisting the power of Great Britain, as utterly absurd. His measures became so atrocious, as to excite the indignation of the people of New Jersey. The Assembly finally arrested him and sent him, under guard, to Burlington. As he continued contumacious and menacing, Congress ordered him to be removed to Connecticut. The Constitutional Gazette of July 13th, 1776, contains the following allusion to this affair:
"Day before yesterday Governor Franklin, of New Jersey, passed through Hartford, on his way to Governor Trumbull. Mr. Franklin is a noted Tory and ministerial tool, and has been exceedingly busy in perplexing the cause of liberty, and in serving the designs of the British king and his ministers.
"He is son to Dr. Benjamin Franklin, the genius of the day, and the great patron of American liberty. If his excellency escapes the vengeance of the people, due to the enormity of his crimes, his redemption will flow, not from his personal merit, but from the high esteem and veneration which the country entertains for his honored father."
His family was left in deep affliction. Franklin sent them both sympathy and money. The captive governor resided at Middletown on parole. Here the infatuated man gathered around him a band of Tories, many of whom were rich, and held convivial meetings exceedingly exasperating, when British armies were threatening the people with conflagration and carnage.
Inflamed with wine, these bacchanals sang treasonable songs, the whole company joining in chorus, with uproar which drew large groups around the house. The Tories professed utterly to despise the patriots, and doubted not that their leaders would all soon be hung. One midnight the governor, with his boon companions, having indulged in the wildest of their orgies, sallied into the streets, with such uproar as to make night hideous. The watch found it needful to interfere. The drunken governor called one of them a damned villain and threatened to flog him. A report of these proceedings was sent to Congress.
Soon after it was ascertained that he was an active agent for the British ministry. He was then confined in Litchfield jail, and deprived of pen, ink and paper. For two years he suffered this well-merited imprisonment. Mrs. governor Franklin never saw her husband again. Grief-stricken, she fell sick, and died in New York in July, 1778.
After an imprisonment of two years and four months, William Franklin was exchanged, and he took refuge within the British lines at New York. He received a pension from the British government, lived hilariously, and devoted his energies to a vigorous prosecution of the war against his countrymen. Franklin felt deeply this defection of his son. After the lapse of nine years he wrote,
"Nothing has ever affected me with such keen sensations, as to find myself deserted in my old age by my only son; and not only deserted but to find him taking up arms in a cause wherein my good fame, fortune and life were at stake."
[Footnote 26: Upon the overthrow of the royalist cause, Governor Franklin with other Tories went to England. Government gave him outright eighteen hundred pounds, and settled upon him a pension of eight hundred pounds a year. After the lapse of ten years he sought reconciliation with his father. He lived to the age of eighty-two and died in London, in 1813.]
Progress of the War, both of Diplomacy and the Sword.
Letter of Henry Laurens—Franklin visits the army before Boston—Letter of Mrs. Adams—Burning of Falmouth—Franklin's journey to Montreal—The Declaration of Independence—Anecdote of the Hatter—Framing the Constitution—Lord Howe's Declaration—Franklin's reply—The Conference—Encouraging letter from France—Franklin's embassy to France—The two parties in France—The voyage—The reception in France.
The spirit which, almost to that hour, had animated the people of America,—the most illustrious statesmen and common people, was attachment to Old England. Their intense desire to maintain friendly relations with the mother country, their "home," their revered and beloved home, may be inferred from the following extract from a letter, which one of the noblest of South Carolinians, Hon. Henry Laurens, wrote to his son John. It bears the date of 1776. He writes, alluding to the separation from England, then beginning to be contemplated:
"I can not rejoice in the downfall of an old friend, of a parent from whose nurturing breasts I have drawn my support and strength. Every evil which befalls old England grieves me. Would to God she had listened, in time, to the cries of her children. If my own interests, if my own rights alone had been concerned, I would most freely have given the whole to the demands and disposal of her ministers, in preference to a separation. But the rights of posterity were involved in the question. I happened to stand as one of their representatives, and dared not betray their trust."
Washington, Adams, Jay, would have made almost any conceivable sacrifice of their personal interest, if they could have averted the calamity of a separation from the home of their ancestors. But the conduct of the British Cabinet was not only despotic, in the highest degree, but it was insolent and contemptuous beyond all endurance. It seemed to be generally assumed that a man, if born on the majestic continent of North America, instead of being born on their little island, must be an inferior being. They regarded Americans as slave-holders were accustomed to regard the negro. Almost every interview resolved itself into an insult. Courteous intercourse was impossible. Affection gave place to detestation.
On the 13th of September, 1775, Congress assembled in Philadelphia. Lexington, Bunker Hill, and other hostile acts of our implacable foes, had thrown the whole country into the most intense agitation. Military companies were every where being organized. Musket manufactories and powder mills were reared. Ladies were busy scraping lint, and preparing bandages. And what was the cause of all this commotion, which converted America, for seven years, into an Aceldama of blood and woe?
It was that haughty, insolent men in England, claimed the right to impose taxes, to whatever amount they pleased, upon their brother men in America. They did not blush to say, "It is the prerogative of us Englishmen to demand of you Americans such sums of money as we want. Unless, like obsequious slaves, you pay the money, without murmuring, we will burn your cities and deluge your whole land in blood."
Washington was assembling quite an army of American troops around Boston, holding the foe in close siege there. Franklin was sent, by Congress, as one of a committee of three, to confer with Washington upon raising and supplying the American army. Amidst all these terrific excitements and perils this wonderful man could not refrain from giving expression to his sense of the ludicrous. The day before leaving Philadelphia, he wrote to Dr. Priestly the following humorous summary of the result of the British operations thus far.
"Britain at the expense of three millions, has killed one hundred and fifty Yankees this campaign, which is twenty thousand pounds a head. And, at Bunker Hill, she gained a mile of ground, half of which she lost again by our taking post on Ploughed Hill. During the same time sixty thousand children have been born in America. From these data, Dr. Price's mathematical head will easily calculate the time and expense necessary to kill us all, and conquer our whole territory."
It required a journey of thirteen days, for the Commissioners to pass from Philadelphia to Cambridge. On the 4th of October they reached the camp. Mrs. John Adams, who was equal to her husband in patriotism, in intellectual ability and in self-denial, writes,
"I had the pleasure of dining with Dr. Franklin, and of admiring him whose character, from infancy, I had been taught to venerate. I found him social, but not talkative; and when he spoke, something useful dropped from his tongue. He was grave, yet pleasant and affable. You know I make some pretensions to physiognomy, and I thought that I could read in his countenance, the virtues of his heart; and with that is blended every virtue of a Christian."
The conference lasted four days, and resulted in the adoption of very important measures. While in the camp, news came of the burning of Portland, then Falmouth. It was a deed which would have disgraced American savages. The town was entirely defenceless. It held out no menace whatever to the foe. The cold blasts of a Maine winter were at hand. A British man-of-war entered the harbor, and giving but a few hours notice, that the sick and the dying might be removed, and that the women and children might escape from shot and shell, to the frozen fields, one hundred and thirty humble, peaceful homes were laid in ashes. The cruel flames consumed nearly all their household furniture, their clothing and the frugal food they had laid in store for their long and dreary winter. A few houses escaped the shells. Marines were landed to apply the torch to them, that the destruction might be complete.
There were several vessels in the harbor. The freezing, starving, homeless wives and daughters who had not strength to toil through the wilderness to seek distant cabins of refuge, might perhaps escape in them. To prevent this they were burned to the water's edge. It was an infernal deed. It struck to the very heart of America. Even now, after a lapse of one hundred years, no American can read an account of this outrage without the flushed cheek and the moistened eye which indignation creates. Mrs. Adams wrote,
"I could not join to-day in the petitions of our worthy pastor for a reconciliation between our no longer parent, but tyrant state, and these colonies. Let us separate. They are no longer worthy to be our brethren. Let us renounce them, and instead of supplications, as formerly for their prosperity and happiness, let us beseech the Almighty to blast their councils and bring to naught all their devices."
Though Franklin was the sweetest tempered of men, he returned to Philadelphia with his spirit greatly embittered against the demoniac foes of his country. For some time no jokes escaped his lips or pen. In December, Arnold, then a patriot and a brave soldier, had made an unsuccessful attack upon Quebec. He had retired to Montreal. Franklin was again appointed one of these commissioners, to visit Arnold and advise respecting Canadian affairs.
Most of the Canadians were Catholics. One of the commissioners was Charles Carroll of Carollton. He had a brother John, a Catholic priest, a man of high culture, of irreproachable character and a sincere patriot. He was perfectly familiar with the French language. By the solicitation of Congress he was induced to accompany his brother on this mission. It was hoped that he would be able to exert a powerful influence over the Canadian clergy. Franklin and John Carroll became intimate and loving friends. It speaks well for both, that the free-thinking philosopher, and the Catholic priest could so recognize each other's virtues, as to forget their speculative differences in mutual regard.
There was before the commissioners, a very laborious journey of five hundred miles, much of it leading through an almost unexplored wilderness. It shows great zeal in Franklin, that at the age of seventy, he was willing to encounter such exposure.
Late in March, the commissioners left Philadelphia. In two days they reached New York. They found the place deserted of its inhabitants. It was held but by a few soldiers, as it was hourly expected that the British, from their fleet and batteries, would open upon it a terrific bombardment. How little can we imagine the sufferings which must ensue, when thousands of families are driven, in terror, from their homes, from all their means of support, to go they know not where, and to live they know not how.
A few sad days were passed in the ruined town, and on the 2d of April the party embarked, at five in the afternoon, in a packet for Albany. At seven o'clock in the morning of the 4th day, after an eventful voyage, in which they narrowly escaped shipwreck from a gale in the Highlands, they landed at Albany, where they were hospitably entertained by General Schuyler.
After a brief rest, on the 9th, they set out for Saratoga, which was distant about thirty-two miles. They were conveyed over an exceedingly rough road of rocks, and corduroy and mire, in a large, heavy, country wagon. From this place, Franklin wrote,
"I begin to apprehend that I have undertaken a fatigue which, at my time of life, may prove too much for me."
After a short tarry at the country seat of General Sullivan at Saratoga, the party moved on toward Lake George. In those northern latitudes the ground was still covered with snow, and the lake was filled with floating ice. Two days of very exhausting travel brought them to the southern shore of the beautiful but then dreary lake. Here they took a large boat, thirty-six feet long, and eight broad. It was what was called a bateau, which was flat-bottomed, and was but one foot in depth. There was one mast, and a blanket sail, which was available when the wind was directly aft. There was no cabin. A mere awning sheltered partially from wind and rain.
Thus they crept across the lake, through masses of ice, a distance of thirty-six miles, in thirty-six hours. There was a neck of land, four miles in breadth, which separated Lake George from Lake Champlain. The heavy boat, placed on wheels, was dragged across by six yoke of oxen. A delay of five days was thus caused, before they were ready to embark on the latter lake. The navigation of this small sheet of water, surrounded by the primeval forest, and with scarcely the cabin of a white man to be seen, must have been romantic indeed.
They sailed when the wind favored, and rowed when it was adverse. At night they ran ashore, built their camp fire, which illumined lake and forest, boiled their coffee, cooked their viands, and, some under the awning, and some under the shelter of a hastily constructed camp, slept sweetly. The ice greatly impeded their progress. In three and a half days, they reached St. John's, near the upper end of the lake. The toilsome journey of another day, brought them to Montreal. None of the commissioners were accustomed to thus roughing it. All were greatly exhausted.
A council of war was convened. Canada was clearly lost to the Americans. It was at once decided that nothing remained but to withdraw the troops. Early in June, Franklin reached Philadelphia, from his toilsome journey. He had been absent about ten weeks. The doom of the proprietary government over Pennsylvania, was now sealed. Congress had voted that all authority derived from the king of England, was extinct. A conference of delegates was appointed to organize a new government for the province. Franklin was, of course, one of these delegates. A committee had been appointed, by Congress, to draw up a Declaration of Independence. The committee consisted of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Livingston, and Sherman.
The immortal document, as all the world knows, came from the pen of Jefferson. It was offered to Congress for acceptance. Many frivolous objections were, of course, presented. One man thought this phrase a little too severe. Another thought that a little too lenient. Franklin sat by the side of Jefferson, as the admirable document was subjected to this assailment. Turning to him he said, in one of the most characteristic and popular of all his utterances,
"When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an apprenticed hatter, was about to open a shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome sign-board, with a proper inscription. He composed it in these words,
"John Thompson, Hatter, makes and sells Hats for ready Money."
But he thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments. The first he showed it to, thought the word hatter tautologous; because followed by the words makes hats, which showed that he was a hatter. It was struck out. The next observed that the word makes, might as well be omitted, because his customers would not care who made the hats; if good, and to their mind, they would buy, by whomsoever made. He struck it out. A third said he thought the words, for ready money, were useless; as it was not the custom of the place to sell on credit. Every one who purchased, expected to pay. They were parted with. The inscription now stood,
"John Thompson sells hats."
"Sells hats," says his next friend. "Why nobody will expect you to give them away. What then is the use of that word?" It was stricken out, and hats followed, the rather as there was one painted on the board. So his inscription was reduced ultimately to John Thompson, with the figure of a hat subjoined."
It will be remembered the readiness with which Dr. Franklin, on the spur of the moment, threw off the admirable fable of the Eagle and the Hare. It is altogether probable that, in the inexhaustible resources of his genius, he improvised this anecdote to meet the exigencies of the occasion.
When the Hessian troops, whom England had hired of a German prince, arrived, intelligent men in this country pitied rather than blamed those simple hearted peasants, who had no animosity whatever, against the Americans. They had been compelled, by their feudal lord, who was really their slave master, to leave their lowly homes on the Rhine, to unite with English regulars and painted savages, in burning the homes and butchering the people struggling for existence in the wilderness of the New World.
Again the all availing pen of Franklin was called into requisition. By direction of Congress he drew up a friendly address to these unfortunate men, offering every German, who would abandon the ignominious service to which his prince had sold him, a tract of rich land sufficient for an ample farm. The address was translated into German. Various were the devices adopted, to give the document circulation in the Hessian camp. It doubtless exerted a powerful influence, in disarming these highly disciplined troops of all animosity. The effect was perhaps seen in the spectacle witnessed a few weeks afterwards, when nine hundred of these soldiers were led through the streets of Philadelphia, prisoners of war. It is not improbable that many of them were more than willing to throw down their arms.
On the 20th of July, 1776, Franklin was chosen by the Convention, one of nine delegates to represent Pennsylvania in the national Congress. One of the great difficulties to be surmounted, in a union of the States, was to give the great States, like New York and Pennsylvania, their own preponderance in the confederacy, while the minor states, like New Jersey and Delaware, should not be shorn of their influence. The difficulty was finally obviated by the present admirable arrangement, by which each State, great or small, has two representatives in the Senate, while their representation in the House depends upon the number of the population.
Franklin excelled in the art of "putting things." He silenced the demand of the smaller States, to be, in all respects, on an equality with the larger, by saying,
"Let the smaller colonies give equal money and men, and then have an equal vote. But if they have an equal vote, without bearing equal burdens, a confederation, upon such iniquitous principles, will never last long."
The convention, to form a constitution for the State of Pennsylvania, met at Philadelphia on the 16th of July, 1776. Franklin was unanimously chosen President. No pen can describe the intensity of his labors. All appreciated his consummate wisdom, and yielded readily to his suggestions. Troops were hurrying to and fro. One hundred and twenty British war vessels were in New York harbor. No one knew upon what seaport the thunderbolts of this formidable armament would be hurled. The Americans had been defeated on Long Island in August, 1776, and had almost miraculously escaped with their field pieces and stores, across the East River to New York. This brilliant retreat was deemed, by the Americans, almost equivalent to a victory.
Lord Howe, the old friend of Franklin and a humane and respected Englishman, who was sincerely desirous of peace with the Colonies, was appointed Admiral of the king's naval forces. He accepted the appointment, with the hope that, by the aid of Franklin, reconciliation might be effected. Still he was an Englishman and could not conceive that Americans had any rights which the English government was bound to respect. The degree of his infatuation may be inferred from the fact that, as soon as he reached our shores, he published a Declaration, which he circulated far and wide, stating that if the Americans would only give up the conflict and return to implicit submission, the British Government would forgive their sins, pardon the guilty ones, with a few exceptions, and receive them again to favor. The weak man seemed really to think, that this was an extraordinary act of clemency on the part of the English Court.
The reply, which Franklin drew up, to the Declaration, was grand. And it was the more grand when we reflect that it was addressed to a man who was supported by an army, of we know not how many thousand British regulars, and by a fleet of one hundred and twenty war vessels, many of which were of gigantic armament. Admiral Howe had written a courteous private letter to Dr. Franklin, in which he enclosed the Declaration. Congress gave Franklin permission to reply. He wrote,
"My lord; the official despatches to which you refer me, contain nothing more than offers of pardon upon submission. Directing pardon to be offered to the colonies, who are the very parties injured, expresses indeed that opinion of our ignorance, baseness, and insensibility which your uninformed and proud nation has long been pleased to entertain of us. It is impossible that we should think of submission to a government that has, with the most wanton barbarity and cruelty, burnt our defenseless towns, in the midst of winter, excited the savages to massacre our farmers, and our slaves to murder their masters, and is, even now, bringing foreign mercenaries to deluge our settlements with blood."
I have not space to copy the remainder of this admirable letter. It was delivered to Lord Howe, on board his flag ship in New York harbor, ten days after its date. As he read it his countenance expressed surprise, and almost his only remark was, "My old friend has expressed himself very warmly."
A few weeks later this good natured but weak man paroled General Sullivan, who was a prisoner of war, and sent him to Philadelphia, with a message to Congress which Lord Howe cautiously declined to put upon paper. General Sullivan reduced the message to writing and presented it to Congress. It was in substance as follows:
"The government of England cannot admit that Congress is a legitimate body, to be recognized by any diplomatic relations whatever. It is but a tumultous assembly of men who have treasonably conspired against their lawful sovereign. Still the government is willing that Lord Howe should confer with some of the members of congress, as private gentlemen, to see if some terms of accommodation cannot be arranged."
After much and earnest discussion, in which a great diversity of opinion prevailed, it was voted that General Sullivan should inform Admiral Howe, that a committee of three would be sent to ascertain whether he "has any authority to treat with persons, authorized by Congress for that purpose."
Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Edward Rutledge composed this committee. An antique house, nearly a hundred years old, formerly the abode of wealth and splendor, which stood in a green lawn, but a few rods from the beach on the western shore of Staten Island, was chosen as the place for the conference. A two days' journey conveyed the committee to Amboy, opposite the house. Adams traveled on horseback: Franklin and Rutledge in a two wheel chaise.
Admiral Howe sent a boat, under the protection of a flag of truce, with an officer, who stated that he was to be left behind as a hostage for their safe return. Promptly they declined manifesting any such distrust of the honor of Admiral Howe, and took the hostage back in the boat with them. The barge, propelled by lusty rowers, soon reached the Staten Island shore. A large apartment of the old stone house had been richly decorated with moss and branches in honor of the occasion.
A regiment of Hessians was posted at that spot. The colonel drew them up in two lines and through this lane of soldiers the commissioners advanced from the beach to the house. When Admiral Howe saw that the officer he had sent as a hostage had been returned, he said,
"Gentlemen, you pay me a high compliment."
Cordially the kind-hearted admiral received his guests, and invited them to an ample collation of cold ham, tongues, mutton and wine. Mr. Henry Strachey, secretary of Lord Howe, wrote a very full report of the interview, which accords entirely with the narrative which John Adams presented to Congress. In as sincere and friendly words as human lips could pronounce, the Admiral assured the American gentlemen of his earnest desire to promote reconciliation between the colonists and the mother country. He alluded to the fact that in England he had been regarded as the friend of America, and to the honor Massachusetts had conferred upon his family by rearing a monument to his brother, who had fallen at Ticonderoga. Franklin well knew that Howe was regarded as the friend of America.
"I assure you, gentlemen," said Lord Howe, "that I esteem that honor to my family, above all things in this world. Such is my gratitude and affection to this country, on that account, that I feel for America as for a brother. And if America should fall, I should feel and lament it like the loss of a brother." The reply of Franklin to these sincere words, seems a little discourteous. Assuming an air of great indifference and confidence, as though the fall of America was an idea not to be thought of, he bowed, and with one of his blandest smiles said, "I assure you, my lord, that we will do everything in our power to save your lordship from that mortification."
The admiral was feeling too deeply for jokes. He was wounded by the rebuke apparently contained in the reply of his old friend. But it must not be forgotten that Franklin, the sweetest tempered of men, had not yet recovered from the indignation caused by the barbarities inflicted by the British government upon the families of Falmouth. Every day was bringing tidings of the atrocities which England, through its savage allies, was perpetrating on the frontiers, burning the cabins of lonely farmers, and tomahawking and scalping women and children. And he was constrained to look upon Lord Howe as the agent of that government, commissioned to bear to the patriots of America only the insulting messages, that the king and his ministers would graciously pardon them the crime of attempting to resist their despotism, if they would ask forgiveness, and in future submit uncomplainingly to the requirements of the crown.
Thus, while the kind-hearted admiral, with a bosom glowing with brotherly sympathy, was acting upon the assumption that the Americans should cherish undying emotions of gratitude to the king, that he was so ready to forgive their disobedience to his commands, Franklin and his companions, found it difficult to restrain their emotions of indignation, in view of the truly diabolical course pursued by the British government. The court, in their judgment, merited the execrations not only of Americans but of all humanity.
Lord Howe very emphatically wished the commissioners to understand that he met them merely as private individuals, and that he could not, in the slightest degree, recognize any authority in Congress. Franklin coldly replied,
"Your lordship may consider us in any view you may think proper. We, on our part, are at liberty to consider ourselves in our real character."
John Adams replied with warmth, characteristic of his impetuous nature, "Your lordship may consider me in what light you please. Indeed I should be willing to consider myself, for a few moments, in any character which would be agreeable to your lordship, except that of a British subject."
As the conversation was continued, Franklin said, "We have been deputed, by Congress, simply to inquire of your lordship what proposition you have to offer for the consideration of Congress. British troops have ravaged our country and burnt our towns. We cannot again be happy under the government of Great Britain. All former attachments are obliterated. America can never return to the domination of Great Britain."
Mr. Adams added, "My lord, it is not in our power to treat otherwise than as independent states. For my part, I avow my determination never to depart from the idea of independency."
Mr Rutledge gave emphasis to these decisive words by saying, "With regard to the people consenting to come again under the English government, it is impossible. I can answer for South Carolina. The royal government there was very oppressive. At last we took the government into our own hands. The people are now settled, and happy, under that government. They would not now return to the king's government even if Congress should desire it."
Here the conference ended, by Lord Howe's stating, that, as they insisted upon independence, no accommodation was possible. Lord Howe courteously accompanied the American gentlemen to the barge, and they were rowed over to the New Jersey shore. In the report they made to Congress they stated, that the commission of Lord Howe only conferred upon him authority to grant pardon to the Americans, with a few exceptions, upon their entire submission to the king.
It required, in those days, a long time to cross the Atlantic. Seldom could an answer be obtained to a letter in less than four or five months. To the usual delays and perils attached to the navigation of that stormy sea, there was now to be added the danger of capture from the swarm of British cruisers. Congress had several agents on the continent. But months passed away, during which no letters were received from them. This painful suspense was relieved, in September, 1776, by a long letter to Dr. Franklin, from a French gentleman, Dr. Dubourg. He was one of the prominent philosophers of Paris, and, by the request of Count du Buffon, had translated into French, Franklin's treatise upon electricity.
This letter was very cautiously written. It covered many sheets of paper. The all important substance of the letter was almost concealed from view by the mass of verbiage in which it was enveloped. But a careful reading indicated that the French ministry and the nation were in sympathy with the Americans; that while the ministry wished to avoid war with England they would gladly, if it could be done secretly, send the Americans money and powder, cannon and muskets, and that many French generals of note were eager to join the American army, and confer upon it the benefit of their experience.
This news sent a thrill of joy through hearts which recent reverses had rendered somewhat desponding. It was decided immediately to send an embassy of highest character to France. Three were to be chosen by ballot. On the first ballot Dr. Franklin was unanimously elected. He was seventy years old. And yet probably there was not another man in America so well qualified to fill that difficult, delicate and responsible post. Franklin, in the saloons of diplomacy, was fully the peer of Washington on the field of war. When the result of the ballot was announced Franklin turned to Dr. Rush, who was at his side, and said,
"I am old and good for nothing. But as the store-keepers say of their remnants of cloth, 'I am but a fag end, and you may have me for what you please.'"
Thomas Jefferson, then thirty-three years of age, and as pure a patriot as ever lived, was next chosen. He was already renowned in France as the writer of the Declaration of Independence. Silas Deane, a native of Connecticut, and a graduate of Yale, then one of the agents in Europe, was the third.
It required no little courage to cross the ocean, swept by the fleets of Great Britain. Had Franklin or Jefferson fallen into the hands of the British government, it is certain that they would have suffered severe imprisonment; it is by no means improbable that they would have been promptly hung as traitors. It was a noble sacrifice for country which led Franklin, having numbered his three-score years and ten, to incur these perils.
[Footnote 27: In the year 1780, Mr. Henry Laurens, formerly President of Congress, was sent as ambassador to Holland. The ship was captured off Newfoundland, after a chase of five hours. The unfortunate man was thrown into the Tower, where he was imprisoned fifteen months, "where" he wrote to Mr. Burke, "I suffered under a degree of rigor, almost if not altogether unexampled in modern British history."]
Jefferson was compelled to decline the mission, as his wife, whom he loved with devotion rarely equalled, and perhaps never surpassed, was sick and dying. Arthur Lee, then in Europe, was elected in his stead. He was a querulous, ill-natured man, ever in a broil. A more unsuitable man for the office could scarcely have been found.
There were two parties in France who favored the Americans. One consisted of enthusiastic young men, who were enamored with the idea of republican liberty. They were weary of Bourbon despotism. The character of Louis XV., as vile a king as ever sat upon a throne, was loathsome to them. They had read Jefferson's "Declaration," with delight; and had engraven its immortal principles upon their hearts. The Marquis de Lafayette was perhaps the most prominent member of this party.
France hated England. That haughty government had long been the most unpopular on the globe. England had made great conquests from France, and was rich, intelligent and powerful beyond any other nation. Prosperity had given her arrogance, and she had placed her heel upon her humiliated neighbors. There was not a court in Europe which would not have rejoiced to see England humbled. The despotic court of France, and the most haughty nobles, were ready to encounter any perils which held out a reasonable hope that England might be weakened. Thus the sympathies of all France were united in favor of America.
And now the hour had come. By aiding the Americans, who had boldly declared their independence, they might not only deprive England of those colonies whose trade was already invaluable to England, and which were rapidly increasing in population, wealth and power, but also they might awaken such gratitude in the bosoms of Americans, that the trade of the new nation would be mainly transferred to France.
Thus the court and the nobles, intent upon this object, did not hesitate to aid in the establishment of those principles of liberty, fraternity and equality in America, which eventually whelmed in ruin the palaces and the castles of France.
It was deemed important to conceal, as long as possible, from the British government the sympathy and aid which France was about to manifest for the Americans. Arthur Lee reported that an agent of the French government had promised to send from Holland, two thousand pounds worth of military stores. They were to be forwarded to one of the French West India islands, ostensibly for the service of those islands. The governor was, however, instructed to surrender them to a secret agent of the American Congress. The plan failed. I have not space to record all the various stratagems which were devised to aid the Americans, while the movement was carefully concealed from the vigilant eyes of the English.
Franklin, with nobility of soul which should command the love of every American, as one of his last deeds before he left his country perhaps never to return, collected all the money he could command, about twelve thousand dollars, and loaned it to the government, whose treasury was utterly impoverished. In those dark days, even that small sum was of essential aid. In one of the last of Franklin's letters, before he sailed, he wrote,
"As to our public affairs, I hope our people will keep up their courage. I have no doubt of their finally succeeding by the blessing of God; nor have I any doubt that so good a cause will fail of that blessing. It is computed that we have already taken a million sterling from the enemy. They must soon be sick of their piratical project."
Franklin embarked in the Reprisal, a rapid sailing sloop of war of sixteen guns. He took with him his grandson, William Temple Franklin, son of the Tory governor, then a very handsome boy of eighteen, and Benjamin Franklin Bache, eldest son of his daughter, a lad of seven years. William Temple Franklin adhered firmly to the political views of his grandfather. Dr. Franklin intended to place Benjamin in a school in Paris.
Tory spies were watching every movement of Congress. This mission to France was kept a profound secret. Had the British government known that Benjamin Franklin was about to cross the ocean, almost every ship in the British navy would have been sent in chase of him. On the 26th of October, 1776, he left Philadelphia, every precaution having been adopted to keep his departure a secret. The vessel was at anchor at Marcus Hook, in the Delaware, three miles beyond Chester.
Fierce gales drove them rapidly across the Atlantic. Captain Wickes had received instructions to avoid fighting, if possible. He was to devote all his energies to transporting his precious passenger as rapidly as possible, from shore to shore. They were often chased by cruisers. The vessel was small, and Franklin, in his old age, was sadly cramped by his narrow accommodations. He says that of all his eight voyages this was the most distressing. When near the coast of France they captured an English brig, with a cargo of lumber and wine. On the afternoon of the same day, they took another brig, loaded with brandy and flax seed. England was almost delirious with rage, in finding that the Americans were bearing away their prizes from the channel itself, thus bidding proud defiance to those frigates and fortresses of Great Britain which had overawed the world.
On the 29th of November the Reprisal cast anchor in Quiberon Bay. Franklin there obtained a post chaise to convey him to Nantes. He writes,
"The carriage was a miserable one, with tired horses, the evening dark, scarce a traveller but ourselves on the road. And to make it more comfortable, the driver stopped near a wood we were to pass through, to tell us that a gang of eighteen robbers infested that wood, who, but two weeks ago, had robbed and murdered some travellers on that very spot."
Though absolutely no one in Europe knew that Franklin was expected, his fame had preceded him. The scientists of France were eager to render him their homage. French statesmen had learned, at the Court of St. James, to respect his grandeur of character, and his diplomatic abilities. He was a very handsome man, with a genial smile, which won love at sight. The invariable remark of every one, who chanced to meet him for five minutes was, "What a delightful man." Franklin had none of the brusqueness which characterizes John Bull. He was always a gentleman, scrupulously attentive to his rich, elegant, yet simple dress. He manifested his knowledge of human nature, in carefully preserving his national garb,—the old continental costume.
Thus wherever he appeared he attracted attention. No man was ever more courteous. The French Court, at that time, was bound by the shackles of etiquette, to an almost inconceivable degree. But Franklin was never embarrassed. He needed no one to teach him etiquette. Instinct taught him what to do, so that, in the bearing of a well bred gentleman, he was a model man, even in the court where Louis XIV. and Louis XV. had reigned with omnipotent sway. The most beautiful duchess, radiant in her courtly costume, and glittering with jewels, felt proud of being seated on the sofa by the side of this true gentleman, whose dress, simple as it was, was in harmony with her own. The popular impression is entirely an erroneous one, that there was anything rustic, anything which reminded one of the work shop or the blouse, in the demeanor of Benjamin Franklin, as he moved, unembarrassed, in the highest circles of fashion then known in the world.
Franklin was received to the hospitalities of a French gentleman of wealth and distinction, by the name of Gruel. His elegant apartments were always crowded with visitors, eager to manifest their respect for the trans-Atlantic philosopher. Horace Walpole, a warm friend of the Americans, wrote,
"An account came that Dr. Franklin, at the age of 72, or 74, and, at the risk of his head, had bravely embarked, on board an American frigate, and, with two prizes taken on the way, had landed, at Nantes, in France, and was to be at Paris on the 14th, where the highest admiration and expectation of him were raised."
Upon his arrival Mr. Deane exultingly wrote, "Here is the hero and philosopher, and patriot, all united in this celebrated American, who, at the age of seventy four, risks all dangers for his country."
The Struggles of Diplomacy.
Anecdote of Gibbon—John Adams—Residence at Passy—Lafayette introduced—Cruise of the Reprisal—Paul Jones—Capture of Burgoyne—Alliance with France—Anecdote of the Cake—Excitement in England—Franklin's introduction to the king—Joy in America—Extraordinary letter of Count Wissenstein—The reply—Injustice to Paul Jones—French troops in America—Character of John Adams—Franklin's mature views of human nature—Anecdote of the Angel—Capture of Cornwallis—Its effect in England—Prejudices of Mr. Jay—Testimony of Dr. Sparks—Jealousy of Franklin—Shrewd diplomatic act—The treaty signed.
In the journey from Nantes to Paris, a curious incident occurred, which is well worth recording. It so admirably illustrates the character of two distinguished men, as to bear internal evidence of its truthfulness. At one of the inns, at which Franklin stopped, he was informed that Mr. Gibbon, the illustrious author of the "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," was also tarrying.
Mr. Gibbon was an Englishman. He was a deist, being in entire sympathy with Franklin in his views of Christianity. He was also a man of letters. Mr. Franklin addressed a very polite note to Mr. Gibbon, sending his compliments, and soliciting the pleasure of spending the evening with him. Mr. Gibbon, who was never renowned for amiability of character, replied, in substance, we have not his exact words,
"Notwithstanding my regard for Dr. Franklin, as a man and a philosopher, I cannot reconcile it with my duty to my king, to have any conversation with a revolted subject."
Franklin responded to this by writing, "Though Mr. Gibbon's principles have compelled him to withhold the pleasure of his conversation, Dr. Franklin has still such a respect for the character of Mr. Gibbon, as a gentleman and a historian, that when, in the course of his writing the history of the 'Decline and Fall of Empires,' the decline and fall of the British Empire shall come to be his subject, as will probably soon be the case, Dr. Franklin would be happy to furnish him with ample materials, which are in his possession."
[Footnote 28: This anecdote has had a wide circulation in the newspapers. Mr. William Cobbett inserts it in his "Works," with the following comment, characteristic of the spirit of most of the higher class of Englishmen, in those days:
"Whether this anecdote record a truth or not I shall not pretend to say. But it must be confessed, that the expressions imputed to the two personages were strictly in character. In Gibbon, we see the faithful subject, and the man of candor and honor. In Franklin the treacherous and malicious old Zanga, of Boston."—Works of William Cobbett. Vol. vii, p. 244.]
Gibbon was a Tory. He supported Lord North in all his measures. The government rewarded him with a pension of eight hundred pounds a year. This was equivalent to considerable more than four thousand dollars at the present time. Franklin was received, in Paris, by the whole population, court and canaille, with enthusiasm which that excitable capital had rarely witnessed. The most humble of the population were familiar with the pithy sayings of Poor Richard. The savants admitted their obligations to him, for the solution of some of the most difficult problems of philosophy. The fashionable world were delighted with his urbanity; and in his society found rare and unequalled pleasure. The republicans regarded him as the personification of a free government; and even the nobles and the ministry were cheered by the hope that, with his aid, haughty England could be weakened and humbled, and that thus a new era of commercial prosperity was about to dawn upon France.
John Adams was not popular in Paris. He was a man of great abilities, of irreproachable character, and was animated by as pure principles of patriotism as ever glowed in a human bosom. But he was a genuine Puritan, inheriting the virtues and the foibles of the best of that class. Though not wanting in magnanimity, he could not fail from being disturbed, by the caresses with which Franklin was ever greeted, contrasted with the cold and respectful courtesy with which he was received. It was always the same, in the Court, in the saloons, and on the Boulevards. In Mr. Adams' diary, written some years later, we find the following insertion, which, in some degree, reveals his feelings. He is recording a conversation with the French minister.
"All religions," said Marbois, "are tolerated in America. The ambassadors have a right, in all the courts of Europe, to a chapel in their own way. But Mr. Franklin never had any."
"No," said I laughing, "because Mr. Franklin has no——"
I was going to say what I did not say, and will not say here. I stopped short, and laughed.
"No," said M. Marbois. "Mr. Franklin adores only great Nature; which has interested a great many people of both sexes in his favor."
"Yes," said I laughing, "all the atheists, deists and libertines, as well as the philosophers and ladies are in his train."
[Footnote 29: Works of John Adams, Vol. III, p. 220.]
The English lords were exasperated by the reception France had given Franklin. They fully comprehended its significance. France was in sympathy with the Americans, in their heroic endeavor to escape from the despotism of the British crown. Thus the traffic which had enriched England, would be transferred to France.
Even the Earl of Chatham said, in one of the most eloquent of his speeches,
"France, my lords, has insulted you. She has encouraged and sustained America. And whether America be wrong or right, the dignity of this country ought to spurn at the officiousness of the French interference. The ministers and ambassadors of those who are called rebels, are in Paris. In Paris they transact the reciprocal business of America and France. Can there be a more mortifying insult? Can even our ministers sustain a more humiliating disgrace? Do they dare to resent it?"
Franklin was assailed in England, in innumerable pamphlets of abuse. The sin of his youth still pursued him. Many an envenomed arrow pierced his heart.
[Footnote 30: This is a delicate subject, but it must not be ignored. Mr. Parton writes,—"One penny-a-liner informed the public that Dr. Franklin had a son, who, though illegitimate, was a much more honest man than his father. As to the mother of that son, nothing was known of her, except that her seducer let her die in the streets."
There was no end to those attacks. They were attended by every exaggeration of malignity which hatred could engender. It is certain that Franklin would have been saved from these woes could he, as a young man, have embraced the faith of the religion of Jesus, and developed that faith in his practice.]
But it must not be forgotten that there were many of the noblest men in England, who were the warm friends of Franklin, and who cordially espoused the American cause. Among these were Fox, Burke, Rockingham, Shelburne, Chatham, Priestley and Price.
Many beautiful villages surrounded Paris. One of the most lovely, embowered in foliage, was Passy. It is now included within the city walls. It was then but two miles from the centre of the city. A munificent friend of America, M. de Chaumont, invited Franklin to the hospitality of one of his sumptuous mansions in that place. Franklin accepted the invitation, assuring him that at the close of the war, Congress would insist upon granting him a tract of land, in recognition of his kindness to America in the hour of need.
Early in the year 1777, Franklin took up his residence at Passy, and there he continued to reside while he remained in France. He lived liberally, had an ample retinue of servants, and entertained his guests with elegance. His annual expenditures were about thirteen thousand dollars. This sum would then purchase twice the amount of conveniences and luxuries which could be purchased by the same sum at the present day. He had his own servants, and commanded a handsome carriage with two horses.
Mrs. Adams writes, "With seven servants, and hiring a charwoman upon occasion of company, we may possibly keep house. With less we should be hooted at as ridiculous, and could not entertain any company."
Though Franklin took every thing by the smooth handle, he did not, on that account, intermit any intensity of labor to accomplish his purposes. There were then three American envoys in Paris, Franklin, Deane, and Lee. Five days after the arrival of Franklin, they, on the 28th of December, 1777, held their first interview with the French Minister, Count de Vergennes. They were received with all that cordiality and courtesy which are marked characteristics of the French people. But still the commissioners were embarrassed. The prospects of America were doubtful. General Burgoyne was on the eve of sailing for America with a formidable fleet, and an army of eight or ten thousand highly disciplined troops. In the course of the conversation, the minister said that France was not yet ready to enter into open collision with England, and to declare war.
"But," said he, "if a couple of millions of francs, to be repaid without interest after the war, will be of use to you, they are at your service. Only do not say that you had it from us."
This was indeed, under the doubtful circumstances, a very generous offer. It was at this dark hour that the noble Lafayette decided to consecrate his fortune, and to peril his life, for the cause of American freedom. It was proclaimed that Burgoyne's expedition was fitted out to rouse the slaves to insurrection, and to lay the mansions of the planters in ashes. Arthur Lee was very much alarmed. These splendid estates were generally situated in romantic spots, upon the banks of the navigable rivers, where the dwellings, often quite magnificent, could easily be demolished by shot and shell thrown from any frigate.
The Reprisal, Captain Wickes, was the first American vessel of war which ventured into European waters. The channel swarmed with British vessels. The Reprisal took prize after prize, and conveyed them into Nantes. As France was not at war with England, Count de Vergennes was compelled to order the Reprisal, with her prizes, to leave the harbor. Captain Wickes took some of the Nantes merchants on board his vessel, and, just outside the port, sold the prizes to them. The French merchants then returned, with their property, into the harbor.
Captain Wickes soon united with him the Lexington of fourteen guns, and a cutter, the Dolphin, of ten guns. With this little fleet the hero sailed completely around Ireland, capturing or destroying sixteen prizes. The British were astounded at this audacity. Merchants and under-writers were quite terror-stricken. They had never dreamed that the despised Americans could strike them any blows. And when, soon after, Paul Jones, one of the noblest of all naval heroes, appeared in their waters, it is not too much to say that consternation pervaded the coasts of both England and Ireland.
[Footnote 31: The wonderful achievements of this patriot are fully recorded in one of the volumes of this series.]
It requires many and aggravated wrongs to rouse a naturally amiable man to the highest pitch of indignation. But when thus roused, he is ready for any vigor of action. Franklin's blood was up. England was bribing slaves to murder their masters; was rousing the savages to massacre the families of poor, hard-working frontiersmen; was wantonly bombarding defenceless seaports, and with inhumanity, rarely known in civilized warfare, was laying villages in ashes, consigning women and children to beggary and starvation. In the prison hulks of New York, our most illustrious men were in the endurance, as prisoners of war, of woes unsurpassed by Algerine barbarism. Many of our common sailors, England was compelling, by the terrors of the lash, to man her ships, and to fight their own countrymen. Maddened by these atrocities, Mr. Franklin wrote to his English friend, David Hartley, a member of Parliament, a letter, which all the few friends of America in England, read with great satisfaction, and which must have produced a very powerful moral impression in France. It is too long to be inserted here. In conclusion he said to his friend,
"In reviewing what I have written, I found too much warmth in it, and was about to strike out some parts. Yet I let them go, as it will afford you this one reflection,
"'If a man naturally cool, and rendered still cooler by old age, is so warmed by our treatment of his country, how much must those people in general be exasperated against us. And why are we making inveterate enemies, by our barbarity, not only of the present inhabitants of a great country, but of their infinitely more numerous posterity; who will, in future ages, detest the name of Englishman, as much as the children in Holland now do those of Alva and Spaniard.'"
William Temple Franklin inherited the attractions of person, and the fascination of manners, so conspicuous in his grandfather. He was a great favorite in the social circles of the gay metropolis. Dark days came, with tidings of discomfiture. Franklin devoted twelve hours out of the twenty-four, to the arduous duties of his mission. Philadelphia fell.
"Well, Doctor," said an Englishman in Paris, with the customary courtesy of his nation, "Howe has taken Philadelphia."
"I beg your pardon," Franklin replied, "Philadelphia has taken Howe."
The result proved that Franklin's joke was almost a reality.
Burgoyne surrendered. His whole army was taken captive. Massachusetts immediately sent John Loring Austin to convey the rapturous tidings to Franklin. This great success would doubtless encourage France to open action. No tongue can tell the emotions excited in the bosoms of Franklin, Lee and Deane, as Austin entered their presence at Passy, with the announcement, "General Burgoyne and his whole army are prisoners of war."
There were no shoutings, no rushing into each other's arms. But tears filled their eyes. They felt assured that France would come openly to their aid, and that the independence of their country was no longer doubtful. Silently they returned to Franklin's spacious apartment, where they spent the whole day in reading the enrapturing dispatches, and in preparing for immediate alliance with France. France made no attempt to conceal its joy. A treaty of alliance was soon formed. Nobly the Count de Vergennes said,
"We wish to take no advantage of your situation. We desire no terms which you may hereafter regret having made; but would enter into arrangements of mutual interest, which may last as long as human institutions endure."
England was now greatly alarmed from fear that the trade of the colonies might be transferred to France. Envoys were sent to Passy to offer the American ambassadors everything they had demanded at the commencement of the conflict. But it was too late. America now demanded Independence, and would accept nothing less.
A large cake was one day sent to the ambassador's apartment, at Passy, with the inscription "Le Digne Franklin," the worthy Franklin. Mr. Lee said, "Well, Doctor, we have to thank you for our accommodations, and to appropriate your present to our use."
"Not at all," said Franklin. "This cake is for all the Commissioners. The French, not being able to write good English, do not spell our names correctly. The meaning doubtless is Lee, Deane, Franklin."
The memorable treaty was signed on the 5th of February, 1778. It was stated that the object of the treaty was to establish the independence of the United States, and that neither party should conclude either truce or peace with England, without the consent of the other.
Tidings of the treaty, which for a short time was kept secret, had been whispered in England, causing intense excitement. On the 17th of February, 1778, the House of Parliament was crowded. Lord North, amid breathless silence, presented a "Conciliation Bill," granting everything which Franklin had demanded. Fox, who was in the Opposition, arose and announced the treaty. "The astonishment," writes Walpole, "was totally indescribable."
Soon the fact of the treaty of alliance, was formally announced in France. The American envoys were invited to an audience with the king. Franklin was richly dressed. His hair was carefully arranged by a French perruquier. He wore an admirably fitting suit of plain, black, silk velvet. Ruffles of elaborate embroidery and snowy whiteness adorned his wrists and bosom. White silk stockings aided in displaying the perfect proportions of his frame. Large silver buckles were on his shoes.
No one could accuse him of failing in due respect for the king, by appearing in his presence in slatternly dress. His costume was superb, and was such as was then worn, on important occasions, by American gentlemen of the highest rank. The audience took place at Versailles, on the morning of the 20th of March. Each of the American envoys rode in his own carriage, attended by the usual retinue of servants. On the way they were cheered with the utmost enthusiasm by the crowd. The king, Louis XVI., received them with extreme courtesy, and the queen, Marie Antoinette, was marked in her attentions to Franklin. The British ambassador, Lord Stormont, was so enraged, that, regardless of all the claims of courtesy, he immediately returned to England, without even taking leave of the king.
Who can describe the exultation, the rapture, the tears, with which these tidings were received by the patriots of America. On the 6th of May, George Washington drew up his little band at Valley Forge, to announce the great event, and to offer to God prayers and thanksgivings. The tone of the English was immediately changed. They abandoned threats and tried the effect of entreaties. Several emissaries, from the government, approached Dr. Franklin, all bearing in substance the same message. They said,
"We cannot endure the thought that our beloved colonists should enter into alliance with our hereditary natural enemy, France. Can you, who are Protestants, consent to unite with a nation of Roman Catholics? If you will remain firm in your adhesion to England, we will grant you all you ever wished for, and even more. But do not forsake your mother country to swell the pride and power of perfidious France."
But all these efforts were unavailing. The colonists began to despise England. They had no wish for war with their unnatural parent, and they knew that their independence was assured; and that no efforts which England could possibly make, could now prevent it. All alike felt disposed to spurn the bribes which England so lavishly offered.
A very extraordinary letter was sent to Dr. Franklin, which was signed, Charles de Wissenstein. Franklin, who was accustomed to sifting evidence, became satisfied that the message came from king George III. himself. The letter declared that the perfidious French would certainly deceive the Americans with false promises, and defraud them. After making the most liberal offers of popular rights, if the Americans would continue to remain colonists under the British crown, the document presented the following extraordinary promise to those American patriots whom England had denounced as traitors, and doomed to be hung. It was deemed a bribe which human virtue could not resist.
"As it is unreasonable that their (the American patriots) services to their country should deprive them of those advantages which their talents would otherwise have gained them, the following persons shall have offices or pensions for life, at their option, namely, Franklin, Washington, Adams, Hancock, etc. In case his Majesty, or his successors, should ever create American peers, then those persons, or their descendants, shall be among the first created if they choose it."
Franklin, after conference with his colleagues, replied to the letter. His soul was all on fire with the insults our country had received, and the wrongs she had endured. He wrote as if personally addressing the king. We can only give the concluding paragraph. After stating that the independence of America was secured, that all attempts of England to prevent it would be impotent, and that consequently it was quite a matter of indifference to the Americans whether England acknowledged it or not, he wrote,
"This proposition, of delivering ourselves bound and gagged, ready for hanging, without even a right to complain, and without a friend to be found afterward among all mankind, you would have us embrace upon the faith of an Act of Parliament. Good God! an act of your Parliament. This demonstrates that you do not yet know us; and that you fancy that we do not know you. But it is not merely this flimsy faith that we are to act upon. You offer us hope, the hope of PLACES, PENSIONS and PEERAGES.
"These, judging from yourselves, you think are motives irresistible. This offer to corrupt us, sir, is with me, your credential; and convinces me that you are not a private volunteer in your application. It bears the stamp of British Court character. It is even the signature of your king. But think, for a moment, in what light it must be viewed in America.
"By PLACES, you mean places among us; for you take care, by a special article, to secure your own to yourselves. We must then pay the salaries in order to enrich ourselves with those places. But you will give us PENSIONS, probably to be paid too out of your expected American revenue, and which none of us can accept without deserving, and perhaps obtaining, suspension.
"PEERAGES! Alas! in our long observation of the vast servile majority of your peers, voting constantly for every measure proposed by a minister, however weak or wicked, leaves us small respect for that title. We consider it as a sort of tar-and-feather honor, or a mixture of foulness and folly, which every man among us, who should accept it from your king, would be obliged to renounce, or exchange for that confessed by the mobs of their own country, or wear it with everlasting infamy."
[Footnote 32: In reference to the promises contained in the letter, Franklin referred to a book which it was said George III. had carefully studied, called Arcana Imperii. A prince, to appease a revolt, had promised indemnity to the revolters. The question was submitted to the keepers of the king's conscience, whether he were bound to keep his promises. The reply was,
"No! It was right to make the promises, because the revolt could not otherwise be suppressed. It would be wrong to keep them, because revolters ought to be punished."]
[Footnote 33: Sparks' Franklin, Vol. iii, p. 278.]
In the spring of 1778, Paul Jones entered upon his brilliant career, bidding defiance, with his infant fleet, to all the naval power of Great Britain, agitating entire England with the terror of his name. Franklin was his affectionate friend, and, in all his many trials, he leaned upon Franklin for sympathy. So tremendously was he maligned by the English press, that American historians, unconsciously thus influenced, have never done him justice. As a patriot, and a noble man, he deserves to take rank with his friends, Washington and Franklin.
In 1779, Lafayette, returning to France, from America, brought the news that Franklin was appointed by Congress as sole plenipotentiary of the new nation of the United States, to the generous kingdom, which had acknowledged our independence, and whose fleets and armies were now united with ours. All France rejoiced. With great eclat the new ambassadors were presented to the king.
No man of force of character can escape having enemies. Franklin had many and bitter ones. A cabal plotted the removal of his excellent grandson, William Temple Franklin. It gives us an insight to the heart of this venerable septuagenarian to read from his pen,
"It is enough that I have lost my son. Would they add my grandson. An old man of seventy, I undertook a winter voyage, at the command of Congress, with no other attendant to take care of me. I am continued here, in a foreign country, where, if I am sick, his filial attention comforts me. And if I die, I have a child to close my eyes and take care of my remains. His dutiful behavior toward me, and his diligence and fidelity in business, are both pleasing and useful to me. His conduct, as my private secretary, has been unexceptionable; and I am confident the Congress will never think of separating us."
Franklin's great endeavor now was to obtain money. Without it we could have neither fleet nor army. The treasury of France was empty, almost to bankruptcy. Never did he struggle against greater obstacles than during the next three years. It has been truly said, that Franklin, without intending it, helped to bleed the French monarchy to death. In addition to the employment of both army and navy, the French government conferred upon Congress, in gifts or loans, the sum of twenty-six million francs.
The French troops were received in America with boundless enthusiasm. Their discipline was admirable. Their respect for the rights of property was such, that not a barn, orchard or hen-roost was robbed.
John Adams was sent to join Franklin, to aid him in framing terms of peace, whenever England should be disposed to make such advances. He was a man of great abilities, of irreproachable integrity, but he had inherited, from his English ancestry, not only repulsive brusqueness, but also a prejudice against the French, which nothing could remove. His want of courtesy; his unconcealed assumption that France was acting out of unmitigated selfishness, and that consequently the Americans owed the French no debt of gratitude, often caused Franklin much embarrassment. This blunt man, at one time wrote so uncourteous, not to say insulting a letter, to M. de Vergennes, that the French minister declined having any more correspondence with him. Both Franklin and Congress condemned the incivility of Mr. Adams. He only escaped a motion of censure from the full conviction of Congress of the purity of his patriotism, and of his intentions.
[Footnote 34: Mr. Jefferson, after an intimacy of seven months with John Adams, in Paris, wrote of him: "He is vain, irritable, and a bad calculator of the force and probable effect of the motives which govern men. This is all the ill which can possibly be said of him. He is as disinterested as the Being who made him."]
Franklin had been requested to forward the correspondence to Congress. As in duty bound, he did so; accompanying it with a magnanimous letter. Mr. Adams was very angry. Every impartial reader will admit that, in this embarrassing affair, Franklin conducted with delicacy and discretion. The British troops in America were still conducting like savages. Congress requested Franklin to prepare a school-book, with thirty-five prints, each depicting one or more of the acts of English brutality. The object was to impress the minds of children with a deep sense of the insatiable and bloody malice with which the English had pursued the Americans. The plan was never executed.
In the year 1781, Franklin, then seventy-five years of age, and having been engaged in public service for fifty years, wrote to Congress, begging permission to retire from his responsible office. Congress could not spare his services. They gave him an additional appointment. He was commissioned to unite with Adams and Jay, in those negotiations for peace which, it was evident, must soon take place.
Franklin loved the French, he could smile at their foibles, in dressing their hair so that they could not wear a hat, but were compelled to carry it under their arms; also in filling their noses with tobacco. "These," said he, "are mere follies. There is nothing wanting, in the character of a Frenchman, that belongs to that of an agreeable and worthy man."
It may perhaps be mentioned, as a defect in the character of Franklin, that when in France he could see nothing but the beautiful. His eye was turned from every revolting spectacle. In the society of elegantly dressed, highly educated, refined French ladies,—at dinner parties, glittering with gold and silver plate,—in social intercourse with men whose philosophical attainments were of the highest order, and whose politeness of speech and bearing rendered them delightful companions, Franklin found his time and thoughts engrossed. In all his voluminous writings we find no allusion to those tremendous wrongs, which Louis XIV. and Louis XV. had entailed upon the people,—wrongs which soon convulsed society with the volcanic throes of the French revolution.
Jefferson, who succeeded Franklin, was cast in a different mould. He saw and fully comprehended the misery under which the millions of the French peasantry were groaning. And this led him to the conviction, that no people could be safe, unless the government were placed in their own hands.
Still Franklin, like his brother deists, Hume and Voltaire, seeing how impotent were all the motives they could urge to make man virtuous, became thoroughly disgusted with human nature. He even went beyond Paul in his description of the hopeless depravity of man. The idea of reclaiming him by his philosophy was abandoned entirely. And yet he was not prepared to embrace that gospel, which the experience of ages has proved to be the "wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation."
"He enlarges," writes Mr. Parton, "upon this theme, in his most delightful manner, in another letter to Dr. Priestley." In this letter he says in his usual jocular strain, that the more he studies the moral part of nature the more he is disgusted; that he finds men very badly constructed; that they are more prone to do evil than to do good; that they take great pleasure in killing one another, and that he doubts whether the species is worth preserving. He intimates that every attempt to save their souls is "an idle amusement."
"As you grow older," he writes, "you may perhaps repent of having murdered, in mephitic air, so many honest, harmless mice, and wish that, to prevent mischief, you had used boys and girls instead of them."
In this singular letter he represents a young angel having been sent to this world, under the guidance of an old courier spirit. They arrive over the seas of Martinico, in the midst of the horrible fight between the fleets of Rodney and De Grasse.
"When," he writes, "through the clouds of smoke, he (the young angel) saw the fire of the guns, the decks covered with mangled limbs and bodies, dead or dying; the ships sinking, burning, or blown into the air; and the quantity of pain, misery and destruction the crews, yet alive, were with so much eagerness dealing round to one another, he turned angrily to his guide and said,
"'You blundering blockhead; you are ignorant of your business. You undertook to conduct me to the earth; and you have brought me into hell.'
"'No sir,' said the guide, 'I have made no such mistake. This is really the earth, and these are men. Devils never treat one another in this cruel manner. They have more sense, and more of what men (vainly) call humanity.'"
It was after the study of human nature, under the most favorable of possible circumstances, for more than three-quarters of a century, that this philosopher wrote these terrible comments upon our fallen race.
The latter part of October, 1781, Lord Cornwallis surrendered his whole army, of over seven thousand men, at Yorktown. The French fleet cut off his escape by sea. Seven thousand French soldiers, united with five thousand American troops, prevented any retreat by land. The Americans had thus captured two British armies. It was in vain for England to think of sending a third. The conflict was virtually decided.
"The Prime Minister," Lord North, it is said, "received the tidings as he would have taken a ball in his breast. He threw his arms apart. He paced wildly up and down the room, exclaiming, from time to time, 'Oh God! it is all over.'"
All England now was clamoring against the war. Thousands of persons had perished in the campaigns, and financial embarrassments had come to nearly all her institutions of industry. The English government made vigorous endeavors, offering great bribes, to induce the American envoys at Paris to abandon their French allies, and make a separate peace. Franklin wrote to Mr. Hartley, through whom he received these proposals,
"I believe there is not a man in America, a few English Tories excepted, that would not spurn the thought of deserting a noble and generous friend, for the sake of a truce with an unjust and cruel enemy."
British diplomacy tried all its arts of intrigue to separate America from France in the negotiations for peace, but all in vain. The British minister, Mr. Grenville, in an interview with Mr. Franklin, ridiculed the idea that America owed France any gratitude, urging that France sought only her own selfish interests.
"I told him," Franklin writes, "that I was so strongly impressed with the kind assistance afforded us by France, in our distress, and the generous and noble manner in which it was granted, without exacting or stipulating for a single privilege, or particular advantage to herself in our commerce or otherwise, that I could never suffer myself to think of such reasonings for lessening the obligation."
On the 28th of February, 1782, General Conway, one of the leaders of the Opposition, the same who had moved the repeal of the stamp act, seventeen years before, presented a resolution in the House of Commons that,
"THE REDUCTION OF THE COLONIES BY FORCE OF ARMS IS IMPRACTICABLE."
A violent, even fierce debate ensued, which was continued until one o'clock in the morning. Then the cry of question became general. The vote was carried by a majority of nineteen. This terminated the American war. The people of England had decided against it. "Acclamations," writes Wraxall, "pierced the roof, and might have been heard in Westminster Hall."
This great victory was followed by another resolve. It was an address to George III. soliciting him to "Stop the prosecution of any further hostilities against the revolted colonies, for the purpose of reducing them to obedience by force."
Notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, these votes were immediately communicated to the king, who was in a pitiable condition, aged, nearly blind, half crazed, and stubborn even to insanity, in his determination to subjugate the Americans. The poor old man, in his rage, threatened to abandon England, to renounce the crown, and to cloister himself in his estate of Hanover. He was however compelled to yield, to dismiss his Tory ministers and to accept a whig cabinet. Edmund Burke wrote a warm, congratulatory letter to Franklin.
[Footnote 35: Edmund Burke wrote to Dr. Franklin that "The motion was the declaration of two hundred and thirty four members; but it was the opinion, he thought, of the whole house."]
And now the final struggle arose respecting the terms of peace. The three great questions discussed, as diplomatic arrangements, were gradually and very cautiously entered into, were: 1. What shall be the boundaries of the United States. 2. Shall the Americans be allowed to fish on the great banks. 3. What provision shall be made for the Tories in America, whose estates have been confiscated?
There were many preliminary meetings, private, semi-official, and official. There was a general impression that Franklin was the man whose opinion would entirely control that of his countrymen. He was approached in every way, and the utmost endeavors were made to induce the American Commissioners to enter into a private treaty, without consulting the French ministry.
A full account of the diplomatic conflict which ensued, would fill a volume. On one occasion the British minister, Mr. Grenville, said,
"In case England grants America Independence."
The French minister, M. de Vergennes, smiled and said, "America has already won her Independence. She does not ask it of you. There is Dr. Franklin; he will answer you on that point."
"To be sure," Franklin said, "we do not consider it necessary to bargain for that which is our own. We have bought our Independence at the expense of much blood and treasure, and are in full possession of it."
Many of these preliminary interviews took place in Paris. The amount of money and blood which the pugnacious government of England had expended in totally needless wars, can not be computed. The misery with which those wars had deluged this unhappy globe, God only can comprehend. Mr. Richard Oswald, a retired London merchant, of vast wealth, was sent, by Lord Shelburne, prime minister, as a confidential messenger, to sound Dr. Franklin. He was frank in the extreme.
"Peace," said he, "is absolutely necessary for England. The nation has been foolishly involved in four wars, and can no longer raise money to carry them on. If continued, it will be absolutely necessary to stop the payment of interest money on the public debt."
Mr. Adams and Mr. Jay were soon associated with Dr. Franklin in these negotiations. Mr. Jay was in entire sympathy with Mr. Adams in his antipathy to the French. They both assumed that France was meanly seeking only her own interests, making use of America simply as an instrument for the accomplishment of her selfish purposes.
[Footnote 36: Mr. Adams wrote, in his diary, November, 1782, "Mr. Jay don't like any Frenchman. The Marquis de la Fayette is clever, but he is a Frenchman."]
Dr. Jared Sparks, after carefully examining, in the Office of Foreign Affairs in London, the correspondence of the French ministers with the American envoys, during the whole war, writes,
"After examining the subject, with all the care and accuracy which these means of information have enabled me to give to it, I am prepared to express my belief, most fully, that Mr. Jay was mistaken, both in regard to the aims of the French court and the plans pursued by them to gain their supposed ends."
[Footnote 37: Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution, V. viii, p. 209.]
Mr. Jay was so insanely suspicious of the French, that he was afraid that the French ministry would send spies, to pick the locks in his lodgings, and steal his important papers. He therefore always carried them about his person. He also believed that Count de Vergennes had actually proposed to the British minister, that they should unite their armies, seize the United States, and divide America between them.
Such were the colleagues united with Franklin, in the negotiations for peace. It required all his consummate wisdom to be able to guide affairs wisely under such difficult circumstances. It may be doubted whether there was another man in America, who could have surmounted the obstacles over which he triumphed. Both of Franklin's colleagues regarded him with suspicion. They believed that he had been won over to such sympathy with the French, that he would be willing to sacrifice the interests of his own country to please them. They wrote letters home severely denouncing him; and they seemed to stand more in fear of France than of England.
"Dr. Franklin," wrote Mr. Adams, "is very staunch against the Tories; more decided, a great deal, upon that point, than Mr. Jay or myself."
The British ministers insisted that the confiscated estates of the American Tories should be restored to them, and all their losses reimbursed. Franklin silenced the demand by drawing from his pocket the following articles, which he proposed should be added to the treaty,
"It is agreed that his Britannic Majesty will earnestly recommend it to his Parliament, to provide for and make a compensation to the merchants and shop-keepers of Boston, whose goods and merchandise were seized and taken out of their stores, ware-houses and shops, by order of General Gage, and others of his commanding officers there; and also to the inhabitants of Philadelphia for the goods taken away by his army there; and to make compensation also for the tobacco, rice, indigo and negroes seized and carried off by his armies, under Generals Arnold, Cornwallis and others, from the States of Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia, and for all the vessels and cargoes belonging to the inhabitants of the said United States, which were stopped, seized or taken, either in the ports or on the seas, by his governors or by his ships of war, before the declaration of war against the United States. And it is further agreed that his Britannic Majesty will also earnestly recommend it to his Parliament to make compensation for all the towns, villages and farms, burnt and destroyed by his troops, or adherents in these United States."
The three British commissioners were confounded by these counter demands, and said not another word about reimbursing the American Tories. On the 30th of November, 1782, the preliminaries were signed, subject to the assent of the French ministers, who were also to submit their preliminaries to the American envoys. By these articles: 1. The boundaries were established. 2. The Americans could fish on the banks of Newfoundland, and cure their fish on the unsettled shores of Nova Scotia and Labrador. 3. Congress was to recommend to the several States, to restore the confiscated property of real British subjects. 4. Private debts were to be paid. 5. There were to be no more confiscations or prosecutions, on either side, for acts during the war. 6. The British troops were to be withdrawn. 7. The navigation of the Mississippi was declared to be free. 8. And any place captured, after the signing of these articles, was to be restored.