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Benjamin Franklin




BENJAMIN-FRANKLINBenjamin Franklin's name, as he himself stales in his Autobiography, shows that his family belonged to that sturdy race of English yeomen, whose stubborn self-reliance and dauntless courage have contributed largely to England's greatness .
For three centuries his ancestors were settled at Ecton, in Northamptonshire, England; but in 1682 Josias Franklin, being a Nonconformist to the Church of England, emigrated to America and settled in Boston. He was twice married and had seventeen children, of whom Benjamin, hom January 6, 1706, was the youngest son. Josias was a tallow-chandler, and Benjamin, at the age of ten, was called from school to assist in that occupation. At twelve he went to a cousin's to learn the trade of cutler but when bis brother James returned from England to open a printing-office, Benjamin found there
his true destiny. He was a lover of books, and had already gathered a number, and made himself familiar with Plutarch, Bunyan and Defoe.


In 1721 James Franklin ventured to publish a newspaper, called The New England Courant, the third regularly issued in America. For its columns young Benjamin wrote several articles, and as they were contributed anonymously, be had the gratification of hearing them attributed by frequenters of his brother's shop to some leading men of the town. The boy worked diligently at case, and saved time from meats to read and study. James Franklin was arrested and imprisoned for publisbing a political article which gave offeuce to the authorities; but the paper was still issued in the name of Benjamin. As it prospered uuder his management, and the secret of his contributions became known, James became
jealous of his brother, and treated him with such harshness that Benjamin ran away. He went to New York, but being
unable to obtain employment, crossed the Jerscys ou foot and assisted in rowing the boat that brought him down the Delaware from Burlington to Philadelphia.


Andrew Bradford, the only printer in Philadelphia, was not able to give Franklin employment, yet gave him lodging till he could secure a place. This he obtained with a German Jew named Keimer, who proposed to start a rival office, though he knew little of the trade, and depended all Franklin, then only seventeen years of age, to make his scheme successful
The Boston runaway proved himself the man for the place, and when his brother James wrote to him begging him to return to his home and friends, Benjamin refused. Sir William Keith, Governor of Pennsylvania, having discovered Franklin's ability as a writer as well as printer, suggested that he should start in business for himself, and promised to use his influence on his behalf. Franklin therefore asked his father's assistance; but the prudent father thought him still too young. Keith then proposed that Franklin should go to London to procure an outfit, and furnished him letters of introduction, which proved worthless. Franklin arrived in London penniless, and was obliged to seek work as a compositor and pressman. However, he wrote and printed on his own account "A Short Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain," and by it obtained some literary friends, including Mandeville and Sir Hans Sloane. He practiced vegetarianism, and, to the astonishmelnt of his fellow-pressmen, used water only as a beverage, and was called by them the "American Aquatic."


After spending eighteen months in London Franklin returned to Philadelphia, and became chief clerk in the store of Mr. Denham, who had been a fellow-passenger in both his voyages. But Denham soon died, and Franklin returned to Keimer as manager of his business. He next formed a partnership, which proved successful enough to enable him in 1729 to buyout his partner and purchase the Pensyllvania Gazelle. The paper had only ninety subscribers i but under Franklin's judicious management this number soon increased. In September, 1730, he was married to :Miss Read, in whose father's house he had lived for some time after his first arrival in Philadelphia. In 1732, under the name of Richard Saunders,Franklin began the publication of an Almanac, which, beingcontinued for about twenty-five years, became famous as "Poor Richard's Almanac," and reached a sale of 10,000 copies annually.


Early in his career as printer, Franklin had formed a club called "The Junto" for the discussion of questions of morality, philosophy and politics. It met on Friday evenings, and was continued for nearly forty years. It was the genu from which sprang, in l744, the venerable and learned II American Philosophical Society." To the same source can be traced
the first subscription circulating library in America, which was afterwards incorporated, ill 1742, under the name of liThe Library Company of Philadelphia. II In 1736 Franklin was unanimously chosen c1erkof the Pennsylvania Assembly, and held this, his first political position, during the next year. He was then elected by the people as a member of the Assembly, and so continued for ten years. In 1737 he was appointed by the British govenltuent Deputy Postmaster at Philadelphia. In 1738 he organized a police force and a firecompany for that city, and procured the paving of its streets.


In spite of the abundant labor involved in these numerous public duties and self-imposed efforts for the general welfare, Franklin prosecuted many physical experiments. 'I'he most famous of these is his grand discovery that lightning, the most imposing of meteorological phenomena, is identical with the harmless electricity which is produced by the rubbing of amber (Greek, rlee/rou). The remarkable experiment by which he successfully proved this identity has, on accoltnt of its danger, rarely bccn repeated. But Franklin's
thoroughly practical mind did not rest content with the discovery of scientific truth. He proceeded to look for its practical application, and by his invention of lightning conductors
sought to save property from the destruction to which it is frequently exposed. Though much of his theory about electricity, or the electric fluid as be called it, has been superseded by later researches, the fundamental discovery and its important application remain his proudest titles to fame.


In 1748 Franklin, whose time was becoming engrossed with public affairs, took David Hall, one of his most intelligent workmen, into partnership in the printing business, and
was thus released from its active managemcnt. In the next year he was the le.'lder ill a scbeme for the advancement of education, which, starting with a well-arranged academy, has grown into the large and flourishing University of Pennsylvania. The plan which he proposed for this institution ill it's successive stages has received the highest commendation frOIll professional educators as plainly anticipating lllany improvements which have only recently been introduced into practice. Before this scheme was fairly developed, Franklin's public spirit had found another outlet in raising subscriptions and procuring from the Legislature an auxiliary grant to establish the first hospital in Pennsylvania. "fhis institution has long been recognized as a model in every department.


In 1750 Franklin was appointed to his first public mission, being sent to negotiate with a tribe of Indians; and in this, as in all his diplomatic missions, he was eminently sluccessful. In 1753 he was appointed by the Crown Postmaster-General for the American Colonies, with a salary of £300. This oversight of the interests of several Colonies easily led the way to his plan for a union of the Colonies against invasion from Canada, when the French War began in 1754. The plan was approved by the first Congress, composed of deputies from six Colonies or Provinces, which met at Albany in I754. But the attempt was premature, and the plan, however great its merits, was rejected by the colonial assemblies, as well as by the British Government. Eleven years later a more successful Congress was held in New York City, and again, after an interval of nine years, came the First Continental Congress. But Franklin, who had started the movement, was in England while these later bodies were in session.


The Proprietaries of Pennsylvania, descendants of William Penn, claimed immunity from taxation on the large possessions which they held. The Assembly, pressed by the burdens required for the public defence, insisted that all property and property-holders should be treated alike. The Governor, being appointed by the Proprietaries and responsible only to them, vetoed such bills. After the controversy had continued for some time with increasing animosity, Franklin, in I757, was appointed a commissioner to visit England and present the case of the people and Assembly. After some vexatious delays he was successful. The PenllS gave up their claim, and agreed that their property should bear its proper share of taxation. During the period of five years thus spent in England, Franklin received Illany honors from learned and scientific bodies. The Universities of Oxford and St. Andrews conferred on him their highest degrees. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, which thus made amends for its fonner refusal to print in its 'frallsactions an account of his electrical experiments. To the Annual Register," of whicb Edmund Burke was then editor, Franklin contributed a paper on C< The Peopling of Countries," which called forth much comment. '1'0 Franklin's advice is attributed the withdrawal of certain troops from the Contiuent of Europe and the sending of them against the French in Canada. The direct result of this movement was the pennancnt tmnsfer of th~t dominion from the French to the English.


Franklin returned to Pennsylvania in 1762, and received from the Assembly for his scrvices a grant of £5000. Tn 1764 his election to that body was strongly opposed by the Proprietary party, and he was defeated by n slllall majority. This victory of his opponents, however, provcd a Pyrrhic one, for he was again appointed by the Assembly to be its agent ill England. He sailed November 1965, and in the next year he was called to the bar of the Honse of Commons, aud underwent a memorablc examination, which greatly increased his political famc. He defended thc cause of the American Colonies with firnllless and moderation. Had the Proprietaries of Pennsylvania been wise, they would have appointed Franklin Governor of that Province, aud have allowed him abundant discretion in the use of his power. But with the same obstinacy which characterized the British Ministry, they refused to make concessions until it was too late for their own interests.


During this period Franklin paid some visits to the Continent of Europe, and was everywhere received with the most distinguished and respectful consideration. In Paris he was
introduced to many of the literary men; was elected an associate of the Academy of Sciences, and was prest:nted to the King, Louis XV., and his sisters. He was thus prepared for his future diplomatic work at the same court.


The closing of the port of Boston in 1773, and the quartering of troops in that lown. defeated part of Franklin's mission. He was at this time agent not only for Pennsylvania, but also for New Jersey, Georgia and Massachusetts. He was busily engaged in presenting their remonstrances not only before the Ministry and Parliament, but before the British people, whose rights, he main tained, were involved in the treatment accorded to the Colonists. At length, finding his endeavors to secure an equitable aud honorable settlement of the difficulties fruitless, he sailed for Philadelphia on March 4. 1775. The day after he landed he was elected a member of the Continental Congress, then assembled. Shortly after he had entered on his duties there, he wrote a letter to a member of Parliament, who claimed to be still his friend in spite of political differences, which is worth reproducing as showing his spirit and his wit:


PHILADELPHIA, July 5, 1775· MR. STRAHAN, You are a member of that Pillament, and have formed part of that majority, which has condemned native country todistruction. You have begun to burn our towns, aud to destroy inhabitants. Look at your hands! They are stained with the blood of your reiatious and your acquaintances.
You and I were long friends. You are at present my enemy, And I am yours. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.


In the next year Franklin was a member of the committee that drafted the famous Declaration of Independence, of which it has been truthfully said :-" The burning page of Jefferson bears Franklin's calmer lines. It When the members were about to vote on tilis document, Franklin's ready wit was displayed again. II We must be unanimous," said John Hancock, the President of Congress, "there must be no pulling different ways: we must all hang together." " Yes, It said Franklin, "we mnst indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."


The British ministry had now begun to see its error in the harsh treatment of the Colonies. Lord Howe was sent with full powers to concede everything but absolute independence but Franklin and the other COlllmissioners whom Congress had appointed to confer with him were instructed to insist upon this basis, and the negotiations came to au abrupt tenuination. Franklin was uext despatched, in company with Samuel Chase and Rev. John Carroll, to persuade the French Canadians to join the American cause. These people had been too recently brought under the British domination to appreciate the causes of the present strife, and the mission was fruitless. Franklin returned to Philadelphia to become president of the Convention for framing a State Constitution for Pennsylvania. When this task was successfully completed, the veteran statesman was, at the age of seventy, sent tolerance, in conjunction with Arthur Lee and Silas Deane, to present the cause of the United States to the favorable consideration of the French Government. Deane was a faithful helper, and Lee was a captious critic; but Franklin was the effective negotiator who obtained from the French Govemment the material aid absolutely necessary to the success of the American cause. The French Government was finally induced to form an offcnsive and defensive alliance with the United States, Febmary 6th, I778, Franklin had fixed his residence at Passy, near Paris, and his political engagements were interspersed and even furthered by his attention to science and by various publications, which were the constant subject of talk. He became for a time the idol of the French Court and people; but amid all the acclamations and flatteries which attended him, he never lost the practical wisdom which bad cver distinguished him, nor did he ever neglect the interests of his country to promote any private ends. He remained in France until England was brought to consent to recognize the independence of ber late Colonies. The definitive treaty was signed on September 30, 1783, by himself, and, on the part of Great Britain, by David Hartley. He continued to represent the United States at the Frencb Court for two years more.


At last Franklin was recalled by bis own request, and was succeeded by Jefferson. "You replace Dr. Franklin, I hear," said the Count de Vergennes to Jefferson, when they first meet "I succeed him; no one can replace him," was Jefferson's significant and magnanimous reply.


Franklin, on his return, was elected a member of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, and was soon made its President. In 1;87 he was one of the delegates from that Stnte in the convention called to frame the Constitution of the United States. His long experience in statesmanship and his acknowledged practical wisdom were constantly brought into requisition in the arduous task of fanning a permanent Federal Union. His last political act was an address to his colleagues entreating them to sacrifice their own private views with regard to various details on which they desired amendments, for the sake of unanimity in recommending to the people the new Constitution as determined by the majority. He had the pleasure of seeing this document mtified by a sufficient number of States to give it deprevitality, and of witnessing a revival of prosperity after the sasion and exhaustion of the Revolutiollary War.


Franklin's last printed essay appeared in the Federal Gazelle of March, 1789, and was signed "Historicus." After a short illness, he died April 17th, 1790, at the age of 84· He was buried iu Christ Church Cemetery ill Philadelphia, where a small marble slab, level with the surface of the earth, and close to a busy street, bears the simple inscription BENJAMIN AND DEBORAH FRANKLIN. Franklin's son, William Temple, was the Royal Governor of New Jersey at the time of the Revolution, and, to the grief of his father, adhered to the Royal cause. He subsequently fixed his residence in England. Franklin made various bequests and donations to cities public bodies and individuals. Among his papers, written when he was but twenty-three years of age, was found this original epitaph:




It is rare that a single mind establishes claims so various as those of Benjamin Franklin. Unceasing industry, perseverance, business-like h:lbits, general information and readiness in the use of his pell, secured to him a large circle of friends, and raised him from poverty to affluence. He was bold, speculative and inquiring in physical as well as in meta-physical science. He carried iuto public life the same characteristics which had marked his private carecr, and by honesty, fair deat:ng and a zealous and patriotic spirit, he achieved the highest success as a statesman and diplomatist. A sincere believer ill the equal rights of all men, hc estimated at their true worth the various distinctions which he found introduced into the civilized nations and polite society of Europe. In his personal bearing Franklin was sedatc and weighty. He had no stately eloquence; he spoke and wrote sententiously. Men instinctively felt his worth, and submitted thcmselves to his wisdom. "Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings."


"His country," says Bigelow, "owes much to Franklin for his service in various public capacities the world owes much to the fruits of his pen j but his greatest contribution to the welfare of mankind, probably, was what he did by his example aud life to dignify manual labor. While Diderot was teaching the dignity of labor in France and the folly of social standards that proscribed it, Franklin was illustrating it in America, aud proving by his own most conclusive example that I Honor and fame from no condition rise.There are few born into this world so ill-conditioned that they cannot find comfort and encouragement from some portion of the life of Franklin none of any station who may not meditate on it with advantage."


Franklin shook the dust of England from his feet, as a subject of King George, when he set sail for America in 1775. When he returned to Europe, it was to watch and to baffle
from Passy the clumsy efforts of British ministers to make a solitude where they had failed to mainblin peace. He was so far a diplomatist that he had studied human character for seventy years. Yet in England his diplomacy had onlyexasperated. In France he accomplished as much against England as Washington with all his victories. His knowledge of
French was so indifferent thaton one occasion, during the sitting of the Academy, he was observed to II applaud the loudest at his own praises." He did the work, but he never learned the dialect of diplomacy. He was that strange creature-a repUblican at the court of a pure monarchy. III Paris his defects were virtues. His scientific fame spoke for itself in purest Parisian French. As a politician, to the court he was the dire enemy of England i to the jaded society of Paris he was the representative of a new world of feeling and thought. His New England astuteness seemed to Parisian courtiers patriarchal innocence. His naive stories and illustrations, which a thousand admirers were ready to translate and repeat in every circle of the town, were as bracing as quinine. His very costume, "his hair hanging, his specta.cles on his nose, bis white hose and while hat under his ann," in the midst of absurd perukes and brotaded suits, came like a revelntion of nature to the victims of fashion. He became, to bis own amusement, the idol of Paris. II Mr. Franklin," writes a contemporary Parisian, II is besieged, followed, admired, adored, wherever he shows himself, with a fury, a fanatieisUl, capable no doubt of flattering him and doing him honor, but which at the same time proves tbat we shall never be reasonable." He tells his daughter tbat there have been sold incredible numbers of day medallions of him, "some to be set ill the lids of snuff. boxes, and some so small as to be worn in rings." Pictures, busts and prints have made your father'S face as well known as that of the moon." Versailles was never perhaps quite certain that the New England philosopher was not of red Indian descent. But love does not reason. Paris had fallen in love with Franklin, and in homage to him even grew enamored of simplicity.


No Englishman was ever so caressed in Paris, for the very reason that Franklin was and was not an Englishman . As the American sage and philosopher, he performed as much for his country as he accomplished by his diplomatic skill. But he was a diplomatist, too, and of high rank in the art. Colleagues and rivals, like his detractor Arthur Lee, or even Jay and Adams, who, as Mr. Fitzherbert wrote, "rather fear than are attached to him," might be pardoned for inability to understand the source of his influence. They did not venture to deny the fact. In the only serious instance in which, in reference to the disputed fishery and boundary rights, he was accused of neglecting the interests of his countrymen, his colleagues certified that he had defended those interests with his counsels and his authority. On another and more important point, he not merely co-operated, but took the initiative.


A man who had gone through the campaign with Braddock, who had shared in the apprehensions and labors of the crisis which followed the defeat of Braddock, and exulted in the triumph of Wolfe, was not likely to depreciate the vallie of Canada. When the war commenced, be sought to induce France to help the Colonies to wrest Canada and Nova Scotia from England. As soon as the negotiations for peace with England opened, his great efforts were directed to persuade the English commissioner, Richard Oswald, to see the utility of ceding those territories as proofs of a desire for that" sweet" thing, a "reconciliation," and as a safeguard against future causes of strife. Oswald, a prosperous Scotch merchant was, as Franklin says of him, an old man who had " nothing at heart but the good of mankind, and putting a stop to mischief." But he does not seem to have been fit to cope with a consummate philanthropist like Franklin. He had happened to let fall an opinion that" the giving up of Canada to the English at the last peace had been a politic act in France, for that it had weakened the ties between England and her colonies, and that he himself had predicted from it the late revolution." Franklin had already developed a scheme on paper which he lent Oswald to read and meditate upon. The plan was that" Britain should voluntarily ofTer to give up the Province, though on these conditions, that she shall in all times coming have and enjoy the right of free trade thither, unencumbered with any duties whatsoever i that so much of the vacant lands shall be sold as will raise a sum sufficient to pay for the houses burned by the British troops and their Indians, and also to indemnify the royalists for the confiscation of their estates." Oswald, he says," told me that· nothing in his judgment could be clearer, more satisfactory and convincing than the reasonings in that paper i that be would do his utmost to impress Lord Shelburne with them."


Franklin, in reporting by letter tbis conversation to bis brother Peace-Commissioner Adams, describes Oswald's remarks rather more fully than in the semi-official journal he kept. He tells Adams on April 20, 1782, his proposal about Canada: Mr. Oswald liked much the idea, but said they were too much straitened for money to make any pecuniary repiration but he should endeavor to persuade theit doing it this way." Oswald went to England to confer with Lord Shelburne, taking Franklin's paper with him. On his return to Paris, he informed Franklin that" it seemed to have made all impression, and he had reason to believe that it might be settled to our satisfaction toward the end of the treaty; but in his own mind he wished it might not be mentioned at the beginning i that his lordshipil endeed said he had not imagined reparation would be expected, and he wondered I should not know whether it was intended to demand it."


But it has now been proved by the publication of the French dispatches, that no one was more bitterly opposed than the French Ministers to the annexation of Canada to the United States. Eager as they were to promote the separation of Ule British Provinces in America from the mother country, M. de Vergennes was entirely opposed to any extension of the emancipated territory; and be perhaps still cherished a hope that the French Provinces in America, which bad been conquered by England ollly twenty years before, might one day be brought back to their allegiance to the Court of Versailles.


Franklin, as a diplomatist, was not peremptory in insisting on the rights of his country, stili less all his own dignity. But he studicd the French men and the French women who ruled France, and he probed to the bottom the instincts of the French governing class, without losing his own. About alliances in general he was not solicitous. Before he started on his own mission to Europe be had in Congress, though invain, deprecated the sending a virgin" republic" suitoring" for the friendship of European powers. "It seems to me," he writes, "that we have in most instances hurt otlr credit and importance by sending all over Europe, begging alliances, and soliciting declarations of our independence.
The nations, perhaps, from thence seemed. to think that our independence is something they have to sell, and that we do not offer enough for it." Writing to Jay, at Madrid, in April, 1782, he exclaims: "Spain has taken four years to consider whether she should treat with us or not. Give her forty, nnd let us in the meantime mind our own business."


In fact, he cared little for other European alliances than the American alliance with France. To cement that he was ready to be all complaisance. His tact alonc prevented a rutpture with the French ministers through the signature, ill December, 1782, behind their backs, of the preliminary treaty between Great Britain and the United States. His brother commissioners, Jay and Adams, suspected that the French Govenment wished to protract the negotiations for its own objects, however the United States might suffer by the prolongation of the war. Their suspicion was not withfoundation; and Frankliu, when he under.stood the facts, acquiesced in their decision to proceed independently. But he had the wisdom, which bis colleagues lacked, to be conient with starting peace on its route without breakiug down the bridge by which it had crossed before he knew whether it might not be useful for a retreat. To the French ministcr's reprooches for the departure from good-fellowship, he replied by the soft answer which turneth away wrath. He defends himself, and Jay and Adams, against the charge of anything worse than" indiscretion" and neglect of a point of "bienseance". lt 'fa those two offences he pleads guilty. But he warns M. de Vergennes not to forget the effcct of a quarrel upon" the English, who, I just now learn, flatter themselves they have already divided us."


The friendly relations of France and the United States had seemed in danger of being completely overcrouded when Franklin'S amiable apologies restored peace. Two days after the French ministerial remonstrance, the United States actually received from the French treasury a loan of six million francs, which iufused new life into their military opemtious. Jay and Adams,who," alleges M. de Vergennes, "do not pretend to recognize the rules of courtesy in regard to us," could never have obtained that aid. Franklin's brother commissioners underrated the gain to the United States from French succor. Without the diversion France created in Europe, and the subsidies she granted, it is almost incredible that the Congress should not have been compelled to make a humiliating peace with King George. Franklin understood that the French alliance was vital to his people, and he spared no pains that he might confirm it. As Jefferson said of him, in extolling his diplomatic dexterity, he, by his reasonableness, moderation and temper, so won the confidence of the French ministers that" it may truly be said they were more under his influence than he under theirs." Franklin did not see the instability of that charming Parisian society to which he discoursed in his shrewdly witty parables. We suspect that he only affected not to perceive the selfish motives at the bottom of the invaluable assistance the French nation and government afforded his country.


Chivalrous Frenchmen like Lafayette, in advocating the American cause, were more protesting against court absolutism at home than against the imperial tyranny of Great Britain. Frenchmen generally and their mIers, when they succored the United States, were merely fighting, as they had fought a genemtion earlier, England in America. They
longed to recover Canada. When they had convinced them· selves that their American allies would not consent to their return as sovereigns to any part of the North American continent, they liked better to leave their old dominions in the hands of England than struggle for their transfer to the emancipated British colonies. While Great Britain remained still a neighbor, they believed the Republic would not be able to dispense with the shelter of French protection. Franklin, who gauged human motives, especially when not altogether noble, with unerring sagacity, was possibly more desirous to convince Robert Livingston than himself convinced, when he wrote: "The ideas of aggrandizement by conquest are out of fashion.


The wise here think France great enough i and its ambition at present seems to be only that of justice and magnanimity toward other nations, fidelity and utility
to its allies."-EDINBURGH REVIEW.






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