Page images
PDF
EPUB

refused a patent for it, on the beneficent principle, that such inventions ought to become at once common property, and be considered in the light of an interchange of good offices among mankind.

In 1744, he began to print, in addition to the Pennsylvania Gazette, a monthly magazine, entitled “The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle for all the British Plantations in America,' which stopped with the sixth number.

His attention was first drawn to the facts of electricity in 1746. After much study of the subject with apparatus sent over by Mr. Collinson, he was the first to ascertain, in 1752, the identity of lightning and the electric fluid; and history presents few grander scenes than that of Franklin, with his son twenty-one years old by his side, on the 26th of June, 1752, in the fields near Philadelphia, with a thunder cloud expanding and darkening the sky, into which the philosopher had let fly a kite of ordinary construction-except that the covering is a silk handkerchief, and the head has an iron point, and the string of hemp terminates in his hand with a thread of silk, at the junction of which hangs an iron key,-he touches the key, and the lightning of the heavens sparkles in his band—and the speculations of the study are proved correct.

The fact is well recorded in the inscription under his portrait :-Eripuit fulmen cælo.'*

Public Life. Franklin's public life in the sense of living as much for the public as for himself, began with his business career, but in the narrow sense of holding office, with his acceptance of the clerkship of the Assembly in 1736, and of the Assistant Postmastership in 1747. In 1748 the Governor appointed him Justice of the Peace, the city elected him first to the Common Council in 1750, and soon after, an Alderman, and his fellow-citizens made him their representative in the Assembly in the same year. The first position he resigned when he found he knew too little of law to discharge its duties prop erly; the second he made serviceable for the cleanliness, safety, and traffic of the city, and the latter for the defense of the Province against the Indians. In 1753, he was commissioned Postmastergeneral by the Home Government, and in that capacity introduced improvements which made henceforward the Postal Service one of the prime civilizers and blessings of his country.

Eripuit Cælo fulmen, sceptrumque Tyrannis. He snatched the thunderbolt from Heaven, and the scepter from the hands of Tyrants. This motto was composed by Turgot in 1778, (after Franklin signed the Alliance with France) and improved by D'Alembert by substituting the word sceptrumque for mor sceptra, as originally written. It was suggested not by any thing in Clandian, as suggested by Lord Brougham, but by the Anti Lucretius, sive de Deo et Natura by the Cardinal Malchior de Polignac in 1747. See Atlantic Monthly, Nov., 1863.

In 1754, the depredations of the Indians on the frontiers had become grievous and alarming; the colonies of New Hampsbire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, appointed deputies to meet at Albany, and to devise some plan of military defense. Franklin was in attendance on behalf of his province, and produced • The Albany Plan of Union.' The supremacy of his intellect was felt and acknowledged in the Congress, and his scheme was adopted. The idea was to solicit an act of parliament for establishing a general government over the colonies, consisting of a governor, to be named by the crown, and of a parliament, to be elected by the assemblies of the provincial states, in the proportion of their respective populousness. This general government was to raise troops, build forts, and to provide for the public defense. Notwithstanding the unanimous sanction of the Albany Congress, the plan was rejected both by the provincial assemblies and by the ministry of England. By the first it was held too favorable to the influence of the crown; by the second, as being too favorable to the independence of the colonies. But the discussion served to familiarize the words congress, general government, American army, and thus to prepare the very form of confederacy, which was afterward resorted to during the revolution. In the autumn of the same year, he saw at Boston the English plan of union, in which provision was made for the reimbursement for all advances made by the British treasury for colonial defense by a tax to be laid on the Colonies by Parliament. To this feature he at once objected, in writing, in words which afterward became familiar as household words— No taxation without representation.' •No distinction between Englishmen living in England, and Englishmen living abroad.'

In the spring of 1755, Franklin was of great service to General Braddock in obtaining appropriations from the Assembly and supplying the means of transportation for the supplies of the army, which was destined to encounter a disastrous defeat- -a defeat which his own sagacity had anticipated, and of which he warned the General to provide against by more watchfulness. In the same year he took the field in person, and did good service as Colonel in protecting the Moravian settlements from the incursions of the Indians.

In 1755, he engaged in a charitable scheme which originated in London for the relief and instruction of poor Germans and their descendants in Pennsylvania and the adjacent colonies. His plan contemplated distributing the German emigrants among the English settlers instead of locating them together; and at once establishing English schools for adults as well as for children. He always manifested special interest in the German population, and just before his death made a donation to the college at Lancaster called after his name, and whose inauguration be attended in 1789.

Dr. Franklin was deputed, in 1757, to Great Britain, there to solicit the abolition of certain exemptions from taxation, which had been conferred on the family of Penn. He succeeded in the object of his embassy; and, during his stay in London, he published a pamphlet, pointing out the advantages that would result from the retention of Canada. This pamphlet produced the desired effect, and thus delivered his country from the danger of French aggression.

During this mission, Franklin's acquaintance was courted by persons of the highest distinction in England ; his cast of mind and remarks gained the admiration and esteem of the most enlightened and polished men in Europe; and he was every where honored and caressed as one of the great ornaments of the age. All the attentions that he received, however, did not estrange his heart from his family and country. The letters, written at this time to his wife, open a delightful view of his domestic and social character; and he longs, in the midst of his triumphs of his London existence, for his fireside and his family endearments. Before leaving England, he was created Doctor of Laws (LL.D.), by the universities of Aberdeen (in 1759), Oxford (in 1762), and Edinburgh. He had previously received the degree of Master of Arts from Yale College in 1752 and from Harvard in 1753. He had also the satisfaction to see his son, Mr. William Franklin, without any solicitation on his own part, made Governor of New Jersey, an appointment which probably cost the son his patriotism, as an appointment in the military service of the mother country, by the Royal Governor Wentworth, made Benjamin Thompson of Woburn, Mass., an adherent of the mother country, in the Revolutionary conflict.

In 1762, he returned to America, and was immediately greeted with the thanks of the Assembly of Pennsylvania, 'for the many important services done to America in general,' as well as for those rendered to the province; and the vote of thanks was accompanied by an appropriation of five hundred pounds as a compensation for his labors. During his absence, he had been annually elected a member of the Assembly, and, therefore, resumed his seat at once.

The year following his arrival in Philadelphia was full of local and provincial commotion, which took more of a personal character than before, and ended in his defeat in the election to the Assembly by the strenuous efforts of the adherents of the Proprietary Government, and in his appointment in 1764 as the Agent of the

Assembly to solicit from the King and Parliament a Royal Governor, and to oppose the passage of a Stamp Act.

In the agitation which grew out of the discussion of the Stamp Act, the entering wedge which finally sundered the British Empire, Franklin exerted

every effort to prevent its passage and hasten its repeal-maintaining to the last the principles which he avowed when the subject of Parliamentary taxation was first broached in 1754 in the English plan of Union of the Colonies; and by his personal communications with Edmund Burke and Lord Chatham, as well as in his memorable answers in his examination before the House of Commons, achieved for himself and his cause one of those triumphs which Peace sometimes reserves for her champions.

The presentation of a petition from the Massachusetts assembly, occasioned Dr. Franklin to be called for examination before the House of Commons. The entire examination brought forth a body of information, so varied, and comprehensive, and luminous, communicated with such firmness and readiness, such precision, such epigrammatic point and simplicity, as to astonish even those who were most confident in his powers, and to render any

immediate result, other than the one obtained, almost impossible. The interrogatories, with the answers, were printed without delay, and produced in his countrymen the liveliest emotions of gratitude and pride; for not only were their feelings, condition, and merits, thoroughly explained, but their rights elucidated and solemnly recorded.'

In 1772, Franklin came into possession of a packet of letters, written by persons in authority in New England, and principally in Massachusetts—placed in his hands without any agency of his own by Mr. John Temple, as evidence that the offensive measures of the English Ministry were suggested by native born Americans. These letters, known as the Hutchinson Papers, were sent by him to Boston, and finally, with the permission of Mr. Temple, became so public, that their contents were discussed in the Massachusetts Assembly, and a petition to the King for the removal of the two chief offenders, Thomas Hutchinson and Andrew Oliver from their respective offices—the former was Governor, and the latter Secretary of the Colony. The petition was presented, and on the 8th of January, 1773, he was summoned to appear before the Lords of the Council—the Committee for Plantation Affairs.

During the discussion of this petition, Franklin was assailed in the privy council by Wedderburn, (afterward Lord Loughborough), and in the house of lords by Lord Sandwich, in the most vindictive and violent terms. Sandwich declared him to be one of the bitterest and most mischievous enemies Britain had ever known,' and Wedderburn held him forth as a thief and a murderer.' Franklin betrayed not the least emotion; he saw and heard with calm dignity; his countenance remained as immovable as wood, and only • expressed his sorrow to observe that the Lords of Council could behave so indecently (who had universally laughed aloud, and enjoyed the sarcastic brutality of the attorney-general), and to find that the coarsest language could be grateful to the politest ear.'

The ministry followed up their imaginary triumph, by dismissing him from his place of deputy postmaster-general, and preventing the payment of the arrears of his salary ;-but as the clouds of the revolution thickened and lowered in the political horizon, the ministry, becoming alarmed at the increasing dangers and difficulties by which they were surrounded, turned again to Franklin for aid, and underwent a severe humiliation in making anxious advances to the man whom they had covered with contumelies, and malignantly dismissed from the service of his sovereign.

They opened a communication with him by means of informal agents, commissioned to draw him into some scheme of pacification agreeable to their immediate views, and bade him expect any reward in the power of the government to bestow,'—'unlimited recompense, honors, and emoluments beyond his expectation,'—in the event of his effecting an adjustment suited to the dignity of the government. The season when his country could be served by personal condescension being passed, Franklin repelled every suggestion of the kind, in the manner required by his character, his station, and his cause. To his friend Barclay, who ventured to hint something of an unlimited choice of office, he replied, with a decisive plainness, that the ministry, he was sure, would rather give him a place in a cart to Tyburn than any other place whatever : and when the same agent, in a conversation which was to be exactly repeated to the ministers, observed how necessary an agreement was for America, since it was so easy for Britain to burn all her sea-port towns, the aged patriot gave this answer, of which the spirit should be eternal among his countrymen :—The chief part of my little property consists of houses in those towns; you may make bonfires of them whenever you please; the fear of losing them will never alter my resolution to resist to the last the claims of parliament; it behooves Britain to take care what mischief she does us, for, sooner or later, she will certainly be obliged to make good all damages with interest.'

« PreviousContinue »