« PreviousContinue »
During all the discussions in England which preceded the Declaration of Independence, Franklin was the fountain head of information and argument on the side of the Colonies. In 1774, the Earl of Chatham sought an interview with Franklin on the situation of affairs in America, which was renewed by Franklin four months later when the Petition and Address of Congress reached England—and after that interview the 'Great Commoner' resolved to appear in his place in the House of Lords to move for an address to the King to send orders for the immediate removal of the troops from Boston, as preliminary to any reconciliation. When the day caine, he introduced Dr. Franklin into the House as his presence will be of more service to America than mine. His speech on that occasion was worth a triumphant battle to our fathers. • When your
lordships look at the papers transmitted us from America; when you consider their decency, firmness, and wisdom, you can not but respect their cause, and wish to make it your own. For myself, I must declare and avow, that in all my reading and observationand it has been my favorite study—I have read Thucydides, and have studied and admired the master-states of the world—that for solidity of reasoning, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion, under such a complication of difficult circumstances, no nation or body of men can stand in preference to the General Congress at Philadelphia.' The inotion, although ably supported by Lord Camden, was voted down. His son, William Pitt, who was present, a youth of eighteen, wrote to his mother—the speech was the most forcible that can be imagined. The matter and manner both were striking.' A few weeks later the great parliamentary orator again sought the advice of Franklin at his rooms in Craven street on a plan of reconciliation which he introduced with another powerful speech in the House. Franklin was present—and when Lord Sandwich opposed the reception of Lord Chatham's plan, he turned toward the spot where Franklin stood, with the remark, ‘that the plan could not be the production of any British Peer. He fancied he bad in his eye the person who drew it up, one of the bitterest and most mischievous enemies this country bad ever known.' To this insinuation, Lord Chatham in his reply declared the plan was entirely his own; 'a declaration he thought himself the more obliged to make, as many of their Lordships appeared to have so mean an opinion of it; for if it was so weak or so bad a thing, it was proper in him to take care that no other person should unjustly share in the censure it deserved. That it had heretofore been reckoned his vice, not to be apt to take advice; but he made no scruple to declare, that, if he were the first minister of the country, and had the care of settling this momentous business, he should not be ashamed of publicly calling to his assistance a person so perfectly acquainted with the whole of American affairs as the gentleman alluded to, and so injuriously reflected on; one, he was pleased to say, whom all Europe held in high estimation for his knowledge and wisdom, and ranked with our Boyles and Newtons; who was an bonor, not to the English nation only, but to human nature !' Franklin records the fact, that he stood the abuse of Lord Sandwich without finching, but that he found it more difficult to appear unconcerned when such language of confidence and praise was used, by one so eminent, in such an assembly.
Among Franklin's efforts at this period, 1770–74, to serve the cause of the Colonies, and of the mother country, was the publication of articles in the newspapers, which attracted much attention. One was entitled • Rules for Reducing a Great Empire to a Small one'—the reverse process of the ancient sage who valued himself upon this, that, though he could not fiddle, he knew how to make a great city of a little one. The Rules were simply the satirical statement of the policy pursued by England toward her Colonies. It had a great run, having been reprinted in the paper in which it first appeared, and copied into the Gentleman's Magazine and into the newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. Of the same character was his squib entitled 'An Edict of the King of Prussia.'
From year to year, since 1768, Franklin, impelled by his feelings, and the condition of his private concerns, had been on the point of returning to his native country; but emergencies as often arose, which rendered the continuation of his residence in London obviously of the utmost importance to her interests. He yielded to the dictates of patriotism and the instances of friends from America, with a reluctance of heart, of which an idea may be formed by the following amiable phrase addressed to his son in 1772 - A violent longing for home sometimes seizes me, which I can no otherwise subdue but by promising myself a return next spring, or next fall, and so forth.' When, from the general aspect of affairs, in March, 1775, and his more intimate knowledge of the infatuation of the ministry, he saw the crisis to be complete, he resolved to embark at once; and little time was to be lost in executing this purpose ; for, as was privately intimated to him, ministers were preparing to arrest him under color of his having fomented a rebellion in the colonies.
On the passage homeward, he wrote the history of the informal negotiations for reconciliation noticed above, which is a lasting monument of his consummate address, his capacity, and his intense Americanism. As was his wont, he made diligent use of his eyes and hands in observing the phenomena of the sea, trying experiments with the thermometer, and making suggestions respecting the form of ships, rigging, anchors, and the principles which should govern a ship’s course so as to partake of the direction of the wind at certain seasons.
The reception given to Franklin on his reappearance in Philadelphia, at the commencement of May, 1775, was suitable to his high deserts. That information and advice relating to American affairs, ‘not convenient to be written,' to which he had several times referred, in his official letters from England, he then imparted for the extinguishment of all the hopes of reconciliation which were yet fondly entertained by some, even of the leaders of Congress. He breathed a holy despair into the councils of that body, to which the legislature of Pennsylvania elected him on the very day after his arrival. He looked in one direction alone, with an ardor, a fixedness, and a confidence, which must have rendered his example of the utmost efficacy, had he done no more than point the way. But he claimed a full share, at the age of seventy, in the toils of the revolution. As a member of the committee of safety, and of that of foreign correspondence, he performed the most fatiguing services ; he coöperated, besides, in all the general labors of Congress, with the utmost zeal and assiduity. He was placed by that assembly at the head of the general post-office, established in the name of the colonies. The adoption of a paper money currency was one of the various measures indispensable at the outset of the war, to which he principally contributed, and exerted all his great influence on the side of the Declaration of Independence, at the time when it was so auspiciously made, and of the Committee charged with the formal drafting of that instrument, he was a member.
Almost immediately on his arrival from England, he wrote letters to some of his friends in that country, in a strain fitted to inspire lofty ideas of the virtue, resolution, and resources of the colonies. * All America,' said he to Dr. Priestly, 'is exasperated, and more firmly united than ever. Great frugality and great industry are be come fashionable here. Britain, I conclude, has lost her colonies for ever.
She is now giving us such miserable specimens of her government, that we shall even detest and avoid it, as a complication of robbery, murder, famine, fire, and pestilence. If you flatter yourselves of beating us into submission, you know neither the people nor the country. You will have heard, before this reaches you, of the defeat of a great body of your troops by the country people at Lexington, of the action at Bunker's Hill, &c. Enough has happened, one would think, to convince your ministers, that the Americans will fight, and that this is a harder nut to crack than they imagined. Britain, at the expense of three millions, has killed one hundred and fifty Yankees this campaign. During the same time sixty thousand children have been born in America. From these data the mathematical head of our dear good friend, Dr. Price, will easily calculate the time and expense necessary to kill us all, and conquer our whole territory. Tell him, as he sometimes has his doubts and despondencies about our firmness, that America is determined and unanimous.'
Franklin early conjectured that it would become necessary for America to apply to some foreign power for assistance. To prepare the way for this step, and ascertain the probability of its success, he had, toward the close of 1775, opened, under the sanction of Congress, a correspondence with Holland, which he managed with admirable judgment, as may be perceived by his letter to Mr. Dumas of Amsterdam, of December, 1775, contained in the fifth volume of the American edition of his works. When, at the end of 1776, our affairs had assumed so threatening an aspect, the hopes of Congress were naturally turned to Europe, and to France particularly, the inveterate and most powerful rival of England. Every eye rested on Franklin as a providential instrument for sustaining the American cause abroad; and though he had repeatedly signified, from London, his determination to revisit Europe no more, yet, having consecrated himself anew to the pursuit of national independence, he accepted, without hesitation, in his seventy-first year, the appointment of commissioner plenipotentiary to France.
In the summer of 1776, Franklin was unanimously chosen President of the Convention elected by the people to frame a Constitution for the Government of the State of Pennsylvania. His occupation as a member of Congress did not prevent his attendance in the Convention during its most important debates and exerting his influence over some of its votes. The last act of this body is a vote of thanks to their President for his able and disinterested advice in the debates on the most important parts of the Bill of Rights, and frame of Government.'
In the month of October, 1776, our philosopher set sail on his eventful mission; having first deposited in the hands of Congress all the money he could raise,-between £3,000 and £4,000,-as a demonstration of his confidence in their cause, and an incentive to those who might be able to assist it in the same way. His passage to France was short but boisterous.
The personal celebrity of Franklin was of great service to his country at this important juncture; men of letters and science possessed a remarkable ascendency over public opinion in France, and contributed to decide ministerial policy. They were not slow in remarking and admiring his caution, his patient firmness, his moderation, and the incomparable alliance in his mind of the utmost solidity of judgment, with delicacy and vivacity of wit.
When the news of the surrender of Burgoyne reached France, in October, 1777, and produced there an explosion of public opinion, he seized upon the auspicious crisis, to make his decisive effort, by urging the most persuasive motives for a formal recognition and alliance. The epoch of the treaty concluded with the court of Versailles, on the 6th of February, 1778, is one of the most splendid in his dazzling career. It decided the contest with England.
Franklin was, in himself, a principal link of the alliance. While he continued to be considered as the personification of the American cause, it seemed impossible to withhold from it any aids of which the embarrassed condition of the royal finances would allow. The quantity of military stores, and the large sums of money so speedily placed at his disposal; the free gifts of many millions of livres, obtained, as he remarks, from the goodness of the king, by his application ;' and the resources which he commanded for the payment of the heavy bills incessantly drawn upon himn by Congress and its agents abroad, -bear witness to the extent of his influence, and the alacrity of his zeal. He may be said to have been for a long time the sole banker and broker, in Europe, of the American government He performed for several years the offices of consul; commissioned privateers; and acted, moreover, as merchant to make purchases, and direct the shipping of stores to a very great value. To appreciate duly his character and services, it should be remembered that, when he sustained, with such spirit and effect, these cumulative functions, in addition to the higher diplomatic duties, and to a most extensive, delicate, and responsible correspondence, he was verging to fourscore, and subject to an excruciating disease.
In the complicated affairs of Captain Paul Jones, when his application for a naval command in the service of the United States was discouraged by his colleagues, Adams and Lee, Franklin interposed his personal good offices, and finally secured for him the Bon Homme Richard—a name given by its captain in honor of one of Poor Richard's Almanacs, in wbich he read : “If you would have