Page images



On the 21st of August, 1721, James Franklin began publishing a newspaper. It was called “ The New England Courant;" and it is spoken of by Dr. Franklin, in his own narrative of his life, as being the second newspaper, , “ The Boston News-Letter” having been the first, which appeared in America. In this latter particular, however, writing as he was, from memory, fifty years after the event mentioned, he mistook in his recollection.

Dr. Sparks, the learned and accurate editor of the latest and by far the fullest and most valuable collection of Dr. Franklin's writings, has shown that James Franklin's newspaper was not the second, but the fourth, which made its appearance in this country; the first being, as above stated, the Boston News-Letter, commenced April 24, 1704 ; the second one, the Boston Gazette, started on the 21st of December, 1719; and the third, the American Weekly Mercury, first issued December 22, 1719, at Philadelphia.

Some of James Franklin's friends urged him, very strenuously, not to undertake the publication of a newspaper, there being already, as they thought, quite as many as could find support. But the people of this country, whether colonial, or independent, have always



been much addicted to newspapers; and when, in 1771, Franklin was recounting these early incidents, he took occasion to state, that the number of this class of publications had then increased to not less than twenty-five.

Among the acquaintances of James were several, who occasionally furnished him with communications, which enhanced the value of his paper, and helped to extend its circulation. As these persons frequently resorted to the printing-office, the conversation and the favorable reception of their articles by the public, stimulated Benjamin to make trial of his own pen in the same way.

To avoid all objection from his brother on account of his youth, or for any other reason, he wrote his pieces in a disguised hand, and at night shoved them under the printing-office door. The first piece having been found by James, he showed it to some of the contributors mentioned, whose remarks upon the performance, made of course without any suspicion of the writer and in his hearing, were such as gave him, to use his own words, “ the exquisite pleasure of finding that it met with their approbation ; and that, in their different guesses at the author, none were named but men of some character for learning and ingenuity.” He modestly adds, that he was probably lucky in his judges, and that they were not really as skilful critics as he then supposed them to be.

But, whatever may have been the discernment of his critics, the success of his first effort was so gratifying, that, carefully guarding his secret, he continued in the same way to furnish communications, which proved alike acceptable to the publisher of the paper and its readers ; until, as he relates, he had exhausted his stock of ideas for such essays; when he avowed his authorship, and thereupon found himself the object of increased regard and consideration from his brother's acquaintances.

But, alas! human nature is weak; and if prophets are without their due honor anywhere, it is among their own kin and in their own house. James seems to have been not a little nettled by this success of his younger brother as a writer. Though he sought to disguise so unamiable a feeling, under the worthier one of an apprehension, that the commendation bestowed on his apprentice might make him too vain, and though there may have been some reason for such apprehension, yet the harsh and bitter temper, which, about this time, began to mark his treatment of Benjamin, but too plainly evinced that his brotherly affection had become soured by some drops of envy. Instead of tempering his authority as a master, with kindness, and with that solicitude for the improvement of his apprentice, which ought, indeed, to be cherished in all such cases, and which, in this instance, were rendered still more obligatory by the ties of nature, he exercised his power oppressively; sometimes, in the excitement of passion, beating his brother, and sometimes exacting from him services which were humiliating.

Their differences were frequently laid before their father, a man of clear head, strong sense, and sound judgment; and the fact that his decision was generally in Benjamin's favor, is good evidence of the injustice of the elder brother. From a remark which Dr. Franklin makes in connexion with his account of these matters, it is obvious that James's treatment of him at the period in question, was the means of thus early wakening in his mind, that deep-felt abhorrence of arbitrary power in all its forms, which was so fully developed at a later period of his career, and which became one of the most energetic and controlling emotions of his soul.

Of the communications which appeared from time to time in the New England Courant, not a few were of a



strongly marked satirical character; aiming not merely in a general way at fashionable follies, or the absurdities of opinion and manners presenting themselves in the community at large; but applying the lash to various classes and professions, not omitting either the political, or clerical; exposing abuses in both civil and ecclesiastical administration, and hitting hard. One of these pieces, which appeared in the summer of 1722, gave such offence to the colonial Assembly, that James Franklin, the publisher, was brought before that body, on the Speaker's warrant, severely reprimanded, and sent to prison for one month. It was supposed he might have escaped the sentence, in his own person, if he would have disclosed the writer of the offensive article ; but that he manfully refused to do. Benjamin was also taken up and examined before the council; and though he also refused to make any disclosure, he was only admonished and dismissed : on the ground, as he supposed, that an apprentice could not justly be required to betray his master's secrets. Perhaps his youth, for he was only sixteen years old, also served to render the council less rigorous.

During the confinement of James, the management of the paper devolved on Benjamin, who, notwithstanding their private differences, magnanimously resented the harsh usage his brother received from the public authorities, and gave them, in the paper, to use his own words, some rubs, which his brother took very kindly; while others began to consider him in an unfavorable light, as a youth that had a turn for libelling and satire.”

The proceedings of the colonial government, on this occasion, seem to have been, in truth, not a little arbitrary and oppressive. James Franklin was arraigned, subjected to examination, and sent to prison, on a mere general accusation, with no specific allegation of the



new name.

subject matter of his offence, no exhibition of legal proofs to sustain the accusation, and no trial before a judicial tribunal; and when his term of imprisonment expired, his discharge was accompanied by an act still more arbitrary and tyrannical, if possible, than even his commitment; for the Assembly made an order that " James Franklin should no longer print the newspaper called the New England Courant.”

When James obtained his liberation, having come to consider how he should manage to continue the publication of his newspaper, without a direct and bold infraction of the assembly's order, which would be certain to bring upon him the arbitrary power of that body with increased severity, some of his friends advised that he should attain his object by giving his paper a

To this, however, there were various objections, some of them having relation to the legal effect on his subscription list, and others arising from considerations of convenience; so that he adopted a different course, and one which resulted in consequences of great importance to his apprentice-brother. The title of the paper remained unchanged, but its publication was coutinued in Benjamin's name; and to protect himself against the charge of disobeying the mandate of the assembly, by printing his paper through the agency of his servant, as the law would consider it, James resorted to the expedient of surrendering to Benjamin his old indenture, with a discharge endorsed upon it, to be kept for exhibition in case of need; while, to enable him to retain the services of his apprentice, a new indenture, for the residue of the term, was executed, but kept secret. This was truly, as Franklin calls it, “a flimsy scheme;" but, though legally void, it was adopted, and the paper was printed for several months on this footing

« PreviousContinue »