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A FEW weeks before sailing from England, the sorrowful news reached Franklin of the death of his wife. For several months she had felt her health sinking, and on the 14th of December, 1774, she was seized with paralysis, which she survived only five days. This event filled Franklin with poignant grief. Her good sense and native kindness of heart, her discreet management, not only of household affairs, but of his business in his absence, with her placid and even temper, and her rational and sober yet hopeful views of life, had greatly endeared her to him, and made his home peculiarly attractive. In many respects their native qualities and traits of character were much alike, and with the solid materials for domestic felicity which both were able and ever ready to contribute, their forty-four years of wedlock passed in mutual affection and unbroken harmony, and the survivor deeply mourned his bereavement.
Franklin reached home on the evening of May 5th, 1775; and the very next day the Assembly of Pennsylvania, then in session, appointed him a delegate to the second Continental Congress, which was to convene in Philadelphia four days after. The people of America had everywhere become exasperated beyond all further forbearance. The blood of their countrymen had been wantonly shed by British troops, at Lexington and Concord, in April, and the call to arms was now ringing through the land.
When Congress met, a few timid men still hesitated at the idea of war with so powerful a foe as Great Britain, but the great majority were ready and eager for the conflict; and though they consented that one more appeal should be made to the justice of the British government, by petitioning the king, yet they did so merely to conciliate their hesitating brethren, while, at the same time, they promptly voted to prepare for defence, and pressed the preparation with vigor.
Never before had Franklin been so loaded with public business. The Pennsylvania Assembly made him chairman of the committee of safety for that province; and Congress placed him at the head of its secret committee authorized to procure and distribute arms and other munitions of war. A new postoffice establishment, also, was necessary, and the arduous task of arranging it was committed to Franklin alone, with exclusive authority over the whole subject. The department of Indian affairs for the middle colonies was placed under his superintendence, and he served on the committees on commerce, on the organization of a war department, on the terms of treaties to be offered to foreign nations, and various others.
Several of the posts thus assigned to him involved an active and extensive correspondence, not only within the colonies, but with many persons in foreign countries, requiring great caution and an accurate knowledge of the channels of communication in Europe, to preserve the objects of Congress from becoming known to a vigilant enemy almost everywhere present. In the midst of
HIS VARIOUS LABORS.
all this labor, moreover, feeling as all other reflecting men did, the vital importance of some general political organization less dependent than Congress then was, on the merely spontaneous action of separate colonial Assemblies, and endowed with self-sustaining power sufficient to abide the vicissitudes of the coming struggle, Franklin prepared a plan of confederacy, which, on the 21st of July, 1775, on his own motion, he laid before Congress. This plan vested the general powers of the proposed confederacy in a single legislative body or congress ;
and the executive and administrative functions in a council, to consist of one member from each colony, appointed by the Congress. Though the plan was not adopted, it brought the subject up, and it may be regarded as the germ of the confederation, under which the thirteen states subsequently organized themselves.
In October of the same year Congress sent Franklin, with two other members, Thomas Lynch and Benjamin Harrison, to consult and arrange with Washington, then at the camp in Cambridge, a plan for the maintenance of an army; and on his return he found himself again a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly, having been elected in Philadelphia in his absence. The importance of maintaining a political correspondence with the friends of America in Europe, particularly with a view to such alliances as might become necessary, was strongly felt in Congress, and near the end of November that body organized a committee of secret correspondence. For this, Franklin's high standing and wide acquaintance in Europe peculiarly fitted him; and being placed on it, he opened the intended correspondence in a letter of the 9th of December, 1775, to Charles W. F. Dumas, a very learned man, particularly versed in the law of nations, and a Swiss by birth, with whom Franklin had become intimately acquainted in Holland.