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( Originally Published Early 1900's )
GRANDSIRE OF THE REVOLUTION
"Eripuit coelo fulmen, sceptrumque tyrannis." "He wrested the lightning from heaven, and scepters from tyrants." This panegyric was composed in Latin by Turgot, the French Minister, to the honor of Dr. Franklin. It was adapted from a slightly-similar line in a Latin poem by the Duke of Polignac, whose wife was the confidential friend of Marie Antoinette. The felicity of the phrase, and the fact that it could be applied to the deeds of a human being, contributed widely to the European fame of Dr. Franklin, and made him the first colonist who had won world-wide reputation.
"There appeared to me," said Thomas Jefferson, "more respect and veneration attached to the character of Dr. Franklin in France, than to that of any other person in the same country, foreign or native. I had opportunity of knowing particularly how far these sentiments were felt by the foreign Ambassadors and Ministers at the Court of Versailles."
The printers and editors of America for more than a century have beatified Benjamin Franklin and accepted him as their patron. In this way, on a whole continent, he displaced both Güttenburg and Richard Steele.
Through the publication of an Almanac, or home companion, for a quarter of a century, in which book were embalmed a wealth of short English maxims for the moral and physical guidance of the inexperienced, Benjamin Franklin became renowned as a great teacher, and no other Nation can boast a son so nearly like Confucius in his mental balance. All other men save Confucius or Franklin, possessing their charm and wisdom, have revealed themselves to their disciples either as prophet or King.
While Benjamin Franklin demonstrated to mankind that the electric spark issuing from a magnetized wire was produced by the same thing that made the lightnings in the sky, and while he thus evoked the astonishment of every philosopher on earth, it still remains that Franklin's Pane (of Glass), whereby the "storage" principle of manipulating electricity was further advanced, was a step forward toward Planté's batteries, by which marvels have been already accomplished. Benjamin Franklin was a truth-seeker. None save imposters who battened on the innocent, had reason to fear this innocent-appearing man, whose deep wisdom rarely appeared in his manner.
We shall treat this incomparable diplomatist, philosopher, journalist, and seer as the Grandsire of the Revolution. He infuriated the Penns, and angered the King. In a financial sense, he took the cause of the American Revolution to Paris, and, by a sublime record of diplomacy, secured aid until the Nation could establish a treasury of its own.
It is perhaps the chief boast of the proud City of Boston that Benjamin Franklin was born there, on Milk street, near the corner of Washington. His statue has the place of honor before the City Hall. The date of birth was January 17, 1706. The father had seventeen children by two wives, and Benjamin was the eighth of ten children by the second wife. His mother was a Folger, and he took his characteristics from her and her father. He desired to be a sailor; his father wished him to be a preacher. They could not agree, and the father, as a medium course, set the son at work in a tallow chandler's factory. To escape from this fate, Benjamin suffered himself to be bound to his brother James as a printer's apprentice for a term of nine years. James was an editor, and angered the press censor. To evade the censor, the news-paper was published under the name of Benjamin Franklin, the old indenture of apprenticeship was annulled, and a secret one was substituted. Thereupon the apprentice felt safe in running away perhaps safer, for he says in his celebrated autobiography that although a lad of only seventeen years, he was already "a little obnoxious to the governing party," as his "indiscreet disputations about religion" had caused him to be "pointed at with horror by good people as an infidel and atheist." He found no situation at New York, and passed on to Philadelphia. A good printer who had escaped five years of bondage need not feel uneasy, and, buying three rolls of bread, he walked up Market street as far as Fourth, with a roll under each arm and munching a third. A passage in his autobiography tends to show that little Boston did not practice the gentility of the great City of Philadelphia, for he says : "I passed by the door of Mr. Read, my future wife's father; when she, standing by the door, saw me, and thought I made, as I certainly did, a most awkward, ridiculous appearance."
He soon got work and became acquainted with Sir William Keith, who was Governor of the Province of Pennsylvania for the two sons of William Penn, who owned the charter. Keith persuaded Franklin to go back to Boston and try to get his father to invest the capital necessary for a newspaper at Philadelphia. But the son's luxurious appearance on his return to Boston did not move the father of seventeen children, who would not invest, and thought Keith must be a foolish man. Keith then advised Benjamin to go to London, England, choose a "dress" and outfit, and Keith would himself furnish the funds. Keith would seem to have had a secret desire to get Franklin out of Philadelphia, and therein he was certainly a good servant of the Penns, as events proved. Franklin got on board a vessel, still waiting for his bill of exchange, and went to sea before he really knew he had been deceived. Even then he did not lament his fate, but set out to see the world at London, and was a wild young man for some time. Finally he reformed, became a teetotaller for life, and was again able to interest rich gentlemen in his welfare. A Philadelphia merchant offered to take him back as confidential clerk, and the twain sailed home, reaching Philadelphia October 11, 1726. But the merchant and the young printer were both seized with illness, and the benefactor died. Benjamin Franklin, at twenty, was so sick that he thought he would die, and prepared his epitaph, now so famous :
THE BODY OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (LIKE THE COVER OF AN OLD BOOK, ITS CONTENTS TORN OUT, AND STRIPY OF ITS LETTERING AND GILDING), LIES HERE, FOOD FOR WORMS, VET THE WORK ITSELF SHALL NOT BE LOST, FOR IT WILL APPEAR ONCE MORE, AS HE BELIEVED, IN A NEW AND MORE BEAUTIFUL EDITION, CORRECTED AND AMENDED BY THE AUTHOR.
Bradford and Keimer were the rival printers in the city. It was Keimer whom Franklin had worked for. Bradford was Postmaster, and naturally hated Franklin as Keimer's man. When Franklin started in business for himself with a partner, he had both the old men bitterly against him; but Keimer soon sold out. Then Bradford would not let his postmen carry Franklin's paper, which was eventually called the Pennsylvania Gazette. Franklin was a consummate editor. Richard Steele, the earliest of editors, knew nothing about advertisements and a job office, but Franklin regarded these adjuncts as mainsail and rudder to his ship. He was an advocate of paper money, and worked so hard for the cause that he secured the job of printing the currency. It was a Quaker town, and Franklin soon put on sober garments (which he wore all his life afterward), and let the wise Philadelphians know that he was saving money. He now offered to marry a young woman if her parents could dower her with $500, and "civilly suggested a mortgage" on the paternal mansion for the purpose. This negotiation failed. But in these recitals at the expense of Franklin, made in his Autobiography at the height of his fame, we must somewhat consider the tendency to humor, for which the writer would sacrifice many attending circumstances. He says he made other ineffectual advances on a commercial basis before he thought of the young woman he saw when he first arrived in Philadelphia. By this time she was divorced from a husband. She would marry Franklin, but he, instead of receiving a dower, might be compelled to pay the runaway husband's debts. It seems that by this time Franklin's marital self-importance had dwindled, and he was contented to run all risks, if, in his turn, he could bring home his natural son William. The daughter of Mr. Read and Benjamin Franklin were there-upon married September 1, 1730. The wife took the child William and nursed it as her own (William turning out in the end a Tory, who hated his father as the arch-rebel). Beside This good nature, the wife clothed her husband, head to foot, in linen of her own hetcheling, spinning, weaving, and sewing. These affairs have been told in the autobiography with a naivete that has long amused old and young alike, revealing the perfect knowledge which Franklin, as author, possessed touching the likes and dislikes of humanity.
But here was a Gil Blas who did not need to go through the entire book of life, always appearing ridiculous at the end of the chapter. He now began to practice some of the metropolitan arts of diplomacy that had operated so effectually upon himself in Boston, Philadelphia, and London. He learned, he says, that he could do almost anything he thought to be feasible if he would go about saying "a number of his acquaintances had asked him to forward the project." In precisely this way, he says, a number of his acquaintances were desirous that he should start a subscription library, and the first American enterprise of this kind had its origin. But it soon followed that a considerable body of the best people would gladly indorse almost any public act of Franklin, for he was a valuable and enterprising citizen.
The rôle of frugality was kept up in the issue of "Poor Richard's Almanac," which was printed for twenty-five years, and ran in circulation as high as 10,000 copies. It was a literature fitted to oak and hickory openings, log-houses, log-piles, charcoal kilns, worm-fences, and the battle with rugged nature. "Keep thy shop and thy shop will keep thee." "Plough deep while sluggards sleep." "Three removes are as bad as a fire." "There never was a good war or a bad peace." "He has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle." "Do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of." No man's shaving-cup was in fashion without a maxim of Franklin illustrated upon its outside. No book presented to a child was wisely given until it carried an inscription on a fly-leaf of one of Poor Richard's sayings. The name first adopted was "Richard Saunders." This Almanac was one of the great things accomplished by Franklin. He fitted a literature to the ax, the saw, the splint, the log-house. He was one of the greatest moral law-givers of the ages, and succeeded among a people who daily held the Bible in their hands. Many of his sayings are supposed to be Bible doctrine by the devout. He has but one exemplar in modern times Jean Jacques Rousseau. He finally adopted Rousseau's religion of a Supreme Being, first, however, coming out of a state of atheism.
The young husband, editor, librarian, etc., was about six years making his way into politics. He studied French, Italian, and Spanish, he formed debating circles, and, as his newspaper was powerful, he was given the office of Clerk of the General Assembly in 1736, and added to it the Postmastership in 1737. One might now suppose that such a young man, so well supplied with office, would lose all notion of reform and become the most pliant subject the Penns could have in the colony. Yet we shall eventually see a long memory in Benjamin Franklin, and it is not impossible that, in all this time, he was only waiting to pay off the score of the London wild-goose chase on which Keith had once sent him. He took no small revenges. He could have boycotted Bradford's news-paper, but he let it go out with the rest of the mail.
He invented a stove, which he called "the Pennsylvania fireplace." This was the first of the easily-portable fire-places, which have mitigated the terrors of the North American winter ever since. He did not patent it. A London manufacturer took out a patent, and made money. Franklin studied nitrates and phosphates. His theory that plaster of paris was a fertilizer was doubted. He therefore wrote, in a field with plaster, "This has been plastered." The brilliant green and superior height of the - growing crop were seen to be an ingenious demonstration of the truth of his argument.
He had by this time thrown off or outworn all the ill effects of his early foibles. He had succeeded in getting the University of Pennsylvania under weigh, but was not a director. The Board was composed of one representative of each sect that had contributed funds. The Moravian director died, and his colleagues agreed to have no more Moravians. "On this," says Franklin, "I was mentioned as being merely an honest man, and of no sect at all." This betrays his favorite form of humor not without sting, too. He organized the first fire brigade in America. On a panic resulting from a belief that the French and the Indians would attack the colony, Franklin went to New York to borrow money, and prepared for a lottery, all of which found him friends, even among the Quakers. It seems true that the people like a man who takes an interest in their affairs with a collateral view of not making himself any the poorer; that man is disliked who attends strictly to his own business ; while the man is pitied and finally denounced who impoverishes himself in behalf of the public. Franklin had been eighteen years a married man, twelve years a public functionary with several salaries, twenty-two years an editor and job-printer, when he concluded the time had come to cease acquiring money, as a main ambition. In this resolution and in his subsequent career, he has ever since commanded the enthusiastic applause of the world. He therefore took for partner David Hall, a journeyman printer, and hoped to give all his time to philosophy. But the community which he had so ingeniously cultivated for a quarter century, now in its turn, showed him a little of the wisdom of the world itself. If he were a man of leisure, there could be no injustice in making him a commissioner of the peace; also an alderman; likewise a Burgess in the Assembly. And here, too, the really good man found it a greater pleasure to be himself wrought on, than to work others to his advantage. A passage in his Autobiography at this stage in his career purrs with so much satisfaction that the world has long enjoyed it. Dr. Bond wanted to found his hospital: "At length," says the venerable Doctor Franklin, "he came to me, with the compliment that he found there was no such thing as carrying a public-spirited project through without my being concerned in it. 'For,' says he, 'I am often asked by those to, whom I propose subscribing, Have you consulted Franklin upon this business? And what does he think of it? And when I tell them that I have not (supposing it rather out of your line), they do not subscribe, but say they will consider it.' " "It is surprising," comments Morse, with charming wit, "that this artful and sugar-tongued doctor, who evidently could read his man, had not been more successful with his subscription list. With Franklin, at least, he was eminently successful, touching him with a consummate skill, which brought prompt response and co-operation."* He was a busy man in the Council, with new pavements, street lamps, and street-sweepings. He next, with William Hunter, farmed the post-offices, and made so much money that the Crown at home thought the place worth giving out to some Englishman, whereupon it ceased to pay expenses, which did not displease the complacent Benjamin Franklin. This matter of the post-office of the colonies, and the visits to New York, and above all, the Pennsylvania Gazette, had spread his fame, and Yale and Harvard Universities both found it prudent to make him a Master of Arts. "Thus, without studying in any college, I came to partake of their honors. They were conferred in consideration of my improvements and discoveries in the electric branch of natural philosophy."
Let us behold this busy Quaker about this time, or a year or so earlier. He was pouring, as editorials, into the backwoods, articles which read well today masterpieces of convincing, legible English; he was beginning hospitals, libraries, university, lottery, armory, fire department, night watch, street lights, pavements; he was reforming the post-office, studying the peace, the Indians, Making laws for the Assembly bringing London's customs over to the colony and, as a recreation, he began to debate the phenomena of electrified bodies two kinds of electricity, or two exhibitions of its influence. He set the world talking of positive and negative currents, and Franklin's Pane. The people, even in the backwoods, read his scientific articles, and they affected the professors as Dr. Röentgen's discoveries did in 1896. He noted the potentiality of points how the point of anything was more electric than its body. He, with other philosophers, believed the thunder-clouds were sometimes giving down electricity, at other times sucking it up as the photograph has since shown. He waited a long time for a projected church-spire to be built, and it is a wonder he did not, in true Franklinian method, go around with subscription paper to get the temple in order to use the steeple. Presently he bethought himself of the kite. He made a kite of a cross of cedar sticks and a thin silk handkerchief. A tail and string were attached, and, out of the top of the cross, a sharp-pointed wire was made to project a foot or more from the wood. The string ended at the earth in the ring or handle of a door-key, and to this ring a silk ribbon was also tied, so that the electricity would not come down beyond the key without meeting great resistance. Now, he had to wait for the first thunder-storm, as he had waited for the steeple, but it came in June of 1750. His son helped him to get the kite to fly. As it was raining, he must stand inside a door to keep the silk dry, so it would resist he did not know and could not then guess how much electricity might come down, and he might get killed. The clouds rolled by, but his key was not emitting lightning, as he had expected. Finally, however, when the string became wet, the electric spark came. He set alcohol aflame, charged a storage-battery, and made all the demonstrations which had formerly been performed only with natural or carefully-electrified bodies. At his next thunder-storm, he demonstrated the positive and negative action of clouds, and perfected the theory of the lightning-rod. Three years later, Professor Richman, of St. Peters-burg, was killed on top of his house, while pursuing similar experiments. His friend Sokolow saw him stoop to examine an electrometer at the moment of a terrific thunder-clap he desired to note the effect on the instrument. While he was looking, being a foot away from an iron rod, Sokolow saw a globe of bluish fire some three inches in diameter, shoot from the iron rod to the professor's head. Death was instantaneous. These matters took the general name of "The Philadelphia experiments." Kant called Franklin "the Prometheus of modern times." The action of the colonial universities was perhaps their first opportunity to honor a colonist who had won world-wide attention. The mother country was last to recognize the value of the demonstrations, and the English scientists were compelled, several years after everybody else, to correct their proceedings by reprinting old matter and getting a record at any expense to their pride.
In 1754 the Lords of Trade at London ordered an Assembly of the Colonies at Albany to confer with the Six Indian Nations, in order to prepare for war with France. At Albany Franklin, who was a delegate, pre-pared a scheme for the union of the colonies. "Its fate was singular," says Franklin reflectively; "in the colonial assemblies it was condemned because there was too much prerogative [King's power] in it. The Board of Trade in England scouted it because it had too much of the democratic." Here we see Benjamin Franklin penning the first formal document looking to the United States of America. This was June 24, 1754, a little over twenty-two years before the Declaration of Independence. Already the Home Government, doubtless inspired by the Penn brothers at London, looked upon the colonists as people who were too outspoken. Accordingly, instead of calling into service an army of natives, who might become dangerous enemies, General Braddock, with his regular army, was sent to fight the Indians and French. When this high-spirited commander came near to the Quakers' country, they were alarmed, and sent their ablest man, Benjamin Franklin, to eat and chat with him. Here the philosopher first met Colonel Washington. The result of Franklin's mission was highly peaceful. The Pennsylvanian farmers were to hire out wagons, horses, and drivers to Braddock, receiving seven days' pay in advance. The people, however, made Franklin sign a bond. Brad-dock's defeat swallowed up $10o,000 worth of this kind of impedimenta. Franklin was on the bond, and got off, only with some loss and a thorough alarm. He now be-came Colonel Franklin, and went on west to build three forts. The region of Pittsburg had then seen two Colonels George Washington and Benjamin Franklin on whom the independence of the United States entirely depended, although in two entirely different ways. It is to be said to the testy Braddock's credit, that he admired both his aides.
This war made additional expense. The two Penns owned a landed corporation in which there were now 200,000 white inhabitants to whom land had been sold in fee simple. The Penns appointed the Governor. This Governor received his salary from the Assembly, but he had to give bond to the Penns that he would keep their income (about $10o,000 a year) intact by preserving the legal status quo. If he did not veto, obnoxious measures he must pay in cash the cost to the Penns. Under the charter, their waste lands were untaxable. It was the habit of the Quakers to call themselves poor and industrious; the Penns rich and indolent. They made such complaint that out of $300,000 to be raised for the year of the war, the Penns voluntarily contributed $30,000. But dissatisfaction grew. Franklin had cultivated this spirit assiduously. At last he was sent, with his son as secretary, to London, to pray that the King reassume the char-ter (as he could do, on payment of money) in order that Pennsylvania might no longer remain the fief of absentee landlords. England, meanwhile, was becoming jealous of the colonial assemblies, and Parliament had recently passed resolutions hostile to the intent of Franklin's mission. The Penns awaited their enemy with no regret. He came on to certain defeat.
Yet, in a word, the rest of Franklin's long life-work was to lie on that side of the water, and because he could not carry back news of a King's charter, he went elsewhere, and finally returned home with a treaty acknowledging the first considerable democratic republic of modern times.
Franklin was five years upon his first errand. Lord Granville, Prime Minister, when the Pennsylvanian arrived, lectured him well as the representative of seditious subjects, who could not loyally understand that the King had deputed his royal power to the Penns. The Penns' lawyer at London was so angry already with the astute Philadelphian that it was soon unsafe to let him come near the man of peace. William Pitt was too busy to see the unknown agent of disgruntled colonists, and Franklin, when he landed, found that reputation among professors of physics did not carry him far through the ante-rooms of the nobles whom he must conciliate. The Ministers told him his people must not export grain or cattle to starving Frenchmen on the American Continent, and Franklin reiterated that the King, if that were to be law, would do well to send transports from England to bring back his unhappy subjects. The Penns sent word to the Philadelphia Assembly to displace this Franklin, who was "rude," but the provincial Assembly retorted by levying the tax on waste lands. The Lords at last passed the order that the Penns desired, but Franklin, humble as he was, managed in some way to get it reviewed, whereupon an almost exactly opposite mandate issued from the same quarter. At the end of three years, he had secured the recognition of the principle that the Penns ought to pay their proportion of the expense of protection against common dangers that threatened the settlers. The King, however, would not take up the charter.
As time went by, Franklin got acquainted with Hume, Burke, Robertson, Karnes, and Adam Smith. Honor was paid to him at Edinburg. The University of St. Andrews and the University of Oxford made him a Doc-tor of Laws, and he ever bore this title. His wife was afraid to cross the ocean, and it is possible that this fact alone prevented him from making his home in the mother country, as many flattering invitations were extended to him. Writers on the Revolution always stop at this point to exalt Mrs. Franklin's patriotic horror of the deep.
It stands to reason that all Dr. Franklin's scientific and social successes with the Edinburg scholars, and what-ever triumphs he had scored against the Penns, were one and all duly exploited in the columns of the Franklin news-paper at home, while Bradford and the Penns, in their turn, faithfully called attention to the small value attaching to such glory. They did this latter so well that Dr. Franklin did not expect the flattering reception which awaited him on his return to Philadelphia. He found himself doubly celebrated. He had seen Europe, and yet was a colonist. He was the only colonist who had made an impression on the Old Country. His house was full of callers from morning to night. The Assembly voted him $15,000 for his five years' expenses. His son William was appointed Governor of New Jersey by the English Government. This made many enemies for Franklin; particularly, for one, the son himself, who became a loyal subject of the King and drew a pension long after his duties as British Governor had ceased to be required. The old families denounced the act of their Government as a truckling to demagogy, and a defiance of morality. It did nobody any good except the younger Franklin.
Dr. Franklin was now fifty-six years old, and it was well along in 1762. He next traveled 1,600 miles, inspecting postoffices, and thereafter became imbroiled in a serious local Indian trouble. The Penns had sent over as Governor a nephew, and, for a while, this nephew, named Penn, had gotten along under Dr. Franklin's own tutelage. A reckless gang of outlaws, known as "the Paxton boys," massacred an Indian village, and marched on Philadelphia to demand the surrender of certain Indian refugees that had fled thither. In ending this affair, Dr. Franklin took the front place, the Governor staying at Dr. Franklin's house. Dr. Franklin went forth among the outlaws alone, and argued them into a peaceful settlement. But it ended somewhat to the discomfiture of the peace-maker, and, after Penn had become alienated, the anti-Franklin political forces agreed that the time had come to oust him from the Assembly. Accordingly, an exciting political campaign was waged, and an election was held, in which the lame, the halt, the sick, were brought to the polls and Dr. Franklin was beaten by a few votes. Scarcely were the rejoicings of the "loyalists" over, when the old question reasserted itself that his Majesty ought to rule his colony through his Assembly, and Dr. Franklin was again mentioned as the only fit person to be Agent to go to Lon-don,. Dickinson made a fervent speech against "this man, most obnoxious to his country," but it turned out that Dr. Franklin's enemies had gotten the best of him only by concentrating in his district, and he, popular at large, was easily elected Agent. He started for England in twelve days. A troop of 30o mounted citizens rode sixteen miles down the river with him, and when news of his safe arrival in England reached Philadelphia the colonists kept the bells ringing till midnight. He settled in London in December, 1764.
The Seven Years' War to retrieve Silesia from Frederick the Great was over. England had paid vast sums of money on each side of the question, and must recoup with new taxes. What was there new to tax? The colonies in America. George Grenville, in the Treasury Department, had the same views as Lord Granville. Accordingly, the Stamp bill was steadily grinding its way into law at the Parliament buildings. Dr. Franklin was not slow to file expressions of repugnance, which were as rapidly filed in the waste-paper departments of his Majesty's Government. He looked ruefully on the power of the Mother Country, and her obvious ill-will toward her American children. When Americans called on him, he said significantly : "Go home and tell your countrymen to get children as fast as they can." But he did not believe men in America would be so "foolhardy" as to defy England. At this time, he lacked a knowledge of European politics and French influence.
The Stamp law, which passed in 1765, was merely a new Tariff Act, worse than the old one. The old law compelled the colonies to restrict their exports entirely to England. No foreign ship could enter a colonial harbor. No ship, boat, or carriage could cross a colonial boundary line with wool on board. A British sailor, in colonial ports, could only buy to the extent of $5 in woolens. No Bible could be printed in America. The making of hats was seriously discouraged by legal restrictions. Iron forges were prohibited as "nuisances." The slave-trade was encouraged. To these inhibitions against the manufacture and sale of goods, the Home Government now added the Stamp Tax, to make purchases equally trouble-some. A duty was to be collected-on nearly everything that was bought abroad. If there should be infractions or disobedience, a court of vice-admiralty, without a jury and with a single judge was to deal forth severe penalties, both fine and imprisonment. While the sparse population, the town meetings, and the frequent petty elections in America had cultivated a disputatious spirit, it must be admitted that they now had plenty to complain of. The excitement at Boston, under the agitation of James Otis and Samuel Adams, was intense. Yet Dr. Franklin had not the shadow of a suspicion that the Stamp Act was the last straw on the camel's back. When Grenville asked him to nominate a good man for Revenue Agent at Philadelphia, he unhesitatingly named Hughes, and Hughes was appointed. This, the Ministry took care to state, was on the motion of Dr. Franklin.
The Stamp Act exploded in America like a bomb. A mob started for the new house in which Dr. Franklin had left his wife in Philadelphia. Bradford's newspaper had a picture of the devil whispering in Dr. Franklin's ear: "Ben, you shall be my agent throughout my dominions." It is clear that Dr. Franklin's absence from America had in this case bereft him of all prophetic instincts. Yet his constant good fortune saved him from ruin. He was as yet on the safe side. His recall would have been an act of rebellion, and he himself might have been appointed Governor or Judge. The great boycott of English goods which the colonies one and all set up was the most convincing of arguments to Englishmen, and soon their own quarrels led the English politicians to take sides on "the American troubles," with Pitt laying down as common law that the settlers could not be taxed without their consent. In the Parliamentary hearings for repeal of the Stamp Act, Dr. Franklin appeared, and, as soon as his testimony could be published in America, his position was seen to be safe and patriotic. He even tickled the ears of the poorest patriots at home by saying : "I have some little property in America, but I will freely spend nineteen shillings in the pound to defend my right of giving or refusing the other shilling. And, after all, if I cannot defend that right, I can retire cheerfully with my family into the boundless woods of America, which are sure to afford freedom and subsistance to any man who can bait a hook or pull a trigger." Dr. Franklin was by this time a wonderful diner-out, an American lion, a boon companion at the coffee-houses. America, instead of Frederick, was the fashion, and the Doctor knew the fashionable subject of America better than any other colonist. It was known that Dr. Franklin was no agitator of the kind that had arisen out of the dragons-teeth sown by the Stamp Act. His firm statement that the colonies had begun a boycott which they could keep up, and that England's course, if continued, would cut off its own market, acted with force on British merchants, now thoroughly alarmed, and they surrounded the Parliament House when, ou February 21, 1766, the Stamp Act was repealed, showing their influence. The King unwillingly signed the repeal a little later. News of the repeal was received in Philadelphia with rejoicings. Each colony indulged the fancy that its own refractory course had alarmed the King, and a barge or float forty feet long named Franklin paraded the streets of Philadelphia firing salutes and driving away all recollections of the great man's sad connection with Hughes, the satrap of the oligarchy. In the early stages of the Revolution, the Assemblies of the colonies were jealous only of Parliament. They desired "to govern with the King." We are now reaching the point where George III was to be regarded as a tyrant. Dr. Franklin was still Deputy Post-master General of the Colonies, his son was Governor of New Jersey (King's man), his tastes were becoming metropolitan. He was beset by small enviers like Arthur Lee, who craved his office as Agent, and yet he was held in an esteem so high that each side of almost any controversy desired to reckon him in its party. Nobody but the King could really see that Dr. Franklin was the worst rebel of them all not even Samuel Adams, who looked on Dr. Franklin with patriotic suspicion. Samuel Adams was so far above selfish common sense he was so firm a believer in altruism that he could not understand the natures of patient, tactical, provident men like Dr. Franklin and General Washington. And it took all kinds of patriots to found the United States of America.
From 1766 until 1773 was a period in which Dr. Franklin was strengthening his personal power. Few students of social forces have lived who could so soon lay hold upon the sources of power in society ; and had England possessed a King like Frederick of Prussia, Dr. Franklin would have been the royal favorite. His son in New Jersey readily secured the New jersey agency at Lon-don for the father, and Georgia also sent credentials to Dr. Franklin. When Massachusetts Bay came to think of putting the Assembly's interests in charge of Dr. Franklin there was bitter opposition by Samuel Adams. Thus when the Massachusetts agency was added to the dignities of Dr. Franklin, it came with the blighting fact that the very greatest of the American seditionaries opposed such a commission. Still it was Dr. Franklin's good fortune that the opposition of Samuel Adams gave the pleasant elderly Quaker so much the better standing at London. He had need of a Toryish reputation, for the Ministers now in power and coming into power were vindictive foes of America, and highly distrustful of even the most placid of patriots. Townshend, the original suggester of taxes, was next in office, with George III highly satisfied to hear him speak. When Townshend delivered his address on the new taxes about to be levied, Colonial Agents and merchants were alike barred from the House of Commons. The duties proposed were highly objectionable, and, besides, the salaries of the colonial Governors were assumed by the Home Government, so that there should no longer be any reason for fearless action by England's agents. The second tax bill passed in June, 1767. In September Townshend died. The boycott again began in America, and the "Sam Adams regiments" went to Boston to make the Governor feel more secure in the collection of taxes. The Boston shooting happened March 5, 1770, and the South Carolina rebellion in May, 1771. There followed after Townshend, in the Colonial office at London, a pestiferous Lord Hillsborough, and it is one of those delightful episodes abounding in Dr. Franklin's life of general good-will, that this high and mighty noble at last met a simple and unostentatious enemy who could destroy him. Hillsborough assumed the right to name the Colonial Agents, and he did not want Dr. Franklin among them. On Dr. Franklin's first visit to His Lordship, to hand in his credentials as Agent for Massachusetts Bay, the visitor was informed that Assemblies could not alone appoint Agents ; that Dr. Franklin was not Agent ; Governor Hutchinson had vetoed the bill appointing him. This news was conveyed in a mean and contemptible way, the Minister accompanying his statements with many expressions of scorn, notwithstanding the civil remonstrances of Dr. Franklin, who was wholly taken by surprise. At last, the American gathered his papers and made his exit, saying, with deliberation, "It is, I believe, of no great importance whether the appointment is acknowledged or not, for I have not the least conception that an Agent can, at present, be of any use to any of the Colonies." The Minister who had invited this bad feeling was nevertheless quick to complain in London that the American Agent had been "extremely rude and abusive." "I find he did not mistake me," said Dr. Franklin.
Now the clever Dr. Franklin began undermining the ill-won fame of Hillsborough. This captious Minister was a shining mark for criticism. With the many influences that Dr. Franklin could command, it soon became the opinion of all who had property-stakes in the colonies that Hillsborough was an unsafe man. Later, on the interior-barrier question, Dr. Franklin opposed Hillsborough before the Privy Council, and they, to anger Hills-borough, adopted Dr. Franklin's scheme, when his Lord-ship resigned in anger, and was let go. Dr. Franklin went to call on the noble Earl, and finally was asked to cease paying those tributes of affection. "I have never since," he said, "been nigh him, and we have only abused one another at a distance." To complete Dr. Franklin's victory, he was asked what English statesman would be most acceptable to America, and chose Lord Dartmouth as Hillsborough's successor, who was appointed. Dr. Franklin was at once recognized as Agent for Massachusetts Bay, and he and Lord Dartmouth set out hopefully to stem the advancing tide of the Revolution. He was now well on his way to undo Hutchinson, for Dartmouth thought the Massachusetts Governor was "perniciously loyal." The effect, too, of Grenville and Townshend's taxing acts had been ridiculously inadequate. The collectors had spent $6o,000 and extorted $7,500. The East India Company had lost $10,000,000 by the boycott of its goods.
Dr. Franklin was complaining, one day, of the expense and folly of sending the "Sam Adams regiments" to Boston, when "a friend at court" remarked that the Ministers had only followed the advice of the Americans them-selves, and he at once produced to Dr. Franklin the original letters of Hutchinson, Oliver, and other natives of Massachusetts Bay, asking for the troops. The addresses had been cut from the letters, but they were otherwise umnutilated the signatures were intact. Dr. Franklin, thus armed with a weapon showing the un-American spirit of Hutchinson, at once transmitted the letters to Boston, covering his operations with the thin veil usually afforded by pledges of inviolable secrecy. The Assembly at Boston, eager to make wider use of the documents, invented the fable that authenticated copies of the same documents had also arrived from England, and publication was at once made of the "authenticated copies." The effect in the northern colonies was such as to render the writers furious, as the letters had been secretly written to William Whatley, who was now dead. They did not know on whom to let their wrath descend, for Dr. Franklin's hand had not yet appeared. The betrayal seemed to lie between Temple and Thomas Whately, the dead man's brother and executor, and these two men, on being accused by each other, fought a bloody duel in London. Dr. Franklin did not hear of this duel till it happened, and as another hostile meeting was appointed, he was forced to publish the fact that neither man was guilty, but he (Dr. Franklin) as Agent, had transmitted the letters as a matter of business, as soon as he came across them. Who really gave the letters to Dr. Franklin has never transpired. Trouble and plenty of it was now brewing for the Agent.
The Massachusetts Bay House of Representatives for-warded a petition to the King, stating in effect that they had seen the letters of Hutchinson and Oliver, Governor and Lieutenant-Governor, and humbly prayed that the twain be removed from their posts. This petition laid on the table of the Ministry until the appearance of Dr. Franklin's public explanation, made to prevent the second duel, when, unexpectedly, on a Saturday, the Agent received notice that the Lords of the Committee for Plantation Affairs would hear him at the Cockpit on Tuesday noon. Late Monday he was warned that Mauduit, Agent for Hutchinson and Oliver, would be represented by legal counsel at the hearing. He then sought Bollan, Agent for the Council of Massachusetts Bay, who advised that it was useless to employ barristers in colony cases, for the eminent ones did not desire to offend the Court. But, although Bollan had been summoned, when he rose to speak, he was told by the Lords that the Council was not a party to the hearing. Dr. Franklin spoke, renewing the prayer of his clients, and asking for more time. Hearing was postponed till January 29, 1774, but the Lord Chief Justice declared that inquiry would be made to learn how the Assembly obtained the letters.
Whately now sued Dr. Franklin at law, the newspapers unceasingly denounced the American savant as a meddlesome person of incendiary designs, the Court was said to be in a rage, and there were rumors of arrest and seizure of papers. Dr. Franklin had sent a kite into the storm-clouds this time that was bringing down plenty of lightning. He was in deep distress, and, listening to Mr. Bollan's revised advice, employed two eminent legal advocates, and instructed them without ceasing.
Dr. Franklin, now 68 years old, had attained that venerable and peaceful appearance with which an equally complacent world, from China to Peru, in spirit, now views him. He came before a notable assemblage of bitter and malevolent enemies, in a full dress of spotted Manchester velvet, in which he was doomed to pass the most cruel moments of his existence; therefore, he preserved the suit for corresponding heights of joy in later years. There were thirty-five Privy Councillors present, all anti-American and anti-Franklinian in sentiment, and doubtless the friends and companions of Lord Hillsborough were not lax in their service to him on this occasion. Dr. Franklin stood immovable before the fireplace, showing a degree of control over his features that astonished all who were not wholly blinded by rage. His own advocates were ineffective. Wedderburn, Solicitor-General, was the advocate of Hutchinson and Oliver. This Wedderburn was a master of low invective. To the satisfaction of the Court and all the American-haters, he poured forth his billings-gate without a restraining frown from the Chief Justice. "Nothing," said this he-fishwife, "will acquit Dr. Franklin of the charge of obtaining the letters by fraudulent or corrupt means, for the most malignant of purposes, unless he stole them from the person who stole them." "I hope, my Lords, you will mark and brand the man, for the honor of this country, of Europe and of mankind." "Into what companies will he hereafter go with an unembarrassed face, or the honest intrepidity of virtue! Men will watch him with a jealous eye; they will hide their papers from him, and lock up their escritoires. He will henceforth esteem it a libel to be called a man of letters homo trium literarum." "He not only took away the letters from one brother, but kept himself concealed till he nearly occasioned the murder of the other. It is impossible to read his account, expressive of the coolest and most deliberate malice, without horror. Amidst these tragical events of one person nearly murdered, of another answerable for the issue, of a worthy Governor, hurt in his dearest interests, the fate of America in suspense here is a man who, with the utmost insensibility of remorse, stands up and avows himself the author of all." "The bloody African is not surpassed by the coolness and apathy of the wily American."
Dr. Priestly, who was present, believed that the Court had no other object in the hearing than to insult the calm old man with benignant face who stood stoically before the fireplace. The speeches were soon finished, Dr. Franklin was fruitlessly asked to reveal the person who gave him the letters, and the sitting closed. Report was made the same day, denying the petition of the House of Massachusetts Bay, and also stating, by way of insult to Dr. Frank-lin that the conclusion of the Lords was that "The charge of surreptitiously obtaining the letters was a true one." On the following Monday morning he was notified that he was no longer Deputy Postmaster General in North America. His good name, a thing precious to him, momentarily seemed gone. The Lord Dartmouth, whom he had advanced, had turned a cruel enemy. Massachusetts rebuked him (who had sent the letters) with being lax, Arthur Lee, who was to succeed him, was full of venom, and London was agog with disturbing inquiries whether or not Dr. Franklin were to go to the Tower under arrest for treason. Governor Hutchinson avowed that it would be wise to prevent the return to America of Dr. Franklin, who was now publicly named as "The great fomenter of the opposition in America."
When Dr. Franklin put away the spotted velvet suit, it is likely he prepared his papers for seizure. His true friends considered his further stay in England as prejudicial to his personal safety, but he, probably feeling that he was better represented by himself than he could be by anybody else in his absence, merely offered to resign.
In February, 1775, in the House of Lords, Lord Sand-wich was speaking against a measure of conciliation with America then under discussion. He looked full at Dr. Franklin, who was standing well in view. The bill, Sandwich said, deserved only contempt. No peer did it. "It appears to me to be rather the work of some American. I fancy I have in my eye the person who drew it up, one of the bitterest and most mischievous enemies this country has ever known." Lord Chatham instantly replied that the plan was entirely his own, but he would have been glad to have the aid of the great American, "one whom all Europe ranks with our Boyles and Newtons, as an honor not to the English nation only, but to human nature."
This praise, while it was welcome to Dr. Franklin at this time, was not palatable to Americans, and he seems to have felt the fact, for, on hearing his people abused as cowards, sneaks, cheats, and heretics, in the prevailing English fashion of Parliament, he drew up an indignant letter, which Walpole, a friend, was able to induce him to suppress. Walpole did not conceal his opinion that Dr. Franklin ought to leave England forthwith. The Minis-try made an abortive attempt to bribe him, which rendered his position still more perilous, and he placed the Agency in the hands of Arthur Lee, who had long waited for it with impatience. Dr. Priestly spent a sad afternoon with his departing friend, who had, above most men, the quality of evoking the love of his fellows, and saw him off somewhat hurriedly. Dr. Franklin arrived in Philadelphia, sixty-nine years old, May 5, 1775. His wife was dead. His daughter was married to a stranger. Just at the hour when he might, in the course of nature, expect to rest in peace for the remainder of his life, Lexington and Concord were fired upon. He no longer complained. He sat down and wrote to Strahan, Member of Parliament at London, who had voted for military suppression :
"You have begun to burn our towns and murder our people. Look upon your hands ; they are stained with the blood of your relations ! You and I were long friends ; you are now my enemy, and I am,
"Yours, B. FRANKLIN."
He loved a pun. When he became Postmaster-General ($5,000 a year), directly afterward, he changed the franking formula on his letters, "Free : B. Franklin," into "B. Free, Franklin."
Five days after his return, the Second Continental Congress met, and Dr. Franklin had already been elected to it. Bunker Hill was fought, and General Washington, of Virginia, was sent to Cambridge to take command of the patriot army outside of Boston.
Dr. Franklin now established the patriot postal service, invented an obstruction for the river, and drew up a scheme for union of the colonies. Wedderburn had cured him of his loyalty to King George, and when the philosopher was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly, he refused to take the oath of fealty, and stayed out of his seat. He was already chairman of the Local Committee of Safety. With all his sorrows at London and his widowerhood, his witty sayings, says Parton, were "the circulating medium of Congress."
In September, 1775, Dr. Franklin was sent at the head of a committee of three to confer with General Washington at Cambridge. General Greene writes how he "looked on that very great man with silent admiration." The illustrious Abigail, wife of John Adams, had been taught from infancy to venerate Dr. Franklin, and she now read in his countenance "patriotism in its full luster, blended with every virtue of a Christian."
Early in 1776 the aged Doctor was sent to Montreal on a needless errand, trying to his health. Returning, he presided over the body to make a Constitution for the independent State of Pennsylvania. The Quakers were too slow, and Dr. Franklin felt that he might have to move to Boston and set up the insurrection hand in hand with Samuel Adams and General Washington. These three men must now perish if the new nation were not established. The tide of opinion turned, and Dr. Franklin was one of the Committee of Five to draw The Declaration of Independence. As Harrison, of Virginia, signed it, he said :
"We must all hang together." "Yes,"said Dr. Franklin, as he signed, "or we shall all hang separately." So he now had company.
When General Washington had been driven out of Long Island, Howe, the British Admiral, Dr. Franklin's erstwhile friend, sought to treat, and Dr. Franklin, John Adams and Rutledge went to see him. At lunch he declared if America should fall he would feel it like the loss of a brother. "My Lord," said Dr. Franklin, "we will use our utmost endeavors to save your Lordship that mortification."
He wrote to Dr. Price : "Britain, at the expense of $15,000,000 has killed 150 Yankees this campaign, which is $100,000 a head; and at Bunker's Hill she gained a mile of ground, half of which she lost again by our taking post at Ploughed Hill. During the same time 60,000 children have been born in America. From these data a mathematical head will easily calculate the time and expense necessary to kill us all and conquer our whole territory."
At the age of seventy Dr. Franklin was called upon to go to France. He turned his fortune into patriot bonds, and arrived at Nantes, France, as the chief American Ambassador to Europe. It is believed that history does not re-cord of any other man an act so daring and unselfish at an age so near the natural term of life. In France, the astonishing Beaumarchais, fomenter of two Revolutions, author of "The Barber of Seville," was doing all he could to aid America. The troupe of American Ambassadors sent to Europe was like Falstaff's soldiers. The most they could do generally was to solicit money of Dr. Franklin and send home discouraging reports of business and criticisms of their great colleague. The English were awakened to the danger of having "the old arch-rebel" at Paris. France was warned to refuse him shelter, and Lord Stormont, English Ambassador at Versailles, threatened to go at once. But the American Rebellion was highly popular in Paris, and Dr. Franklin, with fame already great, was received in person with increasing delight. His white flowing hair, without wig, his brown Quaker raiment over spotless white linen, his "idyllic simplicity," the re-incarnation of the sages of Athens—all this kind of comment became almost universal, because the Ambassador made a most artistic figure, and because "perfidious Albion" was in trouble. Mirabeau repeated Turgot's epigram that Dr. Franklin had wrested the lightnings from heaven and scepters from tyrants. This is the most spectacular point in the great man's long career. In the tumult of popularity he calmly gathered such stores of power as lasted him until Yorktown came.
America owes much to France. That nation bathed itself in blood and sank in blood to anarchy for the lack of the money that Dr. Franklin with unparalleled patience, and with astonishing success, borrowed from its depleted treasury. If Archbishop Loménie de Brienne could have laid hands on half the money Dr. Franklin had carried off under Vergennes, there need have been no States Gen-eral in France. If one nation can owe to another an undying debt of fealty and gratitude, this Nation owes it to France. The French saved us. Their careful men, like Turgot and Necker, said they could not afford to be so unselfish, and tried to prevent the aid that made us independent. It was the sad duty of Dr. Franklin, in Paris, to take nearly the last cent of the Frenchmen and plunge them into woes previously unheard of.
Officers, "brave as their swords," now fell upon Franklin like a swarm of locusts, and he penned the following model letter of recommendation, which the confiding Frenchmen hugged to their breasts.
" SIR: The bearer of this, who is going to America, presses me to give him a letter of recommendation, though I know nothing of him, not even his name. This may seem extraordinary, but I assure you it is not uncommon here. Sometimes, indeed, one unknown person brings another equally unknown to recommend him, and some-times they recommend one another. As to this gentle-man, I must refer you to himself for his character and merits, with which he is certainly better acquainted than I can possibly be. I recommend him, however, to those civilities which every stranger, of whom one knows no harm, has a right to, and I request you will do him all the good offices and show him all the favor, that on further acquaintance, you shall find him to deserve. I have the honor to be, etc., B. FRANKLIN."
Marie Antoinette and the King never sympathized with Franklin in politics. The King and the Count of Provence, his brother, were both of a highly philosophical mind, but His Majesty readily understood the meaning pf Dr. Franklin when he said the American cause was "The cause of all mankind." Had Marie Antoinette come high into favor a little earlier, it is not probable that Dr. Franklin would have secured an alliance.
Our amiable Doctor now set up as Lord Chief Justice of the High Court of Privateering on the High Seas. It will be remembered that John Paul Jones' ship "Bon Homme Richard," was named after Poor Richard. The American captains ran the rate of insurance at London up to 6o per cent and took hundreds of English sailors prisoners. Dr. Franklin tried to exchange these with Stormont, but was called a rebel and traitor for his pains. Finally, while England held all the American prisoners, the American privateers were compelled to let the English prisoners go. This went on till 1779.
Dr. Franklin took up his abode at the then suburb of Passy, not far from Versailles. His communications with the Court were at first made through Le Ray de Chaumont, with whom he lived, who was an ardent foe of England and friend of America. All the work of his office was performed by himself and two grandsons who had come with him. What with his privateers, his remonstrances when these cruisers were stopped in French ports, his pleas for money, his learned essays, his encouragement of the advance of liberty in France, and his comptroller-ship, it seems incredible that he should have got through without outside clerical aid. The accounts were mostly confidential, Silas Deane before him, had found no one he could trust, and Dr. Franklin perhaps wisely thought accounts could be of little value when the money was gone.
The year 1777 grew darker and darker. Howe had not only chased General Washington out of Long Island and New York, but he had taken Philadelphia. "No sir," said Franklin, "Philadelphia has taken Howe." At last, in the nick of time, "General Burgoyne surrendered to Mr. Gates" at Saratoga, and Beaumarchais broke his arm hurrying to spread the good news at Paris. Dr. Franklin accomplished the wonderful feat of dispatching the messenger Austin, whom Congress had sent to him with the Saratoga news, into the heart of the Opposition Nobility at London, and was soon in possession of the opinion of all classes of people in England. There the friends of Dr. Franklin begged him, for England's sake, to make no treaty with France; meanwhile England was hiring Hessians. Dr. Franklin operated with this lever on Vergennes, and that Prime Minister met him in the forest near Versailles and as good as made the French treaty with America secure. A large cake was sent to the three envoys, marked "Le digne Franklin" (the worthy Franklin). As the three ate it, Dr. Franklin observed that the Frenchmen had attempted to spell "Lee, Deane, Franklin," but Lee said that could not be so, for they would then have put Franklin first. The two envoys gave Dr. Franklin much trouble and little aid, but finally the French treaty was ready to be signed. Dr. Franklin went to Passy, took out the spotted velvet suit which he had worn when Wedderburn abused him, and, thus attired, put his signature to the second great document in the history of the freedom of America.
Lord Stormont, English Ambassador, now left Paris, the Marquis of Noailles, French Ambassador, left London, and Gerard, who had drawn the treaty with the Americans, left Paris for Philadelphia as the first Minister accredited to the new Nation. What was better, though less portentous, was the sailing of D'Estaing's French fleet from Toulon to America. Deane went back with Gerard. Lee's private secretary was thought to be an English spy, and when the French had matters of high importance, they trusted only Dr. Franklin. This confidence in Dr. Franklin increased as the years went by.
Voltaire made his triumphal entry to Paris in April, 1778. At the Academy of Sciences, before a distinguished audience, Franklin and Voltaire, "Solon and Sophocles," embraced each other, whereupon the audience did likewise one with another.
Gerard at Philadelphia defeated the Lee-Izard cabal against Dr. Franklin, and John Adams came to Paris as special envoy. He found financial affairs and accounts in confusion, but soon agreed that they could not be dis-entangled. The fault-finders were the ones who had spent the most money for their personal uses. Adams got in a quarrel with Vergennes and passed on to Holland. Dr. Franklin had been the Navy Department, Prize Court, Secret Service, Consul-General, Financial Agent, and Foreign Department of America, with two clerks in all, and Congress, on its side, had been lax in attending to such business as Dr. Franklin had been able to keep straight. As Dr. Franklin was the only solvent Paymaster of the United States, all foreign-American quarrels finally came up to him for review, making him new enemies. "It is hard," he wrote, "that I, who give others no trouble with my quarrels, should be plagued with all the perversities of those who think fit to wrangle with one another."
The prudent Dr. Franklin never let go of a dollar that was foolishly paid without writing a long letter of regret, announcing his early ruin, but Congress found it hard to bankrupt him, and soon became thoroughly hardened to his cries. When he first went to France, shiploads of indigo and tobacco were to be sent to him, which would provide him with funds. The English captured some of the ships; the rest were claimed by Beaumarchais, possibly with justice. Vergennes in the end was the sole source of Dr. Franklin's funds. Congress was to borrow $5,000,-000 and Dr. Franklin, through Vergennes, guaranteed the interest. Congress at once drew on this money for all purposes, and General Washington did not obtain enough of it. France lent America $600,000 when General Burgoyne surrendered, and Spain would have lent as much more if Arthur Lee had not boasted of the loan a little too soon. As 1779 passed, and Turgot at Paris be-came influential, the prodigal policy of Vergennes was brought under criticism, and while Dr. Franklin was meekily begging for more money he was told that France itself was $4,000,000 short. He wrote to John Paul Jones, who must scrape his bottoms : "For God's sake, be sparing." He wrote to Congress, asking that body to order agents in Europe not to draw on him. But when-ever they heard he had money, the Congressmen them-selves made haste to send him a bill to pay. Jay wrote from Spain—he had gone thither to raise a great loan: "We should indeed have been greatly distressed, had it not been for your kind offices." The good but suffering Doctor admonished the patriots as a whole in the style of Poor Richard. Said he : "A small increase of industry in every American, male and female, with a small diminution of luxury, would produce a sum far superior to all we can hope to beg or borrow from all our friends in Europe." He had lent his own fortune; he was giving his time; now he offered the people his counsel. In return, they drew new bills. Public wealth actually increased during the years General Washington was in his cheerless camps and Dr. Franklin was soliciting with all his earnestness—so true is it in society that some must suffer for the rest, or all will sink together. Patriot Laurens, sent as Minister to the Hague, landed at the Tower of London. Congress drew bills even on him, and the sympathetic Dr. Franklin accepted them, for all bills would finally come to Passy. It is a marvel how the fame of a paymaster who pays will spread among collectors. He must have signed the acceptance of 1,000 bills in January, 1781, and 990 of them were for expenses that did General Washington little good, in Dr. Franklin's opinion. At last, after almost unfriendly pressure on Vergennes, France lent about $2,000,000 it could not spare, on condition that General Washington should draw the bills. Congress was insulted, Dr. Franklin disbursed the money, and it was gone before General Washington knew anything about it. Then Dr. Franklin persuaded the Minister Necker to guarantee a loan of about $180,000 in Holland. In the American haste to get this money, Dr. Franklin was left with legitimate bills unpaid. "I see nobody cares how much I am distressed, provided they can carry their own points," he wrote in despair. The Holland money had not been spent for French goods, and Dr. Franklin felt bitterly ashamed. The goods themselves got into a lawsuit, and even John Adams, in Holland, had to draw on Dr. Franklin, who, vowing he could ne'er disburse, disbursed. In 1781 Congress benignantly declared it would draw on no other Ministers without providing funds, but would draw on Dr. Franklin, funds or no funds. When the miraculous Doctor agreed with Vergennes to accept no drafts drawn later than March, 1781, he patriotically winked at the invention of Congress whereby March, 1781, to judge by the bills, was very slow coming, while the bills came all the faster. An American agent implored Dr. Franklin to help him to some $8,200 at once, as it was plain the paymaster would soon be worse off. In March he got $4,000,000; the next year he got $4,000,000 in a lump sum. It is usually said that nearly $6,000,000 of the French loans and gifts to Dr. Franklin were the results, pure and simple, of his personal influence. No other Minister—John Adams worst of all—could make friends with the French Ministers. All Europe came to look upon Dr. Franklin as the responsible head of American things in Europe—the man who really sympathized with General Washington—the person to be addressed when bills were to be collected or peace to be suggested.
Lord North, English Prime Minister, received the news of Yorktown November 25, 1781, "as he would have taken a ball in his breast." He sent his man Digges to Dr. Franklin in Paris and Adams in Holland, to see if he could not split France and America. "The greatest villain I ever met with," writes Dr. Franklin of Digges. March 22, 1782, Dr. Franklin, foreseeing that his old friend Lord Shelburne must come into office, threw out a friendly letter, hoping for a general peace, so as to release France also from the war. Shelburne sent Oswald to Paris, who talked matters over with both Dr. Franklin and Vergennes. Various other conferences, in other quarters, were going forward, so there was a good chance for misunderstandings. Dr. Franklin trusted Vergennes, who had saved America, and Vergennes was now trying to retrieve Canada and protect Spain. Jay and Adams naturally were glad to oppose the interests of France, especially as they found Vergennes playing false to Dr. Franklin. Thus matters dragged till Shelburne became full Prime Minister, with Fox out. Vergennes had sufficient influence with Congress to order the Paris Commissioners to favor France. Adams and Jay, in session, outvoted the Doctor, and he, true to the majority, agreed to their plan, and the three outwitted Vergennes at his own game, though it appears somewhat a lamentable triumph over the Nation that ruined itself for our making.
When Vergennes learned of the protocol, he wrote to Dr. Franklin: "You are wise and discreet, sir; you perfectly understand what is due to propriety; you have all your life performed your duties; I pray you consider how you propose to fulfill those which are due the King of France." It was only a few weeks since Vergennes had given Dr. Franklin money, and let some of his own bills go to protest. The Doctor heard the Adams faction in America denouncing him for his Canadian views, and he listened to the just charges of duplicity leveled against him at Versailles. It is not known that he was actually aware of the simultaneous duplicity of Vergennes, but it seems likely he would be told of it by Jay. He accordingly began some of the most conciliatory letter-writing of his life, and at last even Vergennes declared : "I accuse no person not even Dr. Franklin. He has yielded too easily to the bias of his colleagues."
When the day came at Versailles to sign the preliminary treaty with Great Britain recognizing the independence of the United States, Dr. Franklin appeared in his suit of spotted velvet, although the court was in mourning. There was a delay, the Doctor went home, and, on a later date, arrived and signed the paper clad once more in the celebrated habit. He never boasted or admitted his re-venge, but it is believed by his biographers that he thus assuaged the hurts that Wedderburn had inflicted on his pride at London.
The envoys now negotiated commercial treaties with Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, Morocco and Prussia. Dr. Franklin had long asked to come home. "The blessing promised to the peacemakers," he said, "relates, I fancy, to the next world, for in this they seem to have a greater chance of being cursed." But Congress, when it rebuked him, calculated to draw upon his inexhaustible fund of good humor, and did not, until March, 1785, resolve that Dr. Franklin "might return as soon as convenient," and Thomas Jefferson might succeed him. It is gratifying to feel that Jefferson, like Dr. Franklin, proved thoroughly grateful to the grand Nation to which we owed our liberation.
The good Doctor was now old and infirm. Jefferson says that on the day the aged American left Passy, "it seemed as if the village had lost its patriarch." The King's people lent him a royal litter to bear him to the sea. The complimentary portrait of the King given to the departing Minister had a double circle of 408 diamonds. He was reconciled to his son at Portsmouth, and signed a peace with that somwhat unlovely Tory. For Franklin, as thoroughly as General Washington, had hated Tories. It is not demoralizing to read the invectives which both these great souls poured on their illogical foes.
September 13, 1785, an old man of seventy-nine walked up the streets of Philadelphia—we hope in his spotted velvet suit. Little children were brought out that they might say they had looked upon a man so noble and so perfect. He came like a father. He came, too, like a freeman, to die not on the tyrant's scaffold, to be buried under rio common jail, to be pictured in no prison calendar. Beneath those white hairs lay a brain that for fifty years had not rested in the work of liberation. What other American had written, traveled, conversed, argued, pleaded, caunseled so long, so intermittingly, so successfully? He was that day, as he is this day, the delight of mankind. He gave to the astonishing group of Revolutionary Fathers a dean of whom history will possibly forever boast.
He took no salary while in France, and received back only a portion of his own money. He was at once elected to office, and thereupon did not neglect to make a mot. "They engrossed the prime of my life," he said. "They have eaten my flesh, and seem resolved now to pick my bones. In May, 1787, the Constitutional Convention added him to its number, so that if General Washington should be called away from the chair, there might be some one upon whom all could agree. He was essentially with Jefferson, and against Hamilton, in principle. He thought a salary should not pertain to high office, for then "men of indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits" Would push aside the wise and moderate. A peculiar episode is mentioned in the Convention. The skeptical Dr. Franklin moved that the sessions open with prayer; the devout Hamilton opposed it. Dr. Franklin wanted equal suffrage, a President not re-eligible, to serve seven years, subject to impeachment; no absolute veto. He was warmly for Washington for first President.
He was confined to his bed during the last two years of his life; still his mind was keen. "I seem to have intruded myself into the company of posterity." "People that will drink to the bottom of the cup must expect to meet with some of the dregs." "I have received more blame, as well as more praise, than I deserved." "Having seen a good deal of this world, I feel a growing curiosity to be acquainted with some other." His last considerable act was a memorial against the slave trade which he had always utterly denounced. When the French Revolution broke out, he said the people of France, having served an apprenticeship to liberty in America, had now "set up for themselves." Presently, he thought, a lover of liberty could find a country in any Christian nation.
"A dying man can do nothing easily," he said, late on the night of April 17, 1790, and soon sank into a lethargy, and passed away. He was buried with such prudent splendor as the Quakers could summon for a memorable obsequy, and the frugality of the city of Philadelphia restrained it from attempting any notable memorial. He was plain in life. He would prefer the deep gratitude of the generous few who closely study his career, to the light comment of the passing crowd who might be awed by the grandeur of a suitable monument.
Mirabeau, before the French Assembly, delivered an impassioned elegy on Dr. Franklin, and the Deputies wore mourning for three days. A great funeral was held in Paris Itself, the citizens each wearing a badge. The Revolutionary clubs pondered affectionately on his writings. A street of Paris (in Passy) received his name. The books of science were everywhere opened and his death faithfully recorded.
Humanity smiles upon his foibles, as being almost universally its own. His life is on record more closely than any other great man's except Rousseau. He was the man of the time; Rousseau was the man of the future. Both were remarkable for the painstaking elaboration with which they entered upon any considerable undertaking. Both scorned the adventitious aid of dress. Both were capable of charming almost anybody they set out to merely please. But while the average man looks on Rousseau with complete misgiving, he feels nothing save exultation that Franklin lived. Not only did the old hero labor for Liberty, Equality, Science, and Humanity, but to the generality of people his imperturable good humor, his exhaustless wit, his savoir faire, his prudent methods, his genial love of average human nature, notwithstanding the artifices which he rarely failed to employ in dealing with average human nature, make him the prince of men. If we look closely into his weaknesses we shall observe that each one is merely the raveled end, not the beginning, of some noble thread in his character.
He had a mind so commanding that we believe he could have lived alone all his life, unsalaried, unfavored and unflattered, and had he merely studied and written, he would fill, on our bookshelves today, even a grander place than History, with an august sense of his statesmanship, has apportioned to his name.