Samuel G. (Samuel Griswold) Goodrich.

Lives of benefactors; online

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favor of lending it for a few days. The book was
immediately sent ; and in about a week was returned
by the borrower, with a short epistle, expressive of
his gratitude for the favor. The member was so
much conciliated by the circumstance, that, the next
time he met him in the house, he addressed him with
great civility, manifested ever afterwards a great
desire to serve him, and they became, in short, inti-
mate friends. " This is another instance," observes
Franklin, " of the truth of an old maxim I had
learned, which says, ' He that has done you a kind-
ness, will be more ready to do you another, than he
whom you yourself have obliged.' And it shows
how much more profitable it is prudently to remove,
than to resent, return, and continue, inim.ical proceed-
ings." He was thereafter reelected to the same post,
without opposition, for several years successively.
In the following year, 1737, he supplanted his rival
in trade, Bradford, in the office of deputy-postmaster
for the state of Pennsylvania. These honorable pre-
ferments induced him to incline his thoughts to, and
take a more active part in, public affairs than he had
hitherto done.

He first turned his attention to the state of the city
police, which was then in a shameful condition, and
he soon effected a thorough reformation in the whole
system. He suggested and promoted the establish-
ment of a fire insurance company, the first that was



144 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

projected in America. He afterwards successively
exerted himself in organizing a philosophical society,
an academy for the education of youth, and a militia
for the defence of the province. In short, every
department of the civil government, as he tells us,
and almost at the same time, imposed some duty upon
him. " The governor," says he, " put me into the
commission of the peace ; the corporations of the city
chose me one of the common council ; and the citizens
at large elected me, 1747, a hurgess to represent them
in assembly. This latter station was the more agree-
able to me, as I grew at length tired with sitting there
to hear the debates, in which, as clerk, I could take
no part, and which were often so uninteresting, that I
was induced to amuse myself with making magic
squares, or circles, or anything, to avoid weariness ;
and I conceived my becoming a member would enlarge
my power of doing good. I would not, however, in-
sinuate that my ambition was not flattered by all these
promotions ; it certainly was — for, considering my low
beginning, they were great things to me ; and they
were still more pleasing, as being so many spontane-
ous testimonies of the public good opinion, and by me
entirely unsolicited."

At this time there was no military defensive force
in Pennsylvania. The inhabitants were mostly Qua-
kers, and neglected to take any measures of precau-
tion against the dangers to which, from ihe French
possessions in Canada, they were continually exposed.
All the exertions of the governor of the province, to
induce the Quaker Assembly to pass a militia law,
proved ineffectual. Franklin thought something



BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. 145

might be done by a subscription among the people ;
and to pave the way for this, he wrote and published
a pamphlet called " Plain Truth." In this he clearly
exposed their helpless and perilous situation, and
demonstrated the necessity of cooperating for their
mutual defence. The pamphlet had a sudden and
surprising effect. A meeting of the citizens was
held, at which proposals of the intended union, pre-
viously drawn up and printed by Franklin, were dis-
tributed about the room, to be signed by those who
approved of them; and when the company separated,
it was found that above twelve hundred signatures
had been appended to the papers. Other copies were
distributed through the province, and the subscribers
at length amounted to upwards of ten thousand ! All
these individuals furnished themselves, as soon as
they could, with arms ; formed themselves into com-
panies and regiments ; chose their officers, and had
themselves regularly instructed in military exercises.
The women made subscriptions amongst themselves,
and provided silk colors, which they presented to the
companies, embellished with devices and mottoes fur-
nished by Franklin. Such influence has one mnstpr-
mind amongst his fellows in a time of emergency*

Franklin's modesty, however, was more than com-
mensurate with his patriotism. The officers of the
companies composing the Philadelphia regiment unan-
imously chose him for their colonel, but he declined
the office in favor of a man of greater wealth and
influence, who, on his recommendation, was immedi-
ately elected.

It would, perhaps, have been desirable to have fol-
j VI.— 13



146 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

lowed Fmnklin through the remainder of liis public
and political career, without pausing to advert to other
pursuits, entirely unconnected therewith, to which he
devoted himself. We find, however, that the chrono-
logical violence of which we should in that case
be guilty, would only serve to confuse our narrative.
We will, therefore, proceed to introduce him to our
readers in an entirely new character from any in
which they have yet seen him.

Down to the close of the sixteenth century, all that
was known of the principle of electricity was that
amber and a few other substances, when rubbed, had
the power of attracting to them light bodies, such as
small bits of paper, straw, &c. In 1728, it was dis-
covered that electricity might be communicated from
one body to another without their being in contact.
In 1746, it was accidentally discovered that large
quantities of the electric fluid might be collected by
means of what is called the Leyden jar, and that
shocks of electricity, giving a sensation like that of a
sharp blow, might be imparted from it to the human
body. The first announcement of these Avonders
excited great sensation throughout Europe, and the
accounts given of the effects of the electric shock
upon those who first experienced it are exceedingly
ludicrous, and show how strangely the imagination is
acted upon by surprise, mingled with a certain degree
of terror.

Franklin's mind was capable of being directed with
good effect to philosophical speculations, as well as to
practical business, and notwithstanding his devotion
to the latter, he still found time for scientific studies.



BENJAMIN FRANKMN. 147

The extraordinary phenomena of the Leyden jar
attracted his attention, and he set himself to find out
the reason of such strange effects. ■ Out of his specu-
lations arose the ingenious and beautiful theory of
the negative and positive condition of bodies in rela-
tion to electricity, and which has ever been received
as the best, because the simplest and most complete,
explanation of the phenomena that has yet been
proposed. We have not space to detail his curious
and ingenious experiments, and can only notice those
which resulted in proving the identity of lightning
and electricity.

While directing his attention to this subject, he
began to suspect that this identity might be demon-
strated by artificial means. As he was meditating
upon the subject, his attention was one day drawn by
a kite which a boy was flying, when it suddenly
occurred to him that here was a method of reaching
the clouds preferable to any other. Accordingly, he
immediately took a large silk handkerchief, and,
stretching it over two cross sticks, formed in this man-
ner his simple apparatus for drawing down the light-
ning from its cloud. Soon after, seeing a thunder-
storm approaching, he took a walk into a field in the
neighborhood of the city, in which there was a shed,
communicating his intentions, however, to no one but
his son, whom he took with him to assist him in
raising the kite. This was in June, 1752.

The kite being raised, he fastened a key to the
lower extremity of the hempen string, and then insu-
lating it by attaching it to a post by means of silk, he
placed himself under the shed, and waited the result.



14S BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

For some time no signs of electricity appeared. A
cloud, apparently charged with lightning, had even
passed over them without producing any effect. At
length, however, just as Franklin was beginning to
despair, he observed some loose threads of the hempen
string rise and stand erect, exactly as if they had been
repelled from each other by being charged with elec-
tricity. He immediately presented his knuckle to
the key, and, to his inexpressible delight, drew from
it the well-known electrical spark. He said after-
wards that his emotion was so great at this comple-
tion of a discovery which was to make his name
immortal, that he heaved a deep sigh, and felt that
he could that moment have willingly died. As the
rain increased, the cord became a better conductor,
and the key gave out its electricity copiously. Had
the hemp been thoroughly wet, the bold experimenter
might have paid for his discovery with his life. He
afterwards brought down the lightning into his house,
by means of an insulated iron rod, and performed
with it, at his leisvire, all the experiments that could
be performed with electricity. But he did not stop
here. His active and practical mind Avas not satisfied
even with this splendid discovery, until he had turned
it to a useful end. It suggested to him, as is well
known, the idea of a method of preserving buildings
from lightning by what is called the lightning-rod.
There was always a strong tendency in his philoso-
phy to these practical applications.

Franklin's discoveries did not at first attract much
attention in England ; and, in fact, he had the morti-
fication to hear that his paper, on the similarity



BENJAMIN FKANKLIN. 149

between lightning and electricity, had been ridiculed
when read in the Royal Society. Having fallen,
however, into the hands of the naturalist, BufTon,
that celebrated man translated and published it at
Paris, when it speedily excited the astonishment of
all Europe. What gave his book the more sudden
and general celebrity was the success of one of its
proposed experiments for drawing lightning from the
clouds, made at Marly, This engaged the public
attention everywhere. The " Philadelphia experi-
ments," as they were called, were performed before
the king and court, and all the curious of Paris
flocked to see them. Dr. Wright, an English physi-
cian, being at Paris at the time, wrote to a member
of the Royal Society of London an account of these
wonders, and stating the astonishment of all the
learned men abroad that Franklin's writings had
been so little noticed in England. The society were
thus in a manner compelled to pay more attention to
what they had previously considered as chimerical
speculation, " and soon," says Franklin, " made me
more than amends for the slight with which they
had before treated me. Without my having made
any application for that honor, they chose me a mem-
ber, and voted that I should be excused the usual
payments, which would have amounted to twenty-five
guineas, and ever since have given me their Trans-
actions gratis. They also presented me Avith the
gold medal of Sir Godfrey Copley, for the year 1753,
the delivery of which was accompanied with a very
handsome speech of the president, Lord Macclesfield,
wnerein I was highly honored."
13*



150 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

Although the numerous important public duties
which Franklin was called upon latterly to discharge,
chiefly engrossed his time, he still returned to his
philosophical studies on every occasion that offered,
and made several curious and interesting discoveries.
Amongst others, was that of producing so intense a
degree of cold, by the evaporation of ether in the
exhausted receiver of an air-pum.p, as to convert
water into ice. This discovery he applied to the
solution of a number of phenomena, particularly a
singular fact, which philosophers had previously
labored in vain to account for, namely, that the tem-
perature of the human body, when in health, never
exceeds ninety-six degrees of Fahrenheit's thermom-
eter, though the atmosphere which surrounds it may
be heated to a much greater degree. This he attrib-
uted to the increased perspiration, and consequent
evaporation, produced by the heat.

The tone produced by rubbing the brim of a drink-
ing glass with a wet finger, had been generally
known. This subsequently gave rise to the art of
playing tunes on a variety of glasses of different
sizes, now called " musical glasses," The sweetness
of the tones induced Franklin to make a variety of
experiments ; and he at length formed that elegan*
instrument which he called the Armonica.

Perhaps no philosopher ever stood upon a prouder
eminence in the world's ej^e, than did Franklin during
the latter half of his life. The obscurity of his origin
served but to make his elevation the more conspicu-
ous, and honors were showered upon him from all
parts of the civilized world. When he afterwards



BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. 151

visited Europe, he was received with the strongest
testimonies of respect from men of science and dis-
tinction. At Paris, Louis XV. honored him with
especial marks of favor. He received the degree of
Doctor of Laws from the universities of St. Andrews,
Edinburgh and Oxford, and he was elected a member
of almost every learned society throughout Europe.
Such was the homage rendered for his philosophical
discoveries, yet we suspect that the simple maxims
of Poor Richard have done infinitely more to benefit
mankind than have these brilliant exploits in sci-
ence.

We must now return to Franklin's political career.
We have before mentioned that he was elected a
member of the general assembly of Pennsylvania, in
1747. Warm disputes at this time subsisted between
the assembly and the proprietaries, each contending
for what they esteemed their just rights. Frank-
lin, a friend to the interests of the many from his
infancy, speedily distinguished himself as a steady
opponent of the claims of the proprietaries, and he
was soon looked up to as the head of the opposition.
His influence with the assembly was said to be very
great. This arose not from any superior powers of
elocution ; he spoke but seldom, and he never was
known to make anything like an elaborate harangue.
" His speeches," says his intimate friend, the late
Dr. Stuber, of Philadelphia, " frequently consisted of
but a single sentence, or of a well-told story, the
moral of which was always obviously to the point.
He never attempted the flowery fields of oratory.
His manner was plain and mild ; his style of speak-



152 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

ing was like that of his writings, simple, unadorned,
and remarkably concise. With this plain manner,
and his penetrating, solid judgment, he was able to
confound the most eloquent and subtle of his adver-
saries, to confirm the opinion of his friends, and to
make converts of the unprejudiced Avho had opposed
him. With a single observation, he often rendered
of no avail an elegant and lengthy discourse, and
determined the fate of a question of importance."

In 1751, Franklin was appointed deputy postmas-
ter-general. In 1757, he went to England as agent
of the proprietaries of Pennsylvania. He soon after
received the additional appointment of agent of the
provinces of Massachusetts, Maryland and Georgia.
He returned to America in 1762, and would have
gladly rested in the bosom of domestic life, but, in
1764, he was again sent to England, not as a colo-
nial agent, but as the representative of America.
Thirty-nine years had now elapsed since his first
landing on the British shore as a destitute and for-
lorn mechanic.

Great Britain had already announced the project
of taxing her colonies here, and Dr. Franklin Avas the
bearer of a remonstrance from the province of Penn-
sylvania against it. This he presented before the
passage of the odious stamp act. During the contin-
uance of that measvire, he opposed it with consum-
mate ability and great success. When the repeal
was about to be attempted in the house of commons,
he was summo^ied to appear before that body. On
the 3d February, 1776, he was accordingly examined.
The readiness with which he replied to the inriuiries,



BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. 153

the vast information he displayed, together with the
firmness, point and simplicity of his manner, extorted
admiration even from his enemies. The effect of his
evidence was irresistible, and the repeal soon fol-
lowed.

Dr. Franklin continued to resist the various acts
of Great Britain, which were calculated to excite the
indignation and resistance of the colonies. This,
however, was unavailing, and he clearly foresaw the
tempest that was speedily to follow. In 1772, by
some means which he would never explain, he ob-
tained possession of certain letters Avritten by the
royal governor, Hutchinson, and other public func-
tionaries, to the home government, recommending the
adoption of the most rigorous measures, and inveigh-
ing in the severest terms against the leading charac-
ters of the colony. He instantly transmitted them
back to the assembly at Massachusetts, who, enraged
at the conduct of the governor, sent a petition to the
king, praying for his dismissal, and Franklin was
appointed to present it. As might have been expected,
the petition was dismissed as " frivolous and vexa-
tious," and Franklin incurred so much obloquy for
his interception of the governor's despatches, that he
was dismissed from his office of deputy postmaster-
general.

Franklin still continued in England, devoting him-
self with the greatest vigor and perseverance to the
reconciliation of the mother country alid the colonies.
Though he was denounced by the enemies of Amer-
ica, in no measured terms, yet he was treated with
great respect and consideration by men of science



154 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

and some of the leading statesmen of the day. On
one occasion, when he was standing behind the bar
in the house of lords, Lord Chatham spoke of him as
" one whom Europe held in high estimation for his
knowledge and Avisdom ; who was an honor, not to
the English nation alone, but to human nature."

Finding his efforts, in behalf of his country, una-
vailing, and being informed that it was the intention
of the ministers to arrest him, he took his departure,
and reached America in 1775.

He Avas enthusiastically received, and the day after
his arrival was elected a member of congress by the
legislature of Pennsylvania. He served on many of
the most arduous of the committees of that body, par-
ticularly as a member of the committee of safety and
that of foreign correspondence, where he exerted all
his influence in favor of the Declaration of Inde-
pendence, of which instrument he was one of the
signers.

It being of the utmost importance to obtain assist-
ance from abroad in behalf of the infant republic,
Franklin was sent to France in 1776, as commis-
sioner plenipotentiary to that court. He soon obtained
the confidence of the minister, Count de Vergennes,
but the government, seeming to have little confidence
in the success of the colonies, hesitated to espouse
their cause. The news of the capture of Burgoyne,
in 1777, brightened the prospects of our country, and
France decided to give us her cooperation. Frank-
lin had the happiness to sign the first treaty between
the United States and a foreign power, on the 6th
February, 1778.



BENJAJIIN FRANKLIN. 155

Franklin was now in high favor at court, and his
society was sought not only by statesmen and men of
science, but in the fashionable circles. Under the
influence of the queen, Maria Antoinette, the tone of
society, in Paris, had become frivolous in the extreme.
To dress, to act, to sing, to dance, seemed the sole
business of life among the higher classes. To make
complimentary speeches and extemporary verses was
the highest and most desired stretch of intellect among
the wits of the day.

The appearance of Franklin among these gay cir-
cles — the observed of all observers, smiled upon by the
king and queen, favored by the minister, honored by
the learned, courted by the flush and the fair — produced
the most extraordinary revolution. He appeared in
society in a plain dress, resembling that of the Quakers.
The contrast between this and the gorgeous attire of
all around him, struck the imagination of the giddy
Parisians. The change which followed in costume
was hardly less remarkable than the political convul-
sions which took place some twenty years after. The
enormous head-dresses and cumbrous hoops of the
ladies gave way at once, and they appeared in the
most simple attire. The gold lace, embroidery, and
powdered curls, which had been the pride of the
Parisian beaux, were discarded, and the fine gentle-
men appeared with their hair cut straight, and in plain
brown coats, like that of the sober American.

There are numerous anecdotes which illustrate the
high consideration in which Franklin was held at
Paris. At an evening party, a fashionable lady ex-
claimed to si gentleman near, " Pray, who is that extra-



156 BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

ordinary brown-coated man ? " " Softly, madam,"
was the reply ; " that 's the famous American, who
bottles up thunder and lightning!" At a splendid
entertainment given to the American deputies, the
Countess de Polignac, one of the most distinguished
of the court belles, advanced to Dr. Franklin, and
placed a crown of laurel on his head. In compliment
to his maxims, published under the title of " Poor
Richard," a vessel fitted out in France — that in which
Paul Jones achieved his most wonderful exploits —
was named Bon Homme Richard.

When the British ministry, at length, saw the neces-
sity of recognising the independence of the states, the
definitive treaty to that effect was signed at Paris, on
the 3d September, 17S3, by Dr. Franklin, Mr. Adams,
and Mr. Jay, for the states, on the one hand ; and by
Mr. David Hartley, for Great Britain, on the other.
Franklin continued at Paris for the two following
years ; but, at last, by his own urgent request, he was
recalled. Shortly after his return, he was elected
president of the supreme executive council in Penn-
sylvania, and lent all his energies to the consoli-
dation of the infant government. Age and infirmities,
however, claimed their usual ascendancy, and, in
17SS, he retired wholly from public life.

Franklin's last public act — and it was one in beau-
tiful accordance with the whole tenor of his life — was
putting his signature, as president of the Anti-Slavery
Society, to a memorial presented to the House of Rep-
resentatives, praying them to exert the full powers
entrusted to them to discourage the revolting traffic in
the human species. This was on the 12th of Febru-



BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. 157

ary, 1789. From this day forward, he was confined
ahnost constantly to his bed with the stone, from which
he suffered the most excruciating- agony. Yet when
his paroxysms of pain drew forth, as they did occa-
sionally, an irrepressible groan, he would observe,
that he was afraid he did not bear his sufierings as he
ought — acknowledged his grateful sense of the many
blessings he had received from the Supreme Being,
who had raised him from small and low beginnings
to such high rank and consideration among men; and
made no doubt but his present afflictions Avere kindly
intended to wean him from a world in which he was no
longer fit to act the part assigned him. He afterwards
sank into a calm lethargic state ; and, on the 17th of
April, 1790, about eleven o'clock at night, he expired,
in his eighty-fifth year. He left two children — a son
and daughter.

In looking back on Franklin's career, of which we
have given a very imperfect sketch, it is evident that
the principal feature in his character was ivorldly pru-
dence — not in a narrow and selfish acceptation of the
term, but that prudence, founded on true wisdom,
which dictates the practice of honesty, industry, fru-
gality, temperance — in short, all those qualities which
may be classed under the name of "moral virtues,"
as being the only certain means of obtaining distinc-
tion, respect, independence, and mental cheerfulness.
There is no other writer who inculcates lessons of
practical wisdom in a more agreeable and popuAr
manner, and we much regret that our limits will not
permit us to give extracts illustrative of this quality.
His whole conduct and writings, indeed, present the
VI.— 14



15S BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.

somewhat singular union of considerable genius with


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Online LibrarySamuel G. (Samuel Griswold) GoodrichLives of benefactors; → online text (page 10 of 21)