William Cabell Bruce.

Benjamin Franklin, self-revealed; a biographical and critical study based mainly on his own writings online

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Online LibraryWilliam Cabell BruceBenjamin Franklin, self-revealed; a biographical and critical study based mainly on his own writings → online text (page 26 of 47)
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mons, that are cited approved and applauded in your great
national assemblies ; all join in convincing us, that you are no

Franklin as a Statesman -303

longer the magnanimous and enlightened nation, we once
esteemed you, and that you are unfit and unworthy to govern
us, as not being able to govern your own passions.

Indeed, in this letter Franklin even told Hartley that, if
the resentment of the EngUsh people did not speedily fall
on their ministry, the future inhabitants of America would
detest the name of Englishman as much as the children in
Holland did those of Alva and Spaniard. But, scold as he
might England and her rulers, he deeply appreciated the
magnanimity of the good man, who even took pains to see
that sums placed in his hands by Franklin were duly
applied to the relief of the prisoners for whose liberty he
strove so disinterestedly. Referring in one of his letters
to Hartley to two little bills of exchange that he had sent
to him for this purpose, he said, "Permit me to repeat my
thankful Acknowledgments for the very humane and kind
part you have acted in this Affair. If I thought it neces-
sary I would pray God to bless you for it. But I know he
wiU do it without my Prayers. "

Correspondingly stem was the rebuke of Franklin for the
heartless knave, Thomas Digges, equal even to the theft of
an obolus placed upon the closed eyelids of a dead man as
the price of his ferriage across the Styx — ^who drew upon
FrankKn in midwinter for four hundred and ninety-five
potmds sterling for the relief of the American prisoners, and
converted all but about thirty pounds of the sum to his
own personal use. ' ' We have no Name in our Language, ' '
said Franklin in a letter to William Hodgson, "for such
atrocious Wickedness. If such a Fellow is not damn'd, it
is not worth while to keep a Devil. "

Besides Hartley, to say nothing of this William Hodgson,
a merchant, who performed offices for Franklin similar
to those of Hartley, there was another Englishman whose
humanity with regard to American prisoners elicited the
grateful acknowledgments of Franklin. This was Thomas

304- Benjamin Franklin Self-Revealed

Wren, a Presbyterian minister at Portsmouth, who was
untiring in soliciting contributions from his Christian
brethren in England, and applying the sums thus obtained
' by him, as well as the weekly allowances sent to him by
Franklin, to the wants of American prisoners in Forton
Prison. " I think some public Notice, " Franklin wrote to
Robert R. Livingston, "should be taken of this good Man.
I wish the Congress would enable me to make him a Pres-
ent, and that some of our Universities would confer upon
him the Degree of Doctor. " The suggestion bore fruit,
Congress sent Wren a vote of thanks, and the degree of
Doctor in Divinity was conferred upon him by Princeton
College. He, too, did not need the prayers of Franklin to
receive the blessings reserved for the few rare spirits who
can hear the voice of the God of Mercy even above the
tumult of his battling children.

There were many other engrossing claims of a public
or quasi-public nature upon Franklin's attention in France.
In the earlier stages of the Revolutionary War, he was
fairly besieged by foreign officers eager to share in its
peril and glory. Several of those recommended by him to
Congress — such as Steuben — gave a good account of them-
selves in America, but the number of those, who had no
special title to his recommendation, was so great, that his
ingenuity and sense of humor were severely strained to
evade then} or laugh them off.

You can have no Conception [he wrote to a friend] how I am
harass'd. All my Friends are sought out and teiz'd to teize
me. Great officers of all Ranks, in all Departments; Ladies,
great and small, besides professed SoUicitors, worry me from
Morning to Night. The Noise of every Coach now that enters
my Court terrifies me. I am afraid to accept an Invitation to
dine abroad, being almost sure of meeting with some Officer or
Officer's Friend, who, as soon as I am put in a good Humour
by a Glass or two of Champaign, begins his Attack upon me.
Luckily I do not often in my sleep dream myself in these

Franklin as a Statesman 305

vexatious Situations, or I should be afraid of what are now my
only Hours of Comfort. If, therefore, you have the least
remaining Kindness for me, if you would not help to drive
me out of France, for God's sake, my dear friend, let this your
23rd Application be your last.

The friend to whom this letter was written was a French-
man, and the lecture that Franklin read to him in it on
the easy-going habits of his countrymen in giving recom-
mendations is also worthy of quotation:

Permit me to mention to you [he said] that, in my Opinion,
the natural complaisance of this coimtry often carries People
too far in the Article of Recommendations. You give them
with too much Facility to Persons of whose real Characters
you know nothing, and sometimes at the request of others
of whom you know as little. Frequently, if a man has no use-
ful Talents, is good for nothing and burdensome to his Rela-
tions, or is indiscreet. Profligate, and extravagant, they are
glad to get rid of him by sending him to the other end of the
World; and for that purpose scruple not to recommend him to
those that they wish should recommend him to others, as
" WW bon sujet, plain de mSriie, " &c. &c. In consequence of my
crediting such Recommendations, my own are out of Credit,
and I can not advise anybody to have the least Dependence on
them. If, after knowing this, you persist in desiring my
Recommendation for this Person, who is known neither to me
nor to you, I will give it, tho', as I said before, I ought to refuse

The subject was one that repeatedly awakened his
humorous instincts.

You can have no conception of the Arts and Interest made
use of to recommend and engage us to recommend very
indifferent persons [he wrote to James Lovell]. The impor-
tunity is botmdless. The Numbers we refuse incredible : which
if you knew you would applaud us for, and on that Account

VOL. II — 30

3o6 Benjamin Franklin Self-Revealed

excuse the few we have been prevail'd on to introduce to you.
But, as somebody says,

"Poets lose half the Praise they would have got,
Were it but known what they discreetly blot."

The extent to which Silas Deane yielded to the solici-
tations of eager candidates abroad for military honor
was one of the things that helped to destroy his standing
with Congress. A second letter was written by Franklin
to Lovell in which he had a word of extenuation for
Deane's weakness in this respect.

I, who am upon the spot [he said] and know the infinite
Difnculty of resisting the powerful Solicitations here of great
Men, who if disoblig'd might have it in their Power to obstruct
the Supplies he was then obtaining, do not wonder, that,
being a Stranger to the People, and unacquainted with the
Language, he was at first prevail'd on to make some such
Agreements, when all were recommended, as they always are,
as officiers expirimentes, braves comtne leurs Spies, pleins de
Courage, de Talents, et de Zlle pour notre Cause, &c. &c. in
short, mere Cesars, each of whom would have been an invalu-
iable Acquisition to America.

Franklin even had the temerity to draft this jew d^ esprit
to suit the character of the more extreme class of appli-
cations made to him for military employment, and it
was actually used at times according to William Temple

The bearer of this, who is going to America, presses me to
give him a Letter of Recommendation, tho' 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 recom-
mend him; and sometimes they recommend one another! As
to this Gentleman, I must refer you to himself for his Character
and Merits, with which he is certainly better acquainted

Franklin as a Statesman 307

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 Favour that, on further Acquaint-
ance, you shall find him to deserve.

An ill-balanced man might have fretted himself into an
angry outbreak or a state of physical decline under the
exasperation of such importunities, but none of the petty
annoyances of Franklin's position were too rough to with-
stand 'the smoothing effect of his unctuous humor. It
was like the oil that he was in the habit of carrying around
with him in the hollow joint of a bamboo cane during the
period of his life when he was testing the tranquillizing
effect of oil upon ruffled water.

At times, however, the unreasonableness of some of
the applicants was too much even for Rabelais in his
easy chair.

First [he wrote to a M. Lith], you desired to have Means
procur'd for you of taking a Voyage to America "avec sureti";
which is not possible, as the Dangers of the Sea subsist always,
and at present there is the additional Danger of being taken
by the English. Then you desire that this may be sans trap
grandes DSpenses, which is not intelligible enough to be an-
swer'd, because, not knowing your Ability of bearing expences,
one can not judge what may be irop grandes. Lastly, you
desire Letters of Address to the Congress and to General
Washington ; which it is not reasonable to ask of one who knows
no more of you, than that your name is Lith, and that you live
at Baj^euth.

Another applicant, who thirsted for military renown,
was one, Louis Givanetti Pellion, "ci-devant Garde du
Corps de S. M. le Roi de Sardaigne, aujourd'hui Con-
trolleur de la Cour de S. M" susdite." "I know how,"
this gentleman wrote, "to accommodate myself to all
climates, manners, circumstances, and times. I am pas-

3o8 Benjamin Franklin Self-Revealed

sionately fond of travel, I love to see the great world,
its armies and navies. Neither cards, nor wine nor women
have any influence over me; but a ship, an army, long
voyages, all these are Paradise to me. "

It was also Franklin's lot to receive many letters of
inquiry about the New World from individuals in Europe,
who were thinking of migrating to America for peaceable
purposes. What of its climate, its trade, its people, its
laws? These were some of the questions relating to the New
Eldorado which these individuals wished answered. To all
who questioned him about the opportunities held out by
America, when he did not simply refer the questioners to
Cr^vecceur's "Letters from an American Farmer," his an-
swers were substantially the same. The emigrants to Amer-
ica would find a good climate, good air, good soil, good
government, good laws and liberty there, but no Lotus
Land. One Reuben Harvey wrote to him from Cork that
about one hundred poor Irish tradesmen and husbandmen
desired to settle in America. Franklin replied sententi-
ously, "They will go to a Country where People do not
Export their Beef and Linnen to import Claret, while the
Poor at home live on Potatoes and wear Rags. Indeed
America has not Beef and Linnen sufficient for Exportation
because every man there, even the poorest, eats Beef and
wears a Shirt. "

Numerous letters came to him from authors inviting
his literary criticism, or asking him to accord to them
the honor of permitting them to dedicate their works to
him. AUamand, the Warden of the forests and waters
of the Island of Corsica, wished to know from him what
canals there were in America. None, he replied, unless a
short water-way, cut, it was said, in a single night across
a loop formed by a long bend in Duck Creek, in the State
of Delaware, could be called such. Projectors of all kinds
solicited his views about their several projects, sane or
crack-brained. Sheer beggars, as we have already seen.

Franklin as a Statesman 309

were likewise among his correspondents. One, La Baronne
de Randerath, tells him that she has been advised by the
doctors to take her husband to Aix, and, as her justi-
fication for requesting a loan from Franklin for the pur-
pose, she mentions that her husband and Franklin are
both Masons, though members of different lodges.
Another letter requests him to exercise his influence with
the Minister of Marine in behalf of the writer, a sea
captain, who wishes to be discharged from the King's
service. Dartmouth College, Brown University, Prince-
ton College and Dickinson College all appealed to him
for his aid in their efforts to secure money or other gifts
abroad. In a word, he was not only world-famous but
paid fully all the minor as well as major penalties of

How curdled by the animosities of the Revolutionary
War was the milk of htunan kindness even in such an
amiable breast as that of Franklin, we have already had
reason enough to know. His nature yielded slowly to the
intense feelings, aroused by the long conflict between
Great Britain and her Colonies, but it was equally slow to
part with them when once inflamed. The most notable
thing about his attitude towards Great Britain, after
the first effusion of American blood at Lexington, was the
inexorable firmness with which he repelled all advances
upon the part of England that fell short of the recognition
of American Independence. When the English Ministry
fully realized that Great Britain was not waging war
against a few rebellious malcontents but against a whole
people in arms, overture after overture was informally
made to Franklin by one English emissary or another, in
the effort to dissolve the alliance between France and the
United States, and to restore, as far as possible, the old
connection between Great Britain and America. Among
the first of these emissaries was Franklin's good friend,
James Hutton. Franklin received him with the most

310 Benjamin Franklin Self-Revealed

affectionate kindness, but a letter, which he wrote to
Hutton, after Hutton had returned to England, showed
how entirely fruitless the journey of the latter had been.
A peace, Franklin said, England might undoubtedly ob-
tain by dropping all her pretensions to govern America,
but, if she did not, with the peace, recover the affections of
the American people, it would be neither a lasting nor a
profitable one. To recover the respect and affection of
America, England must tread back the steps that she had
taken and disgrace the American advisers and promoters
of the war, with all those who had inflamed the nation
against America by their malicious writings; and all the
ministers and generals who had prosecuted the war with
such inhtmianity. A little generosity, in the way of
territorial concessions added to the counsels of necessity,
would have a happy effect. For instance, Franklin said,
if England would have a real friendly as well as able ally in
America, and avoid all occasions of future discord, which
would otherwise be continually arising along its American
frontiers, it might throw in Canada, Nova Scotia and the

Hutton was succeeded by William Pulteney, a member
of Parliament. All of his propositions were predicated
upon the continued dependence of America. Every propo-
sition, Franklin let him know, which implied the voluntary
return of Anaerica to dependence on Great Britain was out
of the question. The proper course for Great Britain,
in his judgment, was to acknowledge the independence
of the United States, and to enter into such a treaty of
peace, friendship and commerce with them as France itself
had formed. The concluding words of Franklin's letter
were hardly necessary to convince Pulteney of the hope-
lessness of his task. "May God at last," they ran,
"grant that Wisdom to your national Councils, which he
seems long to have deny'd them, and which only sin-
cere, just, and humane Intentions can merit or expect."

Franklin as a Statesman 311

Ten days before this letter was written, the American
envoys had been presented to the French King. Then
followed David Hartley and Mr. George Hammond, the
father of the George Hammond, who, many years after-
wards, became Minister Plenipotentiary from England to
the United States. When they arrived at Paris, it was
only to find that the treaty of alliance between France
and the United States had already been signed, and to
learn soon afterwards that one of its clauses obliged the
United States to make common cause with France, in
case England declared war against her. How authentic
were the credentials of the next emissary it is impossible
to say, but Franklin was entirely confident that he came
over to France under the direct patronage of George III.
The circumstances were these. One morning, a lengthy
letter was thrown into a window of Franklin's residence
at Passy, written in English, dated at Brussels, and signed
Charles de Weissenstein. The letter conjured Franklin
in the name of the Just and Omniscient God, before whom
all must soon appear, and by his hopes of future fame,
to consider if some expedient could not be devised for
ending the desolation of America and preventing the war
imminent in Europe. It then declared that France would
certainly at last betray America, and suggested a plan for
the union of England and America. Under the plan,
among other things, judges of the American courts were
to be named by the King, and to hold their offices for life,
and were to bear titles either as peers of America, or
otherwise, as should be decided by his Majesty; there were
to be septennial sessions of Congress, or more frequent
ones, if his Majesty should think fit to call Congress to-
gether oftener, but all its proceedings were to be trans-
mitted to the British Parliament, without whose consent
no money was ever to be granted by Congress, or any
separate State of America to the Crown; the chief of-
fices of the American civil list were to be named in the

312 Benjamin Franklin Self-Revealed

plan, and the compensation attached to them was to be
paid by America; the naval and military forces of the
Union were to be tmder the direction of his Majesty, but
the British Pariiament was to fix their extent, and vote
the sums necessary for their maintenance. It was also
proposed by the letter that, to protect Franklin, Washing-
ton, Adams, Hancock and other leaders of the American
Revolution from the personal enmity in England, by
which their talents might otherwise be kept down, they
were to have offices or pensions for life at their option.
The promise was also made that, in case his Majesty, or
his successors, should ever create American peers, then
those persons, or their descendants, were to be among the
first peers created, if they desired. Moreover, Mr. Wash-
ington was to have immediately a brevet of lieutenant-
general, and all the honors and precedence incident
thereto, but was not to assimie or bear any command
without a special warrant, or letter of service for that
purpose, from the King.

The writer further asked for a personal interview with
Franklin for the purpose of discussing the details of the
project, or, he stated, if that was not practicable, he would
be in a certain part of the Cathedral of Notre Dame on
a certain day at noon precisely, with a rose in his hat,
to receive a written answer from Franklin which he would
transmit directly to the King himself. Franklin laid the
letter before his colleagues, and it was agreed that it should
be answered by him, and that both it and the answer
should be laid before Vergennes, and that the answer
should be sent or kept back as Vergennes believed best.
The French Minister decided that it had best not be sent.
At the hotir fixed for the interview, however, an agent of
the French police was on hand, and he reported that a
gentleman, whose name he afterwards ascertained to be an
Irish one by tracking him to his hotel, did appear at the
appointed time, and, finding no one to meet him, wan-

Franklin as a Statesman 313

dered about the Cathedral, looking at the altars and
picttires, but never losing sight of the place suggested for
the tryst, and often returning to it, and gazing anxiously
about him as if he expected some one. The scornful tone
of the letter, drafted by Franklin, which is not unlike one
of the scolding speeches, with which the Homeric heroes
expressed their opinions of each other, leaves Httle room
for doubt that he truly believed himself to be assailing
no less a person than the bigoted King himself. After
some savage thrusts, which remind us of those aimed by
Hamlet at Polonius behind the arras, he bursts out into
these exclamatory words :

This proposition of delivering ourselves, bound and gagged,
ready for hanging, without even a right to complain, and
without a friend to be found afterwards among all mankind
you would have us embrace upon the faith of an act of Par-
liament! Good God! An act of your Parliament! This
demonstrates that you do not yet know us, and that you fancy
we do not know you ; but it is not merely this flimsy faith, that
we are to act upon; you offer us hope, the hope of places,
PENSIONS, and peerages. These, judging from yourselves,
3'-ou think are motives irresistible. This offer to corrupt
us, Sir, is with me your credential, and convinces me that
you are not a private volunteer in your application. It bears
the stamp of British cotirt character. It is even the signature
of your King.

The next bearer of the ohve branch, who came over to
Paris, came under very different auspices. This was
William Jones, afterwards Sir William Jones, who was at
the time affianced to Anna Maria Shipley. He did not
come as the representative of the King or his Ministers,
but as the representative of the generous and patriotic
Englishmen, who had cherished the same dream of world-
wide British unity as Franklin himself, and whose sacri-
fices in behalf of their fellow-Englishmen in America

314 Benjamin Franklin Self-Revealed

should be almost as gratefully remembered by us as the ■
Continental soldiers who perished at Monmouth or Cam-
den. Draping his thoughts with academic terms, he sub-
mitted a paper to Dr. Franklin entitled A Fragment
Jrom Polybius in which England, France, the United
States and Franklin are given names borrowed from an-
tiquity, and various suggestions are made for the settle-
ment of the existing controversy between Great Britain
and America. England becomes Athens, France, Caria,
America, the Islands, and Franklin, Eleutherion; and
Jones himself is masked as an Athenian lawyer.

This I know [observes the latter-day Athenian] and posi-
tively pronounce, that, while Athens is Athens, her proud but
brave citizens will never expressly recognize the independence
of the Islands; their resources are, no doubt, exhaustible,
but will not be exhausted in the lives of us and of our children.
In this resolution all parties agree.

There should be, the writer suggested, "a perfect co-
ordination between Athens and the Thirteen United
Islands, they considering her not as a parent, whom
they must obey, but as an elder sister, whom they can not
help loving, and to whom they shall give pre-eminence of
honor and co-equality of power." Other suggestions
were that the new constitutions of the Islands should
remain intact, but that, on every occasion, requiring acts
for the general good, there should be an assembly of
deputies from the Senate of Athens, and the Congress of
the Islands, who should fairly adjust the whole business,
and settle the ratio of the contributions on both sides; that
this committee should consist of fifty Islanders and fifty
Athenians, or of a smaller number chosen by them, and
that, if it was thought necessary, and found convenient, a
proportionate number of Athenian citizens should have
seats, and the power of debating and voting on questions
of common concern in the great assembly of the Islands,

Franklin as a Statesman 315

and a proportionable niimber of Islanders should sit with
the like power in the Assembly at Athens. The whole
reminds the reader of the classical fictions to which the
first Parliamentary reporters were driven by press cen-
sorship. The paper, drafted by Jones, was little more
than a mere literary exercise, prompted by ingenuous en-
thusiasm, but we may be sure that it kindled in Franklin
very different feelings from those aroused in him by the
insidious appeal of Charles de Weissenstein.

The shortcomings, which Franklin is supposed by his
enemies to have exhibited in France with respect to the
duties of his post, require but little attention. Apart

Online LibraryWilliam Cabell BruceBenjamin Franklin, self-revealed; a biographical and critical study based mainly on his own writings → online text (page 26 of 47)