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From Boyhood to Manhood|
XXXIV. More Honors and More Work.
by Thayer, William M.
|Franklin, in 1736, was chosen Clerk of the General Assembly, and in
1737 appointed Postmaster of Philadelphia. The first position assured
him all the Government printing, and introduced him to influential
men, who would very naturally become the patrons of his printing
house. The second position was of great value to his newspaper, as it
"facilitated the correspondence that improved it, and increased its
circulation" quite largely, thus making it a source of considerable
income. Members of the Junto were as much pleased with his promotion
as Franklin himself.
"We are not at all surprised," said Coleman to Colonel Spotswood; "we
are familiar with Franklin; I mean, we members of the Junto, as no
other persons are. He will fill ably any position you can give him."
"That was my estimate of the man," answered Spotswood, who was
Postmaster-General; "and so I appointed him my deputy here. From all I
could learn of him, I thought he would be exact in his way of doing
business and reporting to the Government. His predecessor was
careless, and even neglectful, so that it was difficult to get any
sort of a report from him."
"You will find no trouble with Franklin on that score," rejoined
Coleman. "He is one of the most exact men I ever knew, and his
judgment is remarkable for one of his years. He appears to succeed in
whatever he undertakes because of his sound judgment, and great
capacity for work. His appointment as Postmaster of Philadelphia gives
"I thought it would," continued Spotswood. "The position should be
occupied by a wise man, who challenges public confidence and respect."
"And Franklin is the wisest man I ever knew," interjected Coleman. "We
see him in this role, in the Junto, as men outside do not. For he lays
before us his plans, and reads important articles that he writes, on
various subjects, for criticism, before they are published. He has
just read a paper on the 'Night-watch,' exposing the worthlessness of
the present system, and proposing a remedy; also, another paper on
establishing a fire-department for the town. When made public, both of
these measures will commend themselves to the people."
The discussion over the night-watch and fire-department in the Junto
was both animated and instructive. Both projects were entirely new,
and were born of Franklin's fertile brain.
"The most cumbersome and awkward arrangement I ever heard of," said
Franklin, in the Junto; "to have the constable of each ward, in turn,
summon to his aid several housekeepers for the night, and such
ragamuffins as most of them summon to their assistance!"
"A glass of grog will enlist some of them for a whole night," remarked
Parsons. "I think the town is safer without any watchmen, unless more
responsible men can be employed."
"Of course it is," responded Coleman; "the six shillings paid annually
to the constable by each man who does not wish to serve is a
corruption fund. The constable can pocket three-fourths of it, and,
with the other fourth, he can employ the irresponsible characters he
does. I wonder the people don't rebel."
"That is not all, nor the worst," remarked Breintnal. "A poor widow,
with less than fifty pounds to her name, must pay the six shillings
just as the wealthiest citizen, with thousands of pounds in his own
right, does. It is very unjust."
"And my plan removes all of these difficulties and burdens," added
Franklin. "I propose to hire suitable men, whose business shall be to
watch at night, levying a tax to pay for the same in proportion to
property. A man who makes it his business to watch is worth much more
than one who occasionally serves under the present system."
Franklin ventilated the subject in the Gazette, eliciting remarks
pro and con, gradually educating the people; and finally, after
several years, he had the satisfaction of seeing his plan adopted.
Franklin was the author of the "Night-watch" system of our land.
His paper on the frequency of fires, from carelessness and accidents,
with suggestions as to preventing them and, also, extinguishing them,
elicited equal interest in the Junto.
"Your suggestion to organize a company to extinguish fires is a
capital one," remarked Potts, after listening to Franklin's paper. "It
is not only practical, but it can be done very easily; every citizen
must appreciate the measure."
"If I understand the plan," remarked Maugridge, "each member will be
obliged to keep several leathern buckets, in order for instant use,
and strong bags, for receiving goods to be conveyed to a place of
safety, will be provided."
"Yes; and the members must be so well organized and drilled, that when
a fire breaks out, each will know just what to do," added Franklin.
"It will be necessary for the members of the company to meet monthly,
or oftener, to exchange views and make suggestions as to the best way
of conducting the organization. Experience will teach us very much."
"How many members should the organization embrace?" inquired Scull.
"That is immaterial," replied Coleman; "a large or small number can be
used to advantage, I should say."
"The company must not be too large," responded Franklin. "I should
think that thirty members would be as many as could work to advantage.
If double that number desire to become members it would be better to
organize two companies, to work in different wards."
"And how about money? Can't maintain such an organization without
money," suggested Potts.
"We can raise money for the outfit of leathern buckets and bags by
subscription," replied Franklin; "and we can impose a fine upon
members for being absent from meetings."
"Then, why is not the whole subject fairly before us?" remarked
Coleman. "I move that we proceed to organize a fire-company of thirty
members at once."
Coleman's proposition was adopted unanimously. Franklin discussed the
plan in the Gazette, and all the members of the Junto worked hard
for it outside. Within a short time the first company was organized,
then another, and another, the good work continuing until a large part
of the property-owners in town belonged to fire-companies. And this
method continued until the invention of fire-engines, fire-hooks, and
ladders, with other modern implements to assist in extinguishing
fires. Franklin was the originator of fire-companies.
"It is high time that our people were thinking of paving the streets,"
said Franklin, at a meeting of the Junto. "It will facilitate cleaning
"You must give us a paper on the subject, and write it up in the
Gazette," replied Parsons. "People must be enlightened before they
will adopt the measure. The mass of them know nothing about it now."
"You are right," responded Franklin; "and it will take a good while to
enlighten them. The expense of the measure will frighten them."
"How expensive will such a measure be? What does paving cost a square
"I am not able to say now; I have not examined that part of it yet;
but I shall. I will prepare a paper for the Junto at the earliest
Franklin had canvassed the subject considerably before he introduced
it to the members of the Junto. In wet weather the mud in the streets
was trodden into a quagmire, and quantities of it carried on the feet
into stores and houses. In dry weather the wind blew the abundance of
dust into the faces and eyes of pedestrians, and into the doors and
windows of dwellings and shops. In his paper, read at the Junto,
Franklin set forth these discomforts, with others, and showed how the
evil would be remedied by pavement. The members of the Junto were
unanimous in supporting his views.
From week to week he discussed the subject in the Gazette, literally
giving line upon line and precept upon precept. Nor did he seem to
make much of an impression for many months. But, finally, a strip of
brick pavement having been laid down the middle of Jersey Market, he
succeeded in getting the street leading thereto paved.
"Now I have a project to enlist citizens in paving all the streets,"
he said at the Junto. "I have hired a poor man to sweep the pavement
now laid, and keep it as clean and neat as a pin, that citizens may
see for themselves the great benefit of paving the streets."
"That is practical," exclaimed Coleman. "You are always practical,
Franklin; and you will make a success of that."
"I expect to succeed. After two or three weeks I shall address a
circular to all housekeepers enjoying the advantages of the pavement,
asking them to join with me in paying a sixpence each per month to
keep the pavement clean."
"A sixpence a month only!" responded Potts, who had listened to
Franklin's plan; "is that all it will cost?"
"Yes, that is all; and I think that all will be surprised that the
work can be done for that price; and, for that reason, they will
readily join in the measure."
Franklin went forward with his enterprise, and every citizen appealed
to accepted his proposition; and out of it grew a general interest to
pave the streets of the city. Franklin drafted a bill to be presented
to the General Assembly, authorizing the work to be done; and, through
the influence of another party, the bill was amended by a provision
for lighting the streets at the same time, all of which was agreeable
to Franklin. Here, again, we see that Franklin was the originator of
another method of adding to the comfort and beauty of cities and large
"I will read you a paper to-night upon smoky chimneys," remarked
Franklin at the Junto, as he drew from his pocket a written document.
"Smoky chimneys!" ejaculated Grace. "I wonder what will command your
attention next. A fruitful theme, though I never expected we should
discuss it here."
"It is, indeed, a fruitful theme," responded Franklin; "for more
chimneys carry some of the smoke into the room than carry the whole
out of the top; and nobody can tell why."
"I had supposed it was because masons do not understand the philosophy
of chimney-building," remarked Coleman.
"That is it exactly. The subject is not understood at all, because it
has not been examined. Men build chimneys as they do, not because they
know it is the best way, but because they do not know any thing about
it. For instance, nearly every one thinks that smoke is lighter than
air, when the reverse is true."
"I always had that idea," remarked Potts; "not because I knew that it
was, but somehow I got that impression. But let us have your paper,
and then we will discuss it."
Franklin read his paper, which was more elaborate and exhaustive than
any thing of the kind ever published at that time. It named several
definite causes of smoky chimneys, and furnished a remedy for each.
What is still more remarkable, it suggested a plan of a fire-place or
stove, that might remedy the smoking evil of some chimneys, and save
much fuel in all. Subsequently, he invented what is known as the
Franklin stove, or fire-place, though it was sometimes called the
"Pennsylvania stove." It was regarded as a very useful invention, and,
for many years, was in general use.
"Apply for a patent on your stove," suggested Coleman; "there is much
money in it; and you ought to have it if any one."
"Not I," responded Franklin. "I am not a believer in patents. If the
invention is a real public benefit, the people should have the
advantage of it."
"Nonsense," retorted Coleman; "no one but you harbors such an idea. I
do not see why a man should not receive pay for his invention as much
as another does for a day's work."
"And there is no reason why the inventor should not give the public
the benefit of it, if he chooses," answered Franklin. "Governor Thomas
offered to give me a patent on it, but I told him this: As we enjoy
great advantages from the invention of others, we should be glad of an
opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we
should do freely and generously."
"And nobody will ever thank you for it," added Coleman.
"I don't ask them to thank me for it; I give it to them without asking
one thank-you for it," replied Franklin, who was in a very happy mood.
"Well," added Coleman, "the more I see of you, the more I am satisfied
that there is but one Ben Franklin in these parts."
In brief, we may add here, that Franklin presented the model to a
member of the Junto, Robert Grace, who run a furnace, and, for many
years, "he found the casting of the plates for these stoves a
Still another enterprise which Franklin brought to the attention of
the Junto was the founding of an Academy or University for the higher
education of youth. He wrote often and much for the Gazette upon
doing more for the education of the young. At last, he prepared and
printed a pamphlet, entitled "Proposals Relating to the Education of
Youth in Pennsylvania." It was published at his own expense and
gratuitously distributed, after it had been read in the Junto, where
he disclosed his purpose.
"It is the greatest enterprise you have conceived yet," remarked
Parsons, after listening to the paper, "and it will be the most
difficult one to push forward to success, I think."
"Five thousand pounds is a great amount of money to raise," said
Breintnal. "I should not want to be the one to raise it."
"I should, if I could," retorted Franklin. "To be the author of so
great a blessing to the young is pay enough without any salary. At any
rate, that is all the pay any man will get for such service."
"Do you propose to raise the money yourself?" inquired Coleman.
"Chiefly. I expect that interested parties may assist on that line.
The fact that the enterprise is to bless their own children, gives me
access to them at once. First of all, however, I propose to send this
pamphlet, printed, to a long list of persons upon whom I shall call
for aid, after ample time for them to read and digest it has elapsed."
It is sufficient to say that Franklin successfully prosecuted his
purpose, raised all the money necessary, and the academy was founded.
Scholars multiplied so rapidly that larger quarters were soon
demanded; and now came into use the building which Franklin caused to
be erected for the use of Rev. Mr. Whitefield. With some alterations,
it was just the building necessary to meet the wants of the popular
institution. Franklin was glad when he secured the building for
Whitefield; but he was more glad now because it could be used for the
"University of Philadelphia," as his school was named afterwards.
Perhaps the Junto did not give attention to a more important measure
in its whole history than that of establishing militia for public
security. Franklin read a paper, having the caption, "Plain Truth," in
which he expatiated upon the defenseless condition of Pennsylvania;
that, while New England was all aglow with enthusiasm for armed
defense against foreign invasion, and some of the southern colonies as
well, Pennsylvania was utterly defenseless.
"There is not a battery, fort, or gun, on the banks of the Delaware,"
he said; "not a volunteer company in the whole Province; and what is
still more alarming, not guns enough to arm one."
"Our people don't believe in resistance, you know," responded Coleman.
"Quaker influence is decidedly against shot-guns and batteries."
"And that is the trouble," retorted Franklin. "The Legislatures of
other Provinces have established public defenses; but the Quaker
influence in the Assembly of Pennsylvania has defeated every measure
of the kind."
"And will continue to do so until a French privateer seizes and sacks
this town, as one could very easily," added Parsons.
"Or a tribe of savages, so easily set on by French politicians, shall
plunder and burn us," added Franklin.
"But John Penn and Thomas Penn are not Quakers, like their father, I
have been told," remarked Potts; "and certainly the Province has not
had Quaker governors."
"That is very true; but so many of the people are Quakers that the
Assembly is under their control," answered Franklin. "But I think the
appearance of a privateer in the river, or an attack by a band of
blood-thirsty savages, would knock the non-resistance out of many of
"Nothing short of that will," responded Coleman; "but Franklin's plan
of raising a volunteer militia, and all necessary funds by
subscription, will not call out any opposition from them. I believe
that many of them will be glad to have such defense if they are not
expected to engage in it."
"It is not true, even now, that all the Quakers oppose defensive war:
for some of them do not; they have told me so," continued Franklin.
"They oppose aggressive warfare; but let a privateer come up the
river, or savages attack our town, and they will fight for their homes
as hard as any of us."
"But how do you propose to reach the public, and interest them in your
plan?" inquired Maugridge.
"I shall publish the paper I have read, with some additions, suggested
by our discussion, and distribute it freely throughout the town. At
the same time, I shall discuss it in the Gazette, and appeal to
Quakers themselves, on Bible grounds, to co-operate for the public
defense. And when they have had time to read the pamphlet and weigh
the proposition, I shall call a public meeting."
"Wise again, Franklin," answered Coleman, who was delighted with the
plan. "Your scheme will work to a charm; I have no doubt of it. But
just what will you do at your public meeting?"
"Organize an 'Association for Defense,' after I have harangued the
audience upon the perils of the hour. I shall urge every man present,
as he values his home and life, to join the league, of whatever sect
"Each man to arm himself at his own expense, I suppose?" inquired
"As far as possible," answered Franklin; "and to raise money for a
battery, I have thought of a lottery." Lotteries were generally
resorted to, at that day, for raising money.
"That scheme for raising a battery will succeed, too," said Coleman
with a smile. "I can not see why the whole thing will not carry the
public by storm."
The plan of Franklin succeeded beyond the most sanguine expectations.
His pamphlet and articles in the Gazette moved the public to great
enthusiasm. When the public meeting was called, there was a general
rush to it. It was held in the large building erected for Rev. Mr.
Whitefield, and it was filled to overflowing. Twelve hundred men
joined the "Association for Public Defense" on that night, and the
number was increased to ten thousand within a few days. Within a few
weeks, eighty companies were organized in the Province, armed, and
drilled, ready to march to any point of danger at a moment's warning.
The companies in Philadelphia united to form a regiment, and Franklin
was elected Colonel--an honor which he declined because he "considered
himself unfit," and recommended a Mr. Lawrence, who was a prominent
and influential citizen.
The lottery scheme succeeded, also, and eighteen cannon were borrowed
of the Governor of New York until the authorities could import the
requisite number from England. Not a few Quakers approved of these
measures for the public defense.
In the midst of the excitement Franklin intensified the feeling, by
inducing the Governor to appoint a day of fasting and prayer. Such a
day had never been observed in Pennsylvania, and so the Governor and
his associates were too ignorant of the measure to undertake it alone.
Hence, Franklin, who was familiar with Fast Days in Massachusetts,
wrote the proclamation for the Governor, and secured the co-operation
of ministers in the observance of the day.
It is claimed that Quakers often lent their influence to defensive
warfare in an indirect manner. As, for example, when the Assembly made
appropriations for the army, "for the purchase of bread, flour, wheat
and other grain," the latter phrase covered gunpowder. Perhaps
this suggested to Franklin, when trying to get an appropriation
through the Assembly, the following remark: "If we fail, let us move
the purchase of a fire-engine with the money; the Quakers can have no
objection to that; and then, if you nominate me, and I you, as a
committee for that purpose, we will buy a great gun, which is
certainly a fire-engine."
The fears of the colonists were allayed, and these warlike
preparations discontinued, when the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle was
declared, and signed by the British Commissioners, Oct. 7, 1748.