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From Boyhood to Manhood|
XXXV. Philosopher and Statesman.
by Thayer, William M.
|"I have a proposition to make to you, an important one," remarked
Franklin to David Hall, who had worked for him four years. "Come into
the office, and I will tell you what it is."
Hall followed him into the office, wondering what the proposition
could be. When they were seated, Franklin continued:
"I must have a partner in this business; and I think you are just the
man I want, if we can agree upon the terms. I desire to be released
from the care of the printing office, that I may pursue my scientific
studies more thoroughly and satisfactorily."
"Your proposition is very unexpected to me, and I feel very much
flattered by it," answered Hall; "but I hardly know what to say, for I
have no capital to put into the business."
"And you need none," interrupted Franklin. "My plan is that you take
the office just as it is, pay me one thousand pounds a year, for
eighteen years, releasing me from all care of the business, and, at
the close of eighteen years, the whole business shall be yours,
without further consideration."
"Well, I ought to be satisfied with that offer, if you are; it is
certainly a generous one, and I shall accept it."
"And you will get out of it three or four times the amount of your
present salary every year," suggested Franklin. "I mean it shall be a
profitable enterprise for you; for your long service here has
satisfied me that you are the partner I want."
This plan was carried into effect, and Franklin was no longer obliged
to visit the printing office daily, whither he had been for over
twenty years. His printing and newspaper business had been very
profitable, so that he was comparatively wealthy for that day. His
investments had proved fortunate; and these, with the thousand pounds
annually from Hall, and five hundred pounds from two public offices he
held, gave him an annual income of about fifteen thousand dollars,
which was large for those times--one hundred and forty years ago.
"Now I can pursue my studies to my heart's content," Franklin said to
his wife. "I have only had fragments of time to devote to electricity
and other studies hitherto; but now I can command time enough to make
research an object."
"I am very glad that you are able to make so favorable arrangements,"
Mrs. Franklin replied. "You have had altogether too much on your hands
for ten years and more. You ought to have less care."
"And I have an intense desire to investigate science, especially
electricity," Franklin continued. "I see a wide field for research and
usefulness before me. But I have time enough to prosecute my plans."
Franklin was forty-two years old at this time; and it is a singular
fact that his career as a philosopher did not begin really until he
had passed his fortieth birthday. But from the time he was released
from the care of the printing office, his advancement in science was
rapid. His fame spread abroad, both in this country and Europe, so
that, in a few years, he became one of the most renowned philosophers
in the world. In a former chapter we described his experiment with a
kite, to prove that lightning and the electric fluid are identical;
and this discovery established his fame as the greatest electrician of
The Royal Society of London elected him a member by a unanimous vote,
and the next year bestowed upon him the Copley medal. Yale College
conferred upon him the degree of Master of Arts; and Harvard
University did the same. Suddenly Franklin found himself the most
conspicuous character in American history--a philosopher of the most
Mignet said of him, "Thus all at once distinguished, the Philadelphia
sage became the object of universal regard, and was abundantly loaded
with academic honors. The Academy of Sciences of Paris made him an
associate member, as it had Newton and Leibnitz. All the learned
bodies of Europe eagerly admitted him into their ranks. Kant, the
celebrated German philosopher, called him 'the Prometheus of modern
times.' To this scientific glory, which he might have extended if he
had consecrated to his favorite pursuits his thoughts and his time, he
added high political distinction. To this man, happy because he was
intelligent, great because he had an active genius and a devoted
heart, was accorded the rare felicity of serving his country,
skilfully and usefully, for a period of fifty years; and after having
taken rank among the immortal founders of the positive sciences, of
enrolling himself among the generous liberators of the nations."
A few years later, the three Universities of St. Andrew's, Oxford, and
Edinburgh, conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws. Europe
vied with America in tributes of honor and praise.
His electrical experiments made him the author of several useful
inventions, among which the LIGHTNING ROD was the foremost. It came
into general use, not only in our country, but also in Europe. The
celebrated Kinnersley wrote to him, "May this method of security from
the destructive violence of one of the most awful powers of Nature
meet with such further success as to induce every good and grateful
heart to bless God for the important discovery! May the benefit
thereof be diffused over the whole globe! May it extend to the latest
posterity of mankind, and make the name of Franklin, like that of
Franklin did not intend to continue in political life, when he entered
into partnership with Mr. Hall; and he so announced to his friends. At
that time he had served as Councilman in the city, been a member of
the General Assembly, acted as Commissioner on several important
occasions, and served the public in various other ways; but now he
designed to stop and devote himself entirely to scientific pursuits.
Within five years, however, he found himself more deeply involved in
political plans and labors than ever before. He was as wise in
statesmanship as he was in philosophy; and the services of such a man
were in constant demand. The following list of public offices he
filled shows that he stood second to no statesman in the land in
public confidence and ability in public service:
A LEGISLATOR OF PENNSYLVANIA AT TWENTY-SIX YEARS OF AGE, CONTINUED FOR
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston
were associated with Franklin in drafting the Declaration of
Independence, which Congress adopted, July 4, 1776. The original draft
was by Jefferson, but it contained many interlineations in the
hand-writing of Franklin. When they were signing the memorable
document, after its passage by Congress, John Hancock remarked:
FOUNDER AND LEADING TRUSTEE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA.
COLONEL OF MILITIA, WHICH HE ORIGINATED.
LEADER OF COMMITTEE OF PUBLIC SAFETY FOR YEARS, IN TIME OF WAR.
AGENT OF PENNSYLVANIA, MASSACHUSETTS, NEW JERSEY, AND GEORGIA TO THE
KING OF ENGLAND.
MINISTER TO THE COURT OF ENGLAND IN 1764.
ONE OF THE AUTHORS OF THE CONTINENTAL CONGRESS IN 1775, AND A MEMBER
MINISTER PLENIPOTENTIARY TO FRANCE IN 1776.
AUTHOR OF FIRST TREATY FOR AMERICA IN 1778.
MINISTER PLENIPOTENTIARY TO FRANCE IN 1778.
ONE OF FIVE TO DRAFT THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.
A LEADER IN THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION.
ONE OF THE FRAMERS OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES.
LIKE WASHINGTON, "FIRST IN WAR, FIRST IN PEACE, AND FIRST IN THE
HEARTS OF HIS COUNTRYMEN."
"We must be unanimous,--we must all hang together."
"Yes, if we would not hang separately," replied Franklin.
Jefferson was viewing, with evident disappointment, the mutilation of
his draft of the Declaration in Franklin's hand-writing, when the
"I have made it a rule, whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the
draftsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson
from an incident which I will relate to you. When I was a
journeyman-printer, one of my companions, an apprentice-hatter, having
served out his time, was about to open shop for himself. His first
concern was to have a handsome sign-board, with a proper inscription.
He composed it in these words: John Thompson, hatter, makes and sells
hats for ready money, with a figure of a hat subjoined. But he
thought he would submit to his friends for their amendments. The first
he showed it to thought the word hatter tautologous, because
followed by the words makes hats, which showed he was a hatter. It
was struck out. The next observed that the word makes might as well
be omitted, because his customers would not care who made the hats; if
good and to their mind, they would buy, by whomsoever made. He struck
it out. A third said he thought the words for ready money were
useless, as it was not the custom of the place to sell on credit.
Every one who purchased expected to pay. They were parted with, and
the inscription now stood: John Thompson sells hats. 'Sells hats?'
says his next friend; 'why, nobody will expect you to give them away.
What, then, is the use of that word?' It was stricken out, and hats
followed, the rather as there was one painted on the board. So his
inscription was reduced, ultimately, to John Thompson, with the
figure of a hat subjoined."
It is doubtful if American Independence would have been achieved when
it was, but for the services of Franklin at the Court of England. His
first appearance there was when his fame as a philosopher was at its
zenith, and the greatest men of that country sought his acquaintance.
William Strahan, a member of Parliament, wrote to Mrs. Franklin, "I
never saw a man who was, in every respect, so perfectly agreeable to
me. Some are able in one view, some in another, he in all."
The Tories, who meant to keep the Colonies in subjection and burden
them with taxes, were the leaders in governmental affairs and the
majority in numbers. Of course, the Colonies could not expect many
favors from them without the mediation of their strongest statesmen;
and Franklin was the one above all others on whom they depended. His
first diplomatic career in England, when he was the Agent of
Pennsylvania and other Colonies, lasted from 1757 to 1762. He remained
at home only a year and a half, when he was appointed "Minister to
England," whither he went in 1764, remaining there ten years, a long,
stormy period of political troubles, culminating in the Declaration of
Independence and the American Revolution.
We have only to mention the Boston Port Bill, the Stamp Act,
quartering British troops in the public buildings of Boston, and other
measures which the Colonies considered oppressive, and even
tyrannical, to show the line of Franklin's intercession in behalf of
his countrymen, and how they came to throw off the yoke of bondage.
The Tory hatred towards Franklin was something fearful at times,
exceeded only by their hatred towards the people whom he represented.
"I am willing to love all mankind except an American," exclaimed Dr.
Johnson. And when rebuked for his unchristian disposition, "his
inflammable corruption bursting into horrid fire," says Boswell, "he
breathed out threatenings and slaughter, calling them rascals,
robbers, pirates, and exclaiming that he would burn and destroy them."
When Mr. Barclay hinted to Franklin that he might have almost any
place of honor if he would consent to a certain line of action, our
loyal hero spurned the bribe, saying, "The ministry, I am sure, would
rather give me a place in a cart to Tyburn [prison] than any other
place whatever." He could neither be coaxed nor frightened into
submission to the British crown.
In February, 1766, he was summoned before the House of Commons, where
he met the enemies of his country face to face, and stood firm through
the searching examination.
"Will the Americans consent to pay the stamp duty if it is lessened?"
he was asked.
"No, never; unless compelled by force of arms," he answered.
"May not a military force carry the Stamp Act into execution?"
"Suppose a military force sent into America; they will find nobody in
arms; what are they, then, to do? Then can not force a man to take
stamps who chooses to do without them. They will not find a
rebellion; they may, indeed, make one."
"If the Stamp Act is enforced, will ill-humor induce the Americans to
give as much for the worse manufactures of their own, and use them in
preference to our better ones?"
"Yes. People will pay as freely to gratify one passion as
another,--their resentment as their pride."
"Would the people of Boston discontinue their trade?"
"The merchants of Boston are a very small number, and must discontinue
their trade, if nobody will buy their goods."
"What are the body of the people in the Colonies?"
"They are farmers, husbandmen, or planters."
"Would they suffer the produce of their lands to rot?"
"No; but they would not raise so much. They would manufacture more and
plow less. I do not know a single article imported into the Northern
Colonies that they can not do without, or make themselves."
To Lord Kames he said, "America must become a great country, populous
and mighty; and will, in a less time than is generally conceived, be
able to shake off any shackles that may be imposed upon her, and
perhaps place them on the imposers."
But his labors availed nothing, although Chatham, Pitt, Burke, Fox,
and others, espoused the cause of the Colonies. Affairs hastened to
the crisis of 1775, and Franklin returned to Philadelphia, reaching
that city soon after the battles of Lexington and Concord were fought,
A few months before he left England for America, his wife died. Her
death occurred on Dec. 17, 1774, though the sad tidings did not reach
Franklin until a short time before he took passage for home.
It was at this time that his famous letter to his old English friend,
William Strahan, was written, of which we are able to furnish a
The scenes of the Revolution followed. Through the agency of Franklin,
as Minister Plenipotentiary to France, the French Government formed an
alliance with the Colonies, and the eight years' war was waged to the
surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown; and Freedom was achieved.
No American exerted greater influence in securing the independence of
the Colonies than Franklin. He was one of the originators of the
Continental Congress, and was the author of the plan for a Union of
the States. On his way to the Albany Conference in 1754 he drew up a
plan of Union, which he presented to said Conference, composed of
delegates from seven Northern Colonies. Other members presented plans,
but his was preferred and adopted, with some amendments, and commended
to the favorable consideration of the King and Parliament of England.
Franklin's plan of Union was substantially that which, subsequently,
united the thirteen States into one nation.
No name is more conspicuous in history than that of Franklin. At one
time in France, "prints, medallion portraits, and busts of him were
multiplied throughout that country." In England, the most renowned
statesmen and scholars acknowledged his abilities and praised his
remarkable career. In America, his statue was set up in halls of
learning and legislation, literary societies and institutions were
founded in his name, and numerous towns were called after him. Perhaps
the author's native town--Franklin, Mass.--was the first to
appropriate his name. A few years thereafter, a nephew called his
attention to this fact, suggesting that the present of a bell from him
would be very acceptable, as the people were erecting a house of
worship. Franklin was in Passy, France, at the time, and he
immediately addressed the following letter to his old friend, Dr.
Price, asking him to select and forward a library:
"PASSY, 18 March, 1785.
The inhabitants of Franklin got sense instead of sound, and were
"DEAR FRIEND,--My nephew, Mr. Williams, will have the honor of
delivering you this line. It is to request from you a list of a few
books, to the value of about twenty-five pounds, such as are most
proper to inculcate principles of sound religion and just
government. A new town in the State of Massachusetts having done me
the honor of naming itself after me, and proposing to build a
steeple to their meeting-house if I would give them a bell, I have
advised the sparing themselves the expense of a steeple for the
present, and that they would accept of books instead of a bell,
sense being preferable to sound. These are, therefore, intended as
the commencement of a little parochial library for the use of a
society of intelligent, respectable farmers, such as our country
people generally consist of. Besides your own works, I would only
mention, on the recommendation of my sister, Stennett's 'Discourses
on Personal Religion,' which may be one book of the number, if you
know and approve it.
"With the highest esteem and respect, I am ever, my dear friend,
yours most affectionately,
Doctor Price, in the course of a letter dated at Newington Green, June
3, 1785, in which he speaks of Mr. Williams' visit, says: "I have,
according to your desire, furnished him with a list of such books on
religion and government as I think some of the best, and added a
present to the parish that is to bear your name, of such of my own
publications as I think may not be unsuitable. Should this be the
commencement of parochial libraries in the States, it will do great
The books were duly forwarded to the town of Franklin. The Rev.
Nathaniel Emmons, clergyman of the parish for which the library was
designed, preached a sermon in commemoration of this bounty, entitled
"The Dignity of Man: a Discourse Addressed to the Congregation in
Franklin upon the Occasion of their Receiving from Doctor Franklin the
Mark of his Respect in a Rich Donation of Books, Appropriated to the
Use of a Parish Library." This sermon was printed in the year 1787,
with the following dedication: "To his Excellency Benjamin Franklin,
President of the State of Pennsylvania, the Ornament of Genius, the
Patron of Science, and the Boast of Man, this Discourse is Inscribed,
with the Greatest Deference, Humility, and Gratitude, by his Obliged
and Most Humble Servant, the Author."
The library contained one hundred and sixteen volumes, chiefly
relating to Government, Science, and Religion, of which about ninety
volumes are still in a good state of preservation.
On the 17th of April, 1790, Franklin expired, mourned by a grateful
nation and honored by the world. For two years he had lived in
anticipation of this event. One day he rose from his bed, saying to
his daughter, "Make up my bed, that I may die in a decent manner."
"I hope, father, that you will yet recover, and live many years,"
replied his daughter.
"I hope not," was his answer.
When told to change his position in bed, that he might breathe more
easily, he replied:
"A dying man can do nothing easy."
His sufferings were so great as to extort a groan from him at one
time, whereupon he said:
"I fear that I do not bear pain as I ought. It is designed, no doubt,
to wean me from the world, in which I am no longer competent to act my
To a clerical friend, who witnessed one of his paroxysms as he was
about to retire, he said:
"Oh, no; don't go away. These pains will soon be over. They are for my
good; and, besides, what are the pains of a moment in comparison with
the pleasures of eternity?"
He had a picture of Christ on the cross placed so that he could look
at it as he lay on his bed. "That is the picture of one who came into
the world to teach men to love one another," he remarked. His last
look, as he passed away, was cast upon that painting of Christ.
In a codicil to his will was this bequest.
"My fine crab-tree walking-stick, with a gold head, curiously wrought
in the form of a cap of liberty, I give to my friend, and the friend
of mankind, George Washington. If it were a sceptre, he has merited
it, and would become it."
Philanthropist, Scholar, Philosopher, Statesman, were the titles won
by the Boston Printer Boy!