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America. Thirty-nine years had elapsed since his first landing on the British shore as a destitute and forlorn, nay, a deluded mechanic.
Great Britain had already announced the project of taxing her colonies, and Dr. FRANKLIN was the bearer of a remonstrance from the province of Pennsylvania against it, which he presented to Mr. Grenville before the passage of the justly odious stamp act. Throughout the existence of that measure, he opposed its operations in every possible mode, bending the energies of his prolific mind, to prove the unconstitutionality as well as the impolicy of casting a yoke on the shoulders of an indignant community who were likely to bear it with
an ill grace.
His conduct on this occasion was highly praiseworthy. When the repeal was about to be attempted, it was concerted by his friends, that he should appear before the house of commons, and be examined on the whole question at issue. Here he displayed (February 3d, 1766,) so much firmness, readiness, and epigrammatic simplicity of manner, and information so much to the point on subjects of commerce, policy of government, finance, &c.; his precision of language was so remarkable, that the effect was irresistible, and the repeal inevitable.
Dr. FRANKLIN became still more bold and vehement in his expostulations, on the passage of the revenue acts of 1767. He then openly predicted to the English, that general resistance by the colonies, and a separation from the mother country, would be the inevitable result of those and other similar measures of the ministry. These were, however, madly pursued; FRANKLIN saw the coming storm with a clear vision and undaunted firmness; but he continued to adhere to his original plan, to make every effort to enlighten the public mind in England, to arrest the ministry in their infatuation, and to inculcate proper moderation and patience, as well as constancy and unanimity, on the part of his countrymen. He took every suitable means, at the same time, to keep on good terms with the British government, aware of the importance of such a standing to enable him to serve his country effectually; but he ceased not to proclaim the rights, justify the proceedings, and animate the courage of the suffering colonists. He was not ignorant, to use his own words, “ that this course would render him suspected, in England of being too much an American, and in America, of being too much of an Englishman.” This he braved in the conscious panoply of his own esteem, and continued to serve his country till circumstances, which we shall briefly hint at, induced him hastily to embark for home.
His transmission of the celebrated letters of Hutchinson and Oliver, in 1772, which had been placed in his hands, is matter of history, and not the least memorable of his acts at this opening period of the American revolution. His own share in the transaction was immediately avowed, though he could never be prevailed upon to divulge the names of the persons from whom he had received those documents. The Massachusetts assembly, indignant in consequence of these letters, petitioned the ministry, through Dr. FRANKLIN, when he was immediately held up as the mark for the virulent abuse, the hatred and ridicule of the periodical press, who would fain have extended the feeling to the whole nation. The spirit and wit with which he met the conflict, are particularly exemplified in his two satirical papers; “ The Prussian Edict,” and the “Rules for Reducing a Great Empire to a Small One."
When the discussion of the petition before the privy council came on, FRANKLIN was present. Weddeburn, (since Lord Loughborough,) the solicitor-general, assailed him in a very ungentlemanly and undignified manner, descending even to coarse invective. He styled the venerable philosopher, and official representative of four of the American provinces, a “ thief and a murderer," who had “forfeited all the respect of society and of men." This impotent rage only tended still further to inflame the breasts of the petitioners, who now saw their agent dismissed from his place of deputy postmaster-general. A chancery suit was instituted in relation to the letters, with a view of preventing him from entering upon his own vindication.
Notwithstanding this treatment, the British ministry knew their man too well to leave any means in their power untried to convert the republican notions which had taken root in his bosom. Attempts were actually made, as the schism between the two countries widened, to corrupt the man they had discovered they had no power to intimidate; “any reward," "unlimited recompense," "honor and recompense beyond his expectations,” were held up to him to induce a change of conduct. But they all proved unavailing, for he was as inaccessible to bribery as to threats. He was about this time directed to present the famous petition of the first American congress.
At the period when Lord Chatham proposed his plan for a reconciliation between the colonies and the parent country, Dr. FRANKLIN attended behind the bar, in the house of lords. While Chatham was using his powerful eloquence in favor of his plan of pacification, he eulogized FRANKLIN as “one whom Europe held in high estimation for his knowledge and wisdom; who was an honor, not to the Eng
lish nation only, but to human nature.” This, from such a speaker, must be admitted as high praise.
He soon after was informed that it was the intention of ministers to arrest him, as guilty of fomenting a rebellious spirit in the colonies, and he immediately embarked for America, where he was enthusiastically received, and immediately elected a member of congress.
Dr. FRANKLIN served on many of the most arduous of the committees of that body, particularly as a member of the committee of safety, and of that of foreign correspondence, where he exerted all his influence in favor of the Declaration of Independence, of which instrument he is one of the signers.
Supplies from abroad becoming necessary to the infant republic, Dr. FRANKLIN was sent to France, in 1776, as commissioner plenipotentiary to that court, where he soon succeeded in gaining the confidence of the Count de Vergennes, though not at first publicly recognised. The reception of information that Burgoyne had surrendered, put a new aspect upon our affairs abroad, and our plenipotentiary had the happiness to conclude the first treaty of the new states, with a foreign power, on the 6th of February, 1778. The American was now in high favor at court, sought for in all circles of fashionable society, and extremely useful in forwarding the views of his government, furnishing supplies, and corresponding with the prominent leaders of the revolution.
While resident there, he produced a work entitled “Comparison of Great Britain and America, as to Credit," by the publication of which he did much to establish the credit of America, throughout Europe; it appeared in 1777. The treaty with France, and the capture of Burgoyne, created of course a great sensation in England, and no sooner were they known than the British ministry began to talk of a reconciliation. Efforts, plain and insidious, were made to sound FRANKLIN as to the terms that might probably, be obtained ; his answer uniformly was, “nothing but independence.” He had next to guard against the attempts made to separate France from our interests, and succeeded in defeating them. He was now one of the commissioners for negotiating the peace with the mother country.
These negotiations fairly closed, he earnestly requested, in 1782, to be recalled, stating his anxiety to be again in the bosom of his family; but this was refused. He continued in Paris, where his venerable age, his simplicity of manners, his scientific reputation, the ease, gaiety, and richness of his conversation-all contributed to render him an object of admiration to courtiers, fashionable ladies and
savans. He regularly attended the meetings of the Academy of Sciences, and was appointed one of the committee which exposed Mesmer's animal magnetism.
During this period, Dr. FRANKLIN negotiated two treaties; one with Prussia, and one with Sweden.
On his return to Philadelphia, after having served his country fiftythree years, he filled the office of president of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and served as a delegate in the federal convention, in 1787, and approved the constitution then formed.
Dr. FRANKLIN died April 17, 1790, his faculties and affections unimpaired to the last, and lies buried in Christ Church buryingground, at the corner of Arch and Fifth streets, Philadelphia, where a plain marble slab covers his remains and those of his wife, on which is inscribed simply,
BENJAMIN AND DEBORAH FRANKLIN,
A complete edition of his works was published in London, in 1806, in three volumes, octavo. His memoirs, with his posthumous writings, were published by his grandson, William Temple Franklin, in 1819, in three volumes, quarto, and a later edition in Philadelphia, in nine volumes, octavo.
Dr. FRANKLIN was free from any deep religious bias; for some time he subscribed towards the support of a Presbyterian clergyman, in Philadelphia ; but after attending him a few weeks, and finding that he was rather an indifferent preacher, and rarely inculcated a moral principle, he withdrew, and confined himself to the use of a small liturgy, or form of prayer, drawn up in 1728, entitled, “ Articles of Belief, and Acts of Religion.” “About the same time,” he observes, , “I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection ; I wished to live without committing any fault at any time, and to conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company, might lead me into. On the whole, though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was by the endeavor a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been, if I had not attempted it."
Blessed with an excellent constitution, aided by temperance, Dr. FRANKLIN enjoyed a long continuance of robust health. As he advanced in years, however, he became subject to fits of the gout, to which, in 1782, a nephritic colic was superadded. From that time, he was afflicted with the stone as well as the gout, and for the last twelve months of his life, those complaints confined him almost entirely to his bed. Early in the spring of 1790, he was attacked by fever, and a complaint of his breast, which proved fatal, and his long and useful life was closed without a groan. He left one son, William, a zealous loyalist, and a daughter, married to Mr. Bache, a merchant of Philadelphia.
We have thus given the leading facts in the life of FRANKLIN, from his cradle to the grave. It is necessary to the proper completion of our pleasing task, to add a few remarks for the purpose of illustrating the character of so remarkable an individual. His early bias to literature was fostered in some measure by his father, who entertaining a high estimate for literary merit, applauded the industry, and excited the emulation of the son. In this he was standing in his own light, for it abstracted the youth from the pursuit of the trade by which the family lived, and induced him to disenthral himself from the fetters of so rude and inglorious an occupation. It, however, was a fortunate circumstance for the country. The business of a printer led him naturally amongst books, and his inquiring mind to the cultivation of letters; to promote this object, he early formed a literary club with a few ingenious young men about his own age, who conferred together on the subject of their studies, a practice which may be warmly recommended — many of our most eminent men trace to such associations the development of their minds.
Of FRANKLIN's youthful levity on the subject of religion, it is necessary to remark, that when he had acquired a riper age, and more ample intelligence, he emphatically condemned it; but the extreme aversion, which, like many others of honest feelings, he entertained for that senseless dogmatism and mischievous intolerance which prevailed, both in Europe and America, led him sometimes to express sentiments on religious subjects, that by the severity of his age, were not always approved. He believed that honest men without any regard to religious denominations, were equally entitled to esteem. He insisted that in discussing the mysteries of our faith, much less time should be spent than in practising the duties which it enjoins; and indeed in all the business of his life, in morals and politics, as well as religion, he was much more an advocate for practice than speculation. But of the pure and innocent service of the Deity; of the essential doctrines of Christianity, no man has ever spoken with more reverence; and with such a life as Franklin generally led, we should, perhaps, offer an injury to religion in supposing him, as some have done, an enemy to its prevalence, or a stranger to its benign influence.