BEACON LIGHTS OF HISTORY, VOLUME XI
BY JOHN LORD, LL.D.,
AUTHOR OF "THE OLD ROMAN WORLD," "MODERN EUROPE," ETC., ETC.
Dr. Lord's volume on "American Statesmen" was written some years after the issue of his volume on "Warriors and Statesmen," which was Volume IV of his original series of five volumes. The wide popular acceptance of the five volumes encouraged him to extend the series by including, and rewriting for the purpose, others of his great range of lectures. The volume called "Warriors and Statesmen" (now otherwise distributed) included a number of lectures which in this new edition have been arranged in more natural grouping. Among them were the lectures on Hamilton and Webster. It has been deemed wise to bring these into closer relation with their contemporaries, and thus Hamilton is now placed in this volume, among the other "American Founders," and Webster in the volume on "American Leaders."
Of the "Founders" there is one of whom Dr. Lord did not treat, yet whose services—especially in the popular confirmation of the Constitution by the various States, and notably in its fundamental interpretation by the United States Supreme Court—rank as vitally important. John Marshall, as Chief Justice of that Court, raised it to a lofty height in the judicial world, and by his various decisions established the Constitution in its unique position as applicable to all manner of political and commercial questions—the world's marvel of combined firmness and elasticity. To quote Winthrop, as cited by Dr. Lord, it is "like one of those rocking-stones reared by the Druids, which the finger of a child may vibrate to its centre, yet which the might of an army cannot move from its place."
So important was Marshall's work, and so potent is the influence of the United States Supreme Court, that no apology is needed for introducing into this volume on our "Founders" a chapter dealing with that great theme by Professor John Bassett Moore, recently Assistant Secretary of State; later, Counsel for the Peace Commission at Paris; and now occupying the chair of International Law and Diplomacy in the School of Political Science, Columbia University, New York City.
NEW YORK, September, 1902.
THE AMERICAN IDEA.
Basis of American institutions Their origin The Declaration of Independence Duties rather than rights enjoined in Hebrew Scriptures Roman laws in reference to rights Rousseau and the "Contrat Social" Calvinism and liberty Holland and the Puritans The English Constitution The Anglo-Saxon Laws The Guild system Teutonic passion for personal independence English Puritans Puritan settlers in New England Puritans and Dutch settlers compared Traits of the Pilgrim Fathers New England town-meetings Love of learning among the Puritan colonists Confederation of towns Colonial governors Self-government; use of fire-arms Parish ministers Religious freedom Growth of the colonies The conquest of Canada Colonial discontents Desire for political independence Oppressive English legislation Denial of the right of taxation James Otis and Samuel Adams The Stamp Act Boston Port Bill British troops in Boston The Battle of Lexington Liberty under law
Birth of Franklin His early days Leaves the printer's trade Goes to Philadelphia Visit to England Returns to Philadelphia Prints a newspaper Establishes the "Junto" Marries Deborah Reid Establishes a library "Poor Richard" Clerk of the General Assembly Business prosperity Retirement from business Scientific investigations Founds the University of Pennsylvania Scientific inventions Franklin's materialism Appointed postmaster-general The Penns The Quakers Franklin sent as colonial agent to London Difficulties and annoyances Acquaintances and friends Returns to America Elected member of the Assembly English taxation of the colonies English coercion Franklin again sent to England At the bar of the House of Commons Repeal of the Stamp Act Franklin appointed agent for Massachusetts The Hutchinson letters Franklin a member of the Continental Congress Sent as envoy to France His tact and wisdom Unbounded popularity in France Embarrassments in raising money The recall of Silas Deane Franklin's useful career as diplomatist Associated with John Jay and John Adams The treaty of peace Franklin returns to America His bodily infirmities Happy domestic life Chosen member of the Constitutional Convention Sickness; death; services Deeds and fame
THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION.
Washington's origin and family His early life Personal traits Friendship with Lord Fairfax Washington as surveyor Aide to General Braddock Member of the House of Burgesses Marriage, and life at Mount Vernon Member of the Continental Congress General-in-chief of the American armies His peculiarities as general At Cambridge Organization of the army Defence of Boston British evacuation of Boston Washington in New York Retreat from New York In New Jersey Forlorn condition of the army Arrival at the Delaware Fabian Policy The battle of Trenton Intrenchment at Morristown Expulsion of the British from New Jersey The gloomy winter of 1777 Washington defends Philadelphia Battle of Germantown Surrender of Burgoyne Intrigues of Gates Baron Steuben Winter at Valley Forge British evacuation of Philadelphia Battle of Monmouth Washington at White Plains Benedict Arnold Military operations at the South General Greene Lord Cornwallis His surrender at Yorktown Close of the war Washington at Mount Vernon Elected president Alexander Hamilton John Jay Washington as president Establishment of United States Bank Rivalries and dissensions between Hamilton and Jefferson French intrigues Jay treaty Citizen Genet Washington's administrations Retirement of Washington Death, character, and services
Hamilton's youth Education Precocity of intellect State of political parties on the breaking out of the Revolutionary War Their principles Their great men Hamilton leaves college for the army Selected by Washington as his aide-de-camp at the age of nineteen His early services to Washington Suggestions to members of Congress Trials and difficulties of the patriots Demoralization of the country Hamilton in active military service Leaves the army; marries; studies law Opening of his legal career His peculiarities as a lawyer Contrasted with Aaron Burr Hamilton enters political life Sees the necessity of a constitution Convention at Annapolis Convention at Philadelphia The remarkable statesmen assembled Discussion of the Convention Great questions at issue Constitution framed Influence of Hamilton in its formation Its ratification by the States "The Federalist" Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury His transcendent financial genius Restores the national credit His various political services as statesman The father of American industry Protection Federalists and Republicans Hamilton's political influence after his retirement Resumes the law His quarrel with Burr His duel His death Burr's character and crime Hamilton's services His lasting influence
The Adams family Youth and education of John Adams New England in the eighteenth century Adams as orator As lawyer The Stamp Act The "Boston Massacre" Effects of English taxation Destruction of tea at Boston Adams sent to Congress His efforts to secure national independence Criticisms of the Congress Battles of Lexington and Concord Adams moves Washington's appointment as general-in-chief Sent to France Adams as diplomatist His jealousy of Franklin Adams in England As vice-president Aristocratic sympathies As president Formation of political parties The Federalists; the Republicans Adams compared with Jefferson Discontent of Adams Strained relations between France and the United States The Alien and Sedition laws Decline of the Federal party Adams's tenacity of office His services to the State Adams in retirement
Thomas Jefferson Birth and early education Law studies Liberal principles Practises law Successful, but no orator Enters the House of Burgesses Marries a rich widow Builds "Monticello" Member of the Continental Congress Drafts the Declaration of Independence Enters the State Legislature Governor of Virginia Appointed minister to France Hails the French Revolution Services as a diplomatist Secretary of state Rivalry with Hamilton Love of peace Founds the Democratic party Contrasted with Hamilton Becomes vice-president Inaugurated as president Policy as president The purchase of Louisiana Aaron Burr His brilliant career and treasonable schemes Arrest and trial Subsequent reverses The Non-importation Act Strained relations between France and the United States English aggressions The peace policy of Jefferson The embargo Triumph of the Democratic party Results of universal suffrage Private life of Jefferson Retirement to Monticello Vast correspondence; hospitality Fame as a writer Friend of religious liberty and popular education Founds the University of Virginia His great services
BY JOHN BASSETT MOORE.
THE SUPREME COURT.
The States of the American Union after the Revolution, for a time a loose confederation, retaining for the most part powers of independent governments.
The Constitution (1787-89) sought to remedy this and other defects.
One Supreme Court created, in which was vested the judicial power of the United States.
John Marshall, in order the fourth Chief Justice (1801-35), takes pre-eminent part in the development of the judicial power.
Earns the title of "Expounder of the Constitution".
Birth (1755) and parentage.
His active service in the Revolutionary War.
Admitted to the bar (1780) and begins practice (1781).
A member of the Virginia Legislature.
Supporter of Washington's administrations, and leader of Federal party.
United States Envoy to France (1797-98).
Member of Congress from Virginia (1799-1800), and supporter of President Adams's administration.
Secretary of State in Adams's Cabinet (1800-01).
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
His many important decisions on constitutional questions.
Maintains power of the Supreme Court to decide upon the constitutionality of Acts of Congress.
Asserts power of Federal Government to incorporate banks, with freedom from State control and taxation.
Maintains also its power to regulate commerce, free from State hindrance or obstruction.
His constitutional opinion, authoritative and unshaken.
His decisions on questions of International Law.
Decides the status of a captured American vessel visiting her native port as a foreign man-of-war.
Sound decision respecting prize cases.
His views and rulings respecting confiscation of persons and property in time of war.
Personal characteristics and legal acumen.
Weight and influence of the Supreme Court of the United States.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown. After the painting by Ch. Ed. Armand Dumaresq
Puritans Going to Church After the painting by G. H. Boughton.
Benjamin Franklin After the painting by Baron Jos. Sifrede Duplessis.
Franklin's Experiments with Electricity After the painting by Karl Storch.
The Fight of the Bonhomme Richard and Serapis After the painting by J. O. Davidson.
George Washington After the painting by Gilbert Stuart
Washington's Home at Mt. Vernon From a photograph.
Alexander Hamilton After the painting by Gilbert Stuart.
Duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr After the painting by J. Mund.
John Adams After the painting by Gilbert Stuart.
Patrick Henry's Speech in the House of Burgesses After the painting by Rothermel.
Thomas Jefferson After the painting by Gilbert Stuart.
John Marshall From an engraving after the painting by Inman.
THE AMERICAN IDEA.
In a survey of American Institutions there seem to be three fundamental principles on which they are based: first, that all men are naturally equal in rights; second, that a people cannot be taxed without their own consent; and third, that they may delegate their power of self-government to representatives chosen by themselves.
The remote origin of these principles it is difficult to trace. Some suppose that they are innate, appealing to consciousness,—concerning which there can be no dispute or argument. Others suppose that they exist only so far as men can assert and use them, whether granted by rulers or seized by society. Some find that they arose among our Teutonic ancestors in their German forests, while still others go back to Jewish, Grecian, and Roman history for their origin. Wherever they originated, their practical enforcement has been a slow and unequal growth among various peoples, and it is always the evident result of an evolution, or development of civilization.
In the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson asserts that "all men are created equal," and that among their indisputable rights are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Nobody disputes this; and yet, looking critically into the matter, it seems strange that, despite Jefferson's own strong anti-slavery sentiments, his associates should have excluded the colored race from the common benefits of humanity, unless the negroes in their plantations were not men at all, only things or chattels. The American people went through a great war and spent thousands of millions of dollars to maintain the indissoluble union of their States; but the events of that war and the civil reconstruction forced the demonstration that African slaves have the same inalienable rights for recognition before the law as the free descendants of the English and the Dutch. The statement of the Declaration has been formally made good; and yet, whence came it?
If we go back to the New Testament, the great Charter of Christendom, in search of rights, we are much puzzled to find them definitely declared anywhere; but we find, instead, duties enjoined with great clearness and made universally binding. It is only by a series of deductions, especially from Saint Paul's epistles, that we infer the right of Christian liberty, with no other check than conscience,—the being made free by the gospel of Christ, emancipated from superstition and tyrannies of opinion; yet Paul says not a word about the manumission of slaves, as a right to which they are justly entitled, any more than he urges rebellion against a constituted civil government because it is a despotism. The burden of his political injunctions is submission to authority, exhortations to patience under the load of evils and tribulations which so many have to bear without hope of relief.
In the earlier Jewish jurisprudence we find laws in relation to property which recognize natural justice as clearly as does the jurisprudence of Rome; but revolt and rebellion against bad rulers or kings, although apt to take place, were nowhere enjoined, unless royal command should militate against the sovereignty of God,—the only ultimate authority. By the Hebrew writers, bad rulers are viewed as a misfortune to the people ruled, which they must learn to bear, hoping for better times, trusting in Providence for relief, rather than trying to remove by violence. It is He who raises up deliverers in His good time, to reign in justice and equity. If anything can be learned from the Hebrew Scriptures in reference to rights, it is the injunction to obey God rather than man, in matters where conscience is concerned; and this again merges into duty, but is susceptible of vast applications to conduct as controlled by individual opinion.
Under Roman rule native rights fare no better. Paul could appeal from Jewish tyrants to Caesar in accordance with his rights as a Roman citizen; but his Roman citizenship had nothing to do with any inborn rights as a man. Paul could appeal to Caesar as a Roman citizen. For what? For protection, for the enjoyment of certain legal privileges which the Empire had conferred upon Roman citizenship, not for any rights which he could claim as a human being. If the Roman laws recognized any rights, it was those which the State had given, not those which are innate and inalienable, and which the State could not justly take away. I apprehend that even in the Greek and Roman republics no civil rights could be claimed except those conferred upon men as citizens rather than as human beings. Slaves certainly had no rights, and they composed half the population of the old Roman world. Rights were derived from decrees or laws, not from human consciousness.
Where then did Jefferson get his ideas as to the equal rights to which men were born? Doubtless from the French philosophers of the eighteenth century, especially from Rousseau, who, despite his shortcomings as a man, was one of the most original thinkers that his century produced, and one of the most influential in shaping the opinions of civilized Europe. In his "Contrat Social" Rousseau appealed to consciousness, rather than to authorities or the laws of nations. He took his stand on the principles of eternal justice in all he wrote as to civil liberties, and hence he kindled an immense enthusiasm for liberty as an inalienable right.
But Rousseau came from Switzerland, where the passion for personal independence was greater than in any other part of Europe,—a passion perhaps inherited from the old Teutonic nations in their forests, on which Tacitus dilates, next to their veneration for woman the most interesting trait among the Germanic barbarians. No Eastern nation, except the ancient Persians, had these traits. The law of liberty is an Occidental rather than an Oriental peculiarity, and arose among the Aryans in their European settlements. Moreover, Rousseau lived in a city where John Calvin had taught the principles of religious liberty which afterwards took root in Holland, England, Scotland, and France, and created the Puritans and Huguenots. The central idea of Calvinism is the right to worship God according to the dictates of conscience, enlightened by the Bible. Rousseau was no Calvinist, but the principles of religious and civil liberty are so closely connected that he may have caught their spirit at Geneva, in spite of his hideous immorality and his cynical unbelief. Yet even Calvin's magnificent career in defence of the right of conscience to rebel against authority, which laid the solid foundation of theology and church discipline on which Protestantism was built up, arrived at such a pitch of arbitrary autocracy as to show that, if liberty be "human" and "native," authority is no less so.
Whether, then, liberty is a privilege granted to a few, or a right to which all people are justly entitled, it is bootless to discuss; but its development among civilized nations is a worthy object of historical inquiry.
A late writer, Douglas Campbell, with some plausibility and considerable learning, traces to the Dutch republic most that is valuable in American institutions, such as town-meetings, representative government, restriction of taxation by the people, free schools, toleration of religious worship, and equal laws. No doubt the influence of Holland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in stimulating free inquiry, religious toleration, and self-government, as well as learning, commerce, manufactures, and the arts, was considerable, not only on the Puritan settlers of New England, but perhaps on England itself. No doubt the English Puritans who fled to Holland during the persecutions of Archbishop Laud learned much from a people whose religious oracle was Calvin, and whose great hero was William the Silent. Mr. Motley, in the most brilliant and perhaps the most learned history ever written by an American, has made a revelation of a nation heretofore supposed to be dull, money-loving, and uninteresting. Too high praise cannot be given to those brave and industrious people who redeemed their morasses from the sea, who grew rich and powerful without the natural advantages of soil and climate, who fought for eighty years against the whole power of Spain, who nobly secured their independence against overwhelming forces, who increased steadily in population and wealth when obliged to open their dikes upon their cultivated fields, who established universities and institutions of learning when almost driven to despair, and who became the richest people in Europe, whitening the ocean with their ships, establishing banks and colonies, creating a new style of painting, and teaching immortal lessons in government when they occupied a country but little larger than Wales. Civilization is as proud of such a country as Holland as of Greece itself.
With all this, I still believe that it is to England we must go for the origin of what we are most proud of in our institutions, much as the Dutch have taught us for which we ought to be grateful, and much as we may owe to French sceptics and Swiss religionists. This belief is confirmed by a book I have just read by Hannis Taylor on the "Origin and Growth of the English Constitution." It is not an artistic history, by any means, but one in which the author has brought out the recent investigations of Edward Freeman, John Richard Green, Bishop Stubbs, Professor Gneist of Berlin, and others, who with consummate learning have gone to the roots of things,—some of whom, indeed, are dry writers, regardless of style, disdainful of any thing but facts, which they have treated with true scholastic minuteness. It appears from these historians, as quoted by Taylor, and from other authorities to which the earlier writers on English history had no access, that the germs of our free institutions existed among the Anglo-Saxons, and were developed to a considerable extent among their Norman conquerors in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when barons extorted charters from kings in their necessities, and when the common people of Saxon origin secured valuable rights and liberties, which they afterwards lost under the Tudor and Stuart princes. I need not go into a detail of these. It is certain that in the reign of Edward I. (1274-1307), himself a most accomplished and liberal civil ruler, the English House of Commons had become very powerful, and had secured in Parliament the right of originating money bills, and the control of every form of taxation,—on the principle that the people could not be taxed without their own consent. To this principle kings gave their assent, reluctantly indeed, and made use of all their statecraft to avoid compliance with it, in spite of their charters and their royal oaths. But it was a political idea which held possession of the minds of the people from the reign of Edward I. to that of Henry IV. During this period all citizens had the right of suffrage in their boroughs and towns, in the election of certain magistrates. They were indeed mostly controlled by the lord of the manor and by the parish priest, but liberty was not utterly extinguished in England, even by Norman kings and nobles; it existed to a greater degree than in any continental State out of Italy. It cannot be doubted that there was a constitutional government in England as early as in the time of Edward I., and that the power of kings was even then checked by parliamentary laws.
In Freeman's "Norman Conquest," it appears that the old English town, or borough, is purely of Teutonic origin. In this, local self-government is distinctly recognized, although it subsequently was controlled by the parish priest and the lord of the manor under the influence of the papacy and feudalism; in other words, the ancient jurisdiction of the tun-mot—or town-meeting—survived in the parish vestry and the manorial court. The guild system, according to Kendall, had its origin in England at a very early date, and a great influence was exercised on popular liberty by the meetings of the various guilds, composed, as they were, of small freemen. The guild law became the law of the town, with the right to elect its magistrates. "The old reeve or bailiff was supplanted by mayor and aldermen, and the practice of sending the reeve and four men as the representatives of the township to the shire-moot widened into the practice of sending four discreet men as representatives of the county to confer with the king in his great council touching the affairs of the kingdom." "In 1376," says Taylor, "the Commons, intent upon correcting the evil practices of the sheriff, petitioned that the knights of the shire might be chosen by common election of the better folk of the shires, and not nominated by the sheriff; and Edward III. assented to the request."
I will not dwell further on the origin and maintenance of free institutions in England while Continental States were oppressed by all the miseries of royalty and feudalism. But beyond all the charters and laws which modern criticism had raked out from buried or forgotten records, there is something in the character of the English yeoman which even better explains what is most noticeable in the settlement of the American Colonies, especially in New England. The restless passion for personal independence, the patience, the energy, the enterprise, even the narrowness and bigotry which marked the English middle classes in all the crises of their history, stand out in bold relief in the character of the New England settlers. All their traits are not interesting, but they are English, and represent the peculiarities of the Anglo-Saxons, rather than of the Normans. In England, they produced a Latimer rather than a Cranmer,—a Cromwell rather than a Stanley. The Saxon yeomanry at the time of Chaucer were not aristocratic, but democratic. They had an intense hatred of Norman arrogance and aggression. Their home life was dull, but virtuous. They cared but little for the sports of the chase, compared with the love which the Norman aristocracy always had for such pleasures. It was among them that two hundred years later the reformed doctrines of Calvin took the deepest hold, since these were indissolubly blended with civil liberty. There was something in the blood of the English Puritans which fitted them to be the settlers of a new country, independent of cravings for religious liberty. In their new homes in the cheerless climate of New England we see traits which did not characterize the Dutch settlers of New York; we find no patroons, no ambition to be great landed proprietors, no desire to live like country squires, as in Virginia. They were more restless and enterprising than their Dutch neighbors, and with greater public spirit in dangers. They loved the discussion of abstract questions which it was difficult to settle. They produced a greater number of orators and speculative divines in proportion to their wealth and number than the Dutch, who were phlegmatic and fond of ease and comfort, and did not like to be disturbed by the discussion of novelties. They had more of the spirit of progress than the colonists of New York. There was a quiet growth among them of those ideas which favored political independence, while also there was more intolerance, both social and religious. They hanged witches and persecuted the Quakers. They kept Sunday with more rigor than the Dutch, and were less fond of social festivities. They were not so genial and frank in their social gatherings, although fonder of excitement.
Among all the new settlers, however, both English and Dutch, we see one element in common,—devotion to the cause of liberty and hatred of oppression and wrong, learned from the weavers of Ghent as well as from the burghers of Exeter and Bristol.
In another respect the Dutch and English resembled each other: they were equally fond of the sea, and of commercial adventures, and hence were noted fishermen as well as thrifty merchants. And they equally respected learning, and gave to all their children the rudiments of education. At the time the great Puritan movement began, the English were chiefly agriculturists and the Dutch were merchants and manufacturers. Wool was exported from England to purchase the cloth into which it was woven. There were sixty thousand weavers in Ghent alone, and the towns and cities of Flanders and Holland were richer and more beautiful than those of England.
It will be remembered that New York (Nieuw Amsterdam) was settled by the Dutch in 1613, and Jamestown, Virginia, by the Elizabethan colonies in 1607. So that both of these colonies antedated the coming of the Pilgrims to Massachusetts in 1620. It is true that most of the histories of the United States have been written by men of New England origin, and that therefore by natural predilection they have made more of the New England influence than of the other elements among the Colonies. Yet this is not altogether the result of prejudice; for, despite the splendid roll of soldiers and statesmen from the Middle and Southern sections of the country who bore so large a share in the critical events of the transition era of the Revolution, it remains that the brunt of resistance to tyranny fell first and heaviest on New England, and that the principal influences that prepared the general sentiment of revolt, union, war, and independence proceeded from those colonies.
The Puritan exodus from England, chiefly from the eastern counties, first to Holland, and then to New England, was at its height during the persecutions of Archbishop Laud in the reign of Charles I. The Pilgrims—as the small company of Separatists were called who followed their Puritanism to the extent of breaking entirely away from the Church, and who left Holland for America—came to barren shores, after having learned many things from the Dutch. Their pilgrimage was taken, not with the view of improving their fortunes, like the more aristocratic settlers of Virginia, but to develop their peculiar ideas. It must be borne in mind that the civilization they brought with them was a growth from Teutonic ancestry,—an evolution from Saxon times, although it is difficult to trace the successive developments during the Norman rule. The Pilgrims brought with them to America an intense love of liberty, and consequently an equally intense hatred of arbitrary taxation. Their enjoyment of religious rights was surpassed only by their aversion to Episcopacy. They were a plain and simple people, who abhorred the vices of the patrician class at home; but they loved learning, and sought to extend knowledge, as the bulwark of free institutions. The Puritans who followed them within ten years and settled Massachusetts Bay and Salem, were direct from England. They were not Separatists, like the Pilgrims, but Presbyterians; they hated Episcopacy, but would have had Church and State united under Presbyterianism. They were intolerant, as against Roger Williams and the "witches," and at first perpetrated cruelties like those from which they themselves had fled. But something in the free air of the big continent developed the spirit of liberty among them until they, too, like the Pilgrims, became Independents and Separatists,—and so, Congregationalists rather than Presbyterians.
The first thing we note among these New Englanders was their town-meetings, derived from the ancient folk-mote, in which they elected their magistrates, and imposed upon themselves the necessary taxes for schools, highways, and officers of the law. They formed self-governed communities, who selected for rulers their ablest and fittest men, marked for their integrity and intelligence,—grave, austere, unselfish, and incorruptible. Money was of little account in comparison with character. The earliest settlers were the picked and chosen men of the yeomanry of England, and generally thrifty and prosperous. Their leaders had had high social positions in their English homes, and their ministers were chiefly graduates of the universities, some of whom were fine scholars in both Hebrew and Greek, had been settled in important parishes, and would have attained high ecclesiastical rank had they not been nonconformists,—opposed to the ritual, rather than the theological tenets of the English Church as established by Elizabeth. Of course they were Calvinists, more rigid even than their brethren in Geneva. The Bible was to them the ultimate standard of authority—civil and religious. The only restriction on suffrage was its being conditioned on church-membership. They aspired, probably from Calvinistic influence, but aspired in vain, to establish a theocracy, borrowed somewhat from that of the Jews. I do not agree with Mr. John Fiske, in his able and interesting history of the "Beginnings of New England," that "the Puritan appealed to reason;" I think that the Bible was their ultimate authority in all matters pertaining to religion. As to civil government, the reason may have had a great place in their institutions; but these grew up from their surroundings rather than from study or the experience of the past. There was more originality in them than it is customary to suppose. They were the development of Old England life in New England, but grew in many respects away from the parent stock.
The next thing of mark among the Colonists was their love of learning; all children were taught to read and write. They had been settled at Plymouth, Salem, and Boston less than twenty years when they established Harvard College, chiefly for the education of ministers, who took the highest social rank in the Colonies, and were the most influential people. Lawyers and physicians were not so well educated. As for lawyers, there was but little need of them, since disputes were mostly settled either by the ministers or the selectmen of the towns, who were the most able and respectable men of the community. What the theocratic Puritans desired the most was educated ministers and schoolmasters. In 1641 a school was established in Hartford, Connecticut, which was free to the poor. By 1642 every township in Massachusetts had a schoolmaster, and in 1665 every one embracing fifty families a common school. If the town had over one hundred families it had a grammar school, in which Latin was taught. It is probable, however, that the idea of popular education originated with the Dutch. Elizabeth and her ministers did not believe in the education of the masses, of which we read but little until the 19th century. As early as 1582 the Estates of Friesland decreed that the inhabitants of towns and villages should provide good and able Reformed schoolmasters, so that when the English nonconformists dwelt in Leyden in 1609 the school, according to Motley, had become the common property of the people.
The next thing we note among the Colonists of New England is the confederation of towns and their representation in the Legislature, or the General Court. This was formed to settle questions of common interest, to facilitate commerce, to establish a judicial system, to devise means for protection against hostile Indians, to raise taxes to support the common government. The Legislature, composed of delegates chosen by the towns, exercised most of the rights of sovereignty, especially in the direction of military affairs and the collection of revenue.
The governors were chosen by the people in secret ballot, until the liberal charter granted by Charles I. was revoked, and a royal governor was placed over the four confederated Colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven. This confederation was not a federal union, but simply a league for mutual defence against the Indians. Each Colony managed its own internal affairs, without interference from England, until 1684.
Down to this time the Colonies had been too insignificant to attract much notice in England, and hence were left to develop their institutions in their own way, according to the circumstances which controlled them, and the dangers with which they were surrounded. One thing is clear: the infant Colonies governed themselves, and elected their own magistrates, from the governor to the selectmen; and this was true as well of the Middle and Southern as of the Eastern Colonies. Even in Virginia quite as large a proportion of the people took part in elections as in Massachusetts. It is difficult to find any similar instance of uncontrolled self-government, either in Holland or England at any period of their history. Either the king, or the Parliament, or the lord of the manor, or the parish priest controlled appointments or interfered with them, and even when the people directly selected their magistrates, suffrage was not universal, as it gradually came to be in the Colonies, with slight restrictions,—one of the features of the development of American institutions.
Another thing we notice among the Colonies, which had no inconsiderable influence on their growth, was the use of fire-arms among all the people, to defend themselves from hostile Indians. Every man had his musket and powder-flask; and there were several periods when it was not safe even to go to church unarmed. Thus were the new settlers inured to danger and self-defence, and bloody contests with their savage foes. They grew up practically soldiers, and formed a firm material for an effective militia, able to face regular troops and even engage in effective operations, as seen afterwards in the conquest of Louisburg by Sir William Pepperell, a Kittery merchant. But for the universal use of fire-arms, either for war or game, it is doubtful if the Colonies could have won their independence. And it is interesting to notice that, while the free carrying of weapons, in these later days at least, is apt to result in rough lawlessness, as in our frontier regions, among the serious and law-abiding Colonists of those early times it was not so. This was probably due both to their strict religious obligations and to the presence of their wives and children.
The unrestricted selection of parish ministers by the people was no slight cause of New England growth, and was also a peculiar custom or institution not seen in the mother country, where appointment to parishes was chiefly in the hands of the aristocracy or the crown. Either the king, or the lord chancellor, or the universities, or the nobility, or the county squires had the gift of the "livings," often bestowed on ignorant or worldly or inefficient men, the younger sons of men of rank, who made no mark, and were incapable of instruction or indifferent to their duties. In New England the minister of the parish was elected by the church members or congregation, and if he could not edify his hearers by his sermons, or if his character did not command respect, his occupation was gone, or his salary was not paid. In consequence the ministers were generally gifted men, well educated, and in sympathy with the people. Who can estimate the influence of such religious teachers on everything that pertained to New England life and growth,—on morals, on education, on religious and civil institutions!
Although we have traced the early characteristics of the New England Colonists, especially because it was in New England first and chiefly that the spirit of resistance to English oppression grew to a sentiment for independence, it is not to be overlooked that the essential elements of self-controlling manhood were common throughout all the Colonies. And everywhere it seems to have grown out of the germ of a devotion to religious freedom, developed on a secluded continent, where men were shut in by the sea on the one hand, and perils from the fierce aborigines on the other. The Puritans of New England, the Hollanders of New York, Penn's Quaker colony in Pennsylvania, the Huguenots of South Carolina, the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, were all of Calvinistic training and came from European persecutions. All were rigidly Puritanical in their social and Sabbatarian observances. Even the Episcopalians of Virginia, where a larger Norman-English stock was settled, with infusions of French-Huguenot blood, and where slavery bred more men of wealth and broader social distinctions, were sternly religious in their laws, although far more lax and pleasure-loving in their customs. Everywhere, this new life of Englishmen in a new land developed their self-reliance, their power of work, their skill in arms, their habit of common association for common purposes, and their keen, intelligent knowledge of political conditions, with a tenacious grip on their rights as Englishmen.
In the enjoyment, then, of unknown civil and religious liberties, of equal laws, and a mild government, the Colonies rapidly grew, in spite of Indian wars. In New England they had also to combat a hard soil and a cold climate. Their equals in rugged strength, in domestic virtues, in religious veneration were not to be seen on the face of the whole earth. They may have been intolerant, narrow-minded, brusque and rough in manners, and with little love or appreciation of art; they may have been opinionated and self-sufficient: but they were loyal to duties and to their "Invisible King." Above all things, they were tenacious of their rights, and scrupled no sacrifices to secure them, and to perpetuate them among their children.
It is not my object to describe the history of the Puritans, after they had made a firm settlement in the primeval forests, down to the Revolutionary War, but only to glance at the institutions they created or adopted, which have extended more or less over all parts of North America, and laid the foundation for a magnificent empire.
At the close of the Seven Years' War, in 1763, which ended in the conquest of Canada from the French by the combined forces of England and her American subjects, the population of the Colonies—in New England and the Middle and Southern sections—was not far from two millions. Success in war and some development in wealth naturally engendered self-confidence. I apprehend that the secret and unavowed consciousness of power, creating the desire to be a nation rather than a mere colony dependent on Great Britain,—or, if colonies, yet free and untrammelled by the home government,—had as much to do with the struggle for independence as the discussion of rights, at least among the leaders of the people, both clerical and lay. The feeling that they were not represented in Parliament was not of much account, for more than three quarters of the English at home had no representation at all. To be represented in Parliament was utterly impracticable, and everybody knew it. But when arbitrary measures were adopted by the English government, in defiance of charters, the popular orators made a good point in magnifying the injustice of "taxation without representation."
The Colonies had been marvellously prospered, and if not rich they were powerful, and were spreading toward the indefinite and unexplored West. The Seven Years' War had developed their military capacity. It was New England troops which had taken Louisburg. The charm of British invincibility had been broken by Braddock's defeat. The Americans had learned self-reliance in their wars with the Indians, and had nearly exterminated them along the coast without British aid. The Colonists three thousand miles away from England had begun to feel their importance, and to realize the difficulty of their conquest by any forces that England could command. The self-exaggeration common to all new countries was universal. Few as the people were, compared with the population of the mother country, their imagination was boundless. They felt, if they did not clearly foresee, their inevitable future. The North American continent was theirs by actual settlement and long habits of self-government, and they were determined to keep it. Why should they be dependent on a country that crippled their commerce, that stifled their manufactures, that regulated their fisheries, that appointed their governors, and regarded them with selfish ends,—as a people to be taxed in order that English merchants and manufacturers should be enriched? They did not feel weak or dependent; what new settlers in the Western wilds ever felt that they could not take care of their farms and their flocks and everything which they owned?
Doubtless such sentiments animated far-reaching men, to whom liberty was so sweet, and power so enchanting. They could not openly avow them without danger of arrest, until resistance was organized. They contented themselves with making the most of oppressive English legislation, to stimulate the people to discontent and rebellion. Ambition was hidden under the burden of taxation which was to make them slaves. Although among the leaders there was great veneration for English tradition and law, the love they professed for England was rather an ideal sentiment than an actual feeling, except among aristocrats and men of rank.
Nor was it natural that the Colonists, especially the Puritans, should cherish much real affection for a country that had persecuted them and driven them away. They felt that not so much Old England as New England was their home, in which new sentiments had been born, and new aspirations had been cultivated. It was very seldom that a colonist visited England at all, and except among the recent comers their English relatives were for the most part unknown. Loyalty to the king was gradually supplanted by devotion to the institutions which they had adopted, or themselves created. In a certain sense they admitted that they were still subject to Great Britain, but one hundred and fifty years of self-government had nearly destroyed this feeling of allegiance, especially when they were aroused to deny the right of the English government to tax them without their own consent.
With the denial of the right of taxation by England naturally came resistance.
The first line of opposition arose under a new attempt of England to enforce the Sugar Act, which was passed to prevent the American importation of sugar and molasses from the West Indies, in exchange for lumber and agricultural products. It had been suffered to fall into abeyance; but suddenly in 1761 the government issued Writs of Assistance or search-warrants, authorizing customs officers to enter private stores and dwellings to find imported goods, not necessarily known but when even suspected to be there. This was first brought to bear in Massachusetts, where the Colonists spiritedly refused to submit, and took the matter into the courts. James Otis, a young Boston lawyer, was advocate for the Admiralty, but, resigning his commission, he appeared on behalf of the people, and his fiery eloquence aroused the Colonists to a high pitch of revolutionary resolve. John Adams, who heard the speech, declared, "Then and there American independence was born." Independency however, was not yet in most men's minds, but the spirit of resistance to arbitrary acts of the sovereign was unmistakably aroused. In 1763 a no less memorable contest arose in Virginia, when the king refused to sanction a law of the colonial legislature imposing a tax which the clergy were unwilling to submit to. This too was tested in the courts, and a young lawyer named Patrick Henry defended so eloquently the right of Virginia to make her own laws in spite of the king, that his passionate oratory inflamed all that colony with the same "treasonable" spirit.
But the centre of resistance was in Boston, where in 1765 the people were incited to enthusiasm by the eloquence of James Otis and Samuel Adams, in reference to still another restrictive tax, the Stamp Act, which could not be enforced, except by overwhelming military forces, and was wisely repealed by Parliament. This was followed by the imposition of duties on wine, oil, fruits, glass, paper, lead, colors and especially tea, an indirect taxation, but equally obnoxious; increasing popular excitement, the sending of troops, collision between the soldiers and the people in 1770, and in 1773 the rebellious act of the famous "Tea Party," when citizens in the guise of Indians emptied the chests of tea on board merchantmen into Boston harbor. Soon after, the Boston Port Bill was passed, which shut up American commerce and created immense irritation. Then were sent to the rebellious city regiments of British troops to enforce the acts of Parliament; and finally the troops were, at the people's expense, quartered in the town, which was treated as a conquered city.
In view of these disturbances and hostile acts, the first Continental Congress of the different colonies met in Philadelphia, September, 1774, and issued a petition to the king, an address to the people of Great Britain, and an address to the Colonies, thus making a last effort for conciliation. The British Government, obstinately refusing to listen to its own wisest counsellors, replied with restraining acts, forbidding participation in the fisheries and other remunerative sea-work. Moreover, it declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion; in consequence of which the whole province prepared for war. At the same time the colonial legislatures promptly approved and agreed to sustain the acts of the Continental Congress. Nor did they neglect to appoint committees of safety for calling out minute men and committees of supplies for arming and provisioning them. General Gage, the British military commander in Massachusetts, attempted to destroy the collection of ammunition and stores at Concord, and in consequence, on April 19, 1775, the battle of Lexington was fought, followed in June by that of Bunker Hill.
Thus began the American Revolution, which ended in the independence of the thirteen Colonies and their federal union as States under a common constitution.
As the empire of the Union expanded, as power grew, as opportunities increased, so did obstructions arise and complications multiply. But what I have called "the American idea"—which I conceive to be Liberty under Law—has proved equal to all emergencies. The marvellous success with which American institutions have provided for the development of the Anglo-Saxon idea of individual independence, without endangering the common weal and rule, has been largely due to the arising of great and wise administrators of the public will.
It is to a consideration of some of the chief of these notable men who have guided the fortunes of the American people from the Revolutionary period to the close of the Civil War, that I invite the attention of the reader in the next two volumes. Those who have not materially modified the condition of public affairs I omit to discuss at large, eminent as have been their talents and services. Consequently I pass by the administrations of all the presidents since Jefferson, except those of Jackson and Lincoln, the former having made a new departure in national policy, and the latter having brought to a conclusion a great war. I consider that Franklin, Hamilton, Clay, Webster, and Calhoun did more than any of the presidents, except those I have mentioned, to affect the destinies of the country, and therefore I could not omit them.
There will necessarily be some repetitions of fact in discussing the relations of different men to the same group of events, but this has been so far as possible avoided. And since my aim is the portrayal of character and influence, rather than the narration of historical annals, I have omitted vast numbers of interesting details, selecting only those of salient and vital importance.
At the commencement of the Revolutionary War, the most prominent and influential man in the colonies was perhaps Benjamin Franklin, then sixty-nine years of age. Certainly it cannot be doubted that he was one of the most illustrious founders of the American Republic. Among the great statesmen of the period, his fame is second only to that of Washington.
I will not dwell on his early life, since that part of his history is better known than that of any other of our great men, from the charming autobiography which he began to write but never cared to finish. He was born in Boston, January 17, 1706, the youngest but two of seventeen children. His father was a narrow-minded English Puritan, but respectable and conscientious,—a tallow-chandler by trade; and his ancestors for several generations had been blacksmiths in the little village of Ecton in Northamptonshire, England. He was a precocious boy, not over-promising from a moral and religious point of view, but inordinately fond of reading such books as were accessible, especially those of a sceptical character. He had no sympathy with the theological doctrines then in vogue in his native town. At eight years of age he was sent to a grammar school, and at ten he was taken from it to assist his father in soap-boiling; but, showing a repugnance to this sort of business, he was apprenticed to his brother James at the age of twelve, to learn the art, or trade, of a printer. At fifteen we find him writing anonymously, for his brother's newspaper which had just been started, an article which gave offence to the provincial government, and led to a quarrel with his brother, who, it seems, was harsh and tyrannical.
Boston at this time was a flourishing town of probably about ten thousand or twelve thousand people, governed practically by the Calvinistic ministers, and composed chiefly of merchants, fishermen, and ship-carpenters, yet all tolerably versed in the rudiments of education and in theological speculations. The young Benjamin, having no liking for the opinions, manners, and customs of this strait-laced town, or for his cold and overbearing brother, concluded in his seventeenth year to run away from his apprenticeship. He found himself in a few days in New York, without money, or friends, or employment. The printers' trade was not so flourishing in the Dutch capital as in the Yankee one he had left, and he wandered on to Philadelphia, the largest town in the colonies, whose inhabitants were chiefly Quakers,—thrifty, prosperous, tolerant, and kind-hearted. Fortunately, there were several printing-presses in this settlement; and after a while, through the kindness of a stranger,—who took an interest in him and pitied his forlorn condition, wandering up and down Market Street, poorly dressed, and with a halfpenny roll in his hand, or who was attracted by his bright and honest face, frank manners, and expressive utterances,—Franklin got work, with small wages. His industry and ability soon enabled him to make a better appearance, and attract friends by his uncommon social qualities.
It does not appear that Franklin was particularly frugal as a young man. He spent his money lavishly in convivial entertainments, of which he was the life, among his humble companions, a favorite not only with them, but with all the girls whose acquaintance he made. So remarkable was he for wit, good nature, and intelligence that at the age of eighteen he attracted the notice of the governor of the province, who promised to set him up in business, and encouraged him to go England to purchase types and a printing-press. But before he sailed, having earned money enough to buy a fine suit of clothes and a watch, he visited his old home, and paraded his success with indiscreet ostentation, much to the disgust of his brother to whom he had been apprenticed.
On the young man's return to Philadelphia, the governor, Sir William Keith, gave him letters to some influential people in England, with promises of pecuniary aid, which, however, he never kept; so that when Franklin arrived in London he found himself without money or friends. But he was not discouraged. He soon found employment as a printer and retrieved his fortunes, leading a gay life, and spending his money, as fast as he earned it, at theatres and in social enjoyments with boon companions of doubtful respectability. Disgusted with London, or disappointed in his expectations, he returned to Philadelphia in 1726 as a mercantile clerk for a Mr. Durham, who shortly after died; and Franklin resumed his old employment with his former employer, Keimer, the printer.
On his long voyage home he had had time for reflection, and resolved to turn over a new leaf, and become more frugal and respectable. He would not give up his social pleasures, but would stick to his business, and employ his leisure time in profitable reading. This, Mr. Parton calls his "regeneration." Others might view it as the completion of "sowing his wild oats." He certainly made himself very useful to the old visionary Keimer, who printed banknotes for New Jersey, by making improvements on the copper plate; but he soon left this employment and set up for himself, in partnership with another young man.
The young printers started fairly, and hired the lower part of a house in Market Street, most of which they sublet. Their first job brought them but five shillings. Soon after, they were employed to print a voluminous history of the Quakers, at a very small profit; but the work was so well done that it led to a great increase of business.
The idea then occurred to Franklin to print a newspaper, there being but one in the colony, and that miserably dull. His old employer Keimer, hearing of his purpose accidentally, stole the march on him, and started a newspaper on his own account, but was soon obliged to sell out to Franklin and Meredith, not being able to manage the undertaking. "The Pennsylvania Gazette" proved a great success, and was remarkable for its brilliant and original articles, which brought the editor, then but twenty-three years old, into immediate notice. He had become frugal and industrious, but had not as yet renounced his hilarious habits, and could scarcely be called moral, for about this time a son was born to him of a woman whose name was never publicly known. This son was educated by Franklin, and became in later years the royal governor of New Jersey.
Franklin was unfortunate in his business partner, who fell into drinking habits, so that he was obliged to dissolve the partnership. In connection with his printing-office, he opened a small stationer's-shop, and sold blanks, paper, ink, and pedler's wares. His business increased so much that he took an apprentice, and hired a journeyman from London. He now gave up fishing and shooting, and convivial habits, and devoted himself to money-making; but not exclusively, since at this time he organized a club of twelve members, called the "Junto,"—a sort of debating and reading society. This club contrived to purchase about fifty books, which were lent round, and formed the nucleus of a circulating library, which grew into the famous Franklin Library, one of the prominent institutions of Philadelphia. In 1730, at the age of twenty-four, he married Deborah Reid, a pretty, kind-hearted, and frugal woman, with whom he lived happily for forty-four years. She was a true helpmeet, who stitched his pamphlets, folded his newspapers, waited on customers at the shop, and nursed and tended his illegitimate child.
After his marriage Franklin gave up what bad habits he had acquired, though he never lost his enjoyment of society. He was what used to be called "a good liver," and took but little exercise, thus laying the foundation for gout, a disease which tormented him in the decline of life. He also somewhat amended his religious creed, and avowed his belief in a superintending Providence and his own moral accountability to God, discharging conscientiously the duties to be logically deduced from these beliefs,—submission to the Divine will, and kindly acts to his neighbors. He was benevolent, sincere, and just in his dealings, abhorring deceit, flattery, falsehood, injustice, and all dishonesty.
From this time Franklin rapidly gained in public esteem for his integrity, his sagacity, and his unrivalled good sense. His humor, wit, and conversational ability caused his society to be universally sought. He was a good judge of books for his infant library, and he took a great interest in everything connected with education. He was the life of his literary club, and made reading fashionable among the Quakers, who composed the leading citizens of the town,—a people tolerant but narrow, frugal but appreciative of things good to eat, kind-hearted but not remarkable for generosity, except to the poor of their own denomination, law-abiding but not progressive, modest and unassuming but conscious and conceited, as most self-educated people are. It is a wonder that a self-educated man like Franklin was so broad and liberal in all his views,—an impersonation of good nature and catholicity, ever open to new convictions, and respectful of opinions he did not share, provoking mirth and jollity, yet never disturbing the placidity of a social gathering by irritating sarcasm.
Franklin's newspaper gave him prodigious influence, both social and political, in the infancy of journalism. It was universally admitted to be the best in the country. Its circulation rapidly increased, and it was well managed financially. James Parton tells us that Franklin "originated the modern system of business advertising." His essays, or articles, as we now call them, had great point, vivacity, and wit, and soon became famous; they thus prepared the way for his almanac,—originally entitled "Richard Saunders," and selling for five-pence. The sayings of "Poor Richard" in this little publication combined more wisdom and good sense in a brief compass than any other book published in America during the eighteenth century. It reached the firesides of almost every hamlet in the colonies. The New England divines thought them deficient in spirituality, rather worldly in their form, and useful only in helping people to get on in their daily pursuits. But the eighteenth century was not a spiritual age, in comparison with the age which preceded it, either in Europe or America. The acute and exhaustive treatises of the seventeenth century on God, on "fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute," on the foundation of morals, on consciousness as a guide in metaphysical speculation, had lost much of their prestige, if Jonathan Edwards' immortal deductions may be considered an exception. Prosperity and wars and adventures had made men material, and political themes had more charm than theological discussion. Pascal had given place to Hobbes and Voltaire, and Hooker to Paley. In such a state of society, "Poor Richard," inculcating thrift and economy, in English as plain and lucid as that of Cobbett half-a-century later, had an immense popularity. For twenty-five years, it annually made its way into nearly every household in the land. Such a proverbial philosophy as "Honesty is the best policy," "Necessity never made a good bargain," "Fish and visitors smell in three days," "God heals, and the doctors take the fees," "Keep your eyes open before marriage, and half-shut afterwards," "To bear other people's afflictions, every one has courage enough and to spare,"—savored of a blended irony and cynicism exceedingly attractive to men of the world and wise old women, even in New England parishes, whatever Calvinistic ministers might say of the "higher life." The sale of the almanac was greater than that of the "Pilgrim's Progress," and the wealth of Franklin stood out in marked contrast with the poverty of Bunyan a century before.
The business enterprise of the gifted publisher at this time was a most noticeable thing. He began to import books from England and to print anything that had money in it,—from political tracts to popular poems, from the sermons of Wesley to the essays of Cicero. He made no mistakes as to the popular taste. He became rich because he was sagacious, and an oracle because he was rich as well as because he was wise. Everybody asked his advice, and his replies were alike courteous and witty, although sometimes ironical. "Friend Franklin," said a noted Quaker lawyer, "thou knowest everything,—canst thou tell me how I am to preserve my small beer in the back yard? for I find that my neighbors are tapping it for me." "Put a barrel of Madeira beside it," replied the sage.
In 1736 Franklin was elected clerk of the General Assembly,—a position which brought more business than honor or emolument. It secured his acquaintance with prominent men, many of whom became his friends; for it was one of his gifts to win hearts. It also made him acquainted with public affairs. Its chief advantage, however, was that it gave him the public printing. His appointment in 1737 as postmaster in Philadelphia served much the same purposes. With increase of business, the result of industry and good work, and of influence based on character, he was, when but thirty years old, one of the most prominent citizens of Philadelphia. His success as a business man was settled. He had the best printing jobs in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware. No one could compete with him successfully. He inspired confidence while he enlarged his friendships, to which he was never indifferent. Whatever he touched turned to gold. His almanac was a mine of wealth; the sermons he printed, and the school-books he manufactured, sold equally well. With constantly increasing prosperity, he kept a level head, and lived with simplicity over his shop,—most business men lived over their shops, in both England and America at that period. He got up early in the morning, worked nine or ten hours a day, spent his evenings in reading and study, and went to bed at ten, finding time to keep up his Latin, and to acquire French, Spanish, and Italian, to make social visits, and play chess, of which game he was extravagantly fond till he was eighty years old. His income, from business and investments, was not far from ten thousand dollars a year,—a large sum in those days, when there was not a millionaire in the whole country, except perhaps among the Virginia planters. Franklin was not ambitious to acquire a large fortune; he only desired a competency on which he might withdraw to the pursuit of higher ends than printing books. He had the profound conviction that great attainments in science or literature required easy and independent circumstances. It is indeed possible for genius to surmount any obstacles, but how few men have reached fame as philosophers or historians or even poets without leisure and freedom from pecuniary cares! I cannot recall a great history that has been written by a poor man in any age or country, unless he had a pension, or office of some kind, involving duties more or less nominal, which gave him both leisure and his daily bread,—like Hume as a librarian in Edinburgh, or Neander as a professor in Berlin.
Franklin, after twenty years of assiduous business and fortunate investments, was able to retire on an income of about four thousand dollars a year, which in those times was a comfortable independence anywhere. He retired with the universal respect of the community both as a business man and a man of culture. Thus far his career was not extraordinary, not differing much from that of thousands of others in the mercantile history of this country, or any other country. By industry, sagacity, and thrift he had simply surmounted the necessity of work, and had so improved his leisure hours by reading and study as to be on an intellectual equality with anybody in the most populous and wealthy city in the country. Had he died before 1747 his name probably would not have descended to our times. He would have had only a local reputation as a philanthropical, intelligent, and successful business man, a printer by trade, who could both write and talk well, but was not able to make a better speech on a public occasion than many others who had no pretension to fame.
But a new career was opened to Franklin with the attainment of leisure and independence,—the career of a scientific investigator. The subject which most interested him was electricity, just then exciting great interest in Europe. In 1746 he attended in Boston a lecture on electricity by Dr. Spence, of Scotland, which induced him to make experiments himself, the result of which was to demonstrate to his mind the identity of the electrical current with lightning. What the new, mysterious power was, of course he could not tell, nor could any one else. All he knew was that sparks, under certain conditions, were emitted from clothing, furs, amber, jet, glass, sealing-wax, and other substances when excited by friction, and that the power thus producing the electric sparks would repel and attract. That amber, when rubbed, possesses the property of attracting and repelling light bodies was known to Thales and Pliny, and subsequent philosophers discovered that other substances also were capable of electrical excitation. In process of time Otto Guericke added to these simple discoveries that of electric light, still further established by Isaac Newton, with his glass globe. A Dutch philosopher at Leyden, having observed that excited electrics soon lost their electricity in the open air, especially when the air was full of moisture, conceived the idea that the electricity of bodies might be retained by surrounding them with bodies which did not conduct it; and in 1745 the Leyden jar was invented, which led to the knowledge that the force of electricity could be extended through an indefinite circuit. The French savants conveyed the electric current through a circuit of twelve thousand feet.
It belonged to Franklin, however, to raise the knowledge of electricity to the dignity of a science. By a series of experiments, extending from 1747 to 1760, he established the fact that electricity is not created by friction, but merely collected from its state of diffusion through other matter to which it has been attracted. He showed further that all the phenomena produced by electricity had their counterparts in lightning. As it was obvious that thunder clouds contained an immense quantity of the electrical element, he devised a means to draw it from the clouds by rods erected on elevated buildings. As this was not sufficiently demonstrative he succeeded at length in drawing the lightning from the clouds by means of a kite and silken string, so as to ignite spirits and other combustible substances by an electric spark similar to those from a Leyden jar. To utilize his discovery of the identity of lightning with electricity he erected lightning-rods to protect buildings, that is, to convey the lightning from the overhanging clouds through conductors to the ground. The importance of these lightning-rods was doubtless exaggerated. It is now thought by high scientific authorities that tall trees around a house are safer conductors in a thunder storm than metallic rods; but his invention was universally prized most highly for more than one hundred years, and his various further experiments and researches raised his fame as a philosopher throughout Europe. His house was a museum of electrical apparatus, and he became the foremost electrician in the world. His essays on the subject were collected and printed abroad, and translated into several languages, and among the scientists and philosophers of Europe he was the best known American of his time; while at home both Harvard and Yale Colleges conferred on this self-educated printers-apprentice the degree of Master of Arts.
The inquiring mind of Franklin did not rest with experiments in the heavens. As a wealthy and independent citizen of Philadelphia he interested himself in all matters of public improvement. He founded a philosophical society to spread useful knowledge of all kinds. He laid the foundation of what is now the University of Pennsylvania, and secured a charter from George II.; but he had little sympathy with the teaching of dead languages, attaching much more importance to the knowledge of French and Spanish than of Latin and Greek. We see in all his public improvements the utilitarian spirit which has marked the genius of this country, but a spirit directed into philanthropic channels. Hence he secured funds to build a hospital, which has grown into one of the largest in the United States. He established the first fire company in Philadelphia, as well as the first fire insurance company; he induced the citizens of Philadelphia to pave and sweep their streets, which were almost impassable in rainy weather; he reorganized the night-watch of the town; he improved the street-lighting; he was the trustee of a society to aid German immigrants; he started a volunteer military organization for defence of the State against the Indians; he made a new fertilizer for the use of farmers; he invented the open "Franklin stove" to save heat and remedy the intolerable smoky chimneys which the large flues of the time made very common; he introduced into Pennsylvania the culture of the vine; in short, he was always on the alert to improve the material condition of the people. Nor did he neglect their intellectual improvement, inciting them to the formation of debating societies, and founding libraries. His intent, however, was avowedly utilitarian, to "supply the vulgar wants of mankind," which he placed above any form of spiritual philosophy,—inculcating always the worldly expediency of good character and the poor economy of vice. Herein he agreed with Macaulay's idea of progress as brought out in his essay on Lord Bacon. He never soared beyond this theory in his views of life and duty. The Puritanic idea of spiritual loftiness he never reached and never appreciated.
But it was not as a public-spirited citizen, nor as a successful man of business, nor even as a scientific investigator, that Franklin earned his permanent fame. In each of these respects he has been surpassed by men of whom little is known. These activities might have elevated him into notice and distinction, but would not have made him an immortal benefactor to his country. It was his services as a diplomatist and a political oracle, united with his patriotism and wisdom, that gave to him his extraordinary prominence in American history.
It should be remarked, however, that before his diplomatic career began, Franklin had become exceptionally familiar with the affairs of the Colonies. We have already noted his appointment as postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737. This experience led to his employment by the Postmaster-General of the Colonies in regulating the accounts of that widely extended department, and to Franklin's appointment in 1753 to the head of it, which greatly increased his specific knowledge of men and affairs throughout the whole land. Besides this, he had gained some political experience as a member of the provincial General Assembly, of which he had been clerk for twenty years, and thus was well acquainted with public men and measures. The Assembly consisted of only forty members, who were in constant antagonism with the governor, James Hamilton, whom the Penns, the Proprietaries of the province, had appointed to look after their interests. This official was a narrow-minded, intriguing Englishman, while the sons of William Penn themselves were selfish and grasping men, living in England, far distant from their possessions, and regarding themselves simply as English landlords of a vast estate. Under the royal charter granted by Charles II. to William Penn, his heirs exacted L30,000 yearly from the farmers as rent for their lands,—more than they could afford to pay. But when, in 1756, at the beginning of the Seven Years' War, French and Indian hostilities put the whole province in jeopardy, and it became necessary for the Provincial Legislature to tax the whole population for the common defence, the governor thought that the estates of the Proprietaries should be exempted from this just tax. Hence a collision between the legislature and the governor.
The Quakers themselves, in accordance with their peace principles, were opposed to any war tax, but Franklin induced the Assembly to raise sixty thousand pounds to support the war, then conducted by General Braddock, while he himself secured a large number of wagons for the use of the army across the wilderness.
Meanwhile the Assembly was involved in fresh disputes with the governor. Although the Assembly taxed the Proprietaries but a small proportion for the defence of their own possessions, the governor was unwilling to pay even this small amount; which so disgusted Franklin that he lost his usual placidity and poured out such a volley of angry remonstrances that the governor resigned. His successor fared no better with the angry legislature, and it became necessary to send some one to England to lay the grievances of the Colonists before the government, and to obtain relief from Parliament.
The fittest man for this business was Franklin, and he was sent as agent of the Province of Pennsylvania to London, the Assembly granting fifteen hundred pounds to pay his expenses, which, with his own private income, enabled him to live in good style in London and set up a carriage. He held no high diplomatic rank as yet, but was simply an accredited business agent of the Province, which position, however, secured to him an entrance into society to a limited extent, and many valuable acquaintances. The brothers Penn, with whom his business was chiefly concerned, were cold and haughty, and evaded the matter in dispute with miserable quibbles. Franklin then resolved to appeal to the Lords of Trade, who had the management of the American colonial affairs, and also to the King's Privy Council.
This was in 1757, when William Pitt was at the height of his power and fame, cold, reserved, proud, but intensely patriotic, before whom even George III. was ill at ease, while his associates in the Cabinet were simply his clerks, and servilely bent before his imperious will. To this great man Franklin had failed to gain access, not so much from the minister's disdain of the colonial agent, as from his engrossing cares and duties. He had no time, indeed, for anybody, not even the peers of the realm,—no time for pleasure or relaxation,—being devoted entirely to public interests of the greatest magnitude; for on his shoulders rested the government of the kingdom. What was the paltry dispute of a few hundred pounds in a distant colony to the Prime Minister of England! All that Franklin could secure was an interview with the great man's secretaries, and they did little to help him.
But the time of the active-minded American was not wasted. He wrote for the newspapers; he prosecuted his scientific inquiries; he became intimate with many eminent men, chiefly scientists,—members of the Royal Society like Priestley and Price, professors of political economy like Adam Smith, historians like Hume and Robertson, original thinkers like Burke, liberal-minded lawyers like Pratt. It does not seem that he knew Dr. Johnson, and probably he did not care to make the acquaintance of that overbearing Tory and literary dogmatist, who had little sympathy with American troubles. Indeed his political associates among the great were few, unless they were patrons of science, who appreciated his attainments in a field comparatively new. Among these men he seems to have been much respected, and his merits secured an honorary degree from St. Andrew's. His eminent social qualities favored his introduction into a society more cultivated than fashionable, and he was known as a scientific rather than a political celebrity.
His mission, then, was up-hill work. The Penns stood upon their prerogatives, and the Lords of the Committee for Plantations were unfriendly or dilatory. It was nearly three years before they gave their decision, and this was adverse to the Pennsylvania Assembly. The Privy Council, however, to whom the persistent agent appealed, composed of the great dignitaries of the realm, decided that the proprietary estates of the Penns should contribute their proportion of the public revenue. On this decision, Franklin, feeling that he had accomplished all that was possible, returned home in 1762, little more than a year after the accession of George III. Through the kindness of Lord Bute, the king's favorite, Franklin also secured the appointment of his son to the government of New Jersey. This appointment created some scandal, and the Penns rolled up their eyes, not at the nepotism of Franklin, but because he had procured the advancement of his illegitimate son.
Franklin, during his absence of more than five years, had been regularly re-elected a member of the Assembly, and he was received on his return with every possible public and private attention. He had hoped now for leisure to pursue his scientific investigations, and had accordingly taken a new and larger house. But before long new political troubles arose between the governor of Pennsylvania and the legislature, and what was still more ominous, troubles in New England respecting the taxation of the Colonies by the British government, at the head of which was Grenville, an able man but not far-sighted, who in March, 1764, announced his intention of introducing into Parliament the bill known as the Stamp Act.
To this famous bill there was not great opposition, since a large majority of the House of Commons believed in the right of taxing the Colonies. Lord Camden, a great lawyer, took different views. Burke and Pitt admitted the right of taxation, but thought its enforcement inexpedient, as likely to alienate the Colonies and make them enemies instead of loyal subjects.
At this crisis appeared in America a group of orators who at once aroused and intensified the prevailing discontents by their inflammatory speeches, in much the same manner that Wendell Phillips and Wm. Lloyd Garrison, seventy years later, aroused public sentiment in reference to slavery. James Otis, the lawyer from Barnstable on the shores of Cape Cod, who had opposed the Writs of Assistance, "led the van of these patriots,—an impassioned orator, incapable of cold calculation, now foaming with rage, and then desponding, not steadfast in conduct, yet by flashes of sagacity lighting the people along their perilous ways, combining legal learning with speculative opinion." He eloquently maintained that "there is no foundation for distinction between external and internal taxes; that the imposition of taxes in the Colonies whether on trade, on land, or houses, or floating property, is absolutely irreconcilable with the rights of the Colonists as British subjects or as men, and that Acts of Parliament against the fundamental principles of the British Constitution are void."