Standard Library Edition
JOHN T. MORSE, JR.
BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
The Riverside Press, Cambridge 1899
BY HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO.
All rights reserved.
The editor has often been asked: "Upon what principle have you constructed this series of lives of American statesmen?" The query has always been civil in form, while in substance it has often implied that the "principle," as to which inquiry is made, has been undiscoverable by the interrogator. Other queries, like pendants, have also come: Why have you not included A, or B, or C? The inference from these is that the querist conceives A, or B, or C to be statesmen certainly not less eminent than E, or F, or G, whose names he sees upon the list. Now there really has been a principle of selection; but it has not been a mathematical principle, whereby the several statesmen of the country have been brought to the measuring-pole, like horses, and those of a certain height have been accepted, and those not seeming to reach that height have been rejected. The principle has been to make such a list of men in public life that the aggregation of all their biographies would give, in this personal shape, the history and the picture of the growth and development of the United States from the beginning of that agitation which led to the Revolution until the completion of that solidarity which we believe has resulted from the civil war and the subsequent reconstruction.
In illustration, let me speak of a few volumes. Patrick Henry was hardly a great statesman; but, apart from the prestige and romance which his eloquence has thrown about his memory, he furnished the best opportunity for drawing a picture of the South in the period preceding the Revolution, and for showing why and how the southern colonies, among whom Virginia was easily the leader, became sharers in the strife.
Benton might possibly have been included upon his own merits. But if there were any doubt upon this point, or if including him would seem to have rendered it proper to include others equally eminent and yet omitted, the reply is that Benton serves the important purpose of giving the best available opportunity to sketch the character of the Southwest, and the political feeling and development in that section of the country.
In like manner, Cass was hardly a great statesman, although very active and prominent for a long period. But the Northwest—or what used to be the Northwest not so very long ago—comes out of the wilderness and into the domain of civilization in the life of Cass.
John Randolph, erratic and bizarre, was not justly entitled to rank among great statesmen. But the characteristics of Congress, as a body, can be brought into better relief in the narrative of his life than in that of any other person of his day. These characteristics were so striking, so essential to an understanding of the history of those times, and so utterly different from the habits and ways of our own era, that an opportunity to present them must have been forced if Randolph had not fortunately offered it.
These four volumes are mentioned by way of illustration of the plan of the series in some of its less obvious purposes. By the light of the suggestions thus afforded, readers will probably see for themselves the motives which have led to the presence of other volumes. But one further statement should be made. It has been the editor's intention to deal with the advancement of the country. When the people have moved steadily along any road, the men who have led them on that road have been selected as subjects. When the people have refused to enter upon a road, or, having entered, have soon turned back from it, the leaders upon such inchoate or abandoned excursions have for the most part been rejected. Those who have been exponents of ideas and principles which have entered into the progress and have developed in a positive way the history of the nation have been chosen; those who have unfortunately linked themselves with rejected ideas and principles have themselves also been rejected. Calhoun has been made an exception to this rule, for reasons so obvious that they need not be rehearsed.
A Series of Great Failures presents fine opportunities, which will some day attract some enterprising editor; but that is not the undertaking here in hand. If the men who guided and the men who failed to guide the movement and progress of the country were to stand side by side in this series its size would be increased by at least one third, but probably not so its value. Yet the failures have held out some temptations which it has been difficult to resist. For example, there was Governor Hutchinson, whose life has since been written by the same gentleman who in this series has admirably presented his great antagonist, Samuel Adams. There was much to be said in favor of setting the two portraits, done by the same hand, side by side. It must be remembered that the cause for the disaffected colonists is argued by the writers in this series in the old-fashioned way,—that is to say, upon the fundamental theory that Great Britain was foully wrong and her cis-Atlantic subjects nobly right. A life of Hutchinson would have furnished an opportunity for showing that, as an unmodified proposition, this is very far from being correct. The time has come when efforts to state the quarrel fairly for both parties are not altogether refused a hearing in the United States. Nevertheless the admission of Hutchinson for this purpose would have entailed too many consequences. The colonists did secede and did establish independence; their action and their success constitute the history of the country; and the leaders of their movement are the persons whose portraits are properly hung in this gallery. The obstructionists, leaders of the defeated party, who failed to control our national destiny, must find room elsewhere. In the same way, Stephen A. Douglas has been left outside the door. Able, distinguished, influential, it was yet his misfortune to represent ideas and policies which the people decisively condemned. Sufficient knowledge of these ideas and policies is obtained from the lives of those who opposed and triumphed over them. The history of non-success needs not the elaborate presentation of a biography of the defeated leader in a series of statesmen. The work of Douglas was discredited; it does not remain as an active surviving influence, or as an integral part amid our modern conditions. Andrew Johnson, also, furnished such an admirable opportunity for the discussion of the subject of reconstruction that some persons have thought that he should have found a place. But this was impossible unless he were absolutely necessary for this especial purpose; and fortunately he was not so, since the work could be done in the lives of Seward and Stevens and Sumner. Then, if one were willing to contribute to the immortality of a scoundrel, there was Aaron Burr; but large as was the part which he played for a while in American politics, and near as it came to being very much larger, the presence of his name would have been a degradation of the series. Moreover his career was strictly selfish and personal; he led no party, represented no idea, and left no permanent trace. There was also William H. Crawford, who narrowly missed being President, and who was a greater man than many of the Presidents; but he did miss, and he died, and there was an end of him. There was Buchanan also; intellectually he had the making of a statesman; but his wrong-headed blundering is sufficiently depicted for the purposes of this series by the lives of those who foiled him.
These names, again, are mentioned only as indications of the scheme, as explaining some exclusions. There are other exclusions, which have been made, not because the individuals were not men of note, but because it seemed that the story of their lives would fill no hiatus among the volumes of the completed series.
The editor cannot expect every one to agree with him in the selection which he has made. We all have our favorites in past history as well as in modern politics, and few lists would precisely duplicate each other. So the only thing which would seriously afflict the editor with a sense of having made a bad blunder would be, if some one should detect a really gaping chasm, a neglect to treat somewhere among the lives some important item of our national history falling within the period which the series is designed to cover.
The whole series naturally shapes itself, in a somewhat crude and rough way to be sure, yet by virtue of substantial lines of division, into a few sub-series or groups. The first of these belongs to the Revolutionary period, what may be called the destructive period, since it witnessed the destruction of the long-established political conditions. In this group we find the leaders of the disaffection and revolt: Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, and George Washington. Washington, of course, might properly find a place also in the second group; but for the purposes of separation he is by preference placed in the first one, because the Revolution was to so great an extent his own personal achievement, his transcendent and crowning glory.
The second group, constituting the constructive period, comprises the men who were foremost in framing the Constitution, and in organizing and giving coherence and life to the new government and to the nationality thereby created. This is introduced by John Adams. He, like Washington, might properly find a place in both the first and the second groups, but the distinction of the presidential office brings him with sufficient propriety into the second. The others in this group are Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, John Jay, and John Marshall.
The third group follows the overthrow of Federalism with its theory of a strongly centralized government. This, of course, begins with Thomas Jefferson, who led and organized the new party of the democracy. He is followed by his political disciple, James Madison; by their secretary of the treasury, Albert Gallatin; and by James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and John Randolph. The two last named are hardly to be called Jeffersonians, but they mark the passage of the nation from the statesmanship of Jefferson to the widely different democracy of Jackson.
The fourth group witnesses the absorption of the nation in questions of domestic policy. The crude and rough domination of Andrew Jackson opened a new order of things. Men's minds were busied with affairs at home, at first more especially with the tariff, then more and more exclusively with slavery. This group, besides Jackson, includes Martin Van Buren, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, Thomas H. Benton, and Lewis Cass.
The fifth and closing group is that of the civil war. This of course opens with Abraham Lincoln. The others are William H. Seward, as being a sort of prime minister throughout the period; Salmon P. Chase, in whose life can properly be discussed the financial policy and the principal legal matters; Charles Francis Adams, embodying the important topic of diplomatic relations; Charles Sumner, representing the advanced abolitionist element; and Thaddeus Stevens, who appears as a tribune, perhaps we may say the leader, in the popular branch of Congress.
Almost inevitably the series begins with Benjamin Franklin, the first great American, the first man born on this side of the water who was "meant for the universe." His mere existence was a sort of omen. It was absurd to suppose that a people which could produce a man of that scope, in character and intellect, could long remain in a condition of political dependence. It would have been preposterous to have had Franklin die a colonist, and go down to posterity, not as an American, but as a colonial Englishman. He was a microcosm of the coming nation of the United States; all the better moral and intellectual qualities of our people existed in him, save only the dreamy philosophy of the famous New England school of thinkers. It is very interesting to see how slowly and reluctantly, yet how surely and decisively, he came to the point of resistance and independence. He was not like so many, who were unstable and shifting. There was no backward step, though there were many painful and unwilling forward ones in his progress. One feels almost as if an apology were needed for writing another life of a man so be-written. Yet there is some reason for doing so; the chapter concerning his services in France during the Revolution presents the true facts and the magnitude of his usefulness more carefully than, so far as I am aware, it has previously been done.
As a promoter of the Revolution, Samuel Adams has easily the most conspicuous place. He was an agitator to the very centre of his marrow. He was the incarnation of New England; to know thoroughly his career is to know the Massachusetts of that day as an anatomist knows the human frame. The man of the town meeting did more to kindle the Revolution than any other one person. Many stood with him, but his life tells the story and presents the picture. The like service is done for Virginia by Patrick Henry; and the contrast between the two men is most striking and picturesque, yet not more so than the difference between the two sections of the country to which they respectively belonged.
If John Adams had died before he was made President, he also would have been one of this group. But the lustre of his official position prevents our placing him in the earlier constellation. Yet, though not more prominent than many others, in fact hardly to be called prominent at all in the events which led up to the Revolution, he became a leader in the first Congress, and it is probable that no one contributed more than he did—possibly no one contributed so much—towards forcing the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
Washington, though a member of Congress, was by no means conspicuous in the agitation which preceded the actual outbreak of hostilities. His entry in his uniform among his civilian comrades was indeed dramatic; but his important public career really began with his acceptance of the position of commander in chief. In this capacity he achieved the overthrow of the British supremacy, and brought to a successful close the period of destruction.
This first group is a small one, for the first Congress brought no new men to the front. Indeed, that body lost its own prestige very soon after independence was declared; thereafter it was no stage on which new men could win distinction, or men already famous could add to their store; indeed, members were lucky if they escaped without diminution of their reputations, by very reason of being parts of so nerveless and useless a body. The fact is, that the civilians, after they had set the ball going, did little more. They contributed almost nothing to the Revolution in any practical way during its actual progress. Perhaps they could not; but certainly they did not. Washington and his officers and soldiers deserve all the credit for making independence a reality instead of an assertion. They were not very strenuously or generously backed by the mass of the people after the first fervor was over. The truth is that that grand event was the work of a small body of heroes, who presented freedom and nationality to the people of the thirteen colonies. John Adams and Congress said that the colonists were free, and there left the matter, functi officio. Washington and the troops took up the business, and actually made colonists into freemen. Those upon whom this dignity and advantage were conferred were, for the most part, content somewhat supinely to allow the new condition to be established for them.
JOHN T. MORSE, JR.
I. EARLY YEARS 1
II. A CITIZEN OF PHILADELPHIA: CONCERNMENT IN PUBLIC AFFAIRS 17
III. REPRESENTATIVE OF PENNSYLVANIA IN ENGLAND: RETURN HOME 59
IV. LIFE IN PHILADELPHIA 86
V. SECOND MISSION TO ENGLAND: I. 100
VI. SECOND MISSION TO ENGLAND: II. 142
VII. SECOND MISSION TO ENGLAND: III. THE HUTCHINSON LETTERS: THE PRIVY COUNCIL SCENE: RETURN HOME 177
VIII. SERVICES IN THE STATES 204
IX. MINISTER TO FRANCE: I. DEANE AND BEAUMARCHAIS: FOREIGN OFFICERS 220
X. MINISTER TO FRANCE: II. PRISONERS: TROUBLE WITH LEE AND OTHERS 248
XI. MINISTER TO FRANCE: III. TREATY WITH FRANCE: MORE QUARRELS 267
XII. FINANCIERING 304
XIII. HABITS OF LIFE AND OF BUSINESS: AN ADAMS INCIDENT 337
XIV. PEACE NEGOTIATIONS: LAST YEARS IN FRANCE 357
XV. AT HOME: PRESIDENT OF PENNSYLVANIA: THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION: DEATH 403
From the original by Jean Baptiste Greuze, in the Boston Public Library. It was painted for Benjamin Franklin as a gift to Richard Oswald, the English commissioner associated with him in the peace negotiations of 1782. Gardner Brewer of Boston bought the painting in 1872 and presented it to the Library.
Autograph from the Declaration of Independence.
The vignette of Independence Hall is after a drawing in the possession of the American Bank Note Co., Philadelphia.
From the frontispiece to Doniol, "Histoire de la Participation de la France a l'Establissement des Etats-Unis d'Amerique," Paris, 1886, 5 vols., 4to. vol. i.; an engraving by Vangelisti, from the original painting by Antoine Francois Callet.
Autograph from same book.
LORD HILLSBOROUGH (Born Wills Hill; afterwards Marquis of Downshire)
From a painting by J. Rising, owned by Lord Salisbury.
Autograph from MS. collection in the New York Public Library, Lenox Building.
From the original portrait by C. W. Peale in Independence Hall.
Autograph from MS. collection in Library of Boston Athenaeum.
SEA-FIGHT BETWEEN THE SERAPIS AND BON HOMME RICHARD
Off Flamborough Head, September 3, 1779. Paul
Jones's ship, in compliment to the author of "Poor Richard's Maxims," was named "Bon Homme Richard." Captain Pearson, who commanded the Serapis, was knighted for his heroic resistance. Paul Jones, tradition says, on hearing of the honor conferred on Pearson, good-naturedly observed, "If I ever meet him again, I'll make a lord of him."
It is a lamentable matter for any writer to find himself compelled to sketch, however briefly, the early years of Benjamin Franklin. That autobiography, in which the story of those years is so inimitably told, by its vividness, its simplicity, even by its straightforward vanity, and by the quaint charm of its old-fashioned but well-nigh faultless style, stands among the few masterpieces of English prose. It ought to have served for the perpetual protection of its subject as a copyright more sacred than any which rests upon mere statutory law. Such, however, has not been the case, and the narrative has been rehearsed over and over again till the American who is not familiar with it is indeed a curiosity. Yet no one of the subsequent narrators has justified his undertaking. Therefore because the tale has been told so often, and once has been told so well, and also in order that the stone which it is my lot to cast upon a cairn made up of so many failures may at least be only a small pebble, I shall get forward as speedily as possible to that point in Franklin's career where his important public services begin, at the same time commending every reader to turn again for further refreshment of his knowledge to those pages which might well have aroused the envy of Fielding and Defoe.
Franklin came from typical English stock. For three hundred years, perhaps for many centuries more, his ancestors lived on a small freehold at Ecton in Northamptonshire, and so far back as record or tradition ran the eldest son in each generation had been bred a blacksmith. But after the strange British fashion there was intertwined with this singular fixedness of ideas a stubborn independence in thinking, courageously exercised in times of peril. The Franklins were among the early Protestants, and held their faith unshaken by the terrors of the reign of Bloody Mary. By the end of Charles the Second's time they were non-conformists and attendants on conventicles; and about 1682 Josiah Franklin, seeking the peaceful exercise of his creed, migrated to Boston, Massachusetts. His first wife bore him seven children, and died. Not satisfied, he took in second nuptials Abiah Folger, "daughter of Peter Folger, one of the first settlers of New England, of whom honorable mention is made by Cotton Mather," and justly, since in those dark days he was an active philanthropist towards the Indians, and an opponent of religious persecution. This lady outdid her predecessor, contributing no less than ten children to expand the family circle. The eighth of this second brood was named Benjamin, in memory of his father's favorite brother. He was born in a house on Milk Street, opposite the Old South Church, January 6, old style, 17, new style, 1706. Mr. Parton says that probably Benjamin "derived from his mother the fashion of his body and the cast of his countenance. There are lineal descendants of Peter Folger who strikingly resemble Franklin in these particulars; one of whom, a banker of New Orleans, looks like a portrait of Dr. Franklin stepped out of its frame." A more important inheritance was that of the humane and liberal traits of his mother's father.
[Note 1: Parton's Life of Franklin, i. 27.]
[Note 2: Ibid. i. 31.]
In that young, scrambling village in the new country, where all material, human or otherwise, was roughly and promptly utilized, the unproductive period of boyhood was cut very short. Franklin's father speedily resolved to devote him, "as the tithe of his sons, to the service of the church," and so sent him to the grammar school. A droller misfit than Franklin in an orthodox New England pulpit of that era can hardly be imagined; but since he was only seven years old when his father endeavored to arrange his life's career, a misappreciation of his fitnesses was not surprising. The boy himself had the natural hankering of children bred in a seaboard town for the life of a sailor. It is amusing to fancy the discussions between this babe of seven years and his father, concerning his occupation in life. Certainly the babe had not altogether the worst of it, for when he was eight years old his father definitively gave up the notion of making him a preacher of the Gospel. At the ripe age of ten he was taken from school, and set to assist his father in the trade of tallow-chandler and soap-boiler. But dipping wicks and pouring grease pleased him hardly better than reconciling infant damnation and a red-hot hell with the loveliness of Christianity. The lad remained discontented. His chief taste seemed to be for reading, and great were the ingenuity and the self-sacrifice whereby he secured books and leisure to read them. The resultant of these several forces was at last a suggestion from his father that he should take up, as a sort of quasi-literary occupation, the trade of a printer. James Franklin, an older brother of Benjamin, was already of that calling. Benjamin stood out for some time, but at last reluctantly yielded, and in the maturity of his thirteenth year this child set his hand to an indenture of apprenticeship which formally bound him to his brother for the next nine years of his life.
Handling the types aroused a boyish ambition to see himself in print. He scribbled some ballads, one about a shipwreck, another about the capture of a pirate; but he "escaped being a poet," as fortunately as he had escaped being a clergyman. James Franklin seems to have trained his junior with such fraternal cuffs and abuse as the elder brothers of English biography and literature appear usually to have bestowed on the younger. But this younger one got his revenges. James published the "New England Courant," and, inserting in it some objectionable matter, was forbidden to continue it. Thereupon he canceled the indenture of apprenticeship, and the newspaper was thereafter published by Benjamin Franklin. A secret renewal of the indenture was executed simultaneously. This "flimsy scheme" gave the boy his chance. Secure that the document would never be produced, he resolved to leave the printing-house. But the influence of James prevented his getting employment elsewhere in the town. Besides this, other matters also harassed him. It gives an idea of the scale of things in the little settlement, and of the serious way in which life was taken even at its outset, to hear that this 'prentice lad of seventeen years had already made himself "a little obnoxious to the governing party," so as to fear that he might soon "bring himself into scrapes." For the inherited habit of freedom in religious speculation had taken a new form in Franklin, who was already a free-thinker, and by his "indiscreet disputations about religion" had come to be "pointed at with horror by good people as an infidel and atheist"—compromising, even perilous, names to bear in that Puritan village. Various motives thus combined to induce migration. He stole away on board a sloop bound for New York, and after three days arrived there, in October, 1723. He had but a trifling sum of money, and he knew no one in the strange city. He sought occupation in his trade, but got nothing better than advice to move on to Philadelphia; and thither he went. The story of this journeying is delightfully told in the autobiography, with the famous little scene wherein he figures with a loaf under each arm and munching a third while he walks "up Market Street, as far as Fourth Street, passing by the door of Mr. Read, my future wife's father; when she, standing at the door, saw me, and thought I made, as I certainly did, a most awkward, ridiculous appearance."
In Philadelphia Franklin soon found opportunity to earn a living at his trade. There were then only two printers in that town, ignorant men both, with scant capacity in the technique of their calling. His greater acquirements and ability, and superior knowledge of the craft, soon attracted attention. One day Sir William Keith, governor of the province, appeared at the printing-office, inquired for Franklin, and carried him off "to taste some excellent Madeira" with himself and Colonel French, while employer Keimer, bewildered at the compliment to his journeyman, "star'd like a pig poison'd." Over the genial glasses the governor proposed that Franklin should set up for himself, and promised his own influence to secure for him the public printing. Later he wrote a letter, intended to induce Franklin's father to advance the necessary funds. Equipped with this document, Franklin set out, in April, 1724, to seek his father's cooeperation, and surprised his family by appearing unannounced among them, not at all in the classic garb of the prodigal son, but "having a genteel new suit from head to foot, a watch, and my pockets lin'd with near five pounds sterling in silver." But neither his prosperous appearance nor the flattering epistle of the great man could induce his hard-headed parent to favor a scheme "of setting a boy up in business, who wanted yet three years of being at man's estate." The independent old tallow-chandler only concluded that the distinguished baronet "must be of small discretion." So Franklin returned with "some small gifts as tokens" of parental love, much good advice as to "steady industry and prudent parsimony," but no cash in hand. The gallant governor, however, said: "Since he will not set you up, I will do it myself," and a plan was soon concocted whereby Franklin was to go to England and purchase a press and types with funds to be advanced by Sir William. Everything was arranged, only from day to day there was delay in the actual delivery to Franklin of the letters of introduction and credit. The governor was a very busy man. The day of sailing came, but the documents had not come, only a message from the governor that Franklin might feel easy at embarking, for that the papers should be sent on board at Newcastle, down the stream. Accordingly, at the last moment, a messenger came hurriedly on board and put the packet into the captain's hands. Afterward, when during the leisure hours of the voyage the letters were sorted, none was found for Franklin. His patron had simply broken an inconvenient promise. It was indeed a "pitiful trick" to "impose so grossly on a poor innocent boy." Yet Franklin, in his broad tolerance of all that is bad as well as good in human nature, spoke with good-tempered indifference, and with more of charity than of justice, concerning the deceiver. "It was a habit he had acquired. He wish'd to please everybody; and, having little to give, he gave expectations. He was otherwise an ingenious, sensible man, a pretty good writer, and a good governor for the people.... Several of our best laws were of his planning, and passed during his administration."
None the less it turned out that this contemptible governor did Franklin a good turn in sending him to London, though the benefit came in a fashion not anticipated by either. For Franklin, not yet much wiser than the generality of mankind, had to go through his period of youthful folly, and it was good fortune for him that the worst portion of this period fell within the eighteen months which he passed in England. Had this part of his career been run in Philadelphia its unsavory aroma might have kept him long in ill odor among his fellow townsmen, then little tolerant of profligacy. But the "errata" of a journeyman printer in London were quite beyond the ken of provincial gossips. He easily gained employment in his trade, at wages which left him a little surplus beyond his maintenance. This surplus, during most of the time, he and his comrades squandered in the pleasures of the town. Yet in one matter his good sense showed itself, for he kept clear of drink; indeed, his real nature asserted itself even at this time, to such a degree that we find him waging a temperance crusade in his printing-house, and actually weaning some of his fellow compositors from their dearly loved "beer." One of these, David Hall, afterward became his able partner in the printing business in Philadelphia. Amid much bad companionship he fell in with some clever men. His friend James Ralph, though a despicable, bad fellow, had brains and some education. At this time, too, Franklin was in the proselyting stage of infidelity. He published "A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain," and the pamphlet got him some little notoriety among the free-thinkers of London, and an introduction to some of them, but chiefly of the class who love to sit in taverns and blow clouds of words. Their society did him no good, and such effervescence was better blown off in London than in Philadelphia.
But after the novelty of London life had worn off, it ceased to be to Franklin's taste. He began to reform somewhat, to retrench and lay by a little money; and after eighteen months he eagerly seized an opportunity which offered for returning home. This was opened to him by a Mr. Denham, a good man and prosperous merchant, then engaged in England in purchasing stock for his store in Philadelphia. Franklin was to be his managing and confidential clerk, with the prospect of rapid advancement. At the same time Sir William Wyndham, ex-chancellor of the exchequer, endeavored to persuade Franklin to open a swimming school in London. He promised very aristocratic patronage; and as an opening for money-getting this plan was perhaps the better. Franklin almost closed with the proposition. He seems, however, to have had a little touch of homesickness, a preference, if not quite a yearning, for the colonies, which sufficed to turn the scale. Such was his third escape; he might have passed his days in instructing the scions of British nobility in the art of swimming! He arrived at home, after a tedious voyage, October 11, 1726. But almost immediately fortune seemed to cross him, for Mr. Denham and he were both taken suddenly ill. Denham died; Franklin narrowly evaded death, and fancied himself somewhat disappointed at his recovery, "regretting in some degree that [he] must now sometime or other have all that disagreeable work to go over again." He seems to have become sufficiently interested in what was likely to follow his decease, in this world at least, to compose an epitaph which has become world-renowned, and has been often imitated:—
THE BODY OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (LIKE THE COVER OF AN OLD BOOK, ITS CONTENTS TORN OUT, AND STRIPT OF ITS LETTERING AND GILDING,) LIES HERE, FOOD FOR WORMS, YET THE WORK ITSELF SHALL NOT BE LOST, FOR IT WILL, AS HE BELIEVED, APPEAR ONCE MORE, IN A NEW AND MORE BEAUTIFUL EDITION, CORRECTED AND AMENDED BY THE AUTHOR.
But there was no use for this graveyard literature; Franklin got well, and recurred again to his proper trade. Being expert with the composing-stick, he was readily engaged at good wages by his old employer, Keimer. Franklin, however, soon suspected that this man's purpose was only to use him temporarily for instructing some green hands, and for organizing the printing-office. Naturally a quarrel soon occurred. But Franklin had proved his capacity, and forthwith the father of one Meredith, a fellow journeyman under Keimer, advanced sufficient money to set up the two as partners in the printing business. Franklin managed the office, showing admirable enterprise, skill, and industry. Meredith drank. This allotment of functions soon produced its natural result. Two friends of Franklin lent him what capital he needed; he bought out Meredith and had the whole business for himself. His zeal increased; he won good friends, gave general satisfaction, and absorbed all the best business in the province.
At the time of the formation of the partnership the only newspaper of Pennsylvania was published by Bradford, a rival of Keimer in the printing business. It was "a paltry thing, wretchedly managed, no way entertaining, and yet was profitable to him." Franklin and Meredith resolved to start a competing sheet; but Keimer got wind of their plan, and at once "published proposals for printing one himself." He had got ahead of them, and they had to desist. But he was ignorant, shiftless, and incompetent, and after carrying on his enterprise for "three quarters of a year, with at most only ninety subscribers," he sold out his failure to Franklin and Meredith "for a trifle." To them, or rather to Franklin, "it prov'd in a few years extremely profitable." Its original name, "The Universal Instructor in all Arts and Sciences, and Pennsylvania Gazette," was reduced by the amputation of the first clause, and, relieved from the burden of its trailing title, it circulated actively throughout the province, and further. Number 40, Franklin's first number, appeared October 2, 1729. Bradford, who was postmaster, refused to allow his post-riders to carry any save his own newspaper. But Franklin, whose morality was nothing if not practical, fought the devil with fire, and bribed the riders so judiciously that his newspaper penetrated whithersoever they went. He says of it: "Our first papers made a quite different appearance from any before in the Province; a better type, and better printed; but some spirited remarks of my writing, on the dispute then going on between Governor Burnet and the Massachusetts Assembly, struck the principal people, occasioned the paper and the manager of it to be much talked of, and in a few weeks brought them all to be our subscribers." Later his articles in favor of the issue of a sum of paper currency were so largely instrumental in carrying that measure that the profitable job of printing the money became his reward. Thus advancing in prestige and prosperity, he was able to discharge by installments his indebtedness. "In order to secure," he says, "my credit and character as a tradesman, I took care to be not only in reality industrious and frugal, but to avoid all appearances to the contrary." A characteristic remark. With Franklin every virtue had its market value, and to neglect to get that value out of it was the part of folly.
About this time the wife of a glazier, who occupied part of Franklin's house, began match-making in behalf of a "very deserving" girl; and Franklin, nothing loath, responded with "serious courtship." He intimated his willingness to accept the maiden's hand, provided that its fellow hand held a dowry, and he named an hundred pounds sterling as his lowest figure. The parents, on the other part, said that they had not so much ready money. Franklin civilly suggested that they could get it by mortgaging their house; they firmly declined. The negotiation thereupon was abandoned. "This affair," Franklin continues, "having turned my thoughts to marriage, I look'd round me and made overtures of acquaintance in other places; but soon found that, the business of a printer being generally thought a poor one, I was not to expect money with a wife, unless with such a one as I should not otherwise think agreeable." Finding such difficulties in the way of a financial alliance, Franklin appears to have bethought him of affection as a substitute for dollars; so he blew into the ashes of an old flame, and aroused some heat. Before going to England he had engaged himself to Miss Deborah Read; but in London he had pretty well forgotten her, and had written to her only a single letter. Many years afterward, writing to Catharine Ray in 1755, he said: "The cords of love and friendship ... in times past have drawn me ... back from England to Philadelphia." If the remark referred to an affection for Miss Read, it was probably no more trustworthy than are most such allegations made when lapsing years have given a fictitious coloring to a remote past. If indeed Franklin's profligacy and his readiness to marry any girl financially eligible were symptoms attendant upon his being in love, it somewhat taxes the imagination to fancy how he would have conducted himself had he not been the victim of romantic passion. Miss Read, meanwhile, apparently about as much in love as her lover, had wedded another man, "one Rogers, a potter," a good workman but worthless fellow, who soon took flight from his bride and his creditors. Her position had since become somewhat questionable; for there was a story that her husband had an earlier wife living, in which case of course her marriage with him was null. There was also a story that he was dead. But there was little evidence of the truth of either tale. Franklin, therefore, hardly knew what he was wedding, a maid, a widow, or another man's wife. Moreover the runaway husband "had left many debts, which his successor might be call'd upon to pay." Few men, even if warmly enamored, would have entered into the matrimonial contract under circumstances so discouraging; and there are no indications save the marriage itself that Franklin was deeply in love. Yet on September 1, 1730, the pair were wedded. Mrs. Franklin survived for forty years thereafter, and neither seems ever to have regretted the step. "None of the inconveniences happened that we had apprehended," wrote Franklin; "she proved a good and faithful helpmate; assisted me much by attending the shop; we throve together, and have ever mutually endeavored to make each other happy." A sensible, comfortable, satisfactory union it was, showing how much better is sense than sensibility as an ingredient in matrimony. Mrs. Franklin was a handsome woman, of comely figure, yet nevertheless an industrious and frugal one; later on in life Franklin boasted that he had "been clothed from head to foot in linen of [his] wife's manufacture." An early contribution of his own to the domestic menage was his illegitimate son, William, born soon after his wedding, of a mother of whom no record or tradition remains. It was an unconventional wedding gift to bring home to a bride; but Mrs. Franklin, with a breadth and liberality of mind akin to her husband's, readily took the babe not only to her home but really to her heart, and reared him as if he had been her own offspring. Mr. Parton thinks that Franklin gave this excellent wife no further cause for suspicion or jealousy.
A CITIZEN OF PHILADELPHIA: CONCERNMENT IN PUBLIC AFFAIRS
So has ended the first stage, in the benign presence of Hymen. The period of youth may be regarded as over; but the narrative thereof, briefly as it has been given, is not satisfactory. One longs to help out the outline with color, to get the expression as well as merely the features of the young man who is going to become one of the greatest men of the nation. Many a writer and speaker has done what he could in this task, for Franklin has been for a century a chief idol of the American people. The Boston boy, the boy printer, the runaway apprentice, the young journeyman, friendless and penniless in distant London, are pictures which have been made familiar to many generations of schoolboys; and the trifling anecdote of the bread rolls eaten in the streets of Philadelphia has for its only rival among American historical traditions the more doubtful story about George Washington, the cherry-tree, and the little hatchet.
Yet, if plain truth is to be told, there was nothing unusual about this sunrise, no rare tints of divine augury; the luminary came up in every-day fashion. Franklin had done much reading; he had taken pains to cultivate a good style in writing English; he had practiced himself in dispute; he had adopted some odd notions, for example vegetarianism in diet; he had at times acquired some influence among his fellow journeymen, and had used it for good; he had occasionally fallen into the society of men of good social position; he had kept clear of the prevalent habit of excessive drinking; sometimes he had lived frugally and had laid up a little money; more often he had been wasteful; he had been very dissolute, and in sowing his wild oats he had gone down into the mud. His autobiography gives us a simple, vivid, strong picture, which we accept as correct, though in reading it one sees that the lapse of time since the occurrences narrated, together with his own success and distinction in life, have not been without their obvious effect. By the time he thought it worth while to write those pages, Franklin had been taught to think very well of himself and his career. For this reason he was, upon the one hand, somewhat indifferent as to setting down what smaller men would conceal, confident that his fame would not stagger beneath the burden of youthful wrong-doing; on the other hand, he deals rather gently, a little ideally, with himself, as old men are wont to acknowledge with condemnation tempered with mild forgiveness the foibles of their early days. It is evident that, as a young man, Franklin intermingled sense with folly, correct living with dissipation, in a manner that must have made it difficult for an observer to forecast the final outcome, and which makes it almost equally impossible now to form a satisfactory idea of him. He is not to be disposed of by placing him in any ready-made and familiar class. If he had turned out a bad man, there would have been abundance in his early life to point the moralist's warning tale; as he turned out a very reputable one, there is scarcely less abundance for panegyrists to expatiate upon. Certainly he was a man to attract some attention and to carry some weight, yet not more than many another of whom the world never hears. At the time of his marriage, however, he is upon the verge of development; a new period of his life is about to begin; what had been dangerous and evil in his ways disappears; the breadth, originality, and practical character of his mind are about to show themselves. He has settled to a steady occupation; he is industrious and thrifty; he has gathered much information, and may be regarded as a well-educated man; he writes a plain, forcible style; he has enterprise and shrewdness in matters of business, and good sense in all matters,—that is the chief point, his sound sense has got its full growth and vigor, and of sound sense no man ever had more. Very soon he not only prospers financially, but begins to secure at first that attention and soon afterward that influence which always follow close upon success in practical affairs. He becomes the public-spirited citizen; scheme after scheme of social and public improvement is suggested and carried forward by him, until he justly comes to be one of the foremost citizens of Philadelphia. The enumeration of what he did within a few years in this small new town and poor community will be found surprising and admirable.
His first enterprise, of a quasi public nature, was the establishment of a library. There were to be fifty subscribers for fifty years, each paying an entrance fee of forty shillings and an annual due of ten shillings. He succeeded only with difficulty and delay, yet he did succeed, and the results were important. Later a charter was obtained, and the number of subscribers was doubled. "This," he says, "was the mother of all the North American subscription libraries, now so numerous.... These libraries have improved the general conversation of the Americans, made the common traders and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the stand so generally made throughout the colonies in defense of their privileges." "Reading became fashionable," he adds. But it was not difficult to cultivate the desire for reading; that lay close to the surface. The boon which Franklin conferred lay rather in setting the example of a scheme by which books could be cheaply obtained in satisfactory abundance.
From the course of this business he drew one of those shrewd, practical conclusions which aided him so much in life. He says that he soon felt "the impropriety of presenting one's self as the proposer of any useful project that might be supposed to raise one's reputation in the smallest degree above that of one's neighbors, when one has need of their assistance to accomplish that project. I therefore put myself as much as I could out of sight, and stated it as a scheme of a number of friends, who had requested me to go about and propose it." This method he found so well suited to the production of results that he habitually followed it in his subsequent undertakings. It was sound policy; the self-abnegation helped success; the success secured personal prestige. It was soon observed that when "a number of friends" or "a few gentlemen" were represented by Franklin, their purpose was usually good and was pretty sure to be carried through. Hence came reputation and influence.
In December, 1732, he says, "I first published my Almanack, under the name of Richard Saunders," price five pence, thereby falling in with a common custom among the colonial printers. Within the month three editions were sold; and it was continued for twenty-five years thereafter with an average sale of 10,000 copies annually, until "Poor Richard" became a nom de plume as renowned as any in English literature. The publication ranks as one of the most influential in the world. Its "proverbial sentences, chiefly such as inculcated industry and frugality as the means of procuring wealth and thereby securing virtue," were sown like seed all over the land. The almanac went year after year, for quarter of a century, into the house of nearly every shopkeeper, planter, and farmer in the American provinces. Its wit and humor, its practical tone, its shrewd maxims, its worldly honesty, its morality of common sense, its useful information, all chimed well with the national character. It formulated in homely phrase and with droll illustration what the colonists more vaguely knew, felt, and believed upon a thousand points of life and conduct. In so doing it greatly trained and invigorated the natural mental traits of the people. "Poor Richard" was the revered and popular schoolmaster of a young nation during its period of tutelage. His teachings are among the powerful forces which have gone to shaping the habits of Americans. His terse and picturesque bits of the wisdom and the virtue of this world are familiar in our mouths to-day; they moulded our great-grandparents and their children; they have informed our popular traditions; they still influence our actions, guide our ways of thinking, and establish our points of view, with the constant control of acquired habits which we little suspect. If we were accustomed still to read the literature of the almanac, we should be charmed with its humor. The world has not yet grown away from it, nor ever will. Addison and Steele had more polish but vastly less humor than Franklin. "Poor Richard" has found eternal life by passing into the daily speech of the people, while the "Spectator" is fast being crowded out of the hands of all save scholars in literature. At this period of his life he wrote many short fugitive pieces, which hold some of the rarest wit that an American library contains. Few people suspect that the ten serious and grave-looking octavos, imprinted "The Works of Benjamin Franklin," hide much of that delightful kind of wit that can never grow old, but is as charming to-day as when it came damp from the press a century and more ago. How much of "Poor Richard" was actually original is a sifting not worth while to make. Franklin said: "I was conscious that not a tenth part of the wisdom was my own which he ascribed to me, but rather the gleanings that I had made of the sense of all ages and nations." No profound wisdom is really new, but only the expression of it; and all that of "Poor Richard" had been fused in the crucible of Franklin's brain.
But the famous almanac was not the only pulpit whence Franklin preached to the people. He had an excellent ideal of a newspaper. He got news into it, which was seldom done in those days, and which made it attractive; he got advertisements into it, which made it pay, and which also was a novel feature; indeed, Mr. Parton says that he "originated the modern system of business advertising;" he also discussed matters of public interest. Thus he anticipated the modern newspaper, but in some respects improved in advance upon that which he anticipated. He made his "Gazette" a vehicle for disseminating information and morality, and he carefully excluded from it "all libeling and personal abuse." The sheet in its every issue was doing the same sort of work as "Poor Richard." In a word, Franklin was a born teacher of men, and what he did in this way in these his earlier days gives him rank among the most distinguished moralists who have ever lived.
What kind of morality he taught is well known. It was human; he kept it free from entangling alliances with any religious creed; its foundations lay in common sense, not in faith. His own nature in this respect is easy to understand but difficult to describe, since the words which must be used convey such different ideas to different persons. Thus, to say that he had the religious temperament, though he was skeptical as to all the divine and supernatural dogmas of the religions of mankind, will seem to many a self-contradiction, while to others it is entirely intelligible. In his boyhood one gets a flavor of irreverence which was slow in disappearing. When yet a mere child he suggested to his father the convenience of saying grace over the whole barrel of salt fish, in bulk, as the mercantile phrase would be. By the time that he was sixteen, Shaftesbury and Collins, efficiently aided by the pious writers who had endeavored to refute them, had made him "a real doubter in many points of our religious doctrine;" and while he was still his brother's apprentice in Boston, he fell into disrepute as a skeptic. Apparently he gathered momentum in moving along this line of thought, until in England his disbelief took on for a time an extreme and objectionable form. His opinions then were "that nothing could possibly be wrong in the world; and that vice and virtue were empty distinctions, no such things existing." But the pamphlet, already mentioned, in which he expressed these views, was the outburst of a youthful free-thinker not yet accustomed to his new ideas; not many years passed over his head before it "appear'd not so clever a performance as [he] once thought it;" and in his autobiography he enumerates it among the "errata" of his life.
It was not so very long afterward that he busied himself in composing prayers, and even an entire litany, for his own use. No Christian could have found fault with the morals therein embodied; but Christ was entirely ignored. He even had the courage to draw up a new version of the Lord's Prayer; and he arranged a code of thirteen rules after the fashion of the Ten Commandments; of these the last one was: "Imitate Jesus and Socrates." Except during a short time just preceding and during his stay in London he seems never to have been an atheist; neither was he ever quite a Christian; but as between atheism and Christianity he was very much further removed from the former than from the latter. He used to call himself a deist, or theist; and said that a deist was as much like an atheist as chalk is like charcoal. The evidence is abundant that he settled down into a belief in a personal God, who was good, who concerned himself with the affairs of men, who was pleased with good acts and displeased with evil ones. He believed also in immortality and in rewards in a life to come. But he supported none of these beliefs upon the same basis on which Christians support them.
Unlike the infidel school of that day he had no antipathy even to the mythological portions of the Christian religion, no desire to discredit it, nor ambition to distinguish himself in a crusade against it. On the contrary, he was always resolute to live well with it. His mind was too broad, his habit of thought too tolerant, to admit of his antagonizing so good a system of morals because it was intertwined with articles of faith which he did not believe. He went to church frequently, and always paid his contribution towards the expenses of the society; but he kept his commendation only for those practical sermons which showed men how to become virtuous. In like manner the instruction which he himself inculcated was strictly confined to those virtues which promote the welfare and happiness of the individual and of society. In fact, he recognized none other; that which did not advance these ends was but a spurious pretender to the title of virtue.
One is tempted to make many quotations from Franklin's writings in this connection; but two or three must suffice. In 1743 he wrote to his sister:—
"There are some things in your New England doctrine and worship which I do not agree with; but I do not therefore condemn them, or desire to shake your belief or practice of them. We may dislike things that are nevertheless right in themselves. I would only have you make me the same allowance, and have a better opinion both of morality and your brother."
In 1756 he wrote to a friend:—
"He that for giving a draught of water to a thirsty person should expect to be paid with a good plantation, would be modest in his demands compared with those who think they deserve Heaven for the little good they do on earth.... For my own part, I have not the vanity to think I deserve it, the folly to expect it, nor the ambition to desire it; but content myself in submitting to the will and disposal of that God who made me, who hitherto has preserved and blessed me, and in whose fatherly goodness I may well confide....
"The faith you mention has doubtless its use in the world; I do not desire it to be diminished, nor would I endeavor to lessen it in any man. But I wish it were more productive of good works than I have generally seen it. I mean real good works,—works of kindness, charity, mercy, and public spirit; not holiday-keeping, sermon reading or hearing, performing church ceremonies, or making long prayers, filled with flatteries and compliments despised even by wise men and much less capable of pleasing the Deity. The worship of God is a duty, the hearing and reading of sermons may be useful; but if men rest in hearing and praying, as too many do, it is as if a tree should value itself in being watered and putting forth leaves, though it never produced any fruit."
Throughout his life he may be said to have very slowly moved nearer and nearer to the Christian faith, until at last he came so near that many of those somewhat nondescript persons who call themselves "liberal Christians" might claim him as one of themselves. But if a belief in the divinity of Christ is necessary to make a "Christian," it does not appear that Franklin ever fully had the qualification. When he was an old man, in 1790, President Stiles of Yale College took the freedom of interrogating him as to his religious faith. It was the first time that any one had ever thus ventured. His reply is interesting: "As to Jesus of Nazareth," he says, "I think his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw, or is like to see." But he thinks they have been corrupted. "I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequences, as probably it has, of making his doctrines more respected and more observed; especially as I do not see that the Supreme takes it amiss by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any peculiar marks of his displeasure." His God was substantially the God of Christianity; but concerning Christ he was generally reticent and non-committal.
[Note 3: Works, x. 192.]
Whatever were his own opinions, which undoubtedly underwent some changes during his life, as is the case with most of us, he never introduced Christianity, as a faith, into any of his moral writings. A broad human creature, with a marvelous knowledge of mankind, with a tolerance as far-reaching as his knowledge, with a kindly liking for all men and women; withal a prudent, shrewd, cool-headed observer in affairs, he was content to insist that goodness and wisdom were valuable, as means, towards good repute and well-being, as ends. He urges upon his nephew, about to start in business as a goldsmith, "perfect honesty;" and the reason he gives for his emphasis is, that the business is peculiarly liable to suspicion, and if a man is "once detected in the smallest fraud ... at once he is ruined." The character of his argument was always simple. He usually began with some such axiom as the desirability of success in one's enterprises, or of health, or of comfort, or of ease of mind, or a sufficiency of money; and then he showed that some virtue, or collection of virtues, would promote this result. He advocated honesty upon the same principle upon which he advocated that women should learn to keep accounts, or that one should hold one's self in the background in the presentation of an enterprise such as his public library; that is to say, his advocacy of a cardinal virtue, of acquiring a piece of knowledge, or of adopting a certain method of procedure in business, ran upon the same line, namely, the practical usefulness of the virtue, the knowledge, or the method, for increasing the probability of a practical success in worldly affairs. Among the articles inculcating morality which he used to put into his newspaper was a Socratic Dialogue, "tending to prove that whatever might be his parts and abilities, a vicious man could not properly be called a man of sense."
He was forever at this business; it was his nature to teach, to preach, to moralize. With creeds he had no concern, but took it as his function in life to instruct in what may be described as useful morals, the gospel of good sense, the excellence of common humanity. About the time in his career which we have now reached this tendency of his had an interesting development in its relationship to his own character. He "conceiv'd the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection." It is impossible to recite the details of his scheme, but the narration constitutes one of the most entertaining and characteristic parts of the autobiography. Such a plan could not long be confined in its operation to himself alone; the teacher must teach; accordingly he designed to write a book, to be called "The Art of Virtue," a title with which he was greatly pleased, as indicating that the book was to show "the means and manner of obtaining virtue" as contradistinguished from the "mere exhortation to be good, that does not instruct or indicate the means." A receipt book for virtues! Practical instructions for acquiring goodness! Nothing could have been more characteristic. One of his Busy-Body papers, February 18, 1728, begins with the statement that: "It is said that the Persians, in their ancient constitution, had public schools in which virtue was taught as a liberal art, or science;" and he goes on to laud the plan highly. Perhaps this was the origin of the idea which subsequently became such a favorite with him. It was his
"design to explain and enforce this doctrine: that vicious actions are not hurtful because they are forbidden, but forbidden because they are hurtful, the nature of man alone considered; that it was therefore every one's interest to be virtuous who wished to be happy even in this world; and I should ... have endeavored to convince young persons that no qualities were so likely to make a poor man's fortune as those of probity and integrity."
Long years afterward, in 1760, he wrote about it to Lord Kames:—
"Many people lead bad lives that would gladly lead good ones, but do not know how to make the change.... To expect people to be good, to be just, to be temperate, etc., without showing them how they should become so seems like the ineffectual charity mentioned by the apostle, which consists in saying to the hungry, the cold, and the naked, 'Be ye fed, be ye warmed, be ye clothed,' without showing them how they should get food, fire, or clothing.... To acquire those [virtues] that are wanting, and secure what we acquire, as well as those we have naturally, is the subject of an art. It is as properly an art as painting, navigation, or architecture. If a man would become a painter, navigator, or architect, it is not enough that he is advised to be one, that he is convinced by the arguments of his adviser that it would be for his advantage to be one, and that he resolves to be one; but he must also be taught the principles of the art, be shown all the methods of working, and how to acquire the habit of using properly all the instruments.... My 'Art of Virtue' has also its instruments, and teaches the manner of using them."
He was then full of zeal to give this instruction. A year later he said: "You will not doubt my being serious in the intention of finishing my 'Art of Virtue.' It is not a mere ideal work. I planned it first in 1732.... The materials have been growing ever since. The form only is now to be given." He even says that "experiments" had been made "with success;" one wonders how; but he gives no explanation. Apparently Franklin never definitely abandoned this pet design; one catches glimpses of it as still alive in his mind, until it seems to fade away in the dim obscurity of extreme old age. He said of it that it was only part of "a great and extensive project that required the whole man to execute," and his countrymen never allowed Franklin such uninterrupted possession of himself.
A matter more easy of accomplishment was the drawing up a creed which he thought to contain "the essentials of every known religion," and to be "free of everything that might shock the professors of any religion." He intended that this should serve as the basis of a sect, which should practice his rules for self-improvement. It was at first to consist of "young and single men only," and great caution was to be exercised in the admission of members. The association was to be called the "Society of the Free and Easy;" "free, as being, by the general practice and habit of the virtues, free from the dominion of vice; and particularly by the practice of industry and frugality free from debt, which exposes a man to confinement and a species of slavery to his creditors." It is hardly surprising to hear that this was one of the very few failures of Franklin's life. In 1788 he professed himself "still of the opinion that it was a practicable scheme." One hardly reads it without a smile nowadays, but it was not so out of keeping with the spirit and habits of those times. It indicates at least Franklin's appreciation of the power of fellowship, of association. No man knew better than he what stimulus comes from the sense of membership in a society, especially a secret society. He had a great fondness for organizing men into associations, and a singular aptitude for creating, conducting, and perpetuating such bodies. The Junto, a child of his active brain, became a power in local public affairs, though organized and conducted strictly as a "club of mutual improvement." He formed it among his "ingenious acquaintance" for the discussion of "queries on any point of morals, politics, or natural philosophy." He found his model, without doubt, in the "neighborhood benefit societies," established by Cotton Mather, during Franklin's boyhood, among the Boston churches, for mutual improvement among the members. In time there came a great pressure for an increase of the number of members; but Franklin astutely substituted a plan whereby each member was to form a subordinate club, similar to the original, but having no knowledge of its connection with the Junto. Thus sprang into being five or six more, "The Vine, The Union, The Band," etc., "answering, in some considerable degree, our views of influencing the public opinion upon particular occasions." When Franklin became interested in any matter, he had but to introduce it before the Junto for discussion; straightway each member who belonged to any one of the other societies brought it up in that society. Thus through so many active-minded and disputatious young men interest in the subject speedily percolated through a community of no greater size than Philadelphia. Franklin was the tap-root of the whole growth, and sent his ideas circulating throughout all the widespreading branches. He tells us that in fact he often used this efficient machinery to much advantage in carrying through his public and quasi public measures. Thus he anticipated more powerful mechanisms of the like kind, such as the Jacobin Club; and he himself, under encouraging circumstances, might have wielded an immense power as the creator and occult, inspiring influence of some great political society.
[Note 4: Parton's Life of Franklin, i. 47.]
Besides his didactic newspaper, his almanac even more didactic, the Junto, the subscription library, the Society of the Free and Easy, his system of religion and morals, and his scheme for acquiring all the virtues, Franklin was engaged in many other matters. He learned French, Italian, and Spanish; and in so doing evolved some notions which are now beginning to find their way into the system of teaching languages in our schools and colleges. In 1736 he was chosen clerk to the General Assembly, and continued to be reelected during the next fourteen years, until he was chosen a member of the legislature itself. In 1737 he was appointed postmaster of Philadelphia, an office which he found "of great advantage, for, tho' the salary was small, it facilitated the correspondence that improv'd my newspaper, increased the number demanded, as well as the advertisements to be inserted, so that it came to afford me a considerable income. My old competitor's newspaper declined proportionably, and I was satisfied without retaliating his refusal, while postmaster, to permit my papers being carried by the riders."
Soon afterward he conferred a signal benefit on his countrymen by inventing an "open stove for the better warming of rooms, and at the same time saving fuel,"—the Franklin stove, or, as he called it, "the Pennsylvania fireplace." Mr. Parton warmly describes it as the beginning of "the American stove system, one of the wonders of the industrial world." Franklin refused to take out a patent for it, "from a principle which has ever weighed with me on such occasions, viz.: That as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously." This lofty sentiment, wherein the philanthropist got the better of the man of business, overshot its mark; an ironmonger of London, who did not combine philosophy and philanthropy with his trade, made "some small changes in the machine, which rather hurt its operation, got a patent for it there, and made a little fortune by it."
A little later Franklin founded a philosophical society, not intended to devote its energies to abstractions, but rather to a study of nature, and the spread of new discoveries and useful knowledge in practical affairs, especially in the way of farming and agriculture. Franklin always had a fancy for agriculture, and conferred many a boon upon the tillers of the soil. A good story, which may be true, tells how he showed the fertilizing capacity of plaster of Paris. In a field by the roadside he wrote, with plaster, THIS HAS BEEN PLASTERED; and soon the brilliant green of the letters carried the lesson to every passer-by.
In 1743 Franklin broached the idea of an academy; but the time had not quite come when the purse-strings of well-to-do Pennsylvanians could be loosened for this purpose, and he had no success. It was, however, a project about which he was much in earnest, and a few years later he returned to it with better auspices. He succeeded in getting it under weigh by means of private subscriptions. It soon vindicated its usefulness, drew funds and endowments from various sources, and became the University of Pennsylvania. Franklin tells an amusing story about his subsequent connection with it. Inasmuch as persons of several religious sects had contributed to the fund, it was arranged that the board of trustees should consist of one member from each sect. After a while the Moravian died; and his colleagues, having found him obnoxious to them, resolved not to have another of the same creed. Yet it was difficult to find any one who did not belong to, and therefore unduly strengthen, some sect already represented. Finally Franklin was mentioned as being "merely an honest man, and of no sect at all." The recommendation secured his election. It was always a great cause of his success and influence that nothing could be alleged against his correct and respectable exterior and prudent, moderate deportment.
He now endeavored to reorganize the system, if system it can be called, of the night-watch in Philadelphia. His description of it is picturesque:—
"It was managed by the constables of the respective wards, in turn; the constable warned a number of housekeepers to attend him for the night. Those who chose never to attend paid him six shillings to be excus'd, which was supposed to be for hiring substitutes, but was, in reality, much more than was necessary for that purpose, and made the constableship a place of profit; and the constable, for a little drink, often got such ragamuffins about him as a watch, that respectable housekeepers did not choose to mix with. Walking the rounds, too, was often neglected, and most of the nights spent in tippling."
But even Franklin's influence was overmatched by this task. An abuse, nourished by copious rum, strikes its roots deep, and many years elapsed before this one could be eradicated.
In another enterprise Franklin shrewdly enlisted the boon-companion element on his side, with the result of immediate and brilliant success. He began as usual by reading a paper before the Junto, and through this intervention set the people thinking concerning the utter lack of any organization for extinguishing fires in the town. In consequence the Union Fire Company was soon established, the first thing of the kind in the city. Franklin continued a member of it for half a century. It was thoroughly equipped and efficiently conducted. An item in the terms of association was that the members should spend a social evening together once a month. The example was followed; other companies were formed, and fifty years later Franklin boasted that since that time the city had never "lost by fire more than one or two houses at a time; and the flames have often been extinguished before the house in which they began has been half consumed."
About this time he became interested in the matter of the public defenses, and wrote a pamphlet, "Plain Truth," showing the helpless condition of Pennsylvania as against the French and their Indian allies. The result was that the people were alarmed and aroused. Even the Quakers winked at the godless doings of their fellow citizens, while the enrollment and drill of a volunteer force went forward, and funds were raised for building and arming a battery. Franklin suggested a lottery, to raise money, and went to New York to borrow guns. He was very active and very successful; and though the especial crisis fortunately passed away without use being made of these preparations, yet his energy and efficiency greatly enhanced his reputation in Pennsylvania.
That Franklin had been prospering in his private business may be judged from the facts that in 1748 he took into partnership David Hall, who had been a fellow journeyman with him in London; and that his purpose was substantially to retire and get some "leisure ... for philosophical studies and amusements." He cherished the happy but foolish notion of becoming master of his own time. But his fellow citizens had purposes altogether inconsistent with those pleasing and comfortable plans which he sketched so cheerfully in a letter to his friend Colden in September, 1748. The Philadelphians, whom he had taught thrift, were not going to waste such material as he was. "The publick," he found, "now considering me as a man of leisure, laid hold of me for their purposes; every part of our civil government, and almost at the same time, imposing some duty upon me. The governor put me into the commission of the peace; the corporation of the city chose me of the common council, and soon after an alderman; and the citizens at large chose me a burgess to represent them in the Assembly." This last position pleased him best, and he turned himself chiefly to its duties, with the gratifying result, as he records, that the "trust was repeated every year for ten years, without my ever asking any elector for his vote, or signifying, either directly or indirectly, any desire of being chosen."
The next year he was appointed a commissioner to treat with the Indians, in which business he had so much success as can ever attend upon engagements with savages. He gives an amusing account of the way in which all the Indian emissaries got drunk, and of their quaint apology: that the Great Spirit had made all things for some use; that "when he made rum, he said, 'Let this be for the Indians to get drunk with;' and it must be so."
In 1751 he assisted Dr. Bond in the foundation of his hospital. The doctor at first tried to carry out his scheme alone, but could not. The tranquil vanity of Franklin's narration is too good to be lost: "At length he came to me, with the compliment that he found there was no such thing as carrying a public-spirited project through, without my being concerned in it. 'For,' says he, 'I am often asked by those to whom I propose subscribing. Have you consulted Franklin upon this business? and what does he think of it? And when I tell them that I have not (supposing it rather out of your line), they do not subscribe, but say they will consider of it.'" It is surprising that this artful and sugar-tongued doctor, who evidently could read his man, had not been more successful with his subscription list. With Franklin, at least, he was eminently successful, touching him with a consummate skill which brought prompt response and cooeperation. The result was as usual. Franklin's hand knew the way to every Philadelphian merchant's pocket. Respected as he was, it may be doubted whether he was always sincerely welcomed as he used to move from door to door down those tranquil streets, with an irresistible subscription paper in his hand. In this case private subscriptions were eked out by public aid. The legislature was applied to for a grant. The country members objected, said that the benefit would be local, and doubted whether even the Philadelphians wanted it. Thereupon Franklin drew a bill, by which the State was to give L2000 upon condition that a like sum should be raised from private sources. This was soon done. Franklin regarded his device as a novelty and a ruse in legislation. He complacently says: "I do not remember any of my political manoeuvres, the success of which gave me at the time more pleasure, or wherein, after thinking of it, I more easily excused myself for having made some use of cunning." Simple times, in which such an act could be described as a "manoeuvre" and "cunning!"
He further turned his attention to matters of local improvement. He got pavements laid; and even brought about the sweeping of the streets twice in each week. Lighting the streets came almost simultaneously; and in connection with this he showed his wonted ingenuity. Globes open only at the top had heretofore been used, and by reason of the lack of draft, they became obscured by smoke early in the evening. Franklin made them of four flat panes, with a smoke-funnel, and crevices to admit the air beneath. The Londoners had long had the method before their eyes, every evening, at Vauxhall; but had never got at the notion of transferring it to the open streets.
For a long while Franklin was employed by the postmaster-general of the colonies as "his comptroller in regulating several offices and bringing the officers to account." In 1753 the incumbent died, and Franklin and Mr. William Hunter, jointly, were appointed his successors. They set to work to reform the entire postal service of the country. The first cost to themselves was considerable, the office falling more than L900 in debt to them during the first four years. But there-afterward the benefit of their measures was felt, and an office which had never before paid anything to that of Great Britain came, under their administration, "to yield three times as much clear revenue to the crown as the post-office of Ireland." Franklin narrates that in time he was displaced "by a freak of the ministers," and in happy phrase adds, "Since that imprudent transaction, they have received from it—not one farthing!" In this connection it may be worth while to quote Franklin's reply to a request to give a position to his nephew, a young man whom he liked well, and otherwise aided. "If a vacancy should happen, it is very probable he may be thought of to supply it; but it is a rule with me not to remove any officer that behaves well, keeps regular accounts, and pays duly; and I think the rule is founded on reason and justice."
At this point in his autobiography he records, with just pride, that he received the degree of Master of Arts, first from Yale College and afterward from Harvard. "Thus, without studying in any college, I came to partake of their honors. They were conferred in consideration of my improvements and discoveries in the electric branch of natural philosophy."
An interesting page in the autobiography concerns events in the year 1754. There were distinct foreshadowings of that war between England and France which soon afterward broke out, beginning upon this side of the water earlier than in Europe; and the lords of trade ordered a congress of commissioners from the several colonies to assemble at Albany for a conference with the chiefs of the Six Nations. They came together June 19, 1754. Franklin was a deputy from Pennsylvania; and on his way thither he "projected and drew a plan for the union of all the colonies under one government, so far as might be necessary for defense and other important general purposes." It was not altogether a new idea; in 1697 William Penn had suggested a commercial union and an annual congress. The journal of the congress shows that on June 24 it was unanimously voted that a union of the colonies was "absolutely necessary for their security and defense." The Massachusetts delegation alone had been authorized to consider the question of a union, and they had power to enter into a confederation "as well in time of peace as of war." Franklin had already been urging this policy by writings in the "Gazette," and now, when the ideas of the different commissioners were brought into comparison, his were deemed the best. His outline of a scheme, he says, "happen'd to be preferr'd," and, with a few amendments, was accordingly reported. It was a league rather than a union, somewhat resembling the arrangement which came into existence for the purposes of the Revolution. But it came to nothing; "its fate," Franklin said, "was singular." It was closely debated, article by article, and having at length been "pretty unanimously accepted, it came before the colonial assemblies for ratification." But they condemned it; "there was too much prerogative in it," they thought. On the other hand, the board of trade in England would not approve it because it had "too much of the democratic." All which led Franklin to "suspect that it was really the true medium." He himself acknowledged that one main advantage of it would be "that the colonies would, by this connection, learn to consider themselves, not as so many independent states, but as members of the same body; and thence be more ready to afford assistance and support to each other," etc. It was already the national idea which lay, not quite formulated, yet distinct enough in his mind. It was hardly to be expected that the home government would fail to see this tendency, or that they would look upon it with favor. Franklin long afterward indulged in some speculations as to what might have been the consequences of an adoption of his scheme, namely: united colonies, strong enough to defend themselves against the Canadian French and their Indian allies; no need, therefore, of troops from England; no pretext, therefore, for taxing the provinces; no provocation, therefore, for rebellion. "But such mistakes are not new; history is full of the errors of states and princes.... The best public measures are seldom adopted from previous wisdom but forc'd by the occasion." But this sketch of what might have been sounds over-fanciful, and the English were probably right in thinking that a strong military union, with home taxation, involved more of danger than of safety for the future connection between the colonies and the mother country.