The Public Servant
The Plan of Union
In the Spring of 1754, the war broke out between the British and French in America. Franklin felt that the colonies had to unite for self-defense against the French and Indians. He printed the famous “Join or Die” cartoon in his newspaper. This cartoon showed a snake cut up into pieces that represented colonies. Franklin presented his Plan of Union at a conference of seven colonies of Albany, NY. This plan tried to bring the 13 colonies together in “one general government”.
The Plan of Union continued some of the ideas that were later included in the Constitution of the United States. The delegates at the Albany Congress approved Franklin’s Plan, but the colonies failed to ratify it. Franklin said: “Everyone cries a union is absolutely necessary, but when it comes to the manner and form of the union, their weak noddles are perfectly distrusted”.
The war forced Franklin to turn his attention to the unfamiliar field of military matters. Early in 1755, General Edward Braddock and two British regiments arrived in America with orders to capture the French stronghold of Fort Duquesne, at the point where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers met. The British had trouble finding horses and wagons for the expedition, and Franklin helped provide the necessary equipment. However, the French and Indians ambushed the British on the banks of the Monongahela River. Braddock was killed, and the British army was almost destroyed. In the meantime, Franklin raised volunteer colonial armies to defend frontier towns, and supervised construction of a fort at Weisspart in Cardon County, Pennsylvania.
A Delegate in London
In 1757, the Pennsylvania legislature sent Franklin to London to speak for the colony in a tax dispute with the proprietors (descendants of William Penn living in Great Britain). The proprietors controlled the governor of the colony and would not allow it to pass any tax bill for defense unless their own estates were left tax-free. In 17060, Franklin finally succeeded in getting the British Parliament to adopt a measure that permitted the taxation of both the colonists and the proprietors. Franklin remained in Great Britain during most of the next 15 years as a sort of unofficial ambassador and spokesman for the American point of view.
A serious debate developed in Great Britain in the early 1760s at the end of the French and Indian War. The French, who lost the war, agreed to give the British either the French province of Canada or the French Island of Guadeloupe in the West indies. At the height of the argument, Franklin published a pamphlet that shrewdly compared the boundless future of Canada with the relative unimportance of Guadeloupe. Europeans and Americans read it carefully. Some historians believe that it influenced the British to choose Canada.
Franklin also took part in the fight over the Stamp Act. He seems to have been rather showing to recognize that the proposed measure threatened the American colonies. But once he realized its dangers, he joined the struggles for repeal of the act. This fight led to one of the high points of his career. On February 13, 1766, Franklin appeared before the House of Commons to answer series of 17 questions dealing with “taxation without representation”. Members of the House threw questions at him for nearly two hours. He answered briefly and clearly. His knowledge of taxation problems impressed everyone, and his reputation grew throughout Europe. The Stamp Act was repealed a short time later, and he received much of the credit.
Political relations between Great Britain and the Colonies grew steadily worse. Franklin wanted America to remain in the British Empire but only if the rights of the colonists could be recognized and protected. He pledged his entire fortune to pay for the tea destroy in the Boston Tea Party if the British government would agree to repeal its unjust tax on tea.
The British ignored his proposal. Franklin realized that his usefulness in Great Britain had ended, and sadly sailed for home on March 21, 1775. Franklin had done everything possible to keep the American colonies in the empire based on mutual respect and good will.
Organizing the new nation
Franklin arrived in Philadelphia on May 5, 1775, about two weeks after the Revolutionary war began. The next day, the people of Philadelphia chose him to serve in the Second Continental Congress. Franklin seldom spoke at the Congress but became one of its most active and influential members. He submitted a proposed Plan of Union. This plan laid the groundwork for the Articles of Confederation. Franklin served on a commission that went to Canadian an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the French Canadians to join the Revolutionary War. He worked on committees dealing with such varied matters as printing paper money, reorganizing the Continental Army, and finding supplies of powder and lead.
The Continental Congress chose Franklin as postmaster general in 1775 because of his experience as a colonial postmaster. The government directed him to organize a postal system quickly. He soon had mail service from Portland, Me, to Savannah, Ga. He gave his salary to the relief of wounded soldiers. Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence and was ne of the document’s signers. During the singing ceremonies, according to tradition, John Hancock warned his fellow delegates, “We must be unanimous, there must be no pulling different ways: we must all hang together”. “Yes” franklin replied, “we must indeed all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately”.
Serving in France
Shortly after the Declaration of Independence was adopted in July 1776, Congress appointed Franklin as one of three commissioners sent to represent the United States in France. The war was not going well, and the Congress realized an alliance with France might mean the difference between victory and defeat. Late in 1776, at the age of 70, Franklin set forth on the most important task of his life.
Franklin received a tremendous welcome in Paris. The French people were charmed by his kindness, his simple dress and manner, his wise and witty sayings, and his tact and courtesy in greeting the nobility and common people alike. Crowds ran after him in the streets. Poets wrote growing verses in his honor. Patriots and busts of him appeared everywhere.
Despite Franklin’s popularity, the French government hesitated to make a treaty of alliance with the American Colonies. Such a treaty would surely mean war between France and Great Britain. So, with tact, patience, and courtesy, Franklin set out to war the French government to the American cause. His chance came after British General John Burgoyne’s army surrendered at Saratoga. The French were impressed by this American victory and agreed to a treaty of alliance. The pact was signed on February 6, 1778. Franklin then arranged transportation to America for French officers, soldiers, and guns. He managed to keep loans and gifts of money flowing to the United States. Many historians believe that without this aid the Americans could not have won their Independence.
In 1778, Franklin was appointed minister to France. He helped draft the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War. France, Great Britain, and Spain all had interests in the American Colonies, and Franklin found it difficult to arrange a treaty that satisfied them all. The treaty gave the new nation everything it could reasonably expect. Franklin was one of the signers of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
The Twilight Years
Franklin returned to Philadelphia in 1785. For the next two years, he served as president of the executive council of Pennsylvania. This office resembled that of a governor today. In 1787, Pennsylvania sent the 81-year-old Franklin to the Constitutional Convention. The delegates met in Independence Hall and drafted the Constitution of the United States. Age and illness kept Franklin from taking an active part. But his wisdom helped keep the convention from breaking up n failure. Franklin was the oldest delegate at the convention.
Franklin also helped the convention settle the bitter dispute between large and small states over representation in Congress. He this by supporting the so-called Great Compromise. The Compromise sought to satisfy both group by setting up a two-house Congress. In his last formal speech to the convention, Franklin appealed to his fellow delegates for unanimous support of the Constitution.
Franklin’s attendance at the Constitutional Convention was his last major public service. However, his interest in public affairs continued to the end of his life. He rejoiced in Washington’s inauguration as the first President of the United States. He hoped that the example of the new nation would lead to a United States of Europe. In 1787, he was elected president of the first antislavery society in America. Franklin’s last public act was to sign an appeal to Congress calling for the speedy abolition of slavery.
Franklin died on the night of April 17, 1790, at the age of 84. About 20,000 people honored him at his funeral.
He was buried in the cemetery of Christ Church in Philadelphia be side his wife, who had died in 1774. Franklin accomplished much in many fields, but he began his will with the simple words: “I, Benjamin Franklin, printer”, Franklin left $5,000 each to Boston and Philadelphia, part to be used for public works after 100 years, and the rest after 200 years. Part of this money has been used to establish the Franklin Technical Institute, a trade school in Boston, and the Franklin Institute, a scientific museum in Philadelphia.
His Place in History
Franklin led all the people of his time in his lifelong concern for the happiness well-being, and dignity of humanity. George Washington spoke for a whole generation of Americans in a letter to Franklin in 1789: If to be venerated for benevolence, if to be admired for talents, it to be esteemed for patriotism, if to be beloved for philanthropy, can gratify the human mind, you must have the pleasing consolation to know that you haven’t lived in vain”.
Franklin’s name would almost certainly be on any lot of half-dozen greatest Americans. His face has appeared on postages stamps, and on the coins and paper money of the United States. Two Presidents of the United States proudly base his name: Franklin Pierce and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Philadelphia also revered the memory of its most famous citizen. The University of Pennsylvania named its athletic field in his honor. One of the show places of the city is the spacious Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Midway along the Parkway stands the Franklin Institute, dedicated to popularizing the sciences that Franklin loved so well. This building contains the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, with its great statue of the seated philosopher by James Earle Fraser.