Progress of the War, both of Diplomacy and the Sword.
The spirit which, almost to that hour,
had animated the people of America, the
most illustrious statesmen and common people, was
attachment to Old England. Their intense desire
to maintain friendly relations with the mother country,
their “home,” their revered and beloved
home, may be inferred from the following extract from
a letter, which one of the noblest of South Carolinians,
Hon. Henry Laurens, wrote to his son John. It
bears the date of 1776. He writes, alluding to
the separation from England, then beginning to be
“I can not rejoice in the downfall
of an old friend, of a parent from whose nurturing
breasts I have drawn my support and strength.
Every evil which befalls old England grieves me.
Would to God she had listened, in time, to the cries
of her children. If my own interests, if
my own rights alone had been concerned, I would
most freely have given the whole to the demands
and disposal of her ministers, in preference to
a separation. But the rights of posterity were
involved in the question. I happened to
stand as one of their representatives, and dared
not betray their trust.”
Washington, Adams, Jay, would have
made almost any conceivable sacrifice of their personal
interest, if they could have averted the calamity
of a separation from the home of their ancestors.
But the conduct of the British Cabinet was not only
despotic, in the highest degree, but it was insolent
and contemptuous beyond all endurance. It seemed
to be generally assumed that a man, if born on the
majestic continent of North America, instead of being
born on their little island, must be an inferior being.
They regarded Americans as slave-holders were accustomed
to regard the negro. Almost every interview resolved
itself into an insult. Courteous intercourse was
impossible. Affection gave place to detestation.
On the 13th of September, 1775, Congress
assembled in Philadelphia. Lexington, Bunker
Hill, and other hostile acts of our implacable foes,
had thrown the whole country into the most intense
agitation. Military companies were every where
being organized. Musket manufactories and powder
mills were reared. Ladies were busy scraping lint,
and preparing bandages. And what was the cause
of all this commotion, which converted America, for
seven years, into an Aceldama of blood and woe?
It was that haughty, insolent men
in England, claimed the right to impose taxes, to
whatever amount they pleased, upon their brother men
in America. They did not blush to say, “It
is the prerogative of us Englishmen to demand of you
Americans such sums of money as we want. Unless,
like obsequious slaves, you pay the money, without
murmuring, we will burn your cities and deluge your
whole land in blood.”
Washington was assembling quite an
army of American troops around Boston, holding the
foe in close siege there. Franklin was sent, by
Congress, as one of a committee of three, to confer
with Washington upon raising and supplying the American
army. Amidst all these terrific excitements and
perils this wonderful man could not refrain from giving
expression to his sense of the ludicrous. The
day before leaving Philadelphia, he wrote to Dr. Priestly
the following humorous summary of the result of the
British operations thus far.
“Britain at the expense of three
millions, has killed one hundred and fifty Yankees
this campaign, which is twenty thousand pounds
a head. And, at Bunker Hill, she gained a mile
of ground, half of which she lost again by our taking
post on Ploughed Hill. During the same time
sixty thousand children have been born in America.
From these data, Dr. Price’s mathematical
head will easily calculate the time and expense
necessary to kill us all, and conquer our whole territory.”
It required a journey of thirteen
days, for the Commissioners to pass from Philadelphia
to Cambridge. On the 4th of October they reached
the camp. Mrs. John Adams, who was equal to her
husband in patriotism, in intellectual ability and
in self-denial, writes,
“I had the pleasure of dining
with Dr. Franklin, and of admiring him whose
character, from infancy, I had been taught to
venerate. I found him social, but not talkative;
and when he spoke, something useful dropped from
his tongue. He was grave, yet pleasant and
affable. You know I make some pretensions
to physiognomy, and I thought that I could read in
his countenance, the virtues of his heart; and with
that is blended every virtue of a Christian.”
The conference lasted four days, and
resulted in the adoption of very important measures.
While in the camp, news came of the burning of Portland,
then Falmouth. It was a deed which would have
disgraced American savages. The town was entirely
defenceless. It held out no menace whatever to
the foe. The cold blasts of a Maine winter were
at hand. A British man-of-war entered the harbor,
and giving but a few hours notice, that the sick and
the dying might be removed, and that the women and
children might escape from shot and shell, to the frozen
fields, one hundred and thirty humble, peaceful homes
were laid in ashes. The cruel flames consumed
nearly all their household furniture, their clothing
and the frugal food they had laid in store for their
long and dreary winter. A few houses escaped the
shells. Marines were landed to apply the torch
to them, that the destruction might be complete.
There were several vessels in the
harbor. The freezing, starving, homeless wives
and daughters who had not strength to toil through
the wilderness to seek distant cabins of refuge, might
perhaps escape in them. To prevent this they
were burned to the water’s edge. It was
an infernal deed. It struck to the very heart
of America. Even now, after a lapse of one hundred
years, no American can read an account of this outrage
without the flushed cheek and the moistened eye which
indignation creates. Mrs. Adams wrote,
“I could not join to-day in the
petitions of our worthy pastor for a reconciliation
between our no longer parent, but tyrant state,
and these colonies. Let us separate. They
are no longer worthy to be our brethren.
Let us renounce them, and instead of supplications,
as formerly for their prosperity and happiness,
let us beseech the Almighty to blast their councils
and bring to naught all their devices.”
Though Franklin was the sweetest tempered
of men, he returned to Philadelphia with his spirit
greatly embittered against the demoniac foes of his
country. For some time no jokes escaped his lips
or pen. In December, Arnold, then a patriot and
a brave soldier, had made an unsuccessful attack upon
Quebec. He had retired to Montreal. Franklin
was again appointed one of these commissioners, to
visit Arnold and advise respecting Canadian affairs.
Most of the Canadians were Catholics.
One of the commissioners was Charles Carroll of Carollton.
He had a brother John, a Catholic priest, a man of
high culture, of irreproachable character and a sincere
patriot. He was perfectly familiar with the French
language. By the solicitation of Congress he
was induced to accompany his brother on this mission.
It was hoped that he would be able to exert a powerful
influence over the Canadian clergy. Franklin and
John Carroll became intimate and loving friends.
It speaks well for both, that the free-thinking philosopher,
and the Catholic priest could so recognize each other’s
virtues, as to forget their speculative differences
in mutual regard.
There was before the commissioners,
a very laborious journey of five hundred miles, much
of it leading through an almost unexplored wilderness.
It shows great zeal in Franklin, that at the age of
seventy, he was willing to encounter such exposure.
Late in March, the commissioners left
Philadelphia. In two days they reached New York.
They found the place deserted of its inhabitants.
It was held but by a few soldiers, as it was hourly
expected that the British, from their fleet and batteries,
would open upon it a terrific bombardment. How
little can we imagine the sufferings which must ensue,
when thousands of families are driven, in terror, from
their homes, from all their means of support, to go
they know not where, and to live they know not how.
A few sad days were passed in the
ruined town, and on the 2d of April the party embarked,
at five in the afternoon, in a packet for Albany.
At seven o’clock in the morning of the 4th day,
after an eventful voyage, in which they narrowly escaped
shipwreck from a gale in the Highlands, they landed
at Albany, where they were hospitably entertained
by General Schuyler.
After a brief rest, on the 9th, they
set out for Saratoga, which was distant about thirty-two
miles. They were conveyed over an exceedingly
rough road of rocks, and corduroy and mire, in a large,
heavy, country wagon. From this place, Franklin
“I begin to apprehend
that I have undertaken a fatigue
which, at my time of
life, may prove too much for me.”
After a short tarry at the country
seat of General Sullivan at Saratoga, the party moved
on toward Lake George. In those northern latitudes
the ground was still covered with snow, and the lake
was filled with floating ice. Two days of very
exhausting travel brought them to the southern shore
of the beautiful but then dreary lake. Here they
took a large boat, thirty-six feet long, and eight
broad. It was what was called a bateau, which
was flat-bottomed, and was but one foot in depth.
There was one mast, and a blanket sail, which was
available when the wind was directly aft. There
was no cabin. A mere awning sheltered partially
from wind and rain.
Thus they crept across the lake, through
masses of ice, a distance of thirty-six miles, in
thirty-six hours. There was a neck of land, four
miles in breadth, which separated Lake George from
Lake Champlain. The heavy boat, placed on wheels,
was dragged across by six yoke of oxen. A delay
of five days was thus caused, before they were ready
to embark on the latter lake. The navigation
of this small sheet of water, surrounded by the primeval
forest, and with scarcely the cabin of a white man
to be seen, must have been romantic indeed.
They sailed when the wind favored,
and rowed when it was adverse. At night they
ran ashore, built their camp fire, which illumined
lake and forest, boiled their coffee, cooked their
viands, and, some under the awning, and some under
the shelter of a hastily constructed camp, slept sweetly.
The ice greatly impeded their progress. In three
and a half days, they reached St. John’s, near
the upper end of the lake. The toilsome journey
of another day, brought them to Montreal. None
of the commissioners were accustomed to thus roughing
it. All were greatly exhausted.
A council of war was convened.
Canada was clearly lost to the Americans. It
was at once decided that nothing remained but to withdraw
the troops. Early in June, Franklin reached Philadelphia,
from his toilsome journey. He had been absent
about ten weeks. The doom of the proprietary
government over Pennsylvania, was now sealed.
Congress had voted that all authority derived from
the king of England, was extinct. A conference
of delegates was appointed to organize a new government
for the province. Franklin was, of course, one
of these delegates. A committee had been appointed,
by Congress, to draw up a Declaration of Independence.
The committee consisted of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams,
Livingston, and Sherman.
The immortal document, as all the
world knows, came from the pen of Jefferson.
It was offered to Congress for acceptance. Many
frivolous objections were, of course, presented.
One man thought this phrase a little too severe.
Another thought that a little too lenient. Franklin
sat by the side of Jefferson, as the admirable document
was subjected to this assailment. Turning to
him he said, in one of the most characteristic and
popular of all his utterances,
“When I was a journeyman printer,
one of my companions, an apprenticed hatter, was about
to open a shop for himself. His first concern
was to have a handsome sign-board, with a proper inscription.
He composed it in these words,
“John Thompson, Hatter, makes
and sells Hats for ready Money.”
But he thought he would submit it
to his friends for their amendments. The first
he showed it to, thought the word hatter tautologous;
because followed by the words makes hats, which
showed that he was a hatter. It was struck out.
The next observed that the word makes, might
as well be omitted, because his customers would not
care who made the hats; if good, and to their mind,
they would buy, by whomsoever made. He struck
it out. A third said he thought the words, for
ready money, were useless; as it was not the
custom of the place to sell on credit. Every
one who purchased, expected to pay. They were
parted with. The inscription now stood,
“John Thompson sells hats.”
“Sells hats,” says
his next friend. “Why nobody will expect
you to give them away. What then is the use of
that word?” It was stricken out, and hats
followed, the rather as there was one painted on the
board. So his inscription was reduced ultimately
to John Thompson, with the figure of a hat
It will be remembered the readiness
with which Dr. Franklin, on the spur of the moment,
threw off the admirable fable of the Eagle and the
Hare. It is altogether probable that, in the inexhaustible
resources of his genius, he improvised this anecdote
to meet the exigencies of the occasion.
When the Hessian troops, whom England
had hired of a German prince, arrived, intelligent
men in this country pitied rather than blamed those
simple hearted peasants, who had no animosity whatever,
against the Americans. They had been compelled,
by their feudal lord, who was really their slave master,
to leave their lowly homes on the Rhine, to unite
with English regulars and painted savages, in burning
the homes and butchering the people struggling for
existence in the wilderness of the New World.
Again the all availing pen of Franklin
was called into requisition. By direction of
Congress he drew up a friendly address to these unfortunate
men, offering every German, who would abandon the
ignominious service to which his prince had sold him,
a tract of rich land sufficient for an ample farm.
The address was translated into German. Various
were the devices adopted, to give the document circulation
in the Hessian camp. It doubtless exerted a powerful
influence, in disarming these highly disciplined troops
of all animosity. The effect was perhaps seen
in the spectacle witnessed a few weeks afterwards,
when nine hundred of these soldiers were led through
the streets of Philadelphia, prisoners of war.
It is not improbable that many of them were more than
willing to throw down their arms.
On the 20th of July, 1776, Franklin
was chosen by the Convention, one of nine delegates
to represent Pennsylvania in the national Congress.
One of the great difficulties to be surmounted, in
a union of the States, was to give the great States,
like New York and Pennsylvania, their own preponderance
in the confederacy, while the minor states, like New
Jersey and Delaware, should not be shorn of their
influence. The difficulty was finally obviated
by the present admirable arrangement, by which each
State, great or small, has two representatives in
the Senate, while their representation in the House
depends upon the number of the population.
Franklin excelled in the art of “putting
things.” He silenced the demand of the
smaller States, to be, in all respects, on an equality
with the larger, by saying,
“Let the smaller colonies give
equal money and men, and then have an equal vote.
But if they have an equal vote, without bearing equal
burdens, a confederation, upon such iniquitous principles,
will never last long.”
The convention, to form a constitution
for the State of Pennsylvania, met at Philadelphia
on the 16th of July, 1776. Franklin was unanimously
chosen President. No pen can describe the intensity
of his labors. All appreciated his consummate
wisdom, and yielded readily to his suggestions.
Troops were hurrying to and fro. One hundred and
twenty British war vessels were in New York harbor.
No one knew upon what seaport the thunderbolts of
this formidable armament would be hurled. The
Americans had been defeated on Long Island in August,
1776, and had almost miraculously escaped with their
field pieces and stores, across the East River to
New York. This brilliant retreat was deemed,
by the Americans, almost equivalent to a victory.
Lord Howe, the old friend of Franklin
and a humane and respected Englishman, who was sincerely
desirous of peace with the Colonies, was appointed
Admiral of the king’s naval forces. He accepted
the appointment, with the hope that, by the aid of
Franklin, reconciliation might be effected. Still
he was an Englishman and could not conceive that Americans
had any rights which the English government was bound
to respect. The degree of his infatuation may
be inferred from the fact that, as soon as he reached
our shores, he published a Declaration, which he circulated
far and wide, stating that if the Americans would
only give up the conflict and return to implicit submission,
the British Government would forgive their sins, pardon
the guilty ones, with a few exceptions, and receive
them again to favor. The weak man seemed really
to think, that this was an extraordinary act of clemency
on the part of the English Court.
The reply, which Franklin drew up,
to the Declaration, was grand. And it was the
more grand when we reflect that it was addressed to
a man who was supported by an army, of we know not
how many thousand British regulars, and by a fleet
of one hundred and twenty war vessels, many of which
were of gigantic armament. Admiral Howe had written
a courteous private letter to Dr. Franklin, in which
he enclosed the Declaration. Congress gave Franklin
permission to reply. He wrote,
“My lord; the official despatches
to which you refer me, contain nothing more than
offers of pardon upon submission. Directing
pardon to be offered to the colonies, who are the
very parties injured, expresses indeed that opinion
of our ignorance, baseness, and insensibility
which your uninformed and proud nation has long
been pleased to entertain of us. It is impossible
that we should think of submission to a government
that has, with the most wanton barbarity and cruelty,
burnt our defenseless towns, in the midst of winter,
excited the savages to massacre our farmers, and our
slaves to murder their masters, and is, even now,
bringing foreign mercenaries to deluge our settlements
I have not space to copy the remainder
of this admirable letter. It was delivered to
Lord Howe, on board his flag ship in New York harbor,
ten days after its date. As he read it his countenance
expressed surprise, and almost his only remark was,
“My old friend has expressed himself very warmly.”
A few weeks later this good natured
but weak man paroled General Sullivan, who was a prisoner
of war, and sent him to Philadelphia, with a message
to Congress which Lord Howe cautiously declined to
put upon paper. General Sullivan reduced the
message to writing and presented it to Congress.
It was in substance as follows:
“The government of England cannot
admit that Congress is a legitimate body, to be recognized
by any diplomatic relations whatever. It is but
a tumultous assembly of men who have treasonably conspired
against their lawful sovereign. Still the government
is willing that Lord Howe should confer with some
of the members of congress, as private gentlemen,
to see if some terms of accommodation cannot be arranged.”
After much and earnest discussion,
in which a great diversity of opinion prevailed, it
was voted that General Sullivan should inform Admiral
Howe, that a committee of three would be sent to ascertain
whether he “has any authority to treat with persons,
authorized by Congress for that purpose.”
Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and
Edward Rutledge composed this committee. An antique
house, nearly a hundred years old, formerly the abode
of wealth and splendor, which stood in a green lawn,
but a few rods from the beach on the western shore
of Staten Island, was chosen as the place for the
conference. A two days’ journey conveyed
the committee to Amboy, opposite the house. Adams
traveled on horseback: Franklin and Rutledge
in a two wheel chaise.
Admiral Howe sent a boat, under the
protection of a flag of truce, with an officer, who
stated that he was to be left behind as a hostage
for their safe return. Promptly they declined
manifesting any such distrust of the honor of Admiral
Howe, and took the hostage back in the boat with them.
The barge, propelled by lusty rowers, soon reached
the Staten Island shore. A large apartment of
the old stone house had been richly decorated with
moss and branches in honor of the occasion.
A regiment of Hessians was posted
at that spot. The colonel drew them up in two
lines and through this lane of soldiers the commissioners
advanced from the beach to the house. When Admiral
Howe saw that the officer he had sent as a hostage
had been returned, he said,
“Gentlemen, you pay me a high compliment.”
Cordially the kind-hearted admiral
received his guests, and invited them to an ample
collation of cold ham, tongues, mutton and wine.
Mr. Henry Strachey, secretary of Lord Howe, wrote
a very full report of the interview, which accords
entirely with the narrative which John Adams presented
to Congress. In as sincere and friendly words
as human lips could pronounce, the Admiral assured
the American gentlemen of his earnest desire to promote
reconciliation between the colonists and the mother
country. He alluded to the fact that in England
he had been regarded as the friend of America, and
to the honor Massachusetts had conferred upon his
family by rearing a monument to his brother, who had
fallen at Ticonderoga. Franklin well knew that
Howe was regarded as the friend of America.
“I assure you, gentlemen,”
said Lord Howe, “that I esteem that honor to
my family, above all things in this world. Such
is my gratitude and affection to this country, on
that account, that I feel for America as for a brother.
And if America should fall, I should feel and lament
it like the loss of a brother.” The reply
of Franklin to these sincere words, seems a little
discourteous. Assuming an air of great indifference
and confidence, as though the fall of America was an
idea not to be thought of, he bowed, and with one
of his blandest smiles said, “I assure you,
my lord, that we will do everything in our power to
save your lordship from that mortification.”
The admiral was feeling too deeply
for jokes. He was wounded by the rebuke apparently
contained in the reply of his old friend. But
it must not be forgotten that Franklin, the sweetest
tempered of men, had not yet recovered from the indignation
caused by the barbarities inflicted by the British
government upon the families of Falmouth. Every
day was bringing tidings of the atrocities which England,
through its savage allies, was perpetrating on the
frontiers, burning the cabins of lonely farmers, and
tomahawking and scalping women and children.
And he was constrained to look upon Lord Howe as the
agent of that government, commissioned to bear to
the patriots of America only the insulting messages,
that the king and his ministers would graciously pardon
them the crime of attempting to resist their despotism,
if they would ask forgiveness, and in future submit
uncomplainingly to the requirements of the crown.
Thus, while the kind-hearted admiral,
with a bosom glowing with brotherly sympathy, was
acting upon the assumption that the Americans should
cherish undying emotions of gratitude to the king,
that he was so ready to forgive their disobedience
to his commands, Franklin and his companions, found
it difficult to restrain their emotions of indignation,
in view of the truly diabolical course pursued by the
British government. The court, in their judgment,
merited the exécrations not only of Americans
but of all humanity.
Lord Howe very emphatically wished
the commissioners to understand that he met them merely
as private individuals, and that he could not, in
the slightest degree, recognize any authority in Congress.
Franklin coldly replied,
“Your lordship may consider
us in any view you may think proper. We, on our
part, are at liberty to consider ourselves in our real
John Adams replied with warmth, characteristic
of his impetuous nature, “Your lordship may
consider me in what light you please.
Indeed I should be willing to consider myself, for
a few moments, in any character which would be agreeable
to your lordship, except that of a British subject.”
As the conversation was continued,
Franklin said, “We have been deputed, by Congress,
simply to inquire of your lordship what proposition
you have to offer for the consideration of Congress.
British troops have ravaged our country and burnt our
towns. We cannot again be happy under the government
of Great Britain. All former attachments are
obliterated. America can never return to the
domination of Great Britain.”
Mr. Adams added, “My lord, it
is not in our power to treat otherwise than as independent
states. For my part, I avow my determination
never to depart from the idea of independency.”
Mr Rutledge gave emphasis to these
decisive words by saying, “With regard to the
people consenting to come again under the English
government, it is impossible. I can answer
for South Carolina. The royal government there
was very oppressive. At last we took the government
into our own hands. The people are now settled,
and happy, under that government. They would
not now return to the king’s government even
if Congress should desire it.”
Here the conference ended, by Lord
Howe’s stating, that, as they insisted upon
independence, no accommodation was possible.
Lord Howe courteously accompanied the American gentlemen
to the barge, and they were rowed over to the New
Jersey shore. In the report they made to Congress
they stated, that the commission of Lord Howe only
conferred upon him authority to grant pardon to the
Americans, with a few exceptions, upon their entire
submission to the king.
It required, in those days, a long
time to cross the Atlantic. Seldom could an answer
be obtained to a letter in less than four or five
months. To the usual delays and perils attached
to the navigation of that stormy sea, there was now
to be added the danger of capture from the swarm of
British cruisers. Congress had several agents
on the continent. But months passed away, during
which no letters were received from them. This
painful suspense was relieved, in September, 1776,
by a long letter to Dr. Franklin, from a French gentleman,
Dr. Dubourg. He was one of the prominent philosophers
of Paris, and, by the request of Count du Buffon,
had translated into French, Franklin’s treatise
This letter was very cautiously written.
It covered many sheets of paper. The all important
substance of the letter was almost concealed from
view by the mass of verbiage in which it was enveloped.
But a careful reading indicated that the French ministry
and the nation were in sympathy with the Americans;
that while the ministry wished to avoid war with England
they would gladly, if it could be done secretly, send
the Americans money and powder, cannon and muskets,
and that many French generals of note were eager to
join the American army, and confer upon it the benefit
of their experience.
This news sent a thrill of joy through
hearts which recent reverses had rendered somewhat
desponding. It was decided immediately to send
an embassy of highest character to France. Three
were to be chosen by ballot. On the first ballot
Dr. Franklin was unanimously elected. He was
seventy years old. And yet probably there was
not another man in America so well qualified to fill
that difficult, delicate and responsible post.
Franklin, in the saloons of diplomacy, was fully the
peer of Washington on the field of war. When the
result of the ballot was announced Franklin turned
to Dr. Rush, who was at his side, and said,
“I am old and good for nothing.
But as the store-keepers say of their remnants of
cloth, ’I am but a fag end, and you may have
me for what you please.’”
Thomas Jefferson, then thirty-three
years of age, and as pure a patriot as ever lived,
was next chosen. He was already renowned in France
as the writer of the Declaration of Independence.
Silas Deane, a native of Connecticut, and a graduate
of Yale, then one of the agents in Europe, was the
It required no little courage to cross
the ocean, swept by the fleets of Great Britain.
Had Franklin or Jefferson fallen into the hands of
the British government, it is certain that they would
have suffered severe imprisonment; it is by no means
improbable that they would have been promptly hung
as traitors. It was a noble sacrifice for country
which led Franklin, having numbered his three-score
years and ten, to incur these perils.
Jefferson was compelled to decline
the mission, as his wife, whom he loved with devotion
rarely equalled, and perhaps never surpassed, was
sick and dying. Arthur Lee, then in Europe, was
elected in his stead. He was a querulous, ill-natured
man, ever in a broil. A more unsuitable man for
the office could scarcely have been found.
There were two parties in France who
favored the Americans. One consisted of enthusiastic
young men, who were enamored with the idea of republican
liberty. They were weary of Bourbon despotism.
The character of Louis XV., as vile a king as ever
sat upon a throne, was loathsome to them. They
had read Jefferson’s “Declaration,”
with delight; and had engraven its immortal principles
upon their hearts. The Marquis de Lafayette was
perhaps the most prominent member of this party.
France hated England. That haughty
government had long been the most unpopular on the
globe. England had made great conquests from France,
and was rich, intelligent and powerful beyond any other
nation. Prosperity had given her arrogance, and
she had placed her heel upon her humiliated neighbors.
There was not a court in Europe which would not have
rejoiced to see England humbled. The despotic
court of France, and the most haughty nobles, were
ready to encounter any perils which held out a reasonable
hope that England might be weakened. Thus the
sympathies of all France were united in favor of America.
And now the hour had come. By
aiding the Americans, who had boldly declared their
independence, they might not only deprive England of
those colonies whose trade was already invaluable to
England, and which were rapidly increasing in population,
wealth and power, but also they might awaken such
gratitude in the bosoms of Americans, that the trade
of the new nation would be mainly transferred to France.
Thus the court and the nobles, intent
upon this object, did not hesitate to aid in the establishment
of those principles of liberty, fraternity and equality
in America, which eventually whelmed in ruin the palaces
and the castles of France.
It was deemed important to conceal,
as long as possible, from the British government the
sympathy and aid which France was about to manifest
for the Americans. Arthur Lee reported that an
agent of the French government had promised to send
from Holland, two thousand pounds worth of military
stores. They were to be forwarded to one of the
French West India islands, ostensibly for the service
of those islands. The governor was, however,
instructed to surrender them to a secret agent of
the American Congress. The plan failed. I
have not space to record all the various stratagems
which were devised to aid the Americans, while the
movement was carefully concealed from the vigilant
eyes of the English.
Franklin, with nobility of soul which
should command the love of every American, as one
of his last deeds before he left his country perhaps
never to return, collected all the money he could command,
about twelve thousand dollars, and loaned it to the
government, whose treasury was utterly impoverished.
In those dark days, even that small sum was of essential
aid. In one of the last of Franklin’s letters,
before he sailed, he wrote,
“As to our public affairs, I
hope our people will keep up their courage.
I have no doubt of their finally succeeding by
the blessing of God; nor have I any doubt that so good
a cause will fail of that blessing. It is
computed that we have already taken a million
sterling from the enemy. They must soon
be sick of their piratical project.”
Franklin embarked in the Reprisal,
a rapid sailing sloop of war of sixteen guns.
He took with him his grandson, William Temple Franklin,
son of the Tory governor, then a very handsome boy
of eighteen, and Benjamin Franklin Bache, eldest son
of his daughter, a lad of seven years. William
Temple Franklin adhered firmly to the political views
of his grandfather. Dr. Franklin intended to place
Benjamin in a school in Paris.
Tory spies were watching every movement
of Congress. This mission to France was kept
a profound secret. Had the British government
known that Benjamin Franklin was about to cross the
ocean, almost every ship in the British navy would
have been sent in chase of him. On the 26th of
October, 1776, he left Philadelphia, every precaution
having been adopted to keep his departure a secret.
The vessel was at anchor at Marcus Hook, in the Delaware,
three miles beyond Chester.
Fierce gales drove them rapidly across
the Atlantic. Captain Wickes had received instructions
to avoid fighting, if possible. He was to devote
all his energies to transporting his precious passenger
as rapidly as possible, from shore to shore.
They were often chased by cruisers. The vessel
was small, and Franklin, in his old age, was sadly
cramped by his narrow accommodations. He says
that of all his eight voyages this was the most distressing.
When near the coast of France they captured an English
brig, with a cargo of lumber and wine. On the
afternoon of the same day, they took another brig,
loaded with brandy and flax seed. England was
almost delirious with rage, in finding that the Americans
were bearing away their prizes from the channel itself,
thus bidding proud defiance to those frigates and
fortresses of Great Britain which had overawed the
On the 29th of November the Reprisal
cast anchor in Quiberon Bay. Franklin there obtained
a post chaise to convey him to Nantes. He writes,
“The carriage was a miserable
one, with tired horses, the evening dark, scarce
a traveller but ourselves on the road. And
to make it more comfortable, the driver stopped
near a wood we were to pass through, to tell
us that a gang of eighteen robbers infested that
wood, who, but two weeks ago, had robbed and
murdered some travellers on that very spot.”
Though absolutely no one in Europe
knew that Franklin was expected, his fame had preceded
him. The scientists of France were eager to render
him their homage. French statesmen had learned,
at the Court of St. James, to respect his grandeur
of character, and his diplomatic abilities. He
was a very handsome man, with a genial smile, which
won love at sight. The invariable remark of every
one, who chanced to meet him for five minutes was,
“What a delightful man.” Franklin
had none of the brusqueness which characterizes John
Bull. He was always a gentleman, scrupulously
attentive to his rich, elegant, yet simple dress.
He manifested his knowledge of human nature, in carefully
preserving his national garb, the old continental
Thus wherever he appeared he attracted
attention. No man was ever more courteous.
The French Court, at that time, was bound by the shackles
of etiquette, to an almost inconceivable degree.
But Franklin was never embarrassed. He needed
no one to teach him etiquette. Instinct taught
him what to do, so that, in the bearing of a well bred
gentleman, he was a model man, even in the court where
Louis XIV. and Louis XV. had reigned with omnipotent
sway. The most beautiful duchess, radiant in
her courtly costume, and glittering with jewels, felt
proud of being seated on the sofa by the side of this
true gentleman, whose dress, simple as it was, was
in harmony with her own. The popular impression
is entirely an erroneous one, that there was anything
rustic, anything which reminded one of the work shop
or the blouse, in the demeanor of Benjamin
Franklin, as he moved, unembarrassed, in the highest
circles of fashion then known in the world.
Franklin was received to the hospitalities
of a French gentleman of wealth and distinction, by
the name of Gruel. His elegant apartments were
always crowded with visitors, eager to manifest their
respect for the trans-Atlantic philosopher.
Horace Walpole, a warm friend of the Americans, wrote,
“An account came that Dr. Franklin,
at the age of 72, or 74, and, at the risk of
his head, had bravely embarked, on board an American
frigate, and, with two prizes taken on the way, had
landed, at Nantes, in France, and was to be at Paris
on the 14th, where the highest admiration and
expectation of him were raised.”
Upon his arrival Mr. Deane exultingly
wrote, “Here is the hero and philosopher, and
patriot, all united in this celebrated American, who,
at the age of seventy four, risks all dangers for his