Meet Dr Franklin

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Discounting Wedderburn’s animosity, the solicitor general may have accurately captured Franklin’s frame of mind at this time when he remarked that “Dr. Franklin’s mind may have been so possessed with the idea of a Great American Republic, that he may easily slide into the language of the minister of a foreign independent state,” who, “just before the breaking out of war . . . may bribe a villain to steal or betray any state papers.” There was one punishment the Crown could inflict upon its stalwart antagonist, and that was to strip him of his office as deputy postmaster general. That was done at once. Imperturbable as was his wont, Franklin remained silent throughout the entire castigation, but inwardly he seethed at both the humiliation and the monetary loss that the job, along with his now collapsed Vandalia scheme, would cost him. He never forgot the scorching rebuke. He himself had once remarked that he “never forgave contempt” and that it “costs me nothing to be civil to inferiors; a good deal to be submissive to superiors.” It is reported that on the occasion of the signing of the treaty of alliance with France, he donned the suit of figured blue velvet that he had worn on that less triumphal occasion and, according to an unsubstantiated legend, wore it again at the signing of the preliminary peace treaty by which Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States.

Believing he could help best by aiding Pitt in his fruitless efforts at conciliation, Franklin stayed on in England for another year. On March 20, 1775, he sailed for America, convinced that England had lost her colonies forever. On May 6, 1775, the day following his return to Philadelphia, he was chosen a member of the Second Continental Congress. There he would rekindle old associations and meet for the first time some of the younger patriots who were to lead the nation along the path to independence.

An apocryphal story is told of Franklin’s journey from Nantes to Paris, where he would later be the American ambassador. At one of the inns in which he stayed, he was informed that the Tory-minded Edward Gibbon, the first volume of whose Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire had been published in the spring of that year, was also stopping. Franklin sent his compliments, requesting the pleasure of spending the evening with the historian. In answer he received a card stating that notwithstanding Gibbon’s regard for the character of Dr. Franklin as a man and a philosopher, he could not reconcile it with his duty to his king to have any conversation with a rebellious subject. In reply Franklin wrote a note declaring that “though Mr. Gibbon’s principles had compelled him to withhold the pleasure of his conversation, Dr. Franklin had still such a respect for the character of Mr. Gibbon, as a gentleman and a historian, that when, in the course of his writing a history of the decline and fall of empires, the decline and fall of the British Empire should come to be his subject as he expects it soon would, Dr. Franklin would be happy to furnish him with ample materials which were in his possession.”