Meet Dr Franklin

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Standing on the brink of a stunning success, the Vandalia speculators were now put in jeopardy by Franklin’s rash indiscretion in turning over to his radical friends in Massachusetts some embarrassing

letters of Governor Thomas Hutchinson that had been given to him in confidence. Indignant at Franklin’s disloyalty, the Crown officers refused to complete the papers confirming the grant to the Grand Ohio Company. With his usual deviousness, Franklin, in concert with the banker Thomas Walpole, publicly resigned from the company. In reality Walpole and Franklin had a private understanding by which the latter would retain his two shares out of the total of seventy-two shares of stock in the company. As late as April 11, 1775, Franklin, Walpole, and others signed a power of attorney authorizing land speculator William Trent to act on their behalf with respect to the grant, hardly necessary if Franklin was indeed out of the picture. In the summer of 1778 Franklin had a change of heart and decided to get back his original letter of resignation. When Walpole complied, Franklin added thereto a memorandum asserting: “I am still to be considered as an Associate, and was called upon for my Payments as before. My right to two shares, or two Parts of 72, in that Purchase still continues … and I hope, that when the Trouble of America is over, my Posterity may reap the Benefits of them.” Franklin’s posterity, it should be pointed out, stood a much better chance were England to retain the Old Northwest and the Crown validate the Grand Ohio claim than were title thereto to pass to the new United States, whose claim to that region Franklin would be expected by Congress to press at the peacemaking. Such an impropriety on Franklin’s part was compounded by his casual attitude about his carrying on a correspondence with a British subject in wartime while officially an American commissioner to France.

Franklin’s critics decried his penchant for nepotism, his padding the postmastership payroll with his relatives, the pressure he exercised on his fellow peace commissioners to have the unqualified Temple Franklin appointed as secretary to the commission, and his willingness to have his grandnephew Jonathan Williams set up as a shipping agent at Nantes. Franklin’s conduct of his office in France continued to supply grounds for ugly charges. What is significant is not that Franklin was guilty as charged but rather that the suspicion of conflict of interest would not die down despite his own disclaimer. At best, Franklin in France was untidy and careless in running his office. What can be said about a statesman whose entourage included a secretary who was a spy in British pay, a maître d’h’f4tel who was a thief, and a grandson who was a playboy! Only a genius could surmount these irregularities and achieve a stunning triumph. And Franklin had genius.

Because of Franklin’s prominence in the Revolutionary movement, it is often forgotten that in the generation prior to the final break with England he was America’s most notable imperial statesman, and that the zigzag course he was to pursue owed more to events than to logic. As early as 1751 he had proposed an intercolonial union to be established by voluntary action on the part of the colonies. Three years later at Albany, where he presented his grand design of continental union, he included therein a provision for having the plan imposed by parliamentary authority. …

Each intensely jealous of its own prerogatives, the colonial assemblies proved cool to the plan, while the Privy Council was frigid. As Franklin remarked years later, “the Crown disapproved it as having too much weight in the democratic part of the constitution, and every assembly as having allowed too much to the prerogative; so it was totally rejected.” In short, the thinking of the men who met at Albany in 1754 was too bold for that day. In evolving his Plan of Union Franklin had shown himself to be an imperial-minded thinker who placed the unity and effective administration of the Englishspeaking world above the rights and rivalries of the separate parts. Had Franklin’s Plan of Union been put in operation, it would very likely have obviated the necessity for any Parliamentary enactment of taxes for the military defense and administration of the colonies.

Franklin’s pride in the Empire survived his letdown in 1754. In April, 1761, he issued his famous Canada pamphlet, The Interest of Great Britain Considered , wherein he argued the case for a plan that would secure for Great Britain Canada and the trans-Appalachian West rather than the French West Indian islands, arguments upon which Lord Shelburne drew heavily in supporting the Preliminary Articles of Peace of 1762 that his sponsor Lord Bute had negotiated with France.