Sunday, November 14, 2010

November 14, 1776 – Benjamin Franklin Calls for Peace

In the St. James Chronicle, English citizen Benjamin Franklin, originally from Pennsylvania, published his “Letter to the English Speaking Peoples on Account of Unity.” Three years before, he had written a satirical essay entitled “Rules By Which A Great Empire May Be Reduced To A Small One,” ridiculing the heavy (and seemingly inept) hand of government between England and her colonies. While the Americans had been on a track toward revolution from unfair taxation without representation, Franklin had been in England, climbing social ladders, even to the point of securing his son the position as governor of the colony of New Jersey.

In 1773, a series of letters from Governor Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts were given to Franklin anonymously as he was representative from the colonies. The letters depicted a draconian call to order by stripping colonists of their rights “by degrees” and an “abridgement” of liberties. Franklin sent the letters to Boston to inform them of their governor’s thoughts, and they were published in the Boston Gazette. Uproar broke out in Boston, and Hutchison was sent back to England. The government began an investigation to find the source of the leak, eventually discovering Franklin as he stepped forward to protect innocents. In January 1774, he would be reprimanded and humiliated before the Privy Council, quashing many of Franklin’s ambitions.

By 1775, Franklin was prepared to leave London forever, returning to his beloved home and participating in the coming of a new age there. However, as spring came, he suffered a vicious attack of his gout, and Franklin was forced to spend the summer in the English countryside rather than risking a painful voyage. He rested with his aged friend Lord Chatham, William Pitt the Elder, and read the news from the colonies, where war broke out at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts Colony. Franklin knew that there would be no return to America with war, and so he determined to help his people whatever way he found. Discussing the war with the Whigs, especially Pitt’s son, Franklin determined that the war must end and the British Empire be reunited as well as reformed.

Hope for peace grew dim as the Crown sent increasing numbers of troops and the Colonists returned with small victories, but the signing of the Declaration of Independence affirmed the Americans’ will to fight no matter concessions. Franklin imagined that, if he had been there, he might have signed it himself, but several key wordings would have been changed. Instead, in England, he encouraged William the Younger and routinely addressed the English to begin diplomacy, as he wrote in the St. James Chronicle.

Despite his cries, the war would drag on. While the Americans would find allies with the Dutch, finances could not take the place of warships, which they hoped to derive from a French Alliance. Unfortunately for the colonies, no American ambassador, even the acclaimed Thomas Jefferson, seemed able to intrigue the French Court into more than loans and guns. The British controlled the seas, but the American colonial forces gradually chased them off land. With the flexibility of the navy, however, the British army could be spirited away from one point and set upon a new invasion elsewhere, as seen at the disastrous Siege of Yorktown in 1781. By the mid-1780s, broke and facing counter-revolution, the Continental Congress began to give up.

Feeling victory, George III and like-minded Parliamentarians pressed for a scourging of the colonies in retribution, but Franklin called for a peaceful reuniting. Appealing to the tale of the Prodigal Son, Franklin showed that the colonies needed to be met with love. Reform would change the hearts of the colonists, though there were several bad apples to be taken from the barrel, such as Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who would live out their days imprisoned in England. George Washington would remain in house arrest at his much-reduced plantation, while Thomas Jefferson led expatriates to France, finding sanctuary there.

In the 1790s, a wave of revolution would wash across Europe; many would blame it on Jeffersonian influence. While France turned to a republic, most nations underwent softer reforms, especially Britain under the leadership of William Pitt the Younger. During the Napoleonic Wars, England and her colonies would be reaffirmed as a new generation of colonists fought against French troops along the Mississippi frontier.

Franklin himself would remain in Britain the rest of his life, though his preserved body would be sent back to Philadelphia in 1790. There was some discussion of burying him in Westminster for his work preserving the Empire, but his will stated that he was to return home “now that the house is in order.”




In reality, the fallout from the Hutchison Letters drove Franklin back to America. On November 14, 1776, the St. James Chronicle wrote, “The very identical Dr. Franklyn, whom Lord Chatham so much caressed, and used to say he was proud in calling his friend, is now at the head of the rebellion in North America,” confirming Franklin’s position as a leader among the Americans. Franklin would be instrumental in discerning and navigating the French Court to establish relations ultimately giving the United States its most important alliance.

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