Our First Ambassador

THERE was a singularly dramatic fitness in the life and career of Benjamin Franklin. America has never been more worthily represented at old-world capitals than by this unpretentious commoner, drawn from the stock of the plain people. A plebeian in an aristocratic age, he was nevertheless, by common consent, first among colonial Americans in qualities of mind and heart. A wit and philosopher, rich in learning, charming in manners, ripe in the wisdom of this world, resourceful in dealing with men and events, he was one of the most delightful as he was one of the greatest men produced by the English race in the eighteenth century.

"Figure to yourself," he wrote in his seventy-second year, "an old man, with gray hair appearing under a marten fur cap, among the powdered heads of Paris. It is this odd figure that salutes you, with handfuls of blessings." An odd figure indeed in such a setting, but a figure that captured the imagination of Paris, as it has since captured the imagination of America; so novel as to seem romantic-a charming rustic philosopher who might have stepped out of the pages of Rousseau. And so the French aristocracy patronized le bon homme, and laughed with him at the affectations of this preposterous world, and made much of him for the zest that it discovered in a novel sensation. It was the same odd figure that had stood at the bar of the House of Commons and matched his intelligence against that of celebrated English lawyers; the same figure that had been called in council by the great Pitt who thought himself too great to learn anything even from Franklin; that had been lashed by the scurrilous tongue of Wedder?burn; that had seen a thousand bribes dangled before him by Lord Howe and other gentlemen-a figure that seems strangely out of place in that old-fashioned Tory world, with its narrow sympathies and narrower intelligence. And yet considered in the light of social revolutions, what other figure in eighteenth-century Europe or America is so dramatically significant? The figure of the self-made democrat, with some three millions of his fellows at his back, and countless other millions to come, who was entering on a world-wide struggle for political mastery, the end of which no one can yet foresee? His presence in the councils of gentlemen was a tacit denial of their hitherto unquestioned right of supremacy. It was a rare personal triumph; but it was far more significant than that, it was the triumph of a rising class and a new social ideal.

Although Franklin's origins, whether Boston or Philadelphia, were narrowly provincial, his mind from early youth to extreme old age was curiously open and free, and to such a mind the intellectual wealth of the world lies open and free. From that wealth he helped himself generously, to such good effect that he early became an intellectual cosmopolitan, at ease with the best intellects and at home among the diverse speculative interests of the eighteenth century: the sane and witty embodiment of its rationalism, its emancipation from authority, its growing concern for social justice, its hopeful pursuit of new political and economic philosophies, its tempered optimism that trusted intelligence to set the world right. No other man in America and few in Europe had so completely freed themselves from the prejudice of custom. The Calvinism in which he was bred left not the slightest trace upon him; and the middleclass world from which he emerged did not narrow his mind to its petty horizons. He was a free man who went his own way with imperturbable good will and unbiased intelligence; our first social philosopher, the first ambassador of American democracy to the courts of Europe.

Fortune was kind to Franklin in many ways: kind in that it did not visit upon him the fate that befell his elder brother Ebenezer, of whom Sewall noted, "Ebenezer Franklin of the South Church, a male-Infant of 16 months old, was drowned in a Tub of Suds, Febr. 5, 1702/3 "; kind also in that it set him in a land where opportunity waited upon enterprise, and where thousands of kindred spirits were erecting a society that honored such qualities as he possessed. In England he must have remained middleclass, shut in by a wall of prejudice; but in colonial America he found a congenial environment. Like Samuel Sewall, he swam easily in the main current of colonial life, won increasing honors, until?as he naively remarked?he came more than once to stand before kings. How fortunate he was is revealed by contrast with the career of his great English counterpart and fellow spirit, Daniel Defoe, whose Essay on Projects-a classic document of the rising middle class-might well have been Franklin's first textbook.

The earliest literary representative of the English middle class, Defoe preached the same gospel of social betterment. With his head full of projects for the advancement of trade and the material well-being of his fellows, he preached the new gospel of practical efficiency to a generation of wits, going so far as to assert that the ideal statesman should be sought, not among gentlemen but among merchants, whose training in business affairs had made them shrewd judges of men and capable in dealing with practical matters. But the London of Queen Anne was not a place in which to rise by preaching efficiency. Defoe's day had not yet come in England, and in spite of great abilities and arduous labors he remained a Grub Street hack, the servant and not the counselor of aristocratic politicians. Instead of coming to stand before kings-like the more fortunate Franklin-he stood often before constables; instead of cracking his joke and his bottle at Will's Coffee House, he was forced to study the ways of the unprosperous at Bridewell. But if he failed in his ambition to get on, he found a certain solace in the vicarious realization of his ideal. Robinson Crusoe, the practically efficient man making himself master of his environment, was the dream of Daniel Defoe; Franklin was the visible, new-world embodiment of that dream.

It was Franklin's supreme capacity for doing well the things which his fellow Americans held in esteem, that enabled him to rise out of obscurity to a position of leadership. Before he should be intrusted with the confidence of his fellow citizens, he must prove himself worthy of such confidence, and even in colonial America the task was far from easy. In the wealthier communities society was exclusive and select-nowhere more so than in Philadelphia and it could not be expected to view with approval the advancement of a printer-tradesman, especially if he were a member of the plebeian anti-Proprietary party. It was an evidence of Franklin's discretion that he removed from Boston, where neither his father's chandlery shop, nor his brother's baiting of the ruling gentry, would serve his purpose. In Philadelphia, free from family entanglements, he bent himself to the task of securing a competence, understanding how easily the wheel turns on a well-greased axle; and by the time he had come to his early forties he had kept his shop so well that henceforth it would keep him. He was ready to do his real work in the world; and in the choice of that work he revealed the curious flair for the timely that was so characteristic. His extraordinary successes in the field of civic betterments gained him the good will of the commonalty, and his experiments in natural philosophy won the approbation of the gentry. Interest in scientific inquiry, particularly in physics, had spread widely in England since the founding of the Royal Society, and to be an authority on magnetism was as evident a mark of breeding in Georgian England as discriminating judgment in the matter of manuscripts and mistresses had been a sign of culture among Florentine cinquecentists. In establishing a reputation as a natural philosopher, therefore, Franklin not only was acquiring dignity at home, but he was providing himself with a sure passport to European favor. And it was the seal of European approval that finally won for Franklin the grudging recognition of the first families of Philadelphia. A few held out against him and to the day of his death regarded him with disapproval; but in the end his personal charm prevailed with all but a handful of elderly Tory ladies. So delightful a wit and so useful a citizen could not be dismissed as a pushing tradesman.

Franklin first entered politics as a member of the popular party, then engaged in a bitter struggle with the Proprietors over tax matters, defense of the frontier, and other questions of acute popular concern. There was the usual colonial alignment between the backcountry yeomanry and the town gentry; between the agrarian and mercantile interests; and the dispute had reached a point where the yeomanry determined to appeal to the King to convert the commonwealth into a Crown Colony. As one of the leaders of the popular party, Franklin was singled out for attack. A bitter election went against him, and he lost his seat in the Assembly, only to be chosen Colonial Agent to England, there to begin his long diplomatic career. Probably no other attack which Franklin suffered was so coarse or vindictive as this assault by the Proprietary party, led by the first gentlemen of Philadelphia, John Dickinson among them. Unpleasant as the experience was, it proved of service to Franklin, for it taught him how quickly the hornets would be about the ears of anyone who disturbed the nest of official perquisites; and this was worth knowing to a colonial diplomat on his first mission to a court and parliament where yellow jackets were uncommonly abundant.1

He was nearly threescore when he set out on his diplomatic mission, which beginning modestly as temporary agent of the antiProprietary party of Pennsylvania, was to broaden immensely as the American difficulties increased, until he became in the eyes of all the world the spokesman of the colonial cause; first at London to King, Parliament, and people, and later at Paris to all Europe. It was a mission of discussion and argument, curiously illuminating to a colonial bred in a simple, decentralized world. Before he went abroad Franklin had been a democrat by temperament and environment; when he returned he was a democrat by conviction, confirmed in his preference for government immediately responsible to the majority will. Centralized Tory governments had taught him the excellence of town-meeting ways. At London he discovered widespread political corruption. It was a world flyblown with the vices of irresponsible power. The letters of Franklin are full of the scandal of bribe-taking and pensionmongering, of gross parliamentary jobbery. The elections of 1768 were a debauch, the brisk bidding of Indian nabobs sending the market price of parliamentary seats up to four thousand pounds. "It is thought," he wrote on March 13, "that near two millions will be spent on this election; but those, who understand figures and act by computation, say the crown has two millions in places and pensions to dispose of, and it is well worth while to engage in such a seven years lottery, though all that have tickets should not get prizes."2 To expect such a government to be swayed by appeals to justice or abstract rights was plain folly, Franklin very quickly learned. The colonial goose was there to be plucked, and gentlemen who gained their livelihood by skillful plucking would not easily be denied. "To get a larger field on which to fatten a herd of worth less parasites, is all that is regarded," wrote the celebrated London physician, Dr. Fothergill, to Franklin.3 Even war with the colonies might not seem undesirable to some, for "an auditor of the exche- quer has sixpence in the pound, or a fortieth part, of all the public money expended by the nation, so that, when a war costs forty millions, one million is paid to him."4

It was a bitter experience for one who had grown up in respect for England and veneration for English traditions. Franklin was not a man of divided loyalties, and his love of the old home was deep and sincere. He had many warm friends there, and the idea of American separation from the empire was profoundly repugnant to him. It was not till he was convinced beyond hope that America could expect from the English government nothing but ignoble dependence that he accepted the idea of independence. Again and again he complained bitterly of "the extreme corruption prevalent among all orders of men in this rotten old state."5 "I wish all the friends of liberty and of man would quit that sink of corruption, and leave it to its fate." "I do not expect that your new Parliament will be either wiser or honester than the last. All projects to procure an honest one, by place bills, etc., appear to me vain and impracticable. The true cure, I imagine, is to be found in rendering all places unprofitable, and the King too poor to give bribes and pensions. Till this is done, which can only be by a revolution (and I think you have not virtue enough left to procure one), your nation will always be plundered, and obliged to pay by taxes the plunderers for plundering and ruining. Liberty and virtue therefore join in the call, COME OUT OF HER, MY PEOPLE !"6 "The people of England . . . are just and generous," wrote his friend David Hartley, member of Parliament, "and, if it were put to the sense of the people of England, you would not be left in any doubt whether it was want of will, or want of power, to do you justice. You know the blot of our constitution, by which, to our disgrace, and to your misfortune, a corrupt ministry, sheltered by Parliamentary influence, are out of our immediate control. A day of account may come, when the justice of the nation may prevail; and if it comes not too late, it may prove a day of reconciliation and cordial reunion between us and America."7 He is blind indeed who cannot see in such experience the explanation of Franklin's later efforts in Pennsylvania and in the constitutional convention to keep government in America responsive to the will of the people.

During the long years of his ambassadorship, so rich in intellectual opportunity, Franklin was intimately concerned with economics and politics, and he found in them subjects congenial to his talents. By temperament he was what we should call today a sociologist. He cared little for abstract reasoning, but much for social betterment; and this led him to examine critically current economic theory in the light of present fact. All his life economics was a major interest with him, and his several contributions entitle him to be regarded as our first important economist, the only one indeed before the nineteenth century. His chief guides in this little explored field seem to have been Sir William Petty, the statistician of the Restoration period, in his younger days, and the French Physiocrats in later years. He was the first American to abandon the traditional mercantile school-a generation before other American thinkers had repudiated it; and he was the first to ally himself with the rising school of laissez faire.

In the year 1729, when he was just turned twenty-three, Franklin entered the field of economics with a pamphlet entitled A Modest Inquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency. It is a curiously suggestive work, not only for the light which it sheds on his economic views, but on his social and political sympathies. It marks his early alignment with the agrarian party, to which he adhered to the end of his life. From the days when Samuel Sewall first confronted the question of land-banks in the Massachusetts legislature till the British government forbade all issues of bills of credit, the currency question was bitterly debated in the several colonies. It was primarily a class issue, in which the town merchants and money lenders found themselves outvoted by the agrarian debtors and small men. Little light had come from those debates on the nature of money and its social functions; but much heat had been engendered over the supposed question of honest versus dishonest money. With this cheap fallacy Franklin was not concerned; but he was greatly concerned in this and in later papers in expounding the quantitative theory of money, the nature of credit, and the important fact, overlooked by the hard-money men, that gold and silver are themselves commodities, fluctuating in value with supply and demand. This first pamphlet, Franklin afterward remarked, "was well received by the common people in general; but the rich men disliked it, for it increased and strengthened the clamor for more money; and, they happening to have no writers among them that were able to answer it, their opposition slackened, and the point was carried by a majority in the House."8

By much the most interesting idea in the pamphlet, however, is the elaboration of the labor theory of value. Commenting on this, McMaster says in his Life of Franklin:

Bad as were his notions of political economy, his pamphlet contained one great truth,?the truth that labor is the measure of value. Whether he discovered, or, as is not unlikely, borrowed it, he was the first openly to assert it; and his it remained till, forty?seven years later, Adam Smith adopted it and rearmed it in "The Wealth of Nations."9

Unfortunately the biographer's knowledge of the history of economic thought was as faulty as, in his judgment, were Franklin's economic principles. In his Treatise of Taxes, written in 1662, Sir William Petty?whom Franklin in many ways greatly resembled-clearly elaborated the principle of labor-value;l0 it was restated by Vauban in 1707, in his Projet dune disme Royale, by Hume in 1752, and later by the Physiocrats; and when Adam Smith wrote it was pretty widely known. There can be little doubt where Franklin got it. The similarity between his work and that of Sir William Petty is too evident to escape comment. But that does not lessen the significance of the fact that a self-trained provincial of three and twenty should have read Petty's work, seized upon the salient idea and turned it to effective use, years before economic students generally were acquainted with it. All his life Franklin took up ideas like a sponge, and what he took he incorporated with the solid results of his own observations.

During his stay in England Franklin came in close contact with the body of Physiocratic writings, which seem to have greatly stimulated his interest in economic thought. The school was at the height of its influence between the years 1763 and 1772, and had pretty well undermined the position of the mercantilists. They were the founders of modern social science and their teachings contained in germ the liberal doctrine of economics in its entirety. In their emphasis upon free trade and laissez-faire competition, on the police theory of the state, on property, security, liberty, on the natural laws of association and self?interest, and especially in their emphasis on land as the sole source of wealth, they presented a system of economics that fitted American conditions as Franklin understood those conditions. In one important pointtheir acceptance of an absolute prince-Franklin broke with them wholly; but their preference for agriculture over manufacturing and commerce accorded with his deepest convictions. America was notably happy and contented in comparison with Europe, and America would remain happy and contented, he believed, so long as land was abundant and her farmers remained freeholders. The new middle-class gospel of industrialism he profoundly distrusted. He shared Goldsmith's concern over the destruction of the English peasantry and the creation of a degraded proletariat. Manufacture and trade developed only where free land was inadequate or the peasants were dispossessed; industrialism sprang from the national poverty and was nourished by it. Writing in 1760 he said:

Unprejudiced men well know, that all the penal and prohibitory laws that were ever thought on will not be sufficient to prevent manufactures in a country, whose inhabitants surpass the number that can subsist by the husbandry of it . . . . Manufactures are founded in poverty. It is the number of poor without land in a country, and who must work for others at low wages or starve, that enables undertakers to carry on a manufacture, and afford it cheap enough to prevent the importation of the same kind from abroad, and to bear the expense of its own exportation. But no man, who can have a piece of land of his own, sufficient by his labor to subsist his family in plenty, is poor enough to be a manufacturer, and work for a master. Hence while there is land enough in America for our people, there can never be manufactures to any amount or value.11

Nine years later, in his Positions to be Examined, concerning National Wealth, he stated the Physiocratic theory thus:

There seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by war, as the Romans did, in plundering their conquered neighbors, This is robbery. The second by commerce, which is generally cheating. The third by agriculture, the only honest way, wherein man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle, wrought by the hand of God in his favor.12

Franklin's prejudice against trade somewhat lessened in after years, as he considered the economic need of free exchange of commodities. In 1774, two years before the publication of The Wealth of Nations, he collaborated with George Whately in writing a pamphlet entitled Principles of Trade, that suggests Adam Smith. Franklin was acquainted with Smith, had visited him, and doubtless had discussed with him the theory of laissez faire, division of labor, use of machinery, and other principles of the new school, but no mention of him is made.13 The central doctrine is thus elaborated:

Perhaps, in general, it would be better if government meddled no farther with trade, than to protect it, and let it take its course. Most of the statutes, or acts, edicts, arrets, and placarts of parliaments, princes, and states, for regulating, directing, or restraining of trade, have, we think, been either political blunders, or jobs obtained by artful men for private advantage, under pretense of public good. When Colbert assembled some wise old merchants of France, and desired their advice and opinion, how he could best serve and promote commerce, their answer, after consultation, was, in three words only, Laissez?noes faire: "Let us alone." It is said by a very solid writer of the same nation, that he is well advanced in the science of politics, who knows the full force of that maxim, Pas trop gouverner: "Not to govern too much." Which, perhaps, would be of more use when applied to trade, than in any other public concern. It were therefore to be wished, that commerce was as free between all the nations of the world, as it is between the several counties of England; so would all, by mutual communication, obtain more enjoyments. Those counties do not ruin one another by trade; neither would the nations. No nation was ever ruined by trade, even seemingly the most disadvantageous.14

As a colonial, long familiar with the injustice of Nagivation Laws, Boards of Trade, and other restrictions in favor of British tradesmen, Franklin agreed with Adam Smith on the principle of free trade; but with later developments of the laissez faire school-its fetish of the economic man and its iron law of wages-he would not have agreed. Plugson of Undershot was no hero of his, and the social system which Plugson was creating would have seemed to him as vicious as the old system with its "bad, wasteful, plundering governments, and their mad destructive wars." In his later speculations he was rather the social philosopher than the economist, puzzled at the irrationality of society that chooses to make a pigsty of the world, instead of the garden that it might be if men would but use the sense that God has given them. "The happiness of individuals is evidently the ultimate end of political society,"15 he believed, and a starvation wage system was the surest way of destroying that happiness."16 In one of the most delightful letters that he ever wrote, Franklin commented on the ways of men thus:

It is wonderful how preposterously the affairs of this world are managed. Naturally one would imagine, that the interests of a few individuals should give way to general interest; but individuals manage their affairs with so much more application, industry, and address, than the public do theirs, that general interest most commonly gives way to particular. We assemble parliaments and councils, to have the benefit of their collected wisdom; but we necessarily have, at the same time, the inconvenience of their collected passions, prejudices, and private interests. By the help of these, artful men overpower their wisdom and dupe its possessors; and if we may judge by the acts, arrets, and edicts, all the world over, for regulating commerce, an assembly of great men is the greatest fool upon earth? . . . .

What occasions then so much want and misery? It is the employment of men and women in works, that produce neither the necessaries nor conveniences of life, who, with those who do nothing, consume necessaries raised by the laborious . . . . Look round the world, and see the millions employed in doing nothing, or in something that amounts to nothing, when the necessaries and conveniences of life are in question. What is the bulk of commerce, for which we fight and destroy each other, but the toil of millions for superfluities, to the great hazard and loss of many lives? . . . It has been computed by some political arithmetician, that, if every man and woman would work for four hours each day on something useful, that labor would produce sufficient to procure all the necessaries and comforts of life, want and misery would be banished out of the world, and the rest of the twenty?four hours might be leisure and happiness.17

But the immediate problem of Franklin as representative of the colonies at St. James's, was political-how to reconcile the antagonistic ambitions of the sundered bodies of Englishmen; and the solution which he set forth with admirable clearness, bears the impress of a mind intent upon the reality behind parchment pretense. While lawyers were befogging the issue with legal quibble, and politicians were proving the unconstitutionality of the forces stirring in eighteenth-century America, Franklin was more concerned with adjusting imperial policy to existing fact. On one side were the colonies, in which the practice of local self-government had taken deep root; whether the practice was sanctioned by their charters or the British constitution was beside the question. On the other side was the British parliament, serving as a legislative body for its proper constituency, the people of the British Isles. Over both colonies and parliament, providing an effective but ungalling tie to bind the parts together, was the King, to whom both paid willing allegiance. So long as England was content to maintain the status quo, the colonies, Franklin believed, would remain loyal to the empire; but if the ministry persisted in its program of extending parliamentary sovereignty over the colonies, the outcome must be one of two things, federation or separation.

To the principle of federation Franklin was an early and faithful friend. The conception of a federal union of the several colonies was slowly spreading in. America, and no other colonial had done so much to further it; in his well-known Plan of Union he had sketched the outlines of a federal constitution; what was more natural, therefore, than for him to think in terms of a Federated British Empire, as a statesmanlike solution of the present perplexities. The plan involved two problems: first, an inquiry into the nature and constitution of an imperial parliament, and second, provision for an equitable representation of the several divisions of the empire. The present difficulties had arisen out of the ambition of the British parliament to assume sovereignty over the colonial legislatures, thereby reducing them to a dependent status; those difficulties would be settled only by constitutional recognition of local rights and local sovereignties. "The British state," he argued, "is only the Island of Great Britain," and if by reason of familiarity with local needs, "the British legislature" is "the only proper judge of what concerns the welfare of that state," why does the principle not hold for the several colonial legislatures?

Here appears the excellency of the invention of colony government, by separate, independent legislatures. By this means, the remotest parts of a great empire may be as well governed as the centre; misrule, oppressions of proconsuls, and discontents and rebellions thence arising, prevented. By this means, the power of a king may be extended without inconvenience over territories of any dimensions, how great soever. America was thus happily governed in all its different and remote settlements, by the crown and their own Assemblies, till the new politics took place, of governing it by one Parliament, which have not succeeded and never well.18

In this dream of a British Empire Franklin was far in advance of his time. On both sides of the ocean selfish and unimaginative men stood ready to thwart all such proposals; little Englanders and little colonials in vast numbers were concerned with more immediate and personal interests than those of the English race. Nevertheless Franklin was convinced that the gods, if not the Tories, were on the side of the colonies. The enormous increase in material strength that the years were swiftly bringing to America was an augury of good hope; the legitimate demands of America would be granted when America had grown too strong to be denied, which must be shortly. In the meantime it was the duty of Englishmen, British and colonial alike, to endeavor "with unfeigned and unwearying zeal to preserve from breaking that fine and noble China vase, the British empire." It was the traditional policy of "protract and grow strong"-a wise and sane policy and Franklin clung to it until he was convinced of its utter futility. One other choice remained-separation; and he made that choice sadly, understanding better than most what it involved.

The years which followed were filled to the brim for Franklin as well as for America. Ideals changed and principles clarified swiftly; but his social philosophy was founded on too wide and sobering an experience with men and governments, to sway with every gusty passion of the times. He had been a democrat from his youth up and in those critical first days of independence, when the forces of agrarianism were taking possession of state governments, he threw in his lot with them, and joined heartily in the stimulating work of providing a democratic constitution for Pennsylvania. During the later years of reaction following the peace, when so many Revolutionary leaders endeavored to stay the agrarion movement and undo its work, he saw no cause to lose faith in government immediately responsive to the majority will. He was a forerunner of Jefferson, like him firm in the conviction that government was good in the measure that it remained close to the people. He sat in the Constitutional Convention as one of the few democrats, and although he was unable to make headway against the aristocratic majority, he was quite unconvinced by their rhetoric. For years he had been an advocate of unrestricted manhood suffrage, annual parliaments,l9 and a single chamber legislature; and when he heard eloquent young lawyers argue that a single?chamber legislature, responsive to a democratic electorate, must lead to mob legislation, and that good government required a carefully calculated system of checks and balances, he remarked:

It appears to me . . . like putting one horse before a cart and the other behind it, and whipping them both. .If the horses are of equal strength, the wheels of the cart, like the wheels of government, will stand still; and if the horses are strong enough the cart will be torn to pieces.20

When in 1790 it was proposed to substitute a bicameral system for the single chamber in Pennsylvania, Franklin came to the defense of the simpler, more democratic form, with a vivacity little staled by years:

Has not the famous political fable of the snake, with two heads and one body, some useful instruction contained in it? She was going to a brook to drink, and in her way was to pass through a hedge, a twig of which opposed her direct course; one head chose to go on the right side of the twig, the other on the left; so that time was spent in the contest, and before the decision was completed, the poor snake died with thirst.21

Both his economic principles and his views on government have been condemned by Federalistic critics as tainted with populism. They both sprang from the same root of agrarian democracy. Whether Franklin or his critics more adequately represented the larger interests of eighteenth?century America is beside the present question; it is enough to note that all such criticism is leveled primarily at Franklin's democratic philosophy as a thing in itself undesirable, if not dangerous.

Franklin may often have been wrong, but he was never arrogant, never dogmatic. He was too wise and too generous for that. In the midst of prosperity he never forgot the.unprosperous. All his life his sympathy went out to whoever suffered in person or fortune from the injustice of society: to the debtor who found himself pinched by the shrinking supply of currency; to the black slave who suffered the most elementary of wrongs; to impressed seamen; to the weak and wretched of earth. He was a part of that emerging humanitarian movement which, during the last half of the eighteenth century, was creating a new sense of social responsibility. True to his Physiocratic convictions, Franklin was social-minded. He was concerned not with property or class interests, but with the common welfare; and in his quick sympathy for all sorts and conditions of men, in his conviction that he must use his talents to make this world better and not exploit it, he reveals the breadth and generosity of his nature. Reason and work, in his pragmatic philosophy, are the faithful handmaids of progress, of which war, whether public or private, is the utter negation. After long years of thought he rendered a judgment which later experience has not reversed, "there is no good war and no bad peace."

It is to little purpose that certain shortcomings of Franklin are dwelt upon. "There is a flower of religion, a flower of honor, a flower of chivalry, that you must not require of Franklin," said Sainte?Beuve; a judgment that is quite true and quite obvious. A man who is less concerned with the golden pavements of the City of God than that the cobblestones on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia should be well and evenly laid, who troubles less to save his soul from burning hereafter than to protect his neighbors' houses by organizing an efficient fire-company, who is less regardful of the light that never was on sea or land than of a new model street lamp to light the steps of the belated wayfarer-such a man, obviously, does not reveal the full measure of human aspiration. Franklin ended as he began, the child of a century marked by sharp spiritual limitations. What was best in that century he made his own. In his modesty, his willingness to compromise, his openmindedness, his clear and luminous understanding, his charity-above all, in his desire to subdue the ugly facts of society to some more rational scheme of things he proved himself a great and useful man, one of the greatest and most useful whom America has produced.


1"You know," wrote Franklin to his wife on the eve of his departure, "that I have many enemies . . . and very bitter ones; and you must expect their enmity will extend in some degree to you." He was forced to slip away and get secretly on board the vessel. His activities were reproved thus by a certain Tory lady:

Oh! had he been wise to pursue
The track for his talents designed,
What a tribute of praise had been due
To the teacher and friend of mankind.

But to covet political fame
Was in him a degrading ambition,
The spark that from Lucifer came,
And kindled the blaze of sedition.

(In Works, Vol. VII, p. 267.)

In Sargent's Loyal Verses of Joseph Stansbury and Doctor Jonathan Odell, these verses are attributed to a less likely source.

2Works, Vol. VII, p. 398.

3Ibid., Vol. V, p. 81.

4Ibid., Vol. II, p. 428. A good deal of light is thrown upon the ways of the ministry in Franklin's account, Negotiations in London. See in particular pp. 37, 68, 76 of Vol. V, where Lord Hyde and Lord Howe exhibit special solicitude for his advancement. His letters tell of successive attempts to approach him, and among his works is a little skit in which he speaks of himself thus: "Your correspondent Brittannicus inveighs violently against Dr.. Franklin, for his ingratitude to the ministry of this nation, who have conferred upon him so many favors. They gave him the post?office of America; they made his son a governor; and they offered him a post of five hundred a year in the salt?office, if he would relinquish the interests of his country; but he has had the wickedness to continue true to it, and is as much an American as ever. As it is a settled point in government here, that every man has his price, it is plain they are bunglers in their business, and have not given him enough." (Works, Vol. IV, pp. 534-535)

5Ibid., Vol. VIII, p. 146.

6Ibid., Vol. VIII, pp. 215, 505.

7Ibid., Vol. VIII, p. 177.

8Works, Vol. II, p. 254.

9P. 64.

10See Economic Writings of Sir W. Potty, Cambridge Press, Vol. I, pp. 43-51.

11Works, Vol. IV, p. 19.

12Ibid., Vol. II, p. 376.

13Ibid., Vol. II, p. 43.

14Ibid., Vol. II, p. 401.

15Ibid., Vol. II, p. 323.

16See "Reflections on the Augmentation of Wages, etc.," in Ibid., Vol. II, p. 436.

17"On Luxury, Idleness, and Industry," in Ibid., Vol. II, pp. 448-451.

18Works, Vol. IV, p 282. For Franklin's views on American representation in Parliament, see Vol, VII, pp. 315, 329.

19See the pamphlet indorsed Some Good Whig Principles, of the probable date of 1768-69, in Works, Vol. II.

20Works of Thomas Paine, edited by Moncure D. Conway, Vol. IV, p. 465.

21In "Queries and Remarks Respecting Alterations in the Constitution of Pennsylvania," in Works, Vol. V, p. 167.