Benjamin Franklin: The Statesman
|From 1754 to 1763, during the period
known as the French and Indian War, France, arch-nemesis of
Great Britain, was hoping to weaken its enemy's hold on the
American colonies. French soldiers along with their Native American
allies launched raids against colonial frontier settlements. The
western regions of the American colonies were in desperate need of
Witnessing the threat to its colonies, the English government called on all of the colonies north of Virginia to send representatives to a meeting at Albany, NY. Although the intention was to bolster colonial unity and form an alliance with the Iroquois Indians, one of the few tribes inhospitable with the French, Benjamin Franklin had much more grandiose plans. The Philadelphian delegate proposed a permanent intercolonial union in which a grand council would be established with authority over matters of defense, westward expansion, and Indian relations. This Albany Plan of Union would have given the council the power to levy taxes and to finance an army for colonial protection. Unfortunately, Benjamin's idea was a little too visionary. Not yet willing to commit to a unified government, the colonial assemblies rejected his idea. Nevertheless, the Albany Plan remained a powerful reminder of the enormous potential of a united American colonial government.
Political Cartoon emphasizing the importance of the Albany Plan of Union
As a respected citizen of Pennsylvania, Franklin sought a resolution to the Native American conflict. However, the few treaties that the Pennsylvania Assembly concluded with the Native Americans did little to alleviate the onslaught. In 1755, as part of the French and Indian War, Britain deployed military regiments to the colonies in order to stymie the French and Native American attacks.
Benjamin assisted the British commanding officer, General Braddock, with military advice and with the procurement of supplies. Faced with a severe shortage of wagons necessary for the transportation of troops, the General turned to Franklin, who claimed that each farmer in Pennsylvania had a cart available. Rather than permit the British to commandeer the colonists' property and risk alienating them, the keen statesman contracted with Pennsylvanian farmers to supply the much-needed wagons in exchange for monetary compensation. Franklin also warned Braddock that the Native Americans would resort to guerilla tactics, including ambushes and surprise attacks. Unfortunately, the General did not heed Benjamin's sound advice. British troops, conditioned to fight on the wide-open European plains, suffered a humiliating defeat near Fort Duquesne at the hands of the French and their Indian counterparts. The myth of English invulnerability was shattered.
A wounded General Braddock
With no other alternatives, the Pennsylvanian people relied on Benjamin Franklin for assistance. The Governor requested that Franklin be put in command of the defense of the northwestern frontier. Aided by the military expertise of his son, William, who served as an officer in the war against French Canada, Benjamin managed to construct a wooden fort while commanding an all-volunteer militia. Nevertheless, before he completed his term as defender of the frontier, the Pennsylvania legislature requested his services for even more urgent matters. The legislature, irate over the actions of the heirs of William Penn decided to send the statesman to London in 1757 in order to negotiate with the inheritors of the Pennsylvania colony. Near the end of the trans-Atlantic voyage, the ship transporting Franklin nearly suffered a tragic disaster. While the captain was fast asleep, the vessel almost collided with the jagged rocks off the coast of Great Britain. Fortunately, a passenger noticed a dimly lit lighthouse ashore and informed the slumbering captain, who diverted the ship just in time. Thus, the disaster was averted and one of the greatest colonial citizens avoided a premature death.
Arriving in London, Benjamin discovered that Penn's heirs were not willing to reason. Brandishing a royal charter direct from the British crown, the proprietors of Pennsylvania believed in their absolute authority and possessed a blatant disregard for the rights of Pennsylvanian citizens, which Franklin found repulsive. Although Pennsylvania's chief negotiator could not convince the descendants of William Penn to compromise, the voyage to England was not a total loss. While there, he befriended his landlord Margaret Stevenson, a widow and mother of a daughter named Mary. Benjamin was so smitten by Margaret and her daughter that he tried to arrange a marriage between William, his own son, and Mary. Circumstances prevented the match, but Benjamin maintained a fatherly love and concern for Mary up until his death. Meanwhile, Franklin's scientific accomplishments were commended no matter where the inventor traveled. In 1759, St. Andrews University in Scotland bestowed an honorary degree upon the Philadelphian, and Oxford University in England followed suit in 1762. Benjamin's stay in Great Britain enabled Pennsylvanian representative to refine his musical talents. While abroad, Franklin learned to play an assortment of musical instruments, including the harp, guitar, and violin. However, nothing gave him more satisfaction than his invention of the glass armonica. This truly wonderful instrument would have a profound influence on classical music throughout the next century.