A Common Genius
|Besides the failed negotiations with the
Penns, Franklin had a political goal in Great Britain as well.
Meeting with some of the most powerful Parliamentary leaders, he
emphasized the importance of the American colonies. Benjamin
believed that the English undervalued their relationship with their
colonial counterparts and that the British government possessed a
very vague understanding of its colonial subjects. In this regard,
he was ever willing to enlighten the English as to the nature of
the colonial inhabitants. Of the attributes of colonial America,
the British found it most difficult to fathom the lack of nobility
within the colonies. Steeped in aristocratic tradition, the British
government was based on the principle that some individuals are by
birth entitled to greater authority and privilege than others.
Colonial America, on the other hand, stood in stark contrast to the
British ideals. On the North American continent, all men were
considered equal. Furthermore, each and every individual, through
hard work and exceptional talent, had the potential to rise to the
upper strata of American society. Benjamin Franklin epitomized the
Although he rubbed shoulders with the highest ranks of European nobility, Franklin always considered himself to be an ordinary Pennsylvanian citizen. Through his genius and persistence, Benjamin managed to become an eminent leader in colonial politics and in the field of science, but, in his heart, he remained the common man who tried to make an honest living at his trade. Despite his prestige, Franklin dressed and lived simply. He had no need for pompous wealth, believing a rich intellect was far more valuable than expensive clothes. Furthermore, Benjamin did not view any form of labor beneath his dignity. The ingenious colonist felt just as comfortable performing the duties as a common soldier in the city of Philadelphia as he did calling upon the King of England in the most lavish court of the eighteenth century. Perhaps, it was this distinction that separated Franklin most from his European counterparts.
Disappointed his negotiations with the Penns failed, Franklin sailed home in January of 1762. While in England, the people of Philadelphia had elected Benjamin to the Pennsylvania Legislature in honor of his service to the colony. Meanwhile, William, Franklin's son, had been appointed royal governor of the New Jersey colony. By naming William to the post, the British hoped to garner the support of Benjamin. However, the elder Franklin, possessing the most independent of minds, was not to be so easily swayed.
William Franklin: Governor of New Jersey
While serving in the Pennsylvania Legislature, Benjamin also had numerous responsibilities in his role as Deputy Postmaster General of North America. Franklin took great pride in this office. Under his stewardship, mail services improved tremendously throughout the colonies. For example, he arranged mail delivery from New York to British-occupied Montreal, Quebec, and established 24-hour service between the major cities of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.
In 1763, the British and French signed a peace treaty, temporarily suspending their ongoing conflict. Unfortunately, the truce did not extend to the Native Americans. Bands of hostile "Indians" continued to attack the colonial settlers on the Pennsylvania western frontier. In retaliation, some colonists massacred INNOCENT and PEACEFUL Native Americans. Near the Pennsylvania town of Bethlehem, Moravians, a group of settlers from Eastern Europe, protected some friendly Native Americans from riotous and murderous colonists. Invigorated with courage, the Moravians transported the natives to Philadelphia, in hopes of guaranteeing them safe haven. Tension was high in Philadelphia. Franklin, a man of utmost compassion, lobbied for the protection of the innocent Native Americans even though this decision ensured numerous political enemies. Benjamin, with his usual rational and logical thought, wrote:
"If an Indian injures me, does it follow that I may revenge that injury on all Indians?...If it be right to kill men for such a reason, then, should nay man with a freckled face and red hair kill a wife or child of mine, it would be right for me to revenge it by killing all the freckled red-haired men, women and children I could afterwards anywhere meet with."
As rioters neared the outskirts of Philadelphia, the Governor, at midnight, called on none other than Benjamin Franklin for advice. In preparation, Franklin and other citizens armed themselves for the city's defense. When the hostile colonists arrived in Philadelphia, they were confronted with Franklin's hastily organized but well-armed militia as well as with Franklin's reason. Meeting with the riotous mob, Benjamin managed to convince them to turn around and head home to their farms and fields. The Native Americans were saved, but not without some severe repercussions. The heirs of William Penn were irate. They had advocated the genocide and expatriation of the "Indian" race in Pennsylvania, offering rewards for Native American scalps. Franklin's noble actions had undermined their authority. Now, there could be no reconciliation between the Penns and Franklin.
Nevertheless, the Pennsylvania populace overwhelmingly approved of Franklin's handling of the situation and of the many years of service he had given to the colony. As a result, Franklin was elected to be Speaker of the Pennsylvania Legislature. While Franklin served as the presiding officer, the legislature formulated a petition requesting that the King of England take control of the government of Pennsylvania from the Penns. The legislature could no longer tolerate the actions of William Penn's heirs. Consequently, they preferred direct royal authority to the proprietorship of the Penns.
Outraged that Franklin would permit such a transgression against their colonial authority, the Penns organized fierce opposition to Franklin's reelection campaign. Due to the proprietors' efforts, Benjamin was ousted from office. However, despite the political setback, Franklin, with the support of the Pennsylvania Legislature, decided to deliver the petition personally to King George III of England. Leaving behind his wife and daughter, Franklin assumed he would be gone for a mere six months. Never did he suspect that circumstances in England and the situation in the colonies would require him to remain on the British Isles for the next ten years.