An American citizen In England
|Arriving in London, Franklin presented
the petition to the King. George III flatly refused to interfere
with the Penns. His Majesty had more pressing concerns with the
rambunctious colonists. In 1765, English Parliament passed the
Stamp Act over Benjamin Franklin's objections. Back in colonial
America, strong vocal opposition was organized to protest this
legislation, which placed duties on such common items as legal
documents, newspapers, and playing cards while at the same time
denying Americans representation in Parliament. "No Taxation
Without Representation" became the rallying cry for the colonial
opponents of the Stamp Act. Groups such as the Sons of Liberty were
established to flout England's tyrannical legislation, and boycotts
of British goods were organized in order to make the Stamp Act
unprofitable and unpalatable to the English nation. Although his
original mission dealt with royal authority over the Pennsylvania
colony, Franklin adopted the role of representative of colonial
America. In fact, Benjamin labored assiduously to overturn the
Representative of Colonial America
In order to accomplish this, he enlisted the support of British merchants who were suffering from the colonial boycott, wrote eloquent articles for English newspapers, and presented colonial arguments before English Parliament. The British justified the Stamp Act as a means of raising revenue to pay for the expensive French and Indian War. In that conflict, the English claimed they had assisted the colonists by providing protection from Native American and French forces. However, Benjamin Franklin turned the tables. During a full session of Parliament, he argued that it was the colonists who had in fact aided the British throughout the war effort. In March of 1766, the Stamp Act was revoked, partly due to the boisterous colonists and partly due to Franklin's well-organized opposition. In Philadelphia, Franklin was hailed as a hero. Benjamin rejoiced when receiving the news of the revocation. Nevertheless, he remained pessimistic regarding colonial relations and anticipated that future conflicts would arise between English Parliament and the American colonial assemblies. The British legislature stubbornly refused to respect the cherished rights of its colonial subjects and seemed unwilling to accept colonial representation in Parliament. Therefore, Franklin worried that it was just a matter of time before the differences between colonial America and its Mother country became irreconcilable.
In 1767, Franklin visited the French court of Louis XV. Recognized for his meritorious achievements in the field of science, Benjamin was treated as an honored guest by the French nation. That same year, the ingenious Philadelphian journeyed to Ireland. Franklin was sympathetic to the cause of the nascent patriot movement, which advocated an end to British occupation. These Irish patriots eyed the brewing conflict between the American colonies and Great Britain with keen interest.
In the American colonies, each passing year intensified the tension between Parliament and its colonial subjects. With every English attempt to impose taxes in the colonies, the colonists grew more defiant and more determined to oppose the "subversive" actions of Parliament. The Townshend Acts levied further taxes but were repealed. The Boston Massacre in 1770, the Boston Tea Party of 1773, and the punitive Intolerable Acts imposed on the city of Boston portended the imminent American conflict.
Boston Tea Party of 1773
Serving as a colonial representative in England, Franklin was busy enough. Nevertheless, in 1773, with the colonies in an uproar, Benjamin was forced to answer to some charges leveled against him. The accusations stemmed from some letters written by the royal Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, that the wise Philadelphian had intercepted through a network of informants and contacts. In his correspondence, the royal governor criticized the Massachusetts Assembly and denounced the colonial view that they deserved the same liberties as English subjects. Franklin passed these letters along to Thomas Cushing, speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly. Cushing, in turn, distributed the letters to Samuel Adams, a leading Massachusetts patriot. Adams, recognizing the letters' potential value to the revolutionary cause, had Hutchinson's harsh words published. Within days, the colonists rallied and called for the immediate dismissal of Governor Hutchinson.
In England, Parliament was outraged that these confidential letters made their way to the New England press. In the eyes of the British government, Benjamin Franklin bore the brunt of the blame. He was ordered to obtain a lawyer and appear before the Lord's Committee of His Majesty's Privy Council for Plantation Affairs. Although Franklin was officially charged with stealing the letters in order to become the next Governor of Massachusetts, the real motive behind the accusations was to punish Benjamin for inciting the colonial independence movement through the distribution of Hutchinson's correspondence. At the age of sixty-eight, Franklin was required to stand an hour and a half in Parliament in the face of all of these ridiculous allegations. To further complicate the situation, various members of Parliament berated the Philadelphian and humiliated him by inviting all of England's most noble ladies to the parliamentary hearing. Franklin remained silent throughout the ordeal and, with the hearing's conclusion, walked out in a calm manner, refusing to present a defense. The day after his appearance, a letter arrived informing Franklin of his dismissal from the post of deputy postmaster general. It was this blow that seemed to affect Franklin most deeply. He had always taken pride in how he conducted postal affairs in the colonies.
Franklin at the mercy of a harsh Parliament
Indeed, these were difficult times for the senior Franklin. Yet more sorrow was yet to come. In December of 1774, his wife, Deborah, died of a stroke. Tragically, Benjamin had not seen her since 1764 and was not even aware that she was ill. With her death and with his humiliation before Parliament, Franklin boarded a ship in 1775 and headed for the colonies. The unsuspecting British never realized that Benjamin Franklin was due to exact a little revenge. Parliament had made the mistake of alienating one of the greatest minds of the eighteenth century. The censure in Parliament transformed Franklin's perceptions. He was no longer a British American. Rather, he was merely an American.