Benjamin Franklin: In His Own Words...

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Sections: Introduction - A Cause For Revolution - Break With Britain - Continental Congress
Treaty of Paris - The New Republic - Scientist and Inventor - Printer and Writer - Epitaph

Break with Britain

Franklin began his career as a diplomat and statesman when he went to London in 1757 as an agent of the Pennsylvania assembly and became an absentee deputy British postmaster for North America. There he remained, except for a brief return to Philadelphia, until the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, serving as an American provincial agent and pursuing his interests as an inventor, scientist, and author. In London, Franklin gradually ceased his support for British rule and became an American revolutionary.

"You Are Now My Enemy"

Willliam Strahan, an English printer and publisher, who was Franklin's friend and correspondent for many years, voted with the majority of Parliament to proclaim the Americans as rebels. Franklin drafted but never sent this well-publicized letter to Strahan to sever their friendship.

Benjamin Franklin to William Strahan (1715-1785), July 5, 1775
Benjamin Franklin to William Strahan
(1715-1785), July 5, 1775

Manuscript letter
Enlarged version
Manuscript Division (10)

Partial Transcription

"Tract Relative to the Affair of Hutchinson's Letters written by Dr. Franklin." [1774]
"Tract Relative to the Affair of Hutchinson's Letters written by Dr. Franklin." [1774]
Manuscript document
Manuscript Division (11)

Partial Transcription

Response to the Hutchinson Affair

Benjamin Franklin wrote this tract after Alexander Wedderburn, British Solicitor-General, sharply attacked Franklin. Wedderburn asserted that Franklin was a "true incendiary" before the Privy Council on January 29, 1774, and accused him of being the "prime conductor" in the agitation against the British government largely for illegally obtaining copies of Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson's letters filled with advice on how to subdue America by restricting its liberties. The tract was not published until after Franklin's death.

Franklin Before the Lords in Council

This engraving captures the abusive hour-long attack waged by the British Solicitor-General Alexander Wedderburn against Franklin before the Privy Council in January 1774. Franklin remained silent throughout the attack. He would later write of the incident: "Spots of Dirt thrown upon my Character, I suffered while fresh remain; I . . . rely'd on the vulgar Adage, that they would all rub off when they were dry."

Franklin before the Lords Council, Whitehall Chapel, London, 1774
Robert Whitechurch (1814-ca. 1880), engraver
Franklin before the Lord's Council,
Whitehall Chapel, London, 1774

Hand-colored engraving, 1859
Prints & Photographs Division (12)

Benjamin Franklin to Lord Richard Howe (1726-1799), July 20, 1776
Benjamin Franklin to Lord Richard Howe (1726-1799), July 20, 1776
Page 2
Manuscript letter
Manuscript Division (13)

Partial Transcription

"It is impossible we should think of Submission"

Just days after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by Congress, Benjamin Franklin wrote this stinging rebuke to the commander of British naval forces in North America and peace commissioner, Lord Richard Howe, who had offered pardons to American political leaders. The offer was rejected. Franklin replied that "It is impossible we should think of Submission to a Government" that has inflicted "atrocious Injuries" on Americans.

The Assumed Plan

This 1779 British political cartoon shows a laughing Franklin, at center, holding a copy of his "Plan" that calls for draining of the "British Ocean" to facilitate an invasion by French troops. In his other hand are strings connected to the noses of the French King and members of the French Court.

The Plan, or a Scene in the French Cabinet.
Artist unknown
The Plan, or a Scene in the French Cabinet.
[London: September 1779]
Enlarged version
Prints & Photographs Division (15)