Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Benjamin Franklin, Reluctant Revolutionary

If Benjamin Franklin had died at the age of 68, he would probably be buried in Westminster Abbey. Until that time, there had been no more devout servant to the crown than he. The aftermath of the French and Indian War (or as Europeans call it, the Seven Years’ War), several of the colonies had hired Franklin to represent their interests in London, where he spent eleven years of his life.

It was only when Massachusetts’ Governor Hutchinson began to act in an incredibly high-handed way towards the colonists that Franklin first leaked embarrassing letters about Hutchinson’s administration in an effort to force the British government to change its policies, and when that was unsuccessful he broke with the crown.,When he arrived back in PA, he was so furious with the British government that he declared that if the colonists ran out of muskets and gunpowder, they would need to fight with bows and arrows rather than submit to the crown’s tax policies.

Franklin was only back in the colonies for a short time. Shortly after he signed the Declaration of Independence, he caught the next ship to France to serve as the American ambassador in Paris for the next eight years. The irony is that if only British parliamentarians had listened to Franklin in the 1770s, all this trouble could have been avoided. Franklin argued that there would be no colonial uprising if the colonists just had representation in Parliament. Quite a few other American legal scholars made the same argument.

Franklin anticipated that someday there would be more Englishmen living in North America than on the island of Britain, and he recommended that there be a peaceful separation rather like the division of the Roman Empire into the Western Empire ruled from Rome and the Eastern Empire ruled from Constantinople.

Ironically enough, it took the British government a bit more than a century to catch up to Franklin. What he advocated was virtually identical to the present-day British Commonwealth.

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