Category Archives: Franklin

Item of the Day: Franklin on the Interest of Great Britain (1760)

Full Title:

The Interest of Great Britain Considered with Regard to Her Colonies and the Acquisitions of Canada and Guadaloupe.  To which are added, Observations concerning the increase of Mankind, peopling of Countries, &c.  As the very ingenious, useful, and worthy Author of this Pamphlet [B——n F——n, LL. D.] is well-known and much esteemed in England and America; and seeing that his other Works have been received with universal Applause; the present Production needs no further Recommendation to a generous, free, an intelligent, and publick-spirited People.  The Second Boston-Edition.  London, Printed MDCCLX.  Boston, N. E. Reprinted and Sold by B. Mecom, at the New Printing-Office, near the Town-House.  1760.

I have perused with no small Pleasure the Letter addressed to Two Great Men, and the Remarks on that Letter.  It is not merely from the Beauty, the Force and Perspicuity of Expression, or the general Elegance of Manner conspicuous in both Pamphlets, that my Pleasure chiefly arises; it is rather from this, that I have lived to see Subjects of the greatest Importance to this Nation publickly discussed without Party-Views, or Party-Heat, with Decency and Politeness, and with no other Warmth than what a Zeal for the Honour and Happiness of our King and Country may inspire;–and this by Writers whose Understanding (however they may differ from each other) appears not unequal to their Candour and Uprightness of their Intention.

But, as great Abilities have not always the best Information, there are, I apprehend, in the Remarks some Opinions not well founded, and some Mistakes of so important a Nature, as to render a few Observations on them necessary for the better information of the Publick.   

The Author of the Letter, who must be every Way best able to support his own Sentiments, will, I hope, excuse me, if I seem officiously to interfere; when he considers, that the Spirit of Patriotism, like other Qualities good and bad, is catching; and that this long Silence since the Remarks appeared has made us despair of seeing the Subject further discussed by masterly Hand.  The ingenious and candid Remarker, too, who must have been misled himself before he employed his Skill and Address to mislead others, will certainly, since he declares he aims at no Seduction, be disposed to excuse even the weakest effort to prevent it. 

And surely if the general Opinions that possess the Minds of the People may possibly be of Consequence in publick Affairs, it must be fit to set those Opinions right.  If there is Danger, as the Remarker supposes that “extravagant Expectations” may embarrass “a virtuous and able Ministry,” and “render the Negotiation for Peace a Work of infinite Difficulty;” there is no less Danger that Expectations too low, through Want of proper Information, may have a contrary Effect, may make even a virtuous and able Ministry less anxious, and less attentive to the obtaining Points, in which the Honour and Interest of the Nation are essentially concerned; and the People less hearty in supporting such a Ministry and its Measures. 

The People of this Nation are indeed respectable, not for their Numbers only, but for their Understanding and their publick Spirit: They manifest the first, by their universal Approbation of the late prudent and vigorous Measures, and the Confidence they justly repose in a wise and good Prince, and an honest and able Administration; the latter they have demonstrated by the immense Supplies granted in Parliament unanimously, and paid through the whole Kingdom with Chearfulness.  And since to this Spirit and these Supplies our “Victories and Successes” have in great Measure been owing, is it quite right, is it generous to say, with the Remarker, that the People “had no Share in acquiring them?”  The mere Mob he cannot mean, even when he speaks of the Madness of the People; for the Madness of the Mob must bee too feeble and impotent, arm’d as the Government of this Country at present is, to “over-rule,” even in the slightest Instances, the “Virtue and Moderation” of a firm and steady Ministry.

While the War continues, its final event is quite uncertain.  The Victorious of this Year may be  the Vanquished of the next.  It may therefore be too early to say, what Advantages we ought absolutely to insist on, and make the sine quibus non of a Peace, If the Necessity of our Affairs should oblige us to accept of Terms less advantageous than our present Successes seem to promise us, an intelligent People, as ours is, must see that Nesessity, and will acquiesce.  But as a Peace, when it is made, may be made hastily; and as the unhappy Continuance of the War affords us Time to consider, among several Advantages gain’d or to be gain’d, which of them may be most for our interest to retain, if some and not all may possibly be retained; I do not blame the public Disquisition of these Points, as premature or useless.  Light often arises from a Collision of Opinions, as Fire from Flint and Steel; and if we can obtain the Benefit of the Light, without Danger from the Heat sometimes produc’d by Controversy, why should we discourage it.   


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Filed under 1760's, American Revolution, Colonial America, Eighteenth century, Franklin, Great Britain, New England, Political Pamphlets, Posted by Matthew Williams

Item of the Day: Historical Review of the Consitution and Government of Pensylvania [sic] (1759)

Full Title: An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pensylvania [sic], From its Origin; So far as regards the several Points of Controversy, which have, from Time to Time, arisen between The several Governors of the Province, and Their several Assemblies. Founded on authentic Documents. London: Printed for R. Griffiths, in Paternoster-Row, MDCCLIX [1759].

The Constitution of Pensylvania [sic] is deriv’d, first, from the Birthright of every British Subject; secondly, from the Royal charter granted to William Penn by King Charles II. and thirdly, from the Charter of Privileges granted by the said William Penn as Proprietary and Governor, in Virtue of the former, to the Freemen of the said Province and Territories; being the last of four at several Periods issued by the same Authority.

The Birthright of every British Subject is, to have a Property of his own, in his Estate, Person and Reputation; subject only to Laws enacted by his own Concurrence, either in Person or by his Representatives: And which Birthright accompanies him wheresoever he wanders or rests; so long as he is within the Pale of the British Dominions, and is true to his Allegience.

The Royal Charter was granted to William Penn in the Beginning of the Year 1681. A most alarming Period! The Nation being in a strong Ferment; and the Court forming an arbitrary Plan; which, under the Countenance of a small standing Army, there began the same Year to carry into Execution, by cajolling some Corporations, and forcing others by Quo Warrantos to surrender their Charters: So that by the Abuse of Law, the disuse of Parliaments, and the Terror of Power, the Kingdom became in Effect the Prey of Will and Pleasure.

The Charter Governments of America had, before this, afforded a Place of Refuge to the persecuted and miserable: And as if to enlarge the Field of Liberty abroad, which had been so sacrilegiously contracted at home, Pensylvania [sic] even then was made a new Asylum, where all who wish’d or desir’d to be free might be so for ever.

The Basis of the Grant express’d in the Preamble was, the Merits and Services of Admiral Penn, and the commendable Desire of his Son to enlarge the British Empire, to promote such useful Commodities as might be of Benefit to it, and to civilize the savage inhabitants. . . .

(See also blog posting of An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pensylvania for October 11, 2005)

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Filed under 1750's, Colonial America, Franklin, Government, History, Pennsylvania, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: The Busy-Body. — No. II. (1728-9)

Found In: The Works of Benjamin Franklin; Containing Several Political and Historical Tracts not Included in any Former Edition, and Many Letters Official and Private not Hitherto Published; with Notes and A Life of the Author. By Jared Sparks. Vol. II. Boston: Hilliard, Gray and Company, 1836.


TUESDA, FEBRUARY 11, 1728-9.

All fools have still an itching to deride,

and fain would be upon the laughing side. (Pope)


Monsieur de la Rochefoucault  tells us somewhere in his Memoirs, that the Prince of Conde delighted much in ridicule, and used frequently to shut himself up for half a day together in his chamber, with a gentleman that was his favorite, purposely to divert himself with examining what was the foible or ridiculous side of every noted person in the court. That gentleman said afterwards in some company, that he thought nothing was more ridiculous in anybody, than this same humor in the Prince; and I am somewhat inclined to be of this opinion. The general tendency there is among us to this embellishment, which I fear has too often grossly imposed upon my loving countrymen instead of wit, and the applause it meets with from a rising generation, fill me with fearful apprehensions for the future reputation of my country. A young man of modesty (which is the most certain indication of large capacities) is hereby discouraged from attempting to make any figure in life; his apprehensions of being out-laughed will force him to continue in a restless obscurity, without having an opportunity of knowing his own merit himself or discovering it to the world, rather than venture to oppose himself in a place where a pun or a sneer shall pass for wit, noise for reason, and the strength of the argument be judged by that of the lungs.

Among these witty gentlemen let us take a view of Ridentius. What a contemptible figure does he make with his train of paltry admirers! This wight shall give himself an hour’s diversion with the cook of a man’s hat, the heels of his shoes, an unguarded expression in his discourse, or even some personal defect; and the height of his low ambition is to put some one of the company to the blush, who perhaps must pay an equal share of the reckoning with himself. If such a fellow makes laughing the sole end and purpose of his life, if it is necessary to his constitution, or if he has a great desire of growing suddenly fat, let him eat; let him give public notice where any dull stupid rogues may get a quart of four-penny for being laughed at; but it is barbarously unhandsome, when friends meet for the benefit of conversation and proper relaxation from business, that one should be the butt of the company, and four men made merry at the cost of the fifty.

How different from this character is that of the good-natured, gay Eugenius, who never spoke yet but with a design to divert and please, and who was never yet baulked in his intention. Eugenius takes more delight in applying the wit of his friends, than in being admired himself; and if any one of the company is so unfortunate as to be touched a little too nearly, he will make use of some ingenious artifice to turn the edge of ridicule another way, choosing rather to make himself a public jest, than be at the pain of seeing his friend in confusion.

Among the tribe of laughers, I reckon the petty gentlemen that write satires, and carry them about in their pockets, reading them themselves in all company they happen into; taking an advantage of the ill taste of the town to make themselves famous for a pack of paltry, low nonsense, for which they deserve to be kicked rather than admired, by all who have the least tincture of politeness. These I take to be the most incorrigible of all my readers; nay, I expect they will be squibbing at the Busy-Body himself. However, the only favor he begs of them is this, that if they cannot control their overbearing itch of scribbling, let him be attacked in downright biting lyrics; for there is no satire he dreads half so much as an attempt towards a panegyric.


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Filed under 1720's, Franklin, Magazine, Newspapers, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin (1793)

Full Title: The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D. Late Minister Plenipotentiary from the United Sates of America to France, &c. &c. &c. Originally written by Himself, and now translated from the French. To which are added, Some Account of his Public Life, a Variety of Anecdotes Concerning Him, by M. M. Brissot, Condorcet, Rochefoucault, Le Roy, &c. &c. and the Eulogium of M. Fauchet . . . London: Printed for J. Parsons, No. 21, Pater-Noster Row, 1793.





I SHALL not enter into an unintesting detail relative to the manner in which the original mauscript of these memoirs, which are written in the Enlgish language, came into my possession. They appeared to me to be so interesting, that I did not hesitate a single moment to translate them into French.

The name of Franklin will undoubtedly become a passport to a work of this nature; and the character of truth and simplicity, discernible in every page, must guarantee its authenticiy; I have no manner of occasion to join other testimonies.

If, however, any critic chooses to disbelieve my assertion, and is desirous to bring the existence of the orignial manuscript into doubt, I am ready to verify it, by means of an immediate impression*; but, as I am not certain of the sale of a work written in a foreign language, I cannot publish it in any other manner than by means of a subsription, large enough to indemnify me the money advanced.

That part of the Memoirs of Franklin in my possession, includes no more than the first period of a life, the remainder of which has become illustrous by events of the highest importance; it terminates at the epoch when, after having married, he began to render himself celebated by plans and establishments of public utility.

It is very possible that he may have written more of his history; for the portion of it which I now present to the Publci, concludes, according to his own account, with the year 1771.

If this be the case, the heirs of that great man will not fail some day to publish it, either in England or in Pennsylvania, and we shall doubtless have a French translation, which will be received by the Public with great eagerness; but I am persuaded, that his family will not disclose any other than the most brilliant period of his life; and which is connected with the memorable part he acted in the world, both as a philospher and a statesman. They will never be prevailed upon to narrate the humble details of his early days, and the simple but interesting anecdotes of his origin, the obscurity of which, although it enhance the talents and the virutes of this great man, may yet wound their own vanity.

If my conjectures prove right; if the memoirs which they are about to publish under the name of Franklin should be mutilated; if the first part, so essential to readers capable of feeling and of judging, should be supressed, I shall applaud myself for having preserved it; and the world will be obliged to me for having enabled them to follow the early developments of the genius, and the first exertions of the sublime and profound mind of a man, who afterwards penetrated the mystery of electricity, and disconcerted the secret measures of despotism–who preserved the universe from the ravages of thunder, and his native country from the horrors of tyranny!

If I am accidentally mistaken; if the life of Franklin should appear entire, the Public will still have the advantage of anticipating the intersting part of a history which it has long and impatiently expected.

The principal object proposed by the American philosopher, in writing these memoirs, was to instruct posterity, and amuse his own leisure hours. He has permitted his ideas to flow, at the will of his memory and his heart, without ever making any effort to disguise the truth, notwithstanding it is not always very flattering to his self-love–but I here stop; it belongs to Frankin to speak for himself.

It will be easily perceived, that I have preserved as much as possible the ease and simplicity of his style in my translation. I have not even affected to correct the negligence of his language, or to clothe his sentiments with a gaudy dress, for which they have no manner of occasion; I should have been afraid of bereaving the work of one of its principal ornaments.

As these memoris reach no futher than his marriage, I have madeuse of other materials in order to complete so interesting a history; and I have also added a number of anecdotes and remarks relative to this philosphical American.


*Those who may be desirous of readin gthe Memoirs of the Private Life of Franklin, in the original, are requested to leave their names with Buisson, bookseller, Rue Haute-Feuille, No. 20. the work will be sent to the press as soon as there are 400 subscribers. The price is 48 sols.






THE life of the late Dr. Benjamin Franklin is, perhaps, a DESIDERATUM in modern biography; for the manner in which the statesman and philosopher, although destiture of birth, and of fortune, was enabled to struggle into opulence and celebrity, cannot fail to excite the interest, and gratify the curiousity of a liberal and enlightened age.

But this work is estimable in another point of view; for it may be considered as a treatise of enforcing the love of vitue and of industry, displaying the advantages arising form study, and exhibiting the most easy mode of acquiring literary and moral excellence.

Youth will be gratified by the early efforts of our Author’s rising genius, and old age comforted, at beholding that happy serentiy displayed in the latter period of his life.

The Translater would have presented the world with this volume long since, had he not been restrained by a certain degree of delicacy, mingled with veneration, towards the family of this great man; for on being informed by a respectable bookseller in St. Paul’s Church-yard, that the works of Franklin were about to be published by his grandson, he with-held the present publciation for seveal months, in expectation of that event.

He begs leave to add, that, throughout the whole work, he has attempted a plain, sober, unadorned style, as best adapted to convey the Author’s sentiments; and that, in the second part, he has supplied some erroneous dates, and cancelled a variety of unjust reflections which were thrown out in England against Dr. Frankin, during the late odious war with America, and too hastily adopted by the French Editor.

Feb. 1., 1793

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Filed under 1790's, Biography, Franklin, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

The Young Revolutionary, in Drag

 The following essay by Charlotte Harrigan of Hunter College has been awarded third place in the 2007 Eighteenth-Century Reading Room Essay Contest. Congratulations to Charlotte!

The Young Revolutionary, in Drag 

Imagine the life of a young couple, Mr. and Mrs. DoGood who had just left their home in England to start over in New England. As we all know, crossing the Atlantic was a perilous task, but this story is a particularly perilous one because Mrs. DoGood was pregnant. And shortly after the boat left the harbor, Mrs. DoGood unexpectedly went into labor. Making the situation ever more unfortunate was the throes of an impending storm, which made the sea rise violently and undoubtedly struck fear in the hearts of everyone on board. The brave and steadfast Mrs. DoGood must have summoned the entirety of her strength as the waves crashed around her and she bore a beautiful daughter, Silence, into the world.  But the story takes a sharp turn when just moments later, a merciless wave rose out of the dark, dreary sea and nearly devoured the ship.  Mrs. DoGood would only naturally cling to the small, fragile body of her newborn baby as the rest of the passengers struggled to stay alive.  When the water subsided, Mrs. DoGood gazed into the face of her helpless little girl, and must have been thrilled to realize they were safe once more. But unfortunately, the wave had carried her husband off to sea. Her despair was most likely as deep as the ocean. Little Silence entered the world the very day her father was literally, tossed out.[1]

This was the early life of Silence DoGood, a smart, witty woman whose tenure on earth had begun under unfortunate circumstances.  But Silence DoGood was not a real woman. She was a fictional character, an invention of none other than Benjamin Franklin.  Franklin had used the pseudonym of Silence DoGood in order to submit his writings to his older brother, who was then editor of the New England Courant.  Since Ben was only sixteen, and in a contentious sibling relationship with his brother, he feared that Franklin would not accept his writings. So Ben invented a personality to operate under.  Silence DoGood was an immediate hit. After New England Courant readers read her first piece, they eagerly awaited more.  And so Silence DoGood wrote fourteen pieces for the newspaper, and the popularity of her column aided in the newspaper’s growth.  These DoGood papers discussed subjects ranging from freedom of speech to hoop skirts.  Yet one can see in these early writings that sixteen year old Franklin was already demonstrating the traits of a future revolutionary.  This paper will explore the similarities the young Benjamin Franklin, operating under total anonymity, had with the mature and influential Franklin.  In order to answer these questions, the paper will determine why Franklin chose to write this column, what events (if any) his column was reacting to, and finally if his opinions anticipated or paralleled those of his later life.  In short, do the Silence DoGood letters reveal that Benjamin Franklin was always destined to be a Revolutionary?

The New England Courant itself had revolutionary origins.  At the time of the Newspaper’s inception, Cotton Mather (of Salem witch trial fame) was a prominent leader in Boston. Ben Franklin’s older brother James, felt that all the newspapers in the area were too compliant with the authorities of Boston- such as Mather, “who had a very strong influence on Boston society and politics.”[2] Thus, James sought to open his own paper, one that “would be lively, opinionated, and not averse to challenging the establishment.”[3] The first issue of the Courant attacked Mather’s method of inoculation against the smallpox epidemic of the time.  Cotton Mather immediately wrote a complaint in the Courant’s rival, the Boston News-Letter, calling the Courant a purveyor of “nonsense, unmanliness… immorality… arrogance… and to debauch and corrupt the minds and manners of New England.”[4] Today we know that inoculation is a successful method of fighting diseases and viruses, however, this would make little sense to any educated individual in the early 18th century. Even though James was wrong to argue with Mather on this subject, the fact that he argued with such a prominent member of society shows the newspaper’s courage and individuality.  Circulation numbers of the New England Courant are “impossible to know,” however, we do know that they must have been high enough to warrant a response from the stubborn Cotton Mather.[5]

Because of these feuds, Boston’s readers were subject to humorless quarreling and personal diatribes from their papers, making them an eager audience to the jovial and witty observances of Silence DoGood.  Before he posed as DoGood, Franklin had always been fond of reading and writing.  Yet his desire to communicate clearly and effectively did not always come easy.  Franklin had the advantage of the friendship and mentorship of  town intellectual and free thinker, John Collins.  Mr. Collins thought Franklin was a talented boy, but his writing style needed improvement.  In his autobiography, Franklin recalled that he “felt the justice of his remarks, became more attentive to language, and resolved to make every effort to improve my style.”[6] That very year Franklin saw an opportunity to practice his style when he observed that many of the Courant’s staff were writing editorials under pseudonyms.  Franklin wrote in his autobiography that he was “tempted to aspire to the same kind of reputation; but as I was still a boy, I naturally enough concluded that my brother would not insert any thing of which he knew me to be the author.”[7] Therefore, Benjamin Franklin submitted his editorial under the name of Silence DoGood.  James Franklin, completely unaware of its real author, immediately liked the piece.  After all, Silence DoGood poked fun at James’ archrival, Cotton Mather, who had recently published two books, “Silentarious,” and “Essays to Do Good.”[8]

Franklin used his natural wit to captivate readers.  His humorous essays were enhanced by his strong opinions and his meticulous observations of New England Society.  The first DoGood piece told the aforementioned story of DoGood’s origins because “the Generality of People” as Franklin (or Silence DoGood) observed “give their Opinion of the Performance, according to the knowledge which they have of the Author’s Circumstances.”[9] Franklin was criticizing the general public for judging an author’s work against his or her status, so he teased his readers with an inventive and humorous story, yet hooked them “into the realm of her sympathy.”[10]

Franklin also used his DoGood letters to criticize issues stretching beyond the literary world.  One issue he felt strongly about was education.  As discussed before, Franklin was an avid reader and would have done well at a university, however his father could not afford it, so he instead became an apprentice.  Benjamin Franklin did not have a high esteem for the university system.  He thought it more a status symbol and money-vacuum than a learning institution.  He believed that one could learn more from reading and from one’s own life lessons than from a college education.

 In her fourth letter, Mrs. DoGood describes a dream she had after discussing with her friend whether or not she should send her son to college. In the dream, she saw many people traveling to the “temple of learning,” most of them “dunces,” and “blockheads.” DoGood did not understand where they were going, but she was curious, so she decided to follow the crowd and find out.  When DoGood arrived at the temple, “the passage was kept by two sturdy Porters named Riches and Poverty, and the latter obstinately refused to give Entrance to any who had not first gain’d the Favour of the former.”[11] Thus, those without the proper funds were sent back, and only those who gave up enough money were allowed entrance.  In her dream, DoGood wondered about where those students would end up later in life.  Their parents sent them to school “because they think their Purses can afford it,” and their children “learn little more than how to carry themselves handsomely, and enter a Room genteely, (which might as well be acquir’d at a Dancing- School,) and from when they return, after Abundance of Trouble and Charge, as great Blockheads as ever, only more proud and self-conceited.”[12] When she awoke from her dream, she related all of its events to her friend, who after some thought, told her that her dream was a representation of Harvard College. Benjamin Franklin might have decided to attack the school in his DoGood letters because of the many negative encounters he had with students who attended this college, which was located in his home town.  Another reason might have been that Franklin, by age sixteen, was already a highly intelligent, well-read, and (as we now know) talented writer.  Franklin was brighter than many Harvard graduates, and he was self-taught.  Furthermore, New England was a society where people got by on their credentials, and it stands to reason that Franklin, who “never respected people for their credentials,” would therefore take it upon himself to “lampoon Harvard.”[13]

It is unclear why Benjamin Franklin chose to write under the disguise of a woman, but perhaps it is because he felt very strongly about the unfortunate nature of women’s circumstances.  Benjamin Franklin felt that the subjugation of women was wrong and unnecessary.  These views were eloquently expressed by Mrs. DoGood.  An anonymous “Ephraim Censorious,” wrote to DoGood that he wished her to direct her resentments “against Female Vice; let Female Idleness, Ignorance and Folly, (which are Vices more peculiar to your Sex than our’s,).”  He then asks her to reform her sex, and once she has, he assures her it will be much easier to reform men, as women “are the prime causes of a great many Male Enormities.”[14] Silence DoGood, always one to step up to the challenge, voiced her whole-hearted objection to Censorious’ insults.  In response to his accusation of idleness, DoGood argues that women “always have more work upon their hands than they are able to do.”  She then goes on to argue that, even if there are grounds for Censorious’ accusations, one must ask “whose fault is it?”  DoGood asserts that men are to blame for socially and professionally limiting a woman’s role in life.  DoGood also blames Censorious’ accusation of ignorance on “the fault wholly of men, for not allowing women the advantages of Education.”[15]

Franklin’s opinions on the treatment of women were  progressive for the era and society in which he lived.  English and New England society limited women’s roles to the home and maybe, in certain circumstances, to the lower levels of the church.  There was no need to educate women at the time because their traditional role was “providing food, clothing, shelter, and the rudiments of hygiene.”[16] This work, before the advent of technology, was very hard.  A woman had no time to educate herself but, more importantly, a woman’s education was thought of as useless because she could not serve in any position that required an education. Although women in new England society were encouraged to read so that they could understand the scriptures, they were not encouraged to engage in politics or any other mode of education, as most were too busy with household work.  But it wasn’t just the limitations of women’s education and professionalism that bothered Franklin.  Later in his life, he posed as another woman to voice a social injustice, albeit a fictional case (but certainly a realistic one, given the laws at that time) to the literary community.

Polly Baker, another invention of Benjamin Franklin, was a story that gained international attention in England and France when it was published in 1747.  In it, Franklin posed as a woman who was brought to court on the charges of producing illegitimate offspring.  Polly Baker lived in Connecticut, had five children and never a husband.  During her fifth child’s infancy, she was called to court for her ungodly lifestyle, during which she vehemently, yet respectfully renounced the charges brought against her.  The piece was called  “Speech of Polly Baker,” and in it, Franklin criticized the existing penal system.  Particularly, Franklin protested the Puritan-based law that “prohibited sexual intercourse outside wedlock and condemned the mother of an illegitimate child to the payment of a fine and to a public whipping.”[17] Polly Baker protested her impending punishment by arguing that her actions of bringing “five fine children into the world,” should be celebrated and not punished.[18] Since she had not burdened the town with financial help, she assumed the charges brought up against her were strictly from a religious objection.  This she argued by announcing that she had done the work that God set out for her: “increase and multiply.”  Furthermore, she added, “if mine is a religious offence, leave it to the religious punishments.”[19] Franklin decides to end Baker’s story with a happy ending. Baker’s defiant plea persuaded the court to drop her charges, and even led to one of the judges deciding to marry her and raise her children.

One can deduce Franklin’s political views from the humor in the Speech of Polly Baker.  This piece discussed the unjust nature of the punishment at hand.  In most of these cases, the “father of the child usually went entirely free,” so Franklin asks the question: Why should just the woman be punished? [20]Shouldn’t the man who promised marriage be punished for abandoning his responsibilities?  The men in the court were acting hypocritically against Baker’s sex, because men had just as important a part in producing illegitimate children as the female had.

Franklin also presents another important issue: separation of church and state (or at least for the consideration of Polly Baker’s trial).  He argues that if the grievances presented against Polly Baker are from a religious view, why should it be punished on Earth?  Let God decide her eternal fate, and the courts limit their dealings to secular matters.  Silence DoGood had earlier weighed in on this issue in her ninth letter, when she stated that, “A Man compounded of Law and Gospel, is able to cheat a whole Country with his religion, and then destroy them under Colour of Law.”[21]

Silence DoGood’s letters expressed many radical views, such as her statements about law and gospel.  But it wasn’t the publication of DoGood’s editorials that got the New England Courant in trouble; instead it was a statement the editor, James Franklin, had made suggesting that the local authorities were not trying to capture the pirates that had been attacking the coast that season.  James was jailed for his sarcastic and disrespectful statement that the Captain “will sail sometime this month, if wind and weather permit.”[22] Benjamin took over as editor while James was in prison, and Silence DoGood felt compelled to give her two cents on the matter.  DoGood submitted a letter to the Courant quoting a passage from the London Journal which delved into the importance of freedom of speech.  It read, “without Freedom of Speech, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty.”[23] This was a lesson Benjamin certainly learned from his brother’s imprisonment.

After his brother was released from prison, Ben continued to serve under him for a while longer.  But because of sibling rivalry and Ben’s adventurous nature, his “apprenticeship became insufferable,” and he managed to finesse his way out of it and moved to Pennsylvania, embarking on his now legendary life.[24] Franklin is famous for a number of reasons, a few being his Revolutionary spirit and intelligent contributions to our nation’s constitution.  It is certain that our nation would not be the same today without his originality.  But a very important aspect of the DoGood letters that must be reemphasized, is its stand-out humor.  For example, one DoGood letter is dedicated to the subject of Pride, a “reigning Vice of the Town.”  More specifically, “Pride of Apparel” which has manifested itself in the “monstrous topsy turvy Mortar-Pieces,” called Hoop-Petticoats.  DoGood asks of her readers to question whether women, “who pay no Rates or Taxes, ought to take up more Room in the King’s High- Way, than the Men, who yearly contribute to the Support of the Government.”[25]

Franklin’s good-humored demeanor was a large part of his public persona, as well as his mischievous spirit.  In the DoGood letters, one is able to see how that is applied to such a wide range of topics. What is more interesting about these letters is to read his early opinions (and in some cases, perhaps read under what circumstances his opinions originated) on matters that later formed the identity of our nation.  At just sixteen, Franklin discussed the importance of Freedom of Speech after his brother was jailed for insulting the Boston authorities.  Other issues discussed were the oppression of women and the separation of church and state.  His disgust with Harvard University’s petty education might have later led him to design his own discipline when he founded the University of Pennsylvania.  For these reasons, the DoGood letters are entertaining and substantive.  With the Silence DoGood letters, a modern reader is privileged to discover this young revolutionary. 

[1] J.A. Leo Lemay, Franklin: Silence DoGood, The Busy- Body, and Early Writings. (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1987). 5.

[2] H.W. Brands.  Interview by author.  Phone conversation.  New York, NY., May 8, 2007.

[3] Brands, First American, 25

[4] Brands, First American, 26.

[5] Brands, Interview

[6] Benjamin Franklin, The Works of the Late Benjamin Franklin. Consisting of His Life, Written by Himself.  Together with Essays, Humorous, Moral and Literary Chiefly in the Manner of the Spectator. (Charlestown: Principal Booksellers, 1798) 25.

[7] Benjamin Franklin, Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin. (London: Pater-Noster Row, 1793) 27.

[8] Brands, First American, 26.

[9] Lemay, Franklin, 5.

[10] Brands, First American, 29.

[11] Lemay, DoGood, 11.

[12] Lemay, DoGood, 13.

[13] Brands, Interview.

[14] Lemay, DoGood, 14.

[15] Lemay, DoGood, 15.

[16] Carol Hymowitz and Michaele Weissman, A History of Women in America. (New York: Bantam Books, 1978), 2.

[17] Marcello Maestro, “Benjamin Franklin and the Penal Laws.” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 36, No.3. (Jul.-Sep., 1994),551.

[18] Brands, First American, 203.

[19] Maestro, Franklin, 551.

[20] Maestro, Franklin, 551.

[21] Lemay, DoGood, 27.

[22] Brands, First American, 29.

[23] Benjamin Franklin, The Silence DoGood Letters II. (New York: Privately Printed, 1969.) 13.

[24] Franklin, Works of Franklin Consisting of his Life, 32.

[25] Lemay, DoGood, 17-19.  

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Filed under 1700's, Colonial America, Essay Contest, Franklin, Newspapers, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Correspondence of Benjamin Franklin and William Strahan (1775)

Full Title:  The Works of Benjamin Franklin; Containing Several Political and Historical Tracts Not Included in any Former Edition, and Many Letters Official and Private Not Hitherto Published; With Notes and A Life of the Author. By Jared Sparks.  Volume VIII. Boston:  Hilliard, Gray, and Company, 1839.


Comprising Letters Private and Official, From the Beginning of the American Revolution to

The End of the Author’s Mission to France. 1775-1785.


Philadelphia, 5 July, 1775.

Mr. Strahan,

You are a member of Parliament, and one of that majority, which has doomed my country to destruction.  You have begun to burn our towns, and murder our people.  Look upon your hands, they are stained with the blood of your relations!  You and I were long friends; you are now my enemy, and I am yours,




Passey, Augt, 19th. 1784

Dear Friend

I received your kind Letter of Apl. 17. You will have the goodness to place my delay in answering to the Account of Indisposition and Business, and excuse it. I have now that letter before me; and my Grandson whom you may formerly remember a little Scholar of Mr. Elphinson’s, purposing to set out in a day or two on a visit to his Father in London, I set down to scribble a little to you, first recommending him as a worthy young Man to your Civilities and Counsels.

You press me much to come to England; I am not without strong Inducements to do so; the Fund of Knowledge you promise to communicate to me is an Addition to them, and no small one. At present it is impracticable. But when my Grandson returns, come with him. We will then talk the matter over, and perhaps you may take me back with you. I have a Bed at your service, and will try to make your Residence, while you can stay with us, as agreeable to You if possible, as I am sure it will be to me.

You do not “approve the Annihilation of profitable Places, for you do not see why a Statesman who does his Business well, should not be paid for his Labour as well as any other Workman.” Agreed. But why more than any other Workman? The less the Salary the greater the Honor. In so great a Nation there are many rich enough to afford giving their time to the Public, And there are, I make no doubt many wise and able Men who would take as much Pleasure in governing for nothing as they do in playing Chess for nothing. It would be one of the noblest of Amusements. That this Opinion is not Chimerical the Country I now live in affords a Proof, its whole Civil and Criminal Law Administration being done for nothing, or in some Sense for less than nothing, since the Members of its Judiciary Parliaments buy their Places, and do not make more than three per Cent, for their Money, by their Fees and Emoluments, while the legal Interest is Five: so that in Fact they give two per Cent, to be allow’d to govern, and all their time and trouble into the Bargain. Thus Profit,one Motive for desiring Place, being abolish’d, there remains only Ambition; and that being in some degree ballanced by Loss,you may easily concieve that there will not be very violent Factions and Contentions for such Places; nor much of the Mischief to the Country that attends your Factions, which have often occasioned Wars, and overloaded you with Debts impayable.

I allow all the Force of your Joke upon the Vagrancy of our Congress. They have a right to sit where they please, of which perhaps they have made too much Use by shifting too often—But they have two other Rights; those of sitting when they please, and as long as they please, in which methinks they have the advantage of your Parliament; for they cannot be dissolved by the Breath of a Minister, and sent packing as you were the other day, when it was your earnest desire to have remained longer together.

You “fairly acknowledge that the late War terminated quite contrary to your Expectation.” Your expectation was ill founded; for you would not believe your old Friend, who told you repeatedly that by those Measures England would lose Her Colonies, as Epictetus warn’d in vain his Master that he would break his Leg. You believ’d rather the Tales you heard of our Poltronery and Impotence of Body and Mind. Do you not remember the Story you told me of the Scotch Sergeant, who met with a Party of Forty American Soldiers, and tho’ alone disarm’d them all and brought them in Prisoners; A Story almost as Improbable as that of the Irishman, who pretended to have alone taken and brought in Five of the Enemy, by surroundingthem. And yet, my Friend, sensible and Judicious as you are, but partaking of the general Infatuation, you seemed to believe it. The Word general puts me in mind of a General, your General Clarke, who had the Folly to say in my hearing at Sir John Pringle’s, that with a Thousand British Grenadiers he would undertake to go from one end of America to the other and geld all the Males partly by force and partly by a little Coaxing. It is plain he took us for a Species of Animals very little superior to Brutes. The Parliament too believ’d the Stories of another foolish General, I forget his Name, that the Yankies never felt bold. Yankey was understood to be a sort of Yahoo, and the Parliament did not think the Petitions of such Creatures were fit to be recieved and read in so wise an Assembly. What was the consequence of this monstrous Pride and Insolence? You first send small Armies to Subdue us, believing them more than sufficient, but soon found yourselves obliged to send greater; these whenever they ventured to penetrate our Country beyond the Protection of their Ships, were either repulsed and obliged to scamper out, or were surrounded, beaten, and taken Prisoners. An American Planter who had never seen Europe, was chosen by us to Command our Troops and continu’d during the whole War. This Man sent home to you, one after another, five of your best Generals, baffled, their Heads bare of Laurels, disgraced even in the Opinion of their Employers. Your Contempt of our Understandings in Comparison with your own appeared to be not much better founded than that of our Courage, if we may judge by this Circumstance, that in whatever Court of Europe a Yankey Negociator appeared, the wise British Minister was routed put in a passion, pick’d a quarrel with your Friends, and was sent home with a Flea in his Ear. But after all my dear Friend, do not imagine that I am vain enough to ascribe our Success to any superiority in any of those Points. I am too well acquainted with all the Springs and Levers of our Machine, not to see that our human means were unequal to our undertaking, and that if it had not been for the Justice of our Cause, and the consequent Interposition of Providence in which we had Faith we must have been ruined. If I had ever before been an Atheist I should now have been convinced of the Being and Government of a Deity. It is he who abases the Proud and favors the Humble! May we never forget his Goodness to us, and may our future Conduct manifest our Gratitude.

But let us leave these serious Reflections and converse with our usual Pleasantry. I remember your observing once to me, as we sat together in the House of Commons, that no two Journeymen Printers within your Knowledge had met with such Success in the World as our selves. You were then at the head of your Profession, and soon afterward became a Member of that Parliament. I was an Agent for a few Provinces and now act for them all. But we have risen by different Modes. I as a Republican Printer, always lik’d a Form well plaind down; being averse to those overbearing Letters that hold their Heads so high as to hinder their Neighbours from appearing. You as a Monarchist chose to work upon Crown Paper, and found it profitable; while I work’d upon Pro-patria (often indeed call’d Fools-Cap) with no less advantage. Both our Heapes hold out very well, and we seem likely to make a pretty good days Work of it. With regard to Public Affairs, (to continue in the same stile) it seems to me that the Compositors in your Chapel do not cast off their Copy well, nor perfectly understand Imposing, their Forms too are continually pester’d by the Outs, and Doubles, that are not easy to be corrected. And I think they were wrong in laying aside some Faces, and particularly certain Head-pieces, that would have been both useful and ornamental. But, Courage! The Business may still flourish with good Management; and the Master become as rich as any of the Company.

By the way, the rapid Growth and extension of the English language in America, must become greatly Advantageous to the Booksellers, and holders of Copy Rights in England. A vast audience is assembling there for English Authors, ancient, present and future, our People doubling every twenty Years; and this will demand large, and of course profitable, Impressions of your most valuable Books. I would therefore If I possessed such rights, entail them, if such a thing be practicable, upon my Posterity; for their Worth will be continually Augmenting. This may look a little like Advice, and yet I have drank no Madeira these Ten Months. The Subject however leads me to another thought, which is, that you do wrong to discourage the Emigration of Englishmen to America. In my piece on Population, I have proved, I think, that Emigration does not diminish but multiplies a Nation. You will not have fewer at home for those that go Abroad, And as every Man who comes among us, and takes up a piece of Land, becomes a Citizen, and by our Constitution has a Voice in Elections and a share in the Government of the Country, why should you be against acquiring by this fair Means a Repossession of it, and leave it to be taken by Foreigners of all Nations and Languages who by their Numbers may drown and stifle the English, which otherwise would probably become in the course of two Centuries the most extensive language in the World, the Spanish only excepted. It is a fact that the Irish Emigrants and their Children are now in Possession of the Government of Pensilvania, by their Majority in the Assembly, as well as of a great part of the Territory; and I remember well the first Ship that brought any of them over. I am ever, my dear Friend, Yours most Affectionately


W. Strahan, Esqr.

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Filed under 1770's, 1780's, American Revolution, England, Franklin, Letters, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: Political, Miscellaneous, and Philosophical Pieces (1779)

Full Title: Political, Miscellaneous, and Philosophical Pieces; Arranged under the following Heads, and Distinguished by Initial Letters in each Leaf: (G.P.) General Politics; (A.B.T.) American Politics before the Troubles; (A.D.T.) American Politics during the Troubles; (P.P.) Provincial or Colony Politics; and (M.P.) Miscellaneous and Philosophical Pieces; Written by Benj. Franklin . . . Now first collected, with Explantory Plates, Notes, and an Index to the Whole. London: Printed for J. Johnson, MDCCLXXIX.

 A PARABLE against Persecution, in Imitation of

Scripture Language.

AND it came to pass after these things, that Abraham sat in the door of his tent, about the going down of the sun. And behold a man bent with age, coming from the way of the wilderness leaning on a staff. And Abraham arose, and met him, and said unto him, Turn in, I pray thee, and wash thy feet, and tarry all night; and thou shalt arise early in the morning, and go on thy way. And the man said, Nay; for I am will abide under this tree. But Abraham pressed him greatly: so he turned and they went into the tent: and Abraham baked unleaven bread, and they did eat. And when Abraham saw that the man blessed not God, he said unto him, Wherefore dost thou not worship the most high God, Creator of heaven and earth? And the man answered and said, I do not worship thy God, neither do I call upon his name; for I have made to myself a god, which abideth always in my house, and provideth me with all things. And Abraham’s zeal was kindled against the man, and he arose, and fell upon him, and drove him forth with blows into the wilderness. And God called unto Abraham, saying, Abraham, where is the stranger? And Abraham answered and said, Lord, he would not worship thee, neither would he call upon thy name; therfore have I driven him out from before my face into the wilderness. And God said, have I borne with him these hundred and ninety and eight years, and nourished him, and clothed him, notwithstanding his rebellion against me; and couldst not thou, who art thyself a sinner, bear with him one night?


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Filed under 1770's, Franklin, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Religion