Category Archives: Newspapers

Item of the Day: Franklin on the Slave Trade (1790/1836)

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 II [of 9].  Boston: Hilliard, Gray, and Company. 

On The Slave Trade.

To the Editor of the Federal Gazette. 

March 23rd, 1790.

Sir,

Reading last night in your excellent paper the speech of Mr. Jackson in Congress against their meddling with the affair of slavery, or attempting to mend the condition of the slaves, it put me in mind of a similar one made about one hundred years since by Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim, a member of the Divan of Algiers, which may be seen in Martin’s Account of his Consulship, anno 1687.  It was against granting the petition of the sect called Erika, or Purists, who prayed for the abolition of piracy and slavery as being unjust.  Mr. Jackson does not quote it; perhaps he has not seen it.  If, therefore, some of its reasonings are to be found in his eloquent speech, it may only show that men’s interests and intellects operate and are operated on with surprising similarity in all countries and climates, whenever they are under similar circumstances.  The African’s speech, as translated, is as follows.

Allah Bismallah, &c.  God is great, and Mahomet is his Prophet.

“Have these Erika considered the consequences of granting this petition?  If we cease our cruises against the Christians, how shall we be furnished with the commodities their countries produce, and which are so necessary for us?  If we forbear to make slaves of their people, who in this hot climate are to cultivate our lands?  Who are to perform the common labors of our city, and in our families?  Must we not then be our own slaves?  And is there not more compassion and more favor due to us as Mussulmen, than to these Christian dogs?  We have now above fifty thousand slaves in and near Algiers.  This number, if not kept up by fresh supplies, will soon diminish, and be gradually annihilated.  If we then cease taking and plundering the infidel ships, and making slaves of the seamen and passengers, our lands will become of no value for want of cultivation; the rents of houses in the city will sink one half; and the revenue of government arising from its share of prizes be totally destroyed!  And for what?  To gratify the whims of a whimsical sect, who would have us, not only forbear making more slaves, but even manumit those we have. 

“But who is to indemnify their masters for the loss?  Will the state do it?  Is our treasury sufficient?  Will the Erika do it?  Can they do it?  Or would they, to do what they think justice to the slaves, do a greater injustice to the owners?  And if we set our slaves free, what is to be done with them?  Few of them will return to their countries; they know too well the greater hardships they must there be subject to; they will not embrace our holy religion; they will not adopt our manners; our people will not pollute themselves by intermarrying with them.  Must we maintain them as beggars in our streets, or suffer our properties to be the prey of their pillage?  For men accustomed to slavery will not work for a livelihood when not compelled.  And what is there so pitiable in their present condition?  Were they not slaves in their own countries?

“Are not Spain, Portugal, France, and the Italian states governed by despots, who hold all their subjects in slavery, without exception?  Even England treats its sailors as slaves; for they are, whenever the government pleases, seized, and confined in ships of war, condemned not only to work, but to fight, for small wages, or a mere subsistence, not better than our slaves are allowed by us.  Is their condition then made worse by their falling into our hands?  No; they have only exchanged one slavery for another, and I may say a better; for here they are brought into a land where the sun of Islamism gives forth its light, and shines in full splendor, and they have an opportunity of making themselves acquainted with the true doctrine, and thereby saving their immortal souls.  Those who remain at home have not that happiness.  Sending the slaves home then would be sending them out of the light and into darkness.

“I repeat the question, What is to be done with them?  I have heard it suggested, that they may be planted in the wilderness, where there is plenty of land for them to subsist on, and where they may flourish as a free state; but they are, I doubt, too little disposed to labor without compulsion, as well as too ignorant to establish a good government, and the wild Arabs would soon molest and destroy or again enslave them.  While serving us, we take care to provide them with every thing, and they are treated with humanity.  The laborers in their own country are, as I am well informed, worse fed, lodged, and clothed.  The condition of most of them is therefore already mended, and requires no further improvement.  Here their lives are in safety.  They are not liable to be impressed for soldiers, and forced to cut one another’s Christian throats, as in the wars of their own countries.  If some of the religious mad bigots, who now tease us with their silly petitions, have in a fit of blind zeal freed their slaves, it was not generosity, it was not humanity, that moved them to the action; it was from the conscious burden of a load of sins, and a hope, from the supposed merits of so good a work, to be excused from damnation.

“How grossly are they mistaken to suppose slavery to be disallowed by the Alcoran!  Are not the two precepts, to quote no more, ‘Masters, treat your slaves with kindness; Slaves, serve your masters with cheerfulness and fidelity,’ clear proofs to the contrary?  Nor can the plundering of infidels be in that sacred book forbidden, since it is well known from it, that God has given the world, and all it contains, to his faithful Mussulmen, who are to enjoy it of right as fast as they conquer it.  Let us then hear not more of this detestable proposition, the manumission of Christian slaves, the adoption of which would, by depreciating our lands and houses, and thereby depriving so many good citizens of their properties, create universal discontent, and provoke insurrections, to the endangering of government and producing general confusion.  I have therefore no doubt, but this wise council will prefer the comfort and happiness of a whole nation of true believers to the whim of a few Erika, and dismiss their petition.”      

The result was, as Martin tells us, that the Divan came to the resolution; “The doctrine, that plundering and enslaving the Christians is unjust, is as best problematical; but that it is in the interest of this state to continue the practice, is clear; therefore let the petition be rejected.”

And it was rejected accordingly.

And since like motives are apt to produce in the minds of men like opinions and resolutions, may we not, Mr. Brown, venture to predict, from this account, that the petitions to the Parliament of England for abolishing the slave-trade, to say nothing of other legislatures, and the debates upon them, will have a similar conclusion?  I am, Sir, your constant reader and humble servant,

HISTORICUS.

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Filed under 1790's, 1830's, Early Republic, Eighteenth century, Foreign Relations, Government, Islam, Koran, Letters, Newspapers, Posted by Matthew Williams, Slavery

Item of the Day: Miscellany, for The Port Folio (9 July 1803)

Found In: The Port folio. Enlarged. By Oliver Oldschool. Vol. III., No. 28. Philadelphia, Saturday, July 9, 1803. [p. 219]

 

MISCELLANY,

FOR THE PORT FOLIO.

 

ADVICE TO THE EDITOR OF THE AURORA.

As you have, for some time, assumed the office, and rather imperiously exercised the functions of perpetual dictator to the good people of Pennsylvania, it may be proper to indicate to an attention so heedless as yours, that there are certain elements, in which you should be tolerably skilled, before you establish yourself over us, as our political schoolmaster.

As from a long and assiduous survey of your works, I have frequently found you not a little imperfect in orthography, a total stranger to grammar, and wholly averse to all purity of diction and elegance of stile. I strongly recommend to you the perusal of certain little volumes, written for the benefit of children and other Tyros, by Mr. Thomas Dilworth, a philosopher of the sixteenth century.

The next science, in the order of the circle, to which I would direct your blundering steps, is rhetoric, which, you must know, is the art of speaking eloquently, and of investing your thoughts in colours, bright and clear. As I know that you flounder in the muddiness of your mind, and are extremely unhappy, both in the choice and perspicuity of your phrases, I would advise you to borrow a few hours from those which you dedicate to the silencing of Mr. Burr, or the solacing of your wife, and commit to memory, Farnaby’s little system. Moreover, as I am told, you sometimes make an effort to speak in the primary assemblies, vulgarly called town meetings, and that your voice and periods are equally tuneless, perhaps some discipline of this kind may lash you into something, like a similitude of eloquence.

In Logic, you are so lame, that I am positive you are not equal to the management of a syllogism in Bocardo. Consult some of your Low German friends and borrow Burgersdyck, and Professor Schiltenbruch de Quidditate. From the leaden pages of laborious stupidity, your own cannot be encreased, and possibly you may learn in the art of reasoning, that some pains are necessary to establish the verity of your premises, before you suffer your zeal to hurry you to the conclusion. An important truth of which I am sorry to say, you are utterly regardless in all your speeches and writings.

With Metaphysics, I will not disturb a brain, so confused as yours; and in charity to your ignorance and incompetence, I will not lead them into a thorny thicket, where they would be miserably scratched, and instantly lose their way. I therefore pass on to Ethics; and here I am constrained to say that you will enter this region of science, as an utter stranger. You are not more an alien to America, than to your duties, as a man and a citizen; and such is my diffidence of your capacity, I know you must be frequently and severely flogged, before you will get by heart, the first lesson in this branch of your education.

Having thus suggested to you a course of studies, comprehending some of the initial sciences, I will reserve what I have to say to you upon mathematics, natural philosophy and theology, to another occasion. Of my didactics, I give you only a dose at a time, presuming that this is as much as so weak a creature can bear; and having thus prescribed what you will think sufficiently drastic, you have my permission to go “to breakfast with what appetite you may.”

 

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Filed under 1800's, Culture, Early Republic, Federalists, Magazine, Newspapers, Political Commentary, 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.

THE BUSY-BODY.  — No. II.

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

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. http://www.jstor.com

[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: The Trial of John Peter Zenger — Andrew Hamilton’s Summation (1765)

Full Title:  THE TRIAL OF JOHN PETER ZENGER, Of New-York, Printer: Who was charged with having printed and published a Libel against the Government; and acquitted with A NARRATIVE OF HIS CASE To which is now added, being never printed before, THE TRIAL of Mr. WILLIAM OWEN, Bookseller, near Temple-Bar, Who was also Charged with the Publication of a Libel against the Government; of which he was honourably acquitted by a Jury of Free-born Englishmen, Citizens of London.  London:  Printed for J. Almon, opposite Burlington-House, Piccadilly. MDCCLXV.

Mr. Hamilton.  If a libel is understood in the large and unlimitted sense urged by Mr. Attorney, there is scarce a writing I know that may not be called a libel, or scarce any person safe from being called to an account as a libeller:  For Moses, meek as he was, libelled Cain; and who is it that has not libelled the devil? For, according to Mr. Attorney, it is no justification to say one has a bad name.  Echard has libelled our good king William: Burnet has libelled, among many others, king Charles and king James; and Rapin has libelled them all.  How must a man speak or write, or what must he hear, read or sing, or when must he laugh, so as to be secure from being taken up as a libeller?  I sincerely believe, that were some persons to go thro’ the streets of new-York now-a-days, and read a part of the Bible, if it was not know to be such, Mr. Attorney, with the help of his innuendoes, would easily turn it into a libel .  As, for instance, If. ix 16. ” The leaders of the people cause them to err, and they that are led by them are destroyed.” 

. . .

Gentlemen, the danger is great, in proportion to the mischief that may happen, through our too great credulity.  A proper confidence in a court is commendable:  but as the verdict (whatever it is) will be yours, you ought to refer no part of your duty to the discretion of other persons.  If you should be of opinion, that there is no falsehood in Mr. Zenger’s papers, you will, nay (pardon me for the expression) you ought to say so; because you do not know, whether others (I mean the court) may be of that opinion.  It is your right to do so, and there is much depending upon your resolution, as well as upon your integrity.

The loss of liberty to a generous mind, is worse than death; and yet we know there have been those, in all ages, who, for the sake of preferment, or some imaginary honour, have freely lent a helping hand, to oppress, nay to destroy, their country.  This brings to my mind that saying of the immortal Brutus, when he looked upon the creatures of Caesar, who were very great men, but by no means good men.  “You, Romans,” said Brutus, “if yet I may call you so, consider what you are doing; remember you are assisting Caesar to forge those very chains, which one day he will make yourselves wear.”  This is what every man (who values freedom) ought to consider:  he should act by judgment, and not by affection or self-interest; for, where these prevail, no ties of either country or kindred are regarded:  as, on the other hand, the man, who loves his country, prefers its liberty to all other considerations; well knowing that, without liberty, life is a misery. . . .

Power may justly be compared to a great river, which, kept within due bounds, is both beautiful and useful; but when it overflows its banks, it is then too impetuous to be stemmed; it bears down all before it, and brings destruction and desolation wherever it comes.  If then this is the nature of power, let us at least do our duty, and like wise men (who value freedom) use our utmost care to support liberty, the only bulwark against lawless power, which in all ages has sacrificed to its wild lust and boundless ambition, the blood of the best men that ever lived.

I hope to be pardoned, Sir, for my zeal upon this occasion:  it is an old and wise caution, that when our neighbour’s house is on fire, we ought to take care of our own.  For though, blessed be God, I live in a government where liberty is well understood, and freely enjoyed; yet experience has shewn us all (I am sure it has to me) that a bad precedent in one government is soon set up for an authority in another; and therefore I cannot but think it mine, and every honest man’s duty, that (while we pay all due obedience to men in authority) we ought at the same time to be upon our guard against power, whenever we apprehend it may injuriously affect ourselves or our fellow-subjects.

I am truly very unequal to such an undertaking, on many accounts.  And you see I labour under the weight of many years , and am borne down with great infirmities of body; yet old and weak as I am, I should think it my duty, if required, to go to the utmost part of the land, where my service could be of any use in assisting to quench the flame of prosecutions upon informations, set on foot by the government, to deprive a people of the right of remonstrating, and complaining of, the arbitrary attempts of men in power.  Men who injure and oppress the people under their administration, provoke them to cry out and complain; and then make that very complaint the foundation for new oppressions and prosecutions.  I wish I could say there were no instances of this kind.  But to conclude, the question before the court and you, gentlemen of the jury is not of small or private concern; it is not the cause of a poor printer, nor of New-York alone, which you are now trying:  no! it may, in its consequence, affect every freeman that lives under a British government on the main of America.  It is the best cause:  it is the cause of liberty! and I make no doubt but your upright conduct, this day, will not only entitle you to the love and esteem of your fellow citizens; but every man who prefers freedom to the life of slavery, will bless and honour you, as men who have basseted the attempt of tyranny, and who, by an impartial and uncorrupt verdict, have laid a noble foundation for securing to ourselves, our posterity, and our neighbors, That, to which nature and the laws of our country have given us a right, — the liberty — both of exposing and opposing arbitrary power (in these parts of the world at least) by speaking and writing truth.

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Filed under 1760's, Colonial America, Great Britain, Legal, Newspapers, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: The Trial of John Peter Zenger (1765)

Full Title:  THE TRIAL OF JOHN PETER ZENGER, Of New-York, Printer: Who was charged with having printed and published a Libel against the Government; and acquitted with A NARRATIVE OF HIS CASE To which is now added, being never printed before, THE TRIAL of Mr. WILLIAM OWEN, Bookseller, near Temple-Bar, Who was also Charged with the Publication of a Libel against the Government; of which he was honourably acquitted by a Jury of Free-born Englishmen, Citizens of London.  London:  Printed for J. Almon, opposite Burlington-House, Piccadilly. MDCCLXV.

The TRIAL of JOHN PETER ZENGER, August 4, 1735.

At a Supreme court of judicature held for the Province of New-York,

PRESENT

The Hon. James De Lancey, Esq; chief justice.

The Hon. Frederick Philipse, Esq; second justice

The court being seated, Zenger was brought in.

. . .

Mr. Attorney-general opened the information, which was as follows:

“New-York, Supreme court.

Of the term of January, in the eighth year of the reign of our sovereign lord king George IId, &c. New-York

Be it remembered, that Richard Bradley, esq; attorney-general of our sovereign lord the king, for the province of New-York, who for our said lord the king in this part prosecutes, in his own proper person comes here into the court of our said lord the king, and for our said lord the king gives the court here to understand and be informed, — that John Peter Zenger, late of the city of New-York, Printer, (being a seditious person, and a frequent printer and publisher of false news and seditious libels, and wickedly and maliciously devising the government of our said lord the king of this his majesty’s province of New-York, under the administration of his excellency William Cosby, Esq; captain-general and governor in chief of the said province, to traduce, scandalize and vilify; and his excellency the said governor, and the ministers and officers of our said lord the king of and for the said province to bring into suspicion and the ill opinion of the subjects of our said lord the king residing within the said province) the twenty-eighth day of January, in the seventh year of the reign of our sovereign lord George the Second, by the grace of God of Great-Britain, France and Ireland, king, defender of the faith, &c. at the city of New-York, did falsely, seditiously and scandalously print and publish, and cause to be printed and published, a certain false malicious seditious, scandalous libel, intituled, the New-York Weekly Journal, containing the freshest advices foreign and domestic; in which libel (of and concerning his excellency the said governor, and the ministers and officers of our said lord the king, of and for the said province) among other things therein contained, are these words:     ‘ Your appearance in print at last gives a pleasure to many, tho’ most with you had come fairly into the open field, and not appeared behind retrenchments made of the supposed laws against libelling, and of what other men have said and done before; these retrenchements, gentlemen, may soon be shewn to you and all men to be weak, and to have neither law nor reason for their foundation, so cannot long stand you in stead:  therefore, you had much better as yet leave them, and come to what the people of this city and province (the city and province of New-York meaning) think are the points in question (to wit) They (the people of the city and province of New-York meaning) think, as matters now stand, that their LIBERTIES and PROPERTIES are precarious, and that SLAVERY is like to be intailed on them and their posterity, if some past things be not amended, and this they collect from many past proceedings. ‘   Meaning many of the past proceedings of his excellency the said governor and of the ministers and officers of our said lord the king, of and for the said province.)  And the said attorney-general of our said lord the king, for our said lord the king, likewise gives the court here to understand and be informed, That the said John Peter Zenger afterwards (to wit) the eighth day of April in the seventh year of the reign of our said lord the king, at the city of New-York aforesaid, did falsely, seditiously and scandalously print and publish, and cause to be printed and published, another false, malicious, seditious, and scandalous libel, intituled, The New-York Weekly Journal, containing the freshest advices foreign and domestic.  In which libel, (of and concerning the government of the province of New-York, and of and concerning his excellency the said governor, and the ministers and officers of our said lord the king, of and for the said province) among other things therein contained, are these words,           ‘ One of our neighbours (one of the inhabitants of New-Jersey meaning) being in company, observing the strangers (some of the inhabitants of New-York meaning) full of complaints, endeavoured to persuade them to remove into Jersey; to which it was replied, that would be leaping out of the frying-pan into the fire; for, says he, we both are under the same governor, (his excellency the said governor meaning) and your assembly have shewn with a witness what is to be expected from them: one that was then moving to Pensilvania, (meaning one that was then removing from New-York, with intent to reside at Pensilvania) to which place several considerable men are removing (from New-York meaning) expressed, in terms very moving, much concern for the circumstances of New-York, (the bad circumstances of the province and the people of New-York meaning) seemed to think them very much owing to the influence that some men (whom he called tools) had in the administration, (meaning the administration of government of the said province of New-York) said he was now going from them, and was not to be hurt by any measures they should take, but could not help having some concern for the welfare of his countrymen, and should be glad to hear that the assembly (meaning the general assembly of the province of New-York) would exert themselves as became them, by shewing that they have the interest of their country more at heart, than the gratification of any private view of any of their members, or being at all affected by the smiles or frowns of a governor, (his excellency the said governor meaning) both which ought equally to be despised, when the interest of their country is at stake.  You, says, he, complain of the lawyers, but I think the law itself is at an end, WE (the people of the province of New-York meaning) See men’s deeds destroyed, judges arbitrarily displaced, New courts erected without consent of the legislature (with the province of New-York meaning) by which it seems to me, trials by juries are taken away when a governor pleases, (His excellency the said governor meaning) Men of known estates denied their votes, contrary to the received practice, the best expositor of any law: Who is then in that province (meaning the province of New-York) that call (can call meaning) any thing he own, or enjoy any liberty (liberty meaning) longer than those in the administration (meaning the administration of government of the said province of New-York) will condescend to let them do it, for which reason I have left it, (the province of New-York meaning) as I believe more will.”  To the great disturbance of the peace of the said province of New-York, to the great scandal of our said lord the king, of his excellency the said governor, and of all others concerned in the administration of the government of the said province, and against the peace of our sovereign lord the king, his crown and dignity, &c.  Whereupon the said attorney-general of our said lord the king, for our said lord the king, prays the advisement of the court here, in the premises, and the due process of the law, against him the said John Peter Zenger, in this part to be done, to answer to our said lord the king of and in the premises, &c.

R. Bradley, attorney-general.”

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Filed under 1730's, Great Britain, Legal, Newspapers, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: The Port Folio (1804)

Full Title:  The Port Folio. By Oliver Oldschool, Esq.  Vol. IV. No. 44  Philadelphia, Saturday, November 3, 1804.

FOR THE PORT FOLIO. 

THE BRITISH SPY IN BOSTON.

LETTER I.

It has been observed, my dear S….., that eloquence is not the sole characteristic of the American senates; and I have had abundant reason to remark, that plain sense, strong judgment, ardent patriotism, predominate in the individual states, as in the national legislature.  But that best ‘harmony of sweet sounds,’ the graceful and persuasive rhetoric, which thrills the nerves, and seizes upon the passions of the hearer, which charms, while it instructs, and seems to commiserate, even while it condemns — that must be looked for among a people, more ancient, more affluent, better defined, and more accurately defining than the unpatronised and self-taught individuals of the new hemisphere.  If these observations be strictly applicable to the senatorial rank of the country, in considering another, and more accurately distinguished class of public speaking, forensic oratory, I am led to confess this appears to have been cultivated, with an assiduity, that indulges the hope, and speaks the promise of uniting, for its possessor, the luxury of wealth, with the aristocracy of power.  In fact, this people, so tenacious of their rights, and so clear-sighted in their political jealousy, have permitted the individuals of the bench and the bar almost to monopolize the high and lucrative offices and endowments of the state, as of the national government.  Thence, in my travels through the union, courts of law and justice have become the most important objects of my research, and the inevitable subjects of my impartial criticism.  I have, indeed, marked the forensic talent of the nation, and found it of a description, wholly dissimilar to the prominent trait of senatorial dignity.  I have heard eloquence, and discovered learning in the abodes of Themis, that might have stampt a new, and more sublime, character upon the American people.  Whence, I have ceased to wonder at that influence and ascendancy, which the distinguished pre-eminence of its professors has merited and obtained.

Upon my first arrival in Boston, appearances were, to my view, greatly inauspicious.  I found a large town, apparently devoted to trade, streets narrow, crooked, and not remarkably clean; fine houses, in wretched and almost inaccessible avenues, and commodious situations, disgraced by hovels.  Such were the conspicuous features that met the first coup d’oeil.  A further introduction taught me that these ill-situated mansions were the abode of hospitality, and within those humbler hovels oppression and misery were unknown.  I recognized more of the old English whig, in the character of the Bostonians, than in any state in the union.  Tolerating, liberal, and intelligent, yet marked by strong local prejudices, and inflexible animosities, while feeling freedom, and literally claiming independence, behind his counter the shopman inquires the news and arraigns the government; and the poorest mechanic reads the Gazette, reasons upon finance, and approves, or opposes, the diminution of taxes.  Among this people, so congenial to the best portion of my own countrymen, inquiry has been forcibly awakened, and my anxious attention constantly occupied.  Finding the supreme judicial court in session, I flew thither, with the solicitude of a mind, whose appetite for the new and the curious is never gratified to satiety.  There I found talents, that were respectable, and genius, that was extraordinary; yet I must impartially acknowledge my astonishment at the general irregularity and inattention to forms that prevailed.  Boys, just admitted as practitioners, were suffered, without reprimand from the bench, to indulge the vividness of their imagination, wandering, at will, through all the pleasant paths of romance, now pompous by soaring to bombast, then sinking to the pert simile, or the misapplied anecdote.  Further, it was to be remarked of this generally respectable body, that their total inattention to the decorum of dress, and external distinction, must awaken in every foreigner some unpleasant sensations.  The judges were dressed, or rather en deshabille, in plain coats; and the apparel of the gentlemen of the bar was as diversified, as the proportions and faculties of their minds — an endless variety, from the excellent and extraordinary, to the mean and flimsy.  However the philosopher may pretend to despise mere external effects, men of the world must be sensible of their importance, as it regards the senses, and attaches to the understanding; for the ludicrous, which upon the present occasion is by no means applied, having a certain tendency to counteract respect, must, of necessity, arrest usefulness.  Thence, I approve of a costume for all public characters, and think that the sanctity of an oath would be rendered more inviolable, under greater ceremony and solemnity, in the manner of its being administered.  People without understanding and destitute of the moral principle, may be influenced by their senses, and on their impression deterred from the commission of evil — Whence, allowing mere forms to be intrinsically important, they are at least relatively good, respectable for their utility, and honourable in their observance.

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Filed under 1800's, Newspapers, Oratory, Posted by Rebecca Dresser