Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

but, before the time of their meeting, began cutting of throats. You know it was said he carried the sword in one hand, and the olive branch in the other; and it seems he chose to give them a taste of the sword first. He is doubling his fortifications at Boston, and hopes to secure his troops till succour arrives. The place indeed is naturally so defensible, that I think them in no danger. All America is exasperated by his conduct, and more firmly united than ever. The breach between the two countries is grown wider, and in danger of becoming irreparable.”

When the second Congress assembled, the relations between the colonies and Great Britain had assumed a new character. The blood of American freemen had been shed on their own soil by a wanton exercise of military power, and they were regarded as having fallen martyrs in the cause of liberty. This rash act dissolved the charm, which had hitherto bound the affections of many a conscientious American to the British crown, under the long revered name of loyalty. It was evident to every reflecting man, that the hour of trial had come, that a degrading submission, or a triumph of strength, in a hard and unequal struggle, was the only alternative. A large majority of the nation and of Congress were ready to meet the contest by prompt and decided measures of resistance, convinced that any further attempts for a reconciliation would be utterly unavailing. Among the foremost of this number was Franklin. Yet there were some, whose fears ran before their hopes; and others, whose interests outweighed their patriotism. Many of the timid were good patriots, but they dreaded the gigantic power of England, which they believed to be irresistible.

After an animated debate, which continued several

days, it was declared that hostilities had commenced, on the part of Great Britain, with the design of enforcing “the unconstitutional and oppressive acts of Parliament”; and it was then resolved, with great unanimity, that the colonies should be immediately put in a state of defence. This was all, that the most ardent friends of liberty desired, since it enabled them to organize an army and make preparations for war. Having gained this point, they were the more ready to yield another, for the sake of harmony, to the moderate party, at the head of which was John Dickinson. It was urged by this party, that they never had anticipated resistance by force, but had always confided so much in the justice of the British government, as to believe, that, when they fairly understood the temper and equitable claims of the colonists, they would come to a reasonable compromise. Another opportunity, it was said, ought to be offered, and to this end they were strenuous for sending a petition to the King.

The party in favor of energetic action represented the inconsistency and futility of this step. To take up arms and then petition was an absurdity. It could do little harm, however, since it would not retard the military operations; and, as to the petition itself, there was not the least likelihood that his Majesty would pay any more attention to it, than he had paid to the one sent to him the year before, which he treated with contempt. The dignity of Congress would suffer a little, to be sure, by again resorting to a petition, after being thus slighted; yet this was a small sacrifice to make, if it would produce union and concert in affairs of greater moment. Besides, it was supposed that there were tender consciences in the country, which would be better reconciled to the strong measures of

Congress, if accompanied by this appeal, as from loyal subjects.

Franklin was on the committee for reporting a draft, which would seem to imply that he did not resist the proposal ; but how far he actually approved it, is uncertain. In writing to a friend he said ; “ It has been with difficulty, that we have carried another humble petition to the crown, to give Great Britain one more chance, one opportunity more, of recovering the friendship of the colonies; which, however, I think she has not sense enough to embrace, and so I conclude she has lost them for ever." Mr. Jay was likewise a member of the committee, and was in favor of the petition. But its most zealous advocate was John Dickinson, by whom it was drafted. It has been said, indeed, that this token of humility was yielded mainly to gratify his wishes. The uprightness of his character, his singleness of heart, and the great services he had rendered to his country by his talents and his pen, claimed for him especial consideration. The tone and language of the petition were sufficiently submissive, and it stands in remarkable contrast, in the Journals, with other papers, and the resolves for warlike preparations. Mr. Jefferson tells us, that Mr. Dickinson was so much pleased when it was adopted by a vote of the House, that he could not forbear to express his satisfaction by saying ; “There is but one word, Mr. President, in the paper, which I disapprove, and that word is Congress.” Whereupon Mr. Harrison of Virginia rose and said ; “ There is but one word in the paper, Mr. President, which I approve, and that word is Congress.

In addition to his duties in Congress, Dr. Franklin had a very laborious service to perform as chairman of the Committee of Safety, appointed by the Assem

bly of Pennsylvania. This committee consisted of twenty-five members. They were authorized to call the militia into actual service, whenever they should judge it necessary, to pay and furnish them with supplies, and to provide for the defence of the province. Bills of credit, to the amount of thirty-five thousand pounds, were issued and put into their hands, to pay the expenses incurred for these objects. This was a highly responsible and important trust. Franklin labored in it incessantly during eight months, till he was called away upon another service. “My time,” says he, “was never more fully employed; in the morning at six, I am at the Committee of Safety, which committee holds till near nine, when I am at Congress, and that sits till after four in the afternoon. Both these bodies proceed with the greatest unanimity.” The attention of the committee was especially directed to the protection of the city, by sinking chevauxde-frise in the Delaware, constructing and manning armed boats, and erecting fortifications. These works were executed with surprising despatch, and so effectually, that, when the enemy's fleet entered the river, after the battle of the Brandywine, it was retarded by them nearly two months.

While thus actively engaged, Dr. Franklin drew up and presented to Congress, on the 21st of July, a plan of confederation. It was not acted upon at that time, but it served as a basis for a more extended plan, when Congress were better prepared to consider the subject. In some of its articles it differed essentially from the one that was finally adopted, and approached more nearly to the present constitution. Taxes for national purposes were to be levied, and members of Congress were to be chosen, in proportion to the number of male inhabitants between the

VOL. I.

HI

ages of sixteen and sixty; and each member was to have one vote in Congress. Taken in all its parts, this plan was little else than a virtual declaration of independence. It was to be perpetual, unless the British government should agree to such terms of reconciliation, as had been claimed by the colonies. *

The postoffice establishment, which had existed under the British government, was broken up by the disorders of the times. Congress made provision for a new one, and appointed Dr. Franklin postmastergeneral, with a salary of one thousand dollars a year. The entire management of the business was put under his control, with power to establish such post routes, and appoint as many deputies, as he should

think proper.

For several months the proceedings of Congress turned mostly on military affairs. An army was to be raised, organized, and provided for. The wisdom, experience, and mental resources of every member were in as much demand, as diligence, resolution, zeal, and public spirit. We find Franklin, notwithstanding his advanced age, taking a part in almost every important measure with all the ardor and activity of youth. He was placed at the head of the Commissioners for Indian affairs in the middle department; and few of the younger members served on so many committees requiring energy, industry, and close application. Among these were the committees for devising ways and means to protect the commerce of the colonies, for

[ocr errors]

This plan of confederation was published, and it was soon after reprinted in England, as an appendix to the seventh edition of a popular pamphlet, entitled “ The Rights of Great Britain asserted against the Claims of America.” The author speaks of it as an additional proof of the “real designs of the Americans.” He had been industrious in searching for such proofs, which constitute the principal burden of his pamphlet.

« ZurückWeiter »