Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

lin was chosen president, and the meetings were usually held at his house. For some time they were well attended; various topics of general politics were discussed; essays were written, and prize questions proposed. But, after having been in operation about two years, the society languished, and it was finally dissolved by the tacit consent of the members. He was also president of a Society for alleriating the Miseries of Public Prisons. Dr. Franklin's third and last year's service, as President of Pennsylvania, expired in October, 1788. After that time he held no public office, although he was often consulted on public measures. His sensibility seems to have been touched by the neglect of Congress to settle his accounts, or even to notice in any way his long and faithful services to the public. Before he left France, his pecuniary transactions were examined in detail by Mr. Barclay, the commissioner appointed by Congress to liquidate and settle the accounts of the agents of the United States, who had been intrusted with the expenditure of public money in Europe. The result of Mr. Barclay's examination differed from Dr. Franklin's statement only seven sols, or about six cents, which sum he had by mistake overcharged. Mr. Barclay was ready to settle the accounts as they then stood; but Dr. Franklin requested that they might be submitted to the inspection of Congress, because he believed there were some other charges, which ought properly to be paid by the public, but which Mr. Barclay did not feel authorized by his instructions to allow. The accounts were accordingly kept open, and transmitted to Congress. One of the first things, which Dr. Franklin did on his arrival in Philadelphia, was to send his grandson to New York, where Congress were then in session, to obtain a settlement. He returned unsuccessful, being told that necessary documents were expected from France, although the vouchers had all been examined by Mr. Barclay. After waiting a long time, without hearing any thing from Congress on the subject, Dr. Franklin wrote a letter to the President, containing an earnest request that the business might be taken up and considered. “It is now more than three years,” said he, “that those accounts have been before that honorable body, and, to this day, no notice of any such objection has been communicated to me. But reports have, for some time past, been circulated here, and propagated in the newspapers, that I am greatly indebted to the United States for large sums, that had been put into my hands, and that I avoid a settlement. This, together with the little time one of my age may expect to live, makes it necessary for me to request earnestly, which I hereby do, that the Congress would be pleased, without further delay, to examine those accounts, and if they find therein any article or articles, which they do not understand or approve, that they would cause me to be acquainted with the same, that I may have an opportunity of offering such explanations or reasons in support of them as may be in my power, and then that the accounts may be finally closed. I hope the Congress will soon be able to attend to this business for the satisfaction of the public, as well as in condescension to my request.” This act of justice was not rendered. The accounts were never settled, nor was any allowance made for what he conceived to be equitable demands for extraordinary services. It is true, that, after this letter was written, the deranged state of the Old Congress, in consequence of the non-attendance of members, may

526 LIFE OF FRANKL IN. [1789.

have prevented its being brought regularly before that body; but there is no apology for the previous neglect of three years; nor does there appear any good reason why the business should not have been resumed, and honorably adjusted by the first Congress under the new constitution. The zeal with which he had promoted the first establishment of an Academy in Philadelphia, forty years before, was revived during the last year of his life. He believed that the intentions of the original founders had not been fulfilled, in regard to the English school connected with that institution, and that the study of Greek and Latin had gradually gained too great an ascendency. He wrote a long and very interesting paper, in which he sketched a history of the Academy, with an account of the transactions of its founders and early supporters, claiming a larger attention, than had hitherto been given, to English studies, as well on the ground of utility, as on that of the state of learning in modern times. Committees occasionally met at his house. One evening the conversation turned upon the study of the Greek and Latin languages in schools. Franklin was of the opinion, that they engrossed too much time. He said, that, when the custom of wearing broad cuffs with buttons first began, there was a reason for it; the cuffs might be brought down over the hands, and thus guard them from wet and cold. But gloves came into use, and the broad cuffs were unnecessary; yet the custom was still retained. So likewise with cocked hats. The wide brim, when let down, afforded a protection from the rain and sun. Umbrellas were introduced, yet fashion prevailed to keep cocked hats in vogue, although they were rather cumbersome than useful. Thus with the Latin language. When nearly all the books in Europe were written in that language, the study of it was essential in every system of education; but it is now scarcely needed, except as an accomplishment, since it has everywhere given place, as a vehicle of thought and knowledge, to some one of the modern tongues. At this time, Dr. Franklin was seldom free from acute bodily pain; but, during short intervals of relief, he wrote several other pieces, which exhibit proofs that his mind never acted with more vigor, or maintained a more cheerful and equable tone. One of these pieces is entitled The Court of the Press, in which he remarks with severity on the practice of certain editors of newspapers, who attack the characters of individuals, and shield themselves under a false interpretation of the liberty of the press. Another paper, called a Comparison of the Conduct of the Ancient Jews and the Antifederalists of the United States, is intended as a reproof to some of those who opposed the new constitution. Urged by the repeated solicitations of his friends, he likewise employed himself occasionally in writing his memoirs; but he seems not to have made so much progress in this work, as he had anticipated when he returned from Europe. He also drew up a Plan for improving the Condition of the Free Blacks. His last public act was to sign, as president, a memorial from the Abolition Society of Pennsylvania to Congress; and the last paper which he wrote was on the same subject. Mr. Jackson, a member of Congress from Georgia, had made a speech in favor of negro slavery. An ingenious parody of this speech was composed by Dr. Franklin, in which Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim is represented as speaking, in the Divan of Algiers, against granting the petition of a sect called Erika, who prayed for the abolition of piracy and slavery, as being unjust. In this pretended speech of Ibrahim, the same principles were advanced, and the same arguments were used in defence of plundering and enslaving Europeans, that had been urged by Mr. Jackson in justification of negro slavery. It is dated only twenty-four days before the author's decease; and, as a specimen of happy conception and sound reasoning, it is not inferior to any of his writings. The state of his health and of his feelings may be inferred from a letter to President Washington, written on the 16th of September, 1789, in which he speaks as follows; “My malady renders my sitting up to write rather painful to me; but I cannot let my son-in-law, Mr. Bache, part for New York, without congratulating you by him on the recovery of your health, so precious to us all, and on the growing strength of our new government under your administration. For my own personal ease, I should have died two years ago; but, though those years have been spent in excruciating pain, I am pleased that I have lived them, since they have brought me to see our present situation. I am now finishing my eighty-fourth year, and probably with it my career in this life; but, in whatever state of existence I am placed in hereafter, if I retain any memory of what has passed here, I shall with it retain the esteem, respect, and affection, with which I have long been, my dear friend, yours most sincerely.” Washington's reply was cordial and affectionate. Between these two distinguished patriots, who served their country in different spheres, but with equal fidelity and devotedness, there was ever a sincere friendship and an entire confidence. When General Washington came to Philadelphia as a member of the

« ZurückWeiter »