Temple's Diary Temple's Diary
Episode 4. Back to a Changed Philadelphia

The Electric Franklin

September 15, 1775

I wake up in a sweat: only three more weeks before College begins and I still don't know what happened between the Reverend William Smith, our Provost, and my Grandfather, but I have a hunch that something bad did happen. This is the day to find out. Grandfather won't be back until late. My aunt and uncle are in:

— "Uncle Richard, I know about the early days of friendship between Grandfather and Provost Smith, but what happened in England after his ordination?"

— "For quite some time after the brilliant young Scot's return, your Grandfather was not aware that he was already in the pay of Thomas Penn. Indeed, Smith had become the unofficial agent in charge of keeping the Proprietor informed of any political opposition over here, while Penn remained in England enjoying the income of his American province."

— "Father did begin to wonder about Smith during the French and Indian War," Aunt Sally adds. "Around 1755, you see, there appeared an anonymous pamphlet called A Brief State of the Province of Pennsylvania. It launched a vicious attack against our Assembly, the Quakers, and the German newspapers of the province. Word soon spread that the pamphlet was the work of Smith."

— "Why would he do that?" I ask.

— "Because the Quakers, although they made up only one fifth of the population, dominated the Assembly," replies Uncle Richard. "And they were dead-set against fighting any war, even a defensive one against our traditional enemies, the French — allied in this case with some Indian tribes. According to Smith, the Germans were 'a body of ignorant, proud, stubborn clowns' who could be counted on to vote always for Quaker Party candidates. Consequently, while the Proprietor, represented locally by the Governor, demanded more and more money, the Assembly firmly refused to grant him any more than the usual sum."

— "And Grandfather in all that?"

My aunt sighs. "For a while Father tried to reconcile the Governor and the Assembly, but then he became, as he said, heartily sick of the situation and annoyed with both. Though still more with the Governor than with the Assembly. Hearing about the horrors perpetrated by the Shawnee Indians against the peaceful settlements along Pennsylvania's frontiers, he decided to help the British commander, General Braddock, by furnishing him, through his own efforts, the wagons and teams needed to move the troops through the woods. As you know, your father and grandfather fought side by side during that war, while I helped Mamma to send them good home-cooked food. I was eleven at the time."

— "When did Smith turn nasty?"

Now my uncle speaks: "As I heard it told, he remained for some time an admirer of Franklin, at least when speaking in public. Your grandfather believed in Smith's friendship. But in late 1755, when Benjamin Franklin fostered the creation of a militia for the province's defense, and openly approved a bill to tax Penn's estates along with everybody else's, Smith started mocking him in his writings."

My aunt and uncle become excited at this point, speaking at the same time, interrupting each other so much that I take only brief notes:

Round 1. Smith publishes a virulent pamphlet in 1756, accusing the Quakers of being the enemies of their own country. He, in turn, is suspected of trying to become the first bishop of the Church of England in America and of inciting violence against the Quakers, a group pledged to pacifism.

Round 2. Franklin's allies counterattack Smith's mockeries and, by the end of the year, the two men are no longer on speaking terms.

Round 3. In 1758, the Assembly orders Smith's arrest on the charge of libel. He is put in jail. My grandfather at that point is already in England with the impossible mission of trying to change Thomas Penn's mind and getting him to loosen his grip on power. Smith, meanwhile, is living in relative comfort in jail and teaching his classes at the Academy. He justifies himself in front of the Assembly in his own supremely arrogant manner. Over in England, he is vigorously defended on the libel charge by Penn's best lawyers, while Grandfather hires someone to present the Assembly's case. The Assembly loses.

What? I can't believe it! Grandfather losing Round 3 just like that! His inveterate enemy gloating! What's going on?

Round 4 takes place years later. Richard wants to tell me about Grandfather's unsuccessful efforts to put Pennsylvania directly under the control of the King, away from the Penns, while Sally wants to pursue the story of the Reverend Smith. When I catch up with her, the year is 1764, Smith has been out of jail for quite some time, and the elections to the Assembly are about to take place. Smith has now acquired a powerful ally in the person of one John Dickinson, and together they run a campaign that drags our whole family through the mud. Father's illegitimate birth is trumpeted all over the place and his natural mother's allegedly miserable status as an exploited maid is described in grim detail.

I lose track for a minute, thinking of my father, so dignified, so reserved, just starting out on his career as Royal Governor, exposed to such shame for something that was not his fault ... And when I catch up, it is to hear that Grandfather suffered a crushing defeat in the election, he who had been re-elected to the Assembly every year for thirteen years. A miserable end to Round 4 ...

But ... Round 5 opens less than six weeks later with Dr. Franklin sailing to England once again as Pennsylvania's agent, expected once again to rid the province of the Penns — which, as we know now, he never managed to do.

While he was at sea, an anonymous pamphlet — by all accounts the work of the Reverend Mr. William Smith — accused my grandfather of being "a wicked and virulent spirit ... crafty, inflammatory, full of slander and scurrility ... a very bad man, delirious with rage, disappointment and malice," etc., etc. Aunt Sally was crying as she read us parts of that piece, pulled out, as usual, from her petticoat drawer.

Lost in horror about the venom of politics, I have a quick little thought about myself. It must have been then, when Grandfather reached London in March 1765, that he had the inestimable honor and great privilege of meeting, just in time for his fifth birthday, an adorable grandson: ME!

Another, less pleasant thought: and now, ten years later, shall I become embroiled in the duel of those two men? And why do I have to attend that particular school? Wouldn't I be better off with those Tories at King's College in New York? They might appreciate my English ways and accent ...