Temple's Diary Temple's Diary
Episode 5. College!

The Electric Franklin

October 6, 1775

George Fox turns out to be a fabulous friend. He is a born Philadelphian, knows the people and politics of this city, has a relative in Congress who — unlike Grandfather — keeps his family advised of what is going on there, gossip and all. Most importantly George does not look down on me even though I am more than a year younger than he is.

His relative, he tells me, is an admirer of my grandfather and likes to hold forth on what he refers to as "the Franklinian system."

And what could that be? I wonder.

George explains that the way his relative sees it, the system is something like the carrot and the stick. First Dr. Franklin makes a bold demand: for instance, he tells the British government that they should end all trade restrictions. That's the stick. But then he immediately offers a pledge that the colonies will pay the mother-country one hundred thousand pounds a year for the next century if Britain agrees to his suggestions. Does that work? In this case, no. Britain answers by extending the New England Restraining Act. (Am I glad that I made my way through that tiresome Journal of Negotiations on board ship last spring! At least I know about those trade restrictions and don't have to interrupt George with stupid questions.)

So what does Dr. Franklin do after Britain turns him down? He tries it another way. Along with his Congressional colleague, Richard Henry Lee, he drafts a new proposal: we'll open American commerce to the whole world outside the British Empire. But not right away. We'll wait one year to give you a chance to repeal the Restraining Act. If you do not, we shall open our ports for two years at least, come what may.

So? So for the present his fellow delegates are not ready to commit themselves to a declaration of commercial independence, even in the future. They have lived so long with the closed system of the Navigation Act that most of them cannot imagine how to do without it. The resolution is shelved.

And then? "And then," says George, "we witness another facet of the Franklin system. He does not try to convince the other delegates, he just leaves his draft on the table for all to see and think about but does not mention it anymore." George confides that his relative feels sure that by spring Franklin's plan will be adopted by Congress. Somebody else may take credit for it but Grandfather won't mind, he says.

I remark that all of this has to do with trade. Does George's relative also have insights into other aspects of my Grandfather's position?

Indeed, yes. "Your Grandfather," George says, "is far ahead of most of the delegates in his readiness to separate from Britain. This can easily be seen in the Articles of Confederation he proposed at the beginning of last summer: rather than thirteen colonies competing and squabbling with each other, why not unite and be stronger? His project has not been implemented yet, but it may well have sown a seed that will germinate some day. Only those delegates who have abandoned hope for a reconciliation would agree with him now; for the rest, we'll have to wait and see. Dr. Franklin believes that the United Colonies should be given the power to amend their individual constitutions; that there should be a common treasury to administer the funds raised by proportional taxation; that Congress should have the authority to settle disputes between the colonies; to create new colonies; to negotiate with the Indians; to make war and peace; send and receive ambassadors. What would you call that degree of autonomy, Temple?"

I hesitate. "Independence?"

— "Good boy! You're a born politician. And now for the other side of the Franklin system, what can we expect?"

— "A tasty carrot?"

— "Yes! None of this will happen, he predicts, if Britain concedes all the disputed points and makes reparations for damages. In that case, the colonies will return to their 'former connection,' as he puts it, and rejoin the British Empire."

— "Do you think this is likely to happen?"

— "No, I don't, although I would like it to..."

Very interesting, all that, but is it History? Will it become History?