Temple's Diary Temple's Diary
Episode 6. War or No War?

The Electric Franklin

November 7, 1775

A knock on my door. It's not even dawn, it's pre-dawn. I ignore that stupid knock and the next ones. I grunt loudly. My locked door is shaken. "Come on, Temple," shouts Grandfather. "Don't pretend you're asleep. Let's go." I pull on some clothes and meet him downstairs. For the first time in my life, I'm angry with him. I don't know exactly why. Because I'm here, I guess, and no longer in London where life was simple — and because he wrote only to Uncle Richard from Cambridge, not to me, — and because I don't want to be treated as if I were still a little boy.

And that's exactly what I tell him as we walk out the front door. I add that my classmates at the College taunt me by saying that it's well worth having a "Franklin" in their midst in order to always hear him answer the questions by a dumb I don't know. "They wonder if their own parents were right, in the early days, to suspect that we were both English spies, you and I."

HE (calmly): "That's ridiculous, Temple. You certainly could say a loud 'NO' to that."

ME (at my grumpiest): "They also said you are dozing in your chair most of the time."

HE (amused): "If those talkative parents had to listen to all the mind-numbing speeches in Congress that I am subjected to, they would also fall asleep."

Second Bank Picture Gallery
John Adams, painted by Charles Willson Peale

ME (reproachfully): "They say Mr. John Adams makes wonderful fiery speeches, while you never open your mouth."

HE (conciliatory): "Yes, Mr. Adams is a well-informed and eloquent speaker. But keep in mind, Billy, that he had a father who could afford to send him to Harvard by selling some land, while I was taken out of school at ten. I taught myself all I could, but never mastered oratory. I communicate my ideas in writing. My suggestions for a federation of the colonies are there for anybody to read, but I don't speak in public. I'm a poor orator. Next attack?"

ME (somewhat deflated): "I'm not attacking you."

HE (smiling): "Oh yes, you are, and I understand why. As I was listening to you, I suddenly heard myself at your age snapping at my brother James, at the Boston Puritan establishment, at anybody in authority over me, and you know what? That's normal. I don't know about girls that age, but boys around fifteen feel a need to rebel and you're entering that phase, my ever-so-normal grandson."

I say nothing. I look at my unlaced boots. It's dawn now. We're almost back at the house.

HE (almost tender): "Remember our walks through London, Temple? You expected your little bag of sweets at the end but did not dare ask for it? (By the way, have you noticed that they say candy here, not sweets?) I have something better than sweets to give you to appease your schoolmates' curiosity." He fumbles through his pockets. "Here, read this."

And I read: MEMORANDUM OF DECISIONS TAKEN IN CONCERT BY GENERAL WASHINGTON AND THE COMMITTEE OF THREE CONGRESSMEN (BENJAMIN FRANKLIN OF PENNSYLVANIA, THOMAS LYNCH OF SOUTH CAROLINA AND BENJAMIN HARRISON OF VIRGINIA.) The most urgent need is the creation of an officer corps that will teach and train the troops. 1. Discipline. For mutiny or incitement to mutiny: death. For drunken officers: expulsion from the army with infamy. For sentries caught asleep: no less than 20 lashes, no more than 29. For an officer absent without leave: one month's pay canceled. For an enlisted man absent without leave: 7 days confinement on bread and water. 2. Food and other rations. For every man, per day one pound of beef or salt fish or 3/4 pound of pork, one pound of bread or flour, one pint of milk, one quart of spruce beer or cider per week, 1/2 pint of rice or cornmeal. 3. Arms. Firelocks with barrels 3/4 of an inch in bore and 44 inches in length. The colonies should import all that can be procured. 4. The Army. Its size should be increased to 20,372, comprising regiments of 728 men (including officers), with each regiment divided into 8 companies consisting of one captain, 2 lieutenants, 1 ensign, 4 sergeants, 4 corporals, 2 drums or fifes, and 76 privates. 5. Pay of the Troops. 40 shillings per month. Not to be diminished, whatever Congress says.

He interrupts me here: "What a debate that was! The officers wanted a pay raise coupled with a cut in pay for the privates. The privates threatened to mutiny if their wages were cut, and this at a time when enlistments are about to expire. And you know, Temple, General Washington has to enlist as many people as possible before the rigor of winter sets in ..."

— "Talking about the troops," I ask, "are Negroes allowed to enlist?"

— "No" says Grandfather. "We all agreed that they be rejected altogether, both the slaves and the free ones."

— "But why?"

— "Fear of an uprising against their masters once they are armed — a situation the British are trying to provoke, while also encouraging the Indians to attack the settlers on the frontier. Anyway, Temple, I don't have time to discuss that now. Why don't you ask your friend George Fox? He comes from a Quaker family. They are keenly interested in the Negro problem."

I hand him the document I have been reading, but he gives it back to me.

— "Bring it to the College and be the first to give your classmates the latest information on our war preparations. And they'll be the ones to tell their parents what's going on."

— "But don't you need it for Congress?"

— "I have another copy and must rush off now." And with a little pat on my shoulder: "See you this evening, my no-longer-little-boy."

My quarreling mood dissipates in a flash. What kind of magician is he, our patriarch, our Benjamin Franklin? Oh well, if he figured out the way to send lightning quietly and politely down into the earth, calming his grandson can't be a big problem.