Electric ...
Ben Franklin

Life of Benjamin Franklin by Jared Sparks


Proceedings of Congress, and of the National Assembly of France, on the Death of Franklin.

THE Congress of the United States was in session at New York at the time of Franklin's death. On receiving the news of that event, they passed the following joint resolution.

"The House, being informed of the decease of Benjamin Franklin, a citizen whose native genius was not more an ornament to human natural than his various exertions of it have been precious to science, to freedom, and to his country, do resolve, as a mark of the veneration due to his memory, that the members wear the customary badge of mourning for one month."

Honors still more distinguished were paid to him by the National Assembly of France. On the morning after the intelligence reached Paris, June 11th, when the Assembly was convened, Mirabeau rose and spoke as follows.

"Franklin is dead ! The genius, that freed America and poured a flood of light over Europe, has returned to the bosom of the Divinity.

"The sage whom two worlds claim as their own, the man for whom the history of science and the history of empires contend with each other, held, without doubt, a high rank in the human race.

Click for Ben Franklin Posters

"Too long have political cabinets taken formal note of the death of those who were great only in their funeral panegyrics. "Too long has the etiquette of courts prescribed hypocritical mourning. Nations should wear mourning only for their benefactors. The representatives of nations should recommend to their homage none but the heroes of humanity.

"The Congress has ordained, throughout the United States, a mourning of one month for the death of Franklin; and, at this moment, America is paying this tribute of veneration and gratitude to one of the fathers of her Constitution.

"Would it not become as, Gentlemen, to join in this religious act, to bear a part in this homage, rendered, in the face of the world, both to the rights of man, and to the philosopher who has most contributed to extend their sway over the whole earth? Antiquity would have raised altars to this mighty genius, who, to the advantage of mankind, compassing in his mind the heavens and the earth, was able to restrain alike thunderbolts and tyrants. Europe, enlightened and free, owes at least a token of remembrance and regret to one of the greatest men who have ever been engaged in the service of philosophy and of liberty."

I propose that it be decreed, that the National Assembly, during, three days, shall wear mourning for Benjamin Franklin."

Rochefoucauld and Lafayette rose immediately to Second the motion. The Assembly adopted it by acclamation ; and afterwards decreed, that, on the 14th of June, they should go into mourning for three days; that the discourse of M. Mirabeau should be printed; and that the President should write a letter of condolence on the occasion to the Congress of the United States. The following letter was accordingly written, and directed to President Washington.

Paris, 20 June, 1790.×


"The National Assembly has during three days worn mourning for Benjamin Franklin, your fellow-citizen, your friend, and one of the most useful of your cooperators in the establishment of American liberty. They charge me to communicate their resolution to the Congress of the United States. In consequence, I have the honor to address to you, Mr. President, an extract from the proceedings of their session of the 11th, which contains the deliberation.

"The National Assembly have not been stopped in their decree by the consideration that Franklin was a stranger. Great men are the fathers of universal humanity; their loss ought to he felt, as a common misfortune, by all the tribes of the great human family; and it belongs without doubt to a nation still affected by all the sentiments, which accompany the achievement of their liberty, and which owes its enfranchisement essentially to the progress of the public reason, to be the first to give the example of the filial gratitude of the people towards their true benefactors. Besides that these ideas and this example are so proper to disseminate a happy emulation of patriotism, and thus to extend more and more the empire of reason and virtue, which could not fail promptly to determine a body, devoted to the most important legislative combinations, charged with assuring to the French the rights of men and citizens, it has believed, without doubt, that fruitful and great truths were likewise numbered among the rights of man.

"The name of Benjamin Franklin will be immortal in the records of freedom and philosophy; but it is more particularly dear to a country, where, conducted by the most sublime mission, this venerable man knew how very soon to acquire an infinite number of friends and admirers, as well by the simplicity and sweetness of his manners, as by the purity of his principles, the extent of his knowledge, and the charms of his mind.

"It will be remembered, that every success, which he obtained in his important negotiation, was applauded and celebrated (so to express it) all over France, as so many crowns conferred on genius and virtue.

"Even then the sentiment of our rights existed in the bottom of our souls. It was easily perceived, that it feelingly mingled in the interest which we took in behalf of America, and in the public vows which we preferred for your liberty.

"At last the hour of the French has arrived; we love to think, that the citizens of the United States have not regarded with indifference our steps towards liberty. Twenty-six millions of men breaking their chains, and seriously occupied in giving themselves a durable constitution, are not unworthy of the esteem of a generous people, who have preceded them in that noble career.

"We hope they will learn with interest the funeral homage, which we have rendered to the Nestor of America. May this solemn act of fraternal friendship serve more and more to bind the tie, which ought to unite two free nations! May the common enjoyment of liberty shed itself over the whole globe, and become an indissoluble chain of connexion among all the people of the earth ! For ought they not to perceive, that they will march more steadfastly and more certainly to their true happiness, in understanding and loving each other, than in being jealous and fighting? I

"May the Congress of the United States and the National Assembly of France be the first to furnish this fine spectacle to the world! And may the individuals of the two nations connect themselves by a mutual affection, worthy of the friendship which unites the two men, at this day most illustrious by their exertions for liberty, WASHINGTON and LAFAYETTE!

"Permit me, Mr. President, to offer on this occasion my particular homage of esteem and admiration.

"I have the honor to be, with respectful consideration, Mr. President, your most humble and most obedient servant,

"SIEYES, President."

Washington transmitted this letter to Congress, and it was resolved, that he should be requested "to communicate to the National Assembly of France the peculiar sensibility of Congress to the tribute paid to the memory of Benjamin Franklin by the enlightened and free representatives of a great nation." In compliance with this request, Washington wrote an answer, dated January 27th, 1791, in which he said;

"I received with particular satisfaction, and imparted to Congress, the communication made by the President's letter of the 20th of June last, in the name of the National Assembly of France. So peculiar and so signal an expression of the esteem of that respectable body for a citizen of the United States, whose eminent and patriotic services are indelibly engraved on the minds of his countrymen, cannot fail to be appreciated by them as it ought to be. On my part, I assure you, Sir, that I am sensible of all its value."

Two days after the decree of the National Assembly, M. de la Rochefoucauld read to the Society, called the "Society of 1789," a paper on the life and character of Franklin. The members then voted, that they would wear mourning for three days, and that the bust of Franklin should be placed in the hall of the Assembly, with this inscription. "Homage rendered by the unanimous voice of the Society of 1789 to Benjamin Franklin, the object of the admiration and regrets of the friends of liberty."

The Commune of Paris ordered a public celebration in honor of the memory of Franklin. On this occasion the Abbe Fauchet pronounced a Civic Eulogy (Eloge Civique) in the presence of a very large concourse of auditors, consisting of the deputies of the National Assembly, the deputies of the departments, the presidents of the districts, the public officers and electors of Paris, and private citizens. The ceremony took place in the vast round a of the Grain-Market, which was hung in black, and decorated in an imposing manner. The auditors were all dressed in mourning. The Abbe Fauchet's Eulogy was printed, and twenty-six copies were forwarded to Congress, with a letter from the President of the Commune of Paris, which were acknowledged by the following vote.

"The House being highly sensible of the polite attention of the Commons of Paris, in directing, copies of an Eulogium lately pronounced before them, as a tribute to the illustrious memory of Benjamin Franklin, to be transmitted to Congress; Resolved, that the Speaker do accordingly communicate the sense of the House thereon to the President of the Commons of Paris."

Condorcet pronounced a Eulogy of Franklin (Eloge de Franklin) before the French, Academy of Sciences, on the 13th of November, 1790. This discourse is very elaborate, full in its details, able, and eloquent.

A society of printers in Paris celebrated the event in a novel manner. They assembled in a large ball, in which there was a column surmounted by a bust of Franklin, with a civic, crown. Below the bust were arrayed printers' cases and types, with a press, and all the apparatus of the art, which the philosopher had practised with such distinguished success. While one of the fraternity pronounced a eulogy on Franklin, several printers were employed in composing it at the cases; and, as soon as it was finished, impressions of it were taken, and distributed to the large concourse of people, who had been drawn together as spectators of the ceremony.×

The American Philosophical Society honored the memory of their President by appointing Dr. William Smith to deliver a Eulogy; and a similar honor was conferred in Yale College by a Latin Oration from President Stiles. Both these performances have been published.

Click for Ben Franklin Posters