Certificate of Nomination to the Royal Society
DS: The Royal Society, London
Franklin was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on April 29, 1756. Under the rules candidates had to be recommended in writing by three or more Fellows acquainted with him “either in person or by his Works,” the recommendation had to be approved by the Council, and the certificate publicly displayed at “ten several ordinary meetings” before balloting. (An exception was made for peers, their sons, privy councilors, foreign princes, and ambassadors, who might be proposed and elected the same day.) Nothing more was required of foreign fellows. British (including colonial) fellows, however, had to pay an admission fee (five guineas after 1752) and a sum of £21 “for the use of the Society in lieu of Contributions,” or give bond for that amount. Only then was a British subject deemed to be a fellow and entitled to be registered in the Journal-Book and be included in the printed List of Fellows. To attend meetings and vote in elections British fellows had also to sign the obligation to “endeavour to promote the Good of the Royall Society … and to pursue the Ends for which the same was formed.”1
Before Franklin could acknowledge his election, the Council, on motion of William Watson, unanimously voted, July 15, 1756, to insert his name in the membership list “before his Admission and without any Fee, or other payment to the Society.”2 On Nov. 24, 1757, Franklin personally appeared in the Society, signed the obligation,3 and was formally admitted a fellow.4
London 29 January 1756
Benjamin Franklin Esqr. of Philadelphia, A gentleman, who has very eminently distinguished himself by various discoveries in natural philosophy, and who first Suggested the experiments to prove the analogy between lightning and electricity, being desirous of being elected a fellow of the royal Society, is recommended by us in consideration of his great merit, and of his many communications as highly deserving the honour he desires.
Ballotted and Elected May 29. 1756.6
1. Raymond P. Stearns, “Colonial Fellows of the Royal Society of London, 1661–1788,” 3 Wm. and Mary Quar., III (1946), 208–18.
2. Ibid., pp. 244–6.
3. His subscription to the obligation is printed in facsimile in The Signatures in the First Journal-Book and the Charter-Book of the Royal Society (London, 1912), p. 27.
4. BF described his election and his pleasure in reading about it in the Society’s records, in a letter to his son, Dec. 19, 1767.
5. The signers of this certificate were: George Parker, 2d Earl of Macclesfield, elected F.R.S. 1722; president 1752 (see above, IV, 448 n); Thomas, Lord Parker (1723–1795), son and heir of the Earl of Macclesfield, elected 1747; Hugh Willoughby, 15th Baron Willoughby of Parham (1714?–1765), elected 1745, vice president 1752; Peter Collinson, elected 1728 (see above, III, 115 n); William Watson, elected 1741 (see above, III, 457 n); Thomas Birch, D.D. (1705–1766), historian and biographer, elected 1735, secretary 1752; James Parsons, M.D. (1705–1770), physician and antiquary, elected 1741 (see above, p. 85 n); and John Canton, elected 1749 (see above, IV, 390 n).
6. The clerk erred in noting here the date of election as May 29 instead of April 29, 1756. The date is correctly given in the Journal-Book, XXIII, 347, and there was no meeting of the Society on May 29, 1756. Letter from I. Kaye, Librarian of the Royal Society, to the editors, Jan. 12, 1962.