The College of William and Mary: Degree of Master of Arts
MS: American Philosophical Society; two copies: Yale University Library5
[April 2, 1756]6
Quum in Charta regia nobis concessum et confirmatum fuit, ut eos, qui se Literis et Studiis suis praecipue ornarunt, Gradibus academicis decoremus: Quum volumus in hujusmodi Honorem imprimis evehi Virum inclytissimum, quo nobis et Juventuti Virginiensi Exemplum valde egregium proponamus; Quumque Benjaminum Franklin Armigerum nobis commendarunt Gradus Artium Magistri a diversis Collegiis Americanis in earn collatus; quinetiam Honores a Rege Christianissimo, a regia Scientiarum apud Parisios Academia, a regia Societate Londinensi ei accumulati, nec non ejusdem Celebritas et Gloria, ob miras in Philosophia naturali Patefactiones excogitatas, per totam Literarum Rempublicam evulgatae: Idcirco in frequenti Senatu, Die secundo Mensis Aprilis Anno Domini MDCCLVI habito, conspirantibus omnibus Suffragiis, praefatum Benjaminum Franklin Armigerum, Virum omni Laude dignum, Artium Magistrum renunciavimus et constituimus. In Cujus Rei Testimonium huic Diplomati Sigillum Collegij Gulielmi et Mariæ commune apponi fecimus. Dat. Die Men: et An: praedict:7
5. The engrossed diploma contains several tears and holes; missing words have been silently supplied from the copies in the Stiles Papers and the Yale College Records.
6. The Pa. Jour., May 6, 1756, printed, apparently from the Virginia Gazette, April 23, 1756: “On Tuesday last [April 20] the President and Masters of William and Mary College unanimously confer’d the Degree of Master of Arts on Benjamin Franklin, Esq; of Philadelphia, the ingenious and learned Author of many surprizing and Useful Discoveries in Electricity.” In an undated entry between minutes for Jan. 1 and Dec. 10, 1756, “The Journal of the Meetings of the President and Masters of William and Mary College” simply records that “This Day, Ben. Franklin, Esquire, favored the Society with his company, and had the degree of A.M. conferred upon him.” Wm. and Mary Quar., 1st ser., II (1893–94), 126–7, 208–9. It would appear, then, that though the diploma bears the date above, the conferring ceremony did not take place until eighteen days later.
7. Though there are no signatures of authorizing officials on the diploma, the College Journal cited in the note above records that the degree was conferred “by the Revd T. Dawson, A.M. president to whom he was in publick presented by the Revd W. Preston, A.M.” While considering this action, Thomas Dawson, president of the College, 1755–61, received the following letter from William Hunter: “Agreeable to your Desire, I have made Enquiry, and learn, That Mr. Franklin’s Experiments being exhibited before the King of France, His Majesty was so well pleas’d directed the Abbe Mazeas a Member of the Academy of Sciences to write to the Royal Society, acquainting them how well he had been pleas’d with them, and desiring them to return his Thanks to Mr. Franklin.
“He has receiv’d repeated Thanks from the Royal Society of London for several Papers communicated to them. In Novr. 1753 they decreed to Mr. Franklin the annual Prize Medal, which you will find mention’d in the Gent. Mag. for Decr. 1753, with an abstract of the Earl of Macclesfield Speech on that Occasion.
“Mr. Franklin has receiv’d a Diploma from Harvard College at Cambridge N England, and Yale College at N Haven in Connecticut. He is President of the Trustees of the College and Academy of Philadelphia, and President of the Pennsylvania Hospital.” Dawson Paps., Lib. Cong., Wm. and Mary Quar., 2d ser., I (1921), 54.