Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Peter Collinson, 5 November 1756

To Peter Collinson

ALS: Pierpont Morgan Library; also extract: The Royal Society8

Nov. 5. 1756

Dear Friend

The above is a Copy of my last, and I now send the two second Bills of Steevens and Ludwell.9 I wrote then in great Hurry, being just setting out for the Frontiers, to visit some of the Forts with the Governor; a long Journey.1 Since our Return, I have scarce had a Moment’s Time to write to my Friends, the Assembly sitting twice a day, and twice a Day the Commissioners for laying out the last given £30,000 besides continually, when at home, hearing People who have Business to lay before the Assembly or Commissioners. And now I am just ordered by the House to attend the Governor at Easton in Northampton County, on a Treaty with the Delaware Indians:2 We set out immediately, so must entreat your Excuse if I do not write fully.

I have before me your several Favours of May 27. June 3. June 4. and 30. and July 9.3 The Quakers have now pretty generally declined their Seats in Assembly, very few remaining. We shall soon see if Matters will be better managed by a Majority of different religious Persuasions.4 The Governor tells me, that you recommended me to him very warmly,5 for which accept my grateful Acknowledgments. We have, I think, a very good Understanding with each other. He was pleased to offer me any Service in his Power. My Answer was, that I had at present no Favour to ask, that I was nevertheless oblig’d to him for his frank Offers of Friendship; would always be ready to do him any honest Service, requesting only in Return his Good Will and Good Opinion.6

Your Information of my being chosen a Member of the Royal Society, was extreamly agreable, and the more, as I had not the least Expectation of ever arriving at that Honour. The Diploma you mention, is not yet come to hand. I must request the Favour of you to present my humble Thanks to the Society, whose truly noble Designs I wish I may be able in any Degree to promote. Please to pay for me the yearly and other Charges that arise on such Occasions, out of any Money of mine in your Hands.7 Of late I have said nothing to you on Philosophical Subjects, for I fear I overdos’d you with my last Pacquet from Boston.8 I had lately a Letter from Paullus Frisi of St. Alexander’s College at Milan,9 who writes to me as if I liv’d in London, and desires me to mention a Matter to Mr. Short,1 which I can only do, by transcribing that Part of the Letter, and desiring you to show it to that Gentleman, viz. “Optarem etiam, ut Cl. Short reverentiam meam, et gratum animum testeris, quodque occasione data animadversiones meas circa controversum ilium Newtoni errorem judicio ipsius submittam.”2

I deliver’d the Letter inclos’d in yours of June 3. to Smith. But your former Letter relating to his Freemason Sermon3 he never had as I suppose; for I receiv’d it when abroad, and lost it with some other Papers, that I hoped to recover, but have not. And he and I not being on speaking Terms, I have said nothing to him about it. He has scribbled himself into universal Dislike here: The Proprietary Faction alone countenance him a little; but the Academy dwindles, and will come to nothing if he is continued.4

I am sorry we have no good News in this Part of the World to ballance your Loss of Minorca. Oswego is taken, and a fine New England Army, collected at Lake George, is, thro’ Inaction, wasted by Sickness and Desertion, so as to be at present of little Strength or Value; and I am afraid those Governments will be unable to produce such another for the next Campaign. These Northern Colonies have a vast Frontier to defend, and the Expence is excessive, much less Money would defray an Expedition by Sea against Quebec: That, in my Opinion, will be our most effectual Defence, and much the cheapest.

Runkin is not yet arriv’d, on board whome you have put the Air Pump, &c.5 The Invoice I have receiv’d per last Ship.

You write that “you hear I ride about with a Party of Men with drawn Swords, which gives great Offence to some Folks.” I wonder who could think it worth their While to send such trifling News to England,6 or how it has been represented so as to give Offence. I must tell you the Matter as it was. The People happen to love me. Perhaps that’s my Fault. When I was on the Frontier last Winter, a great Number of the Citizens, as I was told, intended to come out and meet me at my Return, to express their thankful Sense of my (small) Services. To prevent this, I made a forc’d March, and got to Town in the Night, by which they were disappointed, and some a little chagrined. But as I could not fully conceal the Time of my setting out for Virginia, 20 Officers of my Regiment with about 30 Grenadiers, presented themselves on Horseback at my Door just as I was going to mount, to accompany me to the Ferry about 3 Miles from Town. Till we got to the End of the Street, which is about 200 Yards, the Grenadiers took it in their Heads to ride with their Swords drawn, but there they put them up peaceably into their Scabboards, without hurting or even terrifying Man, Woman or Child; and from the Ferry where we took Leave and parted, they all returned as quietly to their Homes. This was the only Instance of the kind: For tho’ a greater Number met me at my Return, they did not ride with drawn Swords, having been told that Ceremony was improper, unless to compliment some Person of great Distinction. I, who am totally ignorant of military Ceremonies, and above all things averse to making Show and Parade, or doing any useless Thing that can serve only to excite Envy or provoke Malice, suffer’d at the Time much more Pain than I enjoy’d Pleasure, and have never since given an Opportunity for anything of the Sort.7

The Proprietors, you write me word, are greatly incensed at some Parts of my late Conduct. I am not much concern’d at that, because if I have offended them by acting right, I can, whenever I please, remove their Displeasure, by acting wrong. Tho’ at present I have not the least Inclination to be in their good Graces on those Terms. I have some natural Dislike to Persons who so far Love Money, as to be unjust for its sake: I despise their Meanness, (as it appears to me) in several late Instances, most cordially, and am thankful that I never had any Connection with them, or Occasion to ask or receive a Favour at their hands.8 For now I am persuaded that I do not oppose their Views from Pique, Disappointment, or personal Resentment, but, as I think, from a Regard to the Publick Good. I may be mistaken in what is that Publick Good; but at least I mean well. And whenever they appear to me to have the Publick Good in View, I think I would as readily serve them as if they were my best Friends. I am sometimes asham’d for them, when I see them differing with their People for Trifles, and instead of being ador’d, as they might be, like Demi Gods, become the Objects of universal Hatred and Contempt. How must they have managed, when, with all the Power their Charter, the Laws and their Wealth give them, a private Person (forgive your Friend a little Vanity, as it’s only between ourselves) can do more Good in their Country than they, because he has the Affections and Confidence of their People, and of course some Command of the Peoples Purses. You are ready now to tell me, that Popular Favour is a most uncertain Thing. You are right. I blush at having valued myself so much upon it. I have done. Adieu, my dear Friend, and enjoy forever the Esteem of all the Good and Worthy, as well as the sincere Affection of Your obliged humble Servant

B Franklin

Inclos’d is a little Memorandum for some Musick and Harpsicord Wire, which I want for a Friend. If not too much out of your Way please to send it.

I did not think I should write so long a Letter. There is too much in it about my self. I must mend that Fault in my next, for I cannot now correct it in this.

[In the margin in Collinson’s hand:] Mr Jacksons Bank sent Him Coldens papers

Peter Collinson Esq

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8The extract, in Collinson’s hand, is of the first three sentences of the third paragraph.

9See above, VI, 532.

1BF, James Hamilton, Governor Denny, and military engineer Elias Meyer, visited Carlisle, Harris’s Ferry, and York, October 2–14, though they apparently did not go to Fort Augusta, the main post on the frontier. Pa. Gaz., Oct. 7 and 21, 1756; I Pa. Arch., III, 8–10. Denny told his Council that they had “found the Frontiers in a deplo[rable] Condition; … the People dispirited … [and] … earnest for a Militia.” Pa. Col. Recs., VII, 278.

2See the documents immediately following.

3None of these letters have been found.

4See above, VI, 456 n, for the first resignation of Quaker Assemblymen. Three more Quakers who had voted against defense measures were not reelected in October 1756, and four others resigned on the 16th, two days after the new Assembly’s first meeting. This left but six of the seventeen members (mostly Quakers) who had voted against the Mutiny Act still in the Assembly. Anglicans predominated among those who replaced the Quakers. According to Pa. Gaz., Oct. 7, 1756, sixteen Quakers were elected to the new Assembly, only twelve of whom remained after the resignations later in the month. The October 1st election had been conducted under conflicting stresses of war news and political alignments. Early in September Richard Peters reported that BF would have his own way since William Allen and James Hamilton refused to exert themselves, but alarmed by the loss of Oswego, they and Benjamin Chew conferred with BF and decided upon a slate for Philadelphia Co. which included two proprietary men. The Quakers refused to back them, and in their places secured the election of Joseph Galloway and John Baynton, both “bitter on the side of the Party.” Thus, though the strict Quakers had pledged to retire from the Assembly, Peters felt the Quaker electioneering had been “assiduous,” and that their political influence was as strong as ever. The result was deplorable: “A weaker Assembly never was in the world; it looks, as if the Quakers in a passion of resentment, had chosen the most ignorant and headstrong wretches they could pick up” to be guided at every step by “two ill-disposed Persons [BF and Isaac Norris].” Peters to Penn, Sept. 4, 16, and 22, Oct. 2 and 30, Dec. 11, 1756; Robert Hunter Morris to William Alexander, Oct. 10, 1756, Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa.; Votes, 1755–56, pp. 15, 31, 54, 74, 101; Votes, 1756–57, pp. 3–5.

5At dinner with Collinson about June 1, just before he sailed for America, Denny had expressed his determination “if possible to heal all differences.” Collinson found Denny “a mild, moderate man,” and doubtless recommended BF to him as an ally in his peacable intentions. Darlington, Memorials, p. 208.

6See above, VI, 489 n, for other comments, including BF’s, about Governor Denny. His offer of friendship made at an entertainment shortly after his arrival, was recalled more fully by BF in his autobiography: “After Dinner, when the Company as was customary at that time, were engag’d in Drinking, he took me aside into another Room, and acquainted me that he had been advis’d by his Friends in England to cultivate a Friendship with me, as one who was capable of giving him the best Advice, and of contributing most effectually to the making his Administration easy. That he therefore desired of all things to have a good Understanding with me; and he begg’d me to be assur’d of his Readiness on all Occasions to render me every Service that might be in his Power. He said much to me also of the Proprietor’s good Dispositions towards the Province, and of the Advantage it might be to us all, and to me in particular, if the Opposition that had been so long continu’d to his Measures, were dropt, and Harmony restor’d between him and the People, in effecting which it was thought no one could be more serviceable than my self, and I might depend on adequate Acknowledgements and Recompences, &c. &c. The Drinkers finding we did not return immediately to the Table, sent us a Decanter of Madeira, which the Governor made liberal Use of, and in proportion became more profuse of his Solicitations and Promises. My Answers were to this purpose, that my Circumstances, Thanks to God, were such as to make Proprietary Favours unnecessary to me; and that being a Member of the Assembly I could not possibly accept of any; that however I had no personal Enmity to the Proprietary, and that whenever the public Measures he propos’d should appear to be for the Good of the People, no one should espouse and forward them more zealously than my self, my past Opposition having been founded on this, that the Measures which had been urg’d were evidently intended to serve the Proprietary Interest with great Prejudice to that of the People. That I was much obliged to him (the Governor) for his Professions of Regard to me, and that he might rely on every thing in my Power to make his Administration as easy to him as possible, hoping at the same time that he had not brought with him the same unfortunate Instructions his Predecessor had been hamper’d with.” Par. Text edit., pp. 388–90.

7See above, VI, 375–6. Collinson read the first three sentences of this paragraph at a meeting of the Society, Feb. 24, 1757. Royal Society Archives. The Society had already voted, July 15, 1756, to waive the charges mentioned. Raymond P. Stearns, “Colonial Fellows of the Royal Society of London, 1661–1788,” 3 Wm. and Mary Quar., III (1946), 244–6.

8BF had apologized to Collinson, Dec. 29, 1754, from Boston, for not sending him the scientific writings finally conveyed on June 26, 1755. See above, V, 453, and VI, 83–4.

9Paolo Frisi (1728–1784), Italian astronomer and mathematician, author of many works on scientific subjects, and member of nearly every learned society in Europe, probably saw BF in London, 1766, and for nearly 30 years they were associated from time to time in the international brotherhood of science. Antonio Pace, Benjamin Franklin and Italy (Phila., 1958), pp. 34–5. The letter from him has not been found.

1James Short (1710–1768), optician of London and Edinburgh; F.R.S., 1737; recognized as the foremost maker of glass specula of his day. DNB.

2Letters of John Dolland and Leonhard Euler differing on some Newtonian propositions on aberration in refracting telescopes were presented to the Royal Society by Short in 1752, but there is no record of any contribution by Frisi to the controversy. Phil. Trans., XLVIII, 287–96.

3William Smith, A Sermon preached in Christ-Church, Philadelphia; before the provincial grand master, and general communication of Free and Accepted Masons. On Tuesday the 24th of June, 1755 … Printed by Franklin and Hall, [1755] (Evans 7571).

4See above, VI, 420–2 n, 457 n, for Smith’s political writings, and below, p. 50, for the Academy’s enrollment. BF’s replacement as president of the Academy’s Board of Trustees by Richard Peters, May 11, 1756, doubtless increased the fears of many non-Anglicans that the Academy, contrary to the intent of its founders, was fast becoming sectarian, a circumstance responsible for the withdrawal of both students and financial support. In the midst of the controversy over Smith’s “politicking,” however, both the students and Trustees had expressed their confidence in him. Montgomery, Hist. Univ. Pa., pp. 227, 273. BF wrote Ebenezer Kinnersley, July 28, 1759: “Before I left Philadelphia, everything to be done at the Academy was privately preconcerted in a Cabal without my Knowledge or Participation.”

5See below, pp. 23, 50.

6Richard Peters made such a report to Thomas Penn, June 1, 1756; see below, pp. 72–3. Collinson had other sources of criticism for BF’s conduct, however; Cadwallader Colden had written him, April 23, 1756, of Pennsylvania’s “infatuated” persistence in “the greatest civil confusions” during the Indian attacks, and added that “Mr. Franklin’s conduct is the most surprising to me of any thing. I can no way account for it, so as to give my mind satisfaction consistently with the esteem I had of him.” Collinson replied that he was “really a Stranger to Mr. Franklin’s conduct. I wish you had been more explicite on that Head.” Maggs Bros. Catalogue No. 320 (Jan.–Feb. 1914), pp. 37–8; Colden Paps., V, 104.

7See above, VI, 425 n, for another account of this incident.

8Over a year earlier (July 3, 1755), Thomas Penn had written otherwise to Peters of a “favour” to BF: “I think it no small Act of Friendship that I have recommended him to Sir Everard Falkoner,” BF’s superior in the Post Office Department. Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa.

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