Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from John Sargent, 12 August 1762

From John Sargent6

Copy (incomplete), MS minutes: Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania

London 12 August 1763 [1762]7
General Post Office

Dear Sir—

By our Friends here I am enabled to convey the enclosed Trifles to you, which are the best I could meet with at present and cost 5 Guineas each.8

You remember the Intention viz, for the two best Performances at the general Meeting or Publick Act of your College or Seminary.

The Subject of one to be, in a short English Discourse, or Essay “on the reciprocal Advantages arising from a perpetual Union between Great Britain and her American Colonies.”

The other Prize, for some Classical Exercise, that you shall think best suited to your Plan of Education and the Abilities of your young people.

I submit to your Judgment whether the former shall be confined to your Students or left open to every one, whether of the Seminary or not. Yourself and Mr. Norris your Speaker and any third [Here the copyist broke off, skipped the equivalent of about four lines, and continued the minutes of Feb. 8, 1763].9

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6So identified in BF’s statement presenting the letter to the Board of Trustees and in President Peters’ reply, entered in the minutes of February 8 and April 12, 1763, respectively. On Sargent, see above, VII, 322 n.

7The year date in the minutes is obviously an error.

8Sargent sent these medals to BF “by the Channel of the Post Office.” See the document immediately below. The Rev. William Smith, who was in England during 1762 raising money for the college, asked Sargent for a contribution. The merchant declined to “give any Thing that Way,” but promised instead to give two gold medals annually “to some of the best Scholars, and had given his Directions about the Matter to Dr. Franklin.” Smith was suspicious of Sargent’s motives, thinking the plan “rather a Scheme for serving himself than us.” Albert F. Gegenheimer, William Smith (Phila., 1943), pp. 153–4.

9From the minutes that follow it would appear that Sargent went on to propose that Isaac Norris, BF, and some third person determine the subjects and conditions of the competition. But BF and Norris were disinclined to act because they felt that Sargent would not have proposed their names “if he had been acquainted with the Trustees or the Constitution of the Academy.” Thereupon the trustees asked Richard Peters, their president, and BF to suggest a classical subject and to confer with Francis Alison, vice provost, and John Ewing, professor of natural philosophy, as to whether either of these subjects was suitable for the present degree candidates and whether “proper Orations” could be prepared in time for the next commencement. A later report indicated that the two faculty advisers thought the topic of perpetual Anglo-American union was “too high for the Present Candidates for Degrees,” but that Roman education might be a suitable subject for the other competition. Peters wrote Sargent a letter of grateful thanks, April 6, 1763 (Minutes, April 12, 1763), but in the end, the competition for the two medals was not held until 1766, with an essay on union open to any holder of a degree from the college and one on a classical subject limited to the graduating seniors. The first medal was awarded to Dr. John Morgan (above, IX, 374 n), by then professor of medicine at the college, but the other prize was not awarded because the contestants, contrary to the rules set up, had revealed their identities beforehand. Montgomery, Hist. Univ. Pa., pp. 365–71.

Index Entries