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Parties in England-Franklin the favorite of the opposition-Plans
of the Tories-Christian III-Letter of Franklin-Dr. PriestleyParisian courtesy-Louis XV—Visit to Ireland-Attempted alteration of the Prayer Book-Letter to his son-Astounding let. ters from America—Words of John Adams--Petition of the Assembly–Violent conspiracy against Franklin-His bearing in the court-room-Wedderburn's infamous charges-Letter of Franklin-Bitter words of Dr. Johnson-Morals of English lords—Commercial value of the Colonies--Dangers threatening Franklin.
WHEREVER there is a government there must be an opposition. Those who are out of office wish to eject those in office, that they may take their places. There was a pretty strong party in what was called the Opposition. But it was composed of persons animated by very different motives. The first consisted of those intelligent, high minded, virtuous statesmen, who were indignant in view of the wrong which the haughty, unprincipled Tory government was inflicting upon the American people. The second gathered those who were in trade. They cared nothing for the Americans. They cared nothing
for government right or wrong. They wished to sell their hats, their cutlery, and their cotton and woolen goods to the Americans. This they could not do while government was despotically enforcing the Stamp Act or the Revenue Bill. Then came a third class, who had no goods to sell, and no conscience to guide to action. They were merely ambitious politicians. They wished to thrust the Tories out of office simply that they might rush into the occupancy of all the places of honor, emolument or power.
Franklin was in high favor with the opposition. He furnished their orators in Parliament with arguments, with illustrations, with accurate statistical information. Many of the most telling passages in parliamentary speeches, were placed on the lips of the speakers by Benjamin Franklin. He wrote pamphlets of marvellous popular power, which were read in all the workshops, and greatly increased the number and the intelligence of the foes of the government measures. Thus Franklin became the favorite of the popular party. They lavished all honors upon him. In the same measure he became obnoxious to the haughty, aristocratic Tory government. Its ranks were filled with the lords, the governmental officials, and all their dependents. This made a party very powerful in numbers, and still more powe erful in wealth and influence. They were watching for opportunities to traduce Franklin, to ruin his reputation, and if possible, to bring him into contempt.
This will explain the honors which were conferred upon him by one party, and the indignities to which he was subjected from the other. At times, the Tories would make efforts by flattery, by offers of position, of emolument, by various occult forms of bribery, to draw Franklin to their side. He might very easily have attained almost any amount of wealth and high official dignity.
The king of Denmark, Christian VII., was brother-in-law of George III. He visited England; a mere boy in years, and still more a weak boy in insipidity of character. A large dinner-party was given in his honor at the Royal Palace. Franklin was one of the guests. In some way unexplained, he impressed the boy-king with a sense of his inherent and peculiar greatness. Christian invited a select circle of but sixteen men to dine with him. Among those thus carefully selected, Franklin was honored with an invitation. Though sixty-seven years of age he still enjoyed in the highest degree, convivial scenes. He could tell stories, and sing songs which gave delight to all. It was his boast that he could empty his two bottles of wine, and still retain entire sobriety. He wrote to Hugh Roberts,
“I wish you would continue to meet the Junto. It wants but about two years of forty since it was established. We loved, and still love one another ; we have grown grey together, and yet it is too early to part. Let us sit till the evening of life is spent; the last hours are always the most joyous. When we can stay no longer, it is time enough to bid each other good night, separate, and go quietly to bed.”
Franklin was the last person to find any enjoyment in the society of vulgar and dissolute men. In those days, it was scarcely a reproach for a young lord to be carried home from a festivity in deadly intoxication. Witticisms were admitted into such circles which respectable men would not tolerate now. Franklin's most intimate friends in London were found among Unitarian clergymen, and those philosophers who were in sympathy with him in his rejection of the Christian religion. Dr. Richard Price, and Dr. Joseph Priestly, men both eminent for intellectual ability and virtues, were his bosom friends.
Dr. Priestly, who had many conversations with Franklin upon religious topics, deeply deplored the looseness of his views. Though Dr. Priestly rejected the divinity of Christ, he still firmly adhered to the belief that Christianity was of divine origin. In his autobiography, Dr. Priestly writes:
“It is much to be lamented that a man of Dr.
Franklin's generally good character and great influence, should have been an unbeliever in Christianity, and also have done so much as he did to make others unbelievers. To me, however, he acknowledged that he had not given so much attention as he ought to have done to the evidences of Christianity; and he desired me to recommend him a few treatises on the subject, such as I thought most deserving his notice."
Priestly did so ; but Franklin, all absorbed in his social festivities, his scientific researches, and his intense patriotic labors, could find no time to devote to that subject—the immortal destiny of man,which is infinitely more important to each individual than all others combined.* It was indeed a sad circle of unbelievers, into whose intimacy Franklin was thrown. Dr. Priestly writes,
“In Paris, in 1774, all the philosophical persons to whom I was introduced, were unbelievers in Chris
* Mr. Parton, in his excellent Life of Franklin, one of the best biographies which was ever written, objects to this withholding of the Christian name from Dr. Franklin. He writes,
'I do not understand what Dr. Priestly meant, by saying that Franklin was an unbeliever in Christianity, since he himself was open to the same charge from nine-tenths of the inhabitants of christendom. Perhaps, if the two men were now alive, we might express the theological difference between them by saying that Priestly was a Unitarian of the Channing school, and Franklin of that of Theodore Parker. Again he writes, “I have ventured to call Franklin the consummate Christian of his time. Indeed I know not who, of any time, has exhibited more of the Spirit of Christ."-Parton's Franklin Vol. 1. p. 546. Vol. 2. p. 646.