30 Apr 2016, Posted by Founding Franklin in The Franklin You Thought You Knew


Most Americans, more than likely, think of Benjamin Franklin as distinctly American, and indeed he was. He was born in the American colonies, in Boston, Massachusetts. He moved to Philadelphia at the age of seventeen. Although he traveled extensively out of the North American continent in his lifetime, America was always home. But there was another side to the self-identity of Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin was born, and lived for his first seventy years in British North America. When we read his own words, he thought of himself as a citizen of the British Empire. Indeed, when Franklin travelled to London in the 1760s and 1770s, he spent much of his time attempting to gain appointment to a position under the British crown. He was already, and had been for years, a British official, Deputy Postmaster of the North American Colonies. When Benjamin Franklin, a first-generation North American, spoke of the future of these American colonies, he envisioned America being not independent, but the center of the British Empire. He projected the growth rate of the population in British North America over the next hundred years, quite accurately, we might add. He advocated as early as the 1750s a union of the colonies, not for independence, but for mutual defense.

When Franklin went to London on behalf of the Assembly of Pennsylvania, it was not to advocate for independence, but rather the abolition of the Penn Charter under which Pennsylvania was governed. Franklin believed that Pennsylvania should be, not under the Penn family’s governance, but directly accountable to the monarch of Great Britain. There was one stipulation, however, as far as Franklin was concerned. He wanted the Americans to be treated as equal to the British citizens in England. This would mean having representation, but not in the British Parliament. This representation, and governance, should come from the assemblies, or legislatures, of each colony. In other words, home rule. Although there were a number of the members of the Parliament who were sympathetic to this view, ultimately it was not to be. The majority of the members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords would have nothing to do with an America which divorced itself from the rule of Parliament, though Franklin and others made a strong case that such rule was contrary to the British Constitution.

Alas, a recalcitrant Parliament and a badly advised King George III could not compromise their entrenched positions, and a long, bloody war and ultimate independence of the American colonies were the result. As Dr. Franklin would say, it did not need to happen that way.

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