The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin By Benjamin Franklin Summary and Analysis Part 3: Section 12 - A Militia and a College

Summary

Though otherwise satisfied, Franklin found two deficiencies in Pennsylvania: it had no militia and no college. In 1743 he therefore drew up a proposal for an academy, but laid the plan aside when he found his intended president was unavailable. He did successfully organize a philosophical society in 1744, but his major challenge was establishing a militia.

Quakers committed to nonviolence dominated the Pennsylvania Assembly. Since they refused to raise funds for arms, and since fighting between England, France, and Spain seemed to endanger the colonies, Franklin settled on a volunteer militia. He first wrote a pamphlet entitled Plain Truth, stating Pennsylvania's danger and the need for a disciplined defensive organization. At a public meeting held after the pamphlet was distributed, twelve hundred people signed pledges to participate in such a scheme. When the surrounding countryside was contacted, more than 10,000 volunteered. All men furnished themselves with arms, formed themselves into companies and regiments, chose their own officers, and met each week for drill and instruction. Women made company flags, with insignia and mottoes Franklin supplied. Declining the rank of colonel in the Philadelphia regiment, Franklin served as a common soldier.

He also proposed a lottery to raise funds for a town battery complete with cannon. Franklin and three others, in fact, were sent to New York to borrow cannon from Governor Clinton. At first the Governor refused their request, but over dinnertime Madeira began to mellow and ended by loaning them 18 guns.

Friends worried that Franklin's Assembly clerkship had been endangered by his military efforts. A rival for the job advised him to resign, but he refused and was chosen unanimously at the next election. Franklin concluded that the Quakers were happy to have the country defended as long as they were not asked to fight. Many Quakers advocated defensive wars. Franklin learned a lesson in Quaker politics when his fire company met to vote on using club money for lottery tickets to support the new battery. Of the company's thirty members, 22 were Quakers, but only one Quaker arrived to vote. As the nine present waited, Franklin was secretly informed that eight Quakers were gathered nearby, ready to appear and vote for purchasing the tickets if necessary. But Franklin never had to call them in, since no others arrived. He therefore concluded that the number of Quakers who sincerely opposed defensive military measures was about 1 to 21.

Franklin was actually prepared, had his fire company voted against buying the lottery tickets, to propose they spend the money for a fire-engine, and then purchase a cannon (a kind of "fire-engine"), with the funds. These stratagems were normal in the Quaker Assembly; it habitually granted money "for the King's use," never officially acknowledging that such amounts were used for defense. And when the Assembly had been asked by New England for gunpowder, it had voted to give New England money for "Bread, Flour, Wheat, or other Grain." With no objections, the Governor then bought gunpowder, designating it "other grain."

Another sect, the Dunkers, Franklin felt, were much less likely to become embarrassed over such conflict of beliefs, since they refused to write down their doctrines. They found their convictions changing from time to time, and feared that publishing them would make further change impossible. Their leader, Michael Welfare, conceded, "we are not sure that we are arriv'd . . . at the Perfection of Spiritual and Theological Knowledge." Franklin felt "this Modesty in a Sect is perhaps a singular Instance in the History of Mankind, every other Sect supposing itself in Possession of all Truth." But finally the Quakers, not having left themselves so much doctrinal latitude, began refusing to serve in the Assembly, "chusing rather to quit their Power than their Principle."

In 1742, Franklin had invented an improved stove that he refused to patent. He believed "That as we enjoy great Advantages from the Inventions of others, we should be glad of an Opportunity to serve others by an Invention of ours." Both an American and an Englishman made fortunes by manufacturing the Franklin-designed stoves. But Franklin never contested their monopoly, for he wanted no patent for himself and hated disputes

After peace was declared, Franklin turned again to his academy. He enlisted friends, then wrote and distributed a pamphlet about the idea. Next he set afoot a subscription fund for opening and supporting an academy and raised about five thousand pounds. Applying earlier lessons, he said the proposal was not his own but that of some "publick-spirited Gentlemen." The subscribers chose 24 trustees and appointed Franklin and the state Attorney General to draw up the constitution for governing the Academy. The school opened in 1749, and soon found its quarters too small. So Franklin helped them acquire the large building once erected for Whitefield's sermons. In return the Academy discharged the debts of the building, kept available a large hall that any visiting preacher could use, and promised to hold a free school for poor children. Franklin was then placed in charge of converting the building to suitable form for the academy. He had the leisure to do so because he took a partner, David Hall, who managed his business for eighteen years. The Academy finally became the University of Pennsylvania. Franklin was proud that many of her graduates had become "Ornaments to their Country."

Analysis

Franklin's views about his stove suggest another aspect of his easily misunderstood attitudes toward money, for his stove was one of the most potentially lucrative inventions of its time. It reduced by three-fourths the amount of fuel required and doubled the amount of heat another stove of its size could produce. To form a picture of Franklin without considering the man's enormous public spirit — the kind of spirit that gave such an improvement to the world free, as a way of thanking other inventors — is to fail to know him at all.

And Franklin obviously applied the same inventiveness of spirit to his trusteeships as to his gadgets. His negotiations between the Academy and the Whitefield Hall groups (in both of which he was a trustee) suggest inspired maneuvering. And his solutions fulfilled the best interests of both institutions. He got the Academy adequate facilities at minimum cost, and also liquidated the public hall's debts, guaranteed the continued existence (cost-free) of a facility in which any preacher could address an audience, and secured a free school for poor children in the bargain (which neither institution, if left alone, would apparently have provided).

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