The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin By Benjamin Franklin Summary and Analysis Part 3: Section 14 - Colonial Diplomacy

Summary

In 1753, having already served as comptroller for the American Post Office, Franklin was appointed along with William Hunter as postmaster general of the Colonies. The two were to be paid jointly six hundred pounds as yearly salary, if they could make the amount from the profits of an office that had previously run on a deficit. The two men spent 900 pounds of their own money in making necessary improvements, but after four years were able to repay themselves and to report three times as much postal profit as Ireland made. And during his travels in behalf of the postal service, Franklin had the further satisfaction of receiving honorary degrees from Harvard and Yale. But when English ministers imprudently removed Franklin from office, the postal service never made a profit again.

Fearing another war with France, the colonists in 1754 appointed several commissioners, among them Franklin, to confer in Albany with the chiefs of the Iroquois Indians. While these negotiations proceeded, Franklin presented the Congress of Commissioners with a plan for the union of all the Colonies under one government for purposes of military defense. A committee appointed to study several similar plans reported that Franklin's proposal was best; so the Congress unanimously voted to submit it to the Provincial Assemblies.

The political structure Franklin envisioned included a President-General appointed by the Crown, and a Grand Council of each Assembly's representatives. But the Assemblies rejected the plan because it gave too much power to the Crown's administrators, whereas England rejected it as too democratic. Franklin felt in retrospect that his plan had probably been the best compromise between all interests, and that it would have avoided the Revolution, had it been put into effect. The Governor of Pennsylvania liked the proposal; but its Assembly opponents arranged to present it in Franklin's absence, and Pennsylvania mortified Franklin by voting not to consider it.

Franklin met in New York with the Province's new governor, Mr. Morris, who asked how he could avoid so turbulent an administration as his predecessor's. Franklin advised him to avoid disputes with the Assembly; but Morris loved arguing, so was soon at odds with his government. Though Franklin was a member of every committee appointed to rebut a gubernatorial message or speech, he remained a personal friend of Morris's and dined with him often until he resigned.

The basis of most friction between Pennsylvania's Assembly and Governor was that the Governor, representing the proprietary company that originally owned Pennsylvania, vetoed any bill taxing the vast Proprietary estates. Resenting the Proprietors' unwillingness to share the costs of defending or improving the Province, the Assembly began refusing to pass taxes for any purpose — even defense. When Massachusetts asked Pennsylvania for aid of 10,000 pounds to pay wartime expenses, Franklin devised a means for the Assembly to circumvent the Governor by raising the money without a tax: bonds were sold under the auspices of the Loan Office and paid off with the interest on paper money in circulation, and with revenue from an existent excise tax.

Analysis

Interestingly, Franklin had designed a plan for unifying all the colonies under a central government as early as 1751. When commissioners were appointed to secure an alliance with the Iroquois Confederation of Six Nations, many saw the meeting as an opportunity to work out a broad colonial union. But unfortunately, the danger to the Crown's privileges implicit in such an organization was as clear as was the danger to the powers to lay taxes claimed by the individual Assemblies. Thus, in curtailing some of their powers, Franklin's plan frightened all parties.

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