The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin By Benjamin Franklin Summary and Analysis Part 3: Section 17 - Trouble with Loudoun

Summary

Finding Governor Denny like his predecessors, the Assembly appointed Franklin their representative to petition the King about tax grievances. Franklin was prepared to sail from New York when Lord Loudoun arrived at Philadelphia to arrange a compromise between the Governor and the Assembly. Having heard all arguments on both sides, however, Loudoun urged the Assembly to comply with the wishes of the Proprietors and raise their own defense money for the frontiers; he said no English troops were available for the area. So Franklin worked out the compromise for which Loudoun later received credit: that the Assembly would pass the kind of tax bill the Governor would sign, but would state concomitantly that the action was taken under duress and over their strongest objections. Then Franklin was free to leave for England. But Loudoun had the power to decide times of departure for all mail carriers (the only passenger ships) docked in New York; and because of his inability to prepare his letters, it was almost three months before Franklin's boat could leave for England.

Everyone discovered that "indecision was one of the Strongest Features" of Loudoun's character. It was so marked a trait that his meddling with the mail ships disrupted colonial business. Loudoun also permanently delayed to repay Franklin the amount spent for Braddock's provisions. He could not believe Franklin really needed the money, saying "We understand . . . those Affairs, and know that every one concern'd in supplying the Army finds means in the doing it to fill his own Pockets." Franklin felt that Loudoun's 1757 military campaign was "frivolous, expensive, and disgraceful to our Nation beyond Conception."

The ocean passage gave Franklin opportunity to witness a wager about his ship's capacity to travel 13 knots, or nautical miles, an hour, and to observe that ships behave differently because so many different men, with different experiences and opinions, contribute to a ship's building, loading, and sailing. He recommended systematic experiments to determine the best procedures in each of these steps. On this voyage, his ship was chased by enemy vessels and nearly shipwrecked on rocks, but finally arrived at Falmouth. Franklin reached London on July 27, 1757.

Analysis

No explanations completely clarify Franklin's uncharacteristic diatribe against John Campbell, the Fourth Earl of Loudoun. It is true that Loudoun privately suggested Franklin had made dishonest profits through his management of army supplies. But the Proprietors sent equally damaging public allegations about Franklin from London, without receiving such personal denunciations. While Loudoun did unjustly refuse to reimburse Franklin for money spent on behalf of the government, still Franklin did actually have avenues open by which he could reclaim such amounts in England, once he arrived. Of course Franklin hated inefficiency, which certainly characterized most of Loudoun's operations. But he had been engaged in public affairs by the time he wrote his account quite long enough to be familiar with gross inefficiency: "I then wonder'd much, how such a Man came to be entrusted with so important a Business as the Conduct of a great Army: but having since seen more of the great World, and the means of obtaining and Motives for giving Places and Employments, my Wonder is diminished." Franklin also hated inactivity, which Loudoun's delays forced onto him. He wrote his wife while waiting to sail for England, "I know not when I have spent time so uselessly."

But none of these things explains why Franklin repeated in writing the malicious and unproved rumor that Loudoun was profiting personally from the disruption of colonial trade. Perhaps the only explanation lies in Franklin's exceptional disappointment with Loudoun, after his initial and excellent first impression. Following their first meeting, he wrote "[I am] extremely pleas'd with him. I think there cannot be a fitter person for the Service he is engaged in."

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