Sunday, July 04, 2004
How do you stand when you stand accused?
In 1767, Franklin visited the French court of Louis XV. Recognized for his meritorious achievements in the field of science, Benjamin was treated as an honored guest by the French nation. That same year, the ingenious Philadelphian journeyed to Ireland. Franklin was sympathetic to the cause of the nascent patriot movement, which advocated an end to British occupation. These Irish patriots eyed the brewing conflict between the American colonies and Great Britain with keen interest.
In the American colonies, each passing year intensified the tension between Parliament and its colonial subjects. With every English attempt to impose taxes in the colonies, the colonists grew more defiant and more determined to oppose the "subversive" actions of Parliament. The Townshend Acts levied further taxes but were repealed. The Boston Massacre in 1770, the Boston Tea Party of 1773, and the punitive Intolerable Acts imposed on the city of Boston portended the imminent American conflict.
Serving as a colonial representative in England, Franklin was busy enough. Nevertheless, in 1773, with the colonies in an uproar, Benjamin was forced to answer to some charges leveled against him. The accusations stemmed from some letters written by the royal Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, that the wise Philadelphian had intercepted through a network of informants and contacts. In his correspondence, the royal governor criticized the Massachusetts Assembly and denounced the colonial view that they deserved the same liberties as English subjects. Franklin passed these letters along to Thomas Cushing, speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly. Cushing, in turn, distributed the letters to Samuel Adams, a leading Massachusetts patriot. Adams, recognizing the letters' potential value to the revolutionary cause, had Hutchinson's harsh words published. Within days, the colonists rallied and called for the immediate dismissal of Governor Hutchinson.
In England, Parliament was outraged that these confidential letters made their way to the New England press. In the eyes of the British government, Benjamin Franklin bore the brunt of the blame. He was ordered to obtain a lawyer and appear before the Lord's Committee of His Majesty's Privy Council for Plantation Affairs. Although Franklin was officially charged with stealing the letters in order to become the next Governor of Massachusetts, the real motive behind the accusations was to punish Benjamin for inciting the colonial independence movement through the distribution of Hutchinson's correspondence. At the age of sixty-eight, Franklin was required to stand an hour and a half in Parliament in the face of all of these ridiculous allegations. To further complicate the situation, various members of Parliament berated the Philadelphian and humiliated him by inviting all of England's most noble ladies to the parliamentary hearing. Franklin remained silent throughout the ordeal and, with the hearing's conclusion, walked out in a calm manner, refusing to present a defense. The day after his appearance, a letter arrived informing Franklin of his dismissal from the post of deputy postmaster general. It was this blow that seemed to affect Franklin most deeply. He had always taken pride in how he conducted postal affairs in the colonies.
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