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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

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in whose profits, it was said, perhaps from suspicion only, he had
a share. And, when at length the embargo was taken off, by neglecting
to send notice of it to Charlestown, the Carolina fleet was detain'd
near three months longer, whereby their bottoms were so much damaged
by the worm that a great part of them foundered in their passage home.

Shirley was, I believe, sincerely glad of being relieved from
so burdensome a charge as the conduct of an army must be to a man
unacquainted with military business. I was at the entertainment
given by the city of New York to Lord Loudoun, on his taking upon him
the command. Shirley, tho' thereby superseded, was present also.
There was a great company of officers, citizens, and strangers, and,
some chairs having been borrowed in the neighborhood, there was one among
them very low, which fell to the lot of Mr. Shirley. Perceiving it
as I sat by him, I said, "They have given you, sir, too low a seat."
"No matter," says he, "Mr. Franklin, I find a low seat the easiest."

While I was, as afore mention'd, detain'd at New York, I receiv'd
all the accounts of the provisions, etc., that I had furnish'd
to Braddock, some of which accounts could not sooner be obtain'd
from the different persons I had employ'd to assist in the business.
I presented them to Lord Loudoun, desiring to be paid the ballance.
He caus'd them to be regularly examined by the proper officer, who,
after comparing every article with its voucher, certified them
to be right; and the balance due for which his lordship promis'd
to give me an order on the paymaster. This was, however, put off
from time to time; and, tho' I call'd often for it by appointment,
I did not get it. At length, just before my departure, he told me
he had, on better consideration, concluded not to mix his accounts
with those of his predecessors. "And you," says he, "when in England,
have only to exhibit your accounts at the treasury, and you will be
paid immediately."

I mention'd, but without effect, the great and unexpected expense I
had been put to by being detain'd so long at New York, as a reason
for my desiring to be presently paid; and on my observing that it was
not right I should be put to any further trouble or delay in obtaining
the money I had advanc'd, as I charged no commission for my service,
"O, sir," says he, "you must not think of persuading us that you are
no gainer; we understand better those affairs, and know that every
one concerned in supplying the army finds means, in the doing it,
to fill his own pockets." I assur'd him that was not my case,
and that I had not pocketed a farthing; but he appear'd clearly
not to believe me; and, indeed, I have since learnt that immense
fortunes are often made in such employments. As to my ballance,
I am not paid it to this day, of which more hereafter.

Our captain of the paquet had boasted much, before we sailed,
of the swiftness of his ship; unfortunately, when we came to sea,
she proved the dullest of ninety-six sail, to his no small mortification.
After many conjectures respecting the cause, when we were near
another ship almost as dull as ours, which, however, gain'd upon us,
the captain ordered all hands to come aft, and stand as near the ensign
staff as possible. We were, passengers included, about forty persons.
While we stood there, the ship mended her pace, and soon left her
neighbour far behind, which prov'd clearly what our captain suspected,
that she was loaded too much by the head. The casks of water,
it seems, had been all plac'd forward; these he therefore order'd
to be mov'd further aft, on which the ship recover'd her character,
and proved the sailer in the fleet.

The captain said she had once gone at the rate of thirteen knots,
which is accounted thirteen miles per hour. We had on board,
as a passenger, Captain Kennedy, of the Navy, who contended that it
was impossible, and that no ship ever sailed so fast, and that
there must have been some error in the division of the log-line,
or some mistake in heaving the log. A wager ensu'd between the
two captains, to be decided when there should be sufficient wind.
Kennedy thereupon examin'd rigorously the log-line, and,
being satisfi'd with that, he determin'd to throw the log himself.
Accordingly some days after, when the wind blew very fair and fresh,
and the captain of the paquet, Lutwidge, said he believ'd she then
went at the rate of thirteen knots, Kennedy made the experiment,
and own'd his wager lost.

The above fact I give for the sake of the following observation.
It has been remark'd, as an imperfection in the art of ship-building,
that it can never be known, till she is tried, whether a new ship will
or will not be a good sailer; for that the model of a good-sailing
ship has been exactly follow'd in a new one, which has prov'd, on
the contrary, remarkably dull. I apprehend that this may partly be
occasion'd by the different opinions of seamen respecting the modes
of lading, rigging, and sailing of a ship; each has his system;
and the same vessel, laden by the judgment and orders of one captain,
shall sail better or worse than when by the orders of another.
Besides, it scarce ever happens that a ship is form'd, fitted for
the sea, and sail'd by the same person. One man builds the hull,
another rigs her, a third lades and sails her. No one of these has
the advantage of knowing all the ideas and experience of the others,
and, therefore, can not draw just conclusions from a combination
of the whole.

Even in the simple operation of sailing when at sea, I have
often observ'd different judgments in the officers who commanded
the successive watches, the wind being the same. One would have
the sails trimm'd sharper or flatter than another, so that they
seem'd to have no certain rule to govern by. Yet I think a set
of experiments might be instituted, first, to determine the most
proper form of the hull for swift sailing; next, the best dimensions
and properest place for the masts: then the form and quantity
of sails, and their position, as the wind may be; and, lastly,
the disposition of the lading. This is an age of experiments,
and I think a set accurately made and combin'd would be of great use.
I am persuaded, therefore, that ere long some ingenious philosopher
will undertake it, to whom I wish success.

We were several times chas'd in our passage, but outsail'd every thing,
and in thirty days had soundings. We had a good observation,
and the captain judg'd himself so near our port, Falmouth, that,
if we made a good run in the night, we might be off the mouth
of that harbor in the morning, and by running in the night might
escape the notice of the enemy's privateers, who often crus'd near
the entrance of the channel. Accordingly, all the sail was set
that we could possibly make, and the wind being very fresh and fair,
we went right before it, and made great way. The captain,
after his observation, shap'd his course, as he thought, so as to
pass wide of the Scilly Isles; but it seems there is sometimes
a strong indraught setting up St. George's Channel, which deceives
seamen and caused the loss of Sir Cloudesley Shovel's squadron.
This indraught was probably the cause of what happened to us.

We had a watchman plac'd in the bow, to whom they often called,
"Look well out before there," and he as often answered, "Ay ay;
" but perhaps had his eyes shut, and was half asleep at the time,
they sometimes answering, as is said, mechanically; for he did not
see a light just before us, which had been hid by the studdingsails
from the man at the helm, and from the rest of the watch,
but by an accidental yaw of the ship was discover'd, and occasion'd
a great alarm, we being very near it, the light appearing
to me as big as a cart-wheel. It was midnight, and our captain
fast asleep; but Captain Kennedy, jumping upon deck, and seeing
the danger, ordered the ship to wear round, all sails standing;
an operation dangerous to the masts, but it carried us clear,
and we escaped shipwreck, for we were running right upon the rocks
on which the light-house was erected. This deliverance impressed
me strongly with the utility of light-houses, and made me resolve
to encourage the building more of them in America, if I should live
to return there.

In the morning it was found by the soundings, etc., that we were near
our port, but a thick fog hid the land from our sight. About nine
o'clock the fog began to rise, and seem'd to be lifted up from
the water like the curtain at a play-house, discovering underneath,
the town of Falmouth, the vessels in its harbor, and the fields
that surrounded it. This was a most pleasing spectacle to those
who had been so long without any other prospects than the uniform
view of a vacant ocean, and it gave us the more pleasure as we
were now free from the anxieties which the state of war occasion'd.

I set out immediately, with my son, for London, and we only stopt
a little by the way to view Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, and Lord
Pembroke's house and gardens, with his very curious antiquities
at Wilton. We arrived in London the 27th of July, 1757.<16>

<16> Here terminates the Autobiography, as published by
Wm. Temple Franklin and his successors. What follows
was written in the last year of Dr. Franklin's life,
and was first printed (in English) in Mr. Bigelow's
edition of 1868.--ED.

AS SOON as I was settled in a lodging Mr. Charles had provided for me,
I went to visit Dr. Fothergill, to whom I was strongly recommended,
and whose counsel respecting my proceedings I was advis'd to obtain.
He was against an immediate complaint to government, and thought
the proprietaries should first be personally appli'd to, who might
possibly be induc'd by the interposition and persuasion of some
private friends, to accommodate matters amicably. I then waited
on my old friend and correspondent, Mr. Peter Collinson, who told
me that John Hanbury, the great Virginia merchant, had requested
to be informed when I should arrive, that he might carry me to Lord
Granville's, who was then President of the Council and wished to see
me as soon as possible. I agreed to go with him the next morning.
Accordingly Mr. Hanbury called for me and took me in his carriage
to that nobleman's, who receiv'd me with great civility; and after
some questions respecting the present state of affairs in America
and discourse thereupon, he said to me: "You Americans have wrong
ideas of the nature of your constitution; you contend that the king's
instructions to his governors are not laws, and think yourselves
at liberty to regard or disregard them at your own discretion.
But those instructions are not like the pocket instructions given
to a minister going abroad, for regulating his conduct in some
trifling point of ceremony. They are first drawn up by judges
learned in the laws; they are then considered, debated, and perhaps
amended in Council, after which they are signed by the king.
They are then, so far as they relate to you, the law of the land,
for the king is the LEGISLATOR OF THE COLONIES." I told his
lordship this was new doctrine to me. I had always understood
from our charters that our laws were to be made by our Assemblies,
to be presented indeed to the king for his royal assent,
but that being once given the king could not repeal or alter them.
And as the Assemblies could not make permanent laws without
his assent, so neither could he make a law for them without theirs.
He assur'd me I was totally mistaken. I did not think so, however,
and his lordship's conversation having a little alarm'd me as to
what might be the sentiments of the court concerning us, I wrote
it down as soon as I return'd to my lodgings. I recollected that
about 20 years before, a clause in a bill brought into Parliament
by the ministry had propos'd to make the king's instructions laws
in the colonies, but the clause was thrown out by the Commons,
for which we adored them as our friends and friends of liberty,
till by their conduct towards us in 1765 it seem'd that they had
refus'd that point of sovereignty to the king only that they might
reserve it for themselves.

After some days, Dr. Fothergill having spoken to the proprietaries,
they agreed to a meeting with me at Mr. T. Penn's house in Spring Garden.
The conversation at first consisted of mutual declarations
of disposition to reasonable accommodations, but I suppose each
party had its own ideas of what should be meant by reasonable.
We then went into consideration of our several points of complaint,
which I enumerated. The proprietaries justify'd their conduct
as well as they could, and I the Assembly's. We now appeared
very wide, and so far from each other in our opinions as to
discourage all hope of agreement. However, it was concluded
that I should give them the heads of our complaints in writing,
and they promis'd then to consider them. I did so soon after,
but they put the paper into the hands of their solicitor,
Ferdinand John Paris, who managed for them all their law business
in their great suit with the neighbouring proprietary of Maryland,
Lord Baltimore, which had subsisted 70 years, and wrote for them
all their papers and messages in their dispute with the Assembly.
He was a proud, angry man, and as I had occasionally in the answers
of the Assembly treated his papers with some severity, they being
really weak in point of argument and haughty in expression,
he had conceived a mortal enmity to me, which discovering itself
whenever we met, I declin'd the proprietary's proposal that he
and I should discuss the heads of complaint between our two selves,
and refus'd treating with any one but them. They then by his advice
put the paper into the hands of the Attorney and Solicitor-General
for their opinion and counsel upon it, where it lay unanswered
a year wanting eight days, during which time I made frequent demands
of an answer from the proprietaries, but without obtaining any other
than that they had not yet received the opinion of the Attorney
and Solicitor-General. What it was when they did receive it I
never learnt, for they did not communicate it to me, but sent a long
message to the Assembly drawn and signed by Paris, reciting my paper,
complaining of its want of formality, as a rudeness on my part,
and giving a flimsy justification of their conduct, adding that they
should be willing to accommodate matters if the Assembly would send
out some person of candour to treat with them for that purpose,
intimating thereby that I was not such.

The want of formality or rudeness was, probably, my not having
address'd the paper to them with their assum'd titles of True
and Absolute Proprietaries of the Province of Pennsylvania,
which I omitted as not thinking it necessary in a paper,
the intention of which was only to reduce to a certainty by writing,
what in conversation I had delivered viva voce.

But during this delay, the Assembly having prevailed with Gov'r
Denny to pass an act taxing the proprietary estate in common with
the estates of the people, which was the grand point in dispute,
they omitted answering the message.

When this act however came over, the proprietaries, counselled
by Paris, determined to oppose its receiving the royal assent.
Accordingly they petition'd the king in Council, and a hearing was
appointed in which two lawyers were employ'd by them against the act,
and two by me in support of it. They alledg'd that the act was
intended to load the proprietary estate in order to spare those
of the people, and that if it were suffer'd to continue in force,
and the proprietaries who were in odium with the people, left to their
mercy in proportioning the taxes, they would inevitably be ruined.
We reply'd that the act had no such intention, and would have no
such effect. That the assessors were honest and discreet men under
an oath to assess fairly and equitably, and that any advantage each
of them might expect in lessening his own tax by augmenting that of
the proprietaries was too trifling to induce them to perjure themselves.
This is the purport of what I remember as urged by both sides,
except that we insisted strongly on the mischievous consequences
that must attend a repeal, for that the money, L100,000, being printed
and given to the king's use, expended in his service, and now spread
among the people, the repeal would strike it dead in their hands
to the ruin of many, and the total discouragement of future grants,
and the selfishness of the proprietors in soliciting such a
general catastrophe, merely from a groundless fear of their estate
being taxed too highly, was insisted on in the strongest terms.
On this, Lord Mansfield, one of the counsel rose, and beckoning me
took me into the clerk's chamber, while the lawyers were pleading,
and asked me if I was really of opinion that no injury would be done
the proprietary estate in the execution of the act. I said certainly.
"Then," says he, "you can have little objection to enter into
an engagement to assure that point." I answer'd, "None at all."
He then call'd in Paris, and after some discourse, his lordship's
proposition was accepted on both sides; a paper to the purpose was
drawn up by the Clerk of the Council, which I sign'd with Mr. Charles,
who was also an Agent of the Province for their ordinary affairs,
when Lord Mansfield returned to the Council Chamber, where finally
the law was allowed to pass. Some changes were however recommended
and we also engaged they should be made by a subsequent law,
but the Assembly did not think them necessary; for one year's tax
having been levied by the act before the order of Council arrived,
they appointed a committee to examine the proceedings of the assessors,
and on this committee they put several particular friends of
the proprietaries. After a full enquiry, they unanimously sign'd
a report that they found the tax had been assess'd with perfect equity.

The Assembly looked into my entering into the first part of
the engagement, as an essential service to the Province, since it
secured the credit of the paper money then spread over all the country.
They gave me their thanks in form when I return'd. But the proprietaries
were enraged at Governor Denny for having pass'd the act, and turn'd
him out with threats of suing him for breach of instructions
which he had given bond to observe. He, however, having done it
at the instance of the General, and for His Majesty's service,
and having some powerful interest at court, despis'd the threats
and they were never put in execution. . . . [Unfinished].


Ending, as it does, with the year 1757, the autobiography leaves
important facts un-recorded. It has seemed advisable, therefore, to
detail the chief events in Franklin's life, from the beginning, in
the following list:

1706 He is born, in Boston, and baptized in the Old South Church.

1714 At the age of eight, enters the Grammar School.

1716 Becomes his father's assistant in the tallow-chandlery business.

1718 Apprenticed to his brother James, printer.

1721 Writes ballads and peddles them, in printed form, in the
streets; contributes, anonymously, to the "New England
Courant," and temporarily edits that paper; becomes a
free-thinker, and a vegetarian.

1723 Breaks his indenture and removes to Philadelphia; obtaining
employment in Keimer's printing-office; abandons vegetarianism.

1724 Is persuaded by Governor Keith to establish himself independently,
and goes to London to buy type; works at his trade there, and
publishes "Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity,
Pleasure and Pain."

1726 Returns to Philadelphia; after serving as clerk in a dry goods
store, becomes manager of Keimer's printing-house.

1727 Founds the Junto, or "Leathern Apron" Club.

1728 With Hugh Meredith, opens a printing-office.

1729 Becomes proprietor and editor of the "Pennsylvania Gazette";
prints, anonymously, "Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency";
opens a stationer's shop.

1730 Marries Rebecca Read.

1731 Founds the Philadelphia Library.

1732 Publishes the first number of "Poor Richard's Almanac" under
the pseudonym of "Richard Saunders." The Almanac, which
continued for twenty-five years to contain his witty,
worldly-wise sayings, played a very large part in bringing
together and molding the American character which was at
that time made up of so many diverse and scattered types.

1738 Begins to study French, Italian, Spanish, and Latin.

1736 Chosen clerk of the General Assembly; forms the Union Fire
Company of Philadelphia.

1737 Elected to the Assembly; appointed Deputy Postmaster-General;
plans a city police.

1742 Invents the open, or "Franklin," stove.

1743 Proposes a plan for an Academy, which is adopted 1749 and
develops into the University of Pennsylvania.

1744 Establishes the American Philosophical Society.

1746 Publishes a pamphlet, "Plain Truth," on the necessity for
disciplined defense, and forms a military company; begins
electrical experiments.

1748 Sells out his printing business; is appointed on the
Commission of the Peace, chosen to the Common Council,
and to the Assembly.

1749 Appointed a Commissioner to trade with the Indians.

1751 Aids in founding a hospital.

1752 Experiments with a kite and discovers that lightning is an
electrical discharge.

1753 Awarded the Copley medal for this discovery, and elected a
member of the Royal Society; receives the degree of M.A.
from Yale and Harvard. Appointed joint Postmaster-General.

1754 Appointed one of the Commissioners from Pennsylvania to the
Colonial Congress at Albany; proposes a plan for the union
of the colonies.

1755 Pledges his personal property in order that supplies may be
raised for Braddock's army; obtains a grant from the Assembly
in aid of the Crown Point expedition; carries through a bill
establishing a voluntary militia; is appointed Colonel,
and takes the field.

1757 Introduces a bill in the Assembly for paving the streets of
Philadelphia; publishes his famous "Way to Wealth"; goes to
England to plead the cause of the Assembly against the
Proprietaries; remains as agent for Pennsylvania; enjoys the
friendship of the scientific and literary men of the kingdom.


1760 Secures from the Privy Council, by a compromise, a decision
obliging the Proprietary estates to contribute to the public

1762 Receives the degree of LL.D. from Oxford and Edinburgh; returns
to America.

1763 Makes a five months' tour of the northern colonies for the
Purpose of inspecting the post-offices.

1764 Defeated by the Penn faction for reelection to the Assembly;
sent to England as agent for Pennsylvania.

1765 Endeavors to prevent the passage of the Stamp Act.

1766 Examined before the House of Commons relative to the
passage of the Stamp Act; appointed agent of Massachusetts,
New Jersey, and Georgia; visits Gottingen University.

1767 Travels in France and is presented at court.

1769 Procures a telescope for Harvard College.

1772 Elected Associe Etranger of the French Academy.

1774 Dismissed from the office of Postmaster-General; influences
Thomas Paine to emigrate to America.

1775 Returns to America; chosen a delegate to the Second Continental
Congress; placed on the committee of secret correspondence;
appointed one of the commissioners to secure the cooperation
of Canada.

1776 Placed on the committee to draft a Declaration of Independence;
chosen president of the Constitutional Committee of Pennsylvania;
sent to France as agent of the colonies.

1778 Concludes treaties of defensive alliance, and of amity and
commerce; is received at court.

1779 Appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to France.

1780 Appoints Paul Jones commander of the "Alliance."

1782 Signs the preliminary articles of peace.

1783 Signs the definite treaty of peace.

1785 Returns to America; is chosen President of Pennsylvania;
reelected 1786.

1787 Reelected President; sent as delegate to the convention for
framing a Federal Constitution.

1788 Retires from public life.

1790 April 17, dies. His grave is in the churchyard at Fifth and
Arch streets, Philadelphia. Editor.

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