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Franklin, Benjamin (1706-1790) to Jane Mecom

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC05508.003 Author/Creator: Franklin, Benjamin (1706-1790) Place Written: London, England Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 30 December 1770 Pagination: 4 p. 34 x 20 cm.

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Summary of Content: Written to his sister concerning various matters, including stories of the threatened loss of his position as colonial postmaster, the difficulties he faces for expressing his political opinions, and sending some books Jane had asked for. Franklin comments that the books resemble the opinions of a Mrs. Ilive, whose "Solemn Discourse" attempted "to prove, that this World is the true Hell or Place of Punishment for the Spirits who had transgress'd in a better State, and were sent here to suffer for their sins in Animals of all Sorts."

Background Information: Signer of the U.S. Constitution.
As late as 1775, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was convinced that the issues dividing Britain and the colonies were "a Matter of Punctilio, which Two or ...three reasonable People might settle in half an Hour." But years earlier, his enemies were already trying to use their influence within the British government to get him dismissed from his position as postmaster, an effort he describes in the following letter, which was written while Franklin was in London. In fact, he was not dismissed from the post until 1774.See More

Full Transcript: (No (1)
London, Dec. 30.1770
Dear Sister,
This Ship staying longer than was expected, gives me an Opportunity of writing to you which I thought I must have miss'd when I desir'd ...Cousin Williams to excuse me to you. I received your kind Letter of Sept. 25 by the young Gentlemen, who, by their discrete Behavior have recommended themselves very much to me and many of my Acquaintance. Josiah has attained his Heart's Desire of being under the Tuition of Mr. Stanley, who, tho' he had long left off Teaching, kindly undertook at my Request to instruct him, and is much pleas'd with his Quickness of Apprehension & the Progress he makes; and Jonathan appears a very valuable young Man, sober, regular, and inclin'd to Industry and Frugality, which are promising Signs of Success in Business: I am very happy in their Company.
As to the Rumor you mention (which was, as Josiah tells me, that I had been depriv'd of my Place in the Post Office on Account of a letter I wrote to Philadelphia) it might have this Foundation, that some of the Ministry had been displeas'd at my Writing such Letters, & there were really some Thoughts among them of shewing that Displeasure in that manner: But I had some Friends too, who, unrequested by me, advis'd the contrary. And my Enemies were forc'd to content themselves with abusing me plentifully in the Newspapers, and endeavoring to provoke me to resign. In this they are not likely to succeed, I being deficient in that Christian Virtue of Resignation. If they would have my Office, they must take it. I have heard of some great Man, whose Rule it was with regard to Offices, Never to ask for them, & never to refuse them: To which I have always added, in my own Practice, Never to resign them. As I told my Friends, I rose to that Office thro' [2] a long Course of Service in the inferior Degrees of it. Before my time, thro' bad Management, it never produc'd the Salary annex'd to it; and when I receiv'd it, no Salary was to be allow'd if the Office did not produce it. During the first four Years it was so far from defraying itself, that it became 950£ Ster. in debt to me and my Colleague. I had been chiefly instrumental in bringing it to its present flourishing State, and therefore thought I had some kind of Right to it. I had hitherto executed the Duties of it faithfully and to the perfect Satisfaction of my Superiors, which I thought was all that should be expected of me on that Acc[oun]t. As to the Letters complain'd of, it was true I did write them, and they were written in Compliance with another Duty, that to my Country. A Duty quite Distinct from that of Postmaster. My Conduct in this respect was exactly similar with that I held on a similar Occasion but a few Years ago, when the then Ministry were ready to hug me for the Assistance I afforded them in repealing a former Revenue Act. My Sentiments were still the same, that no such Acts should be made here for America; or, if made should as soon as possible be repealed; and I thought it should not be expected of me, to change my Political Opinions every time his Majesty thought fit to change his Ministers. This was my Language on the Occasion; and I have lately heard, that tho' I was thought much to blame, it being understood that every Man who holds an Office should act with the Ministry, whether agreeable or not to his own Judgment, yet in consideration of the goodness of my private Character (as they are pleas'd to compliment me) the office was not to be taken from me. Possibly they may still change their Minds, and remove me; but no Apprehension of that sort, will, I trust, make the least Alteration in my Political Conduct. My Rule, in which I have always found Satisfaction, is, Never to turn aside in Public Affairs thro' Views of private Interest; but to go strait forward in doing what appears to me right at the time, leaving the Consequences with Providence. What in my younger Days enabled me more easily to walk upright, was, that I had a Trade; and that I knew I could live upon little; and thence (never having had Views of making a Fortune) I was free from Avarice, and contented with the plentiful Supplies my Business afforded me. And now it is still more easy for me to preserve my Freedom and Integrity, when I consider, that I am almost at the End of my Journey, & therefore need less to complete the Expense of it; and that what I now possess, thro' the Blessing of God, may, with tolerable Occonomy [sic], be sufficient for me (great Misfortunes excepted) tho' I should add nothing more to it by any Office or Employment whatsoever.
I send you by this Opportunity the 2 Books you wrote for. They cost 3S. a piece. When I was first in London, about 45 Years since, I knew a Person who had an Opinion something like your Author's. Her Name was Ilive, a Printer's Widow. She dy'd [sic] soon after I left England, and by her Will oblig'd her son to deliver publicly in Salter's Hall a Solemn Discourse, the purport of which was to prove, that this World is the true Hell or Place of Punishment for the Spirits who had transgress'd in a better State, and were sent here to suffer for their sins in Animals of all Sorts. It is long since I saw the Discourse, which was printed. I think a good deal of Scripture was cited in it, and that the Supposition was, that tho' we now remember'd nothing of such pre-existent State; Yet after Death we might recollect it, and remember the Punishments we had suffer'd, so as to be better for them; and others who had not yet offended, might now behold & be warned by our Sufferings. In fact we see here that every lower Animal has its Enemy, with proper Inclinations, Faculties [4] and Weapons, to terrify, wound & destroy it; and that Men, who are uppermost, are Devils to one another. So that on the establish'd Doctrine of the Goodness, and Justice of the great Creator, this apparent State of general & systematical Mischief, seem'd to demand some such Supposition as Mrs. Ilive's, to account for it consistent with the Honour of the Deity. But our reasoning Powers when employ'd about what may have been before our Existence here, or shall be after it, cannot go far for want of History and Facts. Revelation only can give us the necessary Information, and that (in the first of these Points especially) has been very sparingly afforded us.
I hope you continue to correspond with your Friends at Philadelphia, or else I shall think that there has been some Miff between you, which indeed, to confess the Truth, I was a little afraid, from some Instances of others, might possibly happen, and that prevented my ever urging you to make such a Visit, especially as I think there is rather an over quantity of Touchwood in your Constitution.
My Love to your Children, & believe me ever,
Your affectionate Brother
B Franklin
Let none of my Letters go out of your Hands.
See More

People: Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1790
Mecom, Jane 1712-1794
Ilive, Jacob, Mrs

Historical Era: American Revolution, 1763-1783

Subjects: ReligionPoliticsPost OfficeWomen's HistoryChildren and FamilyLibrary

Sub Era: Road to Revolution

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