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join in the Revolution. So Franklin and the commissioners were compelled to return without having accomplished anything.
In June, 1776, Franklin was made a member of the convention which framed a new constitution for Pennsylvania to supply the place of the old colonial charter of William Penn, and he was engaged in this work during the summer, when his other duties permitted; but of this more hereafter. At the same time he was laboring in the Congress on the question of declaring independence. He was in favor of an immediate declaration, and his name is signed to the famous instrument.
During this same summer he also had another conference with Lord Howe, who had arrived in New York harbor in command of the British fleet, and again wanted to patch up a peace. He failed, of course, for he had authority from his government only to receive the submission of the colonies; and he was plainly told by Franklin and the other commissioners who met him that the colonies would make no treaty with England except one that acknowledged them as an independent nation.
THE EMBASSY TO FRANCE AND ITS SCANDALS
FRANKLIN'S most important duties in the Continental Congress were connected with his membership of the "Secret Committee," afterwards known as the "Committee of Correspondence." It was really a committee on foreign relations, and had been formed for the purpose of corresponding with the friends of the revolted colonies in Europe and securing from them advice and assistance. From appointing agents to serve this committee in France or England, Franklin was soon promoted to be himself one of the agents and to represent in France the united colonies which had just declared their independence.
On September 26, 1776, he was given this important mission, not by the mere appointment of his own committee, but by vote of Congress. He was to be one of three commissioners of equal powers, who would have more importance and weight than the mere agents hitherto sent to Europe. The news received of the friendly disposition of France was very encouraging, and it was necessary that envoys should be sent with full authority to take advantage of it. Silas Deane, who had already gone to France as a secret agent, and Thomas Jefferson were elected as Franklin's fellow-commissioners. The ill health of
Jefferson's wife compelled him to decline, and Arthur Lee, already acting as an agent for the colonies in Europe, was elected in his place.
When the result of the first ballot taken in Congress showed that Franklin was elected, he is said to have turned to Dr. Rush, sitting near him, and remarked, "I am old and good for nothing; but as the storekeepers say of their remnants of cloth, I am but a fag end, you may have me for what you please."
There was, however, fourteen more years of labor in the "fag end," as he called himself; and the jest was one of those appropriately modest remarks which he knew so well how to make. He probably looked forward with not a little satisfaction to the prospect of renewing again those pleasures of intercourse with the learned and great which he was so capable of enjoying and which could be found only in Europe. His reputation was already greater in France than in England. He would be able to see the evidences of it as well as increase it in this new and delightful field. But the British newspapers, of course, said that he had secured this appointment as a clever way of escaping from the collapse of the rebellion which he shrewdly foresaw was inevitable.
On October 26, 1776, he left Philadelphia very quietly and, accompanied by his two grandsons, William Temple Franklin and Benjamin Franklin Bache, drove some fifteen miles down the river to Marcus Hook, where the "Reprisal," a swift warvessel of the revolted colonies, awaited him. She set sail immediately and got out of the river into the
ocean as quickly as possible, for the British desired nothing better than to capture this distinguished envoy to the court of France. Wickes, the captain, afterwards famous for the prizes he took from the British, knew that he must run the gauntlet of the cruisers, and he drove his little vessel with all sail through the November gales, making Quiberon Bay, on the coast of France, in thirty-three days.
It was a rough, dangerous, exciting voyage; the venerable philosopher of seventy years was confined to a little, cramped cabin, more sick and distressed than he had ever been before on the ocean; and yet he insisted on taking the temperature of the water every day to test again his theory of the Gulf Stream. They were chased by cruisers, but the fleet "Reprisal" could always turn them into fading specks on the horizon's verge; and as she neared the coast of France she fell in with some good luck,— two British vessels loaded with lumber, wine, brandy, and flaxseed, which were duly brought to and carried into a French port to be sold. The "Reprisal" had on board a small cargo of indigo, which, with the prizes, was to go towards paying the expense of the mission to France. In this simple and homely way were the colonies beginning their diplomatic relations.
The French people received Franklin with an outburst of enthusiasm which has never been given. by them to any other American. So weak from the sickness of the voyage that he could scarcely stand, the old man was overwhelmed with attention,– grand dinner at Nantes, an invitation to a country
house where he expected to find rest, but had none from the ceaseless throng of visitors. The unexpected and romantic manner of his arrival, dodging the cruisers and coming in with two great merchantmen as prizes, aroused the greatest interest and delight. It was like a brilliant stroke in a play or a tale from the "Arabian Nights," worthy of French imagination; and here this wonderful American from the woods had made it an accomplished fact.
The enthusiasm of this reception never abated, but, on the contrary, soon became extravagant worship, which continued during the nine years of his residence in France. Even on his arrival they were exaggerating everything about him, adding four years to his age to make his adventures seem more wonderful; and Paris waited in as much restless expectation for his arrival as if he had been a king.
Beneath all this lay, of course, the supreme satisfaction with which the French contemplated the revolt of the colonies and the inevitable weakening of their much-hated enemy and rival, Great Britain; and they had made up their minds to assist in this dismemberment to the utmost of their ability. They were already familiar with Franklin; his name was a household word in France; his brilliant discovery of the nature of lightning appealed strongly to every imagination; "Poor Richard" had been translated for them, and its shrewd economy and homely wisdom had been their delight for years. Its author was the synonyme and personification of liberty,— that liberty which they were just beginning to rave