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Franklin Was Appalled by the Boston Tea Party, But Was More Appalled by British Arrogance



(p. A13) When George III assumed the throne in 1760, Franklin was full of praise for his "virtue" and "steadiness." Many American associates considered him somewhat sycophantic.

Mr. Goodwin's assessment is gentler. "Franklin was a proud Briton, but he was not starry-eyed." By 1770 he was frustrated by Britain's "treatment of her American colonies as one giant farm and forest of raw materials." His relations with Lord Hillsborough, secretary of state for the colonies, became venomous. Lord North, the prime minister, icily ignored him. Franklin began to produce anonymous satires rebuking British attitudes toward America.

The nadir came in December 1773, when word reached London of the Boston Tea Party. Incensed, the king's Privy Council summoned Franklin to Westminster. He was already in bad odor for having leaked impolitic correspondence from the royal governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson. The Privy Council chamber was, on this occasion, packed with counselors and curious members of the public. Other than Edmund Burke, they were hostile. Franklin stood grimly motionless as the solicitor general pounded the table and subjected him to "an hour-long verbal assault." The council roared approval as he accused Franklin of acting for "the most malignant purposes." The American had "forfeited all the respect of societies and of men."

The humiliation of Benjamin Franklin gratified the grandees of George III's government, but the episode epitomized their arrogant maladministration. Franklin was hardly an anti-British zealot. He favored reconciliation and might have been an effective mediator had he been respected and trusted. Franklin was so appalled by the Boston Tea Party that he offered to personally repay the East India Co. That this rather Anglophilic colonial served as the Privy Council's whipping boy demonstrates how obdurate the government had become.

Franklin's revenge was served hot. He left England in March of 1775 under threat of arrest. Twenty months later he arrived in France, where his diplomacy would deliver a mortal blow to Britain's American empire.



For the full review, see:

JEFFREY COLLINS. "BOOKSHELF; A Revolutionary Loyal to Britain; Franklin's years in France resulted in military aid and recognition of American independence. His time in London? Slightly less successful." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 11, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 10, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Goodwin, George. Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America's Founding Father. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016.






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