The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin/Section Fourty Six

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Section Fourty Six[edit]

My Activity in these Operations was agreeable to the Governor and Council; they took me into Confidence, & I was consulted by them in every Measure wherein their Concurrence was thought useful to the Association. Calling in the Aid of Religion, I propos’d to them the Proclaiming a Fast, to promote Reformation, & implore the Blessing of Heaven on our Undertaking. They embrac’d the Motion, but as it was the first Fast ever thought of in the Province, the Secretary had no Precedent from which to draw the Proclamation. My Education in New England, where a Fast is proclam’d every Year, was here of some Advantage. I drew it in the accustomed Style, it was translated into German, printed in both Languages and divulg’d thro’ the Province. This gave the Clergy of the different Sects an Opportunity of Influencing their Congregations to join in the Association; and it would probably have been general among all but Quakers if the Peace had not soon interven’d.

It was thought by some of my Friends that by my Activity in these Affairs, I should offend that Sect, and thereby lose my Interest in the Assembly where they were a great Majority. A young Gentleman who had likewise some Friends in the House, and wished to succeed me as their Clerk, acquainted me that it was decided to displace me at the next Election, and he therefore in Good Will advis’d me to resign, as more consistent with my Honor than being turn’d out. My Answer to him was, that I had read or heard of some Public Man, who made it a Rule never to ask for an Office, and never to refuse one when offer’d to him. I approve, says I, of his Rule, and will practise it with a small Addition; I shall never ask, never refuse, nor ever resign an Office. If they will have my Office of Clerk to dispose of to another, they shall take it from me. I will not by giving it up, lose my right of some time or other making Reprisals on my Adversaries. I heard however no more of this. I was chosen again, unanimously as usual, at the next Election. Possibly as they dislik’d my late Intimacy with the Members of Council, who had join’d the Governors in all the Disputes about military Preparations with which the House had long been harass’d, they might have been pleas’d if I would voluntarily have left them; but they did not care to displace me on Account merely of my Zeal for the Association; and they could not well give another Reason. Indeed I had some Cause to believe, that the Defense of the Country was not disagreeable to any of them, provided they were not requir’d to assist in it. And I found that a much greater Number of them than I could have imagined, tho’ against offensive war, were clearly for the defensive. Many Pamphlets pro & con were publish’d on the Subject, and some by good Quakers in favor of Defense, which I believe convinc’d most of their younger People. A Transaction in our Fire Company gave me some Insight into their prevailing Sentiments. It had been propos’d that we should encourage the Scheme for building a Battery by laying out the present Stock, then about Sixty Pounds, in Tickets of the Lottery. By our Rules no Money could be dispos’d of but at the next Meeting after the Proposal. The Company consisted of Thirty Members, of which Twenty-two were Quakers, & Eight only of other Persuasions. We eight punctually attended the Meeting; but tho’ we thought that some of the Quakers would join us, we were by no means sure of a Majority. Only one Quaker, Mr James Morris, appear’d to oppose the Measure. He express’d much Sorrow that it had ever been propos’d, as he said Friends were all against it, and it would create such Discord as might break up the Company. We told him, that we saw no reason for that; we were the Minority, and if Friends were against the Measure and outvoted us, we must and should, agreeable to the Usage of all Societies, submit. When the Hour for Business arriv’d, it was mov’d to put the Vote. He allow’d we might then do it by the Rules, but as he could assure us that a Number of Members intended to be present for the purpose of opposing it, it would be but candid to allow a little time for their appearing. While we were disputing this, a Waiter came to tell me two Gentlemen below desir’d to speak with me. I went down, and found they were two of our Quaker Members. They told me there were eight of them assembled at a Tavern just by; that they were determin’d to come and vote with us if there should be occasion, which they hop’d would not be the Case; and desir’d we would not call for their Assistance if we could do without it, as their Voting for such a Measure might embroil them with their Elders & Friends. Being thus secure of a Majority, I went up, and after a little seeming Hesitation, agreed to a Delay of another Hour. This Mr Morris allow’d to be extremely fair. Not one of his opposing Friends appear’d, at which he express’d great Surprise; and at the Expiration of the Hour, we carry’d the Resolution Eight to one; And as of the 22 Quakers, Eight were ready to vote with us and Thirteen by their Absence manifested that they were not inclin’d to oppose the Measure, I afterwards estimated the Proportion of Quakers sincerely against Defense as one to twenty one only. For these were all regular Members, of that Society, and in good Reputation among them, and had due Notice of what was propos’d at that Meeting.

The honorable & learned Mr Logan, who had always been of that Sect, was one who wrote an Address to them, declaring his Approbation of defensive War, and supporting his Opinion by many strong Arguments: He put into my Hands Sixty Pounds to be laid out in Lottery Tickets for the Battery, with Directions to apply what Prizes might be drawn wholly to that Service. He told me the following Anecdote of his old Master Wm Penn, respecting Defense. He came over from England, when a young Man, with that Proprietary, and as his Secretary. It was War Time and their Ship was chas’d by an armed Vessel suppos’d to be an Enemy. Their Captain prepar’d for Defense, but told Wm Penn and his Company of Quakers, that he did not expect their Assistance, and they might retire into the Cabin; which they did, except James Logan, who chose to stay upon Deck, and was quarter’d to a Gun. The suppos’d Enemy prov’d a Friend; so there was no Fighting. But when the Secretary went down to communicate the Intelligence, Wm Penn rebuk’d him severely for staying upon Deck and undertaking to assist in defending the Vessel, contrary to the Principles of Friends, especially as it had not been required by the Captain. This Reproof being before all the Company, piqu’d the Secretary, who answer’d, I being thy Servant, why did thee not order me to come down; but thee was willing enough that I should stay and help to fight the Ship when thee thought there was Danger.

My being many Years in the Assembly, the Majority of which were constantly Quakers, gave me frequent Opportunities of seeing the Embarassment given them by their Principle against War, whenever Application was made to them by Order of the Crown to grant Aids for military Purposes. They were unwilling to offend Government on the one hand, by a direct Refusal, and their Friends the Body of Quakers on the other, by a Compliance contrary to their Principles. Hence a Variety of Evasions to avoid Complying, and Modes of disguising the Compliance when it became unavoidable. The common Mode at last was to grant Money under the Phrase of its being for the King’s Use, and never to inquire how it was applied. But if the Demand was not directly from the Crown, that Phrase was found not so proper, and some other was to be invented. As when Powder was wanting, (I think it was for the Garrison at Louisburg,) and the Government of New England solicited a Grant of some from Pennsylvania, which was much urg’d on the House by Governor Thomas, they could not grant Money to buy Powder, because that was an Ingredient of War, but they voted an Aid to New England, of Three Thousand Pounds, to be put into the hands of the Governor, and appropriated it for the Purchasing of Bread, Flour, Wheat, or other Grain. Some of the Council desirous of giving the House still farther Embarrassment, advis’d the Governor not to accept Provision, as not being the Thing he had demanded. But he reply’d, “I shall take the Money, for I understand very well their Meaning; Other Grain, is Gunpowder;” which he accordingly bought; and they never objected to it. It was in Allusion to this Fact, that when in our Fire Company we feared the Success of our Proposal in favor of the Lottery, & I had said to my Friend Mr Syng, one of our Members, if we fail, let us move the Purchase of a Fire Engine with the Money; the Quakers can have no Objection to that: and then if you nominate me, and I you, as a Committee for that purpose, we will buy a great Gun, which is certainly a Fire-Engine: I see, says he, you have improv’d by being so long in the Assembly; your equivocal Project would be just a Match for their Wheat or other Grain.

These Embarassments that the Quakers suffer’d from having establish’d & published it as one of their Principles, that no kind of War was lawful, and which being once published, they could not afterwards, however they might change their minds, easily get rid of, reminds me of what I think a more prudent Conduct in another Sect among us; that of the Dunkers. I was acquainted with one of its Founders, Michael Welfare, soon after it appear’d. He complain’d to me that they were grievously calumniated by the Zealots of other Persuasions, and charg’d with abominable Principles and Practices to which they were utter Strangers. I told him this had always been the case with new Sects; and that to put a Stop to such Abuse, I imagin’d it might be well to publish the Articles of their Belief and the Rules of their Discipline. He said that it had been propos’d among them, but not agreed to, for this Reason; “When we were first drawn together as a Society, says he, it had pleased God to enlighten our Minds so far, as to see that some Doctrines which we once esteemed Truths were Errors, & that others which we had esteemed Errors were real Truths. From time to time he has been pleased to afford us farther Light, and our Principles have been improving, & our Errors diminishing. Now we are not sure that we are arriv’d at the End of this Progression, and at the Perfection of Spiritual or Theological Knowledge; and we fear that if we should once print our Confession of Faith, we should feel ourselves as if bound & confin’d by it, and perhaps be unwilling to receive farther Improvement; and our Successors still more so, as conceiving what we their Elders & Founders had done, to be something sacred, never to be departed from.” This Modesty in a Sect is perhaps a singular Instance in the History of Mankind, every other Sect supposing itself in Possession of all Truth, and that those who differ are so far in the Wrong: Like a Man travelling in foggy Weather: Those at some Distance before him on the Road he sees wrapped up in the Fog, as well as those behind him, and also the People in the Fields on each side; but near him all appears clear. Tho’ in truth he is as much in the Fog as any of them. To avoid this kind of Embarrassment the Quakers have of late Years been gradually declining the public Service in the Assembly & in the Magistracy. Choosing rather to quit their Power than their Principle.