The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin/Section Thirty One
Section Thirty One
Among my Friends in the House I must not forget Mr Hamilton before mentioned, who was now returned from England & had a Seat in it. He interested himself*** for me strongly in that Instance, as he did in many others afterwards, continuing his Patronage till his Death. Mr Vernon about this time put me in mind of the Debt I ow’d him: but did not press me. I wrote him an ingenuous Letter of Acknowledgments, crav’d his Forbearance a little longer which he allow’d me, & as soon as I was able I paid the Principal with Interest & many Thanks. So that Erratum was in some degree corrected.
But now another Difficulty came upon me, which I had never the least Reason to expect. Mr Meredith’s Father, who was to have paid for our Printinghouse according to the Expectations given me, was able to advance only one Hundred Pounds, Currency, which had been paid, & a Hundred more was due to the Merchant; who grew impatient & su’d us all. We gave Bail, but saw that if the Money could not be rais’d in time, the Suit must come to a Judgment & Execution, & our hopeful Prospects must with us be ruined, as the Press & Letters must be sold for Payment, perhaps at half Price. In this Distress two true Friends whose Kindness I have never forgotten nor ever shall forget while I can remember any thing, came to me separately unknown to each other, and without any Application from me, offering each of them to advance me all the Money that should be necessary to enable me to take the whole Business upon myself if that should be practicable, but they did not like my continuing the Partnership with Meredith, who as they said was often seen drunk in the Streets, & playing at low Games in Alehouses, much to our Discredit. These two Friends were William Coleman & Robert Grace. I told them I could not propose a Separation while any Prospect remain’d of the Merediths fulfilling their Part of our Agreement. Because I thought myself under great Obligations to them for what they had done & would do if they could. But if they finally fail’d in their Performance, & our Partnership must be dissolv’d, I should then think myself at Liberty to accept the Assistance of my Friends. Thus the matter rested for some time. When I said to my Partner, perhaps your Father is dissatisfied at the Part you have undertaken in this Affair of ours, and is unwilling to advance for you & me what he would for you alone: If that is the Case, tell me, and I will resign the whole to you & go about my Business. No says he, my Father has really been disappointed and is really unable; and I am unwilling to distress him farther. I see this is a Business I am not fit for. I was bred a Farmer, and it was a Folly in me to come to Town & put myself at 30 Years of Age an Apprentice to learn a new Trade. Many of our Welsh People are going to settle in North Carolina where Land is cheap: I am inclin’d to go with them, & follow my old Employment. You may find Friends to assist you. If you will take the Debts of the Company upon you, return to my Father the hundred Pound he has advanc’d, pay my little personal Debts, and give me Thirty Pounds & a new Saddle, I will relinquish the Partnership & leave the whole in your Hands. I agreed to this Proposal. It was drawn up in Writing, sign’d & seal’d immediately. I gave him what he demanded & he went soon after to Carolina; from whence he sent me next Year two long Letters, containing the best Account that had been given of that Country, the Climate, Soil, Husbandry, &c. for in those Matters he was very judicious. I printed them in the Papers, and they gave great Satisfaction to the Public.
As soon as he was gone, I recurr’d to my two Friends; and because I would not give an unkind Preference to either, I took half what each had offered & I wanted, of one, & half of the other; paid off the Company Debts, and went on with the Business in my own Name, advertising that the Partnership was dissolved. I think this was in or about the Year 1729.
About this Time there was a Cry among the People for more Paper Money, only 15,000£ being extant in the Province & that soon to be sunk. The wealthy Inhabitants oppos’d any Addition, being against all Paper Currency, from an Apprehension that it would depreciate as it had done in New England to the Prejudice of all Creditors. We had discuss’d this Point in our Junto, where I was on the Side of an Addition, being persuaded that the first small Sum struck in 1723 had done much good, by increasing the Trade, Employment, & Number of Inhabitants in the Province, since I now saw all the old Houses inhabited, & many new ones building, where as I remember’d well, that when I first walk’d about the Streets of Philadelphia, eating my Roll, I saw most of the Houses in Walnut Street between Second & Front Streets with Bills on their Doors, to be let; and many likewise in Chestnut Street, & other Streets; which made me then think the Inhabitants of the City were one after another deserting it. Our Debates possess’d me so fully of the Subject, that I wrote and printed an anonymous Pamphlet on it, entitled, The Nature & Necessity of a Paper Currency. It was well receiv’d by the common People in general; but the Rich Men dislik’d it; for it increas’d and strengthen’d the Clamor for more Money; and they happening to have no Writers among them that were able to answer it, their Opposition slacken’d, & the Point was carried by a Majority in the House. My Friends there, who conceiv’d I had been of some Service, thought fit to reward me, by employing me in printing the Money, a very profitable Job, and a great Help to me. This was another Advantage gain’d by my being able to write. The Utility of this Currency became by Time and Experience so evident, as never afterwards to be much disputed, so that it grew soon to 55000,£ and in 1739 to 80,000£ since which it arose during War to upwards of 350,000£. Trade, Building & Inhabitants all the while increasing. Tho’ I now think there are Limits beyond which the Quantity may be hurtful.
I soon after obtain’d, thro’ my Friend Hamilton, the Printing of the New Castle Paper Money, another profitable Job, as I then thought it; small Things appearing great to those in small Circumstances. And these to me were really great Advantages, as they were great Encouragements. He procured me also the Printing of the Laws and Votes of that Government which continu’d in my Hands as long as I follow’d the Business.
I now open’d a little Stationer’s Shop. I had in it Blanks of all Sorts the correctest that ever appear’d among us, being assisted in that by my Friend Breintnal; I had also Paper, Parchment, Chapmen’s Books, &c. One Whitemash a Compositor I had known in London, an excellent Workman, now came to me & work’d with me constantly & diligently, and I took an Apprentice the Son of Aquila Rose. I began now gradually to pay off the Debt I was under for the Printinghouse. In order to secure my Credit and Character as a Tradesman, I took care not only to be in Reality Industrious & frugal, but to avoid all Appearances of the Contrary. I dressed plainly; I was seen at no Places of idle Diversion; I never went out a-fishing or Shooting; a Book, indeed, sometimes debauch’d me from my Work; but that was seldom, snug, & gave no Scandal: and to show that I was not above my Business, I sometimes brought home the Paper I purchas’d at the Stores, thro’ the Streets on a Wheelbarrow. Thus being esteem’d an industrious thriving young Man, and paying duly for what I bought, the Merchants who imported Stationery solicited my Custom, others propos’d supplying me with Books, & I went on swimmingly. In the mean time Keimer’s Credit and Business declining daily, he was at last forc’d to sell his Printinghouse to satisfy his Creditors. He went to Barbadoes, & there lived some Years, in very poor Circumstances. His Apprentice David Harry, whom I had instructed while I work’d with him, set up in his Place at Philadelphia, having bought his Materials. I was at first apprehensive of a powerful Rival in Harry, as his Friends were very able, & had a good deal of Interest. I therefore propos’d a Partnership to him; which he, fortunately for me, rejected with Scorn. He was very proud, dress’d like a Gentleman, liv’d expensively, took much Diversion & Pleasure abroad, ran in debt, & neglected his Business, upon which all Business left him; and finding nothing to do, he follow’d Keimer to Barbadoes; taking the Printinghouse with him. There this Apprentice employ’d his former Master as a Journeyman. They quarrel’d often, Harry went continually behindhand, and at length was forc’d to sell his Types, and return to his Country Work in Pennsylvania. The Person that bought them, employ’d Keimer to use them, but in a few years he died. There remain’d now no Competitor with me at Philadelphia, but the old one, Bradford, who was rich & easy, did a little Printing now & then by straggling Hands, but was not very anxious about the Business. However, as he kept the Post Office, it was imagined he had better Opportunities of obtaining News, his Paper was thought a better Distributer of Advertisements than mine, & therefore had many more, which was a profitable thing to him & a Disadvantage to me. For tho’ I did indeed receive & send Papers by Post, yet the public Opinion was otherwise; for what I did send was by Bribing the Riders who took them privately: Bradford being unkind enough to forbid it: which occasion’d some Resentment on my Part; and I thought so meanly of him for it, that when I afterwards came into his Situation, I took care never to imitate it.