Political Background


Benjamin Franklin went to London as an agent representing the interests of Pennsylvania, and then later as an agent for Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts (1757-62 and 1764-75). Beginning as a contented Englishman who favored Royal rule and distrusted popular movements, he emerged as a leading spokesman for American rights. When the Stamp Act crisis arose, he demonstrated his new political sentiments by speaking out against the Act. He gradually adopted the theory that Parliament did not have the power to tax or to legislate in the colonies, and that the colonies and Great Britain were united "as England and Scotland were before the Union, by having one common Sovereign, the King."

Returning to America, he advanced to the forefront of the Patriot cause as a member of the Continental Congress (1775-76). He served on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. (It has been said that he was not chosen to draft the document for fear that he might conceal a joke in it.) He was the eldest signer of the Declaration of Independence, and when he finished signing the document, he joked, "Gentlemen, we must now all hang together, or we shall most assuredly all hang separately." Ironically, while Franklin was working on the Declaration, his son William, a militant Loyalist and the last Royal governor of New Jersey, was being incarcerated in Connecticut. Franklin left the Continental Congress to become president of Pennsylvania's constitutional convention in 1776.