Today, the Benjamin Franklin Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the day 250 years ago when the gentleman spent an arduous but productive day answering the British questions.
In the book Benjamin Franklin and the University of Pennsylvania, published in 1893, the editor, Francis Newton Thorpe, wrote of the examination of Franklin:
It was a favorite idea of Franklin’s that many of the ills incident to bad government were less than the ills which people voluntarily suffer from idleness and pride, and he is constantly applying the formula of his moral algebra to the solution of some practical question of the times.
It was on the 3d of February, 1766, that Dr. Franklin was examined at the bar of the House of Commons; that long, severe, and exhaustive examination by friends and enemies is the clearest account which we have of the relations between England and the American colonies at that time.
Franklin’s practical knowledge of America, due to his experience as deputy postmaster of the colonies, and his wise observations during his official journeys in the colonies, equipped him to be the advocate of the rights of the Americans.
For the first time the British Parliament heard a truthful account of America.
I can only refer to this examination as an illustration of all that we have said of Franklin’s method of conveying knowledge.
This examination was the most important Socratic dialogue in which Franklin ever engaged.
He carefully distinguishes between the right of the colonial assemblies to levy local or internal taxes and the right of Parliament to levy an external tax or a duty; he contending that then; was not a single article imported into the northern colonics but what they could either do without or make themselves, that with industry and good management they could very well supply themselves with all they wanted, it would not take a long time to establish manufactures among them, and it was his opinion that before their old clothes were worn out they would have new ones of their own making.
The whole examination shows that in Franklin’s opinion the Americans were prepared to be self-supporting, and it is interesting as formulating the principal points which were afterwards used by Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations as illustrations of his economic theories respecting new countries.
In the Works of Benjamin Franklin, published in 1882, Jared Sparks included a letter extolling Franklin’s answers during the examination:
FROM JOSEPH GALLOWAY TO WILLIAM FRANKLIN, GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY.
Repeal of the Stamp Act. — Fothergill’s and Whitefield’s Account of Dr. Franklin’s Examination before the House of Commons. — Emblematical Representation.
Tuesday, 29 April, 1766.
This is enclosed in a copy of my letter from your worthy father, by Mr. James Boy, whom we have sent up to communicate to you our intelligence by the packet.
Mr. Thomas Wharton has a letter from a house of good credit in Boston, that, by a vessel in a short passage from London, they have certain intelligence that the act of repeal was read in the House of Lords a second time on the 7th of March, and that it was much approved of by the Lords, and would pass, and that in a few days it was expected it would receive the King’s assent.
So that I think little credit ought to be given to the two lines in the York paper, without date, contradicting this account.
It gives me a pleasure I cannot well express, to hear that Dr. Franklin was examined at the bar of the House of Commons.
Dr. Fothergill writes this to William Logan, and, that he gave “such distinct, clear, and satisfactory answers to every interrogatory, and besides spoke his sentiments on the subject with such perspicuity and firmness, as did him the highest honor, and was of the greatest service to the American cause.”
True merit and exalted virtues may be, like the sun, overshadowed for a while; but the force and brilliancy of their rays will at length dispel the mists and break forth, notwithstanding opposing clouds and darkness.
This account is also confirmed by Mr. Whitefield to Thomas Wharton. Mr. Logan has promised to send David Hall an extract, and he will publish it. Mr. Wharton will do the same.
I mentioned the putting Mr. Whitefield’s name as the author of the last extract. Mr. Wharton seems inclined. Would it be amiss?
It will certainly put an effectual stop to the malignant lies related of Dr. Franklin’s conduct, relating to the Stamp Act, and clear up his reputation to all the American world. For who dares deny Mr. Whitefield’s authority? Will the church? Will the Presbyterians?
I suspect the print, enclosed by Dr. Franklin to me and several others, is his own.
It is certainly a good one, and explains the subject deeply.
The lance from the thigh of New England, pointed at the breast of Britannia, is striking, as is indeed every other emblem. If you have not one enclosed to you, keep it; if you have, please to return it by the bearer.*
I am in haste, yours very affectionately, Joseph Galloway.
The Benjamin Franklin Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of a book cover highlighting the man and his history.