Benjamin Franklin did his best to avert the Revolution. He made many friends in England, wrote pamphlets and articles, told comical stories and fables where they might do some good, and constantly strove to enlighten the ruling class of England upon conditions and sentiment in the colonies. His examination before the House of Commons in February, 1766, marks perhaps the zenith of his intellectual powers. His wide knowledge, his wonderful poise, his ready wit, his marvelous gift for clear and epigrammatic statement, were never exhibited to better advantage and no doubt hastened the repeal of the Stamp Act. Benjamin Franklin remained in England nine years longer, but his efforts to reconcile the conflicting claims of Parliament and the colonies were of no avail, and early in 1775 he sailed for home.
Benjamin Franklin's stay in America lasted only eighteen months, yet during that time he sat in the Continental Congress and as a member of the most important committees; submitted a plan for a union of the colonies; served as Postmaster General and as chairman of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety; visited Washington at Cambridge; went to Montreal to do what he could for the cause of independence in Canada; presided over the convention which framed a constitution for Pennsylvania; was a member of the committee appointed to draft the Declaration of Independence and of the committee sent on the futile mission to New York to discuss terms of peace with Lord Howe.
Treaty of Alliance with FranceIn September, 1776, Benjamin Franklin was appointed envoy to France and sailed soon afterwards. The envoys appointed to act with him proved a handicap rather than a help, and the great burden of a difficult and momentous mission was thus laid upon an old man of seventy. But no other American could have taken his place. His reputation in France was already made, through his books and inventions and discoveries. To the corrupt and licentious court he was the personification of the age of simplicity, which it was the fashion to admire; to the learned, he was a sage; to the common man he was the apotheosis of all the virtues; to the rabble he was little less than a god. Great ladies sought his smiles; nobles treasured a kindly word; the shopkeeper hung his portrait on the wall; and the people drew aside in the streets that he might pass without annoyance. Through all this adulation Benjamin Franklin passed serenely, if not unconsciously.
The French ministers were not at first willing to make a treaty of alliance, but under Benjamin Franklin's influence they lent money to the struggling colonies. Congress sought to finance the war by the issue of paper currency and by borrowing rather than by taxation, and sent bill after bill to Franklin, who somehow managed to meet them by putting his pride in his pocket, and applying again and again to the French Government. He fitted out privateers and negotiated with the British concerning prisoners. At length he won from France recognition of the United States and then the Treaty of Alliance.