The second in Oxford’s new Critical Historical Encounters series, covering formative events in American History—this time with a focus on a Benjamin Franklin many readers may not have encountered before.
In January 1774, Franklin stood up to the vitriol directed at him by the King’s Privy Council in the Cockpit, a former cockfighting room in Whitehall Palace. At this juncture war was inevitable. Incendiary letters sent 10 years earlier by Massachusetts Gov. Thomas Hutchinson and Lt. Gov. Andrew Oliver fell into Franklin’s hands, and he sent them to friends in Massachusetts who published them. Incensed, the Assembly of the Bay Colony instructed Franklin, their agent, to request their removal from office. Franklin knew very well that the request would be denied and thought that would be the end of it. The Boston Tea Party proved to be the tipping point. Solicitor General Alexander Wedderburn, standing as an agent for the Council, delivered the verbal assault. Was Franklin merely a scapegoat, or was he truly an “incendiary” bent on poisoning the relationship between England and her colonies? Skemp (American History/Univ. of Mississippi; First Lady of Letters: Judith Sargent Murray and the Struggle for Female Independence, 2009, etc.) questions Franklin’s innocence in the matter of the letters and whether, as he claimed, he was the only one who could serve as an effective liaison between the British and the colonies. The author also questions his motives, invoking his many commercial enterprises and his laidback diplomacy. Superfluous information on those present at the Cockpit and the collapse of the relationship between Franklin and his son don’t detract from Skemp’s depth of knowledge on the man and the period.
A worthy addition to the literature on both Franklin and the Revolutionary War.