The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 10. Franklin
The great influence of Benjamin Franklin, covering the entire period of the revolutionary struggle, was exerted chiefly through the customary channels of diplomacy, and in a voluminous correspondence with friends and public men on both sides of the Atlantic; and his contemporary publications, comparatively few in number, carried weight because of their directness and sturdy common sense, and of the fame of their writer as a scientist or as the author of Poor Richard’s Almanac or as the skilful champion of the colonial cause in England, rather than because of their literary merit or their substantive contribution to the American argument. The report of his Examination before the House of Commons (1766), while the repeal of the Stamp Act was under discussion, showed a states-manlike knowledge of American conditions, and dexterity and boldness in defending the patriot cause. In January, 1768, he contributed to The London Chronicle an article entitled Causes of the American Discontents before 1768, and later in the year he wrote a short preface for a London reprint of Dickinson’s Letters from a Farmer.
For the next five years Franklin was occupied with his duties as colonial agent of Massachusetts, Georgia, and other colonies. His writings during that period consist almost wholly of letters, and of articles on electricity and economic subjects. Then, in September, 1773, he attacked the colonial policy of Hillsborough in Rules by which Great Empire may be reduced to a Small One, following this, early in 1774, with an article On the rise and Progress of the Differences between Great Britain and Her American Colonies. The publication of the Hutchinson letters, although it brought official censure and cost Franklin the loss of a remunerative office, did not materially affect his reputation or weaken his influence; but a Tract relative to the Affair of Hutchinson’s Letters, written in 1774, was, possibly from prudential reasons, not published.
That persistent opposition to Parliament, whether through elaborated constitutional arguments or by such practical devices as commercial non-intercourse, might in the end raise the issue of independence, had early been perceived; and the earnest protestations of loyalty to the crown which are found in the resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress or the declaration and resolves of the First Continental Congress, if read chiefly in the light of subsequent events, do not seem entirely unequivocal. Not until late in 1775, however, after armed collisions had occurred at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, after Gage had been hopelessly besieged at Boston, and after a second Continental Congress, assuming the general direction of affairs, had begun the organization of a revolutionary government, appointed Washington commander-in-chief, and taken the first steps toward obtaining foreign aid, did the demand for independence, or even the disposition seriously to consider it, become general.