And so, as you have seen, Benjamin Franklin became in time one of the foremost men in our country.
In 1753, when he was forty-five years old, he was made deputy postmaster-general for America.
He was to have a salary of about $3,000 a year, and was to pay his own assistants.
People were astonished when he proposed to have the mail carried regularly once every week between New York and Boston.
Letters starting from Philadelphia on Monday morning would reach Boston the next Saturday night. This was thought to be a wonderful and almost impossible feat. But nowadays, letters leaving Philadelphia at midnight are read at the breakfast table in Boston the next morning.
At that time there were not seventy post-offices in the whole country. There are now more than seventy thousand. Benjamin Franklin held the office of deputy postmaster-general for the American colonies for twenty-one years. In 1754 there was a meeting of the leading men of all the colonies at Albany. There were fears of a war with the French and Indians of Canada, and the colonies had sent these men to plan some means of defence.
Benjamin Franklin was one of the men from Pennsylvania at this meeting.
He presented a plan for the union of the colonies, and it was adopted. But our English rulers said it was too democratic, and refused to let it go into operation.
This scheme of Franklin's set the people of the colonies to thinking. Why should the colonies not unite? Why should they not help one another, and thus form one great country?
And so, we may truthfully say that it was Benjamin Franklin who first put into men's minds the idea of the great Union which we now call the United States of America.
The people of the colonies were not happy under the rule of the English. One by one, laws were made which they looked upon as oppressive and burdensome. These laws were not intended to benefit the American people, but were designed to enrich the merchants and politicians of England.
In 1757 the people of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Georgia, decided to send some one to England to petition against these oppressions.
In all the colonies there was no man better fitted for this business than Benjamin Franklin. And so he was the man sent.
The fame of the great American had gone before him. Everybody seemed anxious to do him honor.
He met many of the leading men of the day, and he at last succeeded in gaining the object of his mission.
But such business moved slowly in those times. Five years passed before he was ready to return to America.
He reached Philadelphia in November, 1762, and the colonial assembly of Pennsylvania thanked him publicly for his great services. But new troubles soon came up between the colonies and the government in England. Other laws were passed, more oppressive than before. It was proposed to tax the colonies, and to force the colonists to buy stamped paper. This last act was called the Stamp Tax, and the American people opposed it with all their might.
Scarcely had Franklin been at home two years when he was again sent to England to plead the cause of his countrymen. This time he remained abroad for more than ten years; but he was not so successful as before.
In 1774 he appeared before the King's council to present a petition from the people of Massachusetts.
He was now a venerable man nearly seventy years of age. He was the most famous man of America.
His petition was rejected. He himself was shamefully insulted and abused by one of the members of the council. The next day he was dismissed from the office of deputy postmaster-general of America.
In May, 1775, he was again at home in Philadelphia.
Two weeks before his arrival the battle of Lexington had been fought, and the war of the Revolution had been begun.
Franklin had done all that he could to persuade the English king to deal justly with the American colonies. But the king and his counsellors had refused to listen to him.
During his ten years abroad he had not stayed all the time in England. He had traveled in many countries of Europe, and had visited Paris several times.
Many changes had taken place while he was absent.
His wife, Mrs. Deborah Franklin, had died. His parents and fifteen of his brothers and sisters had also been laid in the grave.
The rest of his days were to be spent in the service of his country, to which he had already given nearly twenty years of his life.