The Making of a Patriot: Benjamin Franklin at the Cockpit

By Sheila L. Skemp | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Dueling Conspiracies

When Alexander Wedderburn accused Benjamin Franklin of being the “prime conductor” of a cabal whose members sought to destroy the ties that bound England and its colonies together, he was not simply indulging in inflammatory rhetoric. His language may seem overheated, his message hyperbolic to modern ears, but Wedderburn knew that few of those present at the Cockpit would find his indictment particularly strange or hard to believe. Objectively speaking Franklin was no flame thrower. He had spent a decade in London trying, as he always put it, to explain the colonies to England and England to the colonies. In 1768 he wryly observed that he was the object of suspicion on both sides of the Atlantic due in large measure to his “impartiality.” In England, he said, people thought he was “too much an American,” while at home many saw him as “too much an Englishman.”1 Could this man who sought so valiantly and so long to “palliate matters” dividing the Empire be the “great incendiary” against whom Wedderburn railed with such conviction?2

The answer for most of those at the Cockpit was a resounding “yes.” The solicitor general knew his audience. He was fully aware of the anxieties about colonial intentions that dominated the discourse in Whitehall and beyond in the years leading up to the Revolution. For at least a half-century prior to Benjamin Franklin’s ordeal at the Cockpit, the Anglo-American political world was, in the words of one historian, virtually consumed by “an escalating mutuality of conspiratorial fears,”

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