Franklin and the British
ONE OF THE MANY TASKS entrusted to Franklin by Congress during his mission to France was to help prepare a schoolbook detailing British atrocities against Americans. In 1776 Franklin had proposed some of the designs used on the currency issued by Congress; now he was ordered to have 35 prints made to illustrate the book. In May 1779 he and Lafayette compiled a detailed list of the prints to be engraved: the burning of various American towns, the murder of prisoners, the incitement of slave rebellions, the scalping of frontiersmen by Indians under British orders, and the plundering of houses by British soldiers. Franklin later proposed using illustrations of British barbarities on the back of copper coins.1
Franklin was an expert at political propaganda, but the events here described generally were true and obviously made a huge impression on him. By good fortune British commanding officers like William Howe and Henry Clinton were decent men and, like Washington, tried to mitigate the horrors of war.2 The war, however, did furnish many examples of the systematic cruelty for which the British had become notorious by their treatment of Scots, Irish, and Acadians.