On January 29, 1774, Benjamin Franklin appeared before a raucous group of Englishmen in a room in Whitehall Palace known as the Cockpit. Most members of the Privy Council, a select group of the King’s advisors, were present. Other notables also managed to crowd into the tiny room. For a little over an hour, Franklin stood silently as he was subjected to a vicious harangue at the hands of Solicitor General Alexander Wedderburn. Wedderburn’s audience loved it. They laughed and clapped and jeered as Franklin’s tormenter hurled one verbal blow after another at his unfortunate victim. Franklin had been living in London for nearly a decade, serving as a colonial agent or lobbyist for Pennsylvania and three other colonies. During that time, he had met and worked with many of the men who now took such pleasure in his humiliation. He loved England, was comfortable in the nation’s capital, and had done all he could to strengthen the bonds of Empire. As late as January 5—nineteen days before his appearance at the Cockpit—he was continuing his efforts to arrive at what he characterized as “an accommodation of our differences.” Only after January 29 did Franklin decide that such an accommodation was impossible to achieve. The confrontation at the Cockpit had inadvertently turned one of the King’s most loyal and dependable subjects into one of England’s most determined enemies.
This book is not a traditional biography. It makes no effort to take its readers step by step through Franklin’s long and distinguished