On January 29, 1774 Benjamin Franklin walked out of a tiny room in Whitehall Palace known as the “Cockpit.” The room had a long and storied history. Built by Henry VIII in 1530, it had been the scene of cockfights for nearly half a century before it was converted into a theater and then occupied by the Board of the Treasury. As he left the scene, Franklin must have felt as though the powers that be had decided to return the facility to its original purpose, and that he, rather than some unfortunate barnyard fowl, had just endured a ritual sacrifice at the hands of a foe who had every advantage over him. He watched in disbelief as well wishers gathered around Solicitor General Alexander Wedderburn, a man young enough to be his son, who had just subjected him to so public a humiliation. He could not help but wince as jubilant admirers slapped Wedderburn on the back, shook his hand, and offered him their heartiest congratulations for a job well done. How, he wondered, had it come to this? How had one of England’s most loyal American subjects found himself standing before the king’s advisers, vilified as a dangerous rabble rouser intent upon colonial independence?
Franklin had entered the west side of Whitehall Palace a little less than an hour earlier. Clad in a decidedly old-fashioned wig and a simple blue coat of Manchester velvet, he knew that his sartorial efforts did not impress many in the overflow crowd. Most members of the Privy Council (the king’s chief advisory body) were able to secure seats at a