During the Fourth of July I try to recount some of the things that I love about this country. One of the things that I love about this country is Benjamin Franklin and his work in the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.
Benjamin Franklin is my favorite Founding Father. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was a great intellect and pragmatic politician. He was a successful printer who had a great sense of civic responsibility to his community, helping to create the first libraries, hospitals and firehouses in Pennsylvania. He was a great inventor who had great scientific insights into the properties of electricity. And he was a great ambassador who persuaded France to aid the American colonies in its fight for independence against England.
One of the lesser known parts of Franklin’s life is his fight against slavery. At first, Franklin held the same racist views about African Americans as his fellow white Americans. One day, however, Franklin observed a school with both black and white students and noticed that the black children were just as smart as the white children. This changed Franklin’s views on race.
In 1785 Franklin was voted President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, which was dedicated to the abolition of slavery in the United States and created schools to train freed African Americans in a trade. Franklin began writing essays attacking slavery and of the importance of integrating blacks into American society. During the Constitutional Convention, Franklin had advocated for the inclusion into the Constitution a statement of principle that the U.S. would be dedicated to gradually abolish slavery and end the slave trade, but he was persuaded to withdraw his proposition due to opposition from the Southern representatives.
In 1790, Benjamin Franklin sponsored a petition by the Quakers to ask Congress to abolish slavery and end the slave trade. James Madison led the effort to table to petition. Franklin died soon after the petition was tabled.
The petition read in part:
“That from a regard for the happiness of Mankind an Association was formed several years since in this State by a number of her Citizens of various religious denominations for promoting the Abolition of Slavery & for the relief of those unlawfully held in bondage…
…From a persuasion that equal liberty was originally the Portion, It is still the Birthright of all men, & influenced by the strong ties of Humanity & the Principles of their Institution, your Memorialists conceive themselves bound to use all justifiable endeavours to loosen the bounds of Slavery and promote a general Enjoyment of the blessings of Freedom. Under these Impressions they earnestly entreat your serious attention to the Subject of Slavery, that you will be pleased to countenance the Restoration of liberty to those unhappy Men, who alone, in this land of Freedom, are degraded into perpetual Bondage, and who, amidst the general Joy of surrounding Freemen, are groaning in Servile Subjection, that you will devise means for removing this Inconsistency from the Character of the American People, that you will promote mercy and Justice towards this distressed Race, & that you will Step to the very verge of the Powers vested in you for discouraging every Species of Traffick in the Persons of our fellow men.
Philadelphia February 3, 1790
President of the Society”
Here is a link to the full petition
Here is a 2015 fictionalized interview of Benjamin Franklin and his work for the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.