benjamin franklin -- 6/7/21

Today's selection -- from The Golden Voyage: The Life and Times of William Bingham, 1752-1804 by Robert C. Alberts. Benjamin Franklin's funeral:

"In March, 1789, Benjamin Rush, James Wilson, William Bingham and three others had signed a petition to the Pennsylvania Assembly asking for a convention to reform the state constitution [which was viewed as unacceptably liberal since it had a unicameral legislature and tri-party chief executive instead of a governor]. The con­vention met in the spring of 1790 and drew up a form of state govern­ment modeled on that of the federal government, with a governor as chief executive, an independent judiciary, and a legislature with two­ houses.

"While the convention was meeting in the State House, the author of [that unacceptably liberal] first state constitution, Dr. Franklin, died. He was eighty-four, and he had spent his last year in his bedroom, suffering intense pain, from the stone except when relieved by opium.

"The city put aside its political differences long enough to give him the most elaborate funeral America had ever seen. Twenty thousand people, nearly half the city, lined the streets on April 21 along the route of the procession from the State House. The ships in the har­bor lowered their flags to half-mast; cannon sounded every minute; the church bells rang a muffled peal. All the clergy of the city led the procession to the Christ Church burying ground at the comer of Fifth and Arch streets. The coffin followed directly behind, carried by six bearers: General Thomas Mifflin, president of the state; Thomas McKean, chief justice; Thomas Willing, president of the Bank of North America; Samuel Powel, mayor of the city; David Rit­tenhouse, professor of astronomy at the College of Philadelphia; and William Bingham, vice president of the Society of Political En­quiries. They were followed by the family and closest friends, mem­bers of the state Assembly, judges of the Supreme Court, the gentle­men of the bar, the printers with their journeymen and appren­tices, the Philosophical Society, and 'sundry other societies, together with a numerous and respectable body of citizens.' A battery of can­non fired as the coffin was being lowered into the grave.

"Dr. Rush divided a lock of Franklin's hair and sent it to Dr. Rich­ard Price in London and the Marquis de Lafayette in Paris. The United States House of Representatives wore mourning for thirteen days. (The Senate refused to do so.) The French National Assembly heard a eulogy of 'the sage of two worlds' by Mirabeau and sent a flowery letter of sympathy to the American government. John Adams read it aloud to the Senate with ill-concealed distaste for both sender and subject.

"Franklin had been somewhat 'out of fashion' in his last years in Philadelphia and had incurred the distrust of the merchants for his liberal views, but [the wealthy] Bingham's admiration never diminished. He had expressed a desire to give a full-length, life-size marble statue of Franklin to the Library Company, and discussed the costume with Franklin, who elected to appear in a Roman toga and 'with a Roman head.' Bingham sent a Franklin bust, a sketch of the full figure and 500 guineas to the famous sculptor Francois Lazzarini, who carved a figure in Italy from Carrara marble. It arrived after the Doctor's death."



Robert C. Alberts


The Golden Voyage: The Life and Times of William Bingham, 1752-1804


Houghton Mifflin Company


Copyright 1969 by Robert C. Alberts


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