America’s First Whistleblower
How Benjamin Franklin upped the stakes with a leaked letter
Before he became one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin was an agent in London, on behalf of Massachusetts. For some time he had watched as the relationship between Britain and the colonies deteriorated as tensions increased, something which concerned him greatly. Therefore, it is unsurprising that when Franklin saw an opportunity that he thought would improve the situation, he took it. In 1772 he obtained letters that had been addressed to the late Thomas Whately, an assistant to British Prime Minister George Grenville, from the Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, and his secretary and brotherin-law Andrew Oliver. Hutchinson, a staunch loyalist to the crown, and Oliver had encouraged both the king and Parliament to act against the colonists for their protests. Believing that the men had misled Parliament about the situation in Massachusetts, Franklin decided to send the letters to Thomas Cushing, speaker of the Massachusetts assembly. He hoped that the letters would show the assembly that it was Hutchinson and Oliver who had instigated the trouble between Parliament and the colonies, not the British ministers themselves, but asked Cushing to keep the letters private. However they were published in June 1773 in the Boston Gazette and caused widespread outrage in Massachusetts, with colonists demanding Hutchinson’s removal. Meanwhile, Britain remained focused on identifying who had leaked the letters, with Franklin eventually admitting his role. Lambasted, humiliated and accused of being a thief and a spy in front of the Privy Council, Franklin returned to America fully committed to the Revolutionist cause.
Franklin’s attempt to improve relations between Britain and the colonies only served to fan the flames