Amer­ica’s First Whistle­blower

How Ben­jamin Franklin upped the stakes with a leaked let­ter

All About History - - KING GEORGE III -

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

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