Franklin Enemy Falls Short of Siblings
Thea Marshall checks out the notion that Arthur Lee, one of the Lees of Stratford and an avowed enemy of Ben Franklin, was not as heroic a figure as his older brothers.
In a recent commentary, I noted that Ben Franklin had a nasty enemy--Arthur Lee, one of the Lees of Stratford Hall. And, I quickly that the enemy of my hero was my enemy. Therefore, I would find out all the awful things I could about Awful Arthur Lee and, much to my surprise, I found far more to admire than to deplore.
First, he was the best educated of the Lee brothers. He had degrees in medicine and law. And, then in spite of his eldest brother Phillip--who was the executor of their father's will--writing to Arthur's school that he was to "get as little pocket money as ever any boy had at your school." That big brother Phillip was miserly to all his younger siblings. Well, it seems an understatement while back in Virginia Phillip was spending lavishly on himself and Stratford Hall. Brothers Thomas Ludwell, Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot were busy, along with all the other American patriots, stirring up revolution.
Arthur stayed in Britain, went to France, later to Spain as a diplomat and, most notably, a spy for the revolutionary cause. Actually, he wasn't your everyday, run-of-the-mill spy; he was a spectacular spy before, during and then after the Revolution. His story in Myron Magnate tells us that Arthur sent a flood of intelligence about troop movements and political developments. December, 1776, Congress made him one of its three secret commissioners to France--spies, in fact--to negotiate loans, buy arms and supplies and, above all, to get France to join America's war against Britain.
Now, this is the point during which Franklin and Arthur fell out. The other two secret commissioners were Benjamin Franklin and Silus Dean of Connecticutt. Well, Arthur believed that Dean was no hero's spy, but a scoundrel--a war profiteer and worse. Franklin not only disagreed with Arthur, but wrote: "'He had a sick mind, which is forever tormenting itself with jealousies." But, Arthur was right and he was later vindicated. Samuel Adams wrote that Arthur Lee has bourne a great share in defending and establishing the liberties of America.
Well that word 'liberty' had been on Arthur's mind a long time, so when his friend John Dickinson asked him to contribute a verse to a poem he was writing--The Liberty Song--he did. And he was responsible for writing eight words, which became eight of the most memorable words written for an 18th century patriotic song. Words used over and over to this very day--'By uniting, we stand; by dividing, we fall.' Here's the rest of the verse: 'In so righteous a cause, let us hope to succeed, for heaven approves of each generous deed.'
Well, I hope this story will help mend my ungenerous deed of assuming the worst about a pretty great patriot and a pretty good lyric writer.