Forging Unification
“Join, or Die,” 1754
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“Join, or Die,” 1754
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Union of the colonies is absolutely necessary for their preservation.
—Benjamin Franklin,
Reasons and Motives for the
Albany Plan of Union,
July, 1754
  |   The threat of war with French imperial forces and their Native American allies made it clear that military strength should best be sought through British colonial unity. Where others saw division, competition, and even chaos, Franklin saw an opportunity for the pursuit of common goals.

Franklin proposed the Albany Plan of Union in June 1754, when delegates from seven of the colonies met to secure the alliance of the Iroquois and plan for their mutual defense. Although his Plan was not adopted, Franklin’s inclination to forge partnerships and his aversion to conflict remained characteristic of his approach to civic life, science, and diplomacy. His negotiating skills were further called into service in 1757, when Franklin was selected to represent colonial interests in England.

Franklin would spend much of the next 30 years of his life living abroad—first in London seeking to maintain unity with England, and then in Paris building an alliance to secure American independence.

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Founding Document: Albany Plan of Union
[It is proposed] That humble Application be made for an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain, by Virtue of which, one General Government may be formed in America.
—Benjamin Franklin, Albany Plan of Union, July 10, 1754
 
Peace Medal, 1757
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Peace Medal, 1757
In 1754, as Britain and France struggled for control over North America, Benjamin Franklin proposed the Albany Plan of Union to unite the British North American colonies. His Plan called for the creation of a legislative body that would have the power to control commerce and organize defense in the face of attacks by the French or their Native American allies.

The Albany Plan was rejected by both the colonists and the British Crown. The Crown worried that the Plan would create a powerful colonial bloc that might prove difficult to control, while the colonists themselves did not yet recognize the value of intercolonial unity.

  |   Indian Treaties, 1757–1759
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Indian Treaties, 17571759
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At Home in London
36 Craven Street, London
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36 Craven Street, London
Portrait of Polly Stevenson, ca. 1772
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Portrait of Polly Stevenson, ca. 1772
Calling card, 1757–1775
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Calling card, 1757–1775
Partial tea service, 1770
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Partial tea service, 1770
Flat-top desk, 1772
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Flat-top desk, 1772
 
   
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As you desire to know several Particulars about me, I now let you know that I lodge in Craven Street near Charing Cross, Westminster; We have four Rooms furnished, and every thing about us pretty genteel, but Living here is in every respect very expensive.
—Letter from Benjamin Franklin to Deborah Franklin, January 1758, 1789
 
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Franklin was appointed as the Pennsylvania Assembly’s colonial agent to London in 1757, a position he held until 1775. By 1770 he had also been chosen to represent Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

For the majority of those 18 years, Franklin lived and worked in London. He boarded with a widow, Margaret Stevenson, and her daughter Mary, called “Polly,” in a town house on Craven Street. It is now the only house Franklin lived in still standing. The lodgings were his home base for experiments, travel, and political negotiations, and with Franklin as head of the household, Mrs. Stevenson and Polly formed a surrogate family.

Franklin's sociable, cheerful nature meant he maintained a vast network of friends and associates. He attended dinner with the King of Denmark, at Craven Street; hosted a range of guests, from scientific colleagues to visitors from Philadelphia; and met regularly with a coterie of like-minded men, such as the Club of Honest Whigs who convened at St. Paul’s Coffee-house, opposite the cathedral.

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A Love of Music
The advantages of this instrument are, that its tones are incomparably sweet beyond those of any other; that they may be swelled and softened at pleasure by stronger or weaker pressures of the finger, and continued to any length; and that the instrument, being once well tuned, never again wants tuning.
—Letter from Benjamin Franklin to Giambatista Beccaria, July 13, 1762

Music for the Glass Armonica performed by Dean Shostak.
Franklin played the violin, harp, and guitar; wrote and sang songs with friends; and also invented “one of the most celebrated instruments of the 18th century”—the glass armonica. The design is based on a set of glasses that are played by running a wet finger around the rim of a glass; Franklin’s innovation was to mount a range of glass bowls on a rod, turned by a foot pedal or a hand wheel.

Friends and acquaintances were entertained with the new instrument, which won praise for its “angelic strains.” By Franklin’s death in 1790, about 5,000 glass armonicas had been made in Europe. Mozart and Beethoven were inspired to compose works for the instrument, although Franklin preferred simple Scottish airs.

    Glass armonica, 1761–1762
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Glass armonica, 1761–1762
The Phillips Museum of Art