Saturday, March 24, 2012

Franklin and Adams ... pillow talk

American founding fathers John Adams and Benjamin Franklin had a complex relationship, based in their very different personalities and approaches to life in general. Adam was known to be the more stern, frugal, and serious of the two, while Franklin was more lighthearted, interested in finding and experiencing the more enjoyable parts of life. Perhaps there is no better illustration of their differences than Adams’ report of the night they spent together, sharing a bed in a small room – the only one available – at a New Jersey inn.

The two patriots were traveling as part of an American delegation to meet with Britain’s Lord Howe on New York’s Staten Island in September 1776. Howe had requested a conference as part of a British attempt at reconciling with the Americans after they declared independence from British rule.

Adam’s account of the evening, written in his diary, reports that the room was only a bit larger than the bed itself, and with only one small window. Adams seems to have been recovering from an illness, and closed the window to shut out the chilly nighttime air. But Franklin protested.

In Adam’s words (with his original punctuation, spelling, and grammar): 

“Oh! says Franklin dont shut the Window. We shall be suffocated.

I answered I was afraid of the Evening Air.

Dr. Franklin replied, the Air within this Chamber will soon be, and indeed is now worse than that without Doors: come! open the Window and come to bed, and I will convince you: I believe you are not acquainted with my Theory of Colds.

Opening the Window and leaping into Bed, I said I had read his letters … in which he had advanced, that Nobody ever got cold by going into a cold Church, or any other cold Air: but the Theory was so little consistent with my experience, that I thought it a Paradox: However I had so much curiosity to hear his reasons, that I would run the risque of a cold.

The Doctor then began an harrangue, upon Air and cold and Respiration and Perspiration, with which I was so much amused that I soon fell asleep, and left him and his Philosophy together …”

Draw your own metaphors to this account, perhaps after reading more of it at the Massachusetts Historical Society’s online digital collection. And let the rest of us know what you think in comments below.

Although Adams and Franklin had an agreeable relationship at this point in the birth of our country, their relationship was not particularly warm in following years. Adams would come to not like Franklin very much at all, primarily for what he viewed as Franklin’s too-frivolous approach to life and the American cause. But that’s another story.

1 comment:

The Horse Dad said...

Thanks for helping add dimension to these extraordinary men. I enjoyed McCullough's 1776 and this story is fascinating.