In London on this day in 1775, Benjamin Franklin publishes An Imaginary Speech in defense of American courage.
Franklin’s speech was intended to counter an unnamed officer’s comments to Parliament that the British need not fear the colonial rebels, because “Americans are unequal to the People of this Country [Britain] in Devotion to Women, and in Courage, and worse than all, they are religious.”
Franklin responded to the three-pronged critique with his usual wit and acuity. Noting that the colonial population had increased while the British population had declined, Franklin concluded that American men must therefore be more “effectually devoted to the Fair Sex” than their British brethren.
As for American courage, Franklin relayed a history of the Seven Years’ War in which the colonial militia forever saved blundering British regulars from strategic error and cowardice. With poetic flare, Franklin declared, “Indiscriminate Accusations against the Absent are cowardly Calumnies.” In truth, the colonial militias were notoriously undisciplined and ineffective at the beginning of the Seven Years’ War. New Englanders, unused to taking orders and unfamiliar with the necessary elements of military life, brought illness upon themselves when they refused to build latrines and were sickened by their own sewage. During the American Revolution, Washington repeated many of the same complaints spoken by British officers when he attempted to organize American farmers into an effective army.
With regard to religion, Franklin overcame his own distaste for the devout and reminded his readers that it was zealous Puritans that had rid Britain of the despised King Charles I. Franklin surmised that his critic was a Stuart [i.e. Catholic] sympathizer, and therefore disliked American Protestants, “who inherit from those Ancestors, not only the same Religion, but the same Love of Liberty and Spirit.”