In 2006, the U.S. National Archives noted that today marks the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's birth (January 17, 1706-April 17, 1790). During his life, Franklin had many careers including service as a diplomat, a printer, a writer, an inventor, a scientist, a lawmaker, and a postmaster, among others. In his later years he became vocal as an abolitionist and in 1787 began to serve as President of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. The Society was originally formed April 14, 1775, in Philadelphia, as The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage; it was reorganized in 1784 and again in 1787, and then incorporated by the state of Pennsylvania in 1789. The Society not only advocated the abolition of slavery, but made efforts to integrate freed slaves into American society.The End of the Silence
Franklin did not publicly speak out against slavery until very late in his life. As a young man he owned slaves, and he carried advertisements for the sale of slaves in his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette. At the same time, however, he published numerous Quaker pamphlets against slavery and condemned the practice of slavery in his private correspondence. It was after the ratification of the United States Constitution that he became an outspoken opponent of slavery. In 1789 he wrote and published several essays supporting the abolition of slavery and his last public act was to send to Congress a petition on behalf of the Society asking for the abolition of slavery and an end to the slave trade. The petition, signed on February 3, 1790, asked the first Congress, then meeting in New York City, to 'devise means for removing the Inconsistency from the Character of the American People,' and to 'promote mercy and justice toward this distressed Race.'
The petition was introduced to the House on February 12 and to the Senate on February 15, 1790. Joseph J. Ellis observed in his essay 'The End of the Silence' (published in the Founding Fathers, Random House, 2000) that the advocacy of James Madison was crucial in the ultimate success of the petition.
"If Franklin's great gift was an uncanny knack of levitating above political camps, operating at an altitude that permitted him to view the essential patterns and then comment with great irony and wit on the behaviour of those groveling about on the ground, Madison's speciality was just the opposite. He lived in the details and worked his magic in the context of the moment, mobilizing those forces on the ground more adroitly and with a more deft tactical proficiency than anyone else. Taken together, he and Franklin made a nearly unbeatable team. Fortunately, for the Union, in 1790 they were on the same side [Madison agreed with Franklin that slavery was an abrogation of the principles of the American revolution].
Madison's position on slavery was clear. He found the blatantly proslavery arguments 'shamefully indecent and described his colleagues from South Carolina and Georgia as 'intemperate beyond all example and even all decorum. Like most of his fellow Virginians, he wanted it known that he preferred an early end to the slave trade and regarded the institution of slavery 'a deep-rooted abuse'. He claimed to be genuinely embarrased by at the stridently proslavery rhetoric of the delegates from the Deep South and much more comfortable on the high moral ground of his northern friends".
On April 17, 1790, just two months later, Franklin died in Philadelphia at the age of 84. Emancipation was fully implemented during Madison's tenure at the White House from 1809 to 1817, ironically just after the expiry of the 1808 restriction imposed at the Constitutional Conference in 1787.