Benjamin Franklin’s Famed ‘Disputes with America’ Letter of 1767 Released by Midwest Collector

Benjamin Franklin’s famous “Disputes with America” letter of 1767, one of the most important and widely quoted letters from this legendary founding father, will be sold at public auction by Heritage Auction Galleries Beverly Hills on Oct. 14 as part of the company’s Signature Historic Manuscripts Auction. It is estimated to bring more than $300,000.

The letter is being released by renowned American history collector and author Claude Harkins who counts this among his greatest American treasures.

Harkins, who regularly loans pieces from his collection to museums around the nation – including The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum in West Branch, IA – and makes regular presentations on the Revolutionary War to elementary school students and other organizations, has decided that the time has come for this significant piece of history to make its way to a new guardian. Harkins’ hope is to inspire a new collector to continue his work of honoring the rich American tradition this letter represents.

“The thing about this letter that caught my eye had to do with the fact that Franklin was the first patriot to predict the American Revolution, and here it is in his own writing from eight years before the fact,” said Harkins. “Franklin captures the very flavor of freedom when he writes, ‘the seeds of liberty have been sown.’ Clearly a revolution was coming. The letter is also a beautiful travelogue of what America was like during that time; Franklin cites her rich resources and predicts her destiny to become a grand country.” “

But America,” Franklin writes in his bold, neat script, “an immense Territory, favour’d by Nature with all Advantages of Climate, Soil, great navigable Rivers and Lakes… must become a great Country, populous and mighty; and will in a less time than is generally conceiv’d be able to shake off any Shackles that may be impos’d on her, and perhaps place them on the Imposers… For the Seeds of Liberty are universally sown there, and nothing can eradicate them.”

Equally resonant are Franklin’s poetical phrases and ideas which anticipate those of the Declaration of Independence. Franklin served alongside Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on the committee tasked with drafting the Declaration.  On February 25, 1767, Franklin wrote his “Disputes with America” letter to his friend, Lord Kames, from London where he was serving as a representative of the Pennsylvania assembly.  Due to the simmering tensions between the two nations, and the fact that Franklin was being closely watched by the English government, the letter never made it to Kames – it is believed to have been seized by the British. Franklin did not learn until January 1769, two years later, that Lord Kames never received it.

In a matter of weeks, he rewrote and resent the letter – this letter – labeling it at the top “Copy.” Along with this copy, Franklin sent a letter to Kames dated February 21, 1769, which explains, “I am sorry my Letter of 1767, concerning the American Dispute, miscarried. I now send you a Copy of it from my Book. The Examination mention’d in it, you have probably seen. Things daily wear a worse Aspect, and tend more and more to a Breach and final Separation.”

The Revolutionary War, it can be said, really is in Harkins’ blood.  A collector since he was a boy, Harkins can trace his ancestry back to the Revolution, through his great-grandfather, to Sergeant Robert Gamble of the Second South Carolina regiment, and was commanded by Francis Marion “The Swamp Fox,” within George Washington’s Army, the Continental Line.

“I started out as a 12-year-old collecting Indian arrow heads,” he said. “I made a museum in my little 10’x10’ playhouse and became a curator.  Classes in my hometown of Tallassee, AL would take field trips to my little museum.”  It was the beginning of a lifelong passion that would stretch over seven decades and culminate in a collection of some of the greatest pieces of Americana extant, including three 18th Century thirteen star flags, and what is perhaps the finest celebratory engraved powder horn made in 1777 to honor the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Declaration.

“I’ve always collected. I made a promise that once I was able to, I would take the profit from my business and put it into Americana,” he said, “and that’s what I’ve done over these years. Instead of CDs and stocks, I bought historical artifacts. I stress to the children I talk to, and to anyone who is starting to collect, that it’s an important pursuit, to preserve and promote our rich American tradition.  It has become my passion.  You need to have a passion to continue to live a healthy life.”

It is of particular note that Kansas City Regional Office of the National Archives will be presenting an exhibition of Mr. Harkins’ entire collection in June of 2011.  The exhibition will coincide with a book signing for a book co-authored with John Harker, a descendant of Betsy Ross’ third husband John Claypool. Their book, Betsy Ross: The Mother of our Flag, presents compelling new evidence that Ross was indeed the originator of the “Stars and Stripes.”

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage. When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city. With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s. The result will be a book with a video component. We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url artafterx.com will point to the latest updates on this weblog.

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