What would Ben Franklin say? Here’s what he’d say: “It’s a great calamity.”
Aloha from Hawaii! This is the second part of my previous posting from Maui in which I wrote about Ben Franklin’s attempt to raise enough money to sponsor a second voyage to the South Pacific for Captain James Cook (Part I). That effort failed, but the Royal Navy subsequently sent Cook to the Pacific for two more voyages of discovery. The last cruise occurred during the American Revolutionary War, an era when England and her former North American colonies were sinking each others’ ships in the North Atlantic.
Around that time, English scientists became concerned that hostilities on the high seas between British and American warships might spill over and involve Cook’s vessels as they crossed the Atlantic on their way home. The scientists prevailed on Franklin our nation’s envoy to France to ensure safe passage for Captain Cook. Franklin willingly obliged: His 1779 safe passage document, “Passport for Captain Cook,” addressed “to all Captains and Commanders of American armed Ships,” remains one of his best known pronouncements.
Franklin informed his countrymen that Cook’s expedition was “an Undertaking truly laudable in itself, as the Increase of Geographical Knowledge facilitates the Communication between distant nations, in the Exchange of useful Products and Manufactures, and the Extension of Arts, whereby the common Enjoyments of human Life are multiply’d and augmented, and Science of other kinds increased to the benefit of Mankind in general.”
If an American ship encountered one of Cook’s vessels, Franklin asked that American captains “not consider her as an Enemy, nor suffer any Plunder to be made of the Effects contain’d in her, nor obstruct her immediate Return to England.” Instead, they should provide “all the Assistance in your Power” if needed.
As it turned out, James Cook never had the opportunity to enjoy the hospitality of American seamen. He was killed during a scuffle with Hawaiians on February 17, 1779.
Cook’s demoralized crew, rather than complete their mission to find the Northwest Passage, returned home in August 1780.
Hawaii remained an independent nation until 1898, when the United States annexed it—to the chagrin of some natives. Sixty-one years later, however, when Hawaii became our 50th state, Hawaiians celebrated with great joy. To this day, Hawaii remains a tropical paradise—and a favorite vacation spot for people from around the world, myself included.