Saturday, December 15, 2012

288. Benjamin Franklin and Silk

Americans have loved silk. By the 20th century the United States became the leading customer for raw silk, and New York had become the leading international silk center. According to the Silk Association of America’s report, the United States had imported about 60% of the total trade internationally. Benjamin Franklin would be very happy by the following fashion headlines as the marriage of Alice Roosevelt in a wedding gown of American silk, or the selection of a new range of silk colors for the inaugural gown of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson and her three daughters, sent the silk manufactures into ecstasy. In history, Benjamin Franklin worked tirelessly and consistently to promote the sericulture, or silk production, in North America.

As early as 1729; at the age of 23, Franklin found the value of silk production to the economic and social progress of the colonies. He told his fellow colonists that if they thought that “raising Wheat proves dull, more may (if there is Money to support and carry on new Manufactures) proceed to the raising and manufacturing of silk.

He told the colonists: “If it is asked, what can such farmers raise, wherewith to pay for the manufactures they may want from us? I answer, that the inland parts of America in question are well-known to be fitted for the production of hemp, flax, potash, and above all silk.” (Benjamin Franklin, The Interest of Great Britain Considered, With Regard to her Colonies, And the Acquisitions of Canada and Guadaloupe. To which are added, Observations concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, &c. London: Printed for T. Becket, at Tully’s Head, near Surry-Street in the Strand. MDCCLX. (Yale University Library); draft (five scattered pages only): American Philosophical Society.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

287. Why James Madison Asked Thomas Jefferson to Buy Book on China?

On April 27, 1785, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), then the United States ambassador to France, received a letter from James Madison (1751-1836), in which Madison requested he buy in Paris the recently published book on China. This was more than an ordinary correspondence between the two great founders of the United States: indeed, it is of great significance to our study of the cultural relations between China and the United States.

It reflects the fact that in Madison’s mind, Jefferson was an expert on China who was qualified to be trusted to make acquisition of books on China. This was not the first time that somebody called upon Jefferson’s expertise in the subject. Earlier in 1771, Robert Skipwith, Jefferson’s brother-in-law, requested Jefferson to recommend him "a list of the best books on general subjects available in America.” Jefferson recommended two Chinese classical books.