J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Who Said “Hang Separately”?

In his Memoirs of His Own Time, first published in 1811, Alexander Graydon wrote:
Both the brothers, John and Richard Penn [shown here], had been governors of Pennsylvania; the former being in office at the beginning of hostilities.

By yielding to the torrent, which it would have been impossible to withstand, he gave no offence, and avoided reproach; though it was deemed expedient to have him secured and removed from Philadelphia, on the approach of the royal army in the year 1777. Mr. Richard Penn, having no official motives for reserve, was even upon terms of familiarity with some of the most thorough-going whigs, such as General [Charles] Lee and others:

An evidence of this was the pleasantry ascribed to him, on occasion of a member of Congress, one day observing to his compatriots, that at all events “they must hang together:”

“If you do not, gentlemen,” said Mr. Penn, “I can tell you that you will be very apt to hang separately.”
Wait a minute! Didn’t Benjamin Franklin say that?

Indeed, Jared Sparks wrote in his biography of Franklin:
There is also another anecdote related of Franklin, respecting an incident which took place when the members were about to sign the Declaration. “We must be unanimous,” said [John] Hancock; “there must be no pulling different ways; we must all hang together.”

“Yes,” replied Franklin, “we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
But Sparks published his biography from 1836 to 1840, a quarter-century after Graydon had credited Richard Penn with the same line.

The editor of a later edition of Graydon’s memoir noted Sparks’s claim and added, “It has been ascribed also to Mr. John Penn, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and a member of Congress from North Carolina. Who shall settle the knotty point!”

Well, of course, this is America. Anything witty from the 1700s? We believe it had to come from Franklin.

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