Rules by Which a Great Empire
May Be Reduced to a Small One

by Benjamin Franklin

An ancient sage boasted that, tho' he could not fiddle, he knew how to make a great city of a little one. The science that I, a modern simpleton, am about to communicate, is the very reverse.

I address myself to all ministers who have the management of extensive dominions, which from their very greatness are become troublesome to govern, because the multiplicity of their affairs leaves no time for fiddling.

In the first place, gentlemen, you are to consider that a great empire, like a great cake, is most easily diminished at the edges. Turn your attention, therefore, first to your remotest provinces; that, as you get rid of them, the next may follow in order.

That the possibility of this separation may always exist, take special care the provinces are never incorporated with the mother country; that they do not enjoy the same common rights, the same privileges in commerce; and that they are governed by severer laws, all of your enacting, without allowing them any share in the choice of legislators. By carefully making and preserving such distinctions, you will (to keep to my simile of the cake) act like a wise gingerbread-baker, who, to facilitate a division, cuts his dough in half through in those places where, when baked, he would have broken it to pieces.

Those remote provinces have perhaps been acquired, purchased, or conquered, at the sole expense of the settlers, of their ancestors, without the aid of the mother country. If this should happen to increase her strength, by their growing numbers, ready to join in her wars; her commerce, by their growing demand for her manufactures; or her naval power, by greater employment for her ships and seamen, they may probably suppose some merit in this, and that it entitles them to some favour; you are therefore to forget it all, or resent it, as if they had done you injury. If they happen to be zealous whigs, friends of liberty, nurtured in revolution principles, remember all that to their prejudice, and resolve to punish it; for such principles, after a revolution is throroughly established, are of no more use; they are even odious and abominable.

However peaceably your colonies have submitted to your government, shewn their affection to your interests, and patiently borne their grievances; you are to suppose them always inclined to revolt and treat them accordingly. Quarter troops among them who by their insolence may provoke the rising of mobs, and by their bullets and bayonets suppress them. By this means, like the husband who uses his wife ill from suspicion, you may in time convert your suspicions into realities.


As you have undoubtedly concluded, this piece is a satire aimed at England during the prelude to the American Revolution. Like any good satirist, Franklin employs a biting and ironic tone throughout his essay. The simile of the cake trivializes the situation and the British empire and thus mocks the foolishness of the mother country. He opens with some degree of subtlety--an allusion to the distant Roman emperor Nero--that gradually diminishes as the essay progresses and thus becomes more direct; he holds his most direct attacks until the last paragraph, where the specific references to the Quartering Act and the provoking of mobs finally serve as a verbal slap to his target.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.