The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin

The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin

H.W. Brands

Language: English

Pages: 759

ISBN: 0385493282

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In the first comprehensive biography of Benjamin Franklin in over sixty years, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands brings vividly to life one of the most delightful, bawdy, brilliant, original, and important figures in American history.

A groundbreaking scientist, leading businessman, philosopher, bestselling author, inventor, diplomat, politician, and wit, Benjamin Franklin was perhaps the most beloved and celebrated American of his age, or indeed of any age. Now, in a beautifully written and meticulously researched account of Franklin's life and times, his clever repartee, generous spirit, and earthy wisdom are brought compellingly to the page.

His circle of friends and acquaintances extended around the globe, from Cotton Mather to Voltaire, from Edmund Burke to King George III, from Sir Isaac Newton to Immanuel Kant. Franklin was gifted with a restless curiosity, and his scientific experiments with electric currents and the weather made him the leading pioneer in the new field of electricity on both sides of the Atlantic; among his many inventions were the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, and the harmonica, a musical instrument that became the rage of Europe.

From his humble beginnings in Boston as a printer's apprentice, he became, within two decades, the leading printer and one of the most important businessmen in the Colonies. A longtime Philadelphia civic leader, he created Philadelphia's first fire department, wrote the bestseller Poor Richard's Almanac, served as Postmaster General for the Colonies, and in the process, completely modernized the mail service. A bon vivant and ladies' man throughout his life, he matched wits with Parliament and the Crown during the decade leading up to the Stamp Act; and as the official agent to Parliament, representing several of the Colonies, he helped push the Colonies into open rebellion.

Tracing Franklin's gradual transformation from reluctant revolutionary to charismatic leader in the fight for independence, Brands convincingly argues that on the issue of revolution, as Franklin went, so went America. During the Revolutionary War, Franklin was charged by Congress with wooing the King of France to the American cause, and it was the diplomatic alliances he forged and funds he raised in France that allowed the Continental Army to continue to fight on the battlefield. In his final years, as president of the Constitutional Convention, it was Franklin who held together the antagonistic factions and persuaded its members to sign the Constitution.

Drawing on previously unpublished letters to and from Franklin, as well as the recollections and anecdotes of Franklin's contemporaries, H. W. Brands has created a rich and compelling portrait of the eighteenth-century genius who was in every respect America's first Renaissance man, and arguably the pivotal figure in colonial and revolutionary America. A fascinating and richly textured biography of the man who was perhaps the greatest of our Founding Fathers, The First American is history on a grand scale, as well as a major contribution to understanding Franklin and the world he helped to shape.

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end of the war the British people bore about all the taxes they or their leaders thought they could stand; indeed, an excise on cider touched off demonstrations in Exeter and the burning of Bute in effigy. If Britons in Britain could not be made to pay more, perhaps Britons across the sea could be. From the east side of the Atlantic the Americans looked like the chief winners of the war, which freed them from fear of the French. They were taxed lightly by British standards, and little of what

computation that one-third of the hundred thousand persons shipped from Africa each year to America died in passage. Can the sweetening our tea, &c. with sugar be a circumstance of such absolute necessity? Can the petty pleasure thence arising to the taste compensate for so much misery produced among our fellow creatures, and such a constant butchery of the human species by this pestilential detestable traffic in the bodies and souls of men? Pharisaical Britain! to pride thyself in setting free

career advancement. Yet at the bicentennial of his death the Boston fund amounted to $4.5 million, and that of Philadelphia, which had been less well managed, $2 million. Franklin would have been pleased—and happy at that distance to have relinquished responsibility for deciding how the money was to be spent. “Everyone and his brother is after the money,” observed an official of Boston’s Franklin Institute, a South End trade school founded with funds from the payout at the end of the first

1772. 458 “Our great security”: to Cushing, Jan. 5, 1773. 459 “the sentiments”: from Cushing, Mar. 24, 1773. 459 “They have had”: from Cooper, June 14, 1773. 460 “I have the pleasure”: to Dartmouth, Aug. 21, 1773. 460 “for the Better”: Public Advertiser, Sept. 22, 1773, PBF. 461 “I was down”: to WF, Oct. 6, 1773. 461 “Rules by Which”: Public Advertiser, Sept. 11, 1773, PBF. 463 “I had used”: to Mecom, Nov. 1, 1773. 21. THE COCKPIT: 1774–75 466 “I am glad”: to Cushing, July 25, 1773.

Truth: Or, Serious Considerations on the Present State of the City of Philadelphia and Province of Pennsylvania. “War at this time rages over a great part of the known world,” he declared. “Our news-papers are weekly filled with fresh accounts of the destruction it every where occasions.” Heretofore Pennsylvania had been spared the worst of the violence, Franklin said, but this was due to an accident of geography—that Pennsylvania was surrounded by other colonies more directly in the line of

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