May 15, 2009

The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin

Franklin was born a British subject, one who happened to live in Massachusetts. In his early middle age, he moved to London (which he loved) and became one of the leading theoreticians of the cause of Empire. Later, after a brief return to the colonies, he became the new Republic’s ambassador to France. The French adored the witty, exotic, and accomplished Dr. Franklin, and Franklin adored Paris. When he died, the French saw him as the model of the new age, and the Americans saw him as vaguely French. Nevertheless, he became the quintessential image of Americanness: democratic fairness, thrift, industry, science. Wood skillfully examines how the transformation happened, and how it served succeeding generations of Americans.