There are many Benjamin Franklins. Or at least he has taken on many different forms in the history books and conversations of the last two centuries.
Some historians have shown us an aged statesman whose wise and steadying influence kept the Constitutional Convention together in 1787, while others have pictured a chuckling prankster who couldn’t resist a funny story. Some remember Franklin for flying a kite in a thunderstorm; others think of him as a successful printer of the colonial era; still others know him only as an expounder of clever maxims (“A penny saved is a penny earned”) or the author of a now famous autobiography.
More recently, a certain brand of biographers and journalists have conjured up sensational tales of a lecherous old diplomat in his seventies who enjoyed illicit affairs with adoring young French women. And a few years ago Franklin even reappeared as a British spy! Some of these myths are now being repeated and embellished in school textbooks and “educational” television programs.
There are many other versions of Franklin as well—some slanderous, some complimentary. New portrayals continue to come forward, multiplying and changing with each generation.
Which of all these Benjamin Franklins, if any, is real? This book is an attempt to answer that question. Or, more accurately, it is an attempt to let Franklin himself provide the answer. The Real Benjamin Franklin makes no effort to develop another “fresh interpretation” of the Sage of Philadelphia. Instead, it seats us across the table from the one person who really knew Ben Franklin-that is, Franklin himself -and gives him an opportunity to explain his life and ideas in his own words.
No man’s life can be truly understood apart from his ideas, nor can his ideas be fully appreciated apart from the experiences which shaped his life. For this reason The Real Benjamin Franklin includes both: the biography in Part I and the selected quotations in Part 11 are designed to complement each other. In both sections, Franklin’s words are carefully documented from original sources.
This volume is part of a series being published by the National Center for Constitutional Studies, a nonprofit educational foundation dedicated to restoring Constitutional principles in the tradition of America’s Founding Fathers. The AMERICAN CLASSIC SERIES is designed to revive an intelligent appreciation of the Founders and the remarkable system of free government which they gave us. The nation these men built is now in the throes of a political, economic, social, and spiritual crisis that has driven many to an almost frantic search for ‘modern solutions.” The truth is that the solutions have been available for a long time–in fact, for nearly two hundred years–in the writings of our Founding Fathers. An honest examination of twentieth-century American history reveals that virtually every serious problem which has developed in our society can be traced to an ill–conceived departure from the sound principles taught by these great men. The citizen of today who turns back to the Founders’ writings is often surprised by their timeless relevance-and perhaps equally dismayed that we have permitted ourselves to stray so far from such obvious truths.
It is our earnest hope that the AMERICAN CLASSIC SERIES will help the American people recapture the Founding Fathers’ sense of direction and manifest destiny. If this generation will relearn and reapply their original success formula for freedom and prosperity, the United States of America may once again become a “beacon on the hill” to light the way of liberty for all mankind.