08 February 2016

The peculation of Benjamin Franklin

There are many reasons why a general peace did not follow in early 1778, chief among them the impossibility of conducting confidential negotiations with Congress when the only conduit was Benjamin Franklin [...]

Nobody disputes Franklin used his privileged position to play both sides off against the middle. The error in historical appreciation has been to assume that 'the middle' was the greater good of the United States. Along with the rest of the American delegation [in Paris] he was raking in commissions on supplies bought with French money, peculations more than tolerated by Vergennes, and had much to lose by an early peace. In 1811 John Adams, trapped between the rock of the reality he observed in Paris, and the hard place of the myth carefully constructed by Franklin, wrote feelingly (my emphasis):

Had he been an ordinary man, I should never have taken the trouble to expose the turpitude of his intrigues, or to vindicate my reputation against his vilifications and calumnies. But the temple of human nature has two great apartments: the intellectual and the moral. If there is not a mutual friendship and strict alliance between these, degradation to the whole building must be the consequence ... To all those talents and qualities for the foundation of a great and lasting character, which were held up to the view of the whole world by the University of Oxford, the Royal Society of London and the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris, were added, it is believed, more artificial modes of diffusing, celebrating and exaggerating his reputation than were ever before or since practiced in favour of any individual.

In sum, a pioneer PR man whose principal client was himself.

His wider interest lay in land speculation in Ohio, inconveniently encumbered by Native Americans, and extensive property in Nova Scotia, even more awkwardly occupied by Highlanders who neither at the time nor since have shown any desire to join the United States.

- Hugh Bicheno, Rebels & Redcoats, London, 2004, p111-2. 

See also:
HistoryBenjamin Franklin's plans to colonise NZ, 7 December 2015
History: From NZ troopship to Confederate raider, 16 February 2015
History: The Brotherhood of Tramps, 7 March 2013
History: Fighting Joe Hooker, 15 February 2013
History: Lincoln: The great high road to his reason, 22 November 2012
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