Benjamin Franklin and His Enemies

Overview

"A harmonious human multitude" is the phrase Carl Van Doren used to describe Benjamin Franklin. A very different man emerges in Robert Middlekauff's engaging study of the much-loved statesman and polymath. Despite the adoration bestowed on him at home and abroad, Ben Franklin had a darker side, one never fully examined until now. In uncovering a little-known aspect of the great man's personality - his passionate anger - Middlekauff reveals a fully human Franklin, one whose life, while indeed remarkable, was not without its hostile relationships
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Overview

"A harmonious human multitude" is the phrase Carl Van Doren used to describe Benjamin Franklin. A very different man emerges in Robert Middlekauff's engaging study of the much-loved statesman and polymath. Despite the adoration bestowed on him at home and abroad, Ben Franklin had a darker side, one never fully examined until now. In uncovering a little-known aspect of the great man's personality - his passionate anger - Middlekauff reveals a fully human Franklin, one whose life, while indeed remarkable, was not without its hostile relationships and great disappointments. With few exceptions, Benjamin Franklin's enemies were made in politics: his early adversaries, the Penns, viewed him as a colonial upstart; his later enemies, most notably John Adams and Arthur Lee saw him as morally corrupt. Franklin's opponents neither shared his wider vision of the world nor appreciated his sophisticated understanding of power in matters of diplomacy. At the same time, Franklin's judgment and honorable behavior could desert him, leaving him open to the enmity of others. Franklin's greatest sorrow came from his son William, whose loyalty to Britain made him a traitor in his father's eyes. More than politics was at play, however: Franklin felt a son should put aside his principles in favor of his father's. Refusing to reconcile with William, even after America won independence, Franklin let his vaunted sense of reason overrule his heart.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Middlekauff (Glorious Cause, LJ 3/15/82) here gives a very readable history of America's first diplomat. Franklin acquired political enemies, Middlekauff suggests, because he was brilliant, annoying those less brilliant; because he spoke of and tried (less successfully) to lead a moral life, irritating the amoral; and because he fell short of his own moral yardstick, offending those as pious as he. Another basis for the enmity directed at him is that Franklin, a tradesman, moved for much of his life in genteel society, earning the contempt of Pennsylvania's proprietor, Thomas Penn, and other English lords. Franklin's moral failures are glossed over, presumably because those of his enemies were worse. Although books have already been written about Franklin's Tory son William, the present work might have been that much better if the author had devoted more than the last two pages to the family. Recommended for all those interested in this Founding Father.-Robert C. Moore, DuPont Merck Pharmaceutical Co. Information Svcs., N. Billerica, Mass.
Jay Freeman
We live in an era when even Mother Teresa gets trashed in a tell-all biography. Thus, one trembles for the fate of a genuine American icon when a biography purports to show his "darker" side. Yet, the Franklin that emerges from Middlekauff's short but engrossing and entertaining biography is not diminished in stature or appeal. Although he could be infuriatingly stubborn and even petty, he could also be generous, tolerant, and deeply compassionate. Even his political enemies, particularly John Adams, grudgingly had to acknowledge his brilliant and incisive mind. Middlekauff pays special attention to Franklin's greatest personal sorrow: his shattered relationship with his illegitimate son, whose staunch loyalty to Britain was taken by Franklin as both a personal and political betrayal. This is far from being a comprehensive biography, but it is a well-written and very useful examination of some often ignored aspects of Franklin's character and life.
Booknews
Middlekauff (history, UC-Berkeley) explores Franklin's darker side, his passionate anger and his adversarial relationships with the Penns, John Adams, and Arthur Lee, and his disappointment in his son's loyalty to Britain, weaving episodes in Franklin's life into colonial and Revolutionary history. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
In this unusual study of Benjamin Franklin's personal relationships, Middlekauff (History/Univ. of Calif., Berkeley; The Mathers, 1971, etc.) points out that the beloved American sage and statesman had enemies who hated him and whom he hated in return.

Carl Van Doren called Franklin a "harmonious human multitude." In contrast to this popular image, Middlekauff depicts Franklin as a man of profoundly contradictory qualities who was often anything but "harmonious." For instance, Franklin loathed the autocratic proprietor of the Pennsylvania colony, Thomas Penn, for attempting to stanch democracy in the colony and for failure to defend the Pennsylvania frontier from Indian attacks. For his part, Middlekauff writes, Penn hated Franklin, recognizing in him a man of ability who sought to take the colony away from the Penn family. Also, despite years of admiring the British Empire, Franklin came to detest England and all of its institutions in light of the crisis that led to the American Revolution and the cruelty of the British war effort. The war also cost him his close relationship with his son William, the royal governor of New Jersey at the war's outset and a prominent Tory throughout. And as Middlekauff points out, even on the patriot side there were those who disliked and distrusted him: Arthur Lee, Ralph Izard, and John Adams, other American diplomats in Paris when Franklin was forging the key strategic relationship with France, resented Franklin's brilliant success with the French, his acceptance of the relaxed morality of French court life, and his expertise in the game of European diplomacy. For all this, Middlekauff's study does not really disturb the popular image of Franklin; in most of the cases he recounts, Franklin had reason to dislike his adversaries. And despite this, as the author points out, Franklin generally regarded his enemies "with some serenity, much as he might have regarded wayward children."

An original contribution to the extensive literature on Franklin.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520202689
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 3/4/1996
  • Pages: 274
  • Product dimensions: 6.33 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Middlekauff is Preston Hotchkis Professor of American History at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan
Intellectuals
(1971), which won the Bancroft Prize, and The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution (1982), which won the Commonwealth Club Gold Medal.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Prologue: The Modern Enemies
1 The Friends of Benjamin Franklin 1
2 Making Enemies 22
3 The Irrational Mr. Franklin 55
4 The Triumph of the Enemies 77
5 An Old Friend Becomes an Enemy 115
6 "Wedderburnes in France": Arthur Lee and Ralph Izard 139
7 John Adams 171
Epilogue: No Love for Franklin's Enemies 203
Abbreviations and Short Titles 215
Notes 217
Index 243
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