Benjamin Franklin, Politician

Overview

"No historian surpasses Francis Jennings in uncovering the seamier intrigues that brought wealth and power to some of our colonial forebears. Here is the secret history of an egomaniacal Benjamin Franklin's ruthless pursuit of political dominance in pre-Revolutionary Pennsylvania—a fascinating follow-up to Jenning's fine works on colonial Indian affairs." —Anthony F. C. Wallace
A distinguished historian of early America sees Franklin's influence on the course of the revolutionary movement in a new light. Benjamin...

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Overview

"No historian surpasses Francis Jennings in uncovering the seamier intrigues that brought wealth and power to some of our colonial forebears. Here is the secret history of an egomaniacal Benjamin Franklin's ruthless pursuit of political dominance in pre-Revolutionary Pennsylvania—a fascinating follow-up to Jenning's fine works on colonial Indian affairs." —Anthony F. C. Wallace
A distinguished historian of early America sees Franklin's influence on the course of the revolutionary movement in a new light. Benjamin Franklin was a man of genius and enormous ego, smart enough not to flaunt his superiority but to let others proclaim it. To understand him and his role in great events, one must realize the omnipresence of this ego, and the extent to which he mirrored the feelings of other colonial Pennsylvanians. With this in mind, Francis Jennings sets forth some new ideas about Franklin as the "first American." In so doing, he provides a new view of the beginnings of the American Revolution in Franklin's struggle against William Penn. By striving against Penn's feudal lordship (and therefore against King George) Franklin became master of the Pennsylvania assembly. It was in this role that he suggested a meeting of the Continental Congress which, as Jennings notes, flies in the face of historical opinion which suggests that Boston patriots had to drag Pennsylvanians into the revolution. Franklin's autobiography omits discussion of his heroic struggle against Penn and, in so doing, robs history of his true role in the making of the new country. It is through an accurate accounting of what Franklin did, not what he said he did in his autobiography (which Jennings likens to a campaign speech), that we understand the author's use of the term "first American."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This exhaustively researched study by Jennings (The Invasion of America), director emeritus of the Newberry Library's Center for the History of the American Indian, in Chicago, focuses on Franklin's political career from 1744 to 1775, before the American Revolution. The author traces the bitter struggle between Franklin, who served as master of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and the Penn family, who attempted to control the assembly by feudal rule. Many details of this political battle, which included Franklin's resentment of and revenge against Pennsylvania's Quakers and his prejudice toward German immigrants, were omitted from his Autobiography, a document that Jennings dismisses as "about as valid as a campaign speech." Although the author's reassessment of Franklin as a vain and egotistical genius is interesting, his writing style is frequently labored. A further detraction is Jennings's unfortunate habit of including his own opinions in parentheses. Photos not seen by PW. (Sept.) Luciano pavarotti:
Library Journal
Jennings (The Invasion of America, 1976), the director emeritus of the Newberry Library's Center for the History of the American Indian, has written a short account of Benjamin Franklin's pre-Revolutionary War years. In the process of explaining Franklin's role in the tortuously complex political life of Pennsylvania, Jennings reveals the "Poor Richard" of the Autobiography to be the invention of Franklin the genius and enormous egotist. Relying heavily on the modern edition of the Franklin Papers (Yale Univ.), this interesting and idiosyncratic portrait of Franklin is marred by Jennings's angry outbursts at rival historians and reads in part more like a polemic than history. It does, however, provide a counterpoint to more sympathetic views of Franklin. For scholarly audiences.David B. Mattern, Univ. of Virginia, Charlottesville
Kirkus Reviews
A revisionist look at Franklin, focusing on his long struggle against the power of the Penn family and his evolution into one of the nation's first revolutionaries.

Jennings (Empire of Fortune, 1988, etc.) dismisses much of Franklin's Autobiography as a series of half-truths designed, like a campaign speech, to present himself in the best possible light for posterity. Instead, Jennings suggests that Franklin's struggle against Thomas Penn, which is not even mentioned in the Autobiography, was central to Franklin's political development and is crucial in understanding his later revolutionary career. Founded by William Penn, the Pennsylvania colony was ruled, when Franklin arrived from Boston in 1723, as a proprietary colony by the Penn family. After establishing himself as a successful printer and newspaper publisher, and while making signficant contributions to the study of electricity and creating America's first lending library and philosophical society, Franklin challenged the intractable Penns for political primacy in the colony: He supported the Quaker politicians in the Pennsylvania assembly, many of whom he privately despised, in their resistance to Thomas Penn's bad faith dealings with the local Indians and his arbitrary, inept rule of the colony, largely from London. Franklin also emerges as a champion of colonial defense against incursions by the French and Indian tribes. Franklin became a dedicated servant of the Crown and was at first very successful representing colonial interests in London. Ultimately, he became the focus of royal ire and was denounced on the floor of the Privy Council in an episode that led to his final break with Britain. As Pennsylvania's chief statesman, he was instrumental in calling the first meetings of patriots that led to the formation of the Continental Congress, and ultimately to the Revolution.

A fine portrait of the political side of "the first American."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393039832
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/1/1996
  • Pages: 244
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Francis Jennings is former director of the Newberry Library Center for the History of the American Indian.

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