Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "Franklin"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Review: "Franklin"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

We, in Harrisburg, best know Benjamin Franklin as a former Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Having achieved this important office was obviously an important moment of his life. Yet, we may be surprised to learn Mr. Franklin had a few other achievements beyond a successive state legislative career.

While most of us have heard the story of Ben Franklin discovering electricity while flying a kite, the story is not true. Franklin could have discovered electricity in such a fashion, yet he would have been electrocuted in the process. The truth, as shown in this book, is even more remarkable. He did indeed experiment with kites and metal (though not while holding them) and his search for the properties of electricity were ahead of their times. Franklin gained respect in the scientific community for publishing only proven results and offering experiments others could duplicate. Franklin invented the lightening rod that saved many buildings, indeed perhaps the Pennsylvania State House, from lightening attacks. For these studies, Benjamin Franklin was one of the most honored scientist of his era.

Benjamin Franklin had a long history with the Pennsylvania legislature. This book details how Franklin’s skills as a printer brought him attention from the Pennsylvania legislature in 1729. Both the Pennsylvania and Delaware General Assemblies hired Franklin to print the official money for both colonies. (So check your wallets for those 1729 bills: Ben printed them.) Pennsylvania Speaker Alexander Hamilton must have been impressed with Franklin’s bills, as he then hired Franklin to be the General Assembly’s printer. Ben Franklin: A Leader in Pennsylvania Legislative Printing.

Ben Franklin entered politics through election as a Philadelphia Alderman in 1751. Later that year, he was elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly where he was reelected every year through 1764.

In 1757, the colonial Pennsylvania General Assembly selected Franklin to travel to London to coax additional funds from the sons of colonial founder William Penn. While William was interested in this colony, his sons were more interested in retaining their money. Further, while William had granted Pennsylvania a charter with the most liberal colonial provisions for self-government, the sons were having second thoughts about these freedoms. Franklin, who had gained some respect as a military leader, was chosen for what was to become many years of diplomatic service. Franklin reached a compromise with the Penn brothers in allowing more funds to be kept in Pennsylvania and fewer funds sent to the Penn brothers. Importantly, Pennsylvania retained self-government. Further, Franklin saw to it that he administered the Penn family’s funds for war appropriations against French and Indian forces, thus providing Franklin greater political influence.

Benjamin Franklin, though, was not the darling of all Pennsylvania state legislators. Some saw his Boston roots as signs he was not a "true" Pennsylvania. Benjamin, though, snubbed his critics, and further shocked them by taking his illegitimate son, William, with him to represent Pennsylvania. This was considered shocking to some of the prim and proper London circles. Further, while most diplomats of that era felt themselves fortunate to receive approximately 200 pounds a year in payment, Franklin saw to it that his services received compensation of 1,500 pounds for a few months of service.

Franklin was an early proponent of unifying the colonies, even advocating such before others considered uniting for purposes of independence from England. Franklin advocated creating a Governor General for all the British colonies who could lead a unified colonial defense and attack against the French colonial army. Yet, even the Pennsylvania General Assembly voted against Franklin’s idea.

In 1775, the Pennsylvania General Assembly unanimously chose Ben Franklin as one of its five representatives to a colonial Congress. This probably suited the aging Franklin fine, as the General Assembly was on the second floor of the State House in Philadelphia while the new Congress met on the first floor. Serving in Congress meant fewer steps. Indeed, this became an issue when Franklin was named to Pennsylvania’s Committee of Safety. This Committee met in Ben Franklin’s study, perhaps out of respect to the elderly statesman, and also because Franklin couldn’t make it up the steps of the Pennsylvania State House.

The rest is history: the colonies declared and then won their independence. This book tells us is some of the personal torment Ben Franklin felt, as he felt compelled to turn his back on his son William, then Governor of New Jersey, who remained loyal to the British. Despite pleas from William’s wife, Ben did not intercede when the New Jersey legislature arrested William.

This is an excellently written and researched book. It is an important book for scholars, as it is the first book to examine Franklin after the recent discovery of documents that had not been seen since Franklin’s days. We learn Franklin engaged in more secret diplomatic discussions than previously known. Overall, this is a great book to learn about a former Pennsylvania House Speaker who also did a few other things.


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