“Historians relate, not so much what is done, as what they would have believed,” Benjamin Franklin suggested to readers of his Poor Richard's Almanack in 1739.1 Franklin's view, although characteristically cynical, underscores the historian's important role of “interpreter.” When there is disagreement on the “truth” of what happened in the past, historians propound their theories, which compete for acceptance and validation in the Miltonian free marketplace of ideas. Even more subject to interpretation is the question of why something happened. Seldom can absolute truth be located in this search, which is why “why” is the historian's most challenging question.
This book addresses both the “why” and the “what” of Franklin's printing network, as in “What form did it take?” and “Why did he create it?” Franklin himself offers only a few vague allusions to his printing network, which has contributed to the minimal acknowledgement of its existence in the voluminous literature about Franklin. Thus, my task here has been to reconstruct an organization from inference, by piecing shards of information together to suggest the structure and functions of a printing network that served variously as an economic investment, political force, mechanism of press growth, and means for Franklin to attain his ideological ambitions.
The abundance of Franklin scholarship and primary-source materials presents the omnipresent temptation to say everything about Franklin, or at least everything about his printing career. I make no attempt at comprehensiveness here, for such an effort would be redundant in light of the numerous lengthy treatments of the subject. Consequently, the interesting stories of Franklin's apprenticeship in Boston, his service as a journeyman in London