Benjamin Franklin's Printing Network: Disseminating Virtue in Early America

By Ralph Frasca | Go to book overview
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The Art of Virtue and the Virtue of the Art

Upon his return to Philadelphia in 1785 after nine years of diplomatic service in France, Benjamin Franklin learned that a new state had been named for him. The fledgling state's Congressional delegate, William Cocke, informed Franklin that “as a testimony of the high esteem they have for the many important and faithful services you have rendered to your country,” the region's denizens “have called the name of their State after you.” Franklin responded, “It is a very great Honour indeed, that its Inhabitants have done me, and I should be happy if it were in my Power to show how sensible I am of it, by something more essential than my Wishes for their Prosperity.”1

During his lifetime and for every generation since, Franklin's name has been appropriated by schools, commercial establishments, cultural societies, and philanthropic organizations to honor him and associate themselves with his legend. This practice has been most often employed in naming municipalities and children. Nearly every state has at least one town or county named for Franklin, owing in large measure to his being perceived as “the perfect civic leader” by settlers of interior lands in the late eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century.2 During the same period, thousands of children have been named for him, and of those who were not, some of the most public-spirited have been bestowed with Franklinesque nicknames, such as Kentucky Gazette printer John Bradford, whose fellow Lexingtonians dubbed “The Benjamin Franklin of the West.” One Philadelphia newspaper noted in 1780, “The name of Franklin is sufficiently celebrated that one may glory in bearing it,” adding that the French were contending with the

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