Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin

Article excerpt

The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, by Gordon S. Wood. Penguin, May 2004. $25.95

For the past decade we have seen a significant surge in the number of biographies written about the Founding Fathers, a phenomenon some have derisively labeled "Founders Chic." Gordon Wood's The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin is not just another entry into the bloated corpus of "Founders Chic." In fact, Wood is a bit perplexed how, when, and why Benjamin Franklin became a so-called Founding Father in the first place. Focusing on the process of "becoming"-each chapter title begins with that verb-Americanization puts Franklin's tortured journey toward "Founder" under the microscope with fascinating and surprising results. Wood's Franklin is quite different from the myth. Far from the hardworking, self-made Philadelphian of "Poor Richard" fame, Wood cuts through the legend to the historical man. Here we see Ben as we never really have before: Franklin the ardent royalist who encouraged Britain to pass the Stamp Act and consolidate Crown authority; Franklin the aspiring, somewhat effete gentleman who used patronage to gain wealth and influence; Franklin the American diplomat who was loved far more in England and France than he ever was in the new United States; Franklin the victim who suffered withering attacks from his enemies in the Revolutionary leadership; and Franklin the pathetic old man who had to list all his achievements during the Revolution in order to convince a reluctant Congress to reimburse him for diplomatic expenses. …

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