Benjamin Franklin and the American Character

By Charles L. Sanford | Go to book overview

THE CLASH OF ISSUES

On Franklin's Greatness:

That he was a great genius, a great wit, a great humorist, a great satirist, and a great politician is certain. That he was a great philosopher, a great moralist, and a great statesman is more questionable.

JOHN ADAMS

[ John Adams' estimate of Franklin] is by far the most searching and fairest criticism of Franklin that was ever written.

SYDNEY G. FISHER

Franklin was the earliest American whom, without limiting ourselves to national terms, we can call a very great man. When you try to define his particular greatness you run into what John Adams felt in his jealous days in Paris. Adams was a great man, but not a very great man. A great man such as Adams living with a very great man such as Franklin cannot tell the difference between himself and the other. Adams could not tell why people thought the difference to be so enormous. CARL VAN DOREN


Urban, European, or Frontier American?

All Europe has wrought upon and metamorphosed the Yankee printer. . . . With no softening of his patriotic fibre or loss of his Yankee tang, he has acquired all the common culture and most of the master characteristics the Age of Enlightenment. . . . STUART P. SHERMAN

It cannot be denied that he was a benign philosopher, the most European of all the Americans of his generation, the first American "bourgeois," a practical scientist and a bold theorist. But the grandfatherly "Papa Franklin" of the rue de Passy, the astute diplomat and the clear- minded patriot had worn in his youth the leather jacket of the hunter.

GILBERT CHINARD


Franklin's Moralism:

Moral America! Most moral Benjamin. Sound, satisfied Ben! . . . I do not like him. D. H. LAWRENCE

The Puritan virtues, if we may call them that, do not add up to an especially pleasant and well-rounded personality. Franklin, however, never intended that they should stand alone, and such persons as D. H. Lawrence have done the great bourgeois no honor in confusing his full-bodied character with that of the mythical Poor Richard.

CLINTON ROSSITER


Franklin and the National Character:

In many ways this [ Franklin's] is the American story. Our modern industrial research laboratories as well as our colleges and churches owe much to his identification of the moral with the natural law. The

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