The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin

By Parkinson, Robert G. | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin


Parkinson, Robert G., The Virginia Quarterly Review


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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