Frequently regarded as a “favorite” Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin was one of the most accomplished men in American history. Inventor, scientist, printer, politician, diplomat, philosopher, ladies man (the way Franklin drew young French beauties into his amorous orbit makes JFK look a socially awkward teen-ager), and beer drinker,
Franklin was also an essential figure in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. He served on the Committee of Five responsible for drafting and editing the version first submitted to the Continental Congress. Franklin also is the only member of the founding generation who signed the seminal documents of the United States: The Declaration, the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution.
The National Archives opened a Franklin exhibit today that explores the multifaceted intellect of this brilliant and likable figure from the Founding Period. The Washington Post says the display will “explore the life of Benjamin Franklin as a scientist, diplomat, philanthropist and founding father.”
Like Abraham Lincoln, Franklin was a self-made man whose easy humor and bonhomie distracts us from understanding his deepest motivations. Franklin spent a good deal of his life abroad in Great Britain serving as a de facto ambassador for the American colonies. Insult and injury to his reputation by the British government probably did more than patriotism to drive him into the ranks of those calling for independence, but Franklin never looked back. “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately” he reputedly said as he signed the Declaration. He abandoned his love all things British to become one of the first iconic Americans. The display at the National Archives looks like a good opportunity to understand this transformation and the subsequent creation of a true of American genius who always was in search of a better world.