Popular history underestimates Franklin
Benjamin Franklin is a towering figure in the American Revolution but he often appears as a comic figure in "popular" history. First, he was a hard-headed businessman who entered politics to increase his printing business. His choice of epitaph was the word "Printer." He was a great scientist, and there is little appreciation of just how important he was in that role.
Christopher Hitchens has written a piece suggesting that Philadelphia in 1776 was a modern equivalent of ancient Athens. Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen, fled England to Philadelphia to escape religious persecution. Others of similar significance followed him. Franklin began as an opponent of independence and tried to resolve the dispute with the King as a colonial representative. Had the British government not treated him shabbily, history might be very different. He was sent to France, once revolution was inevitable, and he succeeded in obtaining the assistance of the most reactionary monarchy in Europe for the new nation. He negotiated the treaty that ended the war with Britain.
At last, his labors successful, he returned to Philadelphia where he dominated the Constitutional Convention. His private garden became the setting for many compromises as the debates grew too heated in the convention hall. He was the only person to sign all the major documents of the founding: the Declaration of Independence, the treaty with France that led to victory, the treaty with England that ended the war, and the Constitution. His habit of joking and sense of humor have resulted in his posterity underestimating him. That is too bad.
Michael Kennedy, M.D.