Franklin Charms Paris

The 70-year-old statesman lived the high life in Paris and pulled off a diplomatic miracle

By the time John Adams arrived in Paris in early 1778 to replace American diplomat Silas Deane, there was only one American name on everyone’s lips: Ambassador Benjamin Franklin. “His name was familiar to government and people,” groused the envious Adams. “To foreign courtiers, nobility, clergy and philosophers, as well as plebians, to such a degree there was scarcely a peasant or a citizen, a valet de chambre, coachman or footman, a lady’s chamber maid or a scullion in a kitchen . . . who did not consider him as a friend. . . .Read more »

Franklin’s Last Home

As Anne Keigher, an architect deeply involved with the London house Benjamin Franklin called home for almost 16 years, shows me around it, she points out a supporting pillar in the basement. “This original pier needed new concrete footing poured beneath it, so we were digging down to shore it up,” she says. “That’s when we discovered the bones.”Read more »

An American In Paris

The Revolution’s Second Toughest Job

Benjamin Franklin was far and away the most famous American when he went to France to wheedle help for the newborn American nation, which was having a very grim time of it when he got there late in 1776.Read more »

The Revolution 1776 To 1787

I’ve been fighting the war of the American Revolution (on paper, that is, and with none of the suffering the participants endured) off and on since 1962, and my research has included journals, diaries, letters, newspapers, and books on nearly all the campaigns. For the list that follows I have assumed that a reader is interested in the overall story of the Revolutionary War. (Books about specific campaigns or battles are far too numerous to include.) These are books I have found informative, enjoyable, and, in some cases, worth reading again and again.Read more »

Franklin’s Forgotten Triumph: Scientific Testing

One of his least-known contributions to modern life is also one of his most important

”Millions of asthmatics and hay fever sufferers could be spared the misery of severe attacks by a new vaccine,” a newspaper story begins. “Clinical trials suggest new cancer drug may save thousands of lives,” a television news anchor intones. “Children who received the medication developed long-lasting resistance to measles compared with those who received a placebo,” reads a brochure in a pediatrician’s office.

 
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France And Us

The French helped us win our Revolution. A few years later we were at war with Napoleon’s navy. The two countries have been falling in and out of love ever since. Why?

Congress serves freedom fries, American military wives talk of freedom kisses, vandals in Bordeaux burn and deface a model of the Statue of Liberty. It’s a good time to remember that American-French relations have had many ups and downs. The ups include the Franco-American joint operation that was the Yorktown campaign; the tough-minded love letter to the United States that Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America; fighting on the same side in two world wars; and cinéastes taking inspiration from John Ford.Read more »

The Spirit Of ’54

More than two decades before the Revolution broke out, a group of Americans voted on a scheme to unite the colonies. For the rest of his life, Benjamin Franklin thought it could have prevented the war. It didn’t—but it did give us our Constitution.

 

 

Improbable it may seem, but an industrious, aquatic, fur-bearing rodent deserves a share of the credit for the first real effort at unifying Britain’s American colonies. Just as we tend to forget that the Americas were discovered as a byproduct of the search for pepper, the reason the beaver’s contribution has gone unsung all these years is, in the words of the journalist Henry Hobhouse, “Men have always liked to believe in their own influence.” Read more »

Rumford

THE STRANGE FORGOTTEN LIFE OF AMERICA’S OTHER BEN FRANKLIN, BY AN AUTHOR SO FASCINATED HE’S WRITING A NOVEL ABOUT HIM

History, we’re told, is written by the victors; a nation tends to focus on its patriots, not its traitors, and those who depart are forgotten when gone. But the history of revolution in America and the “revolt of the colonies” are two faces of a single coin: the choice of independence was a nearer thing than at present we portray it, and several of the best minds of the period were uncertain which side to support. Read more »

Liberté Egalité Animosité

When the French Revolution broke out two hundred years ago this month, Americans greeted it enthusiastically. After all, without the French we could never have become free. But the cheers faded as the brutality of the convulsion emerged—and we saw we were still only a feeble newborn facing a giant, intimidating world power.

There were two great revolutions against European monarchs in the late eighteenth century. In the first, the French nation helped Americans achieve their independence from George III. Without that help our revolution could not have succeeded. Yet when the French rebelled against Louis XVI, Americans hailed their action, then hesitated over it, and finally recoiled from it, causing bitterness in France and among some Americans. Why had the “sister republics” not embraced each other when they had the opportunity?Read more »

Consider the Self-Made Man

It is an old joke in my family that my mother, the daughter of an immigrant tailor, never met a family poorer than her own until she met my father, who was lucky to get out of Germany in 1934 with the skin on his back. Only in America, as Harry Golden used to say, could the leap from the pushcarts of Orchard Street to the pages of American Heritage be accomplished in a single generation. Read more »