Benjamin Franklin Joins the Revolution

Returning to Philadelphia from England in 1775, the "wisest American" kept his political leanings to himself. But not for long

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Temple was more sympathetic. In early September, he made plans to travel to Connecticut to visit his captive father and bring him a letter from Elizabeth. But Franklin forbade him to go. Less than a week later he cryptically wrote Temple: “I hope you will return hither immediately and your mother will make no objections to it. Something offering here that will be much to your advantage.”

In deciding to take Temple to France, Franklin never consulted with Elizabeth, who would die a year later without seeing either her husband or stepson again. Nor did he inform William, who did not learn until later of the departure of his only son, a lad he had gotten to know for only a year.

Franklin also decided to take along his other grandson, his daughter’s son, Benny Bache. So it was an odd trio that set sail on October 27, 1776, aboard a cramped but speedy American warship aptly named Reprisal: a restless old man about to turn 71, plagued by poor health but still ambitious and adventurous, heading for a land from whence he was convinced he would never return, accompanied by a high-spirited, frivolous lad of about 17 and a brooding, eager-to-please child of 7. Two years later, writing of Temple but using words that applied to both boys, Franklin explained one reason he had wanted them along: “If I die, I have a child to close my eyes.”

In France, Franklin engaged in secret negotiations and brought France into the war on the side of the colonies. France provided money and, by war’s end, some 44,000 troops to the revolutionaries. Franklin stayed on as minister plenipotentiary, and in 1783 signed the Treaty of Paris that ended the war. He returned to the United States two years later. Then, as an 81- year-old delegate to the federal Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, Franklin played perhaps his most important political role: urging compromise between the large and small states in order to have a Senate that represented each state equally and a House proportional by population. He knew that compromisers may not make great heroes, but they do make great democracies. He died in 1790 at age 84.


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