Creator: Benjamin Franklin
It's all about the Benjamin, baby!
"I think opinions should be judged by their influences and effects; and if a man holds none that tend to make him less virtuous or more vicious, it may be concluded that he holds none that are dangerous, which I hope is the case with me."Benjamin Franklin
(January 17, 1706 — April 17, 1790) was a printer, author, scientist, musician, inventor, diplomat, ladies' man, revolutionary, and one of the coolest and most fascinating people in American history. Managed to make it onto the U.S. hundred dollar bill (and the 50-cent piece from 1948-63)
without being President. Invented bifocal lenses, the Franklin stove, and the lightning rod, after proving that lightning was just electricity, not the wrath of an angry god. If you ever take a tour anywhere in Philadelphia's historical district, you will learn that he invented pretty much everything. Even The Internet
. He's the most famous person in American history to the rest of the world.
But he was not
a President. And he did not write the Declaration of Independence (although he did edit it). And he didn't found the Ben Franklin dime store chain. As a consolation he is the only person whose signature appears on all three founding documents of the United States of America... the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris and the US Constitution.
Tropes frequently associated with Benjamin Franklin:
- The Alcoholic:
- Not only did he like to drink, he had over 50 different epithets for being drunk.
- During the American Revolution he had a platoon of soldiers guarding him whenever he went out drinking, not because of his safety, but rather because the other Founding Fathers were afraid he would leak military secrets during his binges.
- Age Lift:
- An inversion. Paintings of the kite experiment traditionally depict William Franklin, who helped his father, as a prepubescent child. In reality, William was about twenty years old at the time.
- Modern works tend to play it straight, showing him at his best-known appearance.
- American Dream: Often held up as one of its greatest success stories. Though he had family ties, he basically started out with less worth than the currency which bears his image.
- Authors Of Quote: One of the most quotable writers in the history of America.
- In his lifetime, one of his quotes became a Memetic Mutation in France, the famous Angry Mob Song, "Ah ca ira". This came when Franklin was constantly asked by Frenchmen how the American Revolution was going, he kept saying in broken French, "ca ira" which means "It's happening/it's going well/it's still on". Later a street singer set that to song.
- Poor Richard's Almanac is still popular in the 20 and 21st century.
- Badass Family:
- One of Franklin's descendants is actor Jack Coleman, a.k.a. HRG from Heroes. In this case, the badassery was apparently In the Blood.
- His son William led a guerilla force of Loyalists against the Patriots, making him an Antagonistic Offspring.
- Peter Folger, Franklin's maternal grandfather, was a court clerk who was once jailed for disobeying a local magistrate while defending middle class people against wealthy landowners. He would be a big inspiration to his grandson Benjamin.
- Bald of Awesome: He's almost always portrayed as balding in his role as one of America's Founding Fathers and greatest of the colonial era scientists.
- Big Fun: Ben's weight is part of what made him so endearing then and keeps him endearing now. One story goes that during a trip to Paris, a woman who knew him greeted him by pinching his belly and jokingly asking him what he would think if he saw all that weight on a woman. Ben replied, "madam, twenty minutes ago this weight was on a woman!"
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Franklin was a Dirty Old Man and liked taking naps during meetings. During his time in France he attended numerous parties and often came in late to work, which earned him the resentment of his colleague John Adams. However, this allowed him to create the informal connections that helped secure French support for The American Revolution.
- Common Knowledge: Franklin never actually tied a key to a kite string in a thunderstorm. He wasn't stupid! Also, while Franklin did suggest the kite experiment, two French experimenters did it a few months before him. Franklin is better remembered because of the then-long travel distance across the Atlantic and because the history of electricity was largely written by English-speakers.
- Cool Old Guy: Not just smart, he had a wicked sense of humor.
- Compound Interest Time Travel Gambit: Without time-travel. He bequeathed £1,000 each to the two most important cities in his life (Boston, where was born and raised, and Philadelphia, the adopted hometown where he made his name). Each fund was to be invested by giving loans to young craftsmen for a period of 200 years; each city could take 75% of the fund out after 100 years for a public-works project, and the trust would reach maturity and be given over entirely to the city after 200 years. The Boston fund, when opened, was enough establish a large trade school after the first 100 years; the Philadelphia fund was used to fund scholarships to local high school students at maturity in the 1990s.
- Department of Redundancy Department: Not Ben himself, but the practice that he brutally parodies in "The Art of Saying Little In Much," without saying much of anything himself. He does this by quoting "the Petition of Dermond O Folivey, an Attorney of the Kingdom of Ireland," the most unbelievably, ridiculously redundant thing ever written.
- Dirty Old Man: R
- Read his Advice to a Friend on Choosing a Mistress.
- He left his wife in America while he traveled Europe serving as an ambassador etc., and never returned to her even when he heard she was dying. Sources indicate that he had wanted her to come with him and asked her to many times, but she was afraid of travel by water. All the same, being a prolific adulterer- probably even while his wife was on her death-bed- is a bit of a blight on his record.
- Eccentric Mentor: He was the oldest of the Founding Fathers, and respected for both his brilliance and his witty humor.
- Eagle Land: Ben is of the type 1 flavor as the patriotic yet humble self-made man.
- Gallows Humor:
- One of his most famous quotes, referring to the Revolution, was "Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." A rather literal use of gallows humor indeed.
- There's also the ever-infamous "Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead."
- Good Cop/Bad Cop: Franklin decided that if America was going to win France's support in the Revolutionary War, he would have to play the part of the charming, hard-partying ladies' man in order to forge informal bonds with the French court, while the grumpier, business-minded John Adams went about putting pressure on the French court to side with America. Adams apparently disagreed and thought they should both be pressuring the French, but Franklin continued doing things this way. It should come as no surprise that when Adams received a commission to be Minister to the equally businesslike Dutch, he preferred it mightily.
- I Have No Son: His son William, born when his father was about 24 (the exact date is unknown). William was a Loyalist who supported the British Crown; he served as the last royal governor of New Jersey until he was forcibly deposed in early 1776. After spending a couple of years in prison William escaped to British-held New York and eventually settled in London. Benjamin Franklin could not get past this. Franklin ignored a letter that William sent him in 1784 in an attempt at reconciliation and never made any other communication with him. He only met William once after the Revolution, a brief meeting in London in 1785 to settle up business affairs. In Franklin's will he left William some land in Nova Scotia and nothing else, adding that if the British had won as William hoped, Franklin would have had nothing to leave him.
- Information Wants to Be Free: He intentionally never patented any of his inventions so people could use them for free.
- I Was Quite a Looker: While we're mostly familiar with Franklin the overweight Dirty Old Man, he wasn't always that way. Printers regularly had to carry large, heavy trays of lead type, and Franklin in particular was very health-conscious in his youth (he was particularly partial to swimming), and as a result the young Franklin was quite fit and rather buff.
- Kavorka Man:
- Despite being elderly, balding, wearing glasses, and having neither money nor aristocratic title, he apparently cut quite a wide swath through the ladies of Paris when sent there as American Ambassador (and did pretty well on his home turf too). It was said of Franklin that, when he returned from his post in France, he had every venereal disease known to medicine, at the same time.
- This was certainly averted in his youth, where he was just as much of a Casanova. He was apparently handsome and lifted weights to improve both his strength (which he needed as a printer's apprentice and then a printer—cases of lead type are heavy) and appearance (makes sense, given his whole self-improvement schtick). Presumably, he gained enough experience with the ladies that he no longer needed to rely on his looks.
- Likes Older Women: Preferred older women for their intelligence, often independent means, and *ahem* "experience".
- Massive Numbered Siblings: He was the 15th of his father's 17 children.note
- My God, What Have I Done?: He felt this way about slavery toward the end of his life. He initially used his wealth to buy slaves, and Poor Richard's Almanac had advertisements for the slave trade. He started having a change of heart around 1762, however, and by 1770 he had freed all of his slaves, and his distaste for slavery grew with age. In the last few years of his life, Franklin was president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society (America's first society calling for slavery to end) and three months before his death he petitioned Congress to ban the slave trade and free all the slaves in the country, the latter an idea well ahead of its time.
- Non-Idle Rich: His will specifically lists no less than nine houses, over ten thousand pounds of specific distributions of cash and cash-denominated assets (worth in excess of a million pounds in today's money, taking inflation into account), three thousand acres of land he was granted in Georgia, additional land holdings near the Ohio river and in Philadelphia, and two different businesses (both a printshop adjacent to his home and a type foundry elsewhere). That's a lot of money and assets, and that's after he had largely retired from business over 40 years before. And his bifocals were, at the very least, a great conversation piece, since he invented the things.
- Omnidisciplinary Scientist:
- One of the last true Renaissance Men, he studied practically everything, and made significant contributions to several widely disparate fields of study.
- In one man, he was the reason why British society started to realise that the American colonies could produce great men of their own.
- A partial list of things Franklin invented: the lightning rod, the Franklin stove (which in slightly modified form became the modern fireplace), bifocals, and the urinary catheter. Things he studied: the Gulf Stream (which he charted and named), the principle of cooling by evaporation, population growth (he was a major influence on Thomas Malthus), and of course his research into the nature of electricity, which included not only the nature of lightning but the idea of electrical charge (he created "positive" and "negative" as descriptions of the two types of charge) and the concept of conservation of charge, which he originated. Renaissance Man, indeed.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: In France on his and Adams's mission to secure French support for the American Revolution, he was mellow and easy-going compared to John Adams's fiery, hot-tempered disposition.
- Renaissance Man: Business owner, diplomat, inventor, scientist, writer, athlete...What didn't he do?
- Self-Deprecation: In contrast with most of the other Founding Fathers, Ben was known to paint a less than ideal picture of his character in his writings about himself.
- Self-Made Man: He was one, and very proud of it. He also used Poor Richard's Almanack as a way to spread his words of wisdom and urge other Americans to also make themselves into this trope. To this day, American schoolchildren in the youngest grades are often given Franklin's quotes as encouragement and as a good example of how to push oneself towards self improvement.
- Serious Business: The fight over whether lightning conductors should be pointed or have a spherical end. It took on a political dimension after Franklin sided with the American Revolution, and so patriotic Britons adopted the other type.
- The Smart Guy: Respected even among the American Founders, dyed-in-the-wool intellectual elites almost to a man, for the breadth of his knowledge.
- The Spymaster: While in Paris, he was this. Like every diplomat at the time he was gathering and coordinating information.
- Simple Country Lawyer
- In France, Franklin intentionally played up the image of a plain-speaking rustic from the colonies. He would wear simple clothing (in stark contrast to the ostentatious costumes that the French nobles wore), intentionally avoided etiquette rules and social conventions, and spoke directly and simply (in contrast to the flowery and loquacious jargon that French politics used). Most importantly, while he played rustic, he never played dumb; in his free time, he wowed the aristocracy with demonstrations of scientific experiment such as the ones dealing with electricity which were very popular. The French found him to be a breath of fresh air and loved him for it. This was also the time when the philosophy of Rousseau and Voltaire was popular, and the French found Franklin to the be perfect example of a natural but civilized man, someone with a European's brain but the untrammeled heart of a noble savage.
- Averted when Franklin went to England, where he immediately swanked it up for all he was worth. The English had enough dealings with plain Puritans to be unimpressed with that rustic act.
- Vulgar Humor: Franklin's notorious essay "To the Royal Academy of Farting".
- What Might Have Been: George Washington tried to nominate him for first president, but basically every single other Founding Father unanimously agreed Washington should take the job. note
- White Anglo-Saxon Protestant: His parents were Puritans and he was raised Puritan, but turned his back on organized religion in youth; however, he later regretted this as he felt that rejecting religion had made him and his friends less virtuous. He described himself as both a Deist and a Christian, and once motioned to introduce daily prayers to meetings of the Constitutional Assembly (which failed, and was never brought to vote) and his proposal for the motto of the United States was "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God" (also rejected). He doubted the divinity of Jesus, but thought his moral system was "the best the world has ever saw or is likely to see", and believed in God and supported religion in general, though he felt that it should be separate from the state (to preserve its own integrity).