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Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) is arguably the most approachable of America's founding fathers. But there is another, more enigmatic aspect to his persona, that of the gifted intellectual who, during eight decisive years of the American Revolution, served as America's Minister to France. He traversed the salons and courts of Europe with ease, and exchanged thoughts with some of the most influential philosophers and intellectuals of The Enlightenment. Complemented by historian Brett F. Woods' thoughtful and explanatory commentary, Letters From France is an insightful and powerful collection of Franklin's personal observations and opinions, and provides new insights into the French-American alliance against the British during one of the most critical junctures in American history. All other achievements aside, during his sjour in France Benjamin Franklin emerges as an extraordinary individual, distinguished as much as a philosopher as a statesman. Whether he is writing to peers such as John Adams and John Jay, to French officials such as the Marquis de la Fayette and Count de Vergennes, or even to long-time British friends such as David Hartley, Member of Parliament from Hull, and William Petty, the second Earl of Shelburne, Franklin reveals much, if not quite all, of himself. And whether the subject might be prisoners of war and privateers or rules of engagement and reconciliation with England, he writes with remarkable clarity, insight and, on occasion, humor: the portrait of a thoughtful man following a challenging course through uncertain times. Franklin adroitly exploited his popularity, and his sojourn in Paris enjoyed remarkable success. Although not specifically instructed to seeka military alliance with France- material and financial aid, it was initially believed, would be sufficient to meet the most urgent colonial needs-over the next eight years he not only crafted the French-American Alliance of 1778, but also negotiated the 1783 Treaty of Paris which effectively ended the war with Britain and provided for the removal of British forces from all American territories. This selection of letters, with annotation, is an important contribution to the body of literature exploring French support to the American Revolution, and perhaps more importantly, provides a rare glimpse into the character and complex mind of Benjamin Franklin the diplomat. Brett F. Woods received his PhD in literature from the University of Essex, England. A senior executive fellow of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, he has served an editor for both the Journal of Interdisciplinary Twentieth Century Studies and The Best Century: A Journal of the Nineteenth Century. He is the author of numerous books and essays relating to political, military and literary history; his writings have been published in academic and mainstream periodicals such as the California Literary Review, The Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d'histoire, The Asian Studies Review (Australia), and The Richmond Review (England). Dr. Woods has taught historical method at the university level. In the current work Dr. Woods provides explanatory notes to assist the reader in placing the correspondence in its particular historical, political, or conceptual context.
I have amused myself with collecting some little anecdotes of my family. You may remember the enquiries I made, when you were with me in England, among such of my relations as were then living; and the journey I undertook for that purpose. To be acquainted with the particulars of my parentage and life, many of which are unknown to you, I flatter myself will afford the same pleasure to you as to me. I shall relate them upon paper: it will be an agreeable employment of a week's uninterrupted leisure, which I promise myself during my present retirement in the country. There are also other motives which induce me to the undertaking. From the bosom of poverty and obscurity, in which I drew my first breath, and spent my earliest years, I have raised myself to a state of opulence and to some degree of celebrity in the world. A constant good fortune has attended me through every period of life to my present advanced age; and my descendants may be desirous of learning what were the means of which I made use, and which, thanks to the assisting hand of providence, have proved so eminently successful. They may also, should they ever be placed in a similar situation, derive some advantage from my narrative.
When I reflect, as I frequently do, upon the felicity I have enjoyed, I sometimes say to myself, that, were the offer made me, I would engage to run again, from beginning to end, the same career of life. All I would ask, should be the privilege of an author, to correct, in a second edition, certain errors of the first. I could wish, likewise if it were in my power, to change some trivial incidents and events for others more favourable. Were this, however, denied me, still would I not decline the offer. But since a repetition of life cannot take place, there is nothing which, in my opinion, so nearly resembles it, as to call to mind all its circumstances, and, to render their remembrance more durable, commit them to writing. By thus employing myself, I shall yield to the inclination, so natural in old men, to talk of themselves and their exploits, and may freely follow my bent, without being tiresome to those who, from respect to my age, might think themselves obliged to listen to me; as they will be at liberty to read me or not as they please. In fineÑand I may as well avow it, since nobody would believe me were I to deny itÑI shall perhaps, by this employment, gratify my vanity. Scarcely indeed have I ever read or heard the introductory phrase, "I may say without vanity," but some striking and characteristic instance of vanity has immediately followed. The generality of men hate vanity in others, however strongly they may be tinctured with it themselves: for myself, I pay obeisance to it wherever I meet with it, persuaded that it is advantageous, as well to the individual whom it governs, as to those who are within the sphere of its influence. Of consequence, it would in many cases, not be wholly absurd, that a man should count his vanity among the other sweets of life, and give thanks to providence for the blessing.
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