In This Review

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
By Edmund S. Morgan
Yale University Press, 2002, 368 pp

Morgan, one of the greatest living authorities on colonial America, has written a concise, excellent, and eminently readable biography. Franklin was the most accomplished of the country's founders. As a scientist and inventor he eclipses Jefferson, and none of the others matched his diplomatic experience and success. No American was better known or more widely admired in Europe. Franklin is the only man whose signature appears on all four of the founding documents of the American republic: the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Treaty of Paris, and the Constitution. Morgan has written a book very much like its hero: so fluent, so engaging, and so self-effacing that one only gradually realizes its true breadth and scope. Moreover, he brilliantly sketches the outlines of Franklin's growing views while unobtrusively helping his readers grasp the intricacies of Pennsylvania politics in the 1750s, the swirling debates of the triumphant British Empire after 1760, and the evolving international situation during the American Revolution. Part of what made Franklin great was his genius for company -- a genius that struck his contemporaries as exemplifying the finest qualities of the emerging American world. In conveying to modern readers the natural geniality of Franklin's character, Morgan succeeds also in casting new light on the social atmosphere and political ideas of the emerging American nation.