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There are many Benjamin Franklins. Or at least he has taken on many different forms in the history books and conversations of the last two centuries. Some historians have shown us an aged statesman whose wise and steadying influence kept the Constitutional Convention together in 1787, while others have pictured a chuckling prankster who couldn’t resist a funny story. Some remember Franklin for flying a kite in a thunderstorm; others think of him as a successful printer of the colonial era; still others know him only as an expounder of clever maxims (“A penny saved is a penny earned”) or the author of a now famous autobiography.
More recently, a certain brand of biographers and journalists have conjured up sensational tales of a lecherous old diplomat in his seventies who enjoyed illicit affairs with adoring young French women. And a few years ago Franklin even reappeared as a British spy! Some of these myths are now being repeated and embellished in school textbooks and “educational” television programs.
Which of all these Benjamin Franklin’s, if any, is real? This book is an attempt to answer that question. Or, more accurately, it is an attempt to let Franklin himself provide the answer. The Real Benjamin Franklin makes no effort to develop another “fresh interpretation” of the Sage of Philadelphia. Instead, it seats us across the table from the one person who really knew Ben Franklin-that is, Franklin himself -and gives him an opportunity to explain his life and ideas in his own words.