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A Master of His Time

Gordon S. Wood’s Americanization of Benjamin Franklin is a welcome testimony to the renewed interest in America’s Founding Fathers.  Although most Americans have a clear idea as to the importance of Washington’s military role and Jefferson’s contribution in writing the Declaration of Independence, few appreciate the pivotal part Franklin played in legitimizing the Revolution among foreign powers.  Indeed—as Wood points out so clearly—without Franklin, funding from France would have been impossible, and the Revolution would have failed.  According to Wood, it was Franklin’s personal charm and his friendship with Charles Vergennes, who became virtually first minister under Louis XVI, that moved the French to lend the Americans the money they needed to fight the British.  Furthermore, the personality and writings of Franklin, as Wood explains, were instrumental in forming the ethos of the hard-working, self-made man that led eventually to the establishment of America’s middle class.

This book is not a biography but the story of how Franklin, the loyal Tory, came to embrace the American Revolution.  Franklin’s break with England formally took place in 1775 in the wake of the display of arrogance by the British government toward the rights of the colonists, precipitated by the passage of the Coercive Acts (1774), which closed Boston Harbor in retaliation...

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