November 29, 2008

Giving Us the Electrocuted Bird, Part II

“[They are] the most stupid in the nation, few of their children speak English and through their indiscretion . . . great disorders may one day arise among us.” Benjamin Franklin (Can you guess what group he was referring to?*)
As you may be saddened to know, I’ve been building a case against Benjamin Franklin. I believe he may be the most over-rated of our Founding Fathers, and let's see, where was I… yes, let the record show that Franklin didn’t even like his new nation’s name, preferring the United States of North America. (Rats, that’s actually a good idea.) Okay, let me start over.

Ah, here we are. In 1741, Franklin printed the first magazine ad ever to run in North America. It was a “Wanted” ad for a runaway slave. Nice.

And while much is made of Franklin’s success as a diplomat in France, he earned a spot at the bottom of a chamber pot during his tenure there. True, Franklin was enormously popular with the French. That was the problem; he was TOO popular. When King Louis overheard one of Marie Antoinette’s ladies-in-waiting swooning over how great Franklin was, the king took measures. He had a customized porcelain chamber pot made. At its bottom was a picture of Franklin. And it was sent to the lady-in-waiting, who, I’m guessing, took the hint.

* He was talking about German immigrants. My sources are here.

4 comments:

Portland Constantly Golfing Type Girl Person said...

You may be on to something Bart. In David McCullough's book "John Adams" Franklin is portrayed as an ineffectual bore while posted in France.

amy said...

Bart, there is a whole scathing essay on BF by William Carlos Williams that you might like in a book called "An American Grain" or something like that. I used to think he was a big hypocritical blowhard but I recently read something that convinced me that at least some of his rep is based on stuff he wrote facetiously, i.e. Poor Richard.

Proud Parent of a Bumper Sticker Maker said...

Go see Slumdog Millionaire

- creepy Netflix in-common person

Bart King said...

1.) Thanks for the hot tip, Portland Constantly Golfing Type. I came out of a U.S. history reading binge not long after McCullough's book was released, and was able to wuss out later by virtue of the HBO mini-series based on it.

When John Adams traveled to Paris in 1778, he joined Benjamin Franklin in lobbying for continued French aid to the U.S. Franklin was already set up in rent-free lodging courtesy of a French businessman. (The French gentleman insisted, “First you’ll win the revolution, then we’ll see about the rent.”) This arrangement delighted Franklin, but once Adams came to live with him, their relationship went downhill.

Then in his 70s, Franklin was a legend among the French, who appreciated his wit and seductive political and personal style. But Adams was unimpressed with Franklin’s diplomatic arts, and thought that Franklin goofed off all day. He described Franklin’s life as “a scene of continual dissipation… as soon as breakfast was over, a crowd of carriages came [carrying] philosophers, academicians, and economists, women and children…. He was invited to dine abroad every day, and never declined unless we had invited company to dine with us. [In the afternoon] he went to his invitation to his dinner and after that went sometimes to a play, sometimes the philosophers, but most commonly to visit [the ladies]….”

Of course, today we can see that Franklin was actually working very hard at being a good ambassador, and the French felt the same way. In fact, the French foreign minister grew so exasperated with Adams, he flatly informed him that he would ONLY deal with Franklin. (Translation: “Yankee, go home!”)

2.) Hey Amy, thanks for the hot tip on the Williams essay. I'm with you; pending my next posting, suffice it to say that I may also be engaging in some facetiousness. Not to steal my own thunder (or Franklin's lightning), but I do admire him. Surprise!

3.) Thanks, Proud Parent. I've heard good things about "Slumdog Millionaire," which is set in India, I think... perhaps there's a Franklin
reference in it?