Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Benjamin Franklin: Passionate Patriot or Spineless Diplomat?

Benjamin Franklin
Looking at Benjamin Franklin's portraits, it may be easy to believe that he was a cool, collected, and suave personality.  After all, he did travel overseas as a diplomat, right?  Franklin was a diplomat indeed, however, he was also passionate and no-nonsense.  Take a look at the following excerpts from a few of his letters:


From Benjamin Franklin to Charles de Weissenstein, Passy, July 1, 1778:


"My Vanity might possibly be flatter'd by your Expressions of Compliment to my Understanding, if your Proposals did not more clearly manifest a mean Opinion of it.  You conjure me in the name of the omniscient and just God, before whom I must appear, and by my hopes of future Fame, to consider if some Expedient cannot be found to put a Stop to the Desolation of America, and prevent the Miseries of a General War.  As I am conscious of having taken every Step in my Power to prevent the Breach, and no one to widen it, I can chearfully appear before that God, fearing nothing from his Justice in this particular, tho' I have much Occasion for his Mercy on many others.  As to my future fame, I am content to rest it on my past and present Conduct, without seeking Addition to it in the crooked dark Paths you propose to me, where I should most certainly lose it.  This your solemn address therefore would have been more properly made to your Sovereign and his venal Parliament.  He and they who wickedly began and madly continue a War for the Desolation of America, are alone accountable for the Consequences."


And there's more to it.  Although the letter was not sent to the intended recipient, suffice it to say Franklin vented wholeheartedly in it. 

On the other hand, this short letter was delivered:


Benjamin Franklin to William Strahan, Philadelphia, July 5, 1775:


"Mr. Strahan,

You are a Member of Parliament, and one of that Majority which has doomed my Country to Destruction.  You have begun to burn our Towns, and murder our People.  Look upon your Hands!  They are stained with the Blood of your Relations!  You and I were long Friends:  You are now my Enemy, and I am, Yours,"


Passionate.  Yes.  Spineless.  No.



You can read Franklin's papers by following the link from my "Resources" page.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Home of General Lew Wallace

General Lew Wallace 


"I would rather write another book than be rich." - Lew Wallace.

Last weekend I visited the home of General Lew Wallace in Crawfordsville, Indiana.  Although the home was closed upon my arrival, I was able to walk around the building and take exterior photographs.  To be sure, Wallace's home is the true crown jewel of this town.  Surrounded by the natural beauty of tall trees and beautifully landscaped grounds, the red building with its unique dome-roof is a magnificent sight to behold.  
Front Gate
Brick Wall Fence around House

Interesting facts to note about Wallace:

In 1846, Wallace served in the Mexican-American War as a young soldier.  Later, he led his troops to military action as a Major General in the Union Army during the Civil War, notably at the battle of Shiloh.  


He is perhaps best remembered as the author of Ben-Hur:  A Tale of the Christ.  Published in 1880, Ben-Hur:  A Tale of Christ was produced as a feature film starring Charleston Heston in 1959 and received several awards.  


To learn more about Lew Wallace please visit:   

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Benjamin Franklin the Diplomat

Benjamin Franklin
As an American ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin worked diplomatically to garner support for the American fight for freedom from the British.  Franklin was quite finesse with the French; however, diplomacy was sometimes difficult even for this great man.  In 1777, many young and aspiring Frenchmen appealed to Franklin for recommendation letters of introduction to fight in the American Revolution.  Franklin may have been impressed by some but his exasperation with the requests is evident in this letter to a friend dated October, 1777:


"You know, my dear Friend, that I am not capable of refusing you any Thing in my Power, which would be a real Kindness to you or any Friend of yours: But when I am certain that what you request would be directly the contrary, I ought to refuse it."


Here we can see Franklin's diplomacy at play:


"I know that Officers going to America for Employment will probably be disappointed: That our armies are full; that [there] are a Number of Expectants unemployed and starving for want of Subsistence; that my Recommendation will not make Vacancies; nor can it fill them to the prejudice to those who have a better Claim; That some of those Officers I have been prevail’d on to recommend have by their Conduct given no favourable Impression of my Judgment in military Merit: and then the Voyage is long, the Passage very expensive, and the Hazard of being taken and imprison’d by the English very considerable."


Nonetheless, he is acutely aware of his own position and points out:


"Permit me to mention to you that in my Opinion the natural Complacence of this Country often carries People too far in the Article of Recommendations. You give them with too much Facility to Persons of whose real Characters you know nothing, and sometimes at the request of others of whom you know as little. Frequently if a Man has no useful Talents, is good for nothing, and burthensome to his Relations, or is indiscreet, profligate and extravagant, they are glad to get rid of him by sending him to the other End of the World; and for that purpose scruple not to recommend him to those they wish should recommend him to others, as a bon sujet plein de merite, &c. &c. In consequence of my crediting such Recommendations, my own are out of Credit, and I cannot advise any body to have the least Dependance on them."


Towards the end, he adds with frustration that "these Applications are my perpetual Torment" because "You can have no Conception how I am harass’d. All my Friends are sought out and teiz’d to teaze me; Great Officers of all Ranks in all Departments, Ladies great and small, besides profess’d Sollicitors, worry me from Morning to Night. The Noise of Every Coach now that enters my Court terrifies me. I am afraid to accept an Invitation to dine abroad, being almost sure of meeting with some Officer, or Officer’s Friend, who as soon as I am put into good Humour by a glass or two of Champaign begins his Attack upon me."
*From Benjamin Franklin to [Barbeu-Dubourg], [after 2 October? 1777],” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-25-02-0006 [last update: 2014-10-23]). Source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 25, October 1, 1777, through February 28, 1778, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986, pp. 20–22.  Accessed November 12, 2014.

Monday, November 3, 2014

George Rogers Clark Memorial

George Rogers Clark

Recently, I made another excursion to Vincennes, Indiana to visit the memorial dedicated to Colonel George Rogers Clark.  Although not quite as extraordinary as his friend Thomas Jefferson's Memorial in Washington D.C., Clark's Memorial is simple but beautiful.  Surrounded by a small park, the monument reflects a sturdy presence in the area much as the man did for whom it was erected.  Nearby, the Wabash River flows calmly unlike the time when Clark crossed it with his men to capture Fort Sackville from the British during the Revolutionary War.  Overall, the Memorial provides an opportunity to reflect upon another time when a young frontiersman led a small band of men to attack the mightiest power in the world and in the process became the Conqueror of the Old Northwest.  

George Rogers Clark Memorial

George Rogers Clark Memorial Overlooking the Wabash River