‘Franklin & Washington’ – Friends at the Founding

From The Wall Street Journal:

At a time when American politics is increasingly dominated by rancor, turbulence and division, it is perhaps unsurprising that books about the Republic’s revered Founding Fathers are as popular as ever. To authors and publishers, the select band of men who championed independence from Britain and hammered out the Constitution resemble a pack of cards to be endlessly reshuffled and dealt out in different hands. Alongside biographies or group portraits of the Founders, another approach is to examine a pair whose alliance—or, more often, rivalry—is credited with forging the nation. Recently, for example, Alexander Hamilton was separately linked with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and his nemesis, Aaron Burr, while several eminent historians have been drawn to the power struggle between Jefferson and John Adams.

In “Franklin & Washington: The Founding Partnership,” Edward J. Larson lays down a pairing that has hitherto been neglected. Few would quibble with Mr. Larson’s verdict that George Washington and Benjamin Franklin rank as the pre-eminent Founders: Without the former’s determined leadership of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and the latter’s assiduous cultivation of the French support that ultimately secured victory, there would be no United States.

Mr. Larson acknowledges that these foremost Founders make an unlikely couple. The gregarious and folksy Franklin (1706-90) was old enough to be Washington’s father. Born in Boston to humble parents but associated with Philadelphia after he moved there in his teens, Franklin was an enlightened polymath, a printer, scientist and inventor who became an opponent of slavery. Washington (1732-99), the restrained, status-conscious, slave-owning Virginian gentleman, can seem like Franklin’s opposite. If the aloof Washington came to be regarded as his country’s father, Mr. Larson observes, Franklin was its approachable uncle.

Despite marked differences in background and temperament, Washington and Franklin had traits in common. Dedicated Freemasons with a fondness for English porter beer, both men were driven to improve their lot through hard work. Crucially, they shared a vision of an independent and united America based upon a strong central government, and each strove tirelessly to achieve that end.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)