Several recent biographies of Benjamin Franklin have reignited interest in this beloved but somewhat mysterious American Founder. Franklin has always been beloved for his avuncular good humor, expressed through his Autobiography and the innumerable bons mots of Poor Richard. Franklin is mysterious because, although he played a key role in the drama of independence and was a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, he wrote very little of a systematic nature on politics. Franklin was less inclined than many of his fellow-Founders to make grand statements on politics (or philosophy), but was more interested in what we might call the social and cultural preconditions of free government. His Autobiography, the sayings of Poor Richard, and other writings reveal that Franklin was most interested in education, in shaping the mores of the new nation. That is where we will look for Franklin’s message to us today.
Steven Forde is Professor of Political Science at the University of North Texas. He has published work on classical and modern political philosophy, including the American Founding. He has written numerous essays on the thought of Benjamin Franklin, including the chapter on Franklin in the recent volume, History of American Political Thought.