For a Kinder, Gentler Society
The Political Trial of Benjamin Franklin
A Prelude to the American Revolution
  • Kenneth Lawing Penegar
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The Political Trial of Benjamin Franklin . A Prelude to the American Revolution
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Benjamin Franklin, it seems, was a reluctant revolutionary. In tracing the course of his political transformation, this book explores the social and political understandings and misunderstandings that both sustained and divided Britain and its colonies in North America. At the center of the story is Benjamin Franklin's decision in late 1772 to use a cache of personal letters that had fallen in his lap in London for revelation in Massachusetts - essentially a Wikileaks for 1772 - and the consequences of that decision for himself and for the cause of an amicable settlement of differences between the colonies and the British government.

About the Author

In his distinguished career as a law professor and dean Kenneth Lawing Penegar’s principal areas of teaching and scholarship have been professional ethics, criminal law and jurisprudence. He has published major length articles in a variety of law reviews and journals; some of these have been reprinted as chapters of books on criminal law and ethics.

Penegar served on the faculties of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee (Dean for fifteen years), and Southern Methodist University (Dallas), where he holds emeritus status. Penegar received his education from the universities of North Carolina (Chapel Hill); Yale; and London (London School of Economics & Political Science).

He researched The Political Trial of Benjamin Franklin during a yearlong residence in Britain using collections of documents and papers in libraries and archives including the British Library, London.

Other professional activities have included  appointments as visiting faculty at Delhi University (India) under a grant from the Ford Foundation; visiting faculty at Boston University; and a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Law School.

About the Book
The personal side of Franklin's life in London is explored fully enough for the reader to appreciate both his strong attachment to the place and the inevitable sense of loss from which he reluctantly retreated in the spring of 1775 upon his...
The personal side of Franklin's life in London is explored fully enough for the reader to appreciate both his strong attachment to the place and the inevitable sense of loss from which he reluctantly retreated in the spring of 1775 upon his departure from Britain and return to Philadelphia.

In the tradition of narrative history, this book combines two main stories, each one complementing the other. Woven into the chronological and social history is a tale with an air of genuine suspense and mystery about it, revolving around Franklin's publication of private correspondence with political ramifications. The "leak" was a shock to all, and had consequences for the prospect of avoiding a deeper rift with Britain, a cause Franklin pursued with increasing frustration in the last few years before the American Revolution.

There are notable editorial innovations in the book. The appendices contain full transcripts of significant documents of the time (a first) as well as a thorough exploration of the mystery over the identity of Franklin's source for the Hutchinson letters. A practical time-line is included showing major correlative events. This work will fill a partial void in the late colonial period in American history and will deepen our understanding of the role of the American with the most extensive experience of British political and cultural sensibilities of the time.
Preface

One of America’s truly iconic figures experienced a searing public humiliation in the prime of his life. And we scarcely mention the fact in our continuous appreciation of the Founders. Yet we do know and appreciate a great deal about...

One of America’s truly iconic figures experienced a searing public humiliation in the prime of his life. And we scarcely mention the fact in our continuous appreciation of the Founders. Yet we do know and appreciate a great deal about Franklin….

He was a self-made man; he ran away from home and found a good trade and made it into something. He was a civic innovator, starting lending libraries and street lighting and volunteer fire departments, self-help clubs. He became a publisher as well as a printer. He was a charmer, clever in politics and journalism. He added to our lore of epigrams in a very profitable venture: Poor Richard’s Almanac. He helped our country with its independence through his diplomacy with the French. He discovered that lightning is a form of electricity. He invented things, the freestanding stove, the lightning rod, a musical instrument, and a new alphabet for the English language. For the benefit of workmen’s schooling Franklin left a considerable monetary legacy that didn’t pay out for two hundred years. He was not a religious man in conventional terms. He liked the company of women but probably was intimate with only a very few. He maintained a prodigious correspondence throughout his life. He built an extensive personal library, started an academy that became a great university. He was honored abroad for his scientific work, no less than he has been revered in his own country as exemplary, intriguing if not heroic, perhaps the very embodiment of what it has meant to be American.

Amid so much accomplishment, why concern ourselves with the shadows in such a life? Call it the pull of tragedy, perhaps, or the renewed recognition that even great men’s lives have, in common with the rest of us, moments of genuine defeat and loss. To share that sense of loss, whatever its weight in the totality of Franklin’s life, is to know the man more fully. To see into those moments more sharply is to try to re-live that life—vicariously—from their origins forward instead of only in hindsight.

The reader is invited into what Daniel Boorstin has called “a willing suspension of knowledge” about how Franklin’s life ended with the triumphs of independence and a new constitution shared with the other Founders. What the reward for that effort might be is, in Boorstin’s words, “a new access to surprise” not only of “how and why and when and who” but also of “connections and unexpected consequences.”

The difficulty of reliving or at least re-creating such a life cannot be overestimated. Not only must we try to see what he saw, think what he must have thought, and connect with those whose letters allow us now to do that. But we must also try to account for the experience, understandings and attitudes of so many others who were Franklin’s contemporaries. These include his friends, associates and correspondents of course but also his adversaries and any number of others of significance with whom he shared the age, both in the colonies and in Great Britain. This broadening force of context is what may reassure the reader that the account is not meant to be one sided. The judgments Franklin made, along with all the trimmings of his life in those years, are on display and opened to critique just as much as the other events and personalities that intersected or paralleled them.


Reviews
Professor of Political Science and Dean, University Honors College of Middle Tennessee State University | More »
BookPage, August 19, 2011 | More »
Book News Inc. Portland, OR | More »
Midwest Book Review: The American History Shelf | More »
Categories

Pages 280
Year: 2011
LC Classification: E302.6.F8P36 2011
Dewey code: 973.3092--dc22
BISAC: HIS036030 HISTORY / United States / Revolutionary Period (1775-1800)
BISAC: BIO010000 BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Political
Soft Cover
ISBN: 978-0-87586-849-3
Price: USD 23.95
Hard Cover
ISBN: 978-0-87586-850-9
Price: USD 33.95
eBook
ISBN: 978-0-87586-851-6
Price: USD 23.95
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