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tv   Michael Meyer Benjamin Franklins Last Bet  CSPAN  July 2, 2022 9:11am-10:11am EDT

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in the militia. we need to honor their sacrifices the thing and we also need - were all for independence and so we can play these games anymore. so what we did in 19's and in 1775, we say this entryway is the same as of the last thing, i want to offer up, in order of soldiers near and far such as those in the battle, three chairs for george washington in our continental army. hip hip - and company dismissedl
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archives flagship building in washington dc which sits on the ancestral lands of the necotch tank peoples. i'm david ferrielle archivist of the united states since my pleasure to welcome you to today's conversation with michael myer about his new book benjamin franklin's last bet we traces the evolution of a bequest franklin made to support tradesmen over the next two centuries in his autobiography benjamin franklin wrote. i've always thought that one man of tolerable abilities will work great changes in accomplished great affairs among mankind. a year before his death franklin added a cautisal to his last will and testament to back up this assertion in addition to the bequest. he had already made to his family and friends. he added a gift intended to benefit the nation franklin set up a 200-year fund entrusted to the inhabitants of boston and
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philadelphia to lend money to young tradesmen so they could set up their own businesses. author michael meyer calls the bequest a final wager on the survival of the united states and tells its story from 1790 to 1990 in benjamin franklin's last bet. michael myer is the author of three critically acclaimed books the last days of old beijing in manchuria and the road to sleeping dragon. as well as articles in the new york times and other outlets a fulbright scholar and guggenheim. neh common center and mcdowell fellow and the recipient of whiting writers award meyer is a professor of english at the university of pittsburgh where he teaches nonfiction writing now, let's hear from michael myer. thank you for joining us today. thank you david for that introduction and welcome everyone. thank you for tuning in. i know people are watching from all over the world from beijing to bill ball to boston.
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i'm coming to from taipei taiwan of all places. i think a place that would have fascinated franklin and i'll talk about that in a second as to why franklin is long interested in china. um, i want to start with the cover of the book because it forms a nice outline for the talk. i'm going to do for the next 45 to 50 minutes or so, which is that, you know book covers. you're not supposed to judge books by their covers, but sometimes a book cover really does explain. what the reader is going to find when he or she opens the cover and starts turning the pages? you'll notice the the very famous portrait of benjamin franklin here from our $100 bill some of you might know this already, but if you don't this portrait was painted when franklin was sent over to paris after 17 1776. there are two versions of the painting and in both of them. one of them was his latest 1779 and franklin at this time is in his early 70s and it strikes me when you see it when you really look at the portrait how frail
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he looks and actually those those. bloodshot sort of bloodhound eyes as well that are focused in on and i'll talk about maybe why that is at this moment in franklin's life. there's fallouts going on with his family, you know, the revolutionary war was also a civil war for benjamin franklin and there's also a big divide into what between what his vision for the republic is and that of his fellow founders. you'll notice three bars of black across franklin's face here on this cover and to me this represents perfectly the three acts in the book, which will also be the three acts of my talk here today, which is franklin's death. what's going on around him in the last five or six years of his life leading to the writing of his last will and testament the second act being franklin's afterlife. what happens in the immediate decades after his death and the bequest to his heirs which all came with lessons attached to them go out into the republic and into america and we follow
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in the book the the trail that his heirs take and make good or don't make good on his bequest to them. and the third act is franklin's rebirth, which is that, you know starting in 1890 at the centennial of his death there's a renewed interest in franklin and his idea and this code is still that david alluded to in his introduction his last bet his wager on the working class of america. and with that and talk about how his money is actually still in circulation today and you can blend your money with franklin's money if you want to and i'll explain that at the end. i didn't know a lot about benjamin franklin to be honest with you when i started researching this book, i think like a lot of people i read his memoir is autobiography when i was in school and it felt like a forced homework assignment. i didn't realize until you know started researching this book that franklin those events end in 1757. he's only 51 years old when that book is ends and he addressed that book to his son.
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william his firstborn, son. it begins dear son. and so there's not a lot of juicy tidbits in it about his life, which i'll get into in a second as well because you might imagine if you're leaving a memoir to your child. maybe you don't want to talk about some of the the less salubrious decisions you made in your life some of the regrets you have franklin very much wanted that book to show only his successes, but there's a lot more to his story than that. all right. 13 days before benjamin franklin died john adams fumed in a letter to their mutual friend benjamin rush. who is the father of american psychiatry in philadelphia? and some of you may have heard this quote before but i want to continue it to the end as an introduction to my talk here today. adams writes to benjamin rush the history of our revolution will be one continued lie from one end to the other. historians were recorded that benjamin franklin smote the
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earth was his lightning rod and out sprung george, washington. the very well known quote, but if you keep reading the letter a letter that you can find on founders online the great national archives website, where a lot of my source material comes from adams continues to benjamin rush. if this letter should be preserved and read a hundred years, hence, the reader will say the envy of this john adams could not bear to think of the truth. but this my friend. to be serious is the fate of all ages and nations. no nation can adore more than one man at a time. but upon his death 13 days later. benjamin. franklin was not that man. there's a great chinese saying i love that is without coincidence. there would be no story. i was one of the first peace corps volunteers to china i was
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sent over in 1995 and i ended up staying in china for over a decade writing three nonfiction books about life and it's various corners. it's under reported corners. and when i came back to the states when president obama was in office and president vice president, joe biden was was his second in command. excuse me, a friend of mine working for joe biden said, you know, the chinese president. hujin tao is coming for a state dinner and you're not important enough to go to the state dinner, but there's going to be a state luncheon for chinese president who gentile at the state department and would you like to come to that so he invited me down to dc and i bought my first ever suit off a clearance rack at macy's really ill-fitting sweating the whole way down got to dc looked at the state department from the outside and found that it does in fact look like what a critic called at once the chewing gum factory. it's very non-discuit from the outside. it actually looks like something that would not be at a place in malara beijing but when you step
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inside the state department and go up to the diplomatic reception rooms, you see this so, you know viewers you can see this picture here. we're looking at, you know, chip and dale. was and there's paul revere silver and there's these beautiful and irons and there's these honey colored, you know, herringbone wooden floors, and i walked into this and i felt very very uncomfortable because yo-yo ma is playing his cello and colin powell is chatting to barbra streisand and even the chinese officials look relaxed, which was a first in my experience and i thought i don't belong here at all. and so i sidled into this room and i put my hands on this writing desk right here this table kind of leaned and exhaled. and from behind me a voice said please don't touch that. and i flinched embarrassed and i said, oh is it old and it was a marine guard standing behind me and he said that's the table where benjamin franklin signed the treaty of paris. and my first thought honestly
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was i didn't know benjamin franklin did that and my second thought was what was the treaty of paris again? and so the marine garden i started talking and he started he was very interested and franklin makes it franklin is the father of the the foreign service and there's a reason these diplomatic reception rooms are named for franklin and why we have so many franklin things here in these rooms in the marine guard told me, you know, i was surprised to learn this it franklin spent most of the latter part of his life overseas 27 out of 30 years until he returned home after paris in 1785 and went to the constitutional convention so that i didn't know that i had no idea and so i sat here during the lunch and that followed feeling very stupid and thinking how is it that i know more about chinese dynasties and chinese politics and chinese geography that i know about the foundations of my own country and one thing the marine pointed out to me when we're were standing in this room. this is porcelain figurine a
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benjamin franklin with louis the 16th the king of france louis. the 16th is only 24 years old at this moment and benjamin franklin is 72 and this porcelain figurine shows them signing the treaty of alliance of 1778 where louis the 16th under franklin's after franklin's, you know, massive persuading committed to supplying the american revolution with men material and money. um, and you know, it's funny when you with the marine was showing me this you look at how the king is dressed, but then you look at how franklin is dressed with the shoulder-length unpowdered hair the beaver collared robe and you know at that moment. i thought i'm sweating through this terrible suit. i was wearing and i thought we could add business casual to franklin's long list of inventions with through his will and testament, which i'll talk about we can also i think add microfinance but i went back to the hotel room after that luncheon, and i started doing what people do right.
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i started googling franklin and trying to figure out how did i what what am i missing about this guy? this is you know, a painting or an image of an event. i think we all know it's an apocryphal image. this is his younger son william who's going to factor large in my talk and in the book today william was the one likely who was holding the kite string for his father. well, his father was the one touching his knuckle to the string itself and feeling that electrical charge proving that lightning is electricity. i didn't know where this has happened. i i was thinking about it. where did they fly the kite and this likely happened in the philadelphia neighborhood the northern liberties at a pony stable or a field where william had his his pet horse and i realized you know that night i started reading about frank and i thought when you start reading franklin and some of you may done this before, you look at the bookshelf that's sagging under the weight of all the biographies about this man's life and his achievements or if you go online and start googling
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franklin. it really does feel like you're pulling at a kite string that keeps pulling at your feet because where do you even stop right? let alone begin. i mentioned that franklin, you know, we could kind of, you know credit him as the inventor of business casual while talk about as the inventor of micro-finance, but i think we can also credit him as you know, the forerunner of the open source movement. this is franklin in his 40s. this is at a time when he had retired from printing at age 42 quite successful and was devoting himself to scientific experiments and his inventions. and the reason i say we can credit him as a forerunner of the open source movement is that i was amazed to find out that franklin never directly profited from his inventions. he was in veteran tinkerer. he was always trying to solve problems with the things he was making and although there was no patent office during his lifetime that would start with thomas jefferson when jefferson was secretary of state 1792 1793.
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in franklin's lifetime he could have applied to have an exclusive commercial license for his inventions, but he didn't he said just as i benefit from the inventions and technology of others others should benefit from mine so he did not patent the lightning rod or get a license for it or the bifocals if he invented or the glass harmonica the musical instrument that he invented, you know, he did not take credit at least until much later and his life for coining the words electrician and battery and electric shock. he did not lend his name to his philanthropy. so, you know, this is quite different from today and we'll talk about the evolution of philanthropy with his will but you know, philadelphia's in franklin's lifetime could have gone to the franklin academy which became the university of pennsylvania. they could have gone to the franklin fire department. they could have bought franklin insurance. they could have been cured at the franklin hospital. and of course there is the franklin stove, but that wasn't named by franklin that was
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coined by. is of that stove in particular in london franklin himself that i just invented that stove. so my wife debbie and my daughter sally would have a more efficient and warmer hearth while they were while they were cooking. um, you know, he explained the northern lights. he was the first person to map the gulf stream one of my favorite inventions of his is he invented swim fins, or at least he's credited as that. i was shocked to learn that benjamin franklin feared shipwrecks his older brother parish in a shipwreck and so as a young child in boston harbor and as a teen, he would strap suitcases filled with books or suitcase filled with books on to his back and practice swimming laps. so he build up his strength and when he later went on to london, he amazed people with his swimming prowess by once jumping out of a boat in chelsea and swimming against the title current of the town's two miles to black fires blackfriars bridge, excuse me, and for his efforts, you know, franklin was posthumously obviously inducted
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into the international swimming hall of fame. i mentioned london, you know, i didn't know until i started researching this book. how much time franklin actually spent living there you can visit the benjamin franklin house. it's quite near trafalgar square. it's between trafalgar square and the thames herman melville. ironically has a blue plaque on a house a few doors down melville lived there on the same street a century after franklin, but you know, i i thought when i started researching this book that the only tangible presence we can really feel the real connection we can feel with franklin is in this house. this is by the way the windows that franklin would sit in front of when he would take his air baths. he thought that it was good for your circulation after swimming or after taking a bath to sit naked in front of the window and let yourself dry naturally, so i went over to london when i started researching this book and visited this and then i went up to acton which is in northamptonshire about hour and a half north of london and this
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is the village from which franklin's father josiah emigrated to boston and in acton josiah was skill dire he did not want to belong the anglican church. and so he picked up move stakes went to boston quickly learned when he landed in boston that there wasn't going to be a great market for his fabric boston at that time. people were still grazing cows and pigs on the comment. and so josiah became a candle maker and a soap maker as well and sort of a public utility. there are some estimates that say he supplied up to one third of boston's candles with boston was a town of only 10,000 people, but i'm showing you this now before i get into the will because i want to set up a couple things about franklin rather quickly and about i think, you know, if you look at the will as a story of a life all wills tell stories of lives franklin's in particular tells a rather remarkable story, and i think he's trying to make up for some mistakes he made earlier and his life. he knows that his will is going to be published he wants to set
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an example for americans going forward. the reason i'm showing you this image is this is in the churchyard at acton and if you go here you see the gravestones of franklin's uncle thomas and his aunt eleanor. and the reason i'm showing you to this is that again, i mentioned the beginning of the talk that i what i learned about franklin was really through his memoir before i started researching this book and if you read the memoir he talks about visiting these graves and he says. i discovered that i was the youngest son of the youngest son for five generations back and if there were any estate to inherit none would have been the less able to do so than me right the other was gonna to be broke my whole time. but only in a private letter to his wife debra, which i read later did i find that franklin, you know visited this this graveyard with enslaved man named peter. who franklin called his servant franklin did not write about being a slave owner in his memoir.
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in fact, his family owned at least six slaves. he called them again servants and although he he professes later in letters to not liking the practice of slavery. he certainly profited it as well. early on in his gazette. it was the pennsylvania gazette. not the franklin gazette, but he you know, he would put ads for rewards for runaway and slave people slave auctions at the same time. he was a bit duplicitous. there's a lot of this in franklin's life. i think where one hand kind of doesn't know what the other hand is doing. so while he's running those ads in his newspaper, he's also the first american to print the great first abolitionist tract in pennsylvania and in the colonies as well and the 1730s saying that anyone who holds a human being in bondage is apostate. um, but at this moment, you know traveling to london in the 1750s were franklin is in his 40s. he's still traveling with an enslaved man named peter now in an earlier version of franklin's will the will of 1757.
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he says upon my death. i want to release peter and his wife in the later version of his will he doesn't do that. he does something else which i'll talk about in a second. this is probably because the people that he had held as slaves either had run away and had not been followed, you know not been pursued by franklin or unfortunately they had died, but i'm telling you this too because i noticed that when i started looking at franklin's letters and you can do this at, there's a wonderful digitized repository of franklin's letters. there's 8,000 pieces of correspondence that still survive to or from franklin at a time when you're not writing on paper you're writing on like mashed up ham or mashed up sales, you know that have been made into paper with a quill he was a voluminous correspondent and it's really fun to dig into his river of words and let him tell the story and in this book i try to let franklin tell the story as much as possible. i also let his wife debra tell the story as much as possible
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because i think in up until this book i think i hope. i find that debra is sort of assigned a walk-on role in the blockbuster production. that's franklin's life. she's often sort of pushed on stage. it almost feels like she's trapped him in marriage in the common tellings of franklin's life story. she's described using very kurt adjectives like sturdy, you know, reliable never beautiful, you know beauties in the eye of the beholder franklin was smitten with her love at first sight and his side of it when he landed in philadelphia as a young man, and it took some persuading to get deborah to become his wife. they never were formally wed. theirs was a common law marriage franklin wedder when he was 24 years old. we don't know exactly how old deborah was because no recorded date is known for her for her birth, but in the book i try i reproduce her words, you know faithfully right from her
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letters to him. she's a remarkable person and i'm saying this now because we're gonna talk about franklin's fortune. next franklin is described as being a self-made man. he was anything but not only do we know that he profited from unpaid labor in the form of the enslaved people that work for him in his print shop. we also know that he benefited greatly from deborah debbie through her parents inherited parcels of land on market street, including what is now today the franklin museum and where you can see franklin's the the remnants of his print shop debbie, you know managed their real estate portfolio. it's fun to look in their letters. well, he's away in london where she's chasing down payments that are in a rears franklin made the unusual step of giving her power of attorney at a time in the 1730s when the pre-printed form said i give my friend and you would of course read a man's name in and franklin on that form crossed it out and said i
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give my wife and then wrote in deborah reid franklin gave her power of attorney. he trusted her completely in their business affairs, you know, it's fun. you can look at the american philosophical society they have in philadelphia. they have deborah's ledgers. this is at a time. of course when the american dollar is in the future, but people using british sterling for payments all the time in philadelphia either philadelphia was this massive, you know, the biggest port in the united states at that time. and so it's fun to look in the ledgers at the coffee and the mackerel and the chocolate and the stationary and so forth that deborah is selling and then giving, you know taking currency from mexico south america different european currencies and making change in other currencies back. she's a very important character in this story and in franklin's life, and i just want to add one more thing about deborah she you know is often criticized i think obliquely or directly for not going with him overseas to london when he's appointed colonial agent and leaves and
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goes overseas in the 1750s. but you know this belies the point that if anybody has ever lived overseas before one of the worst one of the worst positions you can have is of the trailing spouse where your husband or wife or your partner is the one that has the great job and gets all the adulation and has a social circles and you're sort of the appendage debra was very much a part of philadelphia civic life. she had a pew at christ church. she had her family members there. she had her children around her. she had businesses to run. she had a real estate portfolio and franklin himself said that she had an invincible aversion to crossing the seas and this is because as a young girl when deborah made the crossing from england, it was a very very rough voyage and she had really did not ever want to do that again at a time when a voyage to england was six to seven weeks. so i just want to put that out there right now that you know, there's a big part of this book and i'll get to franklin's will now that i hope makes deborah
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come alive to people i have to say she reminds me a lot of my own mother. my mother had a long time had a business in construction and i find when i read deborah's letters. she reminds me a lot of my mom. my mom's a lot smarter than i am. she can read blueprints and price jobs, and i can't do that. okay, let's go to the next slide. you know. in franklin's will he he lays out how he wants to remember it so well to the point. where when he writes his epitaph. he traces it out for the stonemason and even names the mason he wants to do the carving chambers the man in philadelphia. and i'm showing us this now to begin this talk about his will because i love that. it's so reminiscent of typesetting right? it's not it reminds me so much of the type that that franklin would use as a printer and at
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the end of this talk, i'll show you his tombstone that he wanted and it has the same dimensions as a page of newsprint. so it almost looks like he and debbie are sleeping under the pennsylvania gazette itself. but for all of franklin's achievements, this is all he wanted on his tombstone and i think when you know in the book when you see the connection the two of them had and she really was i think the foundation of his fortune. it's only fitting that he felt the achievement. he wanted people to see the achievement that was most important to him was his marriage and his friendship to debbie. all right, let's get to the will. benjamin franklin wrote this version of his will his third version of his will and 1788. he's come back from paris since 1785. he's gone through the blistering constitutional convention sweltering hot months on and he's living only a few blocks away from what is now independence hall, but he's so
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ill with pleurisy this inflammation of the lungs with a kidney stone that prisoners from the walnut street jail are carrying him to the convention in a sedan chair. he's by far the oldest delegate he could have been the other delegates almost all of them. he could have been their father including george washington who's almost 20. he's 26 years older than washington much older than jefferson and madison. and hamilton and so, you know, this is 1788. the convention has ended we all know it may be it's an apocryphal quote. it's here at the national archives. you can look it up a woman named eliza powell said what have you wrought? you know, he says the republic if you can keep it, but you know, he goes back home and he starts writing letters to his old friends in france and he starts saying things like, you know, the only things that are certain in life are deaf and taxes like many of franklin's great aphorisms. that's not his original. he freely admits toward the end of his life how many of these great sayings he had borrowed from other sources and made his own.
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and that extends to his last will and testament. because in 1789 after he affixes the seal to the will here and by the way, you can hold this will this will still exist. it's at the american philosophical society in philadelphia. it took a lot of jumping through hoops for me, but i actually got philadelphia's register of the wills to approve the use of this these images as the end papers of this book. so when you see the hardcover edition when you open it up, you'll see the facts similes of the will but in 1789, this is only two months after george washington has been inaugurated. sworn in and franklin is skeletal in bed. he's suffering from pleurisy. he's suffering from the kidney stone. he's suffering from 18th century medicine as well. he's drinking a tonic called daffy's elixir in the book i talk about i find his physicians bills for syringes for opium for
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laudanum. he's drinking horrible concoctions of lie and lime juice and he's complaining to his sister jane in letters that i'm wasting away. there's not much left of me here. and suddenly in the midst of all this franklin remembers a promise he had made do a frenchman in 1785 and admiring frenchman named joseph. pathon de la cure tries to get franklin's attention in paris and send him a satiric essay and the essay instead of being called poor richard. the essay is called fortunate richard the last will and testament of fortunate richard and in this essay. the writer imagines that a little boy is told by his grandfather. i'm giving you a little bit of money and i want to teach you the magic of compound interest and i want you to leave this money untouched for a hundred years and after a hundred years, it will have multiplied to 131 times its value. and then you can leave it in
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your will and testament to worthy causes you want to support. so in this essay with the frenchman writes to franklin, he said this money multiply 131 times and the first thing that this young man did with it how he lived to be a hundred plus years is we don't mention that in the sa doesn't explain first thing he does is he sets up loans to trades people to start their own businesses. next thing he does is he starts business schools for women, so they'll learn trades and be paid equally. he starts founding libraries. this is obviously a wink at franklin to say look. i love your ideas and he starts doing things like i'm gonna i'm gonna fund a universal child care pension, so that every newborn baby gets three years of salary so their parents will have money to pay for child care. i'm going to start a european bank a central european bank a precure of the euro, which will prevent europe from having wars and so forth franklin reads this back in 17. 85 he loves it. he thinks it's great.
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he sends it to a friend in london who translates it and it goes nowhere the friend translates. it sticks it in the back of a pamphlet about the importance of the american revolution never heard from again until 1789 franklin writes to this gentleman in france and says, i remember your essay. i love the idea. it might make you happy to learn that i'm going to tuck this into my will i'm gonna do exactly what you said. now franklin was also doing something else by putting this provision in as well. the provision was this. he said i'm gonna put aside a thousand pounds in a fund for boston 1000 pounds in a fund for philadelphia. the money is going to be used to fund young apprentices. in those cities under 25 years of age. who are also married deborah he married common law when he was 24 and he wrote a lot about how important it was to have a partner in business and in life to tell you when your ideas are terrible and to keep you on the straight and narrow and to help you and everything.
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so a thousand pounds to boston a thousand pounds to philadelphia. it's really difficult to do historic conversions of money a thousand pounds in 1789 was equivalent to 4,444. but with a purchasing power of millions, i mean, it's i in the book i talk about comparisons of what something cost at that time franklin had raised about 500 pounds with his favorite invention ever the matching grant to build the pennsylvania hospital which still stands today. he had raised about 300 pounds to build the american philosophical society the library who's building still stands today in central, philadelphia. so 1000 pounds was a great deal of money, and i mentioned the beginning of my talk. this is sort of, you know, we can call him an adventure of microfinance because he said what i want to do with this money is in philadelphia in boston some citizens, some general is gonna step forward and manage these loan schemes for free. they're gonna give small amounts of money 60 pounds to each applicant and the applicant is
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going to use that money to hang up their shingle to start their own business. they're gonna repay the money over a period of 10 years below market interest. he set the rate at 5% again. this is at a time when the american financial system is fledgling. the stock exchange in new york stock exchange will not open until two years after franklin's death and 1792. the american dollar will not be made official currency until two years after franklin's death and 1792. so we also says that there has to be two backers for these loans to make sure that the fun keeps accumulating and they have to back the money using spanish gold. so i want the fund to keep growing as these tradespeople pay their money back in increments. the principle is going to keep growing i want this to continue for a hundred years at the end of a hundred years. i want boston and philadelphia to get together independently and democratically decide on what to spend a large portion of the money on to build something in the cities that will benefit the common good and kind of
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picture franklin laughing to himself is he writes us having just gone through the constitutional convention and how fractious it was and how hard it was to reach a compromise. at the same time. he says i want the rest of my money to keep going. back into a pot in boston in philadelphia, and i want you to fund skilled trades people to start their own businesses for another hundred years and then on the bicentennial of my death which by the way is coming up this easter sunday, april 17th, maybe 232 years since franklin died on the bicentennial of my death. i want you to take all the money which is going to be a windfall by my calculations and build something great for the cities the cities in which i was born the cities where i learned my trade the cities in which i made my fortune. what could go wrong, right? one of my favorite sayings of poor richards is blessed. is he who expects nothing for he shall never be disappointed? very good wanted to do something else with this will and i talked about this in the book, too. he said i'm choosing to use
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2,000 pounds as the figure. because that is the salary that was due to me when i served as president as the governorship was then called as president of pennsylvania for three years. franklin argued at the constitutional convention unsuccessfully, obviously that people who hold public office should not be paid. he said he found that in england and in france people tolerated a king because one ruler was better than a risk aristocracy ruling as a group. but he said because in the united states, we will not have a king. i fear that an aristocracy will rise up and these will be the people the people that serve in government with their selfish than public service. his fellow constitutional convention delegates sort of shrugged and said sure old ben whatever and they listened to him, but they wrote it off as a joke and john adams and i'll come to him in a second particularly.
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it was really incensed by this idea that frank would make a mockery of public office by suggesting that people who hold it should not be paid but franklin and charity put this in the will that salary that was due to me is going to go forward and fund these tradespeople because he continued in my experience good apprentices make the best citizens franklin saw when he came back from paris that the america that he grew up in i should say found his fortune in practice his trade in the philadelphia. he had helped improved had changed remarkably. and the philadelphia academy, for example, the college that he co-founded that went on today to become university of pennsylvania was not following his blueprint at all. franklin co-founded that college in order to be a great leveler. he wanted to help poor boys franklin by the way was ahead of his time. but in many ways he was very much of his time as you see with his slave holding and also his refusal to allow women to attend the college he founded but he
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wanted people there to learn practical skills bookkeeping public speaking and so forth. he comes back from paris and he finds that it's all blue blood, pennsylvania as the highest families setting their sons there to be well-rounded in latin and greek and a wall had literally gone up around the college franklin might be one of the first people if not the last who have founded a school and let left nothing for it in his will he was so disgusted at how it had turned out and so in his mind he wanted his lone scheme to help apprentices start their own businesses, but more importantly start entering public life, and he wanted them to serve in office. he said trades people are so important because they see the effect of taxation and policies at the ground level the interact with all sorts of people different genders different origins different creeds on a daily level. they're very much attached to the community in which they serve and these are the people you want serving in government. okay, now let's talk about what happened after franklin dies and
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how this all turns out. this is the death notice that ran in the pennsylvania gazette four days after he passed away and it's announcing franklin's funeral. his funeral was held on april 21st, philadelphia was then a city of 28,000 the largest city in america the estimates were that 20,000 people attended it, but i was very surprised to learn there was no state funeral for benjamin franklin. the first state funeral would be for george washington nine years later president washington decided against it. he said franklin did not die in office and he did not die on the battlefield. so that sets a dangerous precedent. i don't want to begin this tradition. furthermore at the beginning of this talk. i showed you the cover of the book with those black bands over it. those were called badges of mourning people at this time if you wanted to mourn someone's passage, you would wear a black armband congress took up the the measures should we wear badges of morning the lower house the house of representative cds.
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we should the senate over. john adams presided as vice president said absolutely not. thomas jefferson pleaded with george washington to wear an armband of morning for franklin and washington refused. he felt that adams had his eye on him and he didn't want like he didn't want to start a quarrel with this. so when franklin dies the country that mourns him the greatest the most is france and in the book i talk about there is a festival of franklin incomiums and funerals going on across paris and public eulogies and then come liam's given for him and my favorite one was a group of printers as they're giving the speech or setting the man's speech in type and running it off on presses and then sending the speech out across paris. i think franklin is a printer would have loved that tribute the most his will for all his achievements begins. i benjamin franklin printer. he leads his will with this trade. so here we are in philadelphia. here's the death notice. again, as i mentioned there's no
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american. there's no state funeral and really the first official eulogy for franklin in america is not given until nearly 11 months after he died and only then is it given by the one man? we could call franklin's true. enemy the revenant reverend william smith who was an anglican minister that franklin had actually hired to come over and run the philadelphia academy after samuel johnson had turned it down and we can thank william smith for all the rumors about who franklin's firstborn son williams mother. truly was it's pretty apparent that that william was born to a prostitute it may he may have been born to deborah and because they were a common law marriage and and deborah had a non-dissolved marriage from up to a previous man who had absconded away from her. maybe they hid the pregnancy so they would not be charged under pennsylvania laws under adultery, which would have been 39 lashes and hard labor, but likely william was mothered by a
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prostitute and the reverend william smith was the man in the 1750s and 1760s who made sure that philadelphia's knew that and would accuse franklin of this in print they had a long falling out william smith would spy on frank went for the penn family and so forth. this is the man who gives franklin's american eulogy in the book. i try to do better by him. all right, let's move on to this loan scheme. and happened going forward? franklin knew his two hometowns had a rivalry, which i think probably still extends today at least in baseball. if not, if not in character. you know, he he grew up in boston. he apprenticed under his brother james in boston as a printer and then he fled boston. he broke his indentures and fled when he was 17 years old boston was the center of american learning and also the center of the american church and it was
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largely homogeneous community philadelphia on the other hand was a largely heterogeneous port the center of business the center of finance the center of publishing and this is where franklin makes his fortune and he puts in his will if one of you boston or philadelphia refused my loan scheme idea the other city gets all the money. so boston jumped at the chance to take the money first and here you see this begins not long after he dies. this is the first page of the ledger where you can see the to received the first loans the first franklin loan went to a bricklayer named daniel tuttle, and it was actually guaranteed by two masons under whom he apprenticed but you could also see in the early ledgers a lot of famous names. there was a silversmith named thomas ayers and his loan was guaranteed by paul revere. there's another man a carpenter who's loan was guaranteed by samuel adams and when he turned the pages of the ledger to begin
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in the 1790s, you really feels like a whole village is assembling before your eyes on the page you get a house right a glacier a cabinet maker a blacksmith a candle maker a sadler a shoemaker a hairdresser on and on and on it's really exciting to watch and i start i found myself in the archives as you're turning these pages and they're crinkling, you know, and no one's looked at them for decades of that hundreds of years you're rooting for these men to make these loan payments and so you want them. succeed philadelphia, and this is going to set the chorus for how things go with the management takes a little bit longer to get going on their loan scheme. this is an ad in franklin's grandson's benny's newspaper 1792 calling people to put in their applications for the loans. philadelphia is when the first loan went to a shoemaker named john grant and i love these early names as well. you see we get baker's glaciers
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potter's harness makers copper smith's there's a bricklayer named oliver cromwell. there is a cabinet maker named christopher pigeon. so again as you early decades the people who are running the loan scheme really do a good job of finding people to use the money and the people are making their payments. so at the beginning this is actually working out quite well. i want to touch real quickly though on other bequests that franklin made because he had four main errors when he died. he had a largely fractured family when he died this person. here this young man here is temple his grandson. that's his son williams grandson in temple was a bit of a thump and a roué. and to temple franklin left all of his papers and said i want you to publish my papers edit them. bring them together. it takes temple 20 years to do. so and i'll talk about i talk about that in the book about how long it takes to produce franklin's memoir his autobiography. for example he gave his other
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grandson benny a very different gift he gave him his printing press and in the will franklin talks about one of my greatest regrets is that i didn't train my own son a trade and so young benny who was with him in paris learns franklin's trade as a printer and benny throughout the 1790s as these first loans are being given becomes a muck raking journalist and heavily criticized george washington for owning slaves and george washington had slaves in pennsylvania and under pennsylvania law in the 1790s if an enslaved person existed lived in pennsylvania for six months, they were automatically free and washington is sending secret letters back and forth to mount vernon saying i not my enslaved people my slaves brought back to mount vernon before that six months happens. benny franklin's grandson knows about this and begins criticizing washington in the press. this is an editorial cartoon from a pro washington newspaper in which a man named porky pine is attacking benny in the press
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as lady liberty here weeps over a portrait of franklin. you can still see benny's print shop here today. there's no plaque for him though, and you can't see a gravestone for him. i think people should know more about benny because not only is he the best example, i think of carrying on franklin's wishes benny was also the first american charged under the alien and sedition acts, and he dies of yellow fever before he's put on trial in 1798. to his daughter sally franklin leaves his most valuable gift, which is a diamond encircled portrait of louis the 16th, and he tells sally this is in the will he writes this is for you and you alone. this is 50 years before the end of coverture laws in pennsylvania women at that point were really had no better legal standing than a dependent child if they were married and franklin endeavors to show it as well sally. this is for you and you alone. i'm leaving you bank shares. i'm leaving you my most expensive gift and even puts a note to her husband. this is no mark on your
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character, but i want my daughter to have her own independent income and independent life. he also tells sally whatever you do don't make these diamonds into jewelry. so sally, i think there's something even more clever instead. she starts selling the diamonds off. and she puts franklin's house up for rent in 1792 so she can finally go overseas. so in 1792 when mary walton crafts the her book on the rights of women is being published for the first time in america. sally sells the diamonds off rents out franklin's house and gets to go overseas for the first time and she goes to london and this is the portrait she has painted of herself. it's a portrait. we have a fair that survives. it's in the net in new york. franklin would have been shocked at the lace. she's wearing because he won school did her she wanted him to buy lace for her in paris and he said what a waste of money you saying you want to buy lace it maybe it felt like you put salt on my strawberries if you want
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lace do what i do just wear your camera cloth and let moss eat holes in it and voila it becomes lace. the last error in his will is his son william and he knew that his will be published some of you. i'm sure watch the ken burns miniseries, so i don't need to recount the fate of william here, but william remain loyal to king george in the american revolutionary war and really did some horrible things as far as hunting down patriots when he was when he was released when he was in new york city william ends up exiled in london. and he ends up being buried in the old saint pancras church graveyard a young novelist named thomas hardy. who was then working as an architect's assistant was given the task when they were building saint pancras railway station to move the graves and move the trip the tombstones so they could put the railroad in so williams tombstone is rumored to be around what's called the hearty tree this tree at which thomas hardy directed the tombstones be put franklin knew
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that his will was going to be published and he made sure that william was the first beneficiary that people would see and he said because my son labored to take away the estate that i had worked hard to earn i'm going to leave him everything that he's entitled to which was a bunch of worthless land in nova scotia and a bunch of papers that william had already lost in the war. so william gets nothing. okay. let me talk for about five more minutes and just show you what happens with the money. these are pre-printed. forms, we can see here. benny benjamin's grandson printed these up and you can look through these and philadelphia and you start seeing great names. like i said in the ledgers this man is liberty brown. he was born on the fourth of july and he's a silversmith and he gets his loan in the year 1800 liberty brown fulfills franklin's ideal. he rises to become president of the philadelphia city council. there's a bricklayer in boston named charles wells who becomes the fourth mayor of boston and
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his election was the newspaper reported a protest of the middle classes against what they thought was the high-handed and extravagant way that wells elitist predecessors rule the city. now here's where things get dicey though as we enter the 1800s eli whitney patents the cotton gin only three years after franklin dies. franklin does not see the industrial revolution coming and so as we get into the 1800s the path of his money takes two very different paths in philadelphia here. you see the walnut street jail. you have men like pat lyon a man who is jailed wrongly during the yellow fever epidemic that killed benny and with his settlement. he starts his own foundry. he starts building fire wagons, and he says i want to be painted wearing my leather apron. this is the kind of person i am i belong to franklin's leather apron class. philadelphia is being stripped into the 1810s and 1820s, you know, not only it loses its status as national capital the
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erie canal opens strips its status as major port it starts lending money to people that can no longer pay it back because trades people are going out of business, but it still lending franklin's money it wants to adhere to his vision. up in boston the textile factories of the lowells on the charles river where franklin used to swim are benefiting from the industrial revolution, and they are changing american manufacturing and they are also signaling the end of the apprenticeship system that franklin believed in and you have up in boston men such as the daniel boatich who's statue we see here over his grave. he's a major figure in this book because bowditch is the man we can credit as having invented the investment bank. and he would have a hand in inventing the mutual fund and he would have a large hand in managing large family trusts and trusts for places like harvard college. boston decides, you know what we're not gonna give the money to workers like franklin
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intended. we should be aiming for that hundred year and that 200 year payout. and so instead we're going to invest the money and let it grow. totally different paths as we get toward the centennial the two cities are fighting with each other over who's the true bearer of franklin's legacy and spirit in philadelphia. they try to start attracting tourists to franklin's grave by putting a barred fence here to drive making a tourist attraction. up in boston a man takes over the fun named samuel mccleary. he's an important character in this book because we take over the fun. this is what he looks like when he ends managing the fun. this is what he looks like and the cleary in boston tries quite hard to get things back on track. but all during the 1800s you see a series of defaults. i think franklin didn't think that anyone might not pay money back. that was completely antithetical to what his values were but look at these names of the people that default they could be
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franklin penn names john death francis hammer fraser k work daniel deal samuel stackhouse and isaac kite. poor richard said it's against some some men's principle to pay interest and seems against others' interests to pay the principal and that's what starts happening to his fund. okay? i'm going to show you about five more slides. this is a very american story. people start suing and in the book i talk about how franklin's descendants come to the fore. this is elizabeth duane gillespie a leading philadelphia feminist who says listen, it says in his will if you're not going to manage the fund correctly the money goes to his heirs and by the way women work trades too. and so she hires a young lawyer named george wharton pepper another important character in this book who will help define franklin's legacy going forward in the 20th century and they start loosening franklin's conditions to allow women trades
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workers to start receiving the money as well. as we get toward the centennial two boston decides, let's build the trade school and the city treasurer says, we're not letting you have the money. this is a one-off gift. you're supposed to build something with one-time use you can't burden the taxpayers with something that's going to keep causing, you know expenses every year and so a young man from scotland who follows a very frank linear trajectory. also a born british subject also the son of a skilled fabric worker also an immigrant to pennsylvania also mastered the technology of the day franklin with his printing press this man with the telegraph also a great lover of philanthropy and libraries andrew carnegie comes to the rescue. in carnegie at a speech decides. i'm gonna match franklin. i'm gonna use his favorite invention and use the matching grant. i'll match him penny for penny to build the trade school in boston and you know in the book i talk about carnegie a great deal because carnegie said
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franklin was my teacher franklin should be we should get our theology from franklin. all of us should be learning from franklin and his idea that the way you serve god is by doing good to man. you should not die rich you should die having lived a useful life. just as franklin wrote. the way to wealth carnegie wrote the gospel of well, he modeled his autobiography on franklin as well and tried to give as much of his money away as he could. carnegie as many of you know, though put his name on almost everything that he donated money to but after a big outcry in boston he agreed to take his name off the franklin trade school, which i'll show you at the end is still there today. okay quickly now summing up into the 20th century franklin's image changes greatly in the book. i keep saying that every generation discovers franklin for themselves in the 20s people like gatsby jay gatsby are saying we love benjamin franklin at gatsby's funeral gatsby's father shows nick nick caraway. excuse me.
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got you. wake up every morning as a boy and say what inventions should i study? what electric you know, how should i master electricity? i want to self-improve every day and frankly became sort of this stoiced and taurian patron saint of thrift and seriousness. this is a man who had a child out of wedlock who, you know had a very and and wanted in his will to be remembered as a trades worker and wanted that spirit to continue into american public life, especially in government and instead of the 1930s onward we get this very serious franklin, not the mark twain franklin not the will rogers franklin right a very different voice and a very different image. let me go ahead a little bit here. in the 1960s other people start saying i want a piece of this money. there's a man who escapes nazi germany fleeds berlin as a young man serves in the us army in japan comes back to philadelphia
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and says i want to crack at this money in franklin's will he said we have to build something of use what better use than protecting the environment. this is walter lyon one of my favorite characters in the book and he has this idea that we should elevate people like rachel carson to public recognition and pennsylvania should use franklin's money to protect the environment and he has a long battle against this that ultimately he loses because a lot of the philadelphia franklin money goes to the franklin institute science museum, which you can still visit today. the boston money a big block of it go went to the franklin trade school, which you can still visit today fantastic place. i think no place better invokes franklin spirit then when you walk in and you see young people learning to use tools i said to its president at the time, aren't you worried about mechanization and robotics and he said no. no, we're the people training. the kids who are fixing those robots. our graduates always need work. i'll end here on franklin's last will and testament and how we
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remember him today. you know, i hope the purpose of this book. is to give us a different sense of what franklin values and what he believed in. i think he'd be quite shocked if he came back today to philadelphia for example and saw his face on a bus and saw his name over an ice cream bar and saw the entrance to his old home and saw the shell of his former home. and saw people standing at his grave and he might say what are they think of me? what do they remember me for the caretaker of the cemetery by the way told me that people put pennies on his tombstone all the time. they never throw less abrasive hundred dollar bills. i love that detail, but i think franklin would really be shocked again about how do we remember him today? um, and i think he'd also be shocked that. you know over half of americans identify as belonging to the working class, but less than 2% of congress people have ever held working-class jobs. you know, there's more people employed in the nonprofit sector in america today. there is a manufacturing and the
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last statistic. i'll give you and i'll end on this note. is that our 17 million young people enrolled in four-year degree programs. there's only 600,000 agreed enrolled in apprenticeship programs and i say this is an english professor. you don't need to pursue a four-year degree to find fulfillment and happiness in life. you know, you can also learn how to hang doors and make things with your hands and be useful in that way and hopefully be involved in public life. i'll end on that note. thank you so much for listening and i hope you go to your local library or your favorite independent bookselleran invitay beckons from each shoreline of this land the most diverse upon our planet.


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