Short Program: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin July 22 - 25, 2018

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) is arguably the most beloved and the most accessible of the Founding Fathers. A printer, publisher, and postmaster by trade and an inventor and scientist by avocation, a keen observer of his times and his fellow citizens, a tireless writer given to wit and sound reasoning, Franklin is especially revered for his service to his countrymen and countrywomen at the time of their greatest need, the founding of the republic.

A signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Franklin exercised profound influence on the democratic principles shaping these documents. An early advocate of independence, even as he served various political missions in London on behalf of the Colonies, Franklin became identified on both sides of the Atlantic as the main proponent of the American cause. As an emissary, he had an easy, even festive time of it, for he was celebrated in France and England for his scientific accomplishments as well as his personable diplomacy. When he returned to Philadelphia from London after a second, largely unsuccessful mission at the behest of the Pennsylvania Assembly, the Revolution was already underway. Franklin knew clearly where his loyalties were and did not hesitate to act on them.

Fortunately for us, much of Franklin remains available through his writings. His delightful autobiography, chronicling the first 52 years of his life, is a clear window onto the American 18th century as well as a young man's ethical and political education in what it means to be an American. His Poor Richard's Almanack is the most quoted resource of homespun wisdom in our cultural heritage. Franklin animates our Founding Era through his enlightened insights, though we are ever aware also of the winking figure behind his words. Sober yet cheerful, moral yet practical, studiously curious yet never idle, and an avid traveler at home in the world-it is apt that Franklin chose as the central figure in his coat of arms a laughing dolphin.

Leading this discovery of Ben Franklin will be Ted DeLaney '85, W&L associate professor of history, and Marc Conner, provost and Ballengee Professor of English. Joining them will be two faculty from VMI, Turk McCleskey, professor of history, and Howard Sanborn '01, associate professor of international studies and political science. "Let all men know thee, but no man know thee thoroughly," Franklin writes in the Almanack. We will devote three happy days to the latter.