George Washington and Benjamin Franklin

THE DUAL LEGACIES OF GEORGE WASHINGTON & BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

"The deceased (Benjamin Franklin) was long a Patriot, and his great abilities and worthy Deeds, his Philosophical Acquirements and Public Works, justly render his Memory dear to Mankind."

—George Washington

Benjamin Franklin and George Washington are two of the most iconic figures in American history, and while they had distinct roles in the founding of the United States, their paths did cross a number of times.

Benjamin Franklin, born in Boston in 1706, rose to prominence as a polymath. His myriad contributions spanned a vast range of disciplines—he was a renowned writer, most famously penning under the pseudonym "Poor Richard," an inventor of objects like the lightning rod and bifocal glasses, a groundbreaking scientist with his studies in electricity—and later in life, a diplomat who played an indispensable role in securing French support during the American Revolution.

In contrast, George Washington, born in 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia, hailed from a lineage of landowners and gradually established himself as a military leader.

His initial reputation was carved from his ventures in the French and Indian War, and he later became the de facto leader of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Washington's military prowess, combined with his leadership capabilities, made him the unanimous choice as the first President of the United States.

While their backgrounds were divergent, with Franklin's roots in the bustling urban environment of Boston and his self-made status. Washington's origins in the planter elite of Virginia. Their paths would come to intersect in the revolutionary fervor of the late 18th century.

Their shared vision for an independent America, free from the yoke of British colonialism, saw them collaborating, albeit in different capacities, to achieve a common goal.

1754 ALBANY CONGRESS

Men meeting at the Albany Congress
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In the mid-18th century, a pivotal convergence occurred between Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.

Their meeting ground was the Albany Congress of 1754, an assembly which brought together colonial representatives with the primary objective of negotiating a treaty with the powerful Iroquois Confederacy.

The Iroquois, a formidable native alliance in North America, held significant sway over the territorial dynamics of the continent, making their alliance or at least neutrality a matter of strategic importance for the British colonies.

Benjamin Franklin, already recognized for his intellect and civic contributions by this time, took the opportunity to introduce his Albany Plan of Union.

This proposal, though never adopted, was a visionary call for a united colonial front, a proto-federal structure that would allow the colonies to collaborate on matters of defense and western expansion. It was one of the earliest public recognitions of the need for collective action among the colonies.

Concurrently, a young George Washington, scarcely in his early twenties, brought firsthand knowledge of frontier challenges, primarily due to his recent involvement in the initial skirmishes of what would escalate into the broader conflict of the French and Indian War.

His accounts and insights provided the Congress with a palpable sense of the geopolitical stakes at play, emphasizing the need for colonial unity in the face of external threats.

MUTUAL RESPECT

George Washington portrait
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George Washington, the stalwart military leader of the Continental Army, held Benjamin Franklin in profound esteem. Washington's respect for Franklin was not mere lip service—he recognized the instrumental role Franklin played as a diplomat, especially during his tenure in France.

Franklin's diplomatic prowess was evident when he managed to secure French support, both financial and military, which proved pivotal for the Revolutionary cause. The Battle of Saratoga, a turning point in the war, would not have been won without the timely assistance of French arms and troops, a testament to Franklin's diplomatic achievements.

In return, Benjamin Franklin, ever the astute observer of human character, deeply admired Washington's military acumen and the moral integrity he brought to the revolutionary struggle.

Washington's ability to hold together a fledgling, often under-supplied army, as witnessed during the dire winter at Valley Forge—or his strategic brilliance showcased in the Siege of Yorktown, elicited Franklin's profound respect.

Moreover, it was Washington's character—his unyielding commitment to the cause and his refusal to seize power after the war—that Franklin saw as emblematic of the nascent republic's ideals.

FRANKLIN’S MILITARY SUGGESTIONS

A portrait of Benjamin Franklin
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While Benjamin Franklin and George Washington shared mutual respect and collaborated on numerous fronts during the Revolutionary period, one lesser-known facet of their relationship revolved around Franklin's recommendations of military men to Washington.

Franklin, with his extensive network, often encountered individuals whom he believed had potential military capabilities or strategic value to the Continental Army. On several occasions, he took it upon himself to recommend these figures to Washington for various military roles or assignments.

Washington, ever the patient and respectful commander, often considered Franklin's recommendations.

After all, Franklin's judgment in other matters had proven invaluable, and it was conceivable that he might identify an unsung talent that could bolster the revolutionary cause.

However, as the war progressed, and as the challenges of managing and leading the Continental Army became increasingly complex, Washington began to rely more heavily on his own judgment and the advice of his closest military advisors.

It reached a point where Washington felt it necessary to politely yet firmly communicate to Franklin that the military realm, with its intricate dynamics and the necessity for cohesion and trust among officers, was not always best served by external recommendations.

He expressed that while he deeply valued Franklin's input in many areas, the military sphere required a different approach.

Franklin, ever the diplomat and pragmatic thinker, understood Washington's perspective.

CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

The leaders in the Constitutional Convention of 1787
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In the sweltering summer of 1787, Philadelphia became the epicenter of American political thought and action as the Constitutional Convention convened to address the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation.

George Washington, whose leadership during the Revolutionary War had earned him unparalleled respect, was unanimously elected president of the convention. His presence lent gravity to the proceedings, and his judicious leadership provided a steady hand at the helm during debates of great consequence.

Benjamin Franklin, by this time an octogenarian, brought with him not just the weight of his substantial intellectual achievements but also the wisdom accrued from a lifetime of public service.

Franklin’s age, combined with his experience in diplomacy, especially during his time in France, made him a natural mediator. When disputes arose over issues like representation in Congress, leading to sharp divisions between large and small states, Franklin’s voice was a calming and unifying one. His proposal of a bicameral legislature, which eventually shaped the form of the U.S. Congress with a Senate and House of Representatives, demonstrated his knack for compromise.

Their collective efforts, Washington's steadfast leadership combined with Franklin's diplomatic finesse, were instrumental in the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, a document that would serve as the bedrock for the nation's governance and embody the aspirations of a fledgling republic.

GEORGE WASHINGTON MOURNED THE LOSS OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

The death of Benjamin Franklin
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The year 1790 marked the end of an era for the fledgling United States with the passing of one of its most illustrious founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin.

As the nation mourned, its leader, George Washington, took a moment to pen a heartfelt letter to Franklin's daughter, Sarah Bache.

In his correspondence, Washington eloquently conveyed the dual sense of personal and national loss.

He emphasized that while Sarah had lost a father, the nation had lost a patriot and a guiding light. Washington's letter underscored Franklin's multifaceted legacy—from his groundbreaking scientific endeavors to his indispensable diplomatic efforts, particularly in securing French support during the Revolutionary War.

Washington's words to Sarah served as a reminder of the interconnectedness of the founding fathers, their shared struggles, and their mutual admiration. It highlighted the sense of fraternity that existed among these men and the collective grief they felt at the passing of one of their own.

Franklin's legacy, as underscored by Washington's sentiments, went beyond individual accomplishments—it was about shaping a nation's ethos and laying the groundwork for its democratic principles.

Washington's letter stands as an enduring testament to a bond forged in the crucible of revolution, and to the deep respect two of America's foremost founders held for each other.

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