William Temple Franklin


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"Temple Franklin, the grandson, is with me, and continues to serve me as a private secretary, taking care of my books and papers."

—Benjamin Franklin

William Temple Franklin, born in 1760 in London, was thrust into the tumultuous landscape of the American Revolutionarsy era as the illegitimate grandson of the eminent Benjamin Franklin.

During the height of the American Revolution, he accompanied his grandfather to France in 1776, serving as his secretary during the pivotal peace negotiations with Britain, culminating in the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

While the newly-formed United States navigated its nascent years and cemented its place on the world stage, Temple chose a life abroad, immersing himself in European literary and social circles—and never returning to the land his grandfather helped to shape.


portrait of William Temple Franklin
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Born as the illegitimate child of William Franklin in 1760, Temple's very existence hinted at the intimate dalliances of the elite, a not uncommon occurrence of the era.

His grandfather, Benjamin Franklin, while renowned for his scientific and political contributions, was also known for his flirtatious nature, especially during his many years in Paris.

There have been speculations and historical accounts suggesting Benjamin's possible liaisons with women, perhaps even courtesans, in France and elsewhere. Similarly, William Franklin's relationship outside of wedlock that resulted in Temple's birth adds another layer to the narrative of the Franklin men's personal escapades.

It is essential, however, to approach such topics with caution, as the line between historical fact, inference, and scandalous gossip can sometimes blur.

While both Benjamin and William's personal lives were colorful, they were also products of their times, navigating societal norms and personal desires in an age of revolution and change. The stories of their relationships, legitimate or otherwise, offer a window into the private lives of public figures in the 18th century.


portrait of Benjamin Franklin
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Setting sail to France in 1776, Temple was thrust into the epicenter of Franco-American politics, serving not as a mere aide, but as a trusted secretary and intermediary for the elder Franklin.

His fluency in French and understanding of European customs proved invaluable in smoothing interactions with the French court and political elites.

Moreover, Temple's presence also provided Benjamin with emotional and familial support in a foreign land. As the peace negotiations intensified, leading to the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Temple's role expanded to include managing correspondence, organizing diplomatic documents, and ensuring confidentiality.

Through these endeavors, Temple not only witnessed but actively facilitated pivotal moments that would shape the trajectory of the new American republic.

While Benjamin Franklin's diplomatic prowess was undeniably central to the American cause, the behind-the-scenes contributions of his grandson, William Temple Franklin, remain an integral yet often overlooked component of this historical narrative.


Temple Franklin as a young lad
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As the United States emerged from its revolutionary crucible, the promise of its expansive horizons drew many back to its shores.

However, for William Temple Franklin, the old world charm of Europe, with its rich tapestry of history, art, and culture, resonated deeply. Paris and London, centers of enlightenment thought, political intrigue, and cosmopolitanism, provided a milieu where Temple could engage intellectually and socially in ways distinct from the nascent American republic.

Furthermore, his established connections and familiarity with European elites offered him a unique status, allowing him to navigate high society with ease. For Temple, Europe wasn't merely an escape—it was a realm of endless possibilities and sophisticated allure, contrasting the rustic promise of early America.


Temple Franklin writing Benjamin Franklin's works
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Amid the post-revolutionary fervor, as the young American nation sought to understand and document its genesis, William Temple Franklin emerged as an important, if somewhat contentious, literary figure.

His biography of Benjamin Franklin was eagerly anticipated, not least because of Temple's intimate access to the private musings and memories of the renowned polymath.

Released to the public, this biography offered a fresh and familial perspective on the elder Franklin, shedding light on facets of his life that were hitherto less explored.

Beyond this, Temple's compilation of his grandfather's letters became an invaluable resource for historians and enthusiasts, offering candid insights into the thoughts and deliberations of one of America's founding fathers. However, the public's reception was mixed. While many applauded Temple's efforts to memorialize and understand his grandfather, critics argued that he had perhaps sanitized or selectively presented certain correspondences.


William Temple Franklin experimenting with magnetism
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In the wake of the Enlightenment, the pursuit of knowledge became a hallmark of the era, and William Temple Franklin, keen to explore the scientific wonders that had captivated his grandfather, ventured into the realms of electricity and magnetism.

While not as revolutionary as Benjamin's famed kite experiment, Temple's studies built upon the foundational understanding of these forces, refining earlier concepts and introducing new observations.

Some of his findings elucidated the nuanced behavior of magnetic fields and the interplay between electricity and various materials. However, while his experiments were methodical, they often lacked the transformative impact that marked his grandfather's contributions.


William Temple Franklin as a socialite
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In the late 18th century, Paris was the pulsating heart of European cultural and intellectual life, a beacon for thinkers, artists, and socialites. Amid this backdrop, William Temple Franklin emerged not only as a bearer of his family's intellectual legacy but also as a vivacious participant in the city's effervescent social scene.

As a bon vivant, Temple glowed in the decadence of Parisian salons, soirées, and banquets, spaces where the Enlightenment's ideas were as freely exchanged as were tales of passion and intrigue.

The Paris he knew was a blend of opulence and revolution—the grandeur of the Ancien Régime was giving way to the fervor of revolutionary ideals. Amid this transformation, the salons served as the crucible for both intellectual discourse and elite entertainment. Temple's wit and charm, combined with his unique Franco-American heritage, made him a prized guest, bridging the New World's promise with the Old World's traditions.

Through him, many in Parisian circles gleaned insights into the American experiment even as they indulged in the time-honored traditions of French revelry. By all accounts, Temple's immersion in this world was complete, and he became as much a symbol of the cosmopolitanism of the era as any native Parisian.

In the interplay of light-hearted banter and deep intellectual discourse, Temple Franklin found a Paris that was both a stage and a home.


Benjamin Franklin with stacks of cash
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William Temple Franklin’s exuberance, while endearing in social circles, often manifested as financial imprudence.

Benjamin Franklin, the quintessential American polymath, valued thrift and prudence, principles he enshrined in his famous adages.

Thus, Temple's recurrent financial misadventures were likely a source of both concern and disappointment for the elder Franklin. However, Benjamin's repeated bailouts suggest a blend of familial affection and perhaps a hope that Temple would eventually adopt his grandfather's ethos of financial restraint.

While public records can't capture the full spectrum of their personal interactions, it's evident that Benjamin's support was a blend of compassion and subtle reprimand, hoping his grandson would find fiscal responsibility amidst the allure of Parisian extravagance.


Benjamin Franklin writing a letter to his grandson Temple
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Throughout the annals of history, the correspondence between Benjamin Franklin and William Temple Franklin paints a vivid picture of a relationship that transcended mere familial ties.

In one such letter, Benjamin affectionately wrote, "Your progress delights me, and I long for the day when we may once again discuss our shared passions side by side."

Temple, in his responses, often sought guidance, noting, "Your wisdom, dear grandfather, is the compass by which I navigate."

Even in moments of discord, the warmth was palpable—Benjamin once remarked, "Though miles apart and in disagreement, my heart holds nothing but hope for your future." Through these exchanges, one glimpses not just the evolution of a nation, but the intricate dance of love, respect, and mentorship between two generations of Franklins.


William Temple Franklin's gravestone
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As the curtains fell on William Temple Franklin's life in 1823, when he was 63, his legacy was firmly imprinted on both sides of the Atlantic.

While he never married and thus left no direct descendants, he was survived by an extensive network of friends, acquaintances, and associates from Paris to London. Their correspondences frequently expressed deep admiration and affection for Temple.

Moreover, relatives in America bearing the Franklin name lamented the loss of this vibrant bridge between the New World and the Old.

In his passing, Temple solidified his place as an emblematic figure, a colorful testament to the enduring Franklin legacy.