Announcer: Major funding for "Benjamin Franklin" was provided by David M. Rubinstein, investing in people and institutions that help us understand the past and prepare us for the future.
By the Pew Charitable Trusts, a global non-governmental organization that seeks to improve public policy, inform the public, and invigorate civic life; and by The Better Angels Society and its members: Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine; The University of Pennsylvania, impact through innovation and inclusion; Gilchrist and Amy Berg; Perry and Donna Golkin; and by these additional contributors.
♪ By the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by generous contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.
♪ Man as Benjamin Franklin: Being now in my last "Act", I begin to cast about for something fit to end with.
Or if mine be more properly "compar'd" to an "Epigram", I am very desirous of concluding with a bright "Point".
Schiff: The thing about Franklin is, whatever you say about him, on the one hand, you can always say the opposite, as well.
I mean, this is a man who is very much pro-temperance and he writes bawdy drinking songs.
He founds a fire company, and he founds a fire insurance company.
He does play all sides.
But during those British years, he very much plays the British gentleman.
He has a--a crest on the door of his carriage.
And, yet, by the time he becomes an American rebel, so to speak, he is entirely an American.
Narrator: In January of 1775, Benjamin Franklin turned 69.
He had already achieved extraordinary success as a printer and publisher in his adopted hometown of Philadelphia, where a library, a college, and countless civic improvements testified to his belief that his highest calling lay not in making money, but in improving the lives of everyday people.
[Thunder] And his revolutionary breakthroughs in unraveling the mysteries of electricity had made him the most famous American in the world.
Ellis: He is every man, but he's a very extraordinary every man.
He was a Nobel Prize-winning caliber scientist, probably the great--greatest prose stylist of his generation, and he's probably the greatest diplomat in American history.
Narrator: Franklin had been in England for the last decade, trying desperately to bridge the growing gulf between Parliament and the American colonies.
Only a year earlier, the future he had envisioned for himself and his family seemed bright and tethered inextricably to the British Empire.
Now that dream was in ruins.
During his long absence from home, he had missed his wife Deborah's death and funeral.
In London, in a government chamber called the Cockpit, he had been publicly humiliated, accused of inciting the colonial crisis he had, in fact, worked so hard to prevent.
And as that crisis intensified, his son William, now the royal governor of New Jersey, seemed to be choosing the wrong side.
Skemp: The longer William stayed in New Jersey, the more corrupt and rebellious and selfish the colonies started to look to him and the more wonderful and inspiring the Crown looked.
I think that the longer that Benjamin Franklin stayed in England, the more he idealized the colonies and saw the corruption and venality around him in England.
And so, they began to see things kind of as a mirror image of one another.
Narrator: For years, Franklin had reveled in the intellectual life of Britain.
But increasingly, he dwelled more on the differences between the Old World and the New, rather than what they shared in common.
Man as Franklin: In America, People do not enquire, concerning a stranger, "What is he?"
but "What can he do?"
[Tapping] The people have a saying, that God Almighty is himself a mechanic, the greatest in the universe; and he is respected more for the variety, ingenuity, and utility of his handiworks than for the antiquity of his family.
Narrator: "Life," he once said, "is like chess."
And in the turbulent years ahead, as his country and his family would be challenged as never before, Benjamin Franklin would need every skill the game had taught him.
Man as Franklin: The game of chess is not merely an idle amusement.
By playing at chess, we may learn, "Foresight, Circumspection, Caution".
The habit of not being discouraged by present bad appearances in the state of our affairs, the habit of hoping for a favorable change, and that of persevering.
He's different from the other Founders, from a Washington, from a Jefferson.
And so he brought a past, a past in which he created himself as a man.
He brought his wisdom, his experience, his travel abroad to make, I think, a much more cosmopolitan and urbane understanding of what America could be.
Brands: Franklin was born an Englishman, like everybody else in the American Colonies of his generation.
He died an American.
He is made to realize that he will never be allowed to be sort of a--a fully recognized, respected Briton.
And, for that reason, he decides he has to become an American.
Man as William Franklin: Dear Father, The "Measure of Sending Troops" to Boston is putting a "Stop to the Riots".
The same "Spirit" however, still prevails in the "Colonies", and nothing can make them acknowledge the "Right of the Parliament" to tax them.
Your dutiful son, William.
[Shouting, glass breaking] Narrator: The repercussions of the Boston Tea Party had created a tinderbox in the American colonies.
King George III ordered a crackdown on the American upstarts.
"The New England governments are in a state of rebellion," he declared.
"Blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country or independent."
Parliament quickly passed a flurry of new laws.
Until the East India Company was compensated for its lost tea, Boston Harbor was to be closed.
[Shouting, glass breaking] Massachusetts was placed under martial law, the colonial charter was suspended, the elected assembly outlawed, and most public meetings banned.
Communities were required to provide quarters for British troops.
Americans called the new laws the Intolerable Acts.
Protests sprang up in every colony.
Committees of correspondence were established.
They urged colonists "not to purchase any goods which shall be imported from Great Britain."
Each colony was asked to send delegates to a Continental Congress that could propose a united response.
In New Jersey, Governor William Franklin wrote to his superiors in London.
Man as William Franklin: My Lord, His Majesty may be assured that I shall omit nothing in my "Power" to keep this "Province" quiet, no "Attachments or Connexions" shall ever make me swerve from the "Duty of my Station".
Your Lordship's most obedient and humble "Servant".
Narrator: For more than a decade, William Franklin had managed better than other colonial governors to work with his assembly and steer it toward a more moderate course.
"The most despotic and worst of all Tyrannies," he told them, is "the Tyranny of the Mob, "which must at length involve us all in one common ruin."
William wrote to his father in London suggesting that the necessary first step was for Boston to "do justice" and pay for the tons of tea that had been destroyed.
Man as Franklin: Dear Son, As to "doing Justice," that should have been thought of by Parliament before they demanded it of the Bostonians.
They have extorted many "Thousand Pounds" from America unconstitutionally and with an armed "Force".
Of this "Money", they ought to make "Restitution".
But you, who are a thorough "Courtier", see everything with "Government Eyes".
Narrator: The Franklins were coming to different conclusions about which side was to blame, but both men still hoped that a complete split between Britain and her colonies might be avoided.
The British government was never a monolith.
There were always dissenters, sympathizers with America, people who thought that Americans were justified in their opposition.
There were people, well-placed within the British Government, who believed, with Franklin, that the future of the British Empire could be great and could be bright if the British government recognized that America could be this second pillar of a transatlantic empire.
Narrator: Working behind the scenes, because his public image in England was now so badly tarnished, Franklin and sympathetic members of Parliament struggled to find some compromise that could avert a war.
But nothing came of it.
Brown: Franklin knows exactly what's going on.
And what's going on leads him to despair.
I'm not sure there were many who were more disappointed by the separation than Franklin.
In part, because I think he really thought it was avoidable.
Man as William Franklin: Gentlemen, You have now two roads-- one evidently leading to peace, happiness, and a restoration of the public tranquility-- the other inevitably conducting you to anarchy, misery, and all the horrors of a civil war.
Narrator: In New Jersey, William had refused to convene the colonial assembly in order to prevent them from sending delegates to the Continental Congress.
They chose representatives anyway.
When the Congress met in Philadelphia in the fall of 1774, it had asserted that only elected colonial legislatures had the right of taxation within their borders.
It banned all imports from Britain until the Intolerable Acts were repealed and set a deadline for Parliament to do it.
Otherwise, American exports to England would cease and a Second Continental Congress would convene in 1775 to consider further steps.
If only his father had been there, William wrote, he might have been able to steer the Congress toward something less confrontational.
Man as William Franklin: However mad you may think the "Measures of the Ministry" are, yet I trust you have "Candor" enough to acknowledge that we are no ways behind hand with them in "Instances of Madness" on this "Side of the Water".
Narrator: Benjamin Franklin now believed any chances of averting war were unlikely; but he was growing more and more worried that he and William were ending up on opposing sides.
He was ready to head for home.
If he couldn't keep the colonies and England together, at least he might be able to keep his son.
[Seagulls crying] On March 21, 1775, Franklin finally set sail for Philadelphia.
With him was William's own son, Temple, who had been born out of wedlock 15 years earlier in England and discreetly given over to a foster family.
In London, Benjamin had decided to take custody of the boy and enrolled him in school but did not tell him he was his grandfather.
Now, he was bringing Temple to America, where he would meet the father he had never known.
Isaacson: When Benjamin Franklin sails home in 1775, he's estranged from William.
His wife Deborah has died.
He feels this enormous sense of failure.
His whole mission had been to try to hold the Colonies and Britain together.
And that has failed.
Narrator: But being at sea always revived Franklin's spirits and ignited his scientific curiosity.
Isaacson: He still wants to chart the Gulf Stream.
He still is curious about natural phenomenon.
And, so, there's Temple Franklin helping his grandfather Benjamin as they lower barrels into the ocean to take the temperature of the water, to see where the Gulf Stream could be, and he's almost replicating those moments with William Franklin, where Ben Franklin and William flew the kite in the rain to discover electricity.
Narrator: When he and Temple arrived in Philadelphia on May 5, 1775, Franklin learned startling news.
While he was at sea, the war he had once hoped to prevent had already started in Massachusetts.
[Drums beating rhythmically] On April 19th, 700 British troops had marched from Boston to capture munitions stockpiled in Concord.
[Gunfire] A skirmish on the Lexington town green left 8 Americans dead... [Shouting, gunfire] but a larger fight broke out at Concord's North Bridge that sent British redcoats retreating back toward Boston.
Dunbar: The Revolutionary energy in Philadelphia was palpable.
Regular people were talking about "revolution," were talking about "power," were talking about "human rights," were talking about "freedom" and "democracy."
These were the things that Franklin came home to.
Narrator: A week after Franklin got back home, delegates to the Second Continental Congress were gathering in Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Assembly elected him as one of their representatives.
Man as William Bradford: I can inform you that some delegates begin to entertain a great suspicion that Dr. Franklin came rather as a spy than as a friend, and that he means to discover our weak side.
Narrator: In the early meetings, Franklin remained quiet, so quiet, John Adams of Massachusetts complained that he seemed to spend "a great part of the time fast asleep in his chair."
In the evenings, while other delegates congregated in taverns and debated whether the Congress should declare independence, he preferred to stay at his new house, with his daughter Sally and her family.
By this time, Franklin had confessed to Temple that he was the boy's grandfather.
When Governor William Franklin visited from New Jersey, Temple met his father for the first time.
And later, when Benjamin and William met privately, Benjamin made it clear he wanted his son to join the cause.
William wanted his father to stay neutral.
He still thought a reconciliation with England might be possible.
They argued all night.
At another meeting, neighbors could hear them shouting.
Father and son went their separate ways.
William would remain a Loyalist.
Benjamin had become a fervent revolutionary-- what was called a Patriot.
Wood: Of the major leaders, he came to the Revolution very late.
In fact, it's hard to understand why he even joined the Revolution, uh...
He was already successful.
He was an old man.
Brands: Revolution is a young man's game, but Franklin decided this is what needs to be done.
Narrator: At age 69, he was the oldest delegate.
Many of the 62 other delegates had not even been born when he first entered political life 40 years earlier and knew Franklin only by his reputation.
John Adams was 39; Patrick Henry and John Hancock, 38; Virginia's Thomas Jefferson was only 32-- all younger than Franklin's son William.
Isaacson: He's the "old" one.
He's the sage one.
And he talks in parables and metaphors.
And a lot of people don't quite know what to make of him.
Here's Franklin, coming with a worldwide reputation, certainly the most famous American in the world, and yet, they're not fully trusting him.
Who is this guy?
We don't really know him.
Narrator: Franklin had traveled more extensively than any of the others--throughout Europe, but also through most of the colonies that were only now beginning to think of themselves as something more than individual English provinces.
It was an idea he had proposed more than 2 decades before.
The delegates unanimously elected him as postmaster general, and he donated his salary to help wounded soldiers.
They assigned him to important committees, creating a system for paper currency, raising money for weapons and manufacturing gunpowder, and negotiating with Indian nations in the hope they would not side with the British.
Following the battles of Lexington and Concord, Franklin heard from his favorite sister Jane, who witnessed the chaos in Boston, the town of his birth.
"The distress it has occasioned is past my description," she wrote.
"The commotion the town was in after the battle, bringing in "their wounded men, caused such an agitation of mind, I believe none had much sleep."
Colonial militia had surrounded the city and the occupying British forces there.
12,000 of Boston's 15,000 residents, including Jane, evacuated in panic.
British soldiers then ransacked the nearly empty town.
They would use the pews and pulpit from the Old South Meeting House as firewood.
[Gunfire] On June 17th, in the Battle of Bunker Hill, British forces attacked the militiamen in nearby Charlestown and were repulsed twice, until the defenders' ammunition ran out.
At the end of the day, the British had taken the heights, but suffered more than 1,000 casualties to fewer than half that by the Patriots.
Much of Charlestown had been burned by the British to rid it of American snipers.
Jane's son, Josiah, fought for the Patriots and died.
One of her in-laws died fighting for the British.
"O how horrible is our situation," she wrote to Benjamin, "that relations seek the destruction of each other."
Enraged by what the British had done, Franklin sent a letter to a friend in England, intended for publication there.
Man as Franklin: Britain, at the expense of three millions, has killed 150 Americans this campaign, which is 20,000 pounds a head; and at Bunker's Hill she gained a mile of ground.
During the same time 60,000 children have been born in America.
From these data, calculate the time and expense necessary to kill us all, and conquer our whole territory.
Narrator: And he had written a second letter to another English friend, which he shared with colleagues in America but never sent.
Man as Franklin: You have begun to burn our towns, and murder our people.
Look upon your hands!
They are stained with the blood of your relations!
You and I were long friends: You are now my enemy, and I am "Yours".
Man as Bradford: The suspicions against Dr. Franklin have died away.
Whatever was his design at coming over here, I believe he has now chosen his side and favors our cause.
Man as John Adams: Dr. Franklin has discovered a disposition entirely American.
He is a great and good man.
[Horse nickers] Narrator: In October 1775, Franklin traveled to Massachusetts to confer with General George Washington, who desperately needed more money from Congress to fight the British.
He was trying to cobble together a Continental Army that would eventually include fishermen, frontiersmen and farm laborers; recent immigrants, vagrants and teen-aged boys with few prospects; Native Americans, free African Americans and enslaved men, hoping to be freed when the war ended.
Franklin promised Washington he would do what he could to help.
On his way back, Franklin reunited with his sister Jane in Rhode Island.
She was still a refugee from occupied Boston.
He persuaded her to come with him to Philadelphia, and they stopped briefly in New Jersey, so she could see her nephew William at the governor's mansion.
Franklin hoped her description of the carnage in Boston might prompt his son to reconsider his loyalty to the Crown.
She was unsuccessful.
William would be the last royal governor trying to carry on the king's affairs in America.
People always ask, why were people Loyalists.
And I think the question to ask is, "Why were people Patriots?"
Uh, to be loyal is not to change.
It's simply to go on believing what you've always believed your entire life.
His father taught him to be principled.
He was doing exactly what his father had always taught him to do.
Man as William Franklin: For "King and Country" was the "Motto" I assumed when I first commenced my "Political Life", and I am resolved to retain it till "Death" shall put an end to my mortal "Existence".
Narrator: William Franklin had assured his superiors in London he did not intend to leave his post.
He had advised his wife Elizabeth to seek refuge with relatives in Barbados, but she insisted on staying with him in New Jersey.
Benjamin Franklin would not see his son again for 10 years.
[Drums beating rhythmically] Man: March!
[Flutes playing tune] Narrator: One day in Philadelphia, Franklin noticed a drummer who had painted a rattlesnake on his drum along with the words "Don't Tread on Me."
Man as Franklin: It occurred to me that the Rattle-Snake is found in no other quarter of the world besides America, and may therefore be chosen, on that account, to represent her.
She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: I confess I was wholly at a loss what to make of the rattles, 'till I went back and counted them and found them just thirteen, exactly the number of the "Colonies" united in America; One of those rattles singly, is incapable of producing sound, but the ringing of thirteen together, is sufficient to alarm the boldest man living.
[Rattling] Narrator: A delegate from South Carolina created a bright yellow flag, which was flown from the flagship of America's first deployment of Marines.
In March of 1776, Franklin was on his way overland to Montreal, to try to convince the Canadians to join the colonial cause.
Learning of the mission, William Franklin wrote immediately to London, betraying his father's movements.
It was an arduous 9-week trip.
Benjamin Franklin's efforts failed.
Canada would remain loyal.
And when he returned to Philadelphia, he was so sick he was unable to attend the proceedings in Congress.
All he had to show for his troubles was a soft cap of marten fur that had kept his head warm.
In June of 1776, William was arrested at the governor's mansion by Patriot soldiers.
His secret reports about proceedings in the Continental Congress had been intercepted.
He was declared an "enemy to this country."
Congress voted unanimously that he be transported under guard out of New Jersey to Connecticut.
His father, still housebound after his trip to Canada, was spared having to cast a vote against his son.
On June 21, 1776, a packet arrived at Franklin's Market Street home.
It was from Thomas Jefferson, who with Franklin, John Adams, and two other delegates, had been assigned to draft a declaration of independence.
Working in a rented second- floor room of a house a few blocks from Franklin's and attended by his enslaved servant Robert Hemings, Jefferson completed a first draft.
He asked Franklin to "suggest such alterations as your more enlarged view of the subject will dictate."
The old editor and writer recognized the elegance of Jefferson's prose and made only a few changes before returning it.
Jenkinson: Franklin sits back and ponders it a little and he makes a few really extraordinary suggestions to Jefferson.
And one of them is world class.
Jefferson had written, "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable."
And Franklin said, "No, no.
'We hold these truths to be self-evident.'"
Just as 2 plus 2 is 4 and the sun rises in the morning, it is self-evident that we have a right to revolution.
Franklin is saying, "We're trying to create a new type "of nation in which our rights come from rationality "and the consent of the governed, not the dictates or dogma of a religion."
Brown: They were doing something very radical and very scary.
To say something is "self evident," to say that it's common sense, is to say that there is no other way to think about this, that only an irrational person, who's not using their mind correctly could contend with this thing, which is, in fact, really contentious.
It's a classic lawyer's trick to say, "We all agree to this thing."
Who is "we?"
The "we" is presumptuous.
Bailyn: They were not talking about liberating women in any particular way or certainly not slaves.
But in incremental ways, it grew and grew because if you talk about liberty for the individual, of you and me, uh, you're talking about a greater liberty that can be applied to other people.
Narrator: On July 2, the Continental Congress unanimously approved the central clause of the declaration, proclaiming American independence.
Two days later, July 4, 1776, 12 of the 13 former colonies approved the entire declaration.
New York would take a few more days to make up its mind.
Man as Franklin: And for the support of this declaration, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
Narrator: On the same day Benjamin Franklin was voting to approve the Declaration, his son William arrived in Connecticut, where he was told he was now officially a prisoner of the brand-new United States of America.
Brands: At this point, what are the odds?
If you were making a book on this, who would you bet on?
There was the greatest military power in Europe, arguably the greatest military power in the world, and then there are these 13 Colonies.
So, it was a longshot, to put it mildly.
Brown: And then there are significant numbers of enslaved men and women who were eying the situation, trying to figure out, is there some way that this conflict could serve my interests personally, serve people like me collectively.
And then you have, both within the Colonies, at the borders of the Colonies, Native nations who are trying to understand what this emerging divide might mean for control of their land or access to trade.
We know how it turned out.
But nobody in 1775 or 1776 has any idea how this is going to turn out.
And, so, choosing sides also means choosing fates.
[Gunfire] Wood: The Revolution, as it emerges and becomes a war, is a civil war.
Families are divided, uh, friends are divided, neighborhoods are divided.
Schiff: Almost everyone involved in the Revolution has family members who are on the other side, often, very vitriolically on the other side.
So, this really does tear families apart.
In Franklin's case, um, it comes as a complete break with his son.
Narrator: By now, hundreds of British ships had arrived in New York Harbor with 35,000 British soldiers and sailors and Hessian mercenaries, the greatest and best-equipped expeditionary force of the 18th century.
Washington's army would be overmatched and easily routed from Long Island.
British Admiral Lord Richard Howe sent Franklin a letter offering a truce, with pardons for the rebels, and rewards for any Americans who helped restore peace.
Franklin and a small delegation met with Howe on Staten Island on September 11.
Howe now suggested that the colonies might also have control of their own legislatures and taxes, yet still be part of the empire.
The Americans said it was too late.
He should ask the king for permission to negotiate with an independent nation.
Howe urged them to reconsider.
"When an American falls, England feels it," he said.
And if America were to fall, he added, "I should feel and lament it like the loss of a brother."
"We will do our utmost," Franklin responded, "to save your Lordship that mortification."
"They met, they talked, they parted," Howe's secretary wrote of the 3-hour meeting.
"And now, nothing remains but to fight it out."
Two weeks after the meeting with Lord Howe, Congress secretly chose Franklin to be one of 3 envoys to France to seek King Louis XVI's help in the fight with England.
He is the perfect choice.
First of all, there's no other person who knows the, uh, the European world as Franklin does.
And he is the most celebrated American in Europe.
And he's a natural for the job.
Narrator: On October 27, he was on board the "Reprisal," a swift but cramped American 2-masted brig.
With him were two grandsons-- 16-year-old Temple and Sally's 7-year-old son Benny.
14 years earlier, when France and Britain were at war, Franklin had sailed from England under the protection of the Royal Navy.
Now it was imperative he avoid British ships at all costs.
The rough voyage across the wintry Atlantic "almost demolished me," he wrote.
The diet on board of salted beef had ruined his digestion and caused boils, scabs, and rashes all over his body, including his scalp.
They reached the west coast of France in early December.
A fisherman agreed to row him and his two grandsons to shore at the hamlet of Auray in Brittany, 300 miles from Paris.
Franklin had intended to keep a low profile, but news of his arrival spread quickly and reached the capital long before he did.
The real purpose of his visit, securing a formal alliance with France, remained secret.
But everywhere he went, he was a sensation.
In 1776, people in France had never heard of any American except for Benjamin Franklin.
Schiff: From the French point of view, they have sent the greatest celebrity on Earth, this side of Voltaire, to Paris.
He is like Newton or Galileo reincarnated.
Narrator: The city of Nantes celebrated the renowned Docteur Franklin, tamer of lightning, and crowds cheered him on his carriage ride into Paris.
They were fascinated by his soft hat of marten fur, which resembled the famous cap worn by the philosopher Rousseau, in contrast to the powdered wigs of the Parisian elite.
Franklin was wearing it to keep his head warm and to hide the unsightly sores on his balding head.
Chaplin: It's such a great costume and prop, immediately announcing himself as a man of science.
I am the famous Benjamin Franklin-- the "Prometheus of the Modern Age," don't forget it-- here on business.
Narrator: French admirers hung portraits of him over the mantelpieces in their homes.
Poems were written about the great American scientist and philosopher who had miraculously arrived in their midst.
A collection of "Poor Richard's" aphorisms was translated into French as "La Science du Bonhomme Richard."
Franklin loved it.
Man as Franklin: Dear Sally, The clay medallion of me was the first of the kind made in France and the numbers sold are incredible.
These, with the pictures, busts, and prints, of which copies upon copies are spread everywhere, have made your father's face as well known as that of the moon.
Jenkinson: The King, Louis XVI, became sort of slightly annoyed and amused by the Cult of Franklin.
He had a chamber pot with an image of Franklin put on the inside of it just as a way of saying, "Enough, already."
Narrator: Franklin had serious and vital business to attend to.
Without France's money, supplies, and, ideally, military assistance, America's fight for independence might be lost and lost quickly.
Schiff: There's no question that someone is going to have to step in to underwrite this Revolution.
There is no gunpowder in the Colonies; there is no materiel; there are very few guns; there are no uniforms.
There's very little common purpose, in fact.
The obvious candidate, um, for that alliance is France.
Cohn: Franklin had a terribly difficult assignment.
He had to convince one monarch to help the Americans overthrow another monarch.
Brands: The French had reasons to oppose Britain.
They wanted to weaken Britain.
But, King Louis XVI didn't want to underwrite this overthrow of monarchies.
The French people might get ideas.
Narrator: Persuading France's king and his ministers to provide any assistance at all would require delicacy and discretion, persistence and shrewd calculation.
Franklin had taken on the most momentous chess match of his life.
And playing it would require him, on his own, to improvise his strategy again and again.
Jenkinson: Franklin understood they're not committed to our people's republican revolution here.
They want to get back at the British.
They side with the colonials and allow us each to spend ourselves down in this protracted fight, that this improves France's position in the European balance of power and maybe gives it a chance to reassert itself a little bit in the New World.
And, so, everyone's operating out of self-interest.
But, Franklin, and Franklin alone, knows how to negotiate this slowly, with suavity and humor and patience.
Narrator: He met frequently and always surreptitiously with the Comte de Vergennes, France's foreign minister, who found Franklin tactful, smart, and unassuming.
Vergennes arranged for several million livres, French pounds, to be secretly advanced for the Americans to purchase supplies.
But he would go no further, unless the Patriots' military situation improved.
At the moment, that didn't appear likely.
George Washington's army had been chased out of Manhattan, across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania.
A large British force moving south from Canada had captured Fort Ticonderoga.
Its general, John Burgoyne, boasted that he would be home in England by Christmas.
British soldiers also threatened Philadelphia.
Congress abandoned the city, as did many of its residents.
Only a few days earlier, Franklin's daughter, Sally, had given birth to a baby girl.
Now the whole family, including Franklin's sister Jane, were refugees.
After an American defeat at Brandywine Creek, Philadelphia fell without a fight.
A British officer commandeered Franklin's home and stole his books and papers, musical instruments, and scientific equipment.
In France, Franklin strove to appear upbeat, despite the setbacks.
The Americans could hold out for 30 years, he bravely declared.
Schiff: Franklin is, first and foremost, a man of the press.
And he plays that role to the hilt in those first months in France.
He is essentially engaged in a thorough disinformation campaign.
Washington's men are almost without uniforms.
There's a wonderful quote in which someone says, "They could have scared the British away by their nakedness."
They have nothing.
And Washington, during this time, is in despair.
While Washington is struggling all over, Franklin is in France saying, "It's victory after victory."
Um..."He, like, he has an army of 80,000," um... "Yes, the--the British may take Philadelphia, but they "will be trapped there, the river will freeze, "they won't be able to reach their ships.
Washington will surround them."
He's utterly making this up.
He's promoting a war that isn't really happening.
And he doesn't, for a moment, in public, drop that mask.
Isaacson: Benjamin Franklin also realizes he has to win the hearts and minds of the French people.
He knows that within the French population, there's welling up this sentiment for liberty and fraternity and equality.
And he taps into that by being a public diplomat, not just a private diplomat.
Narrator: Franklin moved from a hotel in crowded Paris to the village of Passy, 2 miles west, where a wealthy merchant offered the use of a wing of his sprawling estate rent-free.
Soon, a lightning rod sprouted from its roof.
Franklin sent his grandson Benny to a boarding school in Switzerland and assigned Temple to help with the diplomatic paperwork-- there were mountains of it-- and the steady stream of visitors who began arriving once they knew the famous Doctor Franklin was living there.
Man as Franklin: You can have no "Conception" how I am "harass'd".
The "Noise of Every Coach" now that enters my "Court" terrifies me.
Narrator: Besides his constant efforts to get more money from the French, much of Franklin's time was consumed handling requests from individual Europeans eager to fight the hated English in America.
Man as Franklin: Frequently if a "Man" has no useful "Talents", is good for nothing, and burdensome to his "Relations", they are glad to get rid of him by sending him to the other "End of the World".
Narrator: They came from every corner of Europe.
All of them, regardless of their talents and experience, expected to be commissioned as officers.
General Washington finally begged Franklin not to send anyone else.
But 3 of the men Franklin recommended would prove invaluable to the Revolution: Count Casimir Pulaski of Poland would organize the American cavalry and serve with bravery and distinction before being killed in action at Savannah, Georgia.
Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben would develop a system of military discipline and drilling and impressed the Continental soldiers with his ability to swear in multiple languages.
And the Marquis de Lafayette of France, whose father had been killed by the British in the Seven Years' War, believed that "To injure England is to serve my country."
Only 19 years old when he went to America, he would become a surrogate son to General Washington and one of the most ardent champions of the Revolution.
Early into his diplomatic mission, Franklin was warned, "You are surrounded with spies who watch your every movement, who you Visit and by whom you are visited."
He said he didn't care.
Man as Franklin: As it is impossible to prevent being watched by "Spies", I have long observed one "Rule": to be concerned in no affairs that I should blush to have made public.
If I was sure, therefore, that my valet was a spy, as probably he is, I think I should probably not discharge him for that, if in other respects I liked him.
Narrator: The chief spy in Franklin's midst was not his valet.
It was Edward Bancroft, a Massachusetts-born scientist now serving as the secretary to the American delegation in France, with access to every document and letter.
Every week, Bancroft wrote seemingly personal letters and then, in invisible ink, provided his clandestine reports in the margins.
Each Tuesday night, he dropped them into the hollow of a tree in the Tuileries Garden, where they were retrieved and taken to the British embassy in Paris.
For his work as a secret agent, England paid him £1,000 a year, the same amount the Americans were giving him to be their secretary.
His double-dealing would not come to light for a hundred years.
Schiff: Franklin is encircled by two sets of extremely effective spies-- a set of French spies, who are, themselves, surrounded by a set of British spies.
And every piece of paper that, essentially, moves off of Franklin's desk will end up in the wrong place, will end up either at Versailles or in London, but very rarely in the colonies.
Franklin was no fool.
He knew what was happening.
He knew the spying that was going on was to America's advantage because the Brits got the sense that America was really quite close to France.
And, uh, Franklin did nothing.
I mean, he just sat there and let it happen.
[Galloping hoofbeats] [Horse nickers] Narrator: On December 4, 1777, a messenger rode into Franklin's courtyard at Passy with startling news.
After two battles near Saratoga, New York, British General Burgoyne had found himself surrounded by a larger American force, and on October 17, he surrendered, along with his entire army, nearly 6,000 troops.
Schiff: Saratoga changes everything.
This is the moment Franklin has been waiting for.
There is no reason for the French to enter into any serious alliance until the Americans have proved that they can actually win this war, or at least put up a fight.
So, this is the news that he needs to take to Vergennes, the French foreign minister, and to the Court to be able to say, "OK, now, will you take us seriously?
Now, will you officially--" because until this point, the help has been unofficial-- "Will you officially underwrite our Revolution?"
Narrator: Franklin sprang into action, writing reports of the American victory that would be spread throughout Paris, praising valiant French officers now serving in America, like Lafayette, and leading the British ambassador to realize he had completely underestimated Franklin.
Man as Ambassador Lord Stormont: They play us off against one another.
Franklin's natural subtlety gives him a great advantage in such a game.
It is easy to see that in such a situation peace between England and the House of Bourbon hangs by the slightest of all threads.
[Cheering] Narrator: On February 6, 1778, Franklin met with Vergennes and signed 2 treaties.
One, a treaty of friendship and commerce, meant French aid would flow in greater quantities and no longer in secret.
The other, the most important, was a treaty of military alliance.
France had officially joined the American Revolution.
Isaacson: When they signed the treaty, he wears this old, frayed suit.
And it's the one he had worn in the Cockpit, when he had been berated by the British lords for what he was doing.
And he was asked why he wore that coat.
And he said, "To give it a little revenge."
Narrator: A month later, he was presented to King Louis XVI at Versailles.
Schiff: And he meets the king, who congratulates him and says, "I hope this is for the good of both countries."
And Franklin utters a line, which is almost astonishing in its treachery, which is, basically, he--he says to the king, um, "If all rulers ruled with your benevolence, republics would never be formed."
Narrator: Franklin, a French statesman proclaimed, has "seized the lightning from the heavens and now the scepter from the tyrants."
[Waltz playing] Man as Franklin: This is the civilest nation upon Earth.
Your first "Acquaintances" endeavour to find out what you like, and they tell others.
Somebody, it seems, gave it out that I lov'd "Ladies".
So everybody presented me their "Ladies" or the "Ladies" presented themselves to be embraced, that is to have their "Necks" kissed.
For as to kissing of "Lips or Cheeks", it is not the "Mode" here; the first, is reckoned rude, and the other may rub off the "Paint".
'Tis a delightful "People" to live with.
Narrator: All the while he was negotiating and maneuvering for the alliance with France, Franklin immersed himself in the intellectual circles and social salons of Paris.
He considered it part of his diplomacy and very enjoyable.
He had loved London, but he adored Paris.
In France, you can flirt at a very high level of sophistication and it's all a beautiful game of sexual ballet.
And it has nothing to do with carnality, really.
It's more about, nuance and just the right touch of flirtation.
he found personal happiness in France that he had never found in the course of his life.
Schiff: I don't think you can find anyone, anyone except his colleagues, who fails to fall under the charms of Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin is everywhere adored and everywhere cossetted in Paris, by no one more so, than by the women of France.
Every word that drops from his lips, they think is a gem.
And Franklin just adores the fact that these women are essentially hanging about him at all times.
Narrator: Franklin became particularly enchanted with a neighbor of his in Passy, Madame Brillon de Jouy.
She was beautiful and well- educated and, at age 33, a year younger than Franklin's daughter Sally.
He went to her home twice a week for tea and music; composed essays in her honor; and once played a late-night game of chess while she watched from her covered bathtub.
Isaacson: I think that Franklin's relationships with women were more in the mind than in the flesh.
He loved being flirtatious, loved being around them, but I don't think he pursued a truly passionate romance with any of them.
Cohn: We'll never know what happened.
I think Madame Brillon pointed out to Franklin that she was a married woman, that any kind of hanky-panky was simply out of the question.
I believe Franklin must have been disappointed, but he took it very gracefully and from that point forward, they agreed that he would be "Papa" and she would be his daughter.
Narrator: Franklin's attentions turned to another woman a little closer to his own age.
Anne-Catherine Helvétius was nearly 60, a widow who lived on a grand estate near Passy.
Eccentric and free-spirited, she hosted one of the most renowned salons in France, attended by intellectuals and artists.
Franklin became a regular visitor, sometimes playing his glass armonica while people sang his favorite Scottish ballads in French.
Schiff: She's a philosopher's widow and very Bohemian.
She had this fleet of cats whom she would dress in brocades and silks, and who would--who would, basically, wander around her house and eat their meals off china.
Um, and into that menagerie, um, walks Benjamin Franklin, who's immediately smitten.
Man as Franklin: If this lady is pleased to spend her days with Monsieur Franklin, he would be just as pleased to spend his nights with her.
Narrator: She declined, but never discouraged him from showering her with affection.
Schiff: There is a moment there where he essentially says to her, "I would stay in France, if you would have me."
And she's not interested.
But I would say that that was probably the most serious of the relationships with-- with any--with the French women.
Narrator: Meanwhile, Franklin's social calendar was always filled with lunches, teas, and lavish dinners.
Dray: He didn't speak or understand French all that well.
He wanted to be able to see the meal in front of him at a dinner party, but, also, at the same time, he needed to see the lips of the people speaking to him across the table.
So, he became frustrated that his glasses couldn't do both things.
This is typical Franklin.
He analyzed the problem.
He sawed his existing glasses in half, and glued them together so that one top-- one side did one function, the other, the other.
Narrator: He called his newest invention "double-spectacles"-- bifocals.
And Franklin was always ready for a game of chess with anyone.
Brands: In one case, he was having this chess match with the Duchess of Bourbon and Franklin professed to forget the rules and he captured the king.
His opponent, the Duchess says, "Well, in--in France, "we don't capture kings.
That's not the way the game is played."
He said, "Ah, but in America, we do."
[Hoofbeats] Man as Adams: It was late when he breakfasted, and as soon as breakfast was over, a crowd of carriages came.
By far the greater part were women and children, come to have the honor to see the great Franklin, and to have the pleasure of telling stories about his simplicity and his bald head.
He was invited to dine every day and never declined and it was the only thing in which he was punctual.
Narrator: In April, while the treaties were crossing the Atlantic, John Adams arrived in Paris.
He had been sent by Congress to push more vigorously for a French alliance and was chagrined to learn that Franklin had already secured two treaties.
Even more aggravating to him was how Franklin seemed to be conducting himself.
Adams called it "a scene of continual dissipation."
Bailyn: He was absolutely horrified.
Franklin's desk was a mess.
There were papers all over the place.
And there was no security.
Jenkinson: Adams said, "Where's 'Poor Richard?'"
"Early to bed, early to rise "makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
"Where's--where's the-- the Franklin that we're all-- that's famous for his discipline?"
Schiff: It's hard to imagine 2 such talented people, 2 men with so much in common, who are of absolutely opposite temperaments.
One of them is very rigid and dogmatic and brilliant.
And the other one is very flexible and easy-going and affable and brilliant.
And they got on each other's nerves.
Isaacson: Adams is quite wary of the French, quite Puritanical.
Adams learned French by memorizing funeral orations, and Franklin learned French by writing poetry and letters to women.
Franklin knew how to be popular and Adams had no idea how to be popular.
In fact, Adams per-perceived popularity as a sign that he was not doing the right thing.
Franklin's popularity drives Adams to distraction.
He's--he feels he's being-- he feels that Franklin is being ineffective and utterly given over to Old World luxury, and, moreover, people are throwing themselves at him left and right.
He can't stand these celebrations of what he sees as this utterly irresponsible colleague.
Narrator: Shortly after his arrival, Adams accompanied Franklin to the Academy of Sciences to see Voltaire, France's greatest Enlightenment writer and philosopher.
He was 83 and in poor health, a month away from dying.
When the crowd demanded that the two great men embrace, Adams had to watch from the sidelines.
Schiff: Adams is an impatient man, he's a brittle man.
And he doesn't understand the channels of diplomacy.
And he certainly doesn't understand the way the French Court works.
He doesn't see that the secret to Franklin's success is, in large part, his inactivity, the fact that he is... essentially being polite and genteel and is expressing gratitude toward these people who are underwriting our-- our Revolution.
Adams wants to be demanding things at all times and, essentially, makes himself very unwelcome at the French Court.
Ellis: It's the "good cop" and the "bad cop."
And Franklin is the good cop.
I think they become an effective team and instead of seeing one as right and the other as wrong, um, it works for the American cause.
This is probably the greatest assemblage of diplomatic talent in American history--two people.
But Adams is perceived by the French, especially Vergennes, the French foreign minister, as this impossible creature.
[Ship's bell clangs] Narrator: In February 1779, Adams learned that, at Vergennes' insistence, Congress had named Benjamin Franklin the United States' sole representative in France.
John Adams left for home.
[Gunfire] Skemp: This was a war that was not a sectional war.
This was not North versus South.
Americans were fighting against Americans.
This was a Continental war where every single person had to decide which side they were on.
Narrator: After being taken to Connecticut as a prisoner in 1776, William Franklin had been persuaded to sign a paper promising not to attempt an escape or to work against the Patriots so he could be placed under house arrest in a comfortable home.
It didn't last long.
He began secretly corresponding with British officials in New York, advising them about Loyalists in Connecticut and New Jersey.
Congress learned what William was doing and ordered him taken to the infamous Litchfield jail.
He was kept there in solitary confinement for 8 months, with nothing but a chamber pot and a straw pallet on the floor.
It was, he wrote, as if "I have been buried alive."
His wife, Elizabeth, had moved to British-held New York City, where her already fragile health worsened.
William appealed to General Washington, begging for permission to see her.
Man as William Franklin: I am certain that an indulgence in my present request will be thankfully acknowledged by my father, for he has great esteem for my wife, and I believe that though we differ in our political sentiments, yet it has not lessened his natural affection for me, any more than it has mine for him.
Narrator: Washington passed his request on to Congress, which refused to intervene.
The same day, Elizabeth died at age 43.
In his jail cell, William's own health began deteriorating.
Man as William Franklin: My "Life" has become quite a burden to me.
In short, I suffer so much that I should deem it a "Favour" to be immediately taken out and shot.
Narrator: Franklin's daughter Sally and her husband appealed to Congress to move him.
So did many of Franklin's Philadelphia friends.
In France, Benjamin Franklin himself did nothing on his son's behalf.
In September of 1778, Congress approved an exchange of prisoners.
The British released the Patriot governor of Delaware.
William Franklin was taken to New York City.
It was assumed he would sail to England.
Instead, he stayed to help the British, establishing a network of spies that operated behind American lines and organizing guerrilla units that conducted raids along the coast of Connecticut and Rhode Island and up the Hudson River in New York.
Skemp: He came out of that jail time experience in the same way that Benjamin came out of the Cockpit.
He was angry, and he wanted to do everything that he could to defeat the Patriots.
He became head of something called the "Associate Board of Loyalists," which was a terrorist organization, pure and simple.
Narrator: In New Jersey, Patriots were routinely murdering Loyalists.
In response, William's group issued a warning.
Man as William Franklin: A Warning to Rebels: If you continue in your murder and cruelties, we "Loyalists" do "Solemnly Declare" that we will "Hang Six for One", which shall be "Inflicted" on your "Headmen and Leaders".
Narrator: Word of the alliance with France had prompted the British to abandon Philadelphia and bolster their defenses in New York.
Franklin's family moved back into their Market Street home.
Sally organized women who went door-to-door to raise money for the Continental Army and knitted shirts for Washington's men.
But elsewhere in America, the war was not going well.
The first joint American- French military operation, in Rhode Island, had failed to take Newport back from the British, who opened up their own offensive in the South.
They captured Savannah, Georgia, and later, Charleston, South Carolina, where 5,000 American troops, 4 ships, and 300 pieces of artillery were surrendered.
Soon, a British army, under General Lord Cornwallis, would begin marching toward Virginia.
"Our present situation makes one of two things essential to us," George Washington wrote to Franklin.
"A peace or the most vigorous aid of our allies, particularly in the article of money."
Lafayette reported to Franklin how dire things had become.
Man as Lafayette: My dear friend, You have no idea of the shocking situation the Army is in.
We are naked, shockingly naked, and worse off on that respect than we have ever been.
For God's sake let us have fifteen or twenty thousand uniforms and let it be done in such a way as will insure their timely departure from France.
Narrator: In France, managing the purchase and shipment of supplies proved frustratingly slow.
Franklin did what he could to speed things up, but some in Congress blamed him for the delays anyway and discussed having him replaced.
Vergennes was angered at the news.
He approved an outright gift, not a loan, the largest of the war to the United States, and wrote Congress that it had been granted specifically because of Franklin's persistence.
Franklin, meanwhile, wrote Congress, asking to be replaced.
Man as Franklin: I have "pass'd" my 75th Year.
I have been "engag'd" in "publick Affairs", and "enjoy'd" "public Confidence" in some "Shape" or other, during the long "Term" of fifty "Years", an "Honour" sufficient to satisfy any reasonable "Ambition", and I have no other left, but that of "Repose", which I hope the Congress will grant me, by sending some "Person" to supply my "Place".
[Thunder] Narrator: On November 19, 1781, a young American merchant named Elkanah Watson paid a visit to Passy and found the old man lost in thought.
Franklin invited him in for dinner, played a Scottish pastoral tune for him on the armonica, and then they talked late into the night about the state of the war.
Man as Elkanah Watson: We weighed probabilities, "balanc'd" vicissitudes, dissected the best "Maps"; and finally it resulted in a disheartening foreboding, that the English Fleet "wou'd" intercept & destroy the French Fleet, "Land" their Army & "brake" up Washington's quarters.
Thus our unhappy "Country" would again bleed at every vein & the war commence with fresh vigor on the part of our implacable enemy.
Cohn: Franklin was extremely discouraged.
He was working night and day to supply the Americans with everything they needed.
But the war was dragging on and on and on.
So, when, at midnight, a courier came galloping into Franklin's courtyard with the news of the victory at Yorktown, it transformed him.
Narrator: A month earlier, Washington's army of 9,000 Americans and nearly as many French troops had trapped British General Cornwallis at Yorktown on the Virginia Peninsula.
The French fleet offshore had cut off any chance of his being resupplied or reinforced.
After 9 days of heavy bombardment, Cornwallis surrendered his 8,000 troops on October 19, 1781.
Lafayette, a division commander of American forces, was at Washington's side.
Isaacson: If France had not supplied the ships, if Lafayette hadn't come over, if Vergennes and others hadn't done what they did, if we hadn't had the French Navy helping by the time we got to Yorktown, I do not think that the American Colonies would have won the Revolution.
I think Benjamin Franklin, by sealing the alliance with France, did as much to win the Revolution as anybody with the possible exception of George Washington.
["Yankee Doodle" playing] Narrator: The Americans had won a great victory, but the British still had 26,000 troops in North America, and the war with England was not over.
Neither were Franklin's duties.
Congress refused to accept his resignation and instead gave him an additional mission.
He was now part of a delegation to begin peace negotiations with England.
Franklin drew up a list of 4 non-negotiable demands during informal talks with the British and rebuffed their suggestions that the Americans cut the French out of the deliberations.
To complicate things, when two other American negotiators arrived in Paris, they had their own opinions on the best way forward.
One was John Jay, a brilliant New York lawyer.
The other was John Adams.
Man as Adams: That I have no friendship for Franklin, I avow.
That I am incapable of having any with a man of his moral sentiments, I avow.
His whole "Life" has been one continued "Insult" to good "Manners" and to "Decency".
I can have no "Dependence" on his "Word".
I never know when he speaks the "Truth", and when not.
I wish with all my "Soul" he was out of public "Service", and in "Retirement", repenting of his past "Life", and preparing, as he ought to be, for another "World".
Ellis: Franklin was the kind of man put on Earth to drive a man like Adams absolutely crazy.
Franklin, himself, writes back to the Congress during the time they're both Ministers in France and says, "John Adams is an honest man; sometimes, a great one.
"But, in some ways and some things, absolutely out of his senses."
Narrator: Despite their differences, the Americans settled down to work.
John Jay agreed with Adams, that they should not consult with Vergennes, even though the alliance with France required it.
For the sake of unanimity, Franklin reluctantly consented.
By November of 1782, more than a year after Yorktown, a preliminary agreement seemed within reach.
England would recognize American independence, remove its troops from the United States, allow American fishing rights off the coast of Newfoundland, and relinquish any claims south of the Great Lakes.
But there was a sticking point.
The British wanted a provision that would compensate American Loyalists for their losses during the war.
Adams and Jay wavered on the issue.
Franklin wouldn't budge.
Jenkinson: And Franklin got angry.
He didn't very often get angry, and he said, "Wait a minute.
You ruined our crops.
"You burned our cities.
"You took our citizens across the Atlantic "and tortured them.
"You engaged in state terror against the citizens "of the United States.
"Don't talk to me about recompensing Loyalists unless "you want to pay for Norfolk and all the cities you burned "and trashed, and the houses that you ruined, and the lives that you shattered."
Narrator: Even Adams was struck by Franklin's vehemence on the issue.
His fury came in part from reports of his son William's conduct back in the United States.
Intent on keeping the war going, despite the British defeat at Yorktown, William's group of guerrilla marauders had pressed forward with their raids.
In one notorious incident, they hanged a Patriot leader in the midst of what was supposed to be a peaceful exchange of prisoners.
It was an outrage that threatened to mushroom into an international crisis, complicating Franklin's diplomacy in Paris at precisely the wrong time.
At the end of 1782, a preliminary agreement of peace was signed and sent to London and Philadelphia for approval.
It did not require reparations to Americans who had remained loyal to England.
And France, which had given so much to the new nation, had been excluded altogether.
Franklin was assigned the task of smoothing things over with Vergennes.
Jenkinson: Franklin writes one of the greatest letters he ever wrote to Vergennes, apologizing for this in a beautiful way and-- and really disarming the-- what could have been a huge international crisis, that we had not fulfilled our promise to work out the diplomatic aspects of the end of the war with France and not separately.
But he also, in that same letter of apology to Vergennes, this masterpiece, said, "And, by the way, we need some more money, too," and he got it!
Narrator: Finally, on September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed.
England officially recognized its former colonies as the United States of America.
The Revolutionary War was over.
Members of the British delegation refused to pose for the portrait meant to commemorate the moment.
In the unfinished painting, Franklin sits in the middle, with his grandson Temple, the delegation's secretary, sitting to his left.
On Franklin's right sits John Adams, already worried about how history would remember the Revolution.
Man as Adams: The history of our revolution will be one continued lie from one end to the other.
And the essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin's electrical rod smote the Earth, and out sprang General Washington.
That Franklin electrified him with his rod and thence forward these two conducted all the policy, negotiations, legislation and war.
Ellis: The Treaty of 1783 is one of the most lopsided treaties in American diplomatic history.
It's a total victory for the United States.
Its independence is recognized by France and the rest of Europe and England.
And we get a third of a continent, everything from the Mississippi to the Atlantic, and from the Canadian border to Florida.
We now become a nation larger than France, England, and Spain put together.
There is a consensus, at the end, uh, among the negotiators, including the Brits, that we're witnessing the creation of an American empire.
[Cheering] Cohn: By the end of the war, France's coffers were more or less depleted.
France had the satisfaction in triumphing over their arch enemy Great Britain, but they hadn't counted on bankrupting, uh, their own country in the process.
So, Franklin extracted, in a way, the lifeblood out of the royal coffers and he gave in return something that the monarchy was not counting on.
["Le Marseillaise" playing] He lit a fire, not only in France, but in all of Europe, promoting the democratic ideals that the United States stood for.
To put down tyranny was something that all the peasants could understand.
Narrator: For Native Americans, the treaty was devastating.
Many Nations had decided that they would be better off by allying with the British, not the colonists, who for nearly 2 centuries had been encroaching on their lands.
Now the United States was claiming an even vaster territory, and as its white citizens pushed farther west, more and more Native people would be dispossessed, regardless of whose side they had taken during the war.
[Cheering and applause] In the summer and fall of 1783, huge balloons suddenly appeared in the skies over Paris.
Hundreds of thousands of people turned out to see human beings flying for the first time.
And Franklin is watching this, with his usual spirit of, you know, what does this portend and what are the applications for war, for travel, for recreation.
And a man that was standing next to him, uh, watched all this and said, "Interesting, but what's the use of it?"
And Franklin turned to him and said, "What's the use of a newborn baby?"
Narrator: In early 1785, another balloon crossed the English Channel and landed in France.
It carried the world's first airmail letter addressed to Temple Franklin at Passy.
It came from his father, William, who was now in London.
He had reestablished his relationship with Temple and was hoping to do the same with his father.
Man as William Franklin: Dear and Honoured Father, Ever since the termination of the unhappy contest between Great Britain and America, I have been anxious to write to you, and to endeavor to revive that affectionate connection which till the commencement of the late troubles had been the pride and happiness of my life.
Man as Franklin: Dear Son, I received your letter.
Nothing has ever hurt me so much and affected me with such keen sensations as to find myself deserted in my old age by my only son; and not only deserted, but to find him taking up arms against me.
There are natural duties which precede political ones, and cannot be extinguished by them.
You may confide to your son the family affairs you wished to confer upon with me.
I shall hear from you by him.
Brands: Benjamin Franklin was estranged from many of his British associates and friends during the war.
But after the war, he was able to repair all those relationships, except with William.
And I'm not sure I can say exactly why.
William is willing to make up, but Benjamin is not.
And I just sort of imagine that William is--is holding out his hand to his father and his father just won't take it.
I guess the hurt went too deep.
Narrator: By May of 1785, Thomas Jefferson had arrived as the new ambassador to France, and Franklin learned that Congress had finally accepted his resignation.
By July, with his grandsons Temple and Benny, he was ready to leave.
They crossed the Channel and lingered for several days in the port at Southampton, where Franklin visited with some of his oldest English friends.
Then William arrived.
He and his father had not seen each other in a decade.
Whatever expectations William held for the reunion, his father treated it as a business negotiation.
He insisted that the deeds to William's properties in America be turned over to Temple.
Franklin also made clear that Temple, William's own son, would be returning to the United States with him.
Legal documents were drawn up.
William signed them all.
They would never see each other again.
On July 27, Franklin's ship set sail for his 8th crossing of the Atlantic.
On board, he soon immersed himself in the most sustained scientific work since his experiments with electricity back in 1752.
Most of his time was focused on observations and theories about the ocean and ships-- from more efficient designs for hulls and sails, to thoughts on the outrigger boats of Pacific Islanders and the canoes of Native Americans, from proposals for better anchors to a better soup bowl that would be less likely to spill when the ship tilted.
And with Temple and Benny's help, he continued gathering details about the Gulf Stream- taking the temperature of the air and water 3 times a day for more than 40 days.
[Bell rings] Finally, his ship docked at the wharf in Philadelphia, 62 years after his first arrival as a teenage runaway.
[Cannon fire, cheering] Back then, no one had heard of him.
This time, he was greeted by booming cannons, ringing church bells, and the cheers of his fellow Americans.
Schiff: He's been away for 8 1/2 years.
He's about to see a country that he's created.
It didn't exist when he'd left.
It's a really, um, rather extraordinary return.
He's greeted at the pier in Philadelphia by crowds and acclamations.
Narrator: The crowd carried him to his Market Street home, where his daughter Sally introduced him to 4 new grandchildren who had been born while he was away.
Man as Franklin: I am now in the "Bosom" of my "Family", and find four new little "Prattlers", who cling about the "Knees" of their "Grand Papa", and afford me great "Pleasure".
Narrator: In May of 1787, delegates from all the former colonies began converging again on Philadelphia.
The Articles of Confederation that had been drawn up after the Declaration of Independence had proved inadequate for the new nation during the Revolution.
Isaacson: When the Constitutional Convention is called, it's really a last chance for America to get its act together.
The Articles of Confederation really did not do what Franklin had asked for, which is unite the Colonies into one nation.
Narrator: When George Washington arrived in Philadelphia, his first stop was to pay Franklin a visit.
Man: At the Constitutional Convention, he was one of the two great figures.
There was George Washington and there was Benjamin Franklin, and nobody else came third.
Ellis: Up until the end of the War, if you were trying to rate American leaders, Washington would be behind him and Franklin would be at the head.
Franklin's the great man.
By the end of the War, Washington has gone ahead, and in his will, Franklin says, "I leave him my crab-tree walking stick for his stroll towards destiny."
Narrator: On May 25, 1787, when the convention gathered for its first day, Washington was unanimously elected to preside.
Isaacson: Benjamin Franklin's health is starting to fade.
Prisoners from the Walnut Street Jail, they have to carry him from his home on Market Street for the 2 or 3 blocks to get to what is now called Independence Hall.
Narrator: Franklin was 81, nearly crippled by gout and kidney stones.
Still, he would attend every session but one.
From the start, it was clear that the 55 delegates did not agree on the details of how to fix the Articles of Confederation.
Franklin favored a single-body Congress and a 3-member executive council instead of a president.
Virginians proposed 2 legislative bodies-- a House of Representatives that would select the members of an upper body to be called the Senate and also name the president and judiciary.
Alexander Hamilton of New York thought the president should be elected--for life.
Fierce debates on all the issues raged for days during a sweltering Philadelphia summer.
Man as Franklin: We must not expect that a new government may be formed, as a game of chess may be played, by a skillful hand, without a fault.
We are making experiments in politics.
The players of our game are so many, their ideas so different, their prejudices so strong and so various, that not a move can be made that is not contested.
Narrator: The convention adopted many provisions that Franklin did not initially support-- a 2-body legislature, a single executive who could veto laws-- and others that he did-- a 4-year presidential term, the legislature's power of impeachment, and no requirement of property ownership for voting or holding office.
One of the thorniest issues was how Congress would be apportioned.
Under the Articles of Confederation, each state had an equal vote, and delegates from smaller states demanded that it stay that way.
Larger states, which would be contributing more in taxes, wanted Congress to be based on population.
Franklin was placed on a committee to find a workable compromise.
Isaacson: And, finally, Franklin gets up and he says, "When we were young tradesmen here in Philadelphia, "we had a joint of wood that didn't quite fit, "we'd take a little from one side and shave from the other until we had a joint that would hold together for centuries."
And his point was that compromises may not make great heroes, but they do make great democracies.
Narrator: As the impasse over apportionment threatened to derail the convention, Franklin began inviting important delegates to his home, where they could socialize in the late afternoon, under the branches of his mulberry tree, and try to find common ground.
Isaacson: They discuss science, they discuss the things they're talking about that they have to compromise on.
And he helps cool the passions of that hot summer under the shade of his mulberry tree.
Narrator: In the end, a compromise was reached.
Each state would have the same number of senators, 2, chosen by their legislatures.
The members of the House of Representatives would be elected by voters, white men only, and each state's share would be based on its population.
To mollify the southern states, their populations would include their number of enslaved people, but each of those human beings would be counted as only three-fifths of a person.
Ellis: They can't talk about slavery directly, and the word "slavery" is never mentioned in the document itself.
The difficult fact to accept is that the Union is only possible if it includes the South.
And the states south of the Chesapeake are committed to slavery, especially Virginia and South Carolina.
If you did the moral thing in the summer of 1787 and took a clear stand and insisted on it, the Constitution would have never passed.
Chaplin: It was a tragic compromise, obviously, for many populations in the United States who had no party to this agreement.
They had never agreed that they would be represented in this way.
And, so, the compromise looks especially compromised in those terms.
This is America's original sin, and they know it.
Nobody in the Convention or at that moment talks about slavery as anything other than a necessary evil.
The original sin of slavery was more than just simply compromising.
The original sin of slavery began, at least for these colonists, years before.
For Franklin, unity and compromise was the only thing that could make this new nation move forward.
Without it, it would be a failed journey.
American democracy would not develop without it.
And for that reason, Franklin, as well as others, sidestepped the issue of slavery.
Narrator: On September 17, 1787, the delegates gathered to vote on the proposed Constitution.
Benjamin Franklin made the motion for its adoption.
Man as Franklin: I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such, because I think a general government necessary for us.
I doubt, too, whether any other convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution.
For, when you assemble a number of men, to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views.
From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected?
It therefore astonishes me, sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded, like those of the builders of Babel, and that our "States" are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats.
Thus I consent, sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best.
Narrator: Franklin's motion was approved.
One by one, the delegates signed the new Constitution, so it could be sent to the states for ratification.
Skemp: He signed it.
And I think he was relieved that it brought Americans together.
And that was something that he had wanted ever since the Albany Conference.
He had wanted Americans to be a part of one grand whole.
This might not be the best, but it was the best that you could get, and he recognized that.
The Constitution is the framework for an ongoing argument about who we are as a people and where power resides.
And it's presumed that each generation will be engaged in an argument and take it in new directions.
What do we mean by, "We the people"?
And certainly, we mean a lot more people now than we did then.
Narrator: With the work done, the doors to Independence Hall were thrown open.
Franklin was approached by one of the city's most prominent citizens, Elizabeth Willing Powel, whose own rights had not been considered.
She asked him, "Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?"
"A republic," he answered, "if you can keep it."
Jenkinson: "A republic, if you can keep it," which turns out to be maybe the most prophetic sentence of all.
Everyone who cares about this country has to ask that question every day.
"A republic, if you can keep it."
Man as Franklin: Hitherto, this long life has been tolerably happy, so that if I were allowed to live it over again, I should make no objection, only wishing for leave to do what authors do in a second edition of their works: correct some of my "Errata".
Narrator: By early 1790, the Constitution had been ratified, and Franklin was now 84 years old.
His kidney stones put him in such pain, he took regular doses of laudanum, a tincture of opium, to get through the day.
"I should have died 2 years ago," he wrote to Washington, who had been elected as the nation's first president, "but I am pleased that I have lived them, since they have brought me to see our present 'Situation'."
Man as Franklin: Our grand machine has at length begun to work.
I pray God to bless and guide its operations.
If any form of government is capable of making a nation happy ours I think bids fair for producing that effect.
But after all, much depends upon the people who are to be governed.
Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.
Narrator: As an Enlightenment scientist and inventor, he considered America's new democracy an experiment.
It should be tested and tinkered with, if improvements were needed.
As a man who had once constructed an elaborate chart and checklist to help him better himself, he still believed in keeping track of his failings.
Now Benjamin Franklin felt there was still one more public duty to carry out, one more of his life's "errata" to correct.
During his time as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Franklin, a former slave owner, had accepted the presidency of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, a Quaker group in Philadelphia.
He had considered introducing a statement of principle into the Constitution, condemning slavery and the slave trade, but several delegates had persuaded him to drop it.
The question of anti-slavery, pro-slavery, was not an important issue for the vast majority of people who wrote or thought about or argued about the American Revolution.
On the other hand, given the fact that it is the daily reality for enslaved men and women, in some ways, that was the key question every day.
The gross hypocrisy in fighting a war for liberty, liberty of people, and not including everybody was obvious.
If you're talking about liberty, you're talking about liberty.
Narrator: With the Constitution in place, Franklin felt free to address the issue head-on.
Man as Franklin: To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States.
From a persuasion that equal liberty is still the "Birthright" of all "Men", we earnestly entreat your serious attention to the subject of "Slavery"; that you will be pleased to countenance the "Restoration" of liberty to those unhappy "Men", who alone in this land of "Freedom" are degraded into perpetual "Bondage", that you will devise means for removing this "Inconsistency" from the "Character" of the "American People".
Schiff: The first real act of Franklin's life, or the first public act, I guess, is his running away from home.
So, here you have a young man in quest of freedom.
And the last real act of-- the last public act of Franklin's life, um, is a treatise against slavery.
So, the end--the life is largely bookended in a way, um, by these two, um, endorsements, in some way, of freedom.
Benjamin Franklin evolved as far as his understanding of race relations and slavery were concerned.
He had owned slaves.
He didn't see anything wrong with it until very late in the game.
But in his last years, he started to change his mind.
Dunbar: Philadelphia became a leader in abolition and the emancipation of enslaved people of African descent.
There were laws on the books that began the dismantling of slavery.
It was a train that could not be stopped.
And, so, we see someone who understands the tide of the city, of the state, looks at the laws, understands that slavery is going to end, at least in Pennsylvania, and he got on the right side of that conversation.
Ellis: If this were a petition coming from anybody else, the Congress would have never even considered it, but because of Franklin's signature, they're forced to consider it.
And it's the first outspoken, in public, debate in the American history on-- under the new nation on slavery.
Narrator: In Congress, the petition was immediately attacked by southerners.
Representative James Jackson of Georgia warned that if Congress tried to abolish slavery, it would "light up the flame of civil discord" and the southern states "will never suffer themselves to be divested of their property without a struggle."
Another congressman claimed that the South's sweltering climate prohibited whites from working the soil.
For that, he said, they needed slaves.
Isaacson: And Franklin goes back to a device he had used as a teenager, which is to write a parody in the voice of somebody else.
So he writes a sermon that he pretends has been given by a Muslim from North Africa about why they have to keep white Europeans in slavery.
And it parodies the entire argument of all those who are opposing abolition in the United States.
Narrator: "If we forbear to make slaves of the Christians," Franklin's character asks, who, in this hot climate, are to cultivate our lands?"
Man as Franklin: And if we set our slaves free, what is to be done with them?
For men accustomed to slavery, will not work for a livelihood when not compelled.
Here they are brought into a land where the sun of Islam gives forth its light and they have an opportunity of making themselves acquainted with the true doctrine, and thereby saving their immortal souls.
Jenkinson: And, so, of course, the reader realizes that Franklin is using precisely the same arguments of James Jackson of Georgia, which immediately proves to you, without question, the absurdity of the arguments.
This is the genius of Franklin, to--to take something and just turn it around, to switch the lens and say, "So, how would you like it if it looked like that?"
[Horse nickers] Narrator: The House of Representatives voted 29-25 that "Congress has no authority to interfere" on the issue of slavery.
In the Senate, the petition was tabled without discussion.
Brown: What they agree on, more than anything else, is we're not talking about this.
The Federal Government is not talking about this.
This is not the forum to deal with the national question of slavery, because there is no national question.
It's a state question.
The question of the future of slavery is really left for the individual States to decide.
That's how we end up with the North-South division.
Bailyn: I would put it this way.
Before the Revolution, slavery was never a major public issue.
There were people who spoke, before the Revolution, who spoke against it and gave good reasons to what evil it was, but it was not a major public issue.
After the Revolution, there never was a time when it wasn't.
Man as Franklin: Here is my creed: I believe in one God, creator of the universe.
That he governs it by his providence.
That he ought to be worshipped.
That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children.
That the soul of man is immortal and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this.
These I take to be the fundamental principles of all sound religion, and I regard them in whatever sect I meet with them.
Narrator: Franklin's worsening health kept him housebound.
"People who live long, who will drink from the cup of Life to the very bottom," he wrote a friend, "must expect to meet with some of the usual dregs."
In the spring of 1790, he suffered chest pains and a fever that confined him to his bed, surrounded by his family.
He asked his daughter Sally to arrange things so he could "die in a decent manner."
She told him everyone hoped he would live many more years.
"I hope not," he replied.
On April 17, 1790, an abscess in his lung burst, and he slipped into unconsciousness.
At 11:00 that night, Benjamin Franklin died.
He was 84 years old.
More than 20,000 people, the largest crowd Philadelphia had ever seen, turned out for his funeral procession.
Leading it from his house on Market Street to the burial ground at Christ Church were the clergy of every church of every sect in the city, walking arm in arm.
When he was 22 years old, Franklin had composed an epitaph for his grave.
"The Body of B. Franklin, Printer, "Like the Cover of an old Book, "Its contents torn out, And Stript of its Lettering "and Gilding, "Lies here, Food for Worms.
"But the Work shall not be wholly lost, "For it will, as he believed, appear once more, "In a new & more perfect Edition Corrected and amended By the Author."
As he aged, however, the old printer had, of course, edited it down.
The gravestone's epitaph became, "BENJAMIN And DEBORAH FRANKLIN."
He had never completed the autobiography he started back in 1771.
His grandson Temple eventually published the manuscript.
The book would go through hundreds of editions in dozens of languages, inspiring generations of ambitious strivers wanting to get ahead in life.
There's nothing dreamy or romantic about Franklin.
But in that self-improving, marvelously protean way, there's something about him that so much becomes what we all quest for, what we think of as the sort of, American ingenuity, that American feeling that we can accomplish anything.
Narrator: In his will, Franklin left most of his wealth and possessions to members of his family, except to his son William.
But in memory of his start as a lowly printer's apprentice, he created a trust fund, still active today, to help young people with ambition and talent from his two hometowns of Boston and Philadelphia.
Man as Franklin: I begin to be almost sorry I was born so soon, since I cannot have the "Happiness" of knowing what will be known 100 "Years" hence.
[Thunder] But it is the will of God and Nature that these mortal bodies be laid aside.
Whether I have been doing good or mischief is for time to discover.
I only know that I intended well, and I hope all will end well.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Announcer: Stream the full series, go behind the scenes, and learn how to bring Benjamin Franklin into the classroom by visiting pbs.org/benfranklin or the PBS video app.
To order "Benjamin Franklin" on DVD or Blu-ray, visit shopPBS or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.
"Benjamin Franklin" is also available with PBS Passport and on Amazon Prime Video.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Announcer: Major funding for "Benjamin Franklin" was provided by David M. Rubinstein, investing in people and institutions that help us understand the past and prepare us for the future.
By the Pew Charitable Trusts, a global non-governmental organization that seeks to improve public policy, inform the public, and invigorate civic life; and by The Better Angels Society and its members: Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine; The University of Pennsylvania, impact through innovation and inclusion; Gilchrist and Amy Berg; Perry and Donna Golkin; and by these additional contributors.
♪ By the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by generous contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.