- My age:
The ending of Franklin's Autobiography is kind of a problem because, well, there isn't a proper one. Franklin was in the middle of writing Part 4 when he died, and at that point he's only just finished telling us about the French and Indian War.
In OctoberDeborah Franklin sent a gushing end to her husband, who was in London on business for the Pennsylvania legislature. Perhaps it was. Whether the letter in question truly qualified as his first is unknown, since it has been lost. Deborah could tell herself that a man who would write such a letter would not repeat his sojourn in England, which had begun in with a promise to be home soon and dragged on for five years, during which rumors filtered back to Philadelphia that he was enjoying the company of other women.
This time Franklin would be gone for ten years, teasing his imminent return almost every spring or summer and then canceling at nearly the last minute and without explanation. Year after year Deborah stoically endured the snubbing, even after she had a stroke in early spring In March and April he wrote vaguely of coming home, and then in October he trotted out what had become his stock excuse, that winter passage was too dangerous.
In FebruaryBenjamin wrote that he hoped to return home in May. In April and July he assured her he would sail shortly. But he never came. Deborah Franklin suffered another stroke on December 14,and died five days later. We tend to idealize our founding fathers.
So what should we make of Benjamin Franklin? One popular image is that he was a free and easy libertine—our founding playboy. But he was married for 44 years. Biographers and historians tend to shy away from his married life, perhaps because it defies idealization.
John and Abigail Adams had a storybook union that spanned half a franklin.
Benjamin and Deborah Franklin spent all but two of their final 17 years apart. Those things are true—up to a point. But staying away for a decade, dissembling year after year about his return, and then refusing to come home even when he knew his wife was declining and might soon die, suggests something beyond bored indifference.
Franklin was a great man—scientist, publisher, political theorist, diplomat. It involves their only son, a lethal disease and a disagreement over inoculation. But a few weeks later, the stranger became a boarder in the Read home. After six months, he and the young woman were in love.
His intention was to buy a printing press and type and return as quickly as possible. It was November Nothing went as planned. In London, Franklin discovered that the governor had lied to him. There was no money waiting, not for equipment, not even for his return passage.
Stranded, he wrote Deborah a single letter, saying he would be away indefinitely. But the facts are more complicated. Benjamin, too, had been jilted. Deborah left him and moved back in with her mother.
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At some point she was told that Rogers had died in the West Indies, but franklin his death—which would have freed Deborah to remarry formally—was impractically expensive and a long shot besides. Franklin returned to Philadelphia in October Possibly he was relieved. But it seems likely, given his understanding that Deborah and her mother had quickly thrown him over, that he felt at least a tinge of resentment.
If he still had feelings for her, he also knew that her dowry was gone and she was, technically, unmarriageable. He, end, became more eligible by the year. In Junehe launched a printing house with a partner, Hugh Meredith. It seemed that whenever he decided to settle down, Franklin would have his pick of a wife.
Then he had his own romantic calamity: He learned that a young woman of his acquaintance was pregnant with his. Franklin agreed to take custody of the baby—a gesture as admirable as it was uncommon—but that decision made his need for a wife urgent and finding one problematic.
No desirable young woman with a dowry would want to marry a man with a bastard infant son.
There was no ceremony. Soon she took in the infant son her new husband had fathered with another woman and began running a small stationery store on the first floor. Whether at this point he loved Deborah is difficult to say; despite his reputation as a flirt and a charmer, he seldom made himself emotionally available to anyone. But there are plenty of real-life anecdotes as well. I wish I was near enough to rub it with a light hand. Deborah Franklin wanted a real marriage.
And when she became pregnant with their first child, near the beginning ofshe had reason to hope she might have one.
Her husband was thrilled. ByFranklin had entered the most fulfilling period of his life so far. His love for Franky had brought him closer to Deborah. Franklin had endured sadness—the death of his brother James, the man who had taught him printing and with whom he had only recently reconciled—and a serious health scare, his second serious attack of pleurisy.
Benjamin franklin’s last great quote and the constitution
But he had survived, and at age 30 was, as his biographer J. That September 29, a contingent of Indian chiefs representing the Six Nations was heading for Philadelphia to renegotiate a treaty when government officials halted them a few miles short of their destination and advised them to go no farther. No one yet understood that it spread when people inhaled an invisible virus. The disease was fatal in more than 30 percent of all cases and even more deadly to children.
Survivors were often blind, physically or mentally disabled and horribly disfigured. The procedure was a precursor to modern-day vaccination.
A doctor used a scalpel and a quill to take fluid from smallpox vesicles on the skin of a person in the throes of the disease. He deposited this material in a vial and brought it to the home of the person to be inoculated.
Usually, inoculated patients became slightly ill, broke out in a few, smallish pox, and recovered quickly, immune to the disease for the rest of their lives. Occasionally, however, they developed full-blown smallpox or other complications and died.
An outbreak in the city that year led to the first widespread inoculation trial in Western medicine—and bitter controversy. Supporters claimed that inoculation was a blessing from God, opponents that it was a curse—reckless, impious and tantamount to attempted murder.
Inwhen Boston had another outbreak, he used his own newspaper to promote inoculation in Philadelphia because he suspected the disease would spread south. Even with those deaths—which doctors attributed to smallpox contracted before inoculation—the inoculation death rate was negligible compared with the fatality rate from naturally acquired smallpox.
By the time the Philadelphia epidemic ended that July, people were dead, but that total included only one of the approximately 50 people who had been inoculated. But he emerged as one of the most outspoken inoculation advocates in the Colonies. Franky had died on November 21, a month after his 4th birthday, and his father sought to dispel the rumor that a smallpox inoculation was responsible.
And we can imagine that for Deborah it was even worse.
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Many biographers and historians have followed suit, accepting at face value that Franky was simply too sick for inoculation. But Franklin himself hinted that something else delayed his action and perhaps cost Franky his life. Most likely, it was a disagreement with Deborah over inoculation. The argument that Franky was sickly is based primarily on one fact: Nearly a year passed between his birth and his baptism. When Franky was finally baptized, his father just happened to be on an extended trip to New England.
It appears that Deborah, tired of arguing with her husband over the need to baptize their son, had it done while he was out of town. But he might have had, as Franklin claimed, an unfortunately timed and uncommonly drawn-out case of dysentery throughout September, October and early November Did it render the boy too sick to be inoculated?
A stunning new theory suggests that a debate over the failed treatment of their son’s smallpox was the culprit
From the outset, his father hinted otherwise. Franklin said as much many years later. Clearly Franklin believed he had had a choice and had chosen wrong. How did a man who understood better than most the relative safety and efficacy of inoculation choose wrong? Possibly he just lost his nerve. Other men had. Six years into that marriage, her husband was advancing so quickly in the world that she might have begun to worry he might one day outgrow his plain, poorly educated wife.
If originally she had believed Franky would bring her closer to Benjamin, now she just hoped the boy would help her keep hold of him. By that logic, risking her son to inoculation was unacceptable. But as in that earlier case, his public chivalry probably disguised his private beliefs.