There are three Benjamin Franklins: the American, the British and the French. The first and the last are famous, the second forgotten. The American Franklin is a curious hybrid, conceived in the image of the American Revolution: the Founding Father as common man. The folksy tinkerer builds the American Enlightenment in his shed; the conductor of political lightning defies a mighty empire out of common sense.
The French Franklin is a cartoon of this American original. In 1776, when Franklin became the first American ‘envoy’ to France, the American republic was too new and too egalitarian to send an ambassador. Promoted in 1778 to ‘minister plenipotentiary’, Franklin served in Paris until 1785. Though he missed the