Benjamin Franklin was born on this date in 1706.
As his most recent biographer, Walter Isaacson, states
[Franklin] was, during his eighty-four-year-Iong life, America’s best scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer, and business strategist, and he was also one of its most practical, though not most profound, political thinkers. He proved by flying a kite that lightning was electricity, and he invented a rod to tame it. He devised bifocal glasses and cleanburning stoves, charts of the Gulf Stream and theories about the contagious nature of the common cold. He launched various civic improvement schemes, such as a lending library, college, volunteer fire corps, insurance association, and matching grant fund-raiser. He helped invent America’s unique style of homespun humor and philosophical pragmatism. In foreign policy, he created an approach that wove together idealism with balance-of-power realism. And in politics, he proposed seminal plans for uniting the colonies and creating a federal model for a national government.
But the most interesting thing that Franklin invented, and continually reinvented, was himself. America’s first great publicist, he was, in his life and in his writings, consciously trying to create a new American archetype. In the process, he carefully crafted his own persona, portrayed it in public, and polished it for posterity.
And, as historian Gordon S. Wood wrote in his review of Isaacson’s biography
[Franklin] is especially interesting to Americans, and not simply because he is one of the most prominent of the Founders. Among the Founders his appeal seems to be unique. He appears to be the most accessible, the most democratic, and the most folksy of these eighteenth-century figures.