#251 Ben Franklin and George Washington The Founding Partnership

Summary Notes


In "Franklin & Washington: The Founding Partnership," Edward J. Larson examines the pivotal yet understudied relationship between Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, two iconic figures who collaborated across three major historical events: the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the establishment of the U.S. federal government. Despite their differences in background and temperament, their partnership was instrumental in the American struggle for independence and nation-building. Washington, with his military prowess, and Franklin, with his diplomatic acumen, complemented each other's strengths, leading to a synergy that proved essential for victory and the foundation of the United States. Their story, as discussed by the podcast host and guest, underscores the profound impact of their alliance and the lasting influence of their leadership on American history.

Summary Notes

Franklin and Washington's Partnership and Historical Significance

  • Franklin and Washington were highly admired in the U.S. and famous globally.
  • Their partnership lasted three decades and was pivotal in shaping American history.
  • Their relationship began during the French and Indian War with Franklin supplying wagons for General Braddock's assault.
  • Their friendship continued through the American Revolution, the Constitutional Convention, and the establishment of the new federal government.
  • Despite their differences, they were friends first and never rivals.
  • Their collaboration was crucial during the American Revolution, requiring coordination and cooperation.
  • Their efforts in diplomacy and military command were essential for American victory.
  • Their leadership qualities are considered rare and worthy of study.

"At the time, Franklin and Washington were two of the most admired individuals in the United States and the most famous Americans in the world. Their final letters to each other represented a fitting end to a three decade long partnership that, more than any other pairing, would forge the american nation."

This quote highlights the profound respect and global fame Franklin and Washington held, emphasizing the significance of their partnership in founding the nation.

Franklin and Washington's Backgrounds and Early Encounters

  • Franklin was a polymath with achievements in science, literature, and politics.
  • Washington was known for his military prowess and was less than half Franklin's age when they first met.
  • Both men were self-made, having earned their power and influence.
  • Franklin's reputation was built on his scientific work in electricity and his pragmatic political leadership.
  • Washington aimed to build his fortune through land speculation and became a surveyor.
  • Their early encounters during military campaigns laid the groundwork for their future collaboration.

"Neither man was born to power or influence. Both had earned it."

This quote underscores the self-made nature of both Franklin and Washington, which contributed to their later success and partnership.

Franklin's Entrepreneurship and Influence

  • Franklin is considered the most influential American entrepreneur, inspiring generations.
  • His life story motivated many who achieved remarkable feats, creating a legacy of inspiration.
  • Franklin's early career as a printer and his strategic business decisions led to his dominance in the regional printing trade.
  • His focus on industry and frugality was a key message to tradesmen, which remains relevant centuries later.
  • Franklin's accomplishments include founding the University of Pennsylvania, a firefighting brigade, and the junto, a self-improvement club.

"I think he's the single most influential american entrepreneur to ever live."

Speaker B reflects on Franklin's far-reaching impact as an entrepreneur, setting the stage for his influence on future generations.

Washington's Early Life and Military Career

  • Washington's early life was characterized by adventure and a drive for land acquisition.
  • He was drawn to military life despite later claiming to dislike war.
  • Washington's knowledge of the frontier was crucial for his later military leadership.
  • He quickly acquired a significant amount of land, benefiting from family tragedies.
  • Washington's early military assignments were marked by inexperience and mistakes.

"Using income and insights from these jobs, Washington bought his first pieces of property and within two years had acquired more than 2000 acres."

This quote illustrates Washington's early success in land speculation and his strategic use of insider knowledge.

The French and Indian War and Washington's Role

  • Washington's first military assignment was to deliver a message to the French to vacate their forts.
  • The formalities of 18th-century European warfare were contrasted with the realities of frontier combat.
  • Washington survived an assassination attempt by a Native American allied with the French, which contributed to his legendary status.

"If the French did not leave, we do hereby strictly charge and command you to drive them off by force of arms."

This directive given to Washington by Governor Dinwiddie encapsulates the aggressive stance taken by the British colonies against French encroachment, setting the stage for Washington's involvement in the French and Indian War.

George Washington's Early Brushes with Death

  • George Washington experienced several near-death encounters.
  • These encounters were documented in his diary, which later became a significant historical document.
  • The diary provided insight into Washington's early military experiences and brushes with death.

"This was the first of many of such brushes with death at close quarters for George Washington."

The quote highlights the perilous situations George Washington faced early in his military career, which were numerous and life-threatening.

Washington's Diary and Its Impact on Franklin

  • Washington's diary recorded his experiences during a difficult journey.
  • The diary's publication introduced Benjamin Franklin to Washington.
  • Franklin recognized the strategic importance of Washington's encounters and writings.

"And so, on this long, difficult journey back, Washington is jotting all this down, writing it in his diary. This is going to become important because this is how Franklin learns of George Washington."

This quote explains how George Washington's diary served as a critical source of information for Benjamin Franklin, leading to Franklin's awareness of Washington's activities and character.

Encounters with Friendly Natives and Tragic Scenes

  • Washington and his party encountered friendly Native Americans who shared distressing news.
  • They learned of a massacre involving a British settler's family, an event that was common during the French and British conflicts.
  • Such events played a role in the historical context that brought Franklin and Washington together.

"Who had recently come across a scene of a massacre of a British settler's family, with the parents and five children scalped and their bodies left to be eaten by their hogs."

The quote describes a gruesome scene encountered by Native Americans, which was relayed to Washington and his party, illustrating the brutality of frontier conflicts.

The Widening War and Leadership Roles

  • Pennsylvania and Virginia became central to a widening war.
  • Citizens looked to Franklin and Washington for leadership, which brought the two men together.
  • Washington's return to Virginia and the publication of his diary played a pivotal role in his rise to prominence.

"Within a year, Pennsylvania and Virginia would stand at the center of a Widening war. Their citizens would turn to Franklin and Washington for leadership, and by doing so, would bring together these two men."

This quote indicates the crucial roles that both Franklin and Washington would soon occupy as leaders during a time of conflict, setting the stage for their collaboration.

The Propaganda Value of Washington's Diary

  • The governor of Virginia saw the potential propaganda value in Washington's diary.
  • The diary was published widely and transformed Washington into a frontier hero.
  • Franklin read the published diary and recognized its value in rallying support against the French threat.

"Dinwiddie immediately ordered it published for wide distribution. It was named the Journal of Major George Washington. Almost overnight, this publication transformed the young militia officer into a frontier hero."

The quote explains how the publication of Washington's diary elevated his status and made him a notable figure, which would eventually lead to his partnership with Franklin.

The Age Gap Between Franklin and Washington

  • Franklin was significantly older than Washington during their early interactions.
  • The age gap is highlighted to contrast their later well-known images as elder statesmen.
  • The note emphasizes the youthfulness of Washington at the time of his early military endeavors.

"Franklin is 48 years old, Washington is 22. And the reason that is important is because... in the case of Washington, he's an extremely young man, and Franklin still has almost 40 years left of life."

The quote draws attention to the age difference between Franklin and Washington during the early stages of their careers, which is often overlooked due to their more commonly depicted older likenesses.

Washington's Youthful Bravado and Military Mistakes

  • Washington was young and inexperienced during his early military assignments.
  • He led his troops into battles where the odds were against them, often with disastrous results.
  • Washington acknowledged these mistakes later in life, reflecting on his brashness as a young officer.

"He's a brash 22 year old. What would you possibly expect?"

The quote contextualizes Washington's early military decisions as being influenced by his youth and inexperience, which led to brash actions and mistakes.

The Brutality of Frontier Warfare

  • Washington's troops experienced and witnessed extreme violence, including brutal acts by Native American allies.
  • The violence of the French and Indian War was shocking to the British colonists.
  • Washington's exposure to such brutality at a young age was thought to have a profound impact on him.

"The Native Americans split the officer's skull with a tomahawk and scooped out his brains."

This quote describes one of the many violent acts witnessed by Washington, emphasizing the brutality of frontier warfare and its potential psychological impact on him.

Historical Prevalence of Scalping

  • Scalping was a prevalent and gruesome practice witnessed during the French and Indian War.
  • Historical evidence suggests that scalping was not unique to this period and had been practiced for thousands of years in various cultures.

"There is substantial archaeological evidence of scalping in North America that goes back as early as 600 AD, so over a thousand years earlier than where we are in the story."

The quote provides historical context for the practice of scalping, showing that it was a longstanding and widespread practice, not just a phenomenon of the French and Indian War.

Washington's Defeat and Lessons Learned

  • Washington experienced defeat early in his military career, which he believed had ended his prospects.
  • Despite his defeat, Franklin saw the value in Washington's reports and the need for colonial unity.
  • Washington's early defeats provided valuable lessons that he would later apply during the American Revolutionary War.

"A third of his defenders were dead or wounded. Many of the survivors were drunk, and all of their horses and cattle had been slaughtered by enemy fire."

This quote details the dire circumstances of Washington's defeat, illustrating the harsh realities of war and the steep learning curve Washington faced as a young commander.

Franklin's Vision of Intercolonial Unity

  • Franklin advocated for a defensive confederation among the colonies.
  • His vision laid the groundwork for the eventual unification of the American colonies.
  • Franklin's "Join or Die" cartoon became an iconic symbol of colonial unity.

"Franklin saw Washington's on the ground reports from the frontier as proof that the 13 colonies needed to join in common cause."

The quote shows Franklin's interpretation of Washington's reports as a call to action for colonial unity, which was a significant step towards the formation of the United States.

The Consequences of British Intervention and Taxation

  • Franklin believed that the colonies could have defended themselves against the French without British intervention.
  • The costs incurred by Britain led to taxation, which ultimately sparked the American Revolution.
  • Franklin reflected on the historical errors made by states and rulers, including the British handling of the colonies.

"But such mistakes are not new. History is full of the errors of states and princes."

The quote from Franklin highlights the cyclical nature of historical mistakes, with particular reference to the errors that led to the American Revolution.

The Collaboration of Franklin and Washington with General Braddock

  • Franklin and Washington's first collaboration involved supporting General Braddock's campaign.
  • Washington's knowledge of the terrain made him an invaluable guide, while Franklin provided logistical support.
  • Their work with Braddock marked the beginning of a long-term partnership.

"Their work with Braddock brought Franklin and Washington together for the first time."

This quote signifies the start of Franklin and Washington's collaboration, which was initiated through their mutual involvement in Braddock's military campaign.

Underestimating Opponents and the Circle of Competence

  • Braddock's underestimation of his opponents led to his defeat and death.
  • Franklin and Washington both warned Braddock about the risks of ambush and the capabilities of the Native American warriors.
  • The concept of staying within one's circle of competence is emphasized as a lesson from Braddock's mistake.

"Never underestimate your opponent. It is all downside and no upside."

The quote serves as a cautionary lesson from the narrative, stressing the dangers of underestimating one's adversaries, which was a fatal error for Braddock.

British Military Discipline and Panic

  • The British relied on supreme discipline in battle.
  • Panic ensued when British leaders and soldiers witnessed their comrades falling in battle.
  • The survivors retreated in panic, while Washington remained calm.

"Well, what happens is, when you see a lot of your friends and leaders dying right in front of you, what happens? They ran away."

This quote explains the breakdown of discipline among the British troops when faced with the mortality of their leaders and fellow soldiers, leading to a panicked retreat.

Washington's Calmness and Survival

  • Washington's calm demeanor under fire was notable.
  • Despite being in the line of fire, Washington survived without injury.
  • He had bullets through his coat and lost two horses but remained unscathed.

"I had four bullets through my coat and two horses shot under me, yet I escaped unhurt."

This quote highlights Washington's miraculous survival during a battle where he was directly targeted but managed to emerge without a scratch.

Lopsided Battle Outcomes

  • The British suffered significant losses compared to the opposing side.
  • Washington's account of the battle emphasizes the disparity in casualties.

"The British lost 976 people and the other side lost 40."

The quote provides a stark comparison of casualties, illustrating the lopsided nature of the battle's outcome.

Native American Tactics and Braddock's Order

  • The Native Americans' familiarity with the terrain gave them an advantage.
  • Braddock, a British commander, was fatally shot and gave Washington a crucial order.

"You might as well send a cow in pursuit of a rabbit. The Indians were accustomed to these woods."

This quote metaphorically describes the British disadvantage due to the Native Americans' superior knowledge of the local terrain.

The Horrors of Retreat and Washington's Leadership

  • Washington witnessed and described the horrors of the retreat.
  • The wounded were left behind, and the scenes were distressing.

"The shocking scenes which presented themselves in this night's march are not to be described."

Washington's quote conveys the indescribable horrors and chaos experienced during the retreat, with the wounded being abandoned.

Early American Military Leadership

  • Washington's early career was marked by failures.
  • The defeat spread fear among the colonists, leading to preparations for defense.

"And so far, everything we've seen from his early career is just one failure after another."

This quote summarizes Washington's early military career, which was not initially successful.

Franklin and Washington's Collaboration

  • Franklin and Washington worked closely on defense strategies.
  • Franklin's versatile genius and Washington's leadership skills were put to use.

"This brings Franklin into Washington, into close working contact."

The quote indicates the beginning of a collaborative relationship between Franklin and Washington in securing the colonies' defenses.

Contrasting Leadership Styles

  • Franklin and Washington exhibited different leadership styles.
  • Franklin was hands-on and relatable, while Washington maintained a formal distance.

"Franklin spent his time on the frontier, sleeping with his men on cabin floors and sharing food."

This quote illustrates Franklin's approachable and egalitarian leadership style, contrasting with Washington's more reserved manner.

Motivational Strategies and Military Recruitment

  • Franklin used pragmatic solutions to boost morale and cooperation.
  • Washington's regiment faced manpower issues, while Franklin's was oversubscribed.

"Franklin, in contrast, gained cooperation by reasoned appeals and pragmatic solutions."

The quote exemplifies Franklin's effective motivational strategies that led to successful recruitment and cooperation among his troops.

Lessons from the French and Indian War

  • The British were perceived as beatable after the war.
  • Franklin and Washington learned valuable lessons that influenced future revolutionary sentiments.

"These shared lessons helped to nurture the revolutionary spirit that would bring Franklin and Washington back together a quarter century later."

This quote connects the lessons learned from the war to the development of the revolutionary spirit that would later unite Franklin and Washington in the American Revolution.

Economic Factors and Self-Sufficiency

  • Economic depression and British taxation policies influenced colonial sentiment.
  • Washington and Franklin recognized the potential for American self-sufficiency.

"America could get along with less reliance on Britain. He started to grasp."

The quote reflects Washington's realization that the American economy could become less dependent on Britain, a sentiment fueled by economic challenges and taxation disputes.

Stamp Act Crisis and Political Alignment

  • The Stamp Act crisis united Franklin and Washington's political interests.
  • The crisis catalyzed a shift in colonial identity from subjects to citizens.

"Their paths might have never crossed again, except for the Stamp Act crisis, which erupted in 1765."

This quote marks the event that realigned Franklin and Washington's paths towards a common political cause.

Revolutionary Partnerships and Leadership

  • Franklin and Washington became key figures in the American Revolution.
  • Their skills complemented each other in the struggle for independence.

"America's most experienced diplomat and its best known soldier brought the skills that other delegates now knew were needed."

The quote underscores the vital roles of Franklin and Washington as experienced leaders whose combined expertise was crucial to the revolutionary effort.

Washington's View of the Revolution

  • Washington saw the revolution as a power struggle and an opportunity for colonial control.
  • He was recognized as the obvious choice to lead the Continental Army.

"Essentially, he saw the conflict as a struggle for power in which the colonist, if victorious, destroyed British pretensions of superiority and won control over half a continent."

This quote captures Washington's perspective on the American Revolution as a contest for power and autonomy.

Franklin's Versatility and Sacrifice

  • Franklin took on numerous tasks and sacrifices for the revolution.
  • Despite his age, he was deeply involved in various committees and roles.

"I am immersed in so much business that I have scarce time to eat or sleep."

Franklin's quote reflects his dedication and the overwhelming workload he undertook during the revolution.

The Ultimate Stakes of Revolution

  • Franklin and Washington understood the life-or-death stakes of their actions.
  • Their personal sacrifices underscored their commitment to the cause.

"We have taken up arms in defense of our liberty, our property, our wives, and our children. We are determined to preserve them or die."

This quote conveys the resolve and the high stakes both leaders faced, recognizing the revolution as a fight for their fundamental rights and lives.

Washington's Bold Decision

  • Washington faced an impending deadline that forced him to take a risky gamble.
  • On Christmas night, 1776, Washington led a desperate effort to boost morale and regain momentum by attacking the Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey.
  • He incentivized his troops to extend their service with a $10 bounty for an extra six weeks.

"On Christmas night, 1776, in a desperate effort to restore morale and regain the initiative, Washington took his army back across the ice choke Delaware river and captured the hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey, buying more time by paying each man who would take it a $10 bounty for an extra six weeks service."

This quote highlights Washington's strategic move to improve morale and extend his army's service, pivotal in the Revolutionary War.

European Military Customs

  • European armies typically spent the winter in quarters, a practice followed by both sides during the American Revolution.
  • This custom allowed Washington to reassess and revise his army's structure and strategy during the winter months.

"At the time, European armies typically spent the winter in quarters, a custom both sides followed throughout the American Revolution."

The quote explains how the customary winter break in military engagements gave Washington an opportunity to reorganize and plan.

Fabian Strategy

  • Washington adopted the Fabian military strategy, which involved wearing down the enemy through attrition rather than open-field battles.
  • This strategy was based on the tactics of Roman General Quintus Fabius and involved guerrilla warfare techniques like disrupting supply lines and focusing on destroying morale.

"Washington now favored adopting a so-called Fabian military strategy, which was named after the Roman general Quintus Fabius, who wore down a superior Carthaginian army through a war of attrition."

The quote describes Washington's strategic pivot to a method of warfare that prioritized attrition and indirect engagement over direct confrontation.

British Missteps

  • British General Howe failed to recognize the importance of targeting armies instead of cities.
  • Franklin criticized Howe's strategy, noting that occupying cities like Philadelphia had little strategic value.

"Howe failed to recognize that armies, and not cities, were critical in this war."

This quote criticizes Howe's focus on cities rather than the colonial armies, which was a strategic error in the Revolutionary War.

Franklin's Encouragement and Support

  • Franklin provided words of encouragement to Washington, recognizing his leadership and the respect he had earned internationally.
  • Franklin's support extended beyond morale; he also provided financial aid, naval support, and other resources crucial to the American cause.

"I frequently hear the old generals of this country who study the maps of America and mark upon them all of your operations, speak with great applause at your conduct and with experience, and through mistakes."

The quote reflects the recognition and admiration Washington's leadership received from European military leaders, as relayed by Franklin.

The Winter of 1780-1781

  • Washington's army faced severe hardships during the winter of 1780-1781, including starvation, lack of supplies, and the threat of mutiny.
  • Despite these challenges, Washington's perseverance and leadership kept the army together.

"By soldiering on for one more year, Washington's army, destitute and half-naked, turned the world upside down."

This quote emphasizes the dire conditions faced by Washington's army and the significance of their continued efforts despite the hardships.

Benedict Arnold's Betrayal

  • Benedict Arnold's attempt to betray the American defensive lines around New York was a shocking event for the American forces.
  • Arnold's treachery was seen as a betrayal by soldiers and officers alike.

"Then one of Washington's most trusted officers, Benedict Arnold, offered to sell out the American defensive line around New York for $20,000 and a commission in the Royal army."

The quote details the infamous act of treason by Benedict Arnold, which was a significant event in the Revolutionary War.

Franklin's Diplomatic Efforts

  • Franklin's diplomatic work in France was instrumental in securing support for the American cause.
  • His efforts included securing loans, arranging for military supplies, and conducting peace talks.

"Franklin did as much as anyone to bring the momentous events of 1781, he held the alliance together despite his advanced age and crippling bouts with gout and Gaul and kidney stones."

The quote highlights Franklin's vital role in maintaining the Franco-American alliance and his tireless work for the American Revolution.

America's Independence and Washington's Vision

  • Washington envisioned America as a great nation, an "empire of states," and worked to create a more perfect union.
  • He retired after the war, unlike many revolutionary generals, and returned to private life at Mount Vernon.

"Americans could forge a more perfect union, an empire of states capable of taking its place among the great nations of the world."

The quote captures Washington's vision for the United States as a unified and powerful nation on the global stage.

Franklin's Scientific Contributions

  • Franklin continued to contribute to science and technology, proposing ideas like daylight saving time and explaining meteorological phenomena.
  • He remained intellectually active until his death, despite physical ailments.

"In a remarkably original deduction, he attributed the unusually cold winter of 1783 in Europe to the atmospheric impact of emissions from an Icelandic volcano."

This quote showcases Franklin's scientific acumen and his ability to make significant contributions to understanding natural phenomena.

The Legacy of Franklin and Washington

  • Both Franklin and Washington were seen as natural leaders who were trusted and respected.
  • They shared a belief in human reason and the potential for progress, and both contributed significantly to the formation of the United States.

"They did not see it as perfect. The example of Franklin in Washington shows what individuals can do in times of faction fracture and failure to address problems and improve the state of affairs."

The quote summarizes the shared values and impact of Franklin and Washington, emphasizing their role in shaping the United States.

Conclusion of the Podcast

  • The podcast concludes with a recommendation to read the full story in the book linked in the show notes.
  • Support for the podcast can be shown through gift subscriptions or by purchasing books through provided links.

"For the full story, I recommend buying the book. If you buy the book using the link that's in the show notes in your podcast player, you'll be supporting the podcast at the same time."

The quote encourages listeners to engage with the material further by reading the book and supporting the podcast through purchases.

What others are sharing

Go To Library

Want to Deciphr in private?
- It's completely free

Deciphr Now
Footer background
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon

© 2024 Deciphr

Terms and ConditionsPrivacy Policy