Franklin and William

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Loyalist vs. Patriot

Unlike his step-mother and sister, William was not replaced by a replica of him in London. William had the privilege to travel with his father and to matriculate in a law school in England.  Franklin and William shared many similarities such as, clubs and charities. There was a point in time when Franklin was proud of his son's ability and William proud of his father's political skills. So what happen?

            The common thread that seemed to interfere in all of Franklin's relationships is work and William was no different from being affected by it. Shelia Skemp states that "the formidable rival for his father's affection was Benjamin's voracious appetite for public affairs."[i] But was he really abandoned? Franklin took his son underneath his wings and travel with him everywhere. When Franklin travel to London in 1757 to perform his diplomatic duties, William was right by his side. When Franklin was making the preparations for his famous kite experiment, William was his confidant.  William was a man of charm, and polish, expensively dressed, and well-traveled[ii] thanks to his father. Like Sally, Franklin has a person in mind for William to marry--Polly Stevenson. However, like Sally that plan fell through and William married another young woman. When Franklin returns back to London, it was William who stepped up and filled in for his father and took care of the family. Franklin introduced William to the world of politics. It is believed that because Franklin loved England and loved the empire and he taught his son to do the same.  "He had always been proud of his English heritage." [iii] So does this mean Franklin raised his son to be a loyalist?  What this also implies is that Franklin deviated from the beliefs he instilled in his son?

            Another theory to this whole feud is that it is a result of "the trauma he [William] suffered as a result of his illegitimate birth. "[iv] In other words, William choice to be a loyalist was his way of lashing out about the circumstance of his birth and society's constant reminder of is illegitimacy.  Another theory is given by Skemp essay, William Franklin: His Father's Son,

There may well have been a competitive edge to William's relationship with his father, constantly driving him to find some means of achieving respect and standing in the community that would enable him to equal, or perhaps even rival, that already held by his father. Thus William's life was characterized by one long search for autonomy. His marriage represented an attempt to "wean himself from his father." His assumption of the governorship of New Jersey "in spired him to feel that he had come into his manhood and achieved independence at last." William's ultimate declaration of independence came, of course, when he refused to join his father in rebelling against the English crown. Ironically, Loyalism was William Franklin's method of achieving personal autonomy.[v]

Was William just simply acting out? As the years passed and Franklin and William became more and more fervent about the positions they decided to take, their relationship became more damaging.  By the time Franklin died, he left William nothing, giving his son, Temple, the majority of the wealth.  "William received the worthless claims to the Nova Scotia lands, whatever books and papers and of his father he already held in his possession, and the cancellation of his still outstanding debts to Franklin's estate."[vi] Sounds like a case of love and war.

            So are we to fully blame Franklin for the complete obliteration of his relationship with his son? It seems to me that they both let business engulf pleasure. They both allowed their political views and careers take precedence over their relationship. Out of every one in the family, (Sally and Deborah) William had the most access to Franklin. He learned and spent the most time with him. William had more of a control over the fate of their relationship than anyone else. So in the case of William and Franklin they are both guilty.


Was Franklin a Bad Man?

In light of all the facts and the in-depth look at each relationship Franklin had with each individual in his family, it would be negligent to say that Franklin is solely responsible for all the screw ups in his relationships. In each case, we are able to see technicalities and everyone's stake in the situation.  With all this information it is hard to say that Franklin is a saint or fiend. Of course he made bad decisions, everyone does and will. Some of these decision that he made, Franklin recognized that he was wrong and tried to correct them in the he was able to. So the most important thing that I can say about Franklin and his family is DON'T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE! In the case of Benjamin Franklin of being accused as being an appalling family man, I find him...


It's your call!


Image: Portrait of William Franklin

[i] Skemp, Sheila L, 13.

[ii] Lopez, Claude-Anne, and Eugenia W. Herbert, 93.

[iii] Skemp, Shelia L. "William Franklin: His Father's Son." The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 109.02 (1985): 145-78. JSTOR. Web., 147

[iv] Skemp, Shelia L. "William Franklin: His Father's Son." The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 109.02 (1985): 145-78. JSTOR. Web, 150.

[v] ibid

[vi] Lopez, Claude-Anne, and Eugenia W. Herbert, 305.

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