Franklin was an undisputed leader of the Revolution. Other patriots relied on him for advice about government, politics, propaganda, and law. George Washington even consulted him for military advice. Franklin was most important, however, as a diplomat. Without France's aid, America could never have won the war. Without Franklin's charm and talent, the French may not have given this aid. The French ministers were impressed by his intelligence and sophistication, his reputation as a scientist and man of letters, and his understanding of British and French politics. He helped convince the French that Americans were serious about winning their independence and would stop at nothing short of it. Recognizing this, the French leaders saw a chance to hurt Britain by helping America.

While the French government respected Franklin, the French people loved him. He was a celebrity. The French delighted in Franklin's jokes and witticisms. French intellectuals, steeped in the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, saw Franklin as a sort of noble savage. Rousseau had written about a "state of nature" in which all humans were equal and free. In Rousseau's philosophy, the institutions of society had created inequality and hierarchy. Though Rousseau thought of the "state of nature" as hypothetical rather than historical, many his admirers believed that it was real. They sometimes equated it with America. Dressing and speaking like a backwoods farmer, yet full of wisdom and intelligence, Franklin seemed to be from this "state of nature."

Franklin's popularity was not limited to intellectuals, however. John Adams famously described the Franklin phenomenon. "His name," Adams wrote, "was familiar to government and people, to kings, courtiers, nobility, clergy, and philosophers, as well as plebeians, to such a degree that there was scarcely a peasant or a citizen, a valet de chambre, coachman or footman, a lady's chambermaid or a scullion in a kitchen, who was not familiar with it, and who did not consider him as a friend to human kind."

While nearly everyone loved Franklin in Paris, there was at least one person back in America who hated him: Franklin's own son, William. William had been appointed governor of New Jersey, probably at the request of his father. Franklin had raised William, helped his career, even tended to William's illegitimate son. He had begun his Autobiography as a letter to William, and had hoped William would follow in his footsteps. When the Revolution began, though, William took Britain's side. He remained a loyalist throughout the war, to Franklin's disappointment. After the war started, father and son were enemies; they would never make up.

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