Ben Franklin's letters go on display


1777 portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Jean-Baptiste Greuze


Updated: 12/13/2005

WASHINGTON Display drawn from the more than 8,000 documents in the library's Benjamin Franklin Collection.

Benjamin Franklin was a passionate writer, especially in the cause of the democracy he helped found, but even such a prolific man of letters may have had second thoughts about posting too-hasty words, according to an exhibit for the 300th anniversary of Franklin's birth.

"Look upon your hands! They are stained with the Blood of your Relations!" Franklin wrote indignantly to an old English friend at the outbreak of the American Revolution. "You and I were long friends; You are now my Enemy, and I am Yours."

Perhaps Franklin thought better of that letter because he never sent it. But it was preserved and is one of 75 items in the Library of Congress' exhibit, "Benjamin Franklin: In His Own Words." The display was unveiled this week, a month ahead of the anniversary of Franklin's Jan. 17, 1706 birth, and is drawn from the more than 8,000 documents in the library's Benjamin Franklin Collection.

One letter from Franklin to George Washington, whom he addressed as "my dear Friend," was sent only a few months before Franklin's April 17, 1790, death at age 84. Franklin wrote that despite the pain he suffered in sitting up to write, he could not miss an opportunity of congratulating Washington "on the growing Strength of our New Government under your Administration."

Franklin was a printer in Philadelphia, where he published The Pennsylvania Gazette and "Poor Richard's Almanack," which made him known throughout the American provinces and England. He played a leading role in the convention that drew up the U.S. Constitution, as well as in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. Both documents are on permanent exhibit at the National Archives.

He was already over 80 when he helped draft the Constitution and sent copies of it to Thomas Jefferson, who followed him as ambassador to France. A letter Franklin sent with one copy is in the exhibit, along with a note informing Jefferson that the encyclopedia he sent Franklin arrived in Philadelphia in good order.

There are pictures in the exhibit, too: a view by Paul Revere of the monument set up in Boston commemorating the repeal of the Stamp Act, a law passed by the British Parliament which roused great resistance in the colonies a decade before the Revolution began.

To one woman friend Franklin sent his sketch King Louis XVI's dinner table, a drawing made when Franklin was the colonies' envoy to France. To another woman he wrote disapproving the idea of the bald eagle as the national symbol and suggesting that the wild turkey would be preferable.

To a male friend, Franklin sent a drawing of bifocal eyeglasses, one of his inventions. There's also an engraving of the Franklin stove, which he invented to limit the danger of fires.

One hand-colored engraving depicts the ascension of a balloon built by the brothers Jacques and Joseph Montgolfier in France, a landmark in the history of aviation.

The exhibit will be on view through June 17, 2006. Admission is free.


Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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