Ed Larson, the law professor, researcher, author, backpacker and Damn Good Dawg, has written another book which, like the others, moves one to slam his forehead with the heel of his hand in exclamation, “I wasn’t aware of that.”
Unless you are a bona fide historian or a serious student of history, you may not be aware of the infighting and rivalries which took place with our founding fathers. They hammered out an exemplary and extraordinary constitution but the process was accompanied by contentious debate and vigorous quarreling.
The intense struggle to reach a consensus was not without rancor and bitterness. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had no use for the other. Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton settled their differences by a duel, an exercise in which you never want to finish second. Hamilton did. The point about all this is that the passion and discord of politics was as evident then as it is today. (While there is no dueling now, thankfully, mean spiritedness seems to have moved front and center and has taken over.)
Larson’s book, “Franklin and Washington,” is fascinating and insightful. Washington gets the highest of marks from Larson for his adroit leadership during the Revolutionary War as general of the Continental Army while Franklin’s savvy recruitment of the support of the French was equally important. Without the leadership of Franklin and Washington, “an unlikely couple,” there would be no United States.
If you know someone who likes to bash the French for not appreciating the U.S., for its contribution to France in World War II, remind them that had Franklin’s diplomacy at the court of King Louis XVI, Washington’s Continental Army could not have been fed, clothed and armed without France’s support.
A Wall Street Journal review has this take on Larson’s book: “The gregarious and folksy Franklin (1706-1790) was old enough to be Washington’s father. Born in Boston to humble parents but associated with Philadelphia after he moved there in his teens, Franklin was an enlightened polymath, a printer, scientist and inventor who became an opponent of slavery. Washington (1732-1799), the restrained, status-conscious, slave-owing Virginia gentleman, can seem like Franklin’s opposite. If the aloof Washington came to be regarded as his country’s father, Mr. Larson observes, Franklin was his approachable uncle.”
Larson, currently a member of the law faculty at Pepperdine, says that Franklin and Washington were two men who listened before they spoke. “They respected the opinion of others,” he said via long distance last week. Washington’s wisdom and decorum were complemented by Franklin’s brilliance. They both believed in providence. They were like Churchill and Roosevelt during World War II. Whatever their differences, they worked together to win the war.”
There was the reminder of Franklin’s universal respect which connects with Georgia: The Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia and Franklin County, just north of Athens, being named for the American patriot.
“There was a move,” Larson says, “to name what became Tennessee, for Franklin.”
People the world over have marveled at the genius of the U.S. Constitution, but one controversial issue, regrettably, fell by the wayside — slavery. “Slavery could have been abolished,” Larson notes. “This was before cotton became king.”
Larson always has a book in the wings; they make telling impacts. His book, “Summer for the Gods” about the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” won a Pulitzer Prize. When George W. Bush, an avid reader, learned about Larson’s book on the 1800 election, “A Magnificent Catastrophe,” the president invited him to the White House for a 30-minute conversation. Bush warmly enjoyed his tete-a-tete with Larson; it lasted for over 45 minutes.
Having traveled to Antarctica, Larson has written about the scientific impact of this polar landscape. He journeyed to the Galapagos Islands and subsequently published a treatise on “God and Science.”
He can’t wait for a trip back to Athenstown, the next Georgia football game between the hedges — a passion akin to his love of national parks. There is hardly a significant national park he has not stomped through at some point in his life — the sort of pastime you would expect from a Renaissance man.