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The Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin's House (edition 2017)

by Daniel Mark Epstein (Author)

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8432143,474 (4.03)10
Member:Oberon
Title:The Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin's House
Authors:Daniel Mark Epstein (Author)
Info:Ballantine Books (2017), Edition: 1st Edition, 464 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Rating:
Tags:Non-Fiction, America, American Revolution, Early Reviewer

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The Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin's House by Daniel Mark Epstein

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A mixed bag about a fascinating man and his perplexing son, Benjamin and William Franklin.

As Ben grew in stature and fame as a scientist and patriot, his illegitimate son William went his own way, becoming governor of New Jersey just as war broke out.

The Franklins were accused of colluding, splitting the difference and taking different sides so they could help each other when the dust settled. But the battles inside the family revealed how untrue that was.

The loyalist William was hoping it would all go away, and was imprisoned for being on the wrong side.

Meanwhile Ben warily became a patriot, testing the winds and coming to terms with being on the other side. He was brilliant, of course, and much of the patriots’ war and nation planning involved him. But he didn’t go out of his way to help his son, being much more concerned with his grandson, William’s son Temple.

Along the way, Ben posted himself in France and all but abandoned his dying wife. That created more cracks in the Franklin family.

Ben had a tendency to move slowly, leaving for a short visit to England before the war that turned in to a residence of more than 2 years. He kept his own counsel, did what he wanted, and philandered along the way.

This is an interesting look at a complicated, famous family, warts and all. You’ll probably be a little less enamored with Benjamin Franklin afterward.

Excerpts from letters make up the bulk of the book, but we don’t know how truthful any of the Franklins were with each other, so the truth can bit a bit inconsistent and uncertain.

The book, unfortunately, goes on a little too long. Trim it by about 50 pages and it’ll go down better.

I received this book from Library Thing.

For more of my reviews, go to Ralphsbooks. ( )
  ralphz | Oct 13, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Loyal Sign, by historian Daniel Mark Epstein, concerns Benjamin Franklin and his little-known son William. I had more than a little trouble getting into it, but once William had become the Governor of New Jersey, things picked up. Well-researched - and apparently bringing to light some previously unknown or ignored documents - the book added to my knowledge of the American Revolution, but instead from the Loyalists point of view. It was interesting, but I doubt I would have paid for the experience. Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for the opportunity. ( )
  btuckertx | Aug 26, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Loyal Son shines a light on the relationship between Ben Franklin and his illegitimate son William – born to a mother whose name is lost to history. Young William was raised within Ben Franklin’s household and father and son were extremely close in those early years. As time went on, however, they grew estranged and, eventually, were on opposite sides in the American Revolution.

I’m a big fan of narrative non-fiction. I don’t believe The Loyal Son falls into that category. It’s written in a much more academic tone, less likely to please a mass audience that dabbles in history. It was a very hard slog and I confess I didn’t finish it. I will finish it someday. I’m retired and I don’t much like reading a book when it feels like a college assignment.

That said, it is apparent that the author did incredible, in-depth research, something I always appreciate.

Review based on publisher-provided bound galley. ( )
  NewsieQ | Aug 17, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Summary: The history of relations between Ben and his illegitimate son William Franklin, from filial loyalty to estranged parties as a consequence of the Revolutionary War, and each man’s choices.

I’ve read a biography of Ben Franklin and numerous histories of the Revolutionary War, and had never realized how deeply estranged Franklin and his son were until I read Daniel Mark Epstein’s well-researched study of the lives and the tragic relationship of these two men.

It was not always so. William, an illegitimate offspring of Franklin’s, was raised as a son by him and Deborah. They worked side by side in the affairs of Philadelphia, fought alongside each other against Indian attacks, and went to England together to plead against the Penn family, who as proprietors of Pennsylvania enjoyed an exemption from taxes for defense of the Commonwealth. Franklin supported William in his legal studies while William was at his side in his laboratory and often his emissary in legal pleadings with the Solicitor General. They were engaged together in a land deal for western lands. William gained such a reputation that he even marched in George III’s coronation procession while Ben observed from a distance. While in England William met and married Elizabeth, shortly before they all left for America.

For a few short years, the family was together as Elizabeth gave birth to William Temple Franklin (who would be known as Temple). Ben returned to England as a representative of the colonies for their growing list of grievances against England. William eventually secures an appointment from the Royal Court as governor of New Jersey. From here their paths begin to diverge. Ben becomes increasingly disenchanted with England and concludes that independence for the colonies is the only answer. William remains a loyal to the crown, executing his office well (New Jersey being among the last to join to movement for independence). When Ben becomes involved in the cause against fellow governor Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts, the divide becomes greater.

After a brief return to America in 1775 (after Deborah had died of stroke during his long absence) and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Ben went to France as America’s emissary, taking Temple, who played a role similar to William in his earlier years. Before he departed, he tried to intercede with William to withdraw from his governorship gracefully. William, stood firm, until finally arrested. When paroled, he acted subversively, endorsing pardons of New Jersey loyalists and otherwise acting to subvert the revolution. When discovered, William is imprisoned under deplorable conditions in Litchfield. Ostensibly, Ben does, and can do nothing without seeming in complicity with the son and giving fodder to his own enemies in the colonies. Eventually, in ill health, he is released, but too late to comfort Elizabeth, who dies in New York City. Instead of leaving the country, William continues efforts to mobilize loyalists in subversive activities in support of England, including and indirect role in the seizure and hanging death of hated Captain Jack Huddy.

Only when peace is finally achieved is an attempt made at reconciliation. William makes the first move, in a moving letter of apology to his father, to which Ben responds with coldness. Eventually the two meet, but only for William to sign over lands to satisfy debts to his father. They remained estranged for the rest of their lives, and it was Temple, and not William, who remained in England on a government pension, who inherited from Ben. Sadly, Temple did not otherwise benefit from the influence of his illustrious grandfather, living a dissolute life without direction or purpose.

The “loyal” in Epstein’s title underscores the crux of this book, William’s choice of loyalty to Crown above family. It might have been one thing had he fulfilled his office of governor until displaced. His persistence in the loyalist cause, against all his father and family held dear was fatal to his relationship with Ben, who could not forgive this. Yet one wonders if things might have been different had Ben been more present as a father, particularly in that critical period after he was arrested, and eventually transported to Connecticut. Did his resistance stem in part from his father’s absence when his mother Deborah’s health was failing, while Franklin engaged in affairs with other women?

While William comes off as stubborn, and from an American point of view, a traitor to his country, Ben Franklin comes off little better, and perhaps worse–more interested in money owed than in restoring the son who once worked and fought at his side. Each had betrayed the loyalty of the other, yet it is a mark against the legacy of the elder Franklin that he was so unwilling to forgive. One may attribute this to the exigencies of war which often presses people to hard choices, yet in Epstein’s telling, the elder Franklin comes off poorly.

Epstein shows us a side of Ben Franklin’s life that has been muted in many portrayals of this founder, as well as giving us a full-bodied rendering of William. One unusual aspect of this rendering is the debt Epstein acknowledges to William Herbert Mariboe, whose unpublished 1962 doctoral dissertation on William Franklin he calls “the best biography of William Franklin ever written.” One wonders what might have been if such generosity had existed between father and son Franklin. Sadly, that is a story not to be told.

____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. ( )
  BobonBooks | Aug 13, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I’ve always loved the American Revolution. As a history major in college, I would try and take classes that examined that time period and as a fan of musical theater, shows like 1776 and Hamilton only accentuated my interest. So when I was given an advanced copy of The Loyal Son by Daniel Mark Epstein, I was immediately intrigued. As much as Benjamin Franklin has been a prominent figure in history, I had no idea that his son remained loyal to the British.

I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would and it also taught me a lot about American History that I had not known. It definitely flavored the views I had of Ben Franklin up to this point and shined a light onto his relationship with his son. A fascinating father/son story, this book is well-written and well-researched. I encourage all history buffs to pick a copy up.

I received my copy through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. ( )
  amloeb | Aug 3, 2017 |
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