Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

286 Topics

Benjamin Franklin
A collection of Benjamin Franklin tidbits that relate Philadelphia's revolutionary prelate to his moving around the city, the colonies, and the world.

Franklin Inn Club
Hidden in a back alley near the theaters, this little club is the center of the City's literary circle. It enjoys outstanding food in surroundings which suggest Samuel Johnson's club in London.

Insurance in Philadelphia
Early Philadelphia took a lead in insurance innovation. Some ideas, like life insurance, flourished. Others have faded.

Dislocations: Financial and Fundamental
The crash of 2007 was more than a bank panic. Thirty years of excessive borrowing had reached a point where something was certain to topple it. Alan Greenspan deplored "irrational exuberance" in 1996, but only in 2007 did everybody try to get out the door at the same time. The crash announced the switch to deleveraging, it did not cause it.

Federalism Slowly Conquers the States
Thirteen sovereign colonies voluntarily combined their power for the common good. But for two hundred years, the new federal government kept taking more power for itself.

City of Homes
At first, there were limitless forests, but then the city burned down. After that, the "Red" city has long been built of brick. Philadelphia's masonry future is unknown, but it won't be wood.

Philadelphia Reflections is a history of the area around Philadelphia, PA ... William Penn's Quaker Colonies
    plus medicine, economics and politics ... 2716 articles in all

Try the search box to the left if you don't see what you're looking for.

A Prophet In Our Valley

{http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/images/John%20C.%20Bogle.jpg}
John C Bogle

John C. Bogle may be 80-plus years old, but he's lively, very charming. Those who never met a living legend, would find in him a good place to begin. The Vanguard Investment Company, which he founded, provides him a little think tank office, out of which have come several books and many articles (somebody else is running the company, now.) The drift of most of what he writes and most of his testimony to Congress, or at awards ceremonies, is that mutual funds charge too much. When the press decides to feature him, the spectacular theme is emphasized that in 1996 this current squash and tennis player was just about dead, and had a transplant of someone else's heart to keep him going. A populist graduate of Pre-Vietnam Princeton, and also the embodiment of a medical miracle, now, those things are newsworthy.

Future students of finance, however, will regard those things as minor footnotes. Bogle's real achievement was the invention of the index fund. Indexing had two purposes, and probably stumbled onto a third. It combined diversification, low administrative costs, and outstanding investment performance in a single security. There will be foot dragging in the boutiques and bucket shops, but this invention is well on its way to converting investment management from an inefficient luxury of the rich into an affordable efficient commodity for everybody. You will know that a fundamental has been established on the day when the U.S. Government starts buying index funds, or at least when it permits them to help finance Medicare or Social Security. Such invested funds of a government qualify for the term Sovereign-wealth funds; in fact, since major problems can be imagined if governments start to vote common shares, Heaven help us if they don't stick to index funds. The investment community already knows that something basic has arrived, by their own standards. The original index fund will soon have a trillion dollars invested in it. Just do the math on what you would be paid if you realized a fifth of one percent, year after year, on managing a trillion. And then reflect on the impact on transactional costs generally, when many eminent firms still charge five times that much. To make barrels of money and still be a hero for making your product remarkably cheap -- now, there's a Philadelphia dream.

A technical explanation. Five hundred stocks as one lump are cheaper to buy and sell as a "program trade", and perform more smoothly, than any of them individually, because the ups balance out the downs. Transaction costs are less, because there is hardly any switching among the 500 stocks by the committee in charge, and therefore few taxes to pay. Fine, but what might not be easily anticipated is that the lumped investment performs better, unmanaged, than the vast majority of funds managed by experts. Large funds, at least, are forced to buy the

stocks of large corporations. Large corporations are inherently subject to immense scrutiny and publicity, so there remains little advantage to being on the inside, or acting quickly on general economic news. What everybody knows, in Wall Street parlance, isn't worth knowing. Index funds made up of small companies, or foreign companies, may possibly not work out as well as those limited to large domestic companies . For a while, it was thought index funds would out-perform when everything in the marketplace was going up, but under-perform when most things were going down in a bear market. Not so, they seem to work better any way you look at them. They are the standard for performance, not just a measure of the averages. These things are here to stay.

Well, maybe. Reservations remain, although they don't have much to do with investment choices. It may take decades to happen, but it's hard to escape the uneasy feeling that some manager, some day, will figure out a way to divert a hundredth of a percent, or so, into his own pocket. A hundredth of a percent of a trillion dollars is quite a temptation. Perhaps an even more serious concern is that voting control of the corporations in the portfolio inevitably gets diluted by widespread index investing. Management supervision by stockholders is potentially lessened. Whether this will lead to management abuses, a temptation for minority stockholder intrusions, or to government over regulation, taking any of these directions would likely create a new power balance in the economy.

Meanwhile, John Bogle is on his way to financier sainthood. He's certainly in a class with Anthony Drexel and Nicholas Biddle, already. And other icons are under review.

A Toast to Doctor Franklin

{Benjamin Franklin}
Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin's formal education ended with the second grade, but he must now be acknowledged as one of the most erudite men of his age. He liked to be called Doctor Franklin, although he had no medical training. He was given an honorary degree of Master of Arts by Harvard and Yale, and honorary doctorates by St.Andrew and Oxford. It is unfortunate that in our day, an honorary degree has degraded to something colleges give to wealthy alumni, or visiting politicians, or some celebrity who will fill the seats at an otherwise boring commencement ceremony. In Franklin's day, an honorary degree was awarded for significant achievements. It was far more prestigious than an earned degree, which merely signified adequate preparation for potential later achievement.

And then, there is another subtlety of academic jostling. Physicians generally want to be addressed as Doctor, as a way of emphasizing that theirs is the older of the two learned professions. A good many PhDs respond by rejecting the title, as a way of sniffing they have no need to be impostors. In England, moreover, surgeons deliberately renounce the title, for reasons they will have to explain themselves. Franklin turned this credential foolishness on its head. Having gone no further than the second grade, he invented bifocal glasses. He invented the rubber catheter. He founded the first hospital in the country, the Pennsylvania Hospital, and he donated the books for it to create the first medical library in the country. Until the Civil war, that particular library was the largest medical library in America. Franklin wrote extensively about the gout, the causes of lead poisoning and the origins of the common cold. By inventing bar soap, it could be claimed he saved more lives from infectious disease than antibiotics have. It would be hard to find anyone with either an M.D. degree or a PhD. degree, then or now, who displayed such impressive scientific medical credentials, without earning -- any credentials at all.

Larger Clubs

The Racquet Club

Philadelphia has dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- of clubs, societies, associations and organizations. Many owe their formation to the Sunday Blue Laws, which once made it illegal to obtain liquor on Sunday except on the premises of a private club. Some clubs were formed around the tradition that the stock exchanges (hence, the banks and brokerage houses) were open for business on Saturday mornings, leaving the financial community available for a long lunch, a drink afterwards and a free afternoon in town. But primarily, Philadelphia already had a long tradition of fraternal and volunteer associations. Benjamin Franklin helped found a great many juntos, associations and volunteer groups for some civic purpose. Although he was not a Quaker , Franklin was in the Quaker tradition of forming voluntary committees and groups to get some particular job accomplished. In Quaker circles, aimless griping and complaining is not tolerated; if you have a "concern", you propose a solution which a committee can put into action, and you will probably be expected to be its chairman. The Quakers even had to devise a formula for "laying down" a committee when its purpose was completed, since after a while, the original purpose of the club may disappear, but habit and good fellowship cause it to continue as a social club. A good example is a certain club which was originally founded for life-saving on the river, but now continues as an ice-skating club on the Main Line.

Anyway, clubs continue to be a center of Philadelphia life at the present time, often with founding traditions that are a little unclear to many of the members. It isn't as true as it was when the Sunday Blue laws were effective, or before the restaurant revolution overtook us, but to live in Philadelphia without being active in several clubs is to feel that nothing ever happens in this town, while your neighbors at the same time are so busy going to their clubs they never think to invite you. Or perhaps fear that since everyone goes to so many, you might feel pestered if they invited you to join.

{Union League of Philadelphia}
Union League of Philadelphia

There does exist a different sort of club entirely, however. The big-city in-town social club was started as a place to stay when transportation to the suburbs was tiresome, and large clusters of people had town houses near the business district. A place to stay when your wife is visiting her relatives. A place for the local bachelors to congregate. A place where the CEOs can congregate fraternally, avoiding the isolation at work that comes from being the boss. A place where lawyers can have a long lunch while they wait for the phone to ring with the big case they can retire on. A place to loaf, play pool, get a haircut, get your shoes shined, play a game of squash. Or get a drink and a decent meal in comfortable surroundings. Jeff McFadden, the director of the Union League, describes these clubs as "day camps for adults".

Such clubs have had a hard time in recent decades. The ten-story Manufacturers and Bankers Club is now an office building, the prestigious Rittenhouse Club is shuttered, along with the Commerce Club, the Locust Club, and a dozen others. The most prestigious of all, the Philadelphia Club is in a decrepit neighborhood next to Broad Street, which it hopes will soon revive and make wrenching decisions unnecessary for the club. The interior is as close to an English city club as you could find, with immensely valuable paintings and furniture, creaking stairs and quaint bathrooms. You're not likely to find more than five members at lunch these days, but the food is excellent, the service superb, and the posted waiting list for membership quite comfortably long. The posted names tend to be a list of the cream of society, but most of them live thirty miles away. It's no longer possible to stay there overnight.

The Acorn Club

The Acorn Club is for women, quite frequently women whose husbands are members of the Philadelphia Club. If ever there were some political move to force the two clubs to abandon the men-only and women-only rules, a merger of the two would allow them to continue exactly as before as a single club with two facilities. The Acorn Club is just up Locust Street from the Academy of Music, and that is surely no accident. The place is immaculate, elegant, quiet, extremely well managed.

Around the corner on 16th Street is the architect Horace Trumbauer's turn-of-the-last century Racquet Club. In some other city, it might be called the Athletic Club, which makes it more attractive to younger members than the other clubs, where billliards would be the extent of the excercise. Indoor swimming pools and gymnasia are extremely heavy and thus require expensive steel supports. This club not only has a pool, it has squash courts (both old-rule and new-rule), racquets courts (the thirty-foot walls are polished slate), and one of the five court tennis courts still in existence in the country. Court tennis is a strange game, of which it is said that "if you know the rules and own your own racquet, you are one of the top ten in the country". But the game originated in the twelvth Century and was what people meant by "tennis" until 1878, when a game known as "lawn tennis" was invented and took the world by storm. One of the other five court tennis courts is a few miles from the location of the hydrogen bomb factory on the Savannah River, eighty miles from Charleston. The duPont Company put it there, and the location is no accident. > is having a hard time filling its space with members, but it would be so appallingly expensive to replace even a part of it, that superhuman efforts are justified to preserve it.

The Union League at Broad and Samson Streets, is the one outstanding exception to the decline of the center city men's club. When I joined it long ago, the strictest of rules prohibited women from any area except the women's dining room in the basement. I still remember the chairman of the admission committee, seated at the end of a long long table of gentlemen in the semi-darkness, intoning to me. "I'm going to ask you a question. And because I don't want any misunderstanding, I'm going to ask you twice. The question is, have you ever, even once, in any national, state or local election -- even once -- ever voted anything except straight Republican? Let me repeat, have you ever, even once. . . ?"

Well, the League lets in Democrats these days, and even quite a few women. But what has transformed the League from a declining relic into a thriving center of the Philadelphia social scene has been management. The League owns its own new parking garage across Samson Street from the side door, which is itself an innovation with a canopy. The dingy old members overnight rooms have been transformed into a four-star hotel, with concierge. The old steam rooms are now a modern excercise facility, and the dozen computers in the "business center" are always occupied. The menu has been upgraded, the service snappy instead of sleepy. The upstairs dining rooms usually have several hundred people for dinner when formerly they were deserted. Several times a year the League has an upscale dinner party for five hundred or so guests, that would be in a class with a reception for the King of England. Nobody any longer asks why they should be a member; they only ask whether they can afford it. Apparently lots of people can, once they have a reason to.

{Cosmopolitan Club of Philadelphia}
Cosmopolitan Club of Philadelphia

Over in a nearby short narrow street (we hesitate to call it an alley) near the Racquet Club, is the Cosmopolitan Club, for women only, thank you. It's small, probably would have trouble accommodating more than a hundred at a time, but the food and service are great. The real reason for the existence of this club is the wish of professional and working women to have a place to gather and support each other's morale, listen to uplifting speeches, help along the younger ones and that sort of thing. In some ways, the Cosmopolitan Club is the most typical of all Philadelphia clubs.

Victorian Broad Street

{Broad Street}
Broad Street

Starting at the Delaware River and walking East-West on Spruce Street, it is possible to envision an architectural museum which begins in 1702 and ends at the Schuylkill River about two hundred years later. As Spruce Street crosses Broad (14th Street), it reaches the level of Victorian architecture, and for this discussion we now face North on Broad Street and visit the string of solid masonry fortresses which exemplify Philadelphia at the height of the Industrial Revolution. At Broad and Locust Streets stands the old lady, the Philadelphia Academy of Music. Now reverted to its original purpose of presenting grand opera, the 1857 acoustical mansion long housed the Philadelphia Orchestra. Electricity has replaced gaslight, and there are a few elevators to the upper balconies. But the Academy is a surviving example of a class of music halls which once dominated every large city in the Western world. Opera hasn't changed; why should the Academy?

Academy of Music

A book called Philadelphia Scrapple, written by several anonymous Philadelphians, gives a succinct description of the conception and design of the Academy building:

"Joseph R.Ingersoll became chairman of a committee to secure subscriptions for a building fund. When what was thought to be an adequate fund had been raised, the committee for building went to consult Napoleon Le Brun and his partner about plans.

"Mr. Le Brun asked the committee how much money they had to work with. In Mr. Le Brun's own words:

"' Upon their telling us, we said you cannot build a beautiful opera house inside and outside both for that amount, but you can build the interior thoroughly complete and build the outside perfectly plain and simple like a markethouse, and if you ever have the money later on you could easily face it with marble and make the exterior beautiful, too.

'When the question was asked us, "If we do that how are we to know that the acoustics will be thoroughly good in every respect?", I replied that there was but one large theatre in the world at that time that was perfect acoustically, and that was La Scala at Milan, and that to be quite sure of the new Academy before we began to build, the Scala interior, stage and auditorium should be duplicated.'

"To aid in securing acoustic perfection, over and above the meticulously studied proportions and dimensions, there is an intricately-devised system of inverted barrel-vaulting underneath the orchestra and, underneath the centre of the parquet, a counter-vaulted sounding well, walled in with bricks, 12 feet deep and 20 feet in diameter."

Bellevue

Just a little further North of the Academy is the Bellevue, which was long called the Bellevue Stratford, but which now has a Hyatt Hotel on the top floors, and a food court in the basement. Because of the tax laws, for a century it has been shrewd to sell a hotel every seven years, often just trading it with a similar hotel which is also at the seven-year point. In the case of the Bellevue, this grand hotel in the European style changed its name for more than one reason, mainly because in 1976 it was the scene of the discovery of a new disease, Legionaire's Disease. As it turned out, this bacterium was especially favored by growing in water-cooled air conditioning equipment, and made its epidemic debut when the American Legion held its convention at the hotel for the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. The epidemic almost destroyed the attendance at the bicentennial, bankrupted the hotel, and represents an historical moment that everyone hopes to forget. The hotel is just too stately, comfortable and charming to disappear, and eventually the Legionaire story will just be a curiosity. John B. Kelly, the father of Grace, once the Mayor of the town, and a Democratic power baron, used to hold court at lunch every day in the main dining room. The Republicans, of course, held a daily luncheon war dance at the Union League a couple doors away, and you had to be careful where you ate lunch if you had political involvements. Although the ballroom of the Bellevue was the only place for a debutante function or a really fancy banquet, there were many hostesses who were uneasy about going to the place which was the center of Democrat politics, and felt they had to ask around before they announced a decision.

{Union League}
Union League

And a few steps North of that, at Broad and Samson Streets, stands the Union League itself. Not the Union League Club, please, that's a name used in other cities; this is the home of the franchise, the Union League itself. Although it's a house, it is a very big brownstone house, attached to another building in the rear which must be ten times as large. When you are inside, you pass from the 1860 building to the 1902 building without noticing the change, but viewed from the outside, it is easy to overlook the connection. Brownstone is soft and easily attacked by the weather, so the League requires a lot of maintenance. And gets it; the place is spick and span. If you appear there without a jacket or tie as someone's guest, they won't eject you, but they will wordlessly bring you a jacket and tie to wear, and most people don't have the brazenness to do it twice. Inside, the furbishings are comfortable but reflective of the Civil War origins of the club, with marble floors and walnut walls, stained glass windows and awesome rooms dedicated to Lincoln and other Republican Presidents, plus Civil War Admirals and Generals. One of the dozen dining rooms is outfitted like a Victorian saloon, with portraits of semi-nude buxom ladies on the wall that once graced the walls of Edward Stotesburyand others with needlepoint furniture on oriental rugs for the ladies to have afternoon tea. You can hold a wedding banquet in one room, and a cigar-smoking bachelor brawl in another, without one group likely to see the other.

{City Hall}
Philadelphia City Hall

At the head of Broad Street, dominating the view from the middle of the street, is City Hall. When it was designed in 1858, it was to have been the tallest building in the world, but politics intervened, and when it was completed in 1888, the Eiffle Tower and the Washington Monuments were taller. It is almost impossible to guess how opulent and ornate City Hall once was, but a guided tour is provided, and with coaching you can see the huge staircases, the arching ceilings , the palatial offices for the Mayor, City Council and the Supreme Court. You can take a 44-story elevator ride, but you can no longer go up to Willam Penn's hat. The views of the city are spectacular, showing off the rivers, the parkways, the clusters of skyscrapers, and the vistas of Broad Street, stretching North and South to form what is said to be the longest straight road in the country. A tour of City Hall, which most residents never bother to take, teaches an impressive lesson in the way the city residents once loved their town, contrasted with the shabby neglect and decay which now overtakes city politics. For years it was said that City Hall should be torn down and replaced with something functional. But anyone who tours the place today comes away appalled at such an idea. The demolition cost alone makes the project indefensible. No one can now guess whether the future holds a revival of reverence for this massive monument, or whether, like the statue of Ozymandias, it is destined to lose all significance except to point a moral or adorn a tale.

Wanamaker's

To go further north on Broad Street, you must go either East or West around City Hall. To the East is a department store striving to keep up the standards set at that location by John Wanamaker, who made famous the saying that the customer is always right. Or, going West around city Hall, you might tip your hat to the place where the old Pennsylvania Railroad had its Broad Street Station. It's hard to believe, but the trains from Washington and New York really did puff and jingle right up to fifty yards from the Mayor's office. They came into Center City on an elevated track, creating a barrier long known as the Chinese Wall. After the tracks were removed, the urban land became the railroad's most valuable property, and may eventually become the center of a city moving slowly westward.

On Broad Street North of City Hall are two more notable Victorian buildings, and then we'll stop. On the East corner, at what is known as number one North Broad Street, is the Masonic Temple, looking like a Norman church or fortress, which is much the same thing. The Masons were here first. Their temple was moved here in 1873, some fifteen years before City Hall was completed. It is likely, however, that the plans were made after 1851, when City Hall was originally conceived, and the Masons were just more skillful in getting a building built, as you naturally might expect of them. And what a building. There are seven meeting rooms inside which would rival in size the auditorium of most good-sized churches. Cantilevered staircases astound the viewer, and there are acres of marble flooring and panelled walls, hung with portraits of former masons, like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Different components of the organization, like Knights Templar can meet simultaneously, and the size of the rooms gives some idea of the size of the organization. In fact, it is only part of the Pennsylvania Chapter, since the Shriners are somewhere else. The Masons have always been bewildered by a Pope who once ordered his faithful to abstain from freemasonry, a dispute possibly having to do with the Twelfth Century disputes of the Popes at Avingon and the confiscation of the Knights Templar, but it's hard for an outsider to judge. The Masons will invite you to join, but they won't tell you what they do until you join. If you don't know what an organization is all about until you join, it's an impediment to membership recruitment. Or perhaps it's the other way around. Perhaps it is a testimony to the large number and esteemed public reputation of its members that so many can be induced to join, purely out of respect for the people they know who are already members. In any event, Masons certainly can build impressive buildings. If you are one of the many people who have lived in Philadelphia for six decades without visiting the place, make a note to go there soon.

Masonic Temple

And then the final stop on the tour, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. For the moment, never mind the towering reputation and history of this cradle of American Art, of Eakins and Rush and Peale. Just look at the looming red building designed by Frank Furness on Cherry Street, all massive and funny-looking and Egyptian or something. First of all, it would be wise to learn how to pronounce his name, which is more like Furnace than fur-Ness, since there are lots of descendants around who are in a position to snub you if you stumble. It's maybe a little hard to understand why a building has to be so massive to hold pictures at an exhibition, but perhaps the thought simply was to make it cheaper to leave it standing than to tear it down. The City moved away from the Academy of Fine Arts, and now it is moving back again, but the permanent collection never changes. Some say that the modern exhibitions never change, either, but that's just post-modern slander. In time, the Academy will overcome.

Franklin in Paris

{Benjamin Franklin}
Benjamin Franklin

Adlai Stevenson once observed that every diplomat must make a solemn pledge -- to drink for his country. Ambassadors represent their country to chiefs of state, and everybody involved must participate in constant social masquerades to ease the strain of dealing with people whose interests may conflict with his own. In fact, when some ambassador indelicately blurts out the truth, he can be expected to be declared "persona non grata", and replaced.

There are plenty of reasons to suppose that Franklin disliked the French. On several occasions he had rallied public opinion, raised troops and even served in the Colonial forces during the French and Indian War. As a leader of the Pennsylvania Assembly he had to cope with the activities of the French in western Pennsylvania, stirring up Indian massacres of Pennsylvania settlers. He very nearly lost his financial shirt helping General Braddock obtain horses and wagons, and surely had numerous acquaintances in the British Army slaughtered at Fort Duquesne. England was at war with France for years, and right up to 1774, Franklin spent most of his energies trying to bring the Colonies into tighter unity with the British throne. The purpose of such union was primarily to insure protection of the Colonies against the French. The goal was always to insure protection of the Colonies against the French.

Having spent seventy years building up defenses against the French bogeymen, Franklin's about-face had been abrupt. Right up to the moment of confrontation with Wedderburn in the cockpit of Whitehall, Franklin had been struggling with the English to make America a full part of Great Britain, searching for an acceptable formula for taxing America for its own defense -- against the French and Spanish. After his public humiliation and a brief interval of contemplation, Franklin went home to join the Second Continental Congress, spending only a few months there to bring Revolution to a tipping point. Having succeeded largely because of his assurance that he could get the French to become allies, he promptly returned to Paris to make good on his assurances. Maybe he was a secret French-lover all that time, and maybe his expedition to Paris was just a ruse to let him enjoy a ten-year Parisian vacation. But the utter implausibility of that suspicion is exposed merely by voicing it. Furthermore, he had spent many years at the British Court on his quest to take Pennsylvania from the Penn family and give it back to the King, therein receiving a full education in the wiles and deceits of diplomatic life. He knew what to do, how to dress, how to talk, and what to dissemble as a negotiator. He had seen many diplomats fail in their missions, and had a chance to observe what it took for others to succeed. He was forty years older than almost anyone he met, world famous before most of them were born.

So the late Harvey Sicherman, Philadelphia's local State Department alumnus, was almost surely right when he described Franklin as a spinner. He may have grown to like some particular Frenchmen and Frenchwomen, and he certainly enjoyed himself hugely. But to say he loved France is a stretch, while to say he hated most things which are uniquely French is not totally improbable. More likely, he was indifferent to all that, because he was there to do a job. His job description was to make himself charming, attractive, and persuasive to as many influential Frenchmen as he could find. And to wait for any diplomatic opportunities which George Washington might create on some distant battlefield.

When he first arrived in Paris, the military situation back home was bleak. The British had just defeated Washington on Long Island, the expedition against Canada had been a failure. For ten months, Franklin had to keep the American vision alive in Paris without evidence of military success at home. When Washington finally defeated the British at Trenton and Princeton, and particularly when Burgoyne was routed at Saratoga, Franklin pounced. Those victories were exaggerated suitably, and celebrated wildly throughout all the social circles which Franklin had charmed for the previous year. Scientific and intellectual leaders, salon society, and even many members of the royal court were on his Rolodex, so to speak. They were useful levers of gossip and news to spread his reports in a suitable way. Paris was full of spinners, spies and manipulators, but Franklin the old publisher knew how to dominate the news.

Even his famous love affairs could be viewed as having their purpose. Madam Brillon was forty years younger than Franklin, one of the most beautiful and musically talented women of the age. No doubt it was pleasure itself to charm this charmer, and no doubt his advanced age caused her husband to drop his guard. But Franklin knew very well what a stir it would make for a famous man his age to be linked in speculative gossip to a thirty-two year old celebrated beauty. That he could have made this conquest in spite of old age, gout, kidney stones and a very rudimentary knowledge of French, was deliciously worth talking about in naughty circles. And then one never knows. In a time of war, surrounded by spies and assassins, it would always be a good thing to have local friends who might warn him, hide him or help with an escape.

Franklin's association with
{http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/images/helvetius2.jpg}
Madame Helvetius

Madame Helvetius was much the same in many ways, or at least John Adams thought so, but there are some major differences. In fact, if you discount the parts that offended Adams as largely dissembled, the Helvetius episode may have been the most truly significant relationship of Franklin's life. She was widowed, much closer to him in age, much more his equal in wit and attainment, and he actually proposed marriage to her. She refused him, for reasons we are not in a position to assess, but a marriage between an Austrian relative of Marie Antoinette to an elderly frontiersman might well have seemed too far a social stretch. Furthermore, there seems to be an important connection between the intellectual circle of revolutionaries who clustered with her and her former husband, and the impending French Revolution. The mother of LaRochfoucauld also ran a salon for the same group, attended by LaFayette and others who turned up in America during our revolution, and who associated with others whose names would in time seem like a recital of the leaders of the French Revolution. Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were both active with this group of rebels whose history goes back to the reign of Louis XIV. Jefferson was obviously influenced by them, Franklin's intellect was so much more powerful that it is possible that influence ran the other way. The thought has occurred to others that Franklin may have been mainly responsible for two revolutions, not just one. Even two centuries later, feelings run so high that the truth of the matter is not clear. From the point of view of Franklin's diplomatic triumphs, the existence and power of this group of French conspirators does raise a question of just who was using whom. And whose goals were ultimately served.

In any event, Franklin was quick to turn the Battle of Saratoga into a decision by France to become an open ally of the colonists, and the Battle of Yorktown into the Treaty of Paris granting independence to America. During all the years in between, Franklin was wheedling money and munitions secretly from the French, somehow using Haym Salomon to get the money out of France and Holland, around the British navy, and into the hands of the beleaguered Americans. As always happens, the money suffered some shrinkage in transit, for which many fingers were pointed at many reputations, including Franklin's.

Subscribe to our newsletter

58 Volumes

The Right Angle Club of Philadelphia
The Exchange luncheon club of Philadelphia, then meeting at the Bourse, withdrew from association with other Exchange Clubs on a point of principle -- hence the name it adopted, the Right Angle Club. www.philadelphia-reflections.com/vol/10.htm

Philadephia: America's Capital, 1774-1800
The Continental Congress met in Philadelphia from 1774 to 1788. Next, the new republic had its capital here from 1790 to 1800. Thoroughly Quaker Philadelphia was in the center of the founding twenty-five years when, and where, the enduring political institutions of America emerged.

Sociology: Philadelphia and the Quaker Colonies
The early Philadelphia had many faces, its people were varied and interesting; its history turbulent and of lasting importance.

Nineteenth Century Philadelphia 1801-1928 (III)
At the beginning of our country Philadelphia was the central city in America.

Philadelphia: Decline and Fall (1900-2060)
The world's richest industrial city in 1900, was defeated and dejected by 1950. Why? Digby Baltzell blamed it on the Quakers. Others blame the Erie Canal, and Andrew Jackson, or maybe Martin van Buren. Some say the city-county consolidation of 1858. Others blame the unions. We rather favor the decline of family business and the rise of the modern corporation in its place.