Pre-Revolutionary Ben Franklin

Poor Richard was able to retire at the age of 42, and spent the rest of his life as a rich man, dying at the age of 82 with an eye-popping estate.

Many books by and about Franklin rightly celebrate his scientific, military, civic, political and diplomatic achievements. America might not even be a nation if he hadn't been such a virtuoso performer of everything he attempted. But he did stage-manage this public reputation, and largely concealed his private life. Lots of ladies adored him, maybe actively. He rose from poverty to vigorous retirement at age 42, only to outrun his pension at age 60, but still dying as one of the two or three richest men in Pennsylvania. He was perfectly charming, but made lifelong enemies in high places, and didn't back off an inch. George Washington gave us a nation, with his slogan of Honesty is the Best Policy. But Franklin, in his autobiography written for his Tory son, shared with us his witty advice about how to be successful in spite of being American. Between the two, they created the idealized American leader.