Professor Edward Larson - Franklin & Washington
Professor of history / Hugh & Hazel Darling Chair in Law, Pepperdine University.
Formerly Richard B. Russell Professor of American History at the University of Georgia.
Senior fellow of the University of Georgia's Institute of Higher Education.
1998 Pulitzer Prize for History, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial.
2014 California Book Awards Nonfiction Finalist, The Return of George Washington.
Franklin & Washington: The Founding Partnership, William Morrow, (2020).
The Return of George Washington, Harper Collins (2014).
A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, New York: Free Press, (2007).
Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial, Basic Books, (1997).
An Empire Of Ice : Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science (2011).
Q: Tell us a little about your background and how you became interested in Washington and Franklin?
A: I’m a historian and have taught history for over two decades. When I look at history, I look for where there seems to be gaps or openings in the scholarship. The book that won the Pulitzer Prize was on the Scopes Trial. There were novels, movies, short stories and Broadway plays about it, but historians never wrote a book about it. I've always been a big admirer of Franklin and Washington. They were universally regarded by historians as the only two people who were indispensable to American independence.
Q: What was unique and significant about the Washington and Franklin partnership?
A: It’s an interesting one to study. Here were two people who were basically already giants when they went to the 2nd Continental Congress which led to the Declaration of Independence or when they went to the Constitutional Convention. In both cases they were the two superstars coming there. They were both very comfortable in their own skins; neither could have done it alone but they got along really well and were both the same sort of leader.
Q: What can you point to the partnership that was actually done together as partners from a practical sense?
A: They did many things together. During the revolution it was military leadership. They went to the Continental Congress as the two most experienced military leaders. Franklin proposed that Washington be commander in chief. Franklin coordinated with Washington regarding the critical French military assistance. And the culmination of the war, the surrender of the British at Yorktown, was only made possible by Franklin and Washington working together.
Q: What were their individual legacies from our perspective today?
A: Franklin had so many areas that he was involved with. His moral philosophy which drew on Spinoza has survived, inspiring many until today He is a hero that shows you “the way to wealth”. His practical sense of philosophy and religion. His wit and writing. Those all survived.
Washington survives as the father of the country as he provided a model of stable leadership, of creative leadership in the revolution. He's always regarded as one of the great presidents.
Q: What was special about Washington’s visit to the Touro synagogue and the famous letter he wrote after that visit?
A: The Jewish synagogue was in Newport, Rhode Island and Rhode Island was the only state where there was truly freedom of religion; so it attracted a significant Jewish population. The Jewish congregation sent a letter of congratulations to George Washington and Washington responded very generously and intentionally with a public letter. “The government of the US gives no bigotry, no persecution…”
Q: What is the forged Franklin Prophecy?
A: [An anti-Semitic speech falsely attributed to Benjamin Franklin, warning of the supposed dangers of admitting Jews to the United States]
That was totally concocted, had nothing to do with Franklin. It dates back to the 1930’s; trumped up on the part of anti-Semites rampant in Germany and even in America. Tying it to Franklin would give it credence; but it has absolutely no connection whatsoever with Benjamin Franklin.