Compare and Contrast Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin

Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was one the most accomplished founders of the United States (Morgan, 2002). As a scientist and inventor and a diplomat with a strong track record of success, he eclipses Thomas Jefferson. No American was better known or more widely admired in Europe than was Franklin. And, Franklin is the only man whose signature appears on all four of the founding documents of the American republic: the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Treaty of Paris, and the Constitution. Without Franklins guidance for compromise, the United States might not even exist today; certainly its political and economic landscape would be far different.

Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston in 1706, the tenth son of Abia Folger, daughter of an indentured servant (Powell, 1977). His father Josiah Franklin was a candlemaker. On the other hand, Jefferson was born the son of a wealthy family in Virginia in 1743 (“Thomas Jefferson,” Ames Lab). His mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, came from one of the first families of Virginia; his father, Peter Jefferson, was a well-to-do landowner. These differences in background may help explain Franklins knack for diplomacy while Jefferson clung to his own ideals.

Jeffersons main concern in his second term as president was foreign affairs, in which he experienced dismal failure (“Thomas Jefferson,” Ames Lab). Most notably, in the course of the Napoleonic Wars Britain and France repeatedly violated American sovereignty in incidents such as the Chesapeake affair in 1807. Jefferson attempted to avoid a policy of either appeasement or war by the use of economic pressure and supported The Embargo Act of 1807. This Act prohibited virtually all exports and most imports to coerce British and French recognition of American rights.

Instead, northerners suffered extreme economic hardship and began to defy national authority. As a result, The Federalist party experienced a rebirth of popularity. In 1809, shortly before he retired from the presidency, Jefferson was forced to repeal the embargo.

In sharp contrast, Franklins diplomatic efforts were far more productive (Powell, 1997). Britain had passed the Stamp Act in 1765 which called for taxes on legal documents, newspapers, and playing cards in the colonies. As an American representative in London, Franklin helped persuade Parliament to repeal the despised Stamp Act taxes, giving America an additional decade to prepare for armed conflict with Britain. In 1776, Franklin traveled to France and secured military help as well as a formal alliance, without which America probably wouldnt have won the Revolutionary War. After Americas victory, he helped negotiate the peace with Britain.

Franklin also came to the rescues of the Declaration of Independence written by Jefferson (“The Declaration of Independence).” Franklin and John Adams requested Jefferson to delete his condemnation.