“’Men and Melons are Hard to Know”: The self identity of Benjamin Franklin and the rise, fall, and rebirth of his Atlantic Persona"
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Born into a world in which birth, pedigree, and status defined one’s station in life, Benjamin Franklin had none of these assets. If he were to become a man of significance in the eighteenth century, he would have to forge an identity built not on heredity but on accomplishment. Franklin eventually fashioned for himself an Atlantic identity based upon his success and not his class. In doing so, he forged a path for a new group of leaders of ignoble birth and set the stage for a major distinction between what it meant to be British and what it meant to be American. Franklin was able to find success as a printer, as a scientist, as a politician. Franklin’s newfound success brought him worldwide fame, international influence, and the ability to travel with ease across the Atlantic world, all the while reinforcing in his own mind his belief that he had become a respected member of a transatlantic gentry class and that this status made him the equal to the men who ruled Britain’s eighteenth-century empire. Franklin’s identity was tied to his accomplishments; reciprocally his failures devastated him and threatened to destroy the identity he had created for himself over several decades. His greatest failure was his inability to alter the hearts and mind of the British crown or British Parliament in regards to the American colonies. Franklin’s colossal, public, and embarrassing failure at the hands of the Privy Council in 1774 damaged Franklin’s identity as an Atlantic figure so much that it unhinged his belief that the American Colonies and Great Britain could reconcile their differences and drove him fervently into the American Revolutionary camp where his Atlantic identity could be reborn.