Segments in this Video

Benjamin Franklin: The Chess Master—Introduction (02:25)


Benjamin Franklin embarked upon a secret mission to France to secure aid and assistance for America.

Revolutionary Cause (01:53)

Though old for his time period, Franklin was the only person who could undertake the critical mission to France. Without help from France, the American Revolution was almost assuredly doomed to failure.

Franklin in Paris (04:38)

Hear facts about French and Parisian society in the time of Franklin's mission. Franklin must gain access to the French court and high-society to pursue his objectives, he relies on his reputation and notoriety to open doors. Franklin portrays himself as 'rustic' and 'natural' because that is what the French expect of an American.

Top Secret Diplomacy (02:41)

Franklin attempted to secretly pursue his mission of aid for the United States. Hear the words of England's ambassador to the French court. Franklin made contact with Minister of Foreign Affairs Charles Gravier, the Comte de Vergennes.

World Powers (02:07)

France was eager to use the American conflict as a means to settle the score with England; they were cautious about being drawn into a conflict that America may not follow through with. Franklin convinced the French to secretly support the American revolutionary cause.

American Embassy (03:59)

Franklin established a salon and began operating as an unofficial ambassador to France. He found French society congenial and started extensively networking to advance the American cause. Hear about Franklin's cunning diplomacy.

British Suspicions (02:09)

Franklin was surrounded by spies and espionage agents trying to discern his intentions in France. British spies reported conspiracies verging on science fiction to masters in Britain.

Franklin's Charm (03:57)

Learn about Franklin's relationship with his neighbor Louise Brillon de Jouy. He had a reputation as a ladies man and used it to advance his diplomatic cause.

Politics and Chess (01:34)

Hear Franklin speaking about the lessons he took from the game of chess. Franklin was an avid chess player and played frequently with de Jouy.

Troublesome Allies (03:22)

Franklin faced the difficult task of procuring material aid and support for the struggling war effort. Infighting and aspersions cast by co-commissioners from America made his job difficult. Franklin was plagued by rumors and criticisms from colleagues.

Conflict in America (03:14)

In the autumn of 1777, Franklin was inundated with bad news of the conflict. See a reenactment of Franklin's words regarding the futility of securing a French alliance for America.

Franklin's Tactics (04:38)

Franklin used subterfuge and innuendo to play the British and French against each other and advance the American cause. Hear facts about his diplomatic gambits and see a reenactment of a British spy recounting a meeting with Franklin.

Formal Alliance (02:38)

After years of effort and diplomacy, Franklin finally secured a formal alliance between the United States and France; it was crucial to adding legitimacy to the American cause. Franklin flouted court protocol during his appearance before King Louis.

Military Alliance (01:40)

France and Spain declared war on England, but pursued their own aims, not necessarily America's. Hear correspondence from Franklin's sister.

Science and Politics (03:35)

Though busy with diplomacy and political intrigue, Franklin found time to pursue his love of science and experimentation. He studied new phenomena and debunked false scientific claims. See a reenactment of Franklin speaking about his gout.

New Commissioner (05:43)

John Adams joined the American Embassy in France. He clashed with Franklin and was frustrated that Franklin was well respected by the French. Hear writings from Franklin and Adams during this period.

Adams Offends the French (03:47)

Adams endangered the alliance with the French by proclaiming his distrust of France and deeply offending Vergennes. Hear Franklin's words sent to Vergennes and the United States Congress regarding Adams.

Franklin's Bluff and Reappointment (02:28)

In the winter of 1780, Franklin strugged to continue procuring French assistance in the war. Congress became doubtful of Franklin's ability to complete his mission. Franklin sent a letter to Congress pleading old age and infirmity and asking to be replaced.

Negotiating Peace (07:24)

Franklin sought help from the Earl of Shelburne to pursue peace between America and England; two other commissioners went to assist Franklin, but they opposed his tactics.

Brokering a Peace Treaty (04:58)

Franklin was troubled by the belligerent tactics of his compatriots, but agreed to a peace treaty that cut France out of the negotiating process. Franklin used all his diplomatic skill to soothe the French after the betrayal.

Returning to His Roots (03:44)

Franklin returned to America and took action on decades of scientific thought that he had not had time to pursue. He published many papers and scientifically investigated his aging process.

Anti-Slavery Opinions (01:54)

As he aged, Franklin became more radical in many of his ideas. He began to question the institution of slavery, decrying the misery it produced. Franklin becamethe president of the first Abolitionist Society in America.

Constitutional Congress (03:39)

Franklin, old and sick, was carried into the hall for the Constitutional Convention. He closed the convention with a speech about compromise. The signers of the constitution did not expect it to last as long as it has; they viewed it as an experiment.

Franklin's Legacy (04:47)

Franklin passed away in 1790, at the age of 84. He became an icon and symbol for the revolution. Franklin was mythologized in America as an object lesson in hard work and achievement. His legacy shaped our modern world in a myriad of ways.

Credits: Benjamin Franklin: The Chess Master (01:03)

Credits: Benjamin Franklin: The Chess Master

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By far the oldest of the principal leaders of the American Revolution, Franklin, now in his 70s, embarks upon the most important role of his life. The American Revolution doesn't stand a chance without outside support; Congress sends Franklin to France in a desperate effort to secure an alliance with England's greatest rival. All of Franklin's considerable political skills - his talent for propaganda, public relations, back-room strategizing, his gift for subterfuge and manipulation - are called into play as he tries to convince the aristocratic French to lend much-needed support to the Revolutionary cause. Despite the French king's reluctance, and backbiting from John Adams, Franklin finally succeeds in obtaining the French support that leads to an American victory at Yorktown. With peace secured, Franklin returns to America, weary and ailing. But his country still needs him. Two years later, the elderly Franklin is carried into the Constitutional Convention to guide the rancorous delegates debating the balance of states' rights and federal power that will be embodied in the Constitution. Over the course of most of a century, Franklin has been a prime mover in shaping a new understanding of the relationships between man and God, man and nature, and man and government. But what of man and man? At the end of his life, Franklin devotes himself to abolishing slavery, recognizing that the bondage of one man by another is an abomination of the ideals of freedom for which America stands.

Length: 85 minutes

Item#: BVL131244

Copyright date: ©2002

Closed Captioned

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