Franklin Seduced France with Coonskin Cap Diplomacy

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In 1778, Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was in France attempting to secure support for the United States Colonies during the War for Independence.

Great Britain and France had been at odds with one another for many years as the two most powerful nations in the world.

The American Continental Congress knew that enlisting aid from France would further infuriate King George III.

The Americans were fully aware they could not win the war with Great Britain alone. They had no navy, and military supplies such as guns and ammunition were hard to come by as the Colonies depended on Great Britain for most of their supplies.

The British had recruited North American Indian tribes to fight for their cause — promising if Britain retained control of the Colonies, the Native Americans would be left alone. The only hope the Colonists had was to enlist foreign aid.

The Colonies were forbidden to trade with foreign countries, but smuggling had been going on for years.  American rice and tobacco were to be shipped only to Britain but were secretly shipped to northwestern France and Amsterdam in exchange for much-needed items such as tea, fabric for clothing, gunpowder, arms, wig powder and other necessities.

Great Britain was aware of the illegal trading but mostly ignored the situation until they found out about the weapons and gunpowder. In 1774, the British sent ships to Texel Island in northern Holland to curtail the trade with Amsterdam.  According to Aermican Herritage by the beginning of 1775, the British had unknowingly sent almost six million dollars’ worth of war munitions to the Colonies.

At the age of seventy-one Benjamin Franklin was sent to France, along with Silas Deane and Arthur Lee, to gain help from Louis XVI. On May 2, 1776, the French King signed documents making France an American ally which dishonored her treaties with Britain.

In 1770 Massachusetts appointed Franklin as the first foreign ambassador to France. By 1778, Franklin, Deane and Lee had negotiated the Treaty of Alliance and the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with their new ally.

Franklin had already proved his worth in the Colonies by his writings, inventions, research of electricity, and his brilliant use of diplomacy. Although he was self-taught, Franklin held honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and Oxford University in England.

He also helped found the University of Pennsylvania in his hometown of Philadelphia. The French, fascinated by Franklin, welcomed him with open arms. He learned French and was set up in a house in the Parisian suburb of Passy.

His charm, wit and humble dress made him one of the most popular people in Paris. He wore a coonskin cap to play up the French belief that Americans were wild frontiersmen. In fact, Franklin was so popular in France that even today some French citizens think he was an American president. Franklin was criticized by his contemporaries for living the high life, going to balls and parties and hobnobbing with the wealthiest of society.

For Franklin to have mixed with the poorer people would have alienated him from the king and wealthy potential donors to the cause. It was the eve of the French Revolution, and the public had had about enough of squalid living conditions while the wealthy flaunted their money in over the top decadence.

At the end of the Revolutionary War Franklin successfully negotiated the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

Having spent about ten years in France, Franklin returned to Philadelphia in 1785. He assisted in the creation of both the Bill of Rights and the United States Constitution.

In April of 1790, Franklin died at the age of eighty-four at the Philadelphia home of his daughter, Sarah. According to Biography, Franklin had written his own epitaph when he was twenty-two:

“The body of B. Franklin, Printer (Like the Cover of an Old Book Its Contents torn Out And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding) Lies Here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be Lost; For it will (as he Believ’d) Appear once More In a New and More Elegant Edition Revised and Corrected By the Author.”

Alas, the inscription on his headstone in Christ Church Burial Ground reads “Benjamin and Deborah Franklin 1790.”  The Poor Richard Club mounted a plaque near the grave with Franklin’s epitaph for himself and another with a timeline of Franklin’s life.

 Ian Harvey

Аircraft inventor Santos-Dumont believed air travel would bring world peace so he offered his designs free of charge


“Oh, yes. Then men would be truly free. From the air, there are no boundaries. There could be no more war because the sky is endless. How happy we would be, if we could but fly.” -Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

On October 19, 1901, Alberto Santos-Dumont, the 28-year-old heir to a wealthy family of coffee producers in Brazil and a recent graduate of aeronautical studies in Paris, made the first successful flight from Parc St. Cloud to the Eiffel Tower in his “Santos-Dumont No.6” dirigible balloon to win the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize. The prize consisted of 100,000 French francs, which he used for further research and development in the field of aviation and aircraft construction. He was absolutely sure that air travel would bring long-lasting peace to the world.

Everything he ever did, all his invention and designs, were patent free and freely published for everyone to examine and use to contribute to a greater humanity.

Smithsonian Annual Report – The Air Ship “Santos-Dumont 5” circling the Eiffel Tower. It’s the predecessor to the airship that won the prize later that year.

In 1932, after having witnessed some of his designs used in warfare during São Paulo’s Constitutionalist Revolution, he hanged himself.

Planes of the 135th Aero Squadron line up on Aug. 7, 1918, for the first mission flown over the Front by U.S. built DH-4s. U.S. Air Force public photo

Born on July 20, 1873, in the village of Cabangu in Palmira, Brazil, Alberto Santos-Dumont was raised in a wealthy environment by a highly inventive father. Due to his labor-saving inventions, his father, Henrique Dumont, earned a lot of money for the family and with time came to be known as the”Coffee King of Brazil.”

Being raised by such a dedicated and successful engineer was clearly advantageous for Alberto, for he needed only a couple of years to get from his first flight balloon to the first flight in his very own fixed-wing airplane.

French postal card showing Santos-Dumont flying the “No. 14 bis” in 1905.,

In his early career, he designed, developed, and flew hot-air balloons and early versions of lighter-than-air dirigible aircraft, or what we now refer to as Zeppelins. Inspired by his first successful balloon flights, Dumont believed he could do more and designed a steerable balloon, what later became identified as a non-rigid airship, which would allow people to fly through the air rather than just float along the wind.

The Air Ship “Santos-Dumont No.6” taking off in Paris, France in 1901 so it can make the prize-winning circle around the Eiffel Tower

On August 8, 1901, he made his first attempt to take the trip from the Aéro-Club de France at Parc Saint Cloud to the Eiffel Tower, though it was unsuccessful. The trip, taken in one of his first sound airships, Santos-Dumont No.5, ended when it failed to fly over the roof of the Trocadero Hotel and crashed, leaving him stuck in the basket hanging from the side of the hotel.

Santos-Dumont pictured inside the basket used in No. 1, 2 and 3.

After making some changes to his design, he managed to complete the round trip just 10 weeks later on October 19. He decided to donate the 100,000 francs in prize money to the poor people of France, and used a further 125,000 francs, awarded to him along with a gold medal from the government of his native Brazil, to develop his research.


Alberto Santos-Dumont testing his model No.14  in the field of Bagatelle (Paris, France) in July 1906

And so he did, for only four years later in 1905 he finished his first fixed-wing aircraft design, as well as a model of a helicopter. A year later, on October 23, 1906, Dumont piloted his newest “baby,” the 14-bis, over a large crowd of witnesses at the fields of Paris’ Château de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne. He flew 60 meters, averaging about five meters of altitude. Only a month after that, he managed to travel 220 meters in 21.5 seconds, setting the first world record acknowledged by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.

He resumed investing his time in research and development of heavier-than-air aircraft, although he never ceased to work on non-rigid airships as well. His last design is known to be the Demoiselle monoplane. Used at first by Santos-Dumont for personal transport, it started to be massively produced by the Clement-Bayard company after he started working with Adolphe Clément in 1908 and came to be the world’s first recorded series production aircraft.

The Demoiselle could achieve a speed of 120 km/h and could be built in only 15 days and still give a good performance. Author Tekniska museet – CC BY 2.0

It was in this plane Dumont made his final flight on January 4, 1910. He was forced to crash-land when a bracing wire snapped, then in March 1910 he announced his retirement from aviation. He secluded himself in his house, leading many to speculate he had suffered a nervous breakdown from overwork. Later it was confirmed he was suffering from multiple sclerosis, which drove him towards a serious long-lasting depression.

Close up view of Alberto Santos-Dumont seated at the controls of his Santos-Dumont No. 20 Demoiselle. Author Public.Resource.Org – CC-BY 2.0

After WW I started in 1914, his German-made telescope and his unusual accent prompted serious accusations, including that he was a German spy tracking French naval activity. Upset by the allegation and feeling betrayed by the state he had invested so much in, Santos-Dumont burned all his papers and design plans. He spent much of his subsequent years in Swiss and French sanatoriums and health institutions, feeling beaten down both by his illness and the betrayal.

In 1931, Santos-Dumont’s nephew traveled to Switzerland and brought him back to Brazil. Seriously ill and not able to cope with the fact that what he had envisioned and designed was used in the bombing of São Paulo during the Constitutionalist Revolution of 1932 in his home country, he hanged himself on July 23, 1932 in the city of Guarujá.s

Today he is a national hero in Brazil, where he is recognized as one who preceded the Wright brothers in envisioning a practical airplane. In fact, the United States at one time recognized Dumont as the father of aviation. After his death, his heart was placed in a golden globe and now lies preserved at Brazil’s National Air and Space Museum.

By Martin Chalakoski