Benjamin Franklin

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Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe

So who was Benjamin Franklin?
Probably the most famous of the Founding Fathers, the men who drafted and signed America's Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin is an American icon and was once a worldwide celebrity. Despite having no formal education after the age of ten, he was a scientist, politician, publisher, poet, inventor, mathematician, and more. Franklin wrote one of the earliest American guides to wine-making, in 1743, and, late in life, became a prominent campaigner to abolish slavery.

Where did he drink?
Franklin's Philadelphia cellar contained over 1,100 bottles, among them Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux, so much of his drinking was done at home. His Junto Club met, initially, in Philadelphia's Indian King Tavern, while he was also a regular at Philly's exclusive City Tavern. In London, he favoured St. Paul's Coffee House, in Annapolis he is said to have drunk at the Maryland Inn, while in Paris he enjoyed Le Procope.

What did he drink?
Not much, according to his autobiography. Franklin cites as the first of his thirteen guiding virtues: "Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation." Working in a London printworks, he was horrified by the beer consumption of his co-workers, who would drink an average six pints of strong beer, beginning before breakfast, though he himself enjoyed a little ale with supper.

Any famous drinking buddies?
Franklin's international social circle ran from politicians through to scientists and philosophers. The philosopher David Hume helped him get a social leg-up during his time in France, while the chemist Joseph Priestley became a friend in London. In Paris, he began his enduring friendship with Thomas Jefferson, future President of the US, who more than shared his passion for fine wines, and would start vineyards of his own.

How did drink change his life?
Franklin took great pleasure in wine. He penned at least one drinking song in praise of drinking wine - and against drinking water. His wine collection and knowledge helped him in his role as American Minister to France, not least because it meant the French took him seriously. So Franklin's fondness for the grape may have contributed to the success of the American Revolution.

Any drinking stories?
Probably the most famous drinking story about Benjamin Franklin is his oft-quoted remark that "Beer is proof that God loves us, and wants us to be happy." There is no evidence that he ever said this, although he did write something very similar about wine, "Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy."

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