Runaway America Benjamin Franklin, Slavery, and the American Revolution

David Waldstreicher

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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Scientist, revolutionary, abolitionist: that is the Benjamin Franklin we know and celebrate. To this description, David Waldstreicher shows we must add runaway, slave master, and empire builder. But Runaway America does much more than revise our image of a beloved Founding Father. Finding slavery at the center of Franklin's life, Waldstreicher proves it was likewise central to the Revolution, America's founding, and the very notion of freedom we associate with both.

Franklin was the sole Founding Father who was once owned by someone else. As an indentured servant, Franklin fled his master before his term was complete; as a struggling printer, he built a financial empire selling newspapers that only advertised the goods of a slave economy (not only to mention slaves themselves) but also ran the notices that led to the recapture of runaway servants. Perhaps Waldstreicher's greatest achievement is in showing that this was not an ironic outcome but a calculated one. America's freedom, no less than Franklin's, demanded that others forgo liberty.

Through the life of Franklin, Runaway America provides an original explanation to the paradox of American slavery and freedom.


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PART ONEOrigins: Slavery, Religion, and Family 
ONERunaways and Self-Made Men 
In 1723 Benjamin Franklin was a seventeen-year-old apprentice printer and the servant of a master in serious trouble. James Franklin, who was also his brother, had printed sharp criticisms of the Massachusetts authorities in Boston and had twice been taken to jail. The General Court decreed that he "should no longer print the paper called the New England Courant." The elder Franklin brother escaped worse punishment in part because of the laws of servitude. His inquisitors
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  • David Waldstreicher

  • David Waldstreicher, a professor of history at Temple University, is the author of In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776-1820 and the editor of Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia.