The Loyal Son : The War in Ben Franklin's House
by Daniel Mark Epstein

Overview - The dramatic story of a founding father, his illegitimate son, and the tragedy of their conflict during the American Revolution--from the acclaimed author of The Lincolns .

Ben Franklin is the most lovable of America's founding fathers.  Read more...

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More About The Loyal Son by Daniel Mark Epstein
The dramatic story of a founding father, his illegitimate son, and the tragedy of their conflict during the American Revolution--from the acclaimed author of The Lincolns.

Ben Franklin is the most lovable of America's founding fathers. His wit, his charm, his inventiveness--even his grandfatherly appearance--are legendary. But this image obscures the scandals that dogged him throughout his life. In The Loyal Son, award-winning historian Daniel Mark Epstein throws the spotlight on one of the more enigmatic aspects of Franklin's biography: his complex and confounding relationship with his illegitimate son William.

When he was twenty-four, Franklin fathered a child with a woman who was not his wife. He adopted the boy, raised him, and educated him to be his aide. Ben and William became inseparable. After the famous kite-in-a-thunderstorm experiment, it was William who proved that the electrical charge in a lightning bolt travels from the ground up, not from the clouds down. On a diplomatic mission to London, it was William who charmed London society. He was invited to walk in the procession of the coronation of George III; Ben was not.

The outbreak of the American Revolution caused a devastating split between father and son. By then, William was royal governor of New Jersey, while Ben was one of the foremost champions of American independence. In 1776, the Continental Congress imprisoned William for treason. George Washington made efforts to win William's release, while his father, to the world's astonishment, appeared to have abandoned him to his fate.

A fresh take on the combustible politics of the age of independence, The Loyal Son is a gripping account of how the agony of the American Revolution devastated one of America's most distinguished families. Like Nathaniel Philbrick and David McCullough, Epstein is a storyteller first and foremost, a historian who weaves together fascinating incidents discovered in long-neglected documents to draw us into the private world of the men and women who made America.

"The history of loyalist William Franklin and his famous father has been told before but not as fully or as well as it is by Daniel Mark Epstein in The Loyal Son. Mr. Epstein, a biographer and poet, has done a lot of fresh research and invests his narrative with literary grace and judicious sympathy for both father and son."--The Wall Street Journal

  • ISBN-13: 9780345544216
  • ISBN-10: 0345544218
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • Publish Date: May 2017
  • Page Count: 464
  • Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Historical - General
Books > History > United States - Revolutionary War

BookPage Reviews

The private pain of a Founding Father

Benjamin Franklin’s public life as scientist, inventor, diplomat, publisher and author, among other activities, is well known. His private life, however, is another matter. Franklin had a complex relationship with his family, and while in his 20s and married, he fathered an illegitimate son, William, whom he adopted. They enjoyed a close relationship for many years, the son assisting his father with scientific and diplomatic matters, performing admirably in the military and impressing many with his intelligence and charm.

Their relationship changed dramatically with the coming of the American Revolution. As Daniel Mark Epstein demonstrates in his well-researched and absorbing The Loyal Son, their decisions to support opposite sides in the conflict led to an irreparable break. By 1776, William was Royal Governor of New Jersey, a post he did not want to give up, and Benjamin had many important responsibilities in the years ahead, including the chairmanship of the Continental Congress’ Committee of Secret Correspondence, the “first CIA.” William was imprisoned for a significant period, under difficult circumstances, but was eventually released thanks to the efforts of Benjamin’s friends and allies. Even then, William volunteered for additional efforts for the Empire.

Epstein, the author of many books, including the acclaimed The Lincolns, offers a balanced, nuanced study, sympathetic to but not uncritical of either man. Shortly before he died, Benjamin wrote to his son, “nothing has ever hurt me so much . . . as to find myself deserted in my old age by my only son; and not only deserted, but to find him taking up arms against me, in a cause wherein my good fame, fortune, and life were all at stake.”

The gripping narrative illustrates the public issues that drove the father and son apart and illuminates in detail the agonizing cost to each man.

This article was originally published in the June 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

BAM Customer Reviews