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Grant number like: FA-51472-05

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Alan Craig Houston
Regents of the University of California, San Diego (La Jolla, CA 92093-0013)

Fellowships for University Teachers
Research Programs

[Grant products]

$40,000 (approved)
$40,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2005 – 6/30/2006

Benjamin Franklin and the Politics of Improvement

According to popular and scholarly convention, Benjamin Franklin was the quintessential American. Against this convention, I argue that Franklin's political thought cannot be understood through the lens of "the American character." Throughout his life Franklin participated in cosmopolitan European debates over the modern commercial republic. Unlike most of his contemporaries, however, Franklin's interventions took the form of projects for reform, not abstract arguments. Improvement was a political project; it required organization, deliberation and mobilization. Franklin's unique contributions to the ideas and practices of the modern American republic can only be understood in this context.