Benjamin Franklin and the Ends of Empire provides a painstaking study of the Founding Father's stances on government, imperialism, and fiscal policy, ultimately emphasizing how his opinions on these matters evolved over the course of his lifetime. Carla Mulford uses Franklin's prodigious literary output-which includes letters, pamphlets, newspaper articles, journal entries, and drafted speeches-to demonstrate how his views shifted, with special attention to the role played by Great Britain in his decision-making process before, during, and after the Revolution. The book begins with Franklin's progressive early writings on mercantilism, freedom of conscience, and freedom of the press, considering how they were shaped by his English-born parents and their decision to leave their tumultuous homeland in the seventeenth century. Franklin's young adult and middle years, when he became heavily involved with Pennsylvania politics, see a sharply conservative shift in his attitudes toward empire and monetary policy.
Mulford draws on letters and issues of Poor Richard's Almanack from these years to reveal the beginnings of a conservative turn in his thought, highlighting his surprising support for the politics of imperialism. Franklin's mature years as the colonies' chief representative and cultural ambassador in Britain and Europe form the content of the next two chapters, which elucidate Franklin's disenchantment with the British colonial administrations overseeing the Thirteen Colonies. Mining Franklin's autobiography, the book's last chapters cover Franklin's ultimate rejection of Great Britain and his condemnation of imperialism, especially with regard to Ireland and India. Overall, Mulford's monograph offers fresh, nuanced interpretations of the central issues that preoccupied Franklin throughout his life.