Franklin, who embodied the democratic beliefs of the Americans, could have been a threat to the French court, but instead, his humble style of clothing and his amazing intellect were embraced by the aristocracy. Biographer Claude-Anne Lopez writes that Franklin “was temperamentally suited for France. The streak of irreverence that ran through his entire life found a congenial reception in Paris, as did his love of laughter and desire to amuse. He did not shock the French, nor did his interest in women, which was considered perfectly normal.”
Franklin spent virtually all of his time with the intellectuals and upper classes. In some ways, it seems odd that Franklin appeared to care little about the plight of the French peasants, as he was such an advocate for the common good. However, it doesn’t seem strange when viewed from Franklin’s perspective: His primary goal was to obtain French aid for the United States. It would not have been in Franklin’s interest to champion the cause of the poor against the French court from whom he was seeking assistance. Ultimately, the political ideals that Franklin and the American Revolution represented, along with French financial support for the war that would bankrupt France, helped pave the way for the French Revolution in 1789.
In France, the adaptable Franklin learned the language and displayed an uncanny knack at politics and persuasion, which led scholar Leo Lemay to call Franklin “the most essential and successful American diplomat of all time.” There is no doubt that America would not have won the Revolutionary War without France’s financial and military aid and that Franklin was almost entirely responsible for obtaining that aid.
Franklin lived in France for nine years and became a beloved resident of Passy, a town just outside of Paris. When Franklin went home to America in 1785, America’s new ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson, wrote, “When he left Passy, it seemed as if the village had lost its patriarch.” Five years later Franklin died, and it was France, not the United States, that mourned Franklin with the pomp and ceremony befitting a hero. To the French, Franklin is still a major figure and, according to Claude-Anne Lopez: “Many French think he was president of the United States. They say, ‘he was the best president you ever had!'”