Benjamin Franklin Libretto
(In B.F.'s Own Words - compiled and arranged by John Holland and Ron Wallace)
Prologue  (Colonial America)

(An organization founded by Franklin to further knowledge and community in the Colonies, the Junto Society as it was known, boasted 12 members, each from a different discipline. The Junto sit at tables far downstage. A Prayer of Thanks is sung by the chorus during the Prologue while various members ask questions. Franklin stands throughout. Behind the Junto, upstage, is Franklin's Study, completely darkened during the Prologue.)

Male Chorus (the Junto):

Prayer of Thanks

For peace and liberty, for food and
raiment, for corn and wine and milk
and every other nourishment
I thank Thee

For the common benefits of air and
light, for useful fire and delicious water
I thank Thee

For knowledge and literature and
every useful art, for my friends, and their
prosperity and for the fewness of my enemies
I thank Thee

For all the [many] benefits,
for life, for reason, for health,
for joy and every pleasant hour
I thank Thee

(Individual Junto members speak only)

Junto Member 1:

Can a Man arrive at Perfection in this Life as some
believe; or is it impossible as others believe?

Junto Member 2:

Wherein consists the Happiness of a rational Creature?

Junto Member 3:

What do you mean by a sound mind?

Franklin (speaks):

What is Wisdom?

Junto Member 4:

What do you mean by the Necessities of Life?
What do you mean by the Conveniencies of Life?

Junto Member 5:

Is there any Difference between Knowledge and Prudence?

Junto Member 6:

Is it justifiable to put private Men to Death for the
sake of publick Safety or Tranquility?

Junto Member 7:

Which is best to make a Friend of, a wise and good Man
that is poor; or a Rich Man that is neither wise nor good]?

Franklin (speaks); slower:

If the Sovereign Power attempts to deprive a Subject
of his Right, is it justifiable in him to resist if he is able?

(Chorus ends)

Franklin (sings; to members of Junto):

Do you sincerely declare that you love mankind in general;
of what profession or religion soever?




Dou you think any person ought to be harmed in his body,
name or goods, for mere speculative reasons…?




Do you love truth for truth's sake, and will you
endeavor impartially to find and receive it yourself
and communicate it to others?



Let all your observations be committed to writing
every night before you go to sleep.

(Chorus repeats Thanksgiving Prayer while lights fade to black on Junto, up on:)

Act I, Scene 1  (Colonial America)

(Franklin's Study)

(Franklin moves upstage, right of center. A large desk, center stage, with various papers and scientific objects lying about. Books line the walls. Early inventions, a music stand, glass jars, etc. are scattered about the room. A life-size replica of a human body made of glass stands near the desk. Left of center, against the wall is a small organ. The organist's back is to the stage. There is a large portrait of Cotton Mather on the wall above the organ. Cotton Mather appears behind the portrait, off-stage, as a 'live' video image. He is dressed in a black cassock.)

Cotton Mather (Aria)

*[B  e to thy parents an Obedient Son
E     ach Day let Duty constantly be Done
N     ever give Way to sloth or Lust or Pride
I      f free you'd be from Thousand Ills beside
A    bove all Ills be sure Avoide the shelfe
M    ans Danger lyes in Satan sin and selfe
I      n vertue Learning Wisdome progress Make
N     ere shrink at Suffereing for thy saviours sake
F     raud and all Falsehood in the Dealings Flee
R     eligious Always in the station be
A     dore the Maker of thy Inward part
N     ow's the Accepted time, Give him thy Heart
K     eep a Good Conscience 'tis a constant Frind
L     ike Judge and Witness This Thy Acts Attend
I      in Heart with bended knee Alone Adore
N     one but the Three in One Forevermore.]

* written for Franklin by his Uncle Benjamin

(as Franklin backs away from the Portrait, he nearly hits his head on a beam)


"[Benjamin,] Stoop, stoop! You are young and have the world
before you; STOOP as you go through it, and you will miss
many hard thumps."

Duet (Franklin and Cotton Mather):

Franklin (chants):

Help me, O Father

That I may be just in all my Dealings and temperate
in my Pleasures.

That I may be sincere in Friendship.

That I may avoid Deceit and Envy.

That I may be grateful to my Benefactors and generous
to my Friends.

That I may be honest and Openhearted, gentle, merciful and
Good, chearful in Spirit, rejoicing in the Good of Others.

That I may possess a perfect Innocence and a good
Conscience, and at length become Truly Virtuous.

Cotton Mather (sings):

Trouble springs from Idleness; Toil from ease.

Idleness is the Dead Sea that swallows all Virtues.

Sampson with his strong Body, had a weak Head,
or he would not have laid it in a Harlot's Lap.

To be proud of Knowledge, is to be blind with Light.

Let thy vices die before thee.

He that never eats too much, will never be lazy.

One To-day is worth two To-morrows.

Work as if you were to live 100 Years, Pray as if you were to
die To-morrow.

(Franklin alone in his Study)

Franklin  (sings):

I walk a league every day in my chamber. I walk quick and
for an hour or so... I make a point of religion about it.


Plan of Conduct

I have never fixed a regular design in life; by which
means it has been a confused variety of different
scenes. I am now entering upon a new one: let me,
therefore, make some resolutions...that...I may live
in all respects like a rational creature.


It is necessary for me to be extremely frugal for
    some time, till I have paid what I owe.

To endeavour to speak truth in every instance;
    to give nobody expectations that are not likely to
    be answered, but aim at sincerety in every word and

To apply myself industriously to whatever buisiness
    I take in hand, and not divert my mind from my
    buisiness by any foolish project of growing suddenly

I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever, not even
    in a manner of truth; but rather by some means excuse
    the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper
    occasions speak all the good I know of everybody.

Article of Belief

...when I stretch my imagination thro' and beyond our
System of Planets, beyond the visible fix'd Stars themselves,
into that Space that is every Way infinite, and conceive it
fill'd with Suns like ours, each with a Chorus of Worlds for
ever moving round him, then this little Ball on which we move,
seems, even in my narrow Imagination, to be almost Nothing,
and my self less than nothing, and of no sort of Consequence.


Act I, Scene 2

Printer's Shop

(Franklin is dressed in a leather apron. Two apprentices help in the shop. The apprentices are female singers dressed as males. There is a period printing press center stage. A large video screen occupies the back wall. Throughout the scene, a history of MEDIA {newsprint, film, radio, TV, internet, including excerpts from the film Citizen Kane} is flashed across the video screen. Franklin and the two apprentices read from material taken directly from the printing press)

1st Apprentice:

No Taxation Without Representation

... Excluding the People of the Colonies from all Share
in the Choice of the Grand Council would probably give
extreme Dissatisfaction, as well as the Taxing them by
Act of Parliament where they have no Representative.
In Matters of General Concern to the People, and
especially where Burthens are to be laid upon them, it is
of Use to consider as well what they will be apt to think
and say, as what they ought to think: ...


[Here, Here!]



Idleness, Pride, Folly

Friends and Neighbors, the Taxes are indeed very heavy,
and if those laid on by the Government were the only
Ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge
them; but we have many others, ...


We are taxed twice as much by our Idleness, three times
as much by our Pride, and four times as much by our Folly,
and from these Taxes the Commissioners cannot ease or
deliver us by allowing an Abatement. However let us hearken
to good Advice, and something may be done for us; "God
helps them that help themselves" ...

2nd Apprentice:



Procrastination is the Thief of Time,
Year after Year it steals till all are fled,
And to the Mercies of a Moment leaves
The vast Concerns of an eternal Scene.
If not so frequent, would not this be strange?
That 'tis so frequent, This is stranger still.

1st Apprentice:

A Certain Constable

We hear, that on Tuesday last, a certain Constable
having made an Agreement with a neighbouring Female,
to Watch with her that Night; she promised to leave a
Window open for him to come in at; but he going his
Rounds in the dark, unluckily mistook the Window, and
got into a Room where another Woman was in bed, and
her Husband it seems lying on a Couch not far distant.
The good Woman perceiving presently by the extraordinary
Fondness of her Bedfellow that it could not possibly be
her Husband, made so much Disturbance as to wake the
good Man; who finding somebody had got into his Place
without his Leave, began to lay about him unmercifully;
and 'twas thought, that had not our poor mistaken Galant,
call'd out manfully for Help (as if he were commanding
Assistance in the King's Name) and thereby raised the
Family, he would have stood no more Chance for his Life
between the Wife and Husband, than a captive ... between
two Thumb Nails.

2nd Apprentice:

Women's Court

We hear from Chester County, that last Week at a Vendue
held there, a Man being unreasonably abusive to his Wife
upon some trifling Occasion, the Women form'd themselves
into a Court, and order'd him to be apprehended by their
Officers and brought to Tryal: Being found guilty he was
condemn'd to be duckd 3 times in a neighbouring Pond,
and to have one half cut off, of his Hair and Beard
(which it seems he wore at full length) and the Sentence
was accordingly executed, to the great Diversion of the

Franklin, Apprentices (to audience):


Mankind naturally and generally
love to be flatter'd:

Whatever sooths our Pride,
and tends to exalt our Species
above the rest of the Creation,
we are pleas'd with and easily believe,
when ungrateful Truths shall be
with the utmost Indignation rejected.
"What! bring ourselves down
to an Equality with the Beasts of the Field!
with the meanest part of the Creation!
Tis insufferable!"

But, (to use a Piece of common Sense)
our Geese are but Geese
tho' we may think 'em Swans;
and Truth will be Truth
tho' it sometimes prove mortifying and distasteful.

(The sky turns dark, stormy)
Act I, Scene 3

The Countryside (Kite Experiment)

(An old barn, downstage, right. Franklin stands downstage. His son William flies a kite in an adjacent field, upstage, the other end of the twine of which contains a key attached to the barn door. Later in the scene B. Franklin moves to the doorway of the barn where he concludes his famous kite experiment. A group of townspeople look on. The entire scene is filled with Lightning and Thunder. A video containing a modern history of electricity including experiments by Tessla, Edison, etc. runs throughout the scene. The video finale displays modern-day fireworks.)

B. Franklin (speaks), W. Franklin (sings):


Of Lightning

Whatever properties we find in electricity, are also the
properties of lightning.

This matter of lightning, or of electricity, is an extream
subtile fluid, penetrating other bodies, and subsisting in
them, equally diffused.

When by any operation of art or nature, there happens to be
a greater proportion of this fluid in one body than in another,
the body which has most, will communicate to that which has
least, till the proportion becomes equal; provided the distance
between them be not too great; or, if it is too great, till there be
proper conductors to convey it from one to the other.

If the communication be through the air without any conductor,
A bright light is seen between the bodies, and a sound is heard. the great operations of nature, the light is what we call
lightning and the sound (produced at the same time, tho'
generally arriving later at our ears than the light does to our
eyes) is, with its echoes, called thunder.

B. Franklin, W. Franklin, Mixed Chorus:

(W. F. and the Chorus of townspeople sing together as the storm gathers more intensity. B. F.  speaks slowly as he moves toward the doorway of the barn. He stands in the doorway holding a Leyden jar. He places the key into the jar and waits for the lightning to run from the top of the kite along the string to the jar. The townspeople watch, fascinated by the experiment.)

Mixed Chorus:

[Ah - ]

William Franklin:

The Lecture

...That it is an extreamly subtile Fluid.

That it doth not take up any perceptible Time in passing thro' large Portions of Space.

That it is intimately mixed with the Substance of all the other Fluids and Solids of our Globe.

That our Bodies at all Times contain enough of it to set a
House on Fire.

That tho' it will fire inflammable Matters, itself has no sensible Heat.

That it differs from common Matter in this; Its Parts do not
mutually attract, but mutually repel each other.

That it is strongly attracted by all other Matter...

Benjamin Franklin:

The Experiment

... As soon as any of the Thunder Clouds come over the Kite,
the pointed Wire will draw the Electric Fire from them, and
the Kite, with all the Twine, will be electrified, and the loose
Fillaments of the Twine will stand out in every Way, and
be attracted by an approaching Finger. And when the Rain has
wet the Kite and Twine, so that it  can conduct the electric Fire
freely, you will find it streams out plentifully from the
Key on the Approach of your Knuckle. At this Key the
Phial may be charged; … and thereby the Sameness of the
Electric Matter with that of Lightning compleatly demonstrated.

(Lightning strikes the kite and travels down the twine to the key, proving the experiment a success. The crowd shows their approval.)


This is the age of experiment.


Act II, Scene 1  (England)

The Tavern

(The interior of an English tavern; patrons are sitting about tables enjoying good company and refreshment; cheerful atmosphere and chatter. Franklin and Catherine Ray sit together.)

Mixed Chorus:

Drinking Song

The Antediluvians were all very sober
For they had no Wine, and they brew'd no October;
All wicked, bad Livers, on Mischief still thinking,
For there can't be good Living where there is not
    good Drinking.

'Twas honest old Noah first planted the Vine,
And mended his Morals by drinking its Wine;
He justly the drinking of Water decry 'd;

For he knew that all Mankind, by drinking it, dy'd.

From this Piece of History [we] plainly [will] find
That Water's good neither for Body or Mind;
That Virtue and Safety in Wine bibbing's found
While all that drink Water deserve to be drown'd.

So For Safety and Honesty put the Glass round.

Franklin, Catherine Ray:


Catherine Ray:

Pain and Pleasure

A Creature when endu'd with Life or Consciousness, is
made capable of Uneasiness or Pain.

This Pain produces Desire to be freed from it, in exact proportion to itself.

The Accomplishment of this Desire produces an equal Pleasure.

Pleasure is consequently equal to Pain.

["Do you agree, Mr. Franklin?"]


["Well, I ought to agree. If I am am not mistaken, I am the
  author of those words."]

No State of Life can be happier than the present because
Pleasure and Pain are inseparable.

Catherine Ray, Franklin, Chorus:

["So let us celebrate, with Pleasure!"]

["Let us, indeed! "]


(offers a toast to C.R. and tavern guests)

Let the fair sex be assured that I shall always treat them in
their affairs with the utmost decency and respect.

(to C. R.)


The Confession

[I once confessed to my son, William, that] through this
dangerous time of youth, and the hazardous situations I was
sometimes in among strangers, remote from the eye and
advice of my father ... that hard to be governed passion of
youth hurried me frequently into intrigues with low women
that fell in my way, which were attended with some expense
and great inconvenience. … [In the morning I would pray to
be kept from lasciviousness, but when night came lust might
come with it. I would go to women hungrily, secretly, and


Old Mistresses Apologue

[And I told William, if you] persist in think¬ing a
Commerce with the Sex inevitable, then... my Advice [is]
that in all your Amours you should prefer [older] Women to
young ones.


(The 'live' image of William Franklin appears on the video screen. B. Franklin addresses William on the screen)

B. Franklin, W. Franklin:


Because as they have more Knowledge of the World and
their Minds are better stor'd with Observations, their
Conversation is more improving and more lastingly agreeable.

Because when Women cease to be handsome, they study to
be good. To maintain their Influence over Men, they
supply the Diminution of Beauty by an Augmentation of Utility.

Because there is no hazard of Children.

Because thro' more Experience, they are more prudent
and discreet in conducting an Intrigue to prevent Suspicion.

[Because] the Pleasure of corpral Enjoyment with an [older]
Woman is at least equal, and frequently¬ superior, every Knack
being by Practice Capable of Improvement.

Because the Sin is less...

And Lastly [because] They are so grateful!!


(to William)

... But still I advise you to marry directly; ...

(returns his attention to the tavern guests)

I have been very happy in marriage, and I recommend
it to you ... if you have the courage for it!

[I have been fortunate to have an honest and virtuous wife,
and I wish everyman the same good fortune.]

(Deborah Franklin appears 'live' on video.)


(to D. Franklin on screen, tavern guests; )

B. Franklin:  (D. Franklin sings wordless accomp.)

My Plain Country Joan

Of their Chloes and Phyllises poets may prate,
    I sing my plain country Joan,
These twelve years my wife, still the joy of my life;
    Blest day that I made her my own.

Not a word of her face, of her shape, of her air,
    Or of flames or of darts you shall hear;
I beauty admire but virtue I prize,
    That fades not in seventy years.

Am I loaded with care, she takes off a large share,
    That the burden ne'er makes me to reel;
Does good fortune arrive, the joy of my wife
    Quite doubles the pleasure I feel.

Some faults have we all, and so has my joan,
    But then they're exceedingly small;
And now I'm grown used to them, so like my own,
    I scarcely can see them at all.

Act II, Scene 2

The Royal Academy of Science   

(Fine old academic interior; bookshelves, globe, experiments, portraits on walls; List of Franklin's inventions and achievements is read aloud. Members of the Academy march in formally, while Franklin is escorted to an honorary throne-like chair. Throughout the scene, a video monitor displays a history of inventions, industry and technology that are direct descendants of Franklin's discoveries and inventions.)

President Royal Academy of Science,  Male Chorus:

President of the Royal Academy (speaks):

[We, The Royal Academy of Science wish to acknowledge 
the many and great contributions to Natural Philosophy made
by Benjamin Franklin, aimed toward the continual benefit
of all people throughout the American Colonies, England,
and the World. There are numerous examples of Mr. Franklin's
grand achievements. Here are but a few:]

President of the Royal Academy:

[Mr. Franklin has proposed a new alphabet of only twenty
letters, including six new ones he invented for the purpose
of easing the relationship between spoken and written



President of the Royal Academy:

[He has invented 'double-spectacles' in order to see both far
and near, by simply tilting the head.]

[Mr. Franklin was the first in America to introduce a clock with three
wheels showing hours, minutes, and seconds.]



President of the Royal Academy:

[He was responsible for the first catheter in American

[He has discovered oyster shells at the foot of a mountain in
England. From that he deduced the geological shifts of ocean
and landmass.]

[He has proposed setting up an office to administer aid to
farmers whose crops have been destroyed by hurricanes, tornadoes,
blights, or pestilence.]

[He proved that electricity exists in lightning.]



President of the Royal Academy:
[He was among the first to propose a European federation.]

[Mr. Franklin's most useful invention is a stove that
can be installed in the fireplace. The stove allows smoke
to rise without allowing the heat to escape.]

[He was the first to call the eastward Atlantic Ocean current
the "Gulf Stream," and has had a map printed plotting its

[Using a rolling press, he has fashioned a device that will
make copies of the letters he has penned.]



President of the Royal Academy:

[After Mr. Franklin's legendary Kite experiment, he invented
the Lightning Rod to protect buildings and ships from being
struck by lightning.]

[He has popularized the idea of wearing light clothes in
summer, which reflect the sun's heat. Dark attire, on the
other hand, he counsels, absorbs the sun's heat rays.]



President of the Royal Academy:

[Mr. Franklin believes that life on other planets is not
improbable. He has held that ‘space is, in every way infinite’,
and that ‘a chorus of worlds with suns like ours’ have their
own movement and forms of life.]

[Finally, Mr. Franklin champions the eating of citrus fruits
such as oranges, limes, and grapefruits. His favorite food
is the apple. The phrase "An apple a day keeps the doctor
away." is his advice.]

[Benjamin Franklin is truly a prominent, gifted, and generous
member of the world community of Natural Philosophers,
and we welcome him as an honorary member of our esteemed
Royal Society.]

(Franklin stands and accepts his award; There is applause and good cheer all around.)

President of the Royal Academy:

Now, in his honor, we will listen to a movement from Mr.
Franklin's String Quartet, in which he cleverly employs
the open strings of the various instruments.

(An on-stage string quartet plays the first minuet from B. F.'s String Quartet, while F. and members of the Royal Academy nod approvingly. The scene ends with orchestral music based on the music in the Quartet.)

Act II, Scene 3

The House of Lords

(English courtroom, the Cockpit Trial; Franklin is interrogated by the English Court)


Questions for the English Court

Is not protection as Justly due from a king to his people, as
obedience from the people to their king?

If then a king declares his people to be out of his protection:

If he violates and deprives them of their constitutional rights:

If he wages war against them:

If he plunders their merchants, ravages their coasts, burns
their towns, and destroys their lives:

If he hires foreign mercenaries to help him in their destruction:   

If he cruelly forces such of his subjects as fall into his hands
to bear arms against their country, and become executioners
of their friends and brethren:¬       

Does not so atrocious a conduct towards his subjects, dis¬olve
their allegiance?

All this horrible wickedness and barbarity has been and daily
is practised by the king your master ... upon the Americans,
whom he is still pleased to claim as his subjects.

Franklin :


There is nothing I wish for more than to see the present
dispute between Great Britain and the colonies, amicably
and equitably settled.

Providence will bring about its own ends by its own means;
and if it intends the downfall of the British nation, that nation
will be so blinded by its pride, and other passions, as not to
see its danger, or how its fall may be prevented.


Being born and bred in Colonial America, and having made
many agreeable connexions of friendship in England, I wish
all prosperity to both; but I have talked and written so much
and so long on the subject, that my acquaintance are weary
of hearing, and the public of reading any more of it, which
begins to make me weary of talking and writing; especially
as I do not find that I have gained any point, in either country,
except that of rendering myself suspected, by my impartiality;
in England, of being too much of an American, and in America
of being too much an Englishman.

What Would Satisfy the Americans?

Court (speaks):

[Franklin, what would satisfy the Americans?]


Recall your Forces,

Repair the Damage done to Boston,

Repeal your unconstitutional Acts,

Renounce your pretentions to Tax us,

Refund the duties you have extorted; And then

Rejoice in a happy conciliation.


[You are a meddler, if not a tyrant. You take advantage of
our English hospitality and generosity, and wherever
it suits you, turn it to your own means.

You are impertinent. You denounce our nation at every
opportunity. You lie to the press and to our Parliament,
secretly hiding behind your anonymity.

You attempt to blind us with your cleverness. But it will not

You are a rebel. You are acting against the best interest
of the English nation. You are traitorous and contemptible!]

(The Attorney General goads Franklin, hoping to provoke a response which would allow the Court to convict and imprison him.)

[If you are innocent, then speak up!]

Court (louder):

[Franklin, You instigate rebellion. You take bribes from
Philadelphia merchants. You're an adulterer and bastardizer.]

[You are less than a traitor, you're just a common fornicator
and thief.]

(lights dim on court, up on ... )

Franklin (who has remained silent throughout,
finally responds):

Anyone who strikes at a man
who can't strike back
is less than a man.
And when America does strike back,
you will find that you'll be serving a  lesser king
who has dominion over a lesser empire.


Act III, Scene 1  (Colonial America)

Franklin's Study

(same as Act One, Scene 1; Franklin is alone in his Study)

Franklin (speaks to audience):

Native Bird

...[Some in America] object to the Bald Eagle as looking too
much like a Dindon, or Turkey. For my own part, I wish the
Bald Eagle had not been chosen as the Representative of our
Country; he is a Bird of bad moral Character; he does not get
his living honestly; you may have seen him perch'd on some
dead Tree, near the River where, too lazy to fish for himself,
he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and, when that
diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to
his Nest for the support of his Mate and young ones, the
Bald Eagle pursues him, and takes it from him. With all this
injustice he is never in good Case; but, like those among
Men who live by Sharping and Robbing, he is generally poor,
and often very lousy. Besides, he is a rank Coward; the little
Kingbird, not bigger than a Sparrow, attacks him boldly and
drives him out of the Dis¬trict. He is therefore by no means a
proper emblem for the brave and honest...of America who
have driven all the Kingbirds from our Country...

I am, on this account, not displeas'd that the Figure is not
known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For
in Truth, the Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable
Bird, and withal a true original Native of America. Eagles have
been found in all Countries, but the Turkey was peculiar to ours...

(Franklin sits down at his desk, picks up a pen, and begins to write a letter.)


The Americans Will Fight

... You will have heard before this reaches you...the defeat of a
great body of [British] troops by the country people at Lexington;
some other small advantages gained in skirmishes with their
troops; and the action at [Bunker hill], in which they were twice
repulsed, and the third time gained a dear victory. Enough has
happened, one would think, to convince your ministers that the
Americans will fight, and that this is a harder nut to crack than
they imagined. ...

Our Country Will Not Be Destroyed

...We have as yet resolved only on defensive measures. If you
would recal your forces and stay at home, we should meditate
nothing to injure you. A little time so given for cooling on
both sides would have excellent effects. But you will goad
and provoke us. You despise us too much; and you are
insensible of the Italian adage, that there is no little enemy. ...

...[Our country] will not be destroyed: God will protect and
prosper it: You will only exclude the british empire from any
share in it. ...

... We hear that more ships and troops are coming out. We know
you may do us a great deal of mischief, but we are determined
to bear it patiently as long as we can; but if you flatter yourselves
with beating us into submission, you know neither the people
nor the country. ...

Act III, Scene 2

The Countryside (A Skirmish)

(Fields, fences, a few houses, a local tavern in the background; the video screen shows a historical retrospective of past wars involving America, including U.S.-Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Viet Nam. At the beginning of the scene, Franklin is alone on stage. As he speaks, a slow march begins very softly, with a slow crescendo, rising to forte with the entrance of the British redcoats.)

Franklin (speaks):

The Rattle Snake as a Symbol of America
I observed on one of the drums belonging to the marines now
raising, there was painted a Rattle Snake, with this modest
motto under it, "Don't tread on me."...

Recollecting that countries are sometimes represented by
animals peculiar to them, it occured to me that the Rattle-Snake
is found in no other quarter of the world besides America, and
may therefore have been chosen, on that account, to represent

I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of
any other animal, and that she has no eye lids. She
may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She
never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever
surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and
true courage... to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears
to be a most defenceless animal; and even when those
weapons are shown and extended for her defence, they
appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however
small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never
wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her
enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on

I confess I was wholly at a loss what to make of
the rattles, 'till I went back and counted them and found
them just thirteen, exactly the number of the Colonies united
in America; and I recollected too that this was the only
part of the Snake which increased in numbers...

It is curious and amazing to observe how distinct and
independent of each other the rattles of this animal are, and
yet how firmly they are united together... One of those
rattles singly, is incapable of producing sound, but the
ringing of thirteen together, is sufficient to alarm the
boldest man living.

The power of fascination attributed to her...
may be understood to mean, that those who
consider the liberty and blessings which America affords,
and once come over to her, never afterwards leave her, but
spend their lives with her.

She strongly resembles America
in this, that she is, beautiful in youth and her beauty increaseth
with her age...

Male Chorus:

(British redcoats march in formation, while the Colonial Patriots are scattered about the countryside. British Regulars sing and Patriots speak at the same time. There is no fighting.)

British Regulars (sing):

Red Coat Chorus

Our General with his council of war did advise
    How at Lexington we might the Yankees surprise;
We march'd-and remarch'd   all surpris'd   at being beat
And so our wise General’s… surprise - was compleat.

For fifteen miles they follow'd and pelted us, we scarce
    had time to pull a trigger.
But did you ever know a retreat perforni'd with more
For we did it in two hours, which sav'd us from perdition
‘Twas not in going out, but in returning, consisted our

Patriot Chorus

By these I swear (be witness Earth and Skies)
Fair order shall from confusion rise.

1st Patriot (speak):

Does not so atrocious a conduct [by the King] toward
his subjects dissolve their Allegiance?

We are fighting for the dignity and happiness of human
nature. Glorious is it for the Americans to be called by
Providence to this post of honor.

All Patriots (sing)

Our cause is the cause of all mankind, and...we are fighting
for their liberty in defending our own.

2nd Patriot (speak):

Where liberty is, there is my country!

All Patriots (speak):

Rebellion to tyranny is obedience to God. (repeated)


(alone on stage)

[My old friend:]

[The British] have doomed my Country to Destruction.
You have begun to burn our Towns, and murder our people.
Look upon your Hands!
They are stained with the blood of your Relations!
You and I were long Friends:
You are now my Enemy, and I am, Yours, …


Act IV, Scene 1  (France)

Palace of the French Court

(Palace of the French Royalty at Versailles; ballroom with gambling tables; laughter, crowd noise, a glass armonica; outside the Palace, through the french doors, can be seen a hot air balloon; on-stage string quartet plays ballroom music as scene opens)

Franklin, King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Guests:


[Festive music,
light with laughter,
gayly sound the
joy within.

Wheel of fortune,
rich in measure,
bring us treasure
with one spin.

Wine and wonder
spark the thunder
forming in the
fateful soul.

Lights and music,
noise and laughter,
gayly sound the
joy within.]



Our enemies [are] well informed of our present distress for
want of money and [are] conceiving great hopes that we shall
nowhere find a supply. [So we must beg again of our great
ally and friend, the people of France, to consider our urgent

King Louis XVI (speaks):

[Firmly assure your Congress of my frienship. I hope that
this will be for the good of the two nations.]


[Your Majesty may count on the gratitude of Congress and
its faithful observance of the pledge it now takes.]

(Franklin stands near the Queen, talking with her whenever she is not occupied by the royal gambling)

Franklin, Marie Antoinette:



Establishing the liberties of America will not only make that
people happy, but will have some effect in diminishing the
misery of those who in other parts of the world groan under
despotism by rendering it more circumspect and inducing it to
govern with a lighter hand.

Marie Antoinette:

America, an immense territory, favored by Nature with all
advantages of climate, soils, great navigable rivers and lakes
must become a great country populous and mighty, and will
in less time than is generally conceived, shake off any
shackles imposed upon her.


In America, they do not inquire of a stranger, ‘What is he?’
but, ‘What can he do?’

Every man in America is employed. An idle man is a

Franklin, Marie Antoinette:

God will finish his work and establish freedom and lovers of
liberty will flock from all parts of Europe … to participate
with you in that freedom.

Marie Antoinette:

[But now for some music! Maybe it will change my luck
at the tables!

There is a young composer from Salzburg who has agreed
to play one of his recent compositions in your honor. It was
composed especially for your Glass Armonica!]


[I am most humbled.]

(A piece of Mozart's written for the Glass Armonica is played on the instrument to everyone's satisfaction and amusement. The player is dressed as Mozart, complete with powdered wig. The string quartet picks-up the theme, and the chorus joins in. All exit through the french doors to watch the hot-air balloon ascend.)

Act 1V, Scene 2

Madame Brillon's Sitting Room

(Moulin Joli; a suburb of Paris. Elaborate drawing room, exquisitely decorated; at the rear of the stage are two french windows looking out onto a terraced garden; F. and M. Brillon are playing at Chess as the scene opens.)

Franklin, Madame Brillon, Madame Helvetius

(M. Brillon, M. Helvetius hum sarcastically in the following monologue)

Franklin (speaks):

The Twelve Commandments

People commonly speak of Ten Commandments.   I have
been taught that there are twelve. The first was increase &
multiply & replenish the earth. The twelfth is a new
Commandment I give unto you, that you love one another.
It seems to me that they are a little misplaced, And that the
last should have been the first. However I never made any
difficulty about that, but was always willing to obey them
both whenever I had an opportunity. Pray tell me my [dears]
whether my keeping religiously these two commandments …
may not be accepted in Compensation for my breaking
so often one of the ten. I mean that which forbids Coveting
my neighbour's wife, and which I confess I break constantly,
God forgive me, as often as I see or think of my lovely
Confessors, and I am afraid I should never be able to repent
of the Sin even if I had [their] full Possession.


And now I am Consulting you upon a Case of Conscience.
I will mention the Opinion of a certain Father of the church
which I find myself willing to adopt though I am not sure it
is orthodox. It is this, that the most effectual way to get rid
of a certain Temptation is, as often as it returns, to comply
with and satisfy it.Pray instruct me how far I may venture to
practice upon this Principle?

M. Brillon:

[As a wise sage once said,]
He that spills the Rum, loses that only;

M. Helvetius:

[but] He that drinks it, often loses both that and himself.


Poor Plain dealing! dead without Issue!

M. Brillon:



[Please, we must recite one of Dr. Franklin's Bagatelles.
It is a most curious whimsey. He calls it:]

Petition of the Letter Z

[And, of course, we will change the pronoun he to she!]


[Of course!]

M. Brillon, M. Helvetius:


That your Petitioner
is of … high extraction,
and has as good an Estate
as any other Letter of the Alphabet.

That there is therefore no reason
why she should be treated as she is
with Disrespect and Indignity.
That she is not only plac'd at the Tail of the Alphabet,
when she had as much Right …
to be at the Head;
but is,
by the Injustice of her enemies
totally excluded
from the word WISE,
and her Place,
injuriously filled
by a little,
venemous Letter,
called s,
when it must be evident to all the World,
that Double U,
do not spell or sound Wize,
but Wice.

Your Petitioner therefore
prays that the Alphabet
may be reformed
that in Consideration of her Long-Suffering & Patience
she may be plac’d at the Head of it;
that S may be turned out of the word Wise,
and the Petitioner employ'd instead of him;

And your Petitioner
(as in Duty bound)
shall ever pray, cetera. The Letter Z

M. Helvetius:

(speaking to M. Brillon)

[Did you know that Dr. Franklin has proposed
an amended version of the alphabet, in which
the letters Q, X, Y, and K are eliminated?]

M. Brillon:

[I am not surprised. He considers writing to be
a most admirable invention.]

M. Helvetius:

[Although, naturally, he would attempt to improve upon it!

M. Brillon:


M. Brillon, M. Helvetius:


*What an admirable Invention is Writing,
by which a [Person] may communicate his Mind
without opening his Mouth,
and at 1000 Leagues Distance,
and even to future Ages,
only by the Help Of [22] Letters,
which may be joined 5852616738497664000 Ways,
and will express all Things in a very narrow Compass.
'Tis a Pity this excellent Art has
not preserved the Name and Memory
of its Inventor.

* Franklin proposed an amended version of the English alphabet in which the letters Q, X, Y, and K were eliminated. I have changed 'men' to 'person' for the purpose of inclusion.

Franklin, M. Brillon, M. Helvetius:


[We share inspired conversation, the finest of wines,
and the best of company.

We walk together in the garden. Our spirited games and
amusements are most agreeable.

Let us always remember these pleasant days filled with
joy and happiness.]

Act IV, Scene 3

Signing of the Peace Treaty with Great Britain

(An elegant, historic room, with large ceilings, similar to that of Act II Scene 2. Five large documents hang from the ceiling or on the wall, all of which Franklin signed: the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the treaty with France that recognized the United States as a sovereign nation, the peace treaty with England, and the U. S. Constitution. Franklin, Washington, and the American entourage congregate downstage. Upstage there is a large table where the signing takes place. A British Commissioner sits behind the table, flanked by British redcoats standing at order.)

George Washington:

[Liberty and justice; the final reconciliation between
Great Britain and America.]

(speaks to Franklin:)

[Dr. Franklin, why do you wear that old and tattered brown
coat at such an important milestone in America's history?]

Franklin (speaks):

I wore that Jacket on the last day of the Cockpit Trial
prosecution by the English attorney general and today I
want to give that old brown coat a little revenge.

George Washington (sings):

[And, so you will!]

Male Chorus (sings wordless throughout the ceremony):

(Solemn processional to the signing table, followed by the signing of the Treaty. Then a slow recessional from the stage, in formation, finally leaving Franklin alone on stage. The lights dim, and Franklin addresses the video screen, which displays the 'live' figure of his son, William)

William Franklin:

*The War is Over

[The war is over. I have lost.
It is time to let bygones be bygones,
to revive that affectionate Intercourse and Connection¬
which, till the Commencement of the late Troubles,
had been the Pride and Happiness of my Life.
I will not apologize for my loyalist position,
or my part in the war.
I uniformly acted from a Strong Sense
of what I conceived my Duty to my King
and Regard to my Country.

If I have been mistaken, I cannot help it.
It is an Error of judgment that the reflection
I am capable of cannot rectify,

and I believe
were the same Circumstances to occur Tomorrow,
my Conduct would be exactly similar to what it
was heretofore.]

* written by William Franklin in a letter to his father
Benjamin Franklin (sings):

Nothing Has Hurt Me So Much

Nothing has hurt me so much
and affected me with such keen sensations
as to find myself deserted in my old Age
by my only Son;

and not only deserted,
but to find [you] taking up Arms against me,
in a Cause wherein my good Fame, Fortune and Life
were all at Stake.

[I cannot forgive, nor will I forget.]


(Both repeat their words, singing together.)

Epilogue  (The United States of America)

(Franklin's study; everything is the same as Act I. A party gathers in Franklin's house to celebrate his return to America. Fireworks are seen through the windows. The video screen displays a history of American Democracy, including civil war, western expansion, industrial revolution, , immigration, world wars, great cities, etc., ending before the close of F's 'This is my Country' aria)

Mixed Chorus:

Celebration Chorus

[Hail Thee, America.]

Man from the Chorus (speaks):

It looks as if the battle for independence is finally over.

Franklin (speaks):

Sir, you are mistaken. The Revolutionary War may be over,
but the battle for independence has just begun.

Woman from the Chorus (shouts):

Dr. Franklin, what kind of government did you give us?

Franklin (speaks):

In America, we have no need of kings.

[We have given you] a republic - if you can keep it!
Franklin, Chorus:


This is My Country

God grant that not only the love of liberty,
but a thorough knowledge of the rights of man,
may pervade all the nations of earth
so that a philosopher may set his foot
anywhere on its surface
and say, "this is my country."

(the crowd moves away; video ends)

Franklin (alone on stage; old, weary, resigned):


Wishing Song

May I govern my passions with absolute sway,
Grow wiser and better as my strength wears away,
Without gout or stone, by a gentle decay,
With courage, undaunted may I face my last day,
And when I am gone may the better sort say:
In the morning when sober, in the evening when mellow,
He's gone and has left not behind him his fellow.

(George Washington enters the stage and faces Franklin from a distance as the 'Wishing Song' ends. F. does not respond to G. W. He sits at his desk in shadow for the remainder of the opera.)

George Washington:


*[If to be venerated for benevolence,
if to be admired for talents,
if to be esteemed for patriotism,
if to be beloved for philanthropy,
can gratify the human mind,
you have the pleasing consolation
to know that you have not lived in vain.]

* excerpt of a letter from George Washington

(Franklin, in shadow, is unaware of the presence of family and friends as they gather about him.)

William F., Deborah F., Catherine R., M. Brillon, M. Helvetius, G. Washington:


(M. Brillon):

The Body of
B.[enjamin] Franklin

(M. Brillon, M. Helvetius):

Like the cover of an old book,

(M. Brillon, M. Helvetius, William F.):

Its contents turned out
and stripped of its lettering and gilding

(M. Brillon, M. Helvetius, William F., Catherine R.):

Lies here, food for worms
But the work shall not be wholly lost;

(M. Brillon, M. Helvetius, William F., Catherine R., Deborah F.):

For it will, as he believed, appear once more,
In a new more perfect edition,

(M. Brillon, M. Helvetius, William F., Catherine R., Deborah F., George Washington):

Corrected and amended
By the Author.

(repeat of Epitaph sung as a Sextet)

(Townspeople enter from upstage, where they join Franklin’s family and friends. The Junto slowly enter downstage, joining in the singing of the chorus with the others.)

Mixed Chorus, Male Chorus (the Junto):

Final Chorus  (Prayer of Thanks)

For peace and liberty, for food and
raiment, for corn and wine and milk
and every other nourishment
I thank Thee
For the common benefits of air and
light, for useful fire and delicious water
I thank Thee

For knowledge and literature and
every useful art, for my friends, and their
prosperity and for the fewness of my enemies
I thank Thee

For all the [many] benefits,
for life, for reason, for health,
for joy and every pleasant hour
I thank Thee

(Townspeople, Franklin’s family and friends slowly exit as lights fade out to all but the Junto.)

Junto Member 1 (speaks):

What is the most pitiful sight you have ever seen?

Junto Member 2 (speaks):

What of the blind man?

Junto Member 3 (speaks):

What of the lame wretch?

Young Franklin (live on Video Screen,
directly behind B.F. who is silhouetted aginst the screen):


The sorriest sight is the lonely man on a rainy day who
cannot read.

(Final Curtain)