My name is John DeGioia, President of Georgetown University, and I'd like to welcome you to today's discussion of Ken Burns' upcoming two-part film, Benjamin Franklin.
At Georgetown, we've been pleased to partner with Ken and a number of events that help to deepen our understanding of American history and civil discourse.
Today, we're privileged to welcome two special guests and accomplished civil servants, the Honorable Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, and the Honorable Nicholas Burns, U.S.
Ambassador to the People's Republic of China, to consider Benjamin Franklin's role as one of America's first diplomats.
We hope you enjoy the discussion and the opportunity to learn more about Franklin's life and diplomatic career.
ANNOUNCER: Now, here's the moderator for Benjamin Franklin and American Diplomacy, from the PBS News Hour, Judy Woodruff.
WOODRUFF: Hello and welcome to this PBS special, Benjamin Franklin and American Diplomacy, previewing Ken Burns' new film Benjamin Franklin and exploring the Founding Father's successful role as one of America's first diplomats.
Over the next hour, we were going to look closely at Franklin's time in Europe and discuss how this foundational period in American diplomacy contributed to the young country's victory over England and its development.
What is Franklin's legacy as America's first ambassador?
What values did he bring to Europe and bring back to the United States?
We'll also explore how this period is relevant to some of the issues we face today.
I am delighted to be joined by the renowned filmmaker Ken Burns, along with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is currently director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the current US Ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, a long-time diplomat who was previously ambassador to Greece and NATO and has worked closely with Secretary Rice.
Welcome to you all.
And Ken, I want to note tonight's conversation is part of a new program you're involved in picking up on what we just heard from President DeGioia, the Ken Burns Public Dialogue Initiative at Georgetown University that looks to create civil conversations among high level individuals across the political spectrum.
And that's why we're so delighted to be doing this.
Having this conversation tonight, so Ken, I am going to start with you.
We've heard a lot about Benjamin Franklin.
Why did you want to make this film about him and with this special focus on his work as a diplomat?
KEN: Well, you know, you always think you know the people who seem familiar and then you dive into them and they're completely new.
And I was just stunned at how much I did not know about Benjamin Franklin, how central he is to the idea of being in America, to the creation of the United States of America.
There is no doubt that the most compelling personality maybe in the world, but certainly in America of the 18th century is Benjamin Franklin.
He literally put our country on the map.
You know, he borrowed from Native American confederations, the Haudenosaunee and the Iroquois Confederation to sort of get an idea that we might be better, not as independent colonies, but as a one thing, the idea of an America, he was a postmaster.
He connected us in that way as well.
He's also the most famous scientist in the world and the only American anybody knows anywhere else but America.
And then, of course, he's this extraordinary negotiator that helps literally put the United States of America on the map, first by winning support from the French through alliances and then by negotiating the treaty with Great Britain.
That permitted us to be, as the treaty says, free, sovereign and independent states.
This is a big deal person.
He's as important as George Washington.
WOODRUFF: And to, to Secretary Rice, how do you look back on Benjamin?
I mean, here is someone we know.
He had this extraordinary role already.
He was a scientist, a philosopher, a publisher.
He had played so many roles in the early part, the early life of this country.
And then he was asked to take on major diplomatic assignment.
RICE: Well, first of all, I'm so glad that Ken Burns has done this documentary because we really need to once again look at our founding fathers and what they bequeathed us, which is really quite an extraordinary system here in the United States, a set of institutions, a set of freedoms that are really quite extraordinary in human history, particularly at that time.
And Franklin is for me one of the most compelling of them, because not only was he a true Renaissance man, a scientist and an educator, I mean, he founded what would become a university and someone who, who loved freedom and understood the cultures in which he was was going.
As a matter of fact, some of the stories about his own travels and what he learned, he was somebody who was incredibly curious.
So he's a compelling figure.
I also have a sense that among a lot of very, very strong, strong minded people, strong figures of our founding fathers.
His particular deft touch and his sense of humor probably helped a lot to diffuse some of those tensions between these very strong willed people.
And in that way got us to where we are as well.
And so to have a chance to look at this man who was quintessentially American in his belief about the value and the centrality of human freedom, but who also was able to connect to other peoples and to other societies.
I'm just glad we have a chance to look back on this extraordinary, extraordinary man.
WOODRUFF: And Ambassador Burns, we are looking back on him and we're focusing on the work he did as a diplomat, and yet he was never trained formally.
He didn't, he didn't study international affairs.
I guess you could say he studied everything in a way, what he was asked to do, was just extraordinary.
NICHOLAS: Well, it was Judy and Franklin may well be the most accomplished American diplomat ever, and he came at the very beginning of our national story because of two things and Ken mentioned them.
He was able to convince the France of Louis XVI an absolute monarchy, to support an American revolution against another empire and without the support of France, without French financing, without the French Army, particularly without the French Navy at the Battle of Yorktown, it's not, it's not likely that the American Revolution would have succeeded.
That was a tremendous accomplishment.
And then to go on from there in 1782 and 1783 to negotiate the Treaty of Paris, this was the treaty with Great Britain that ended the war and that secured the independence of the United States at the beginning of that negotiation.
Some of the British negotiators told Franklin they didn't even accept the idea that the United States had won at Yorktown and was going to win this war.
And so these are monumental achievements in the history of our country, and Washington is heralded and he should be because of his victories on the battlefield and keeping the Continental Army together.
But Franklin's accomplishments stand right beside his at the beginning of our history.
WOODRUFF: And that is a perfect introduction for this first clip that we want to look at from the film that lays out what awaited Benjamin Franklin when he arrived in Paris, he was sent right after the Declaration of Independence was signed, how he was received in France and how he saw his role.
NARRATOR: Franklin had intended to keep a low profile, but news of his arrival spread quickly and reached the capital long before he did.
The real purpose of his visit, securing a formal alliance with France, remained secret.
But everywhere he went, he was a sensation.
BRANDS: In 1776, people in France had never heard of any American, except for Benjamin Franklin.
SCHIFF: From the French point of view, they have sent the greatest celebrity on Earth, this side of Voltaire, to, to Paris.
He is like Newton or Galileo reincarnated.
NARRATOR: The city of Nantes celebrated the renowned Docteur Franklin, tamer of lightning, and crowds cheered him on his carriage ride into Paris.
They were fascinated by his soft hat of marten fur, which resembled the famous cap worn by the philosopher Rousseau, in contrast to the powdered wigs of the Parisian elite.
Franklin was wearing it to keep his head warm, and to hide the unsightly sores on his balding head.
CHAPLIN: It's such a great costume and prop.
Immediately announcing himself as a man of science.
I am the famous Benjamin Franklin, the "Prometheus of the Modern Age," don't forget it, here on business.
NARRATOR: French admirers hung portraits of him over the mantelpieces in their homes.
Poems were written about the great American scientist and philosopher who had miraculously arrived in their midst.
A collection of Poor Richard's Aphorisms was translated into French as La Science du Bonhomme Richard.
Franklin loved it.
FRANKLIN: Dear Sally, The clay medallion of me was the first of the kind made in France, and the numbers sold are incredible.
These, with the pictures, busts, and prints, of which copies upon copies are spread everywhere have made your father's face as well known as that of the moon.
JENKINSON: The king, Louis XVI, became sort of slightly annoyed and amused by the cult of Franklin, he had a chamber pot with an image of Franklin put on the inside of it just as a way of saying, "Enough, already."
NARRATOR: Franklin had serious, and vital, business to attend to.
Without France's money, supplies, and, ideally, military assistance, America's fight for independence might be lost, and lost quickly.
SCHIFF: There's no question that someone is going to have to step in to underwrite this revolution.
There is no gunpowder in the colonies; there is no materiel; there are very few guns.
There are no uniforms.
There's very little common purpose, in fact.
The obvious candidate, um, for that alliance, is France.
COHN: Franklin had a terribly difficult assignment.
He had to convince one monarch to help the Americans overthrow another monarch.
BRANDS: The French had reasons to oppose Britain.
They wanted to weaken Britain.
But King Louis XVI didn't want to underwrite this overthrow of monarchies.
The French people might get ideas.
NARRATOR: Persuading France's king and his ministers to provide any assistance at all would require delicacy and discretion, persistence and shrewd calculation.
Franklin had taken on the most momentous chess match of his life.
And playing it would require him, on his own, to improvise his strategy again and again.
JENKINSON: Franklin understood, they're not committed to our people's republican revolution here.
They want to get back at the British.
If they side with the colonials, and allow us each to spend ourselves down in this protracted fight, that this improves France's position in the European balance of power and maybe gives it a chance to reassert itself a little bit in the New World.
And, so, everyone's operating out of self-interest.
But Franklin, and Franklin alone, knows how to negotiate this, slowly, with suavity and humor, and patience.
WOODRUFF: And so, Ken Burns, Benjamin Franklin was, what, around 70 years old.
He already had led a long and successful life when he was given this assignment to go to France to secure their support for the American revolutionaries.
But and your film lays out why he was the perfect person for that job.
KEN: Yeah, and it begins very, very early in his life.
He's learned how to get along with people.
He's a printer, but he's also a publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette.
He's a postmaster early on in the colonies.
He's understanding the different views that the various colonies as disparate as the penal colony of Georgia, up to New Hampshire.
And I think he just comes with a sense of just how human beings relate to one another.
He knows London.
He knows a little bit about Europe.
He's been corresponding as a scientist with them.
And so he knows when to put on the brakes.
He knows when to slow down.
He knows when to accelerate.
He knows when to ask impossible things and get them.
And he knows when not to ask anything at all and permit them to come to him.
He's surrounded by spies, French but mostly British spies who he's he seems seemingly unconcerned with.
He is, you know, the the most incredible optimist in the darkest days of the Revolution where everything was going wrong.
He just says to them they're victories after victories.
It's an amazing kind of performance.
It is a kind of theater and I think that that Franklin understood that and practiced it and mastered it better than anybody else.
WOODRUFF: And to Secretary Rice, the Americans knew they were asking Franklin to do something really, really difficult.
We're not overstating that, are we?
I mean, this was, this was almost an impossible sounding mission.
RICE: This was an impossible sounding mission, and as you've said, to get a monarch to overthrow a monarch, even though Franklin seems to have understood that the French did have their own interest in cutting the British down to size a bit, and so he undoubtedly played on that.
But I'm really struck in this story about how the choice of Franklin, really the only known American outside in Europe, really reflects on how this young insurgency needed a big figure to represent it.
I think Nick would agree with me when you walk into a room as the American Secretary of State or the American ambassador, you've got all that weight of American strength and power behind you, and you know that you're representing a country that is influential, a country that is consequential to the world and people in a sense have to listen.
They may not do what you want them to do, but they have to listen.
Franklin had none of that in so many ways.
He was really relying on his own skills, his own reputation, his own ability to read people to back off when necessary to push when necessary.
And maybe a little bit of a sense that he could play the British against the French.
He'd, after all, been in London on on missions before he had represented the colonies in London.
He knew the place that he was trying to represent, but it really strikes me that to to go with really to represent this little entity in a, in this world of the big powers really says something about about his extraordinary reputation and about who he was and how he was viewed and about his skill, because that's not what it's like to be the American Secretary of State today.
WOODRUFF: Ambassador Burns, that's such a good point because he, he was, he may have been larger than life and the most famous American in the world, but but the country he was representing, the forces he was representing were were nascent.
They were just getting started.
NICHOLAS: Well, that's exactly right.
I mean, the nation had really not been created in a meaningful way.
You know, we had other diplomats at the time, Judy, as you know, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson in France, John Adams.
Franklin really does stand out in this period of the late 1770s and 1780s because he didn't arrive with a master plan.
He felt his way forward, and he showed a lot of traits of a successful negotiator.
He was a listener, and he was able to adjust his policy and strategy when he hit brick walls.
He also created alliances, and you have to do that in the world today.
And he understood that this young, as Condi said, band of revolutionaries, they needed help.
They needed recognition.
They needed support that even then, the United States couldn't stand alone in the world.
We can't stand alone now.
We needed France, and it was that connection to France.
And he did that through, in literary salons.
He did it in his relationship with the scientists during the Enlightenment.
He created a credibility for the United States because he was such a compelling figure.
You might call that soft power, but that's real, as well in diplomacy.
And without that, I don't think Franklin would have succeeded in this first mission of getting the support of the French court at Versailles.
WOODRUFF: And I have to say to Ken, one of the things that comes out in this film is how Franklin had to keep saying to the French that the Americans were doing really well in that war on the other side of the Atlantic, even when they weren't.
KEN: You know, he's he's keeping his counsel with friends and American visitors, and it's really quite pessimistic, almost right up to the end, there's a very important victory at Saratoga, which he gets to herald that actually convinces the French that there's something to this revolution.
And then, of course, Yorktown makes the sweetness of his success in the alliance, two treaties with France that are so significant.
He's cultivated also relationship with the foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes, and he's really played him in an interesting way, and you have to go back and understand French motives.
The French, what we call the French and Indian War, had morphed into a global war, the Seven Years' War and the French were defeated.
Essentially, their interests in North America were receding, and they were looking for some way to get back on the world stage.
It's just a remarkable performance and performance is really the kind of word he's cultivating the French people.
He knows that peasants everywhere are having the same kinds of inklings that American farmers and tradesmen and even freed slaves and even enslaved people have.
And so there's, there's a there's a boiling up.
The Enlightenment has been distilled by Thomas Jefferson with a major assist by Benjamin Franklin into one sentence that begins, "We hold these truths to be self-evident."
And he knows that this is an idea with legs.
And if you think about the fact that we're here right now, perhaps a little worried about the stability of institutions that he helped to create, we can be assured that we would not be here even having the luxury of worry without his sense of the power of those words to connect with other people, even monarchs.
WOODRUFF: And Secretary Rice, I would ask you to pick up on that.
He did have to read all his audiences at the same time, and I and I want to come back to this notion that he had to make the war sound as if it was going better at times than it, than it actually was.
Is that something diplomats have... we call it spinning today.
Is that part of the job?
RICE: Well, you never want to walk into the room and say, we're losing.
That's probably not a good place from which to start the diplomacy.
And so clearly, Franklin was trying to exude a confidence that maybe he didn't even have in what was going on.
But he was such a figure that he was, was able to do this.
Now to be, to be fair, I'm certain he's glad he didn't have social media reporting every day on what was actually going on in the Revolution or the media following him in this way.
We tend to forget that diplomacy was a more closed environment in these days.
He was several, weeks away from being able to even get back to the states, or back to to the Americas.
And so it was a different environment than the diplomats have today.
But absolutely, you have to exude a sense of confidence.
You also have to be able to put yourself in the other fellow's shoes.
And from all that I've read about Franklin and from Ken's excellent work, it appears that Franklin was able to do that to put himself in the other person's place and say, "Now, where can I find an overlap in our interests knowing where they are coming from?"
And I think the best diplomats do that extremely well.
And it's obvious that given that he had to convince a monarch that the people weren't ultimately going to come after him, which obviously eventually they did, it was quite a feat to be able to, to be inside of the minds of these various audiences and to use that information well to get what he needed.
WOODRUFF: And Ambassador Burns, it's it's another reminder of what a multi dimensional role diplomats have to play.
They're not only focused on the the country, they're, they are there to talk to, the leaders they're there to talk to.
But they have to be mindful of so much else going on at the same time.
NICHOLAS: Well, that's right.
You know, a diplomat, Franklin, there in Paris, he had to translate the wishes of the American revolutionaries of this movement for independence and and describe that in a compelling, convincing way to the French court.
And then he had to interpret the French court back to America.
That's difficult in any time.
That's the job of an American ambassador or Secretary of State in our time.
But Franklin was really alone because of that time.
Instructions, if there were any instructions at all that were worthwhile were coming.
It took weeks to get the instructions to him, weeks back.
And so he was really using his own wits, relying on his own wisdom of, of this very personal business of diplomacy, trying to read people, trying to push and pull when he could.
And it's a remarkable achievement, you know, in diplomacy these days, when Secretary Rice and I were working together, you have the advantage of these superb professionals, thousands of them in the State Department and the US government.
Here's a man who did this alone, over several years, he had some assistance from John Adams, who was a considerable figure in his own right.
But I can't think of a more singular figure and a more singular act of diplomacy than what Franklin did in Paris.
WOODRUFF: And speaking of many of the differences between then and now, and no social media, there were no telephones.
There was there was no internet.
And so it took time for information to cross.
And that really plays into this next clip from the film that you're going to see.
After almost two years in France, the Americans, the revolutionaries were looking to Benjamin Franklin.
They hadn't heard any word of an agreement, so they sent John Adams to sail over to try to move the process along.
Unbeknownst to him, however, agreements had just been finalized.
Copies were on a ship on its way to America, at the same time he was sailing east.
Later, Adams would describe what he found when he reached Paris.
ADAMS: "It was late when he breakfasted, and as soon as breakfast was over, a crowd of carriages came.
By far the greater part were women and children, come to have the honor to see the great Franklin, and to have the pleasure of telling stories about his simplicity and his bald head.
He was invited to dine every day and never declined, and it was the only thing in which he was punctual."
NARRATOR: In April, while the treaties were crossing the Atlantic, John Adams arrived in Paris.
He had been sent by Congress to push more vigorously for a French alliance and was chagrined to learn that Franklin had already secured two treaties.
Even more aggravating to him was how Franklin seemed to be conducting himself.
Adams called it "a scene of continual dissipation."
BAILYN: He was absolutely horrified.
Franklin's desk was a mess; there were papers all over the place.
And there was no security.
JENKINSON: Adams said, "Where's 'Poor Richard?'"
Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Where's, where's the, the Franklin that we're all, that's famous for his discipline?
SCHIFF: It's hard to imagine two such talented people, two men with so much in common, who are of absolutely opposite temperaments.
One of them is very rigid and dogmatic, and brilliant.
And the other one is very flexible and easy going, and affable, and brilliant.
And they got on each other's nerves.
ISAACSON: Adams is quite wary of the French.
Adams learned French by memorizing funeral orations and Franklin learned French by writing poetry in letters to women.
ELLIS: Franklin knew how to be popular, and Adams had no idea how to be popular.
In fact, Adams per, perceived popularity as a sign that he was not doing the right thing.
SCHIFF: Franklin's popularity drives Adams to distraction.
He's, he feels he's being, he feels that Franklin is being ineffective and utterly given over to Old World luxury, and, moreover, people are throwing themselves at him left and right.
He can't stand these celebrations of what he sees as this utterly irresponsible colleague.
NARRATOR: Shortly after his arrival, Adams accompanied Franklin to the Academy of Sciences to see Voltaire, France's greatest Enlightenment writer and philosopher.
He was 83 and in poor health, a month away from dying.
When the crowd demanded that the two great men embrace, Adams had to watch from the sidelines.
SCHIFF: Adams is an impatient man; he's a brittle man.
And he doesn't understand, the channels of diplomacy.
And he certainly doesn't understand the way the French court works.
He doesn't see that the secret to Franklin's success is, in large part, his inactivity, the fact that he is, essentially, being polite and genteel.
And is expressing gratitude toward these people who are underwriting our, our Revolution.
Adams wants to be demanding things at all times and, essentially, makes himself very unwelcome at the French court.
ELLIS: It's the "good cop" and the "bad cop."
And Franklin is the good cop.
I think they become an effective team and instead of seeing one as right and the other as wrong, um, it works for the American cause.
This is probably the greatest assemblage of diplomatic talent in American history, two people.
But Adams is perceived by the French, especially Vergennes, the French foreign minister, as this impossible creature.
NARRATOR: In February 1779, Adams learned that, at Vergennes's insistence, Congress had named Benjamin Franklin the United States' sole representative in France.
John Adams left for home.
WOODRUFF: So, Ken Burns, you have two of the great fathers of our country, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, so clearly at odds in their approach to their, to their work, to life.
And you bring that contrast out.
KEN: Well, it's nice when you have Mandy Patinkin reading the voice of Benjamin Franklin and you have Paul Giamatti reprising his role off camera of John Adams.
But this speaks to an important thing that that people within the administration might be jealous of one another is nothing new, obviously.
But it does speak to the personal relationships that I think are at the heart of diplomacy that Franklin forges with the French court, but specifically with Vergennes, a relationship.
And so Vergennes is actually, has some sympathies and some desires to see Franklin succeed.
And it's not saying that he's in any way forgetting his mission to represent the interests of the court of Louis XVI or the French people, or France itself, but that in diplomacy, these relationships become an extra added dimension.
And as he is correctly perceiving the dynamics of impatience, the dynamics of competition, the dynamics of being at odds as they're seeing how in, in some ways Adams is disagreeable in a kind of French societal sense.
Whereas Franklin seems to have picked up on all of the nuances there, it becomes in Vergenne's interest to be a friend of Franklin's and to say to the Continental Congress, Look, we just want to talk with him.
Nobody else, don't send us anybody else.
We just want to talk with Ben.
And so what happens is this old codger, older than all the rest has sort of outsmarted everyone.
He's outsmarted the British.
So all of this is big and grand and geopolitical and about the creation of a new country and two old empires.
But it's also something very subtle about two people and how they get along and how you read that other person and what they might want for you, just as you might want for them.
And so Franklin is looking always all his life for a win-win situation.
And I think he begins to understand how useful John Adams is, even in that kind of impatience and, and, and, and, his demanding he can use that to play as Joe Ellis suggests in the film, the good cop to, to Adams's impatient bad cop.
WOODRUFF: And Secretary Rice, a reminder of how personal relationships matter so much in life and certainly in diplomacy.
And we see that throughout this.
First of all, this is a wonderful piece because, of course, John Adams was never suffered from a lack or, never suffered from humility.
He was someone who thought of himself very highly and it comes through in this piece.
And yet Franklin is able somehow to work with him toward a common goal.
And in fact, I think that this is Franklin's role very often with all the founding fathers.
He's the one with a quip or a sense of humor when it's needed, and you just see again the greatness of Franklin.
But it is absolutely true that if you can establish personal relationships with the people with whom you're working, even adversaries to a certain extent, ask about their kids, find out what kind of music they like, personalize it a little bit.
It's not that you ever decide, okay, I'm just going to go over because this person is my friend.
That's, that's not the point.
But the personal relationships help ease sometimes the difficult conversations that you have to have.
I very often used music because I am a musician, with the Russians or with the French when things were difficult.
And so getting to know people because after all, diplomats are people too, it, it's always a good thing to have a sense of their humanity, even when you're going through the most difficult discussions.
George Shultz once said, a great American diplomat, that relationships were like gardening: you had to tend to them, you had to nurture them because ultimately when you have to ask somebody to do something hard, you want to have established a good relationship with them first.
WOODRUFF: And what about that, Ambassador Burns, I'm sure you, you've seen that in your life and your work and also this "good cop-bad cop" thing that that some perceive is is part of what Adams and Franklin had going on.
NICHOLAS: That's right, Judy.
But first, I'm from Massachusetts, so I'm going to defend John Adams as a central figure.
in the Revolution... WOODRUFF: We'll let you do that.
NICHOLAS: Thank you.
You know, you think about Adams from the Boston Massacre in 1770 to the creation of the Continental Congress to July 4th, 1776.
He's one of the leading figures, and he's intellectually very strong, and he helps to have this all congeal into the Declaration of Independence.
But as a diplomat, he served with great distinction in three different countries in Europe, in the Netherlands, in Great Britain and also in France.
And I think, and Condi would, I think, recognize this.
It's always good in a difficult negotiation to have lots of eyes on that negotiation and lots of people giving you frank advice, even if it's constructive criticism.
But at the end of the day, there's only one person who can really call the shots in our system.
Right now, it's the president of the United States.
In any negotiation, it's hard to have two people in charge.
And Franklin found that and Adams did, too.
And I think for the times, for the culture of France, for the degree of difficulty of getting the court of Louis XVI to come on board the cause of revolution, Franklin was the choice, and he had the power.
And it was Franklin's adept diplomacy that in the end carried the day despite sometimes the best wishes of John Adams.
WOODRUFF: Secretary Rice on this.
I'm not going to let go of this "good cop-bad cop" thing because I think we have seen that throughout, even even in modern American diplomacy.
RICE: Well, usually the way that you use the "good cop-bad cop" is that when you're negotiating, if you're you're Nick and you're negotiating, Ambassador Burns and you're negotiating on my behalf as Secretary of State, you'll say, "Well, you know, my boss would never go for this and I'll I'll call her, but she's she's not going to go for it."
Or if I'm negotiating on behalf of the United States, I might say, well, the president of the United States is never going to never going to agree with this.
And so you give yourself a little bit of good cop, bad cop in that way.
But I want to emphasize what Nick said.
Ultimately, what this episode shows is that there, Adams, as much as he is a revered figure.
And we all love John Adams, Nick, even if he was from Massachusetts.
He was ultimately a little bit in the way here because Franklin was already doing the hard work.
And even though Franklin, I'm sure, treated him with respect and with honor because Franklin treated everybody that way, I have to think that down deep, Franklin was really deeply annoyed.
WOODRUFF: So another clip to share with all of you.
Even after all the major fighting of the Revolutionary War, American defeating the British in October 1781 at the Battle of Yorktown, the British didn't disappear.
It would take another year for the British and the Americans to reach a preliminary peace deal, and a formal peace agreement would take even longer.
Franklin was deeply involved in work on what came to be called the Treaty of Paris, which, despite all the French help for the Americans, left France out entirely of the new country's future.
NARRATOR: At the end of 1782, a preliminary agreement of peace was signed and sent to London and Philadelphia for approval.
It did not require reparations to Americans who had remained loyal to England.
And France, which had given so much to the new nation, had been excluded altogether.
Franklin was assigned the task of smoothing things over with Vergennes.
JENKINSON: Franklin writes one of the greatest letters he ever wrote to Vergennes, apologizing for this in a beautiful way and, and really disarming the, what could have been a huge international crisis, that we had not fulfilled our promise to work out the diplomatic aspects of the end of the war with France, and not separately.
But he also, in that same letter of apology to Vergennes, this masterpiece, said, "And, by the way, we need some more money, too."
And he got it.
NARRATOR: Finally, on September 3rd, 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed.
England officially recognized its former colonies as the United States of America.
The Revolutionary War was over.
Members of the British delegation refused to pose for the portrait meant to commemorate the moment.
In the unfinished painting, Franklin sits in the middle, with his grandson Temple, the delegation's secretary, sitting to his left.
On Franklin's right sits John Adams, already worried about how history would remember the Revolution.
ADAMS: The history of our Revolution will be one continued lie from one end to the other.
The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin's electrical rod smote the Earth, and out sprang General Washington.
That Franklin electrified him with his rod, and thence forward, these two conducted all the policy, negotiations, legislation and war.
ELLIS: The Treaty of 1783 is one of the most lopsided treaties in American diplomatic history.
It's a total victory for the United States.
Its independence is recognized by France and the rest of Europe and England.
And we get a third of a continent, everything from the Mississippi to the Atlantic, and from the Canadian border to Florida.
We now become a nation larger than France, England, and Spain put together.
There is a consensus, at the end, uh, among the negotiators, including the Brits, that we're witnessing the creation of an American empire.
COHN: By the end of the war, France's coffers were more or less depleted.
France had the satisfaction in triumphing over their arch enemy Great Britain.
But they hadn't counted on bankrupting, uh, their own country in the process.
So, Franklin extracted, in a way, the lifeblood out of the royal coffers and he gave, in return, something that the monarchy was not counting on, he lit a fire, not only in France, but in all of Europe, promoting the democratic ideals that the United States stood for.
To put down tyranny was something that all the peasants could understand.
NARRATOR: For Native Americans, the treaty was devastating.
Many nations had decided that they would be better off by allying with the British, not the colonists, who for nearly two centuries had been encroaching on their lands.
Now the United States was claiming an even vaster territory, and as its white citizens pushed farther west, more and more Native people would be dispossessed, regardless of whose side they had taken during the war.
WOODRUFF: Ken Burns, astonishing when you think about it, that Benjamin Franklin was able to pull this off.
KEN: It's pretty amazing, you know, he had been his entire life a supporter of the British Empire.
He'd been in London for many, many years, almost two decades, and thought that he would be able to sort of help broker and negotiate the differences and the tensions between the colonies and Great Britain.
He made a few political mistakes that got him into hot water, and he ended up being roundly humiliated.
He went in to this sort of browbeating in front of a lot of people, a Briton and came out an American, and then all of a sudden with a fervor, he is fully an American.
And in the negotiation of the Treaty of Paris, he is adamant, he surprises Adams and he surprises John Jay, the other negotiator that is at his insistence that there be no reparations.
The Brits think this is a layup, and it doesn't happen because he says, who's going to replace, you know, the cities that you burned, the people that you killed, the patriots that you killed?
It was, he was very vociferous.
So at that moment, the the amicable Dr. Franklin, who had been so great at seducing the French in every sense of the word is is suddenly hard as nails with the British and ends up with the most lopsided treaty in history.
It is really remarkable.
And he comes back.
And of course, then we have to figure out what kind of country we are going to be.
The Articles of Confederation aren't going to cut it.
But when the actual Constitutional Convention happens, the first person that George Washington goes to see is his equal in this narrative, in this great epic story of the creation of us, of the U.S. And that's Benjamin Franklin.
It's his first.
It's his first visit, and then they have to deal with more compromises and compromises that live with us today in in many, many shameful shadows and echoes that, that go down the decades.
And so at the end of the day, you have to ask some really important questions about what the nature of compromise is and the very art of diplomacy with regard to the creation of the United States, I think.
WOODRUFF: And Secretary Condoleezza Rice, I mean, what are the repercussions today from this, this absolutely foundational achievement in 1783?
It's it it, it did lay the groundwork for so much of what the United States has been able to be and do since then.
RICE: Well, the thing that we have to remember is that this is the beginning of an American story, not its end.
And that story has been unfolding.
It would be not just in America, but within the same decade that people would rise up, and those very monarchs would find themselves literally on the chopping block, a chopping block within just a few years.
And of course, it would be another almost 100 years before slaves would be freed in the new land.
My ancestors, who would in the Constitution that would follow, be counted as three-fifths of a man and we'd have another founding, second founding with the civil rights movement of 1964 and 1965, led by the great Martin Luther King.
And so it was the beginning of a story.
But you know, I always reflect Judy on the fact that when I was sworn in as Secretary of State to be the nation's chief diplomat, I stood under a portrait of Benjamin Franklin in what is called the Franklin Room on the eighth floor of the State Department, and I was being sworn in there, this descendant of slaves, by a Jewish woman, Supreme Court justice, named Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
And I remember sort of glancing at the portrait of Franklin and thinking, What would Old Ben have thought of this?
And of course, he would never have imagined it because it would have been thought impossible.
But what he started with that Treaty of Paris was a long journey of a country that has in fits and starts, sometimes with great mistakes like the Civil War and and many other great mistakes, but always striving forward to get to that place where those great words of our founding documents actually have meaning.
And so what this documentary reminds us and what the story of Franklin reminds us, is that this was the start, not the end of the American story.
WOODRUFF: And Ambassador Burns pick up on that, the values that that Franklin espoused and and the things that he stood for do resonate today, what Ken and Secretary Rice have just been referring to, I mean, these are timeless things that we're talking about.
NICHOLAS: They certainly are.
And Judy, I think a lot of us tend to assume that the Revolutionary War ended at Yorktown and on the battlefield in 1781.
It actually ended in Paris at a negotiating table and who was at the center of that negotiating table?
Benjamin Franklin, I think that recalls for us today the importance of diplomacy.
Most wars, most conflicts end because diplomats come together with the power of their states behind them to end those wars.
And Franklin was the first one to show us the value of diplomacy.
And as Walter Isaacson, the great biographer of Franklin, said in his great biography, Franklin believed two things, he believed in the idealism of America.
He believed in our ideals of our founding, but also the exceptional nature of the country.
But he also believed in power and the need to be pragmatic at times, and Walter says that Franklin combined those two in his negotiations with the French and the British.
That's also not a bad thing for us to remember.
We're a democratic country.
We deeply believe in those values against the authoritarian values of China or of Russia.
And yet there are also times say on climate change, we're going to have to work with those two very countries to accomplish something great for our country.
So what a great model Benjamin Franklin is in 2022 and will be for decades to come.
To all the young people that Condi and I have been teaching at Stanford and Harvard.
And and I hope that we can recall the genius of Franklin as we go forward in our national story.
WOODRUFF: And I'm thinking of Secretary Rice and how much how the film reminds us that Benjamin Franklin loved chess.
And diplomacy, after all, is maybe the ultimate game of chess.
You have to be thinking not just around the corner, but years and years in advance and thinking of everybody, every country, every interest that's going to be affected by what you do in that room.
RICE: And particularly if today you are the America's, America's chief diplomat or the American ambassador to China, that comes with a certain responsibility.
Franklin was trying to do something quite extraordinary, maybe even something quite impossible, which was to convince the monarchs that they, the monarchs of France, that they ought to somehow support this little insurgency that might have even lost.
And then France would have been just broke in their coffers.
But they would, of course, have truly ticked off the British to, to no good effect.
And so Franklin had a really tough job for this little fledgling insurgency that was about to become a country.
Now, as the most powerful country in the world and for many, many years, the most consequential to think around those corners to think about how American power and American principle can be brought together to affect in a good way the way that our globe, the way that the people of our globe are served to think around those corners as to how American power and principle is shaping the international environment, to think around those corners about our values at the center of our tough minded and realistic foreign policy.
It's a difficult job, but a necessary one for American diplomats who follow in Franklin's footsteps.
But with now considerably more impact on the lives of just everybody on the globe.
WOODRUFF: And Ken Burns, I want to bring us back to something that both Secretary Rice and Ambassador Burns have touched on, and that is the need, the necessity of talking to our adversaries, of sitting across the table from those we don't agree with.
It's why having this conversation about the film to me is so important, to remind everybody that that, you know, whenever it is possible, we need to settle disputes, not by firing guns at one another, but by trying to figure it out ahead of time.
KEN: That's right, Judy, I can't improve on the eloquence of Ambassador Burns or Secretary Rice, but I think that's it.
Our politics and our media culture both share one thing in common, they're kind of binary.
Everything is an on or off switch.
It's white or black, it's red state or blue state.
But I think particularly today, as we see some of the frayed edges of our own institutions and our own, the fabric of our own society, getting a little bit worn that we have to learn to remember to to talk with ourselves better, to listen to the other, which was Franklin's great gift of listening and understanding what the other needed, of not ridiculing another opponent, of not being so absolutely sure you're right, and I think today we find a good deal of the cracks in our firmament coming from those people who are so absolutely certain, so absolutely rigid that it becomes impossible to engage in the very human act of negotiation.
Whether it's, can I stay up a half an hour later, mom, or will you please work with us on climate change, you know, Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin?
The difficult task that Nick has before him, this is, this is the essence of human interaction, is that listening process.
WOODRUFF: And Ambassador Burns, it's a reminder of how diplomacy is is part of the American identity, it's what this country was founded on.
Yes, it was war, but it was also this critical, critical work to find common ground.
NICHOLAS: I think that's right, Judy, and I think it's one of the great lessons as we reflect on, on Benjamin Franklin and his legacy.
Of course, we are enormously proud of our military and our military provides the security that we need in the world of the 21st century.
But we're not going to get much accomplished unless we sit down at times with our adversaries, unless we band together with our allies, as we have to do, in in the Indo-Pacific as well as Europe these days.
And if we think about not just sometimes what the United States wants to do in the world, but how we can create coalitions around truly great ideas and certainly conquering climate change and dealing with it has to be one of those those ideas for our time.
Dealing with pandemics has to be a global enterprise where 195 states work together.
Diplomacy is essential for the United States to be a free country and to be a secure country in the world and another reason we should learn history and learn the history of Benjamin Franklin.
WOODRUFF: And finally, to you Secretary Rice, the issues may have changed.
They've expanded the certainly the the geographic landscape has has changed in terms of the number of countries the United States has to has to think about.
But the fact of diplomacy of working with the rest of the world remains the same.
RICE: Well, certainly diplomacy is an American story, as you've said.
I do think it's important to remember too, though, that Franklin knew what he was negotiating about and why he was negotiating.
He was negotiating because a group of people had decided that they wanted to throw off tyranny, that they could no longer live under the British monarch and that they were willing to put their lives on the line for that so that they might live in freedom.
And the American story is certainly one of having to negotiate with adversaries and find means of cooperation with those with whom we don't agree.
I often tell my students, even if you find yourself constantly in the company of people who say amen to everything that you say, find other company, because we do need to be able to peacefully resolve our differences.
But it's also important to keep at our core the American ideal that no one should have to live in tyranny, that men, women and children deserve the dignity that democracy brings, and that as hard as it is, self-governance in the service of liberty is in fact a radical idea that has taken hold here in America.
We have to defend it.
We have to work for it.
It's a constantly evolving story in a country that was born with a birth defect of slavery.
But it is the key to America's success that we are a place that believes in individual liberty and that human beings can self-govern.
Franklin never forgot that.
WOODRUFF: So well-spoken.
What a wonderful conversation, I cannot thank the three of you enough.
Secretary Condoleezza Rice.
Ambassador Nick Burns embarking on your role as ambassador to China and the one and only Ken Burns, filmmaker extraordinaire.
Benjamin Franklin will air on PBS nationwide on April 4th and 5th.
It will also stream on all PBS platforms, including pbs.org.
For more information on the film, please visit PBS.org/BenFranklin, thank you so much for joining us.