Rothbard on Franklin and Washington

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    I’ve recently read Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty and given that all four volumes are displayed on the bookshelf in the background in Dr Woods’s videos, I figured I could ask this here.

    I’m wondering how accurate Rothbard’s very negative portrayal of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington is. Rothbard casts Franklin as an unprincipled opportunist and Washington as not only a bad military commander (which is fairly uncontroversial), but also as vain and vindictive; in short, he thinks the colonists won the war despite of, not because of, Washington’s leadership.

    Is this just Rothbard being Rothbard, or is he justified in his harsh assessment?


    Washington could be a showman and he had a temper, but I think arguing Washington hindered rather than helped the war effort is unjustified.

    As for Franklin, there is much to admire about him, particularly from a practical and academic position. He did have his foils, but I don’t think he was unprincipled. He certainly believed in American independence even when it was dangerous for him to do so, and without his diplomacy in France, the Americans may not have won the war.


    Washington was completely inexperienced in command at that level at the war’s beginning, and it showed on Long Island and on Manhattan. He did however eventually decide upon precisely the right grand strategy for American victory. Besides that, he steadfastly insisted that Congress, not he, had final authority in the American system, both when some of his officers and when the British pushed him in the other direction. He ultimately resigned his commission. These three facts combine to make him not only a good military commander, but the greatest man in American history.

    I agree about Franklin, though we mustn’t ignore John Jay’s pivotal role in concluding the Treaty of Paris.

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