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Welcome Remarks for Benjamin Franklin's Last Bet: The Favorite Founder's Divisive Death, Enduring Afterlife, and Blueprint for American Prosperity

Greetings from the National Archives’ flagship building in Washington, DC, which sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today’s conversation with Michael Meyer about his new book, Benjamin Franklin's Last Bet, which traces the evolution of a bequest Franklin made to support tradesmen over the next two centuries.

Before we begin, I’d like to tell you about two programs coming up later this month on our YouTube channel.

On Tuesday, April 19, at 1 p.m., environmental historian Adam Sowards will be with us to talk about his new book, Making America's Public Lands, which synthesizes public lands history from the beginning of the republic to recent controversies.

And on Thursday, April 28, at 1 p.m., Mark Updegrove offers an illuminating account of John F. Kennedy’s brief but transformative tenure in the White House in his new biography, Incomparable Grace.

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In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “I have always thought that one man of tolerable abilities will work great changes and accomplish great affairs among mankind.”

A year before his death, Franklin added a codicil to his last will and testament to back up this assertion. In addition to the bequests he had already made to his family and friends, he added a gift intended to benefit the nation. Franklin set up a 200-year fund, entrusted to the inhabitants of Boston and Philadelphia, to lend money to young tradesmen so they could set up their own businesses.

Author Michael Meyer calls this bequest “a final wager on the survival of the United States” and tells its story from 1790 to 1990 in Benjamin Franklin's Last Bet.

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Michael Meyer is the author of three critically acclaimed books, The Last Days of Old Beijing, In Manchuria, and The Road to Sleeping Dragon, as well as articles in the New York Times and other outlets. A Fulbright scholar and Guggenheim, NEH, Cullman Center, and MacDowell fellow, and the recipient of the Whiting Writers Award, Meyer is a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where he teaches nonfiction writing.

Now let’s hear from Michael Meyer. Thank you for joining us today.