4. Benjamin Franklin
Merely listing the accomplishments of Benjamin Franklin in the areas of science, politics, writing, philosophy, journalism, or diplomacy would take more room than this column allows. But the fact that he was the American equivalent of Leonardo DaVinci — and then some — is not what makes him a badass.
In an age when we are bombarded with commercials asking us if age has slowed us down and offering testosterone supplements, consider this: At the age of 70, which was considerably older than the average lifespan of his time, Benjamin Franklin not only undertook the arduous ocean voyage to France to negotiate the military alliance that would save the Revolution, he had a good enough time doing it that it royally pissed off John Adams’s puritan sensibilities.
Franklin was nearly as influential in establishing the American character as Washington was in establishing how it would be governed. His observations and one-liners still permeate the American lexicon today. Far from the lofty public utterances of many public speakers of the time, Franklin dazzled with a brilliant, yet down-to-earth, wit and wisdom that came from the working-class roots he stayed proudly true to no matter how far he climbed in the social stratosphere.
Even while he preached unity among the colonies and independence from the Crown, Franklin was a wildly popular figure in England — and also in its most bitter enemy, France. While on his mission to make France an ally of the fledgling United States, Franklin managed to help end discrimination against non-Catholics by the French government — in his spare time, I suppose.
For succeeding in nearly everything he put his hand or mind to, and for doing it for pretty much all of his 84 years, Ben Franklin gets to add one more title to his dozens — that of genuine badass.