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Benjamin Franklin

[frangk-lin]

Benjamin Franklin ( April 17, 1790) was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author and printer, satirist, political theorist, politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman and diplomat. As a scientist he was a major figure in the Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. He invented the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, a carriage odometer, and a musical instrument. He formed both the first public lending library in America and first fire department in Pennsylvania. He was an early proponent of colonial unity and as a political writer and activist he, more than anyone, invented the idea of an American nation and as a diplomat during the American Revolution, he secured the French alliance that helped to make independence possible.

Franklin is credited as being foundational to the roots of American values and character, a marriage of the practical and democratic Puritan values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions, and opposition to authoritarianism both political and religious, with the scientific and tolerant values of the Enlightenment. In the words of Henry Steele Commager, "In Franklin could be merged the virtues of Puritanism without its defects, the illumination of the Enlightenment without its heat. To Walter Isaacson, this makes Franklin, "the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become.

Franklin became a newspaper editor, printer, and merchant in Philadelphia, becoming very wealthy, writing and publishing Poor Richard's Almanack and the Pennsylvania Gazette. Franklin was interested in science and technology, and gained international renown for his famous experiments. He played a major role in establishing the University of Pennsylvania and Franklin & Marshall College and was elected the first president of the American Philosophical Society. Franklin became a national hero in America when he spearheaded the effort to have Parliament repeal the unpopular Stamp Act. An accomplished diplomat, he was widely admired among the French as American minister to Paris and was a major figure in the development of positive Franco-American relations. From 1775 to 1776, Franklin was Postmaster General under the Continental Congress and from 1785 to 1788 was President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania. Toward the end of his life, he became one of the most prominent abolitionists.

Franklin's colorful life and legacy of scientific and political achievement, and status as one of America's most influential Founding Fathers, has seen Franklin honored on coinage and money; warships; the names of many towns, counties, educational institutions, namesakes, and companies; and more than two centuries after his death, countless cultural references.

Biography

Ancestry

Franklin's father, Josiah Franklin, was born at Ecton, Northamptonshire, England on December 23, 1657, the son of Thomas Franklin, a blacksmith and farmer, and Jane White. His mother, Abiah Folger, was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, on August 15, 1667, to Peter Folger, a miller and schoolteacher and his wife Mary Morrill, a former indentured servant. A descendant of the Folgers, J.A. Folger, founded Folgers Coffee in the 19th century.

Josiah Franklin had seventeen children by his two wives. His first wife was Anne Child, whom he married about 1677 in Ecton and immigrated to Boston with in 1683; they had three children before immigrating, and four after. After her death, Josiah was married to Abiah Folger on July 9, 1689 in the Old South Meeting House by Samuel Willard. Benjamin, their eighth child, was Josiah Franklin's fifteenth child and tenth and last son.

Josiah Franklin converted to the Puritanism in the 1670s. Puritanism was a Protestant movement in England to "purify" Anglicanism from elements of the Roman Catholic religion, which they considered superstitious. Three things were important to the Puritans: that each congregation would be self-governing, that ministers give sermons instead of performing rituals such as a Mass and individual Bible study so that each believer could develop a personal understanding and relationship with God. Puritanism appealed to smart, middle-class people such as Benjamin Franklin's father, who enjoyed the governance meetings, discussion, study and personal independence.

The roots of American democracy can be seen in these Puritan values of self-government, the importance of the individual and active indignation against unjust authority, which were passed on to Benjamin Franklin and other founding fathers such as John Adams. One of Josiah's core Puritan values was that personal worth is earned through hard work, which makes the industrious man the equal of kings, which Ben Franklin etched onto his father's tombstone, from his father Josiah's favorite Bible quote, from the Hebrew Bible, Proverbs 22:29: "Seest thou a man diligent in his calling, he shall stand before Kings. Hard work and equality were two Puritan values Ben Franklin preached throughout his own life (ibid, p 78) and spread widely through Poor Richard's Almanac and his autobiography.

Ben Franklin's mother, Abiah Folger, was born into a Puritan family that was among the first Pilgrims to flee to Massachusetts for religious freedom, when King Charles I of England began persecuting Protestants. They sailed for Boston in 1635. Her father was "the sort of rebel destined to transform colonial America. As clerk of the court, he was jailed for disobeying the local magistrate in defense of middle-class shopkeepers and artisans in conflict with wealthy landowners. Ben Franklin followed in his grandfather's footsteps in his battles against the wealthy Penn family that owned the Pennsylvania Colony.

Early life

Benjamin Franklin was born on Milk Street, in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1706 and baptized at Old South Meeting House. His father, Josiah Franklin, was a tallow chandler, a maker of candles and soap, whose second wife, Abiah Folger, was Benjamin's mother. Josiah's marriages produced 17 children; Benjamin was the fifteenth child and youngest son. Josiah wanted Ben to attend school with the clergy but only had enough money to send him to school for two years. He attended Boston Latin School but did not graduate; he continued his education through voracious reading. Although "his parents talked of the church as a career" for Franklin, his schooling ended when he was ten. He then worked for his father for a time and at 12 he became an apprentice to his brother James, a printer, who taught Ben the printing trade. When Ben was 15, James created the New England Courant, the first truly independent newspaper in the colonies. When denied the option to write to the paper, Franklin invented the pseudonym of "Mrs. Silence Dogood," who was ostensibly a middle-aged widow. The letters were published in the paper and became a subject of conversation around town. Neither James nor the Courant's readers were aware of the ruse, and James was unhappy with Ben when he discovered the popular correspondent was his younger brother. Franklin left his apprenticeship without permission and in so doing became a fugitive.

At age 17, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, seeking a new start in a new city. When he first arrived he worked in several printer shops around town. However, he was not satisfied by the immediate prospects. After a few months, while working in a printing house, Franklin was convinced by Pennsylvania Governor Sir William Keith to go to London, ostensibly to acquire the equipment necessary for establishing another newspaper in Philadelphia. Finding Keith's promises of backing a newspaper to be empty, Franklin worked as a compositor in a printer's shop in what is now the Church of St Bartholomew-the-Great in the Smithfield area of London. Following this, he returned to Philadelphia in 1726 with the help of a merchant named Thomas Denham, who gave Franklin a position as clerk, shopkeeper, and bookkeeper in Denham's merchant business.

In 1727, Benjamin Franklin, 21, created the Junto, a group of "like minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community." The Junto was a discussion group for issues of the day; it subsequently gave rise to many organizations in Philadelphia.

Reading was a great pastime of the Junto, but books were rare and expensive. The members created a library, and initially pooled their own books together. This did not work, however, and Franklin initiated the idea of a subscription library, where the members pooled their monetary resources to buy books. This idea was the birth of the Library Company, with the charter of the Library Company of Philadelphia created in 1731 by Franklin. Franklin hired the first American librarian in 1732, Louis Timothee.

Originally, the books were kept in the homes of the first librarians, but in 1739 the collection was moved to the second floor of the State House of Pennsylvania, now known as Independence Hall. In 1791, a new building was built specifically for the library. The Library Company flourished with no competition and gained many priceless collections from bibliophiles such as James Logan and his physician brother William. The Library Company is now a great scholarly and research library with 500,000 rare books, pamphlets, and broadsides, more than 160,000 manuscripts, and 75,000 graphic items.

Upon Denham's death, Franklin returned to his former trade. By 1730, Franklin had set up a printing house of his own and had contrived to become the publisher of a newspaper called The Pennsylvania Gazette. The Gazette gave Franklin a forum for agitation about a variety of local reforms and initiatives through printed essays and observations. Over time, his commentary, together with a great deal of savvy about cultivating a positive image of an industrious and intellectual young man, earned him a great deal of social respect; though even after Franklin had achieved fame as a scientist and statesman, he habitually signed his letters with the unpretentious 'B. Franklin, Printer.'

In 1731, Franklin was initiated into the local Freemason lodge, becoming a grand master in 1734, indicating his rapid rise to prominence in Pennsylvania. That same year, he edited and published the first Masonic book in the Americas, a reprint of James Anderson's Constitutions of the Free-Masons. Franklin remained a Freemason throughout the rest of his life.

Deborah Read

In 1724, while a boarder in the Read home, Franklin had courted Deborah Read before going to London at Governor Keith's request. At that time, Miss Read's mother was wary of allowing her daughter to wed a seventeen-year old who was on his way to London. Her own husband having recently died, Mrs. Read declined Franklin's offer of marriage.

While Franklin was in London, Deborah married a man named John Rodgers. This proved to be a regrettable decision. Rodgers shortly avoided his debts and prosecution by fleeing to Barbados, leaving Deborah behind. With Rodgers' fate unknown, and bigamy illegal, Deborah was not free to remarry.

In 1730, Franklin acknowledged an illegitimate son named William, who would eventually become the last Loyalist governor of New Jersey. While the identity of William's mother remains unknown, perhaps the responsibility of an infant child gave Franklin a reason to take up residence with Deborah Read. William was raised in the Franklin household but eventually broke with his father over the treatment of the colonies at the hands of the crown. However, he was not above using his father's fame to enhance his own standing.

Franklin established a common-law marriage with Deborah Read on September 1, 1730. In addition to raising William, Benjamin and Deborah Franklin had two children together. The first, Francis Folger Franklin, born October 1732, died of smallpox in 1736. Sarah Franklin, nicknamed Sally, was born in 1743. She eventually married Richard Bache, had seven children, and cared for her father in his old age.

Deborah's fear of the sea meant that she never accompanied Franklin on any of his extended trips to Europe, despite his repeated requests. However, Franklin did not leave London to visit Deborah even after she wrote to him in November 1769 saying her illness was due to “dissatisfied distress” because of his prolonged absence. Deborah Read Franklin died of a stroke in 1774, while Benjamin was on an extended trip to England.

Success as an author

In 1733, Franklin began to publish the famous Poor Richard's Almanack (with content both original and borrowed) under the pseudonym Richard Saunders, on which much of his popular reputation is based. Franklin frequently wrote under pseudonyms. Although it was no secret that Franklin was the author, his Richard Saunders character repeatedly denied it. "Poor Richard's Proverbs," adages from this almanac, such as "A penny saved is twopence dear" (often misquoted as "A penny saved is a penny earned"), "Fish and visitors stink in three days" remain common quotations in the modern world. Wisdom in folk society meant the ability to provide an apt adage for any occasion, and Franklin's readers became well prepared. He sold about ten thousand copies per year (a circulation equivalent to nearly three million today).

In 1758, the year in which he ceased writing for the Almanack, he printed Father Abraham's Sermon, also known as The Way to Wealth. Franklin's autobiography, published after his death, has become one of the classics of the genre.

Inventions and scientific inquiries

Franklin was a prodigious inventor. Among his many creations were the lightning rod, the glass harmonica, the Franklin stove, bifocal glasses, and the flexible urinary catheter. Franklin never patented his inventions; in his autobiography he wrote, "... as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously. His inventions also included social innovations, such as paying forward.

As deputy postmaster, Franklin became interested in the North Atlantic Ocean circulation patterns which carried mail ships. Franklin worked with Timothy Folger, his cousin and experienced Nantucket whaler captain, and other experienced ship captains, learning enough to chart the Gulf Stream, giving it the name by which it's still known today. It took many years for British sea captains to follow Franklin's advice on navigating the current, but once they did, they were able to gain two weeks in sailing time.

In 1743, Franklin founded the American Philosophical Society to help scientific men discuss their discoveries and theories. He began the electrical research that, along with other scientific inquiries, would occupy him for the rest of his life, in between bouts of politics and moneymaking.

In 1748, he retired from printing and went into other businesses. He created a partnership with his foreman, David Hall, which provided Franklin with half of the shop's profits for 18 years. This lucrative business arrangement provided leisure time for study, and in a few years he had made discoveries that gave him a reputation with the educated throughout Europe and especially in France.

His discoveries included his investigations of electricity. Franklin proposed that "vitreous" and "resinous" electricity were not different types of "electrical fluid" (as electricity was called then), but the same electrical fluid under different pressures. He was the first to label them as positive and negative respectively, and he was the first to discover the principle of conservation of charge. In 1750, he published a proposal for an experiment to prove that lightning is electricity by flying a kite in a storm that appeared capable of becoming a lightning storm. On May 10, 1752, Thomas-François Dalibard of France conducted Franklin's experiment (using a -tall iron rod instead of a kite) and extracted electrical sparks from a cloud. On June 15, Franklin may have possibly conducted his famous kite experiment in Philadelphia and also successfully extracted sparks from a cloud, although there are theories that suggest he never performed the experiment. Franklin's experiment was not written up until Joseph Priestley's 1767 History and Present Status of Electricity; the evidence shows that Franklin was insulated (not in a conducting path, since he would have been in danger of electrocution in the event of a lightning strike). (Others, such as Prof. Georg Wilhelm Richmann of Saint Petersburg, Russia, were electrocuted during the months following Franklin's experiment.) In his writings, Franklin indicates that he was aware of the dangers and offered alternative ways to demonstrate that lightning was electrical, as shown by his use of the concept of electrical ground. If Franklin did perform this experiment, he did not do it in the way that is often described, flying the kite and waiting to be struck by lightning, as it would have been fatal. Instead, he used the kite to collect some electric charge from a storm cloud, which implied that lightning was electrical.

On October 19 in a letter to England explaining directions for repeating the experiment, Franklin wrote:

"When rain has wet the kite twine so that it can conduct the electric fire freely, you will find it streams out plentifully from the key at the approach of your knuckle, and with this key a phial, or Leiden jar, maybe charged: and from electric fire thus obtained spirits may be kindled, and all other electric experiments [may be] performed which are usually done by the help of a rubber glass globe or tube; and therefore the sameness of the electrical matter with that of lightening completely demonstrated.

Franklin's electrical experiments led to his invention of the lightning rod. He noted that conductors with a sharp rather than a smooth point were capable of discharging silently, and at a far greater distance. He surmised that this knowledge could be of use in protecting buildings from lightning, by attaching "upright Rods of Iron, made sharp as a Needle and gilt to prevent Rusting, and from the Foot of those Rods a Wire down the outside of the Building into the Ground;...Would not these pointed Rods probably draw the Electrical Fire silently out of a Cloud before it came nigh enough to strike, and thereby secure us from that most sudden and terrible Mischief!" Following a series of experiments on Franklin's own house, lightning rods were installed on the Academy of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania) and the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall) in 1752.

In recognition of his work with electricity, Franklin received the Royal Society's Copley Medal in 1753, and in 1756 he became one of the few eighteenth century Americans to be elected as a Fellow of the Society. The cgs unit of electric charge has been named after him: one franklin (Fr) is equal to one statcoulomb.

On October 21, 1743, according to popular myth, a storm moving from the southwest denied Franklin the opportunity of witnessing a lunar eclipse. Franklin was said to have noted that the prevailing winds were actually from the northeast, contrary to what he had expected. In correspondence with his brother, Franklin learned that the same storm had not reached Boston until after the eclipse, despite the fact that Boston is to the northeast of Philadelphia. He deduced that storms do not always travel in the direction of the prevailing wind, a concept which would have great influence in meteorology.

Franklin noted a principle of refrigeration by observing that on a very hot day, he stayed cooler in a wet shirt in a breeze than he did in a dry one. To understand this phenomenon more clearly Franklin conducted experiments. On one warm day in Cambridge, England, in 1758, Franklin and fellow scientist John Hadley experimented by continually wetting the ball of a mercury thermometer with ether and using bellows to evaporate the ether. With each subsequent evaporation, the thermometer read a lower temperature, eventually reaching 7°F (-14°C). Another thermometer showed the room temperature to be constant at 65°F (18°C). In his letter "Cooling by Evaporation," Franklin noted that "one may see the possibility of freezing a man to death on a warm summer’s day."

Musical endeavors

Franklin is known to have played the violin, the harp, and the guitar. He also composed music, notably a string quartet in early classical style, and invented a much-improved version of the glass harmonica, in which each glass was made to rotate on its own, with the player's fingers held steady, instead of the other way around; this version soon found its way to Europe.

Public life

In 1736, Franklin created the Union Fire Company, one of the first volunteer fire fighting companies in America. In the same year, he printed a new currency for New Jersey based on innovative anti-counterfeiting techniques which he had devised.

As he matured, Franklin began to concern himself more with public affairs. In 1743, he set forth a scheme for The Academy and College of Philadelphia. He was appointed president of the academy in November 13, 1749, and it opened on August 13, 1751. At its first commencement, on May 17, 1757, seven men graduated; six with a Bachelor of Arts and one as Master of Arts. It was later merged with the University of the State of Pennsylvania to become the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1753, both Harvard and Yale awarded him honorary degrees.

In 1751, Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond obtained a charter from the Pennsylvania legislature to establish a hospital. Pennsylvania Hospital was the first hospital in what was to become the United States of America.

Franklin became involved in Philadelphia politics and rapidly progressed. In October 1748, he was selected as a councilman, in June 1749 he became a Justice of the Peace for Philadelphia, and in 1751 he was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly. On August 10, 1753, Franklin was appointed joint deputy postmaster-general of North America. His most notable service in domestic politics was his reform of the postal system, but his fame as a statesman rests chiefly on his subsequent diplomatic services in connection with the relations of the colonies with Great Britain, and later with France.

In 1754, he headed the Pennsylvania delegation to the Albany Congress. This meeting of several colonies had been requested by the Board of Trade in England to improve relations with the Indians and defense against the French. Franklin proposed a broad Plan of Union for the colonies. While the plan was not adopted, elements of it found their way into the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.

In 1756, Franklin organized the Pennsylvania Militia (see "Associated Regiment of Philadelphia" under heading of Pennsylvania's 103rd Artillery and 111th Infantry Regiment at Continental Army). He used Tun Tavern as a gathering place to recruit a regiment of soldiers to go into battle against the Native American uprisings that beset the American colonies. {Reportably Franklin was elected "Colonel" of the Associated Regiment but declined the honor}.

In 1757, he was sent to England by the Pennsylvania Assembly as a colonial agent to protest against the political influence of the Penn family, the proprietors of the colony. He remained there for five years, striving to end the proprietors' prerogative to overturn legislation from the elected Assembly, and their exemption from paying taxes on their land. His lack of influential allies in Whitehall led to the failure of this mission. In 1759, the University of St Andrews awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree. In 1762, Oxford University awarded Franklin an honorary doctorate for his scientific accomplishments and from then on he went by "Doctor Franklin." He also managed to secure a post for his illegitimate son, William Franklin, as Colonial Governor of New Jersey.

During his stay in London, Franklin became involved in radical politics. He was a member of the Club of Honest Whigs, alongside thinkers such as Richard Price.

In 1756, Franklin became a member of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (now Royal Society of Arts or RSA, which had been founded in 1754), whose early meetings took place in coffee shops in London's Covent Garden district, close to Franklin's main residence in Craven Street (the only one of his residences to survive and which opened to the public as the Benjamin Franklin House museum on January 17, 2006). After his return to America, Franklin became the Society's Corresponding Member and remained closely connected with the Society. The RSA instituted a Benjamin Franklin Medal in 1956 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Franklin's birth and the 200th anniversary of his membership of the RSA.

During his stays at Craven Street in London between 1757 and 1775, Franklin developed a close friendship with his landlady, Margaret Stevenson and her circle of friends and relations, in particular her daughter Mary, who was more often known as Polly.

In 1759, he visited Edinburgh with his son, and recalled his conversations there as "the densest happiness of my life.

He also joined the influential Birmingham based Lunar Society with whom he regularly corresponded and on occasion, visited in Birmingham in the West Midlands.

Coming of Revolution

In 1763, soon after Franklin returned to Pennsylvania, the western frontier was engulfed in a bitter war known as Pontiac's Rebellion. The Paxton Boys, a group of settlers convinced that the Pennsylvania government was not doing enough to protect them from American Indian raids, murdered a group of peaceful Susquehannock Indians and then marched on Philadelphia. Franklin helped to organize the local militia in order to defend the capital against the mob, and then met with the Paxton leaders and persuaded them to disperse. Franklin wrote a scathing attack against the racial prejudice of the Paxton Boys. "If an Indian injures me," he asked, "does it follow that I may revenge that Injury on all Indians?

At this time, many members of the Pennsylvania Assembly were feuding with William Penn's heirs, who controlled the colony as proprietors. Franklin led the "anti-proprietary party" in the struggle against the Penn family, and was elected Speaker of the Pennsylvania House in May 1764. His call for a change from proprietary to royal government was a rare political miscalculation, however: Pennsylvanians worried that such a move would endanger their political and religious freedoms. Because of these fears, and because of political attacks on his character, Franklin lost his seat in the October 1764 Assembly elections. The anti-proprietary party dispatched Franklin to England to continue the struggle against the Penn family proprietorship, but during this visit, events would drastically change the nature of his mission.

In London, Franklin opposed the 1765 Stamp Act, but when he was unable to prevent its passage, he made another political miscalculation and recommended a friend to the post of stamp distributor for Pennsylvania. Pennsylvanians were outraged, believing that he had supported the measure all along, and threatened to destroy his home in Philadelphia. Franklin soon learned of the extent of colonial resistance to the Stamp Act, and his testimony before the House of Commons led to its repeal. With this, Franklin suddenly emerged as the leading spokesman for American interests in England. He wrote popular essays on behalf of the colonies, and Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts also appointed him as their agent to the Crown.

In September 1767, Franklin visited Paris with his usual traveling partner, Sir John Pringle. News of his electrical discoveries was widespread in France. His reputation meant that he was introduced to many influential scientists and politicians, and also to King Louis XV.

While living in London in 1768, he developed a phonetic alphabet in A Scheme for a new Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling. This reformed alphabet discarded six letters Franklin regarded as redundant (c, j, q, w, x and y), and substituted six new letters for sounds he felt lacked letters of their own. His new alphabet, however, never caught on and he eventually lost interest.

In 1771, Franklin traveled extensively around the British Isles staying with, among others, Joseph Priestley and David Hume. In Dublin, Franklin was invited to sit with the members of the Irish Parliament rather than in the gallery. He was the first American to be given this honor. While touring Ireland, he was moved by the level of poverty he saw. Ireland's economy was affected by the same trade regulations and laws of England which governed America. Franklin feared that America could suffer the same effects should Britain’s colonial exploitation continue.

In 1773, Franklin published two of his most celebrated pro-American satirical essays: Rules By Which A Great Empire May Be Reduced To A Small One, and An Edict by the King of Prussia. He also published an Abridgment of the Book of Common Prayer, anonymously with Francis Dashwood. Among the unusual features of this work is a funeral service reduced to six minutes in length, "to preserve the health and lives of the living."

Hutchinson Letters

Franklin obtained private letters of Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson and lieutenant governor Andrew Oliver which proved they were encouraging London to crack down on the rights of the Bostonians. Franklin sent them to America where they escalated the tensions. Franklin now appeared to the British as the fomenter of serious trouble. Hopes for a peaceful solution ended as he was systematically ridiculed and humiliated by the Privy Council. He left London in March 1775.

Declaration of Independence

By the time Franklin arrived in Philadelphia on May 5, the American Revolution had begun with fighting at Lexington and Concord. The New England militia had trapped the main British army in Boston. The Pennsylvania Assembly unanimously chose Franklin as their delegate to the Second Continental Congress. In June 1776, he was appointed a member of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Although he was temporarily disabled by gout and unable to attend most meetings of the Committee, Franklin made several small changes to the draft sent to him by Thomas Jefferson.

At the signing, he is quoted as having replied to a comment by Hancock that they must all hang together: "Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.

Ambassador to France: 1776-1785

In December 1776, Franklin was dispatched to France as commissioner for the United States. He lived in a home in the Parisian suburb of Passy, donated by Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont who supported the United States. Franklin remained in France until 1785, and was such a favorite of French society that it became fashionable for wealthy French families to decorate their parlors with a painting of him. He was highly flirtatious in the French manner (but did not have any actual affairs). He conducted the affairs of his country towards the French nation with great success, which included securing a critical military alliance in 1778 and negotiating the Treaty of Paris (1783). During his stay in France, Benjamin Franklin as a freemason was Grand Master of the Lodge Les Neuf Sœurs from 1779 until 1781. His number was 24 in the Lodge. He was also a Past Grand Master of Pennsylvania. In 1784, when Franz Mesmer began to publicize his theory of "animal magnetism", which was considered offensive by many, Louis XVI appointed a commission to investigate it. These included the chemist Antoine Lavoisier, the physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the astronomer Jean Sylvain Bailly and Benjamin Franklin.

Constitutional Convention

When he finally returned home in 1785, Franklin occupied a position only second to that of George Washington as the champion of American independence. Le Ray honored him with a commissioned portrait painted by Joseph Duplessis that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. After his return, Franklin became an abolitionist, freeing both of his slaves. He eventually became president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.

In 1787, Franklin served as a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention. He held an honorific position and seldom engaged in debate. He is the only Founding Father who is a signatory of all four of the major documents of the founding of the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris, the Treaty of Alliance with France, and the United States Constitution.

In 1787, a group of prominent ministers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, proposed the foundation of a new college to be named in Franklin's honor. Franklin donated £200 towards the development of Franklin College, which is now called Franklin & Marshall College.

Between 1771 and 1788, he finished his autobiography. While it was at first addressed to his son, it was later completed for the benefit of mankind at the request of a friend.

In his later years, as Congress was forced to deal with the issue of slavery, Franklin wrote several essays that attempted to convince his readers of the importance of the abolition of slavery and of the integration of Africans into American society. These writings included:

In 1790, Quakers from New York and Pennsylvania presented their petition for abolition. Their argument against slavery was backed by the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society and its president, Benjamin Franklin.

President of Pennsylvania

Special balloting conducted October 18, 1785 unanimously elected Franklin the sixth President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, replacing John Dickinson. The office of President of Pennsylvania was analogous to the modern position of Governor. It is not clear why Dickinson needed to be replaced with less than two weeks remaining before the regular election. Franklin held that office for slightly over three years, longer than any other, and served the Constitutional limit of three full terms. Shortly after his initial election he was re-elected to a full term on October 29, 1785, and again in the fall of 1786 and on October 31, 1787. Officially, his term concluded on November 5, 1788, but there is some question regarding the de facto end of his term, suggesting that the aging Franklin may not have been actively involved in the day-to-day operation of the Council toward the end of his time in office.

Virtue, religion and personal beliefs

Like the other advocates of republicanism, Franklin emphasized that the new republic could survive only if the people were virtuous in the sense of attention to civic duty and rejection of corruption. All his life he had been exploring the role of civic and personal virtue, as expressed in Poor Richard's aphorisms.

Franklin had been baptized and educated in a Presbyterian Church based on the doctrines of John Calvin. Deborah Franklin, his wife, retained a life long association with Christ Church, Philadelphia. Franklin later in life rarely attended Sunday services but commented that "...Sunday being my studying day, I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that He made the world, and governed it by His providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter."

One of Franklin's endearing beliefs was in the respect and tolerance of all religious groups. Referring to his experience in Philadelphia, he wrote in his autobiography, "new Places of worship were continually wanted, and generally erected by voluntary Contribution, my Mite for such purpose, whatever might be the Sect, was never refused."

Although Franklin's parents had intended for him to have a career in the church, Franklin became disillusioned with organized religion after discovering Deism. "I soon became a thorough Deist. He went on to attack Christian principles of free will and morality in a 1725 pamphlet, A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain. He consistently attacked religious dogma, arguing that morality was more dependent upon virtue and benevolent actions than on strict obedience to religious orthodoxy: "I think opinions should be judged by their influences and effects; and if a man holds none that tend to make him less virtuous or more vicious, it may be concluded that he holds none that are dangerous, which I hope is the case with me."

In 1790, just about a month before he died, Franklin wrote the following in a letter to Ezra Stiles, president of Yale, who had asked him his views on religion:

Like most Enlightenment intellectuals, Franklin separated virtue, morality, and faith from organized religion, although he felt that if religion in general grew weaker, morality, virtue, and society in general would also decline. Thus he wrote Thomas Paine, "If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it." According to David Morgan, Franklin was a proponent of all religions. He prayed to "Powerful Goodness" and referred to God as the "INFINITE." John Adams noted that Franklin was a mirror in which people saw their own religion: "The Catholics thought him almost a Catholic. The Church of England claimed him as one of them. The Presbyterians thought him half a Presbyterian, and the Friends believed him a wet Quaker." Whatever else Benjamin Franklin was, concludes Morgan, "he was a true champion of generic religion." Ben Franklin was noted to be "the spirit of the Enlightenment."

Walter Isaacson argues that Franklin became uncomfortable with an unenhanced version of Deism and came up with his own conception of the Creator. Franklin outlined his concept of deity in 1728, in his Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion. From this, Isaacson compares Franklin's conception of deity to that of strict Deists and orthodox Christians. He concludes that unlike most pure Deists, Franklin believed that a faith in God should inform our daily actions, but that, like other Deists, his faith was devoid of sectarian dogma. Isaacson also discusses Franklin's conception that God had created beings who do interfere in wordly matters, a point that has led some commentators, most notably A. Owen Aldridge, to read Franklin as embracing some sort of polytheism, with a bevy of lesser gods overseeing various realms and planets.

On July 4, 1776, Congress appointed a committee that included Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams to design the Great Seal of the United States. Each member of the committee proposed a unique design: Franklin's proposal featured a design with the motto: "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God." This design was to portray a scene from the Book of Exodus, complete with Moses, the Israelites, the pillar of fire, and George III depicted as Pharaoh.

Franklin may have financially supported one particular Presbyterian group in Philadelphia. According to the epitaph Franklin wrote for himself at the age of twenty, it is clear that he believed in a physical resurrection of the body some time after death. Franklin's actual grave, however, as he specified in his final will, simply reads "Benjamin and Deborah Franklin."

Virtue

Franklin sought to cultivate his character by a plan of thirteen virtues, which he developed at age 20 (in 1726) and continued to practice in some form for the rest of his life. His autobiography lists his thirteen virtues as:

  1. "TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation."
  2. "SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation."
  3. "ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time."
  4. "RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve."
  5. "FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing."
  6. "INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions."
  7. "SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly."
  8. "JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty."
  9. "MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve."
  10. "CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation."
  11. "TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable."
  12. "CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation."
  13. "HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates."

Franklin didn't try to work on them all at once. Instead, he would work on one and only one each week "leaving all others to their ordinary chance". While Franklin didn't live completely by his virtues and by his own admission, he fell short of them many times, he believed the attempt made him a better man contributing greatly to his success and happiness, which is why in his Autobiography, he devoted more pages to this plan than to any other single point; in his autobiography Franklin wrote, "I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.

Death and legacy

Franklin died on April 17, 1790, at age 84. His funeral was attended by approximately 20,000 people. He was interred in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia. In 1728, aged 22, Franklin wrote what he hoped would be his own epitaph:

The Body of B. Franklin Printer; Like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be wholly lost: For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more, In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and Amended By the Author.

Franklin's actual grave, however, as he specified in his final will, simply reads "Benjamin and Deborah Franklin."

In 1773, when Franklin's work had moved from printing to science and politics, he corresponded with a French scientist on the subject of preserving the dead for later revival by more advanced scientific methods, writing:

I should prefer to an ordinary death, being immersed with a few friends in a cask of Madeira, until that time, then to be recalled to life by the solar warmth of my dear country! But in all probability, we live in a century too little advanced, and too near the infancy of science, to see such an art brought in our time to its perfection. (Extended excerpt also online.)

His death is described in the book The Life of Benjamin Franklin, quoting from the account of Dr. John Jones:

...when the pain and difficulty of breathing entirely left him, and his family were flattering themselves with the hopes of his recovery, when an imposthume, which had formed itself in his lungs, suddenly burst, and discharged a quantity of matter, which he continued to throw up while he had power; but, as that failed, the organs of respiration became gradually oppressed; a calm, lethargic state succeeded; and on the 17th instant (April, 1790), about eleven o'clock at night, he quietly expired, closing a long and useful life of eighty-four years and three months.

Franklin bequeathed £1,000 (about $4,400 at the time) each to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, in trust to gather interest for 200 years. The trust began in 1785 when a French mathematician named Charles-Joseph Mathon de la Cour wrote a parody of Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanack" called "Fortunate Richard." Mocking the unbearable spirit of American optimism represented by Franklin, the Frenchman wrote that Fortunate Richard left a small sum of money in his will to be used only after it had collected interest for 500 years. Franklin, who was 79 years old at the time, wrote to the Frenchman, thanking him for a great idea and telling him that he had decided to leave a bequest of 1,000 pounds each to his native Boston and his adopted Philadelphia. As of 1990, more than $2,000,000 had accumulated in Franklin's Philadelphia trust, which had loaned the money to local residents. From 1940 to 1990, the money was used mostly for mortgage loans. When the trust came due, Philadelphia decided to spend it on scholarships for local high school students. Franklin's Boston trust fund accumulated almost $5,000,000 during that same time, and was used to establish a trade school that became the Franklin Institute of Boston.

A signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Franklin is considered one of the Founding Fathers of the U.S. His pervasive influence in the early history of the United States has led to his being called "the only President of the United States who was never President of the United States." Franklin's likeness is ubiquitous. Since 1928, it has adorned American $100 bills, which are sometimes referred to in slang as "Benjamins" or "Franklins." From 1948 to 1964, Franklin's portrait was on the half dollar. He has appeared on a $50 bill and on several varieties of the $100 bill from 1914 and 1918. Franklin appears on the $1,000 Series EE Savings bond. The city of Philadelphia contains around 5,000 likenesses of Benjamin Franklin, about half of which are located on the University of Pennsylvania campus. Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway (a major thoroughfare) and Benjamin Franklin Bridge (the first major bridge to connect Philadelphia with New Jersey) are named in his honor.

In 1976, as part of a bicentennial celebration, Congress dedicated a 20-foot (6 m) marble statue in Philadelphia's Franklin Institute as the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial. Many of Franklin's personal possessions are also on display at the Institute, one of the few national memorials located on private property.

In London, his house at 36 Craven Street was first marked with a blue plaque and has since been opened to the public as the Benjamin Franklin House. In 1998, workmen restoring the building dug up the remains of six children and four adults hidden below the home. The Times reported on February 11, 1998:

Initial estimates are that the bones are about 200 years old and were buried at the time Franklin was living in the house, which was his home from 1757 to 1762 and from 1764 to 1775. Most of the bones show signs of having been dissected, sawn or cut. One skull has been drilled with several holes. Paul Knapman, the Westminster Coroner, said yesterday: "I cannot totally discount the possibility of a crime. There is still a possibility that I may have to hold an inquest."

The Friends of Benjamin Franklin House (the organization responsible for the restoration) note that the bones were likely placed there by William Hewson, who lived in the house for two years and who had built a small anatomy school at the back of the house. They note that while Franklin likely knew what Hewson was doing, he probably did not participate in any dissections because he was much more of a physicist than a medical man.

Exhibitions

"The Princess and the Patriot: Ekaterina Dashkova, Benjamin Franklin and the Age of Enlightenment" exhibition opened in Philadelphia in February 2006 and ran through December 2006. Benjamin Franklin and Dashkova met only once, in Paris in 1781. Franklin was 75 and Dashkova was 37. Franklin invited Dashkova to become the first woman to join the American Philosophical Society and the only woman to be so honored for another 80 years. Later, Dashkova reciprocated by making him the first American member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Places named after Benjamin Franklin

Other things named after Benjamin Franklin

Popular culture

Franklin, in his "Poor Richard" persona, helped create popular culture in America. In turn he has been included in many different popular culture media, of which this list is a small, recent sample.

  • Daylight saving time (DST) is often erroneously attributed to a 1784 satire that Franklin published anonymously. Modern DST was first proposed by William Willett in 1907. The ancient Romans adjusted their clocks in a different way, by lengthening summer daylight hours.
  • When Franklin was minister to France in the 1770s, Paris was awash in miniatures, painting, statues and representations of him, usually dressed as a frontiersman.
  • Franklin appears as a main character in the Broadway musicals Ben Franklin in Paris (portrayed by Robert Preston) and 1776 (portrayed by Howard da Silva in the original production).
  • A young Franklin appears in Neal Stephenson's novel of 17th century science and alchemy, Quicksilver.
  • Franklin surprisingly appears as a character in Tony Hawk's Underground 2, a skateboarding video game. Players encounter Franklin in his hometown of Boston and are able to play as him thereafter.
  • Proud Destiny by Lion Feuchtwanger, a novel mainly about Pierre Beaumarchais and Franklin beginning in 1776's Paris.
  • Franklin is portrayed in a central role in the PBS cartoon Liberty's Kids voiced by Walter Cronkite.
  • Franklin is one of the main characters in Gregory Keyes' The Age of Unreason tetralogy.
  • Franklin appears in several episodes of Histeria, voiced by actor Billy West similarly to Jay Leno. He is frequently shown flying his kite in a lightning storm and being electrocuted as a running gag.
  • Franklin appears in Fred Saberhagen's "The Frankenstein Papers", and part of the novel is written as letters to Franklin.
  • In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, McNinja's mentor in medical school was the clone of Franklin. In the story, the clone asks McNinja if he will assist him in a project to grant eternal life.
  • An independently produced public radio series, Craven Street, (2003) dramatizes Franklin's last five years in London before the American Revolution.
  • MacHeist used Benjamin Franklin as a character to meet in the current MacHeist II Philadelphia Mini-Heist, A man in a Franklin costume gave the Heisters several clues to initiate the Mini-Heist (Items included a Kite with a 4 digit number written on it, a Key, and a USB Key which had 5 pictures on it).
  • Franklin was a character in Thomas Pynchon's novel "Mason and Dixon".

Characters named after Benjamin Franklin

References to Benjamin Franklin's experiments

  • Beavis and Butthead once got into trouble after attempting to fly a kite in a thunderstorm, copying what they saw on an educational show about Franklin.
  • The television show MythBusters (Discovery channel) tested Franklin's famous kite experiment with electricity.

In counterfactual histories

  • Walt Disney's cartoon Ben and Me (1953), based on the book by Robert Lawson, counterfactually explains to children that Franklin's achievements were actually the ideas of a mouse named Amos.
  • Stan Freberg's comedic audio recording, Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America: The Early Years, depicts all of Franklin's accomplishments as having been made by his young apprentice, Myron.
  • Robert Lee Hall has authored a number of mystery novels in which Franklin solves murder cases. The books interweave actual events and persons from Franklin's life into the stories.
  • The 2004 movie National Treasure has the main characters trying to collect clues left by Franklin to discover a treasure that he supposedly hid. The character played by Nicolas Cage was named "Benjamin Franklin Gates", in following with the Gates family tradition to name sons after Franklin and his contemporaries.
  • Franklin has been portrayed in several works of fiction, such as The Fairly Oddparents and Ask a Ninja, as having lightning-and-kite-based superpowers akin to those of Storm from X-Men.

In time-travel scenarios

As portrayed by fictional characters

See also

References

Biographies

  • Carl Becker, "Franklin" Short scholarly biography written in 1931, with links to sources.
  • H. W. Brands. The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (2000) full-length biography
  • Walter Isaacson. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003). full-length biography.
  • Mark Skousen. The Compleated Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin (2005) told in Franklin's own words.
  • Ralph L. Ketcham, Benjamin Franklin (1966). Short biography.
  • Edmund S. Morgan. Benjamin Franklin (2003). Short introduction by leading scholar
  • Carl Van Doren. Benjamin Franklin (1938; reprinted 1991). full-length biography.
  • Gordon Wood, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin (2005). Interpretive essay by leading scholar

For Young Readers

  • Fleming, Candace. Ben Franklin's Almanac: Being a True Account of the Good Gentleman's Life. Atheneum/Anne Schwart, 2003, 128 pages, ISBN 978-0-689-83549-0.

Scholarly Studies

  • Douglas Anderson. The Radical Enlightenments of Benjamin Franklin (1997). BF in terms of intellectual history
  • Isaac Asimov. The Kite That Won The Revolution, a biography for children that focuses on Franklin's scientific and diplomatic contributions.
  • M. H. Buxbaum., ed. Critical Essays on Benjamin Franklin (1987).
  • I. Bernard Cohen. Benjamin Franklin's Science (1990). One of several books by Cohen on Franklin's science.
  • Paul W. Conner. Poor Richard's Politicks (1965). Analyzes BF's ideas in terms of the Enlightenment
  • Dray, Philip. Stealing God's Thunder: Benjamin Franklin's Lightning Rod and the Invention of America. Random House, 2005. 279 pp.
  • "Franklin as Printer and Publisher" in The Century (April 1899) v. 57 pp. 803-18. By Paul Leicester Ford.
  • "Franklin as Scientist" in The Century (Sept 1899) v.57 pp. 750-63. By Paul Leicester Ford.
  • "Franklin as Politician and Diplomatist" in The Century (October 1899) v. 57 pp. 881-899. By Paul Leicester Ford.
  • Gleason, Philip. "Trouble in the Colonial Melting Pot." Journal of American Ethnic History 2000 20(1): 3-17. ISSN 0278-5927 Fulltext online in Ingenta and Ebsco. Considers the political consequences of the remarks in a 1751 pamphlet by Franklin on demographic growth and its implications for the colonies. He called the Pennsylvania Germans "Palatine Boors" who could never acquire the "Complexion" of the English settlers and to "Blacks and Tawneys" as weakening the social structure of the colonies. Although Franklin apparently reconsidered shortly thereafter, and the phrases were omitted from all later printings of the pamphlet, his views may have played a role in his political defeat in 1764.
  • Lawrence, D. H. ''Studies in Classic American Literature" (1923) scathing ridicule of Franklin's religious ideas by famous British author online version
  • Monaghan, J. E. (2005). Learning to read and write in colonial America. Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.
  • Olson, Lester C. Benjamin Franklin's Vision of American Community: A Study in Rhetorical Iconology. U. of South Carolina Press, 2004. 323 pp.
  • Skousen, W. Cleon. The Five Thousand Year Leap (1981). Brief summary on 28 ideas implemented into the U.S. Constitution by the American Founding Fathers.
  • Schiff, Stacy. A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America (2005) (UK title Dr Franklin Goes to France)
  • Schiffer, Michael Brian. Draw the Lightning Down: Benjamin Franklin and Electrical Technology in the Age of Enlightenment. U. of California Press, 2003. 383 pp.
  • Sethi, Arjun The Morality of Values (2006). Online Version
  • Stuart Sherman "Franklin" 1918 article on Franklin's writings.
  • Michael Sletcher, 'Domesticity: The Human Side of Benjamin Franklin', Magazine of History, XXI (2006).
  • Waldstreicher, David. Runaway America: Benjamin Franklin, Slavery, and the American Revolution. Hill and Wang, 2004. 315 pp.
  • Walters, Kerry S. Benjamin Franklin and His Gods. U. of Illinois Press, 1999. 213 pp. Takes position midway between D. H. Lawrence's brutal 1930 denunciation of Franklin's religion as nothing more than a bourgeois commercialism tricked out in shallow utilitarian moralisms and Owen Aldridge's sympathetic 1967 treatment of the dynamism and protean character of Franklin's "polytheistic" religion.

Primary sources

References

External links

Biographical and guides

Online writings by Benjamin Franklin

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Franklin in the arts

Franklin and medicine

IMDB

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