Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

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Benjamin Franklin
He was never a president of the United States, nor did he lead any army in a battle. He had no talent in public speaking, preferring to write out his thoughts on paper and for them to be read aloud by others. Yet in his day he was certainly one of the most well known celebrities, beloved in both the United States and through most of Europe. He is Benjamin Franklin, and he has become a symbol of American civilization.
Benjamin Franklin was the youngest of ten sons of a Boston soap and candle maker, had little formal schooling, and was trained in adolescence as a printer's apprentice. Ben's father, "intending to devote Ben as the tenth of his sons to the service of the church" put Ben into grammar school at the age of eight (Franklin (book) -335). With his parents intending for him to have a career in the church it was a sure shock that Franklin became a Deist, a religion based on reason and logic, rather than revelation or tradition. As a teenager, Franklin was given some books against Deism, and it just so happened that they wrought an effect on him that was quite contrary to what was intended by them. He realized that the arguments of the Deists appeared to be much stronger than the refutations, and soon after became a thorough Deist. He attacked Christian principles of free will and morality in a 1725 pamphlet, A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain.
Franklin was then apprenticed to his half brother James, a printer and publisher of the New England Courant. Unbeknownst to his brother young Ben was secretly contributing letters to the publication under the name of "Silence Dogood." In total, he published thirteen essays under that pseudonym which were widely read and praised for their satire. In 1723, after much disagreement with his brother he left and went to work in Philadelphia as a printer. After a sojourn in London from 1724-1726, he returned and in 1729 acquired an interest in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Soon after in the year 1730, Franklin became the owner and editor of the Pennsylvania Gazette and made the periodical popular. His common sense philosophy and his neatly worded phrases won public attention in things such as: the Gazette, later in the General Magazine, and especially in his Poor Richard's Almanack, which he published from 1732 to 1757 under the pen name Richard Saunders.

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Poor Richard's Almanack appeared continuously from 1732-1757, and contained the typical calendar, weather, poems, astronomical and astrological information that an almanac of the period contained. It is mainly remembered for being a repository of Franklin's aphorisms and proverbs, many of which live on in American English. The almanac was a best seller for a pamphlet published in the American colonies; print runs typically ran over 10,000 per year. Further proof of his love for the written word, in 1731 Franklin founded what is believed to be the first public library in America, which was then chartered in 1742 as the Philadelphia Library.
Not only was Benjamin Franklin a talented writer and printer, he was also a knowledgeable scientist and inventor. Franklin worked diligently and repeatedly on experiments of other scientists and eventually invented such diverse things like the Franklin stove (which provided greater heat with a reduced consumption of fuel and is still in use today), bifocal eyeglasses, and swim fins. His great interests in music lead him to build his own glass harmonica. The harmonica's beautiful tones appealed to many composers, including Mozart and Beethoven. Science started to have a great impact on Benjamin Franklin's life and after a while he handed his printing business over to his foreman with the intention of devoting his life to nothing but science. Electricity was a phenomenon that interested Franklin deeply. His experiment of, "flying a kite in a thunderstorm, which showed that lightning is an electrical discharge, and his invention of the lightning rod were among a series of investigations," that brought Franklin international fame. (Franklin (website)). In recognition of his remarkable scientific accomplishments, Franklin received honorary degrees from the University of St. Andrews and the University of Oxford. He also became a fellow of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge and, in 1753, was awarded its Copley Medal for distinguished contributions to experimental science.
Benjamin Franklin influenced education in Pennsylvania in many ways. In 1749 he wrote Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania; the publication of which led to the establishment of the Philadelphia Academy in 1751, later to be renamed the University of Pennsylvania. The curriculum he proposed was considerably different from the studies employed at that time. As opposed to emphasizing classical studies he advocated the study of English, modern foreign languages as well as mathematics and science.
In addition to his many achievements, Benjamin Franklin was also a statesman. Politics became more of an active interest for Franklin in the 1750's. From 1753-1774, Franklin served as deputy postmaster general of the colonies. He reorganized the postal system, making it both efficient and profitable. In order to keep Philadelphia safe, he started the Union Fire Company in 1736. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Franklin's famous saying was actually fire-fighting advice (The). Years later, in 1752, he set up America's first fire insurance company. In addition, in order to make Philadelphia a safer place to live, Franklin introduced methods for the improvement of street paving as well as lighting. He later became a Pennsylvania delegate to the Albany Congress, where he proposed a plan of union for the colonies, which was accepted by the delegates but later rejected by both the provincial assemblies and the British government.
Franklin was a leader of the popular party in Pennsylvania against the Penn family, who were the proprietors, and in 1757 he was sent to England to present the case against the Penn's. Three years later in 1760 Franklin won the case and the colonies then had the right to tax the Penn estates but advised moderation in applying the right. As a couple years passed on, Franklin returned to America for two years, but happened to be in England when the Stamp Act caused a furor. Once again, being the great leader that he was, he protested the Act but urged the colonists to obey the law, thus losing some popularity from the colonies. His testimony before Parliament helped persuade the members to repeal the law. Soon after this incident, Franklin was made agent for Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, because he stoutly defended American rights.
With everything going his way, Franklin then considered making his home in England, "where his scientific attainments, his brilliant mind, and his social gifts of wit and urbanity gained him a high place" in the minds of everyone (Franklin(webstie)). Unfortunately, not all was well between the British government and the colonies. Trouble began to grow with the approach of the American Revolution, and this made Franklin realize his deep love for his native land and he returned to America where he began working actively for Independence. Naturally, he thought his son William, now the leader of the Royals would agree with his views, but much to his surprise William did not. This caused a rift between father and son, which never healed.
Meanwhile big things were happening to Franklin, he became one of the greatest statesmen of the American Revolution and of the newborn nation, a delegate to the Continental Congress, and was appointed Postmaster General. In 1776 he was appointed to a committee of five that drafted the Declaration of Independence, which he eventually signed. Late in 1776 he sailed to France to accompany Arthur Lee and Silas Deane in their diplomatic efforts for the new republic. Franklin, with a high reputation in France, well supported by his winning presence, did much to gain French recognition of the new republic in 1778. Franklin was chosen as one of the American diplomats to negotiate peace with Great Britain and lay out the groundwork for the treaty before John Jay and John Adams arrived in 1781. The British naval victory occurring in the West Indies made the final treaty less advantageous towards the United States than Franklin originally planned in his original draft. The Treaty of Paris was, in contradiction of the orders of Congress, concluded in the year 1783 without the concurrence of France, because Jay and Adams distrusted the French.
Yet, another accomplishment of Benjamin Franklin was that when he returned to the United States in 1785 he was made president of the Pennsylvania executive council. The last great service of Franklin was that he took part in the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1787. Even though his plans for a single-chamber congress and a weak executive council were rejected, he helped to direct the compromise that brought the Constitution of the United States into being. Franklin was not completely satisfied with the finished product, so he worked earnestly for its ratification. He had a clear vision of the way America should be and he spent his time helping to make sure that it would be. Ever the philanthropist, as president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, one of Franklin's last public acts before his death was to sign a petition on February 12, 1790 urging the abolition of slavery and the suppression of the slave trade.
Unfortunately all things do have to come to an end, and the great life of Benjamin Franklin did just that. Franklin passed away at the age of eighty-seven on April 17, 1790 in Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin is gone, but surely not forgotten, for he is perhaps the most remarkable figure in American history, and the most prominent celebrity of the eighteenth century. And, as Benjamin Franklin always said, "If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing" and he did just that (Ben)!

Works Cited

Primary Sources

Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. McMichael, George, James
Leonard, Bill Lyne, Anne-Marie Mallon, and Verner Mitchell. Anthology of American Literature. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2004.

Secondary Sources

"Ben Franklin: Glimpses of the Man" sponsored by PECO energy. 11 June 2006

"Franklin, Benjamin." 7 June 2006

Gaustad, Edwin. Benjamin Franklin. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2004.

Lee, Tanja. Benjamin Franklin. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2002.

"The Electric Quotable Franklin." 11 June 2006
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