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Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 - April 17, 1790) was an American journalist, publisher, author, philanthropist, public servant, scientist, diplomat, and inventor who was also one of the leaders of the American Revolution, known also for his many quotations and his experiments with electricity. He corresponded with members of the Lunar Society and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1775, Franklin became the first US Postmaster General.

Table of contents
1 Early years
2 Middle years
3 Later years
4 Death and afterwards
5 Places named for Benjamin Franklin
6 Writings of Ben Franklin
7 External link, Resources, and References
8 Further reading

Early years

He was born on Milk Street, Boston, on January 17, 1706. His father, Josiah Franklin, was a tallow chandler who married twice. Benjamin was the youngest son of the seventeen children these two marriages produced. His schooling ended at ten, and at twelve he was bound as an apprentice to his brother James, a printer who published the New England Courant.

He eventually became a contributor to this publication and for a time was its nominal editor. The brothers quarreled, and Benjamin ran away, going first to New York, and thence to Philadelphia, where he arrived in October, 1723.

He soon obtained work as a printer, but after a few months he was induced by Governor Keith to go to London, where, finding Keith's promises empty, he again worked as a compositor in a printer's shop until he was brought back to Philadelphia by a merchant named Thomas Denham, who gave him a position in his business. On Denham's death Franklin returned to his former trade, and soon set up a printing house of his own from which he published The Pennsylvania Gazette, to which he contributed many essays and which he made a medium for agitating for a variety of local reforms. His intelligence combined 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.

In 1732 he began to issue the famous Poor Richard's Almanac (with content both original and borrowed), on which a lot of his popular reputation is based. Adages from this almanac such as "A penny saved is a penny earned", are now commonly quoted every day by people all over the world.

Franklin and several other members of a philosophical association joined their resources in 1731 and began the first public library in Philadelphia. The newly founded Library Company ordered its first books in 1732, mostly theological and educational tomes, but by 1741 the library also included works on history, geography, poetry, exploration and science. The success of this library encouraged the opening of libraries in other American cities, and Franklin felt that this enlightenment partly contributed to the American colonies' struggle to maintain their privileges.

Middle years

In 1758, the year in which he ceased writing for the Almanac, he printed in it "Father Abraham's Sermon", now regarded as the most famous piece of literature produced in Colonial America.

Meanwhile, Franklin was concerning himself more and more with public affairs. He set forth a scheme for an Academy, which was taken up later and finally developed into the University of Pennsylvania, and he founded an American Philosophical Society for the purpose of enabling scientific men to communicate their discoveries to one another. He had already begun the electrical research that, along with other scientific inquiries, would occupy him for the rest of his life (in between bouts of politics and money-making).

In 1748 he sold his business in order to get leisure for study, having now acquired comparative wealth; and in a few years he had made discoveries that gave him a reputation with the learned throughout Europe. These include his investigations of electricity. Franklin identified positive and negative electrical charges and also demonstrated that lightning was electrical.

Franklin promoted this theory through the famous, though extremely dangerous, experiment of flying a kite during a lightning storm. It has been recently questioned whether or not Franklin actually did perform this experiment; the question remains controversial. Franklin, in his writings, displays that he was cognizant of the dangers and alternative ways to demonstrate that lightning was electrical. If Franklin did perform this experiment, he did not do it in the way that is often described (as it would have been dramatic but fatal). [1]

Franklin's inventions include the lightning rod, Franklin stove and bifocals. He was one of the best-known scientists of the 18th century. In recognition of his work with electricity, Franlin was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and received its Copley Medal.

Franklin established two major fields of physical science, electricity and meteorology. In his classic work (A History of The Theories of Electricity & Aether), Sir Edmund Whittaker (p. 46) refers to Franklin's inference that electric charge is not created by rubbing substances, but only transferred, so that "the total quantity in any insulated system is invariable. This assertion is known as the principle of conservation of charge".

As a printer and a publisher of a newspaper, Franklin frequented the farmers' markets in Philadelphia to gather news. One day Franklin inferred that reports of a storm elsewhere in Pennsylvania must be the storm that visited the Philadelphia area in recent days. This initiated the notion that some storms travel, eventually leading to the synoptic charts of dynamic meteorology, replacing sole dependence upon the charts of climatology.

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.

Political cartoon by Ben Franklin
This cartoon urged the colonies to join together
because of the French and Indian war

In politics he proved very able both as an administrator and as a controversialist; but his record as an office-holder is stained by the use he made of his position to advance his relatives. His most notable service in domestic politics was his reform of the postal system, but his fame as a statesman rests chiefly on his diplomatic services in connection with the relations of the colonies with Great Britain, and later with France. He was also involved in the creation of the first volunteer fire department, free public library, and many other civic enterprises.

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 1757 he was sent to England to protest against the influence of the Penn family in the government of Pennsylvania, and for five years he remained there, striving to enlighten the people and the ministry of the United Kingdom as to colonial conditions. He also managed to secure a post for his son, William Franklin, as Governor of New Jersey.

Later years

On his return to America, he played an honorable part in the Paxton affair, through which he lost his seat in the Assembly, but in 1764 he was again dispatched to England as agent for the colony, this time to petition the King to resume the government from the hands of the proprietors. In London he actively opposed the proposed Stamp Act, but lost the credit for this and much of his popularity because he secured for a friend the office of stamp agent in America. Even his effective work in helping to obtain the repeal of the act did not regain his popularity, but he continued his efforts to present the case for the Colonies as the troubles thickened toward the crisis of the Revolution. This also led to an irreconcilable conflict with his son, who remained ardently loyal to the British Government.

In 1767 he crossed to France, where he was received with honor; but before his return home in 1775 he lost his position as postmaster through his share in divulging to Massachusetts the famous letter of Hutchinson and Oliver. On his arrival in Philadelphia he was chosen as a member of the Continental Congress and assisted in editing the Declaration of Independence.

In December of 1776 he 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 would become a friend and the most important foreigner to help the United States win the war of independence. Ben Franklin remained in France until 1785, a favorite of French society. Franklin was so popular that it became fashionable for wealthy French families to decorate their parlors with a painting of him. He conducted the affairs of his country towards that nation with such success, which included securing a critical military alliance and negotiating the Treaty of Paris (1783), that when he finally returned, he received a place only second to that of George Washington as the champion of American independence.

When Franklin was recalled to America in 1785, Le Ray honored him with a commissioned portrait painted by Joseph Siffred Duplessis that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

In addition, after his return from France in 1785, he became a slavery abolitionist who eventually became president of The Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage.

While in retirement by 1787, he agreed to attend as a delegate at the meetings that would produce the United States Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation. He is the only Founding Father who is a signatory of all three of the major documents of the founding of the United States, The Declaration of Independence, The Treaty of Paris and the United States Constitution.

Later, he finished his autobiography between 1771 and 1788, at first addressed to his son, then later completed for the benefit of mankind at the request of a friend.

Death and afterwards

He died on April 17, 1790 and was interred in the Christ Church burial grounds in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

At his death Franklin bequeathed 1000 (about $4400 at the time) to each of the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, in trust for 200 years. During the lifetime of the trust, Philadelphia used it for a variety of loan programs 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. Boston used the gift to establish a trade school that, over time, became the Franklin Institute of Boston.

In recent years a number of anti-Semitic groups have been promoting a forged "quote" supposedly written by Benjamin Franklin. This quote has been debunked as a forgery by historians. (See Neo-Nazi Theory (American founding fathers)).

Franklin's likeness adorns the American $100 bill. As a result, $100 bills are sometimes referred to in slang as "Benjamins" or "Franklins".

Places named for Benjamin Franklin

Writings of Ben Franklin

External link, Resources, and References

Further reading