Benjamin Franklin, great patriot as well as signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts. His father was a "true Puritan" who emigrated from England in 1682. Soon after arriving in America, he married a native of Boston named Miss. Folger. His father's occupation was in the "business of a soap-boiler and tallow-chandler."
Benjamin's parents wanted him to become a minister of the gospel. They began his education to be a minister but did not have the financial means for the necessary education. Benjamin attended a common school for a few years and then started working with his father. He did not enjoy his father's business and started working for a cutler; however, he couldn't afford the fee for an apprenticeship and went to work for his brother who was a printer. He continued working for his brother and became "quite proficient" while at the same time being very studious.
When he was seventeen years old, Benjamin left the employment of his brother and sailed to New York City. He couldn't find any work in that city so he continued on foot to Philadelphia. He knew no one in that city and had only one dollar in his pocket. He arrived on a Sunday morning and wandered around Philadelphia "until he came to a Quaker meeting, where he entered, sat down, went to sleep, and slept soundly until worship was closed…." Apparently, the Quakers had compassion on the young man, "With his spare clothing in his pocket, and a loaf of bread under each arm…."
Benjamin soon found employment in a Philadelphia printing establishment, and his employers noticed and appreciated his "industry and studious habits." Benjamin wrote a letter to a friend in New Castle, Delaware, giving a "graphic account" of his trip from Boston to Philadelphia. The letter was shown to Governor Keith. The governor became interested in the young journeyman printer and invited him to his mansion. A friendship developed between Franklin and Governor Keith; the governor advised Benjamin to go into business for himself and offered his patronage.
Franklin traveled to London as part of their plan and found that he needed to obtain employment to supplement the inadequate patronage. He started working as a journeyman printer in one of the main offices there and won many friends because of his "industry, studiousness, punctuality, and frugality." An interesting note about this particular job is that the printing press used by Franklin was put in the National Museum in Washington, D.C.
Benjamin planned to use some of his hard-earned money for a trip to the Continent and was about to depart on the venture when he was given another offer. A friend in the mercantile business was about to sail for America and asked Franklin to accompany him as a clerk. He accepted the offer and sailed for home in July, 1726.
Franklin was facing "the prospect of prosperity and wealth" with his new employer, but he was left without a job when his friend died. Franklin went back to work for his old employer but soon formed a partnership with another printer. He gained "friends, public confidence, and a successful business" in Philadelphia because of "his character, habits, and talents.
In 1730 Franklin married a young widow, whose maiden name was Deborah Read. He asked her to marry him before he went to London, but she married another man. While Benjamin was in London, her husband died. Benjamin and Deborah resumed their friendship upon his return home; they married and became the parents of a son and a daughter.
Franklin started his useful and famous annual known as Poor Richard's Almanac in 1732. This publication circulated widely in the Colonies and in England, and it was translated into several European languages. About the same time that he discontinued the almanac, Franklin started printing a newspaper that "became the most popular one in the Colonies."
Benjamin continued to be studious and gained "knowledge of the Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian languages." He started a literary club that eventually became the Philadelphia Library. He wrote essays on popular subjects and printed them in pamphlets. The pamphlets were widely read and gained popularity for Franklin. His business increased, making him comfortable financially in just a few years.
In 1734 Franklin was appointed as government printer for Pennsylvania, and in 1736 he was appointed to be the Clerk of the General Assembly. He became the postmaster of Philadelphia the next year. His income from these offices as well as from his business made it possible for him to enjoy more leisure time, which he used for philosophical pursuits and to work for more public good.
Franklin organized fire companies in Philadelphia, the first in America. He "devised" a way to pave the streets as well as a way to use gas to light the city. When he noticed that military discipline in Pennsylvania had been neglected, he gained a thorough knowledge about military tactics and then began to teach others what he had learned. He started the "American Philosophical Society," the "Pennsylvania Hospital," and the "Pennsylvania University." In 1742 he published a paper on how to improve chimneys, and he invented the Franklin stove, giving the invention to the public.
In 1741 he started publishing the "General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for the British Plantations" and had wide circulation of it. He was elected to the General Assembly in 1744 and was re-elected annually for the next ten years. It was about this time that he started experimenting with electricity and discovered "the identity of lightning and the electrical spark of a machine." These discoveries made him famous all around the world.
Franklin continued to serve the public in various positions. In 1753 he was appointed as an Indian commissioner. In 1754 he was a delegate from Pennsylvania to a convention to consult about the general welfare and security against the French. He proposed a plan containing "all the essential features of the present Constitution," but his plan was rejected because it contained too much "democracy" and too many freedoms. About this same time he was appointed to be the deputy Postmaster General and was also "active in improving the military affairs of the colony."
Benjamin traveled to London in 1757 to represent Pennsylvania on government business and remained there for five years, making "many valuable acquaintances there." He went to London again in 1764 on government business and was still there when the Stamp Act was passed. He protested "loudly and boldly" against it. Because he was well respected in London and represented several of the Colonies, "he did much to arrest for a long time the blow that finally severed the Colonies from the mother country."
When Franklin realized that there was nothing more he could do to avoid war, he returned home in 1775 and was immediately elected to be a delegate to the General Congress. He was re-elected to the General Congress in 1776 and was a member of the "committee appointed to draft a Declaration of Independence." He voted for the adoption of the Declaration and then signed it on August 2, 1776.
Franklin was one of three commissioners that met with Lord Howe to discuss the possibility of peace between the Colonies and Great Britain. Reconciliation proved to be impossible, and the Revolutionary War commenced. About this same time Pennsylvania organized into a state, and Franklin was chosen to be its first president.
When Franklin was 70 years old, he was appointed by Congress as a commissioner to the Court of France to negotiate a treaty of alliance between the Colonies and France. He accepted the appointment and sailed to France in October 1776. Franklin was "received with distinguished honors," and "strong expressions of sympathy in behalf of his country were made." France was cautious and did not enter into formal negotiations until after they received the news that Burgoyne had been captured. Franklin signed a formal treaty with the French Minister in February 1778. France acknowledged the independence of America and "openly espoused her cause." Congress gave Franklin almost unlimited power, and he discharged his duties with such "fidelity and skill" that he was admired by Europeans. Franklin was still in France when Great Britain yielded their cause and agreed to negotiate a peace treaty on the basis of independence for the Americans. Franklin had the honor and pleasure of signing the peace treaty.
Franklin requested Congress to allow him to return home to his family and he returned home in 1785 after Thomas Jefferson arrived to succeed him. Americans greeted him with great joy and respect from the "most distinguished individuals" and many public bodies in the new nation. Even though he was 80 years old, he was elected to be president of Pennsylvania and held that office for three years.
He attended the Congress held in Philadelphia in 1787 and helped to frame the Constitution of the United States. This was his last public duty. After suffering with "gout and stone" for many years, he died on April 17, 1790, in his 84th year of age. His death was mourned by Americans and "a vast concourse of people followed his body to the grave." His death was also mourned by "the whole civilized world." "Congress directed a universal mourning throughout the United States for thirty days. In France, and indeed throughout Europe, the news of his death was received with profound grief…."
Facts and quotes are from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, pp. 104-111.
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