Benjamin Franklin was born on le 17 janvier 1706. This portrait was painted by French painter Jean-Baptiste Greuze in 1777.
Benjamin Franklin was one of the most prominent of Founders and early political figures and statesmen of the United States. Considered the earliest of the Founders, Franklin was noted for his curiosity, ingenuity and diversity of interests. His wit and wisdom is proverbial to this day. More than anyone else, he shaped the American Revolution despite never holding national elective office. As a leader of the Enlightenment he had the attention of scientists and intellectuals all across Europe. As agent in London before the Revolution, and Minister to France during, he more than anyone defined the new nation in the minds of Europe. His success in securing French military and financial aid was decisive for American victory over Britain. He invented the lightning rod; he invented the notion of colonial unity; he invented the idea of America; historians hail him as the "First American". The city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is marking Franklin's 300th Birthday this month with a wide array of exhibitions, and events citing Franklin's extraordinary accomplishments throughout his illustrious career.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts on le 17 janvier 1706
to a tallow-maker, Franklin became a newspaper editor, printer, and merchant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, becoming very wealthy. He spent many years in England and published the famous Poor Richard's Almanack and Pennsylvania Gazette. He formed both the first public lending library and fire department in America as well as the Junto, a political discussion club.
He became a national hero in America when he convinced Parliament to repeal the hated Stamp Act. A diplomatic genius, Franklin was almost universally 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 his death in 1790 was President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania.
Franklin was interested in science and technology, carrying out his famous electricity experiments and invented the Franklin stove, medical catheter, lightning rod, swimfins, glass harmonica, and bifocals. He also played a major role in establishing the higher education institutions that would become the Ivy League's University of Pennsylvania and the Franklin and Marshall College. In addition, Franklin was a noted linguist, fluent in five languages.
Benjamin Franklin's signature
Franklin was also noted for his philanthropy and several extramarital liaisons, including that which produced his illegitimate Loyalist son William Franklin, later the colonial governor of New Jersey. Towards the end of his life, he became one of the most prominent early American abolitionists.
Benjamin Franklin was born on Milk Street in Boston, Massachusetts on le 17 janvier 17 1706
His father, Josiah Franklin, was a tallow chandler, a maker of candles and soap. Young Benjamin attended Boston Latin School but did not graduate. His schooling ended at ten, then worked for his father, and at 12 he became an apprentice to his brother James, a printer who published the New England Courant, the first truly independent newspaper in the colonies. While a printing apprentice, he wrote under the pseudonym of 'Silence Dogood' who was ostensibly a middle-aged widow. His brother and the Courant's readers did not initially know the real author. James was not impressed when he discovered his popular correspondent was his younger brother. Franklin left his apprenticeship without permission and in so doing became a fugitive.
At the age of 17, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia, 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 induced 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 Batholomew the Great, Smithfield. 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.
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.
In 1733, Franklin began to issue the famous Poor Richard's Almanack on which much of his popular reputation is based. Adages from this almanac such as "A penny saved is twopence clear" (often misquoted as "A penny saved is a penny earned") and "Fish and visitors stink in three days" remain common quotations in the modern world.
In 1736 he created the Union Fire Company, the first volunteer firefighting company in America.
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.
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 on le 13 novembre 1749
, and it opened on le 13 août 1751
. At its first commencement, on le 17 mai 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, today a member of the Ivy League. He founded the American Philosophical Society to help scientific men discuss their discoveries. 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 money-making).
An illustration from Franklin's paper on "Water-spouts and Whirlwinds."
In 1748, he retired from printing and went into other businesses. He created a partnership with his foreman, David Hill, 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 learned throughout Europe and especially in France.
These include 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 is also often credited with labeling them as positive and negative respectively. 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 le 10 mai 1752
, Thomas Francois d'Alibard of France conducted Franklin's experiment (using a 40-foot-tall iron rod instead of a kite) and extracted electrical sparks from a cloud. On le 15 juin
, Franklin conducted his famous kite experiment and also successfully extracted sparks from a cloud (unaware that d'Alibard had already done so, 36 days earlier). 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, as he would have been in danger of electrocution in the event of a lightning strike). 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 invention of the lightning rod, an application of the use of electrical ground. In recognition of his work with electricity, Franklin was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and received its Copley Medal in 1753.
Franklin established two major fields of physical science, electricity and meteorology.
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.
In politics he proved very able, both as an administrator and as a controversialist. 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. It was during this period that Franklin was involved in the creation of not only the aforementioned first volunteer fire department and free public library, but also 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. 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 of colonial conditions. At the Oxford University, Franklin was awarded an honorary doctorate for his scientific accomplishments and from then on went by "Doctor Franklin." He also managed to secure a post for his illegitimate son, William Franklin, as Colonial Governor of New Jersey.
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 is currently undergoing renovation and conversion to a Franklin museum). 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.
In 1758, the year in which he ceased writing for the Almanac, he printed "Father Abraham's Sermon," one of the most famous pieces of literature produced in Colonial America.
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.”
Franklin returned to America in 1762 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. He continued his efforts to present the case for the Colonies as the troubles escalated toward the crisis which would result in the American Revolution. This also led to an irreconcilable break with his son, who remained loyal to the British Government.
In septembre 1767
, he visited Paris, where he was received with honor.
On return to Philadelphia in 1775 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. 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 conducted the affairs of his country towards that nation with great success, including securing a critical military alliance and negotiating the Treaty of Paris (1783). When he finally returned home in 1785, he received a place only second to that of George Washington as the champion of American independence. 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.
Franklin, an engraving from a painting by Duplessis
After his return from France, Franklin became an abolitionist, freeing both of his slaves. He eventually became president of The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage.
In 1787, while in retirement, he agreed to attend as a delegate 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. Franklin also has the distinction of being the oldest signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. He was 70 years old when he signed the Declaration, and 81 when he signed the Constitution.
Also 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 money towards the development of Franklin College, which would later merge with Marshall College in 1853. It is now called Franklin and 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:
• An Address to the Public from the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, (1789)
• Plan for Improving the Condition of the Free Blacks (1789), and
• Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim on the Slave Trade (1790).
On le 11 fevrier 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. Because of his involvement in abolition, its cause was greatly debated around the states, especially in the House of Representatives.
Benjamin Franklin died on le 17 avril 1790
at the extremely advanced age (for that time) of 84 and was interred in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
At his death, Franklin bequeathed $4000 each to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, in trust for 200 years. The origin of 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. In it he mocked the unbearable spirit of American optimism represented by Franklin. The Frenchman wrote a piece about Fortunate Richard leaving 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 back to the Frenchman, thanking him for a great idea and telling him that he had decided to leave a bequest both to his native Boston and his adopted Philadelphia, on the condition that it be placed in a fund that would gather interest over a period of 200 years. As of 1990, over $2,000,000 had accumulated in Franklin's Philadelphia trust since his death. 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. Franklin's Boston trust fund accumulated almost $5,000,000 during that same time, and eventually was used to establish a trade school that, over time, became the Franklin Institute of Boston.
In 1976, as part of a bicentennial celebration, Congress dedicated a 20-foot high 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. It is one of the few National Memorials located on private property.
Benjamin Franklin was one of the greatest of the American Founding Fathers, and was held in high esteem by the French.
Another famous, no doubt, the all-time most popular portrait of Franklin.
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
The Wit and Wisdom of Benjamin Franklin
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation