The oldest of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts. The tenth son of a soap- and candle-maker, he received some formal education, but was principally self-taught. After serving an apprenticeship to his father between the ages of 10 and 12, he went to work for his half-brother James, a printer. In 1721 the latter founded the New England Courant, the fourth newspaper in the Colonies and Franklin secretly contributed 14 essays to it, his first published writings.
After entering adulthood and moving to Philadelphia, he rose rapidly in the printing industry. He published The Pennsylvania Gazette, but his most successful literary venture was the annual Poor Richard’s Almanac. It won a popularity in the Colonies second only to the Bible, and its fame eventually spread to Europe. By 1748, Franklin had achieved financial independence and gained recognition for his philanthropy and the stimulus he provided to such civic causes as libraries, educational institutions, and hospitals. Energetic and tireless, he also found time to pursue his interest in science, as well as to enter politics.
Franklin served as clerk and member of the colonial legislature, and as Deputy Postmaster General of the Colonies. In addition, he represented Pennsylvania at the Albany Congress, called to unite the colonies during the French and Indian War. In the years leading up to the American Revolution, Franklin resided in England as an agent for Pennsylvania and later for Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. It was during the Stamp Act crisis that Franklin evolved from leader of a shattered provincial party’s faction to celebrated spokesman at London for American rights. Although as agent for Pennsylvania he opposed by every conceivable means the enactment of the bill in 1765, he did not at first realize the depth of colonial hostility. He regarded passage as unavoidable and preferred to submit to it while actually working for its repeal.
In 1775, Franklin returned to Philadelphia, and immediately became a distinguished Member of the Continental Congress. Thirteen months later, he served on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. But, within less than a year and a half after his return, the aged statesman set sail once again for Europe, beginning a career as diplomat that would occupy him for most of the rest of his life. While he was sole commissioner to France (1779-85), he, John Jay, and John Adams negotiated the Treaty of Paris, which ended the War for Independence. At the Constitutional Convention, though he did not approve of many aspects of the finished document and was hampered by his age and ill-health, he missed few if any sessions, lent his prestige, soothed passions, and compromised disputes. In his twilight years, Franklin’s final public act was signing a memorial to Congress recommending dissolution of the slavery system. Shortly thereafter, on April 17, 1790, at the age of 84, he passed away in Philadelphia.
Below is a collection of resources recognizing his influence on American political development and as the oldest founding father. Browse these resources or jump from section to section by clicking the links below:
Selected online resources on Benjamin Franklin:
Ralph Lerner on Benjamin Franklin
Ralph Lerner, JMC faculty partner and Benjamin Franklin Professor Emeritus in the College and Professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, discussed “The Gospel According to the Apostle Ben” at the John Marshall International Center for the Study of Statesmanship at the University of Richmond on May 12, 2011.
Benjamin Franklin in His Own Words: an Online Library of Congress Exhibit
Benjamin Franklin: In His Own Words, indicates the depth and breadth of Benjamin Franklin’s public, professional, and scientific accomplishments through important documents, letters, books, broadsides, and cartoons. Marking the tercentenary of Franklin’s birth, this exhibition concentrates on his achievements as a printer and writer, an inventor and scientist, and, particularly, as a politician and statesman.
The Benjamin Franklin Historical Society
The Papers of Benjamin Franklin
The American Philosophical Society and Yale University have sponsored an online edition of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. The papers span from Franklin’s record of birth in 1706 to letters he wrote shortly before his death.
Carolyn Purnell on Ben Franklin’s 13 Tips for Happiness
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