Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Benjamin Franklin

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!


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.

In recognition of Benjamin Franklin’s birthday on January 17, we’ve gathered together a collection of resources recognizing his influence on American political development and as the oldest founding father. Browse these articles and primary documents to learn more about Franklin’s life.



Resources on Benjamin Frankliln:

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.

View the video on YouTube >>



Benjamin Franklin in His Own Words: an Online Library of Congress Exhibit

Benjamin Franklin, Craftsman statueBenjamin 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.

Visit the online Library of Congress exhibit >>




The Benjamin Franklin Historical Society

Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky, Benjamin WestThe Benjamin Franklin Historical Society website provides information on Franklin’s political, scientific, and philosophical views, as well as fascinating facts about his life and legacy.

Explore the Benjamin Franklin Historical Society website >>







The Papers of Benjamin Franklin

Letter by Benjamin Franklin, 1725The 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.

Read the digitized Papers of Benjamin Franklin >>







Carolyn Purnell on Ben Franklin’s 13 Tips for Happiness

JMC–Templeton Postdoctoral Fellow Carolyn Purnell draws life lessons from Ben Franklin while ruminating on his 13 tips for happiness from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.


Read the article that appeared on Apartment Therapy >>


*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on Benjamin Franklin or his political thought, and would like your work included here, send it to us at academics@gojmc.org



Commentary and articles from JMC fellows:


Benjamin Franklin: Founder, Scientist, and Philosopher


Steven Forde, Ben Franklin, Hero.” (The Noblest Minds: Fame, Honor, and the American Founding, Rowman and Littlefield, 1999)

The Noblest MindsSteven Forde, Benjamin Franklin: An American Model and a Model American.” (History of American Political Thought, Lexington Books, 2003)

Steven Forde, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and the Education of America.” (American Political Science Review 86.2, June 1992)

Steven Forde, Benjamin Franklin’s ‘Machiavellian’ Civic Virtue.” (Machiavelli’s Liberal Republican Legacy, Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Steven Forde, Benjamin Franklin: Poor Richard’s Almanack.” (The Founders’ Almanac, The Heritage Foundation, 2004)

Steven Forde, Benjamin Franklin and the Theory of Social Compact.” (The American Founding and the Social Compact, Lexington Books, 2003)

Eliga Gould, Empire and Nation.” (A Companion to Benjamin Franklin, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011)

A Companion to Benjamin FranklinBenjamin Irvin, Benjamin Franklin’s ‘Enriching Virtues’: Continental Currency and the Creation of a Revolutionary Republic.” (Common-place: The Interactive Journal of Early American Life 6.3, April 2006)

Christopher Scott McClure, Learning from Franklin’s Mistakes: Self-Interest Rightly Understood in the Autobiography.” (The Review of Politics 76, 2014)

Arthur Milikh, Franklin and the Free Press.” (National Affairs, Spring 2017)

Lorraine Pangle, Ben Franklin and Socrates.” (Benjamin Franklin’s Intellectual World, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2012)

Lorraine Pangle, The Political Philosophy of Benjamin Franklin. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007)

Benjamin Park, Benjamin Franklin, Richard Price, and the Division of Sacred and Secular in the Age of Revolutions.” (Benjamin Franklin’s Intellectual World, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2012)


*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on Benjamin Franklin or his political thought, and would like your work included here, send it to us at academics@gojmc.org



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