Benjamin Franklin was a revered inventor, publisher, scientist, and diplomat in addition to his role as one of the Founding Fathers. Yet, Franklin never held the office of president during his life.
Who Was Benjamin Franklin?
Benjamin Franklin was a Founding Father as well as a polymath, inventor, scientist, printer, politician, freemason, and diplomat. He was also a member of the Freemason fraternity. Franklin was instrumental in the creation of the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which brought an end to the American Revolutionary War.
His scientific endeavors included research into fields such as mathematics, cartography, and electrical engineering. In addition to his work as a writer, Benjamin Franklin is credited with the publication of Poor Richard’s Almanack, the invention of bifocal spectacles, and the establishment of the first successful American lending library.
On January 17, 1706, Franklin was born in Boston, which at the time was a part of the colony that was known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Josiah Franklin, an English-born soap and candlemaker, was Franklin’s father. He had seven children with his first wife, Anne Child, and 10 more children with his second wife, Abiah Folger. Franklin was the seventh of those children. Franklin was the 15th child and the last son to be born to him.
Franklin was able to read at a young age, but despite his success at the Boston Latin School, he left formal schooling at the age of 10 to work full-time in his financially struggling father’s candle and soap company. Franklin learned to read at an early age. But, the little boy’s imagination was not sparked by the process of dipping wax and cutting wicks.
Josiah placed his son, Franklin, then 12 years old, as an apprentice at his elder brother James’ print business. Maybe Josiah wanted to deter Franklin from following in the footsteps of one of his other sons who had gone to sea.
Even though James abused and regularly beat his younger brother, Franklin, under the guidance of the printer, learned a great deal about newspaper printing and embraced a similar style of subversive politics.
In response to James’s refusal to publish any of his brother Franklin’s writing, Franklin, then 16 years old, assumed the identity of Mrs. Silence Dogood and wrote 14 imaginative and witty letters that were published in The New England Courant, which was James’s newspaper. These letters delighted readers. When James discovered that his apprentice had been the one to write the letters, however, he became enraged.
Franklin ran away from Boston in 1723 because he was fed up with his brother’s “harsh and despotic” behavior, despite the fact that he still had three years left on a contract that was legally bound with his master.
He made his way to New York City before relocating to Philadelphia, where he began working for a different printing company. After moving there, he considered Philadelphia to be his permanent residence.
Living in London
Franklin traveled to London in 1724 to acquire materials from stationers, booksellers, and printers. Pennsylvania Governor William Keith had encouraged Franklin to start up his own print business, and Franklin had been following Keith’s advice. When the young man finally made it to England, he discovered that Keith’s letters of introduction had not been sent along as promised. This left him with the impression that he had been tricked.
Despite the fact that Franklin was compelled to find employment in London’s print shops, he made the most of the city’s delights by going to the theater, mixing with the people at coffee houses, and maintaining his lifelong enthusiasm for reading.
Franklin was a swimmer who did long-distance swims on the Thames River. He was a self-taught swimmer who also made his own wooden flippers. (He was given honorary membership in the International Swimming Hall of Fame the year that he was born, 1968.)
In 1725, Benjamin Franklin released his first booklet, which was titled “A Dissertation upon Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain.” In it, he claimed that individuals do not possess free will and, as a result, are not morally accountable for the activities that they choose. (Franklin eventually disproved this theory and burnt all of the pamphlet’s copies, save for one that he still had in his hands.)
Wife and Children
After moving from Boston to Philadelphia in 1723, Benjamin Franklin resided at the home of John Read. It was there that he first saw and courted Deborah Read, who was the daughter of his landlord.
During Franklin’s return to Philadelphia in 1726, he learned that Deborah had been married in the interim, only for her new husband to leave her a few short months after the wedding. Franklin was shocked to learn this news.
In 1730, the future Founding Father resumed his passion with Deborah Read, and in the same year he accepted her as his common-law wife, and they had a child together. During this time, Franklin fathered a son, William, outside of his marriage to Elizabeth; the pair raised him as their own. Francis, the couple’s first child, was born in 1732, but he did not survive smallpox, which took his life in 1736. Sarah, who was born in 1743, was the only child born to the couple.
Deborah was adamant about never leaving Philadelphia, so Franklin had to make both of his moves to London without her. The first time was in 1757, and the second time was in 1764. It was during his second visit that the pair saw each other for the final time. Deborah suffered a stroke in 1774 when she was 66 years old, and Franklin would not come home until after she had died.
In the year 1762, Benjamin Franklin’s son William was appointed to the position of the royal governor of New Jersey. This was a position that his father had secured for William through his political ties in the British government. Later in life, Franklin sided with the Patriot cause, which placed him in conflict with his son, who was a loyalist. In the year 1776, William Franklin’s father, Benjamin Franklin, made the decision not to advocate on his son’s behalf when he was arrested by the militia of New Jersey and deprived of his position as royal governor.
Life in Philadelphia
After his return to Philadelphia in 1726, Benjamin Franklin worked in a variety of occupations, including that of bookkeeper, shopkeeper, and currency cutter. In the year 1728, he went back to an old profession, printing paper currency, in the state of New Jersey. Shortly after that, he joined forces with a friend to establish his own print business in Philadelphia, which published books and pamphlets for the government.
In the year 1730, Franklin was given the position of an official printer for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. At that point in time, he had already established the “Junto,” which was a social and self-improvement study club for young men. They got together on Fridays to discuss various topics, including politics, philosophy, and morality.
In 1731, when members of the Junto wanted more reading material to choose from, Franklin assisted in the incorporation of the Library Corporation of Philadelphia, which was the first subscription library in the United States.
In the year 1729, Benjamin Franklin wrote “A Modest Inquiry into The Nature and Need of a Paper Currency,” another essay in which he called for an expansion in the money supply as a means of stimulating the economy.
Franklin was able to acquire the Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper from a former employer thanks to the profit he made by writing his treatise on the subject of finance. During his tenure as owner, the once-struggling daily was converted into the most widely read paper in the colonies and became one of the first to generate a profit. Moreover, he was one of the first people to own a profitable business.
When he attempted to publish the first German-language newspaper in the colonies in 1732 under the name Philadelphische Zeitung, he was met with less success than he had hoped. Despite this, Franklin’s fame and success increased during the decade of the 1730s.
In order to mitigate the city of Philadelphia’s perilous fire risks, Benjamin Franklin built a fortune in real estate and companies and established the volunteer Union Fire Company. In 1731, he became a member of the Freemasons, and a few decades later, he was chosen as grand master of the Pennsylvania Masons.
Poor Richard’s Almanack
Franklin brought out the first issue of Poor Richard’s Almanack around the close of the year 1732.
Proverbs and Franklin’s pithy maxims such as “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” and “He that lies down with dogs, shall rise up with fleas,” were included in the almanac, which Franklin published for a total of 25 years in a row. The almanac also contained information on the weather, astronomical information, and poetry. Franklin published the almanac each year.
Scientist and Inventor
Throughout the 1740s, Franklin broadened his interests to include science and business. His essay, “A Plan for Spreading Useful Knowledge,” which he published in 1743, highlighted his interests and was used as the foundation document of the American Philosophical Society, the first scientific group in the colonies. He was also a member of the American Philosophical Society.
By the time he was 42 years old, Benjamin Franklin had amassed a fortune that made him one of the wealthiest men in Pennsylvania. He also joined the Pennsylvania militia at this time. In order to free up more time for himself to devote to scientific research, he agreed to sell his printing firm to a business partner. Around the year 1748, he relocated to a new home.
Franklin was a brilliant scientist and prolific inventor who is credited with coming up with the following inventions:
- Franklin stove: Franklin’s first invention, created around 1740, provided more heat with less fuel.
- Bifocals: Anyone tired of switching between two pairs of glasses understands why Franklin developed bifocals that could be used for both distance and reading.
- Armonica: Franklin’s inventions took on a musical bent when, in 1761, he commenced development on the armonica, a musical instrument composed of spinning glass bowls on a shaft. Both Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed music for the strange instrument.
- Rocking chair
- Flexible catheter
- American penny
By crossing the Atlantic Ocean from London to Philadelphia in 1775, Benjamin Franklin was the first person to discover the Gulf Stream. He began to guess as to the reason why the voyage heading west usually took longer, and it was from his observations of the temperatures of the water that he came to the realization that the Gulf Stream existed. Because of this newfound information, the amount of time it took to sail from Europe to North America was reduced by two weeks.
Franklin even came up with a new “plan” for the alphabet, which included getting rid of the letters C, J, Q, W, X, and Y since he felt they were unnecessary.
Because Franklin educated himself independently, he was awarded honorary degrees from the universities of Harvard, Yale, the University of Oxford in England, and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
In the year 1749, Benjamin Franklin published a booklet on the subject of education for young people in Pennsylvania. This pamphlet was the impetus for the founding of the Academy of Philadelphia, which later evolved into the University of Pennsylvania.
In the year 1752, Benjamin Franklin is credited with inventing the lightning rod shortly after performing the now-famous kite-and-key experiment to prove that lightning was caused by electricity.
His research on the occurrence of electrical phenomena was put into a book titled “Experiments and Observations on Electricity,” which was released in England in the year 1751. He came up with new words pertaining to electricity that are still in use today, such as the battery, charge, conductor, and electrify. Some of the other terminology he came up with is in the same vein.
In the year 1748, Benjamin Franklin bought the first of many persons he would later enslave to labor in both his new house and the print company he owned. During the course of the subsequent decades, Franklin’s perspective on slavery shifted to the point that he came to believe that the system was intrinsically corrupt. As a result, in the 1760s, he set his enslaved people free.
In his later years, he grew even more vehement in his opposition to the institution of slavery. Franklin advocated for the abolition of slavery in a number of writings and served as president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. He also authored a number of pamphlets. In the year 1790, he sent a request to the Congress of the United States to put a stop to slavery and the commerce in it.
Election to the Government
In 1748, Franklin was elected to serve on the city council of Philadelphia, and the following year, he was appointed to the position of justice of the peace. In the year 1751, he won the election to serve as an alderman in Philadelphia and as a representative in the Pennsylvania Assembly, both of which were positions to which he was subsequently re-elected annually until the year 1764. Two years later, he agreed to take the position of deputy postmaster general of North America after being offered it by the royal family.
When the French and Indian War began in 1754, Franklin called on the colonies to band together for their common defense. He dramatized this call in The Pennsylvania Gazette by publishing a cartoon of a snake cut into sections with the caption “Join or Die.” Franklin’s call was accompanied by the cartoon.
He was elected to represent Pennsylvania in the Albany Congress, which ultimately approved his proposition to form a single government that oversaw all 13 colonies. The “Plan of Union” that Benjamin Franklin proposed, on the other hand, was rejected by the colonies.
In the year 1757, Benjamin Franklin was selected by the Assembly of Pennsylvania to represent the province as its representative in London. William and his two enslaved people accompanied Benjamin Franklin on his voyage to London, where he was to mediate a long-standing disagreement with the Penn family, who were the proprietors of the colony. Deborah and Sarah were left behind, however.
He stayed in London for the better part of the following two decades, where he was attracted to the city’s high society and intellectual salons because of its global nature.
When Franklin got back to Philadelphia in 1762, he immediately set out on a tour of the colonies to investigate the country’s post offices.
Stamp Act and Declaration of Independence
After Franklin was defeated and removed from his position in the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1764, he traveled back to London to take up the role of agent for the colony. Franklin’s homecoming coincided with a particularly tumultuous period in the relationship between Great Britain and the American colonies.
Once it was passed by the British Parliament in March 1765, the Stamp Act put a tax on any printed documents that were intended for commercial or legal use in the American colonies. This levy was extremely unpopular. Several colonies believed that Franklin tacitly supported the new tax since he purchased stamps for his printing firm and selected a friend as the Pennsylvania stamp distributor. Rioters in Philadelphia even threatened to burn down Franklin’s house as a result of his actions.
However, due in large part to Benjamin Franklin’s vehement opposition to the levy during his appearance before Parliament in 1766, the Stamp Act was eventually repealed.
Two years later, he wrote a paper titled “Causes of the American Discontents before 1768,” and not long after that, he began working as an agent for the states of Massachusetts, Georgia, and New Jersey. By delivering to the American colonies the private correspondence of Governor Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin stoked the flames of revolt.
The letters, which asked for the restriction of the rights of colonists and produced a firestorm once they were published by Boston newspapers, sparked calls for the restriction of the rights of colonists. After the incident, Franklin was ousted from his position as deputy postmaster general, and he returned to North America in 1775 as a dedicated supporter of the cause of the patriots.
In the year 1775, Benjamin Franklin was given the position of the first postmaster general for the thirteen colonies after being elected to the Second Continental Congress. In the year 1776, he was given the position of the commissioner to Canada, and the following year, he was one of the five men who drafted the Declaration of Independence.
Life in Paris
After his vote for independence in 1776, Franklin was chosen for the position of commissioner to France, which effectively made him the first ambassador of the United States to France. He embarked on a journey to negotiate a deal that would secure the nation’s financial and military backing.
A lot of attention has been paid to Franklin’s time spent in Paris, particularly his eventful romantic life during the nine years that he spent there after Deborah’s passing. Even at the age of 74, he approached a widow named Madame Helvetius with the intention of proposing marriage, but she turned him down.
Franklin was welcomed in France not just because of his position as a political appointment from a young nation, but also because of his wit and intellectual prominence in the scientific world.
Because of his notoriety, he was able to earn respect and get access to previously inaccessible societies, such as the court of King Louis XVI. His skill as a diplomat was a major factor in the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which brought an end to the Revolutionary War. In 1785, Franklin made his way back to the United States of America after spending nearly a decade in France.
Drafting the U.S. Constitution
Franklin was chosen to represent Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, which was responsible for drafting and ratifying the new Constitution for the United States of America.
Franklin, the oldest delegate at the age of 81, initially supported proportional representation in Congress. However, he was the architect of the Great Compromise, which resulted in proportional representation in the House of Representatives and equal representation by the state in the Senate. Franklin was the oldest delegate. In the year 1787, he was a co-founder of the Society for Political Inquiry, an organization whose mission was to advance people’s understanding of government.
It was never possible for Franklin to become president of the United States. Despite this, he was one of the eight Founding Fathers of the United States and contributed to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitution of the United States.
In addition to this, he had other positions within the government, including being elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly, appointed as the first postmaster general for the colonies, and serving as a diplomat to France. It is without a shadow of a doubt that he was a genuine polymath as well as an entrepreneur that he is referred to as the “First American.”
On April 17, 1790, Franklin passed away in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the home that he shared with his daughter Sarah Bache. He was 84 years old, had gout, and had been complaining of infirmities for some time before he finished the last codicil to his will a little more than a year and a half before he passed away. His will stipulated that his estate be distributed according to his wishes.
He left most of his inheritance to his daughter Sarah and just a little portion to his son William, whose resistance to the cause of patriotism continued to irritate him. Also, he made financial contributions that helped scholarship programs, schools, and museums in both Boston and Philadelphia.
Franklin had written his epitaph when he was just 22 years old. It read, “The corpse of B. Franklin, Printer (Like the Cover of an Old Book Its Contents ripped Out and Stript of its Lettering and Gilding) Lies Here, Food for Worms.” Franklin died at the age of 72. Yet, the Work will not be Lost since it will (as he believed) appear once again in a New and More Elegant Version that has been Reviewed and Corrected by the Author.”
By the end of the day, however, the inscription on the headstone of the tomb he shared with his wife at the cemetery of Christ Church in Philadelphia reads only “Benjamin and Deborah Franklin 1790.”
The picture of Franklin that has been passed down through history, as well as the portrayal of Franklin that is featured on the $100 note, is somewhat of a caricature. It depicts a bald guy wearing a frock coat and clutching a kite string with a key attached to it. Nonetheless, the variety of endeavors to which he devoted his time and effort was so extensive that it is regrettable.
Founding universities and libraries, the post office, shaping the foreign policy of the fledgling United States, helping to draft the Declaration of Independence, publishing newspapers, warming us with the Franklin stove, pioneering advances in science, letting us see with bifocals, and lighting our way with electricity—all from a man who never finished school but shaped his life through abundant reading and experience, a strong moral compass, and an unflagging commitment to his principles. Franklin brought light to nooks and crannies of American society that continue to radiate with the afterglow of his care.