Benjamin Franklin ... Founding Father (Pennsylvania)
|Franklin was born in 1706 at
Boston. He was the tenth son of a soap and candlemaker.
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. Benjamin secretly contributed
14 essays to it, his first published writings.
In 1723, because of dissension with
his half-brother, Franklin moved to Philadelphia, where
he obtained employment as a printer. He spent only a
year there and then sailed to London for 2 more years.
Back in Philadelphia, he rose rapidly in the
|printing industry. He
published The Pennsylvania Gazette (1730-48), which had
been founded by another man in 1728, but his most
successful literary venture was the annual Poor Richard
's Almanac (1733-58). It won a popularity in the
colonies second only to the Bible, and its fame
eventually spread to Europe.
Meantime, in 1730 Franklin had taken a common-law
wife, Deborah Read, who was to bear him a son and daughter, and he
also apparently had children with another nameless woman out of
wedlock. By 1748 he 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 (1736-51) and member (1751-64) of the
colonial legislature and as deputy postmaster of Philadelphia
(1737-53) and deputy postmaster general of the colonies (1753-74).
In addition, he represented Pennsylvania at the Albany Congress
(1754), called to unite the colonies during the French and Indian
War. The congress adopted his "Plan of Union," but the colonial
assemblies rejected it because it encroached on their powers.
During the years 1757-62 and 1764-75, Franklin resided in England,
originally in the capacity of agent for Pennsylvania and later for
Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. During the latter period,
which coincided with the growth of colonial unrest, he underwent a
political metamorphosis. Until then a contented Englishman in
outlook, primarily concerned with Pennsylvania provincial politics,
he distrusted popular movements and saw little purpose to be served
in carrying principle to extremes. Until the issue of parliamentary
taxation undermined the old alliances, he led the Quaker party
attack on the Anglican proprietary party and its Presbyterian
frontier allies. His purpose throughout the years at London in fact
had been displacement of the Penn family administration by royal
authority-the conversion of the province from a proprietary to a
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.
Franklin's nomination of a friend and political ally as stamp
distributor for Pennsylvania, coupled with his apparent acceptance
of the legislation, armed his proprietary opponents with explosive
issues. Their energetic exploitation of them endangered his
reputation at home until reliable information was published
demonstrating his unabated opposition to the act. For a time, mob
resentment threatened his family and new home in Philadelphia until
his tradesmen supporters rallied. Subsequently, Franklin's defense
of the American position in the House of Commons during the debates
over the Stamp Act's repeal restored his prestige at home.
Franklin returned to Philadelphia in May 1775 and immediately became
a distinguished member of the Continental Congress. Thirteen months
later, he served on the committee that drafted the Declaration of
Independence. He subsequently contributed to the government in other
important ways, including service as postmaster general, and took
over the duties of president of the Pennsylvania constitutional
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. In
the years 1776-79, as one of three commissioners, he directed the
negotiations that led to treaties of commerce and alliance with
France, where the people adulated him, but he and the other
commissioners squabbled constantly. While he was sole commissioner
to France (1779-85), he and John Jay and John Adams negotiated the
Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the War for Independence.
Back in the United States, in 1785 Franklin became president of the
Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania. 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
In his twilight years, working on his Autobiography, Franklin could
look back on a fruitful life as the toast of two continents.
Energetic nearly to the last, in 1787 he was elected as first
president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of
Slavery-a cause to which he had committed himself as early as the
1730s. His final public act was signing a memorial to Congress
recommending dissolution of the slavery system. Shortly thereafter,
in 1790 at the age of 84, Franklin passed away in Philadelphia and
was laid to rest in Christ Church Burial Ground.
Information from The National Archives
Benjamin Franklin's Thoughts on the Constitution
Franklin Recognized as a Great American Patriot
Constitutional Convention |
Signers of the Declaration of Independence
| USA's Birth