Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1706. The exact date is unknown but some people believe January 17 is the correct date. (1) He is one of our most famous Founding Fathers. He was a rag to riches story. He dropped out of school when he was at the young age of ten and was self- educated. (2) Starting out as an apprentice to his father, Josiah, Benjamin Franklin began merely making the wax for candles for his father, a well known, moderately successful, candle maker. He hated working for his father so he signed an apprenticeship to his brother James, where he started his printing and publishing legacy. This job gave him economic freedom.
Franklin and his brother, James, began a provocative newspaper called the New England Courant, in 1721. (3) We will always remember Benjamin Franklin as a printer, publisher, inventor, scientist, diplomat and for his part in separating the American colonies from England. Two of the most important things that he will be remembered for are his help in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. (4) This is why Benjamin Franklin is our founding father, because of the enlightenment ideas he bestowed upon us through the power of the pen, his intriguing words, and his inventions.
Benjamin Franklin was a very innovative inventor. A scholar once said, “Franklin invented things he needed, most inventions today are just for entertainment.” (5) This is proven with Franklin’s bifocal glasses. Franklin once wrote to a friend regarding his bifocal glasses as follows,
“The same convexity of glass through which a man sees clearest and best at the distance proper for reading is not the best for greater distances. I therefore had formerly two pair of spectacles, which I shifted occasionally, as in traveling I sometimes read, and often wanted to regard the prospects. Finding this change troublesome, and not always sufficiently ready, I had the glasses cut and half of each kind associated in the same circle. By this means, as I wear my spectacles constantly, I have only to move my eyes up or down, as I want to see distinctly far or near, the proper glasses being always ready.” (6)
In addition to bifocal glasses, Benjamin Franklin also invented the copperplate press design and copy machine design. He also founded daylight savings ideas, a hot water system design, light globe model, the lightning rod (quite possibly one of the most famous inventions), the mechanical arm and an armonica. The armonica was a fascinating creation of a musical instrument. He was inspired by wine glasses and took glass bowls and attached them to a spindle. He had a foot pedal to spin the instrument and could make different tones with his wet finger. (7) To finish his list of inventions and ideas, he invented a storage battery, a stove, created a street lamp design, swim pads, typeface, and a urinary catheter. He also created a phonetic alphabet and new words. (8) He invented new words to explain some of his inventions. For example, when he was trying to explain an electric charge he stated, “We say B is electrised positively; A negatively: or rather B is electrised plus and A minus.” (9)
Not only did Benjamin Franklin’s inventions give a good name to the American colonies, but so did his publications. Since his brother, James, had found the New England Courant, he was presented the opportunity to write. He wrote under the pen name Silence Dogwood. Under this name, Benjamin Franklin made fun of Harvard University, since his father could not afford to send him there, causing him to drop out of school at the age of ten. He attacked any hypocritical religions; he fought for the education and rights of women, and even spoke of the economic impact of trade. This made it possible for the New England Courant to be the most popular and talked about newspaper in all of Boston. He also later used the characters of Polly Baker, to speak about the right to illegitimate children, whom Benjamin Franklin was said to have quite a few. He wrote under the King of Prussia to claim Britain due to early German settlements there, and the infamous pen name, Poor Richard. (10)
Poor Richard, also known as Richard Saunders was Benjamin Franklin’s most famous and known pseudonym. Richard Saunders was a real person. He existed during the late seventeenth century and was a well-known physician and astrologer. The real Richard Saunders also published his own almanac. This caused much confusion since no one knew whether is was the real Richard Saunders or Benjamin Franklin. Under this name he wrote Poor Richard’s Almanack. (11) The amazing thing about this almanac is the way he marketed it. On December 28, 1732, Franklin tried to sell his book by putting this advertisement in the Gazette:
“Poor Richard: An Almanack containing the Lunations, Eclipses, Planets’ Motions and Aspects, Weather, Sun and Moon’s Rising and Setting, High Water, &c., besides many pleasant and witty Verses, Jests and Sayings, Author’s Motive of Writing, Prediction of the Death of his friend Mr. Titan Leeds, Moon no Cuckhold, Bachelor’s Folly, Parson’s Wine and Baker’s Pudding, Short Visits, Kings and Bears, New Fashions, Game for Kisses, Katherine’s Love, Different Sentiments, Signs of a Tempest, Death a Fisherman, Conjugal Debate, Men and Melons, H. the Prodigal, Breakfast in Bed, Oyster Lawsuit &c.” (12)
The Gazette readers were excited and eager to get their hands on the Almanac. This showed that Benjamin Franklin could inspire crowds of people and persuade them to think and believe in him through his attractive wit and humor.
One document that Benjamin Franklin was connected with was The Declaration of Independence. He served on the committee for the drafting of this famous document. Franklin was then held to a standard since he was held at the same level as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, two very good friends of his. (13) They wrote the Declaration of Independence with heavy reference to John Locke’s enlightenment views, such as popular sovereignty, social contract and natural rights. Benjamin Franklin was a very enlightened man. Franklin lived in a time of the optimistic age of the Enlightenment. (14) Benjamin Franklin did not write the Declaration of Independence, but since his good friend Thomas Jefferson did, it is easily assumed that he put many of his views and idea into the document.
Benjamin Franklin benefited America through his relations with the French. Franklin was against the American colonies being tied to Britain. So during the American Revolution, after the colonist and the British realized they did not care for each other any longer, and the colonist needed help from an outside source, Benjamin Franklin was sent to win French aid. The French immediately made him a popular celebrity. Franklin was looking for the support and friendship from France. Franklin once said, “ it is my intention to procure what advantages I can for our country, by endeavouring to please this court.” (15) Indeed he charmed the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to establish the first Franco- American alliance. John Adams even once said speaking on Franklin’s popularity, “There was scarcely a peasant or a citizen… a lady’s chambermaid or a scullion in a kitchen… who did not consider him as a friend to human kind.” (16) After the American victory at Saratoga, Louis XVI agreed to back the colonists separating from Britain. France led the American colonies to freedom from the British, and Franklin returned to the newly freed America. It was a bittersweet farewell since Franklin grew to love France. He once wrote in a letter describing France:
“the civilest nation upon earth. Your first acquaintance endeavour to find out what you like, and they tell others… Somebody, it seems, gave it out that I loved ladies; and then everybody presented me their ladies… to be embraced; that is, have their necks kissed. For as to the kissing of lips or cheeks it is not the mode here; the first is reckoned rude, and the other may rub of the paint.” (17)
Franklin was believed to be a womanizer, but the previous letter is believed to be his rebuttal and defense against that statement. He tried to prove that French woman were just paying their respect and that is what made France so beautiful.
Benjamin Franklin was one of America’s most astounding figures. He was brilliant with negations. He had rules that would never grow old, such as say as little as possible and ask for an extreme and agree to make compromises. For example, he demanded Canada from the British and then settled for fishing rights and new and improved borders. He made many establishments for America. He opened the first public medical center in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Hospital. He also made public schools since many poor children could not afford the pricey private educational centers. The school that Benjamin Franklin established is now known as the University of Pennsylvania.
He also established the first library since all books had to be imported from London and had a high price tag. The Junto, a group of men including Franklin, began the Library Company where you could access books for common use. (19) He helped to get the Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act. He was a part of the Constitutional Convention and was in favor of letting the people know where their money was going and the impeachment of the president. He was against absolute veto power and property qualification for voters or office seekers. He once said regarding the constitution, “ I consent, Sir, to this constitution because I expect no better… [I] wish that every member… would with me… doubt a little of his infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put him name to this instrument.” (20)
Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790, of kidney stones and gout. The largest crowd of people ever to assemble in America, 22,000 citizens, paid their tribute to him. In Paris, they mourned his death. Abbe Fauchet eulogized, “ France, thy family by adoption, has honored thee as the founder of her laws; and the human race has revered thee as the universal patriarch who has formed the alliance of nature with society.” (21) He was greatly honored in France and gave printers the notion that the press was the most powerful tool against tyranny. Benjamin Franklin is one of the most popular historic figures today. He is named after as many statues, streets and monuments as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
The American Revolution produced Benjamin Franklin. The same year he died he said:
“I believe in one God, Creator of the universe… That the most acceptable service we render Him is doing well to His other children… As to Jesus… I have… some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.” (22)
Without Benjamin Franklin, America could not have been backed by France and would not have been able to split with England. Franklin gave America a name of intelligence from his scientific curiosity and inventions. He proved that America had a higher intelligence. Through his French connection, inventions, and enlightenment ideas, he created America into what it has become. America is now the leading nation of the world, and Benjamin Franklin had a lot to do with that.
1.) Brands, H.W. The First American. New York: Doubleday, 2000.
2.) Hall, Alice J. “Philosopher of Dissent Benjamin Franklin.” National Geographic, July 1975, 93- 122.
3.) Isaacson, Walter. Benjamin Franklin An American Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.
4.) Lopez, Claude- Anne and Eugenia W. Herbert, Eds. The Private Franklin. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1975.
5.) Marsh, Carole. “Benjamin Franklin,” The Liberty Bell Museum. Home page on-line. Available from http://www.libertybellmuseum.com/activitypages/benfranklinpage.htm; Internet; accessed 14 November 2006.
6.) McCarry, Charles. “Two Revolutions.” National Geographic, July 1989, 50-55.
7.) Wood, Gordon S. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.