Statesman; born in Boston
, Jan. 17, 1706.
His father was from England
; his mother was a daughter of Peter Folger
, the Quaker
poet of Nantucket
He learned the art of printing with his brother; but they disagreeing, Benjamin
when seventeen years of age, sought employment in New York, but, not succeeding, went to Philadelphia
, and there found it. He soon attracted the attention of Governor Keith
as a very bright lad, who, making him a promise of the government printing, induced young Franklin
, at the age of eighteen, to go to England
and purchase printing material.
He was deceived, and remained there eighteen months, working as a journeyman printer in London
He returned to Philadelphia
late in 1726, and in 1729 established himself there as a printer.
He started the Pennsylvania gazette
, and married Deborah Read, a young woman whose husband had absconded.
For many years he published an almanac under the assumed name of Richard Saunders
It became widely known as Poor Richard's almanac
, as it contained many wise and useful maxims, mostly from the ancients.
was soon marked as a wise, prudent, and
sagacious man, full of well-directed public spirit.
He was the chief founder of the Philadelphia Library
He became clerk of the Provincial Assembly in 1736, and postmaster of Philadelphia
the next year.
He was the founder of the University
and the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia
in 1744, and was elected a member of the Provincial Assembly in 1750.
In 1753 he was appointed deputy postmaster for the English-American
colonies; and in 1754 he was a delegate to the Colonial Congress of Albany
, in which he prepared a plan of union for the colonies, which was the basis of the Articles
of Confederation (see Confederation, articles of
) adopted by Congress more than twenty years afterwards.
had begun his investigations and experiments in electricity, by which he demonstrated its identity with lightning as early as 1746.
The publication of his account of these experiments procured for him membership in the Royal Society, the Copley gold medal, and the degree of Ll.D. from Oxford
in 1762. Harvard and Yale colleges had previously conferred upon him the degree of Master of Arts.
was for many years a member of the Assembly and advocated the rights of the people in opposition to the claims of the proprietaries; and in 1764 he was sent to England
as agent of the colonial legislature, in which capacity he afterwards acted for several other colonies.
His representation to the British
ministry, in 1765-66, of the temper of the Americans
on the subject of taxation by Parliament did much in effecting the repeal of the Stamp Act.
He tried to avert the calamity of a rupture between Great Britain
and her colonies; but, failing in this, he returned to America
in 1775, after which he was constantly employed at home and abroad in the service of his countrymen struggling for political independence.
In Congress, he advocated, helped to prepare and signed the Declaration of
Independence; and in the fall of 1776 he was sent as ambassador to France
, as the colleague of Silas Deane and Arthur Lee
. To him was chiefly due the successful negotiation of the treaty of alliance with France
, and he continued to represent his country there until 1785, when he returned home.
While he was in France
, and residing at Passy
in 1777, a medallion likeness of him was made in the red clay of that region.
engraving of it given is about half the size of the original.
He took an important part in the negotiation of the treaties of peace.
In 1786 he was elected governor of Pennsylvania
, and served one term; and he was a leading member in the convention, in 1787, that framed the national Constitution.
His last public act was the signing of a memorial to Congress on the subject of slavery by the Abolition Society of Pennsylvania
, of which he was the founder and president.
performed extraordinary labors of usefulness for his fellow-men.
In addition to scientific and literary institutions, he was the founder of the first fire-company in Philadelphia
in 1738; organized a volunteer military association for the defence of the province in 1744; and was colonel of a regiment, and built forts for the defence of the frontiers in 1755.
He was the inventor of the Franklin stove
(q. v.), which in modified forms is still in use. He was also the inventor of the lightning-rod.
left two children, a son, William, and a daughter.
He died in Philadelphia, Pa.
, April 17, 1790.
In 1752 the Pennsylvania Assembly, yielding to the urgency of public affairs in the midst of war, voted a levy of $500,000 without insisting upon their claim to tax the proprietary estates.
They protested that they did it through compulsion; and they sent Franklin
as their agent to urge their complaint against the proprietaries.
This was his first mission abroad.
At the beginning of the French
and Indian War (1754) the colonists, as well as the royal governors, saw the necessity of a colonial union in order to present a solid front of British subjects to the French
labored earnestly to this end, and in 1755 he went to Boston
to confer with Governor Shirley
on the subject.
At the governor's house they discussed the subject long and earnestly.
was favorable to union, but he desired it to be effected by the fiat of the British
government and by the spontaneous act of the colonists.
, on the contrary, animated by a love of popular liberty, would not consent to that method of forming a colonial union.
He knew the true source of power was lodged with the people, and that a good government should be formed by the people for the people; and he left Shirley
not only condemned the idea of a popular colonial government, but assured Franklin
that he should immediately propose a plan
of union to the ministry and Parliament, and also a tax on the colonies.
In February, 1766, Dr. Franklin
was examined before the House of Commons relative to the Stamp act
(q. v.). At that examination he fairly illustrated the spirit which animated the colonies.
When asked, “Do you think the people of America
would submit to the stamp duty if it were moderated?”
he answered, “No, never, unless compelled by force of arms.”
To the question, “What was the temper of America
towards Great Britain
before the year 1763?”
he replied, “The best in the world.
They submitted willingly to the government of the crown, and paid, in their courts, obedience to the acts of Parliament.
Numerous as the people are in the old provinces, they cost you nothing, in forts, citadels, garrisons, or armies, to keep them in subjection.
They were governed by this country at the expense only of a little pen, ink, and paper; they were led by a thread.
They had not only a respect but an affection for Great Britain
, for its laws, its customs, and manners, and even a fondness for its fashions that greatly increased the commerce.
Natives of Britain were always treated with peculiar regard.
To be an ‘ Old England man’ was of itself a character of some respect, and gave a kind of rank among us.”
It was asked, “What is their temper now?”
replied, “Oh, very much altered.”
He declared that all laws of Parliament had been held valid by the Americans
, excepting such as laid internal taxes; and that its authority was never disputed in levying duties to regulate commerce.
When asked, “Can you name any act of Assembly or public act of your government that made such distinction?”
replied, “I do not know that there was any; I think there never was occasion to make such an act till now that you have attempted to tax us; that
has occasioned acts of Assembly declaring the distinction, on which, I think, every Assembly on the continent, and every member of every Assembly, have been unanimous.”
This examination was one of the causes which led to a speedy repeal of the Stamp Act.
Late in 1773 Dr. Franklin
presented to Lord Dartmouth, to be laid before the King
, a petition from Massachusetts
for the removal of Governor Hutchinson
and Chief-Justice Oliver
They were charged with conspiracy against the colony, as appeared by certain letters which had been published.
A rumor found utterance in the newspapers that the letters had been dishonestly obtained through John Temple, who had been permitted to examine the papers of the deceased Mr. Whately
, to whom the letters were addressed.
That permission had been given by William Whately
, brother and executor of the deceased.
never made a suggestion that Temple
had taken the letters away, but he published such an evasive card that it seemed not to relieve Temple
from the implication.
The latter challenged Whately
to mortal combat.
They fought, but were unhurt.
Another duel was likely to ensue, when Dr. Franklin
, to prevent bloodshed,
publicly said: “I alone am the person who obtained and transmitted to Boston
the letters in question.”
This frank and courageous avowal drew upon him the wrath of the ministry.
He was summoned before the privy council (Jan. 8, 1774) to consider the petition.
He appeared with counsel.
A crowd was present—not less than thirty-five peers.
, the solicitor-general
(of whom the King
said, at his death, “He has not left a greater knave behind him in my kingdom” ),
most shamefully with unjust and coarse invectives, while not an emotion was manifested in the face of the abused statesman.
The ill-bred lords of that day seconded Wedderburn
's abuse by derisive laughter, instead of treating Franklin
At the end of the solictor's ribald speech the petition was dismissed as “groundless, scandalous, and vexatious.”
“I have never been so sensible of the power of a good conscience,” Franklin
said to Dr. Priestley
, with whom he breakfasted the next morning.
When he went home from the council he laid aside the suit of clothes he wore, making a vow that he would never put them on again until he should sign the degradation of England
by a dismemberment of the British Empire
and the independence of America
He kept his word, and, as commissioner for negotiating peace almost ten years afterwards, he performed the act that permitted him to wear the garments again.
, in England
in 1774, was a perfect enigma to the British
They were perplexed with doubts of the intentions of the defiant colonists.
They believed Franklin
possessed the coveted secret, and tried in vain to draw it from him. He was an expert chess-player, and well known as such.
Lord Howe (afterwards admiral on our coast) was intimate with leading ministers.
His sisterin-law, Mrs. Howe
, was also an expert chess-player, and an adroit diplomatist.
She sent Franklin
an invitation to her house to play chess, with the hope that in the freedom of social conversation she might obtain the secret.
He went; was charmed with the lady's mind and manners; played a few games; and accepted an invitation to repeat the visit and the amusement.
On his second visit, after playing a short time, they entered into conversation, when Mrs. Howe
put questions adroitly to the sage, calculated to elicit the information she desired.
He answered without reserve and with apparent frankness.
He was introduced to her brother, Lord Howe, and talked freely with him on the subject of the great dispute; but, having early perceived the designs of the diplomatists, his usual caution had never allowed him to betray a single secret worth preserving.
At the end of several interviews, enlivened by chess-playing, his questioners were no wiser than at the beginning.
While the Continental Congress was in session in the fall of 1774, much anxiety was felt in political circles in England
concerning the result.
The ministry, in particular, were anxious to know, and Franklin
was solicited by persons high in authority to promulgate the extent of the demands of his countrymen.
So urgent were these requests that, without waiting to receive a record of the proceedings of the Congress
, he prepared a paper entitled Hints for conversation upon the subject of terms that may probably produce a durable Union between Britain and the colonies
, in seventeen propositions.
The substance of the whole was that the colonies should
be reinstated in the position which they held, in relation to the imperial government, before the obnoxious acts then complained of became laws, by a repeal, and by a destruction of the whole brood of enactments in reference to America
hatched since the accession of George III.
In a word, he proposed that English subjects in America
should enjoy all the essential rights and privileges claimed as the birthright of subjects in England
Nothing came of the Hints
After the attack by Wedderburne when before the privy council, and his dismissal from the office of postmastergeneral for the colonies, Franklin
was subjected to the danger of arrest, and possibly a trial, for treason; for the ministry, angry because he had exposed Hutchinson
's letters, made serious threats.
Conscious of rectitude, he neither left England
then nor swerved a line from his course of duty.
When, in February, 1776, Lord North endeavored to find out from him what the Americans
wanted, “We desire nothing,” said Franklin
, “but what is necessary to our security and well-being.”
After stating that some of the obnoxious acts would probably be repealed, Lord North said the Massachusetts
acts must be continued, both “as real amendments” of the constitution of that province, and “as a standing example of the power of Parliament.”
replied: “While Parliament claims the right of altering American constitutions at pleasure, there can be no agreement, for we are rendered unsafe in every privilege.”
North answered: “An agreement is necessary for America
; it is so easy for Britain to burn all your seaport towns.”
coolly answered: “My little property consists in houses in those towns; you may make bonfires of them whenever you please; the fear of losing them will never alter my resolution to resist to the last the claim of Parliament.”
, of London
, had been a sort of go-between through whom Dr. Franklin
had communicated with Lord North.
On July 5, 1776, Franklin
wrote to him: “You are a member of Parliament, and one of that majority which has doomed my country to destruction.
You have begun to burn our towns and murder our people.
Look upon your hands; they are stained with the blood of your relations!
You and I were long friends; you are now my enemy, and I am yours.— B. Franklin
Late in the autumn of 1776 Dr. Franklin
was sent as a diplomatic agent to France
in the ship Reprisal
The passage occupied thirty days, during which that vessel had been chased by British cruisers and had taken two British brigantines as prizes.
He landed at Nantes
on Dec. 7.
was surprised, for no notice had been given of his coming.
His fame was world-wide.
The courts were filled with conjectures.
The story was spread in England
that he was a fugitive for safety.
said, “I never will believe that he is going to conclude a long life, which has brightened every hour it has continued, with so foul and dishonorable a flight.”
On the Continent it was rightly concluded that he was on an important mission.
To the French
people he spoke frankly, saying that twenty successful campaigns could not subdue the Americans
; that their decision for independence was irrevocable; and that they would be forever independent States.
On the morning of Dec. 28, Franklin
, with the other commissioners (Silas Deane and Arthur Lee
), waited upon Vergennes
, the French
minister for foreign affairs, when he presented the plan of Congress for a treaty.
spoke of the attachment of the French
nation to the American
cause; requested a paper from Franklin
on the condition of America
; and that, in future, intercourse with the sage might be in secret, without the intervention of a third person.
Personal friendship between these two distinguished men became strong and abiding.
He told Franklin
that as Spain
were in perfect accord he might communicate freely with the Spanish
minister, the Count de Aranda
With him the commissioners held secret but barren interviews as Aranda
would only promise the freedom of Spanish ports to American vessels.
Vindication of the colonies.
15, 1775, Franklin
issued the following address to the public: