Benjamin Franklin - the Founding Father

Benjamin Franklin Portrait

Benjamin Franklin was one of those rare people who had a curious mind, many talents and the ambition to accomplish much during his life. As one of the founding fathers of the United States, he had the respect of the most powerful people in the country. As an inventor, he created a number of everyday items that people still rely upon more than two centuries later. As a scientist, his discoveries changed the world. Although he was never elected to a federal office, historians regard him as the president who was never president and the most influential of the founding fathers.

Where Did Benjamin Franklin Grow Up?

Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Mass., January 17, 1706, into a Puritan household. He had 16 siblings, but four of them died at birth. He was 15th overall in the birth order, and he was the youngest of five brothers. His mother, Abiah Folger, was his father's second wife. His father was a soap and candle maker who could only afford two years of formal schooling for young Ben.

When the boy was 12, his father apprenticed him to his brother James, who had a printing shop. James taught Benjamin to be a printer by trade. In 1721, James founded The New-England Courant, the very first independent newspaper of the colonial era.

Benjamin wanted to write a letter to the editor of the paper, but James forbid it, so the younger Franklin created the persona "Silence Dogood." He wrote letters to the editor under this name, and they generated considerable buzz around town. However, James eventually discovered Benjamin's trick and put a stop to it.

What Did Benjamin Franklin Accomplish as a Young Adult?

Unhappy with his position in the print shop, Benjamin set out for Philadelphia at the age of 17. Once he arrived, he found work in the printing trade. He was only in the city for a few months before the Governor of Pennsylvania asked him to make a trip to London to pick up some supplies. Finding himself stranded and abandoned by the governor, Franklin worked as a typesetter in a London printing shop before returning to the states in 1726.

A year later, at the age of 21, Franklin formed the Junto, also called the Leather Apron Club. It was a group of like-minded individuals who met every Friday to discuss ethics, current events, philosophy and affairs of business. Members of the Junto were avid readers, and Franklin proposed that they mitigate the expense of buying books by creating a subscription library. Members pooled their funds to purchase books to stock the shelves. Any member could borrow a library book as needed.

In 1731, Franklin wrote a charter establishing the Library Company of Philadelphia. It was the first institution of its kind in the colonies. It still exists today as a mecca for scholars and researchers.

Meanwhile, in 1728, Benjamin Franklin partnered with a Junto colleague, Hugh Meredith, in establishing a printing company. After just a year in business, Franklin began publishing his own newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette. The paper included Franklin's essays, which provided commentary on current events and illustrations of moral virtue. Through his writings, he earned the respect of his readers and a reputation as a wise, industrious businessman.

Franklin's other accomplishments during his early adulthood include the creation of a German language newspaper and the establishment of the first chain of newspapers in the colonies. These papers had varying degrees of success.

Middle Years: What Benjamin Franklin Is Known For

Franklin became a father three times over during the period from 1730 to 1743. The first child, a son, was born out of wedlock. A second son, born to Franklin and his common-law wife, Deborah Read, died of smallpox when he was four. His third child, Sarah Franklin, grew up, married and lived into old age.

In 1733, Benjamin began writing Poor Richard's Almanack, which he continued to publish until 1758. It contains many witty sayings that are still in circulation. He also published the General Magazine and Historical Chronicle. Through these and other publications, Franklin further solidified his good reputation among his readers and peers. True to the Puritan values of his upbringing, he strived to work hard, be honest and help others.

In 1747, Franklin attended a fateful series of lectures by Archibald Spencer on the topic of static electricity. The talks inspired Franklin's decades-long exploration of electricity, including his famous episode of flying a kite in a thunder storm to prove that lighting was charged with electricity. His inventions of the electric ground and the lighting rod resulted from his experimentations.

Franklin extended his influence beyond the publishing trade when he helped establish the Academy and College of Philadelphia, which opened its doors in 1751. It formed the foundation for the later University of Pennsylvania.

Also, having served as postmaster for the city of Philadelphia during this era of his life, he became the deputy postmaster general for all the colonies in 1753. While in this post, he helped establish a communications network throughout the colonies. He also studied ocean currents as they related to the time it took for mail to arrive from England to specific locations in the colonies. Later, during the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin would take on the title of United States Postmaster General.

Another line of inquiry Franklin pursued was demographics. He began observing population growth in the colonies during the 1730s, and he eventually determined that the colonial population was roughly doubling every 20 years. In 1755, he published his findings and conclusions in "Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind," which historians today consider to be one of the 18th century's most important works on demography.

His wide-ranging inquiries, research and writings made Franklin a well-respected figure in Philadelphia. His many business ventures made him a wealthy man. He also carved inroads into the politics of the city. In 1748, he became a city councilman. Two years later, Franklin assumed the mantle of Justice of the Peace, and in 1751, his supporters voted him into the Philadelphia Assembly. That year, he partnered with John Bond in establishing the nation's first medical facility, Pennsylvania Hospital.

The honorary degrees Franklin collected during the 1750s attest to his sterling reputation as an advocate of education, proponent of science and ethical icon. Among those are honorary Master of Arts degrees from Harvard, Yale and the College of William & Mary. Later, he received honorary doctorates from Scotland's University of St. Andrews and England's Oxford University.

In 1957, Franklin went to London on behalf of the Philadelphia Assembly. He was charged with mounting a protest over the influence of the William Penn family, who had established Pennsylvania and retained control there as well as the right of taxation. He made frequent trips abroad up until 1775, when the revolution was at hand.

Later Years and the American Revolution

Benjamin Franklin returned from his latest foray to England in May 1775. As a representative from the Philadelphia Assembly, he attended the Second Continental Congress. The following year, in June 1776, Franklin was chosen as one of the Committee of Five, whose members wrote the Declaration of Independence.

At the age of 70, Franklin had a painful case of gout, and he was not able to attend most of the committee meetings. However, fellow member Thomas Jefferson sent a draft of the Declaration to Franklin, who was incapacitated at home, and the Philadelphian made a few important edits to the document. He was present at the signing of the final draft along with 56 other influential figures of the era.

In December 1776, Benjamin accepted a commission as U.S. ambassador to France where he spent a number of years among Paris intellectuals, fellow freemasons and politicians. In between trips, he managed to become the only founding father to put his signature on four documents essential to the establishment of his own country: the Declaration of Independence, the U. S. Constitution, the Paris Treaty, and the Treaty of Alliance between the U.S. and France.

In 1785, at the age of 79, Pennsylvania voters elected Franklin President of the Supreme Executive Council of the state, an office which was similar to that of governor today. As such, he hosted the 1787 Constitutional Convention, which took place in Philadelphia.

Why Benjamin Franklin Is Important

The founding father, statesman, printer, inventor, scientist, philosopher, husband and father died in 1790 of a respiratory disease. He was 84 years old. With a legacy that includes the establishment of a new nation, universities, the postal system and public libraries, Benjamin Franklin's influence on history is enormous. His likeness graces U.S. coin, currency and bonds, and his inquisitive spirit still stands as an example to scholars, scientists and politicians in the modern era.