Benjamin Franklin

Portrait by Charles Willson Peale, 1785

OTHER IMAGES

POOR RICHARD'S ALMANACK

The Devil sweetens Poison with Honey.

— Benjamin Franklin,1747

 

QUICK FACTS
BORN:
17 January 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts
  DIED:
17 April 1790 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Buried at Christ Church Burial Ground.

  • Though associated with Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin was born and raised in Boston. He did not arrive in Philadelphia until he was 17 (6-Oct-1723).
  • In addition, Franklin also spent some 28 years abroad, in England and France, at various times through his life.
  • Deborah Read, his future wife, saw him on the first day he arrived in Philadelphia with a roll of bread under each Arm, and the eating of the other [third one]. They do not marry until 7 years later (1-Sep-1730).
  • Poor Richard’s Almanack, published each year from 1732 to 1757 made Franklin a very wealthy man. He himself estimates (in his Autobiography) that it sold annually near ten Thousand copies.
  • Besides his printing business, Franklin was also postmaster of Pennsylvania beginning in 1737. In 1753 he became one of two deputy postmasters of North America, a post he held for 20 years.
  • By retiring from the printing business in 1748 (in a lucrative arrangement with his foreman), Franklin had the leisure time to study, experiment, and invent. His subsequent work and publications on electricity made him the most famous man in the North American colonies and a celebrity in Europe.
  • Franklin was always a civic organizer — initiating street paving, lamp lighting, firefighting, book-lending, and more — and was involved in elective politics from 1751 onward. So his involvement in the American Revolution was natural, but not inevitable. But for events he may have chosen to stay in England, which is where he was from 1764 to 1775.
  • Franklin returned to Philadelphia in 1775, was elected to the Second Continental Congress, made small corrections to The Declaration of Independence, signed it, and in December 1776 was sent to France as U.S. Commissioner to plead the American cause. He stayed there throughout the war, extracting much needed money and supplies from the French, despite little American success on the battlefield.
  • John Adams later complained, The history of our Revolution will be one continued lie from one end to the other. The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin’s electrical rod smote the earth and out sprang General Washington. That Franklin electrified him with his rod — and thenceforward these two conducted all the policies, negotiations, legislatures, and war. This is fancifully true. Without Washington’s leadership and Franklin’s diplomacy — together — it is impossible to imagine how the Revolutionary War would have been won.
AUTHOR OF
  • Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1732 - 58
  • Memoirs, 1771 - 90 (first published 1791 in a French translation; now called The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin)
PLACES TO VISIT
LINKS

Portrait to come. See entry in Wikipedia.

Franklin the Celebrity
Franklin the Civic Organizer
Franklin the Diplomat
Franklin the Printer
Franklin the Scientist
Franklin the Writer

[Thomas Jefferson] was undoubtedly complicated. He mingled the loftiest visions with astute backroom politicking. He spared himself nothing and was a compulsive shopper, yet he extolled the simple yeoman farmer who was free from the lures of the marketplace. He hated obsessive money-making, the proliferating banks, and the liberal capitalistic world that emerged in the Northern states in the early nineteenth century, but no one in American did more to bring that about. Although he kept the most tidy and meticulous accounts of his daily transactions, he never added up his profits and losses. He thought public debts were the curse of a healthy state, yet his private debts kept mounting as he borrowed and borrowed again to meet his rising expenditures. He was a sophisticated man of the world who loved no place better than his remote mountaintop home in Virginia. This slaveholding aristocrat ended up becoming the most important apostle for liberty and democracy in American history.

Gordon S. Wood
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (2009)