ad


Biography of Benjamin Franklin


Index

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, philosopher and statesman, was born at Boston, on the 17th of January, 1706. He was the youngest son and fifteenth child out of a family of seventeen children. His father, Josiah Franklin, emigrated from England to America in 1682; he followed the business of tallow-chandler and soap-boiler. Benjamin, when only ten years old, was enployed in his father's shop in cutting wicks, going errands etc.; but becoming soon disgusted with the monotonous routine of his duties, he conceived a strong desire to go to sea. To prevent this, his father bound him apprentice to his brother James, who was a printer. Young Franklin had now free access to books, for which he had evinced a fondness even from infancy. He himself says he could not remember the time when he could not read. To gratify his thirst for reading, he would often sit up the greater part of the night. He did not, however, neglect his duties as printer, and became in a few years well skilled in his trade. At length, when seventeen years of age, young Franklin left Boston without the knowledge of his relations, embarking in a vessel bound for New York, whence he proceeded, partly by water, and partly on foot, to Philadelphia. Here he obtained employment as a journeyman printer. In the following year, encouraged by the promise of assistance from a gentleman in Philadelphia, he resolved to set up business for himself. With this view, he went to England, in order to purchase type and other materials necessary for carrying on his trade. But failing to receive the aid which he had expected from his pretended friend, he was obliged to work as a journeyman in London, where he remained more than a year. He returned in 1726 to Philadelphia, and in 1729 with the assistance of some friends he established himself in business. The next year he married Miss Deborah Read, with whom had become acquainted in Philadelphia before he went to England.

In 1729, Franklin had become the proprietor and editor of a newspaper (The Pennsylvania Gazette), which his talent for writing soon rendered very popular and very profitable. In 1732, he commenced the publication of an almanac, purporting to be by Richard Saunders. He sought to make his almanac, like his paper, the vehicle of useful information for the people, especially inculcating the virtues of frugality, industry, etc. It was commonly called Poor Richard's Almanac, under which name it acquired a wide celebrity.

By his talents, prudence and integrity, Franklin continued to rise in the estimation of the community in which he lived, until he was deemed worthy of the highest honors which his country could bestow. He was made successively clerk of the Assembly of Pennsylvania 1736), Postmaster of Philadelphia (1737), and Deputy Postmaster-general for the British colonies (1753). A dispute having arisen between the Assembly and the proprietary governors, in consequence of the latter claiming exemption from taxation, Franklint was sent, in 1757, to England, to plead the cause of the people before the privy council. His representations and arguments prevailed, and it was decided that the estates of the proprietaries should bear their due proportion of the public burdens. On his return in 1762, he received the thanks of the Assembly for the able and faithful fulfillment of his mission.

Franklin had become distinguished in the scientific world by his successful experiments on the nature of electricity. In 1752, he had made the important and brilliant discovery of the identity of lightning with electricity. Soon after, the Royal society of London, even without waiting for any application to be made on his behalf - which had been the general usage - chose him a member of their body, and bestowed upon him the Copley gold medal. Alluding to Franklin's account of his electrical experiments, Sir Humphrey Davy observes: "A singular felicity of induction guided all his researches, and by very small means he established very great truths. The style and manner of his publication are almost as worthy of admiration as the doctrines it contains. He has written equally for the uninitiated and the philosopher."

In 1764, Franklin was again sent by the Assembly as agent to England. The policy of taxing the colonies had already been agitated, and he was instructed by the Assembly to use his efforts against such a measure. But the ministry had formed their plans, and the Stamp Act was passed early in 1765. It caused a great excitement, and met with the most determined opposition in America. At the beginning of 1776, a new ministry having come into power, the subject was again brought to the attention of parliament. Franklin was examined before the House of Commons, on which occasion his talents, his varied information, and his presence of mind, were shown to great advantage, and the repeal of the obnoxious Stamp Act was the result. But other laws deemed equally objectionable remained in force. In the dispute between the colonies and the mother country, Franklin had sought sincerely and earnestly to prevent a disruption; when, however, he became convinced that a separation was inevitable, he returned home, and took an active part in promoting the cause of independence. He arrived at Philadelphia on the 5th of May, 1775, after an absence of rather more than ten years, The day after his arrival, he was unanimously elected by the Assembly of Pennsylvania a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, then about to assemble. He was one of the committee of five chosen by Congress to prepare the celebrated "Declaration of Independence," which, having been unanimously agreed to on the 4th of July, 1776, he afterwards signed with the other leading patriots. Towards the close of the same year, he was sent as ambassador to the French court. To him is due the principal, if not the sole, credit of effectlng between France and the United States the Treaty of Alliance, the stipulations of which were so eminently favorable to the latter. This treaty, signed at Paris the 9th of February, 1778, may be said to have secured the independence of the American Colonies. Franklin remained in Europe some time after the establishment of peace. In 1785, he returned to Philadelphia, where he died on the 17th of April, 1790, aged 84 years.