Franklin, Benjamin

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Franklin, Benjamin

Benjamin Franklin, 1706–90, American statesman, printer, scientist, and writer, b. Boston. The only American of the colonial period to earn a European reputation as a natural philosopher, he is best remembered in the United States as a patriot and diplomat.

Printer and Writer

The son of a tallow chandler and soapmaker, Franklin left school at 10 years of age to help his father. He then was apprenticed to his half-brother James, a printer and publisher of the New England Courant, to which young Ben secretly contributed. After much disagreement he left his brother's employment and went (1723) to Philadelphia to work as a printer. Industry and thrift—qualities he was to praise later—helped him to better himself.

After a sojourn in London (1724–26), he returned and in 1729 acquired an interest in the Pennsylvania Gazette. As owner and editor after 1730, he made the periodical popular. His common sense philosophy and his neatly turned phrases won public attention in the Gazette, in the later General Magazine, and especially in his Poor Richard's Almanack, which he published from 1732 to 1757. Many sayings of Poor Richard, praising prudence, common sense, and honesty, became standard American proverbs.

Franklin also interested himself in selling books, established a circulating library, organized a debating club that developed into the American Philosophical Society, helped to establish (1751) an academy that eventually became the Univ. of Pennsylvania, and brought about civic reforms. His writings are still widely known today, especially his autobiography (covering only his early years), which is generally considered one of the finest autobiographies in any language and has appeared in innumerable editions.

Scientist

Franklin had steadily extended his own knowledge by study of foreign languages, philosophy, and science. He repeated the experiments of other scientists and showed his usual practical bent by inventing such diverse things as the Franklin stove, bifocal eyeglasses, and a glass harmonica (which he called an armonica; see harmonica2). The phenomenon of electricity interested him deeply, and in 1748 he turned his printing business over to his foreman, intending to devote his life to science. His experiment of flying a kite in a thunderstorm, which showed that lightning is an electrical discharge (but which he may not have personally performed), and his invention of the lightning rod were among a series of investigations that won him recognition from the leading scientists in England and on the Continent.

Statesman

Diplomat from Pennsylvania

Franklin held local public offices and served long (1753–74) as deputy postmaster general of the colonies. As such he reorganized the postal system, making it both efficient and profitable. His status as a public figure grew steadily. A Pennsylvania delegate to the Albany Congress (1754), he proposed there a plan of union for the colonies, which was accepted by the delegates but later rejected by both the provincial assemblies and the British government. He worked for the British cause in the French and Indian War, especially by providing transportation for the ill-fated expedition led by Edward Braddock against Fort Duquesne. Franklin was a leader of the popular party in Pennsylvania against the Penn family, who were the proprietors, and in 1757 he was sent to England to present the case against the Penns. He won (1760) for the colony the right to tax the Penn estates but advised moderation in applying the right.

He returned to America for two years (1762–64) but was in England when the Stamp Act caused a furor. Again he showed prudent moderation; he protested the act but asked the colonists to obey the law, thus losing some popularity in the colonies until he stoutly defended American rights at the time of the debates on repeal of the act. He was made agent for Georgia (1768), New Jersey (1769), and Massachusetts (1770) and seriously considered making his home in England, where his scientific attainments, his brilliant mind, and his social gifts of wit and urbanity had gained him a high place.

Revolutionary Leader

As trouble between the British government and the colonies grew with the approach of the American Revolution, Franklin's deep love for his native land and his devotion to individual freedom brought (1775) him back to America. There, while his illegitimate son, William Franklin, was becoming a leader of the Loyalists, Benjamin Franklin became one of the greatest statesmen of the American Revolution and of the newborn nation. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress, was appointed postmaster general, and was sent to Canada with Samuel Chase and Charles Carroll of Carrollton to persuade the people of Canada to join the patriot cause. He was appointed (1776) to the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, which he signed.

Late in 1776 he sailed to France to join Arthur Lee and Silas Deane in their diplomatic efforts for the new republic. Franklin, with a high reputation in France well supported by his winning presence, did much to gain French recognition of the new republic in 1778. Franklin helped to direct U.S. naval operations and was a successful agent for the United States in Europe—the sole one after suspicions and quarrels caused Congress to annul the powers of the other American commissioners.

He was chosen (1781) as one of the American diplomats to negotiate peace with Great Britain and laid the groundwork for the treaty before John Jay and John Adams arrived. British naval victory in the West Indies made the final treaty less advantageous to the United States than Franklin's original draft. The Treaty of Paris was, in contradiction of the orders of Congress, concluded in 1783 without the concurrence of France, because Jay and Adams distrusted the French.

Constitutional Convention Delegate

Franklin returned in 1785 to the United States and was made president of the Pennsylvania executive council. The last great service rendered to his country by this "wisest American," as he is sometimes called, was his part in the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1787. Although his proposals for a single-chamber congress and a weak executive council were rejected, he helped to direct the compromise that brought the Constitution of the United States into being. Though not completely satisfied with the finished product, he worked earnestly for its ratification.

Bibliography

See the definitive edition of Franklin's papers, ed. by L. W. Labaree et al. (40 vol., 1959–). See biographies by J. Parton (1864, repr. 1971), S. G. Fisher (1899), P. L. Ford (1899, repr. 1972), B. Faÿ (1933, repr. 1969), C. Van Doren (1938, repr. 1973), P. W. Conner (1965), A. O. Aldridge (1965), T. J. Fleming (1971), H. W. Brands (2000), E. S. Morgan (2002), W. Isaacson (2003), and J. A. L. Lemay (2 vol., 2005–); C.-A. Lopez, Mon Cher Papa: Franklin and the Ladies of Paris (1966); C.-A. Lopez and E. W. Herbert, The Private Franklin (1975); I. B. Cohen, Benjamin Franklin's Science (1990); T. Tucker, Bolt of Fate (2003); G. S. Wood, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin (2004); S. Schiff, A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France and the Birth of America (2005); P. Dray, Stealing God's Thunder (2005); J. Weinberger, Benjamin Franklin Unmasked: On the Unity of His Moral, Religious, and Political Thought (2005).

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Franklin, Benjamin
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.