"It's a REPUBLIC, ma'am - IF you can keep it."
— Ben Franklin (after signing the U.S. Constitution)
"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.
Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!"
— Benjamin Franklin
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety,
deserve neither liberty nor safety." — Benjamin Franklin
"War is when the government tells you who the bad guy is.
Revolution is when you decide that for yourself."
— Benjamin Franklin
"He that is of the opinion money will do everything
may well be suspected of doing everything for money."
— Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 [O.S. January 6, 1705] – April 17, 1790) was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.
As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. He invented the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, a carriage odometer, and the glass 'armonica'. He formed both the first public lending library in America and the first fire department in Pennsylvania.
Franklin earned the title of "The First American" for his early and indefatigable campaigning for colonial unity; as an author and spokesman in London for several colonies, then as the first United States Ambassador to France, he exemplified the emerging American nation. Franklin was foundational in defining the American ethos as a marriage of the practical and democratic values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions, and opposition to authoritarianism both political and religious, with the scientific and tolerant values of the Enlightenment.
In the words of historian Henry Steele Commager, "In a Franklin could be merged the virtues of Puritanism without its defects, the illumination of the Enlightenment without its heat." To Walter Isaacson, this makes Franklin "the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become."
Franklin, always proud of his working class roots, became a successful newspaper editor and printer in Philadelphia, the leading city in the colonies. He was also partners with William Goddard and Joseph Galloway the three of whom published the Pennsylvania Chronicle, a newspaper that was known for its revolutionary sentiments and criticisms of the British monarchy in the American colonies. He became wealthy publishing Poor Richard's Almanack and The Pennsylvania Gazette. Franklin gained international renown as a scientist for his famous experiments in electricity and for his many inventions, especially the lightning rod. He played a major role in establishing the University of Pennsylvania and was elected the first president of the American Philosophical Society.
Franklin became a national hero in America when he spearheaded the effort to have Parliament repeal the unpopular Stamp Act. An accomplished diplomat, he was widely admired among the French as American minister to Paris and was a major figure in the development of positive Franco-American relations. For many years he was the British postmaster for the colonies, which enabled him to set up the first national communications network. He was active in community affairs, colonial and state politics, as well as national and international affairs. From 1785 to 1788, he served as governor of Pennsylvania. Toward the end of his life, he freed his slaves and became one of the most prominent abolitionists.
His colorful life and legacy of scientific and political achievement, and status as one of America's most influential Founding Fathers, have seen Franklin honored on coinage and money; warships; the names of many towns, counties, educational institutions, namesakes, and companies; and more than two centuries after his death, countless cultural references.
Benjamin Franklin's Ancestry
Franklin's father, Josiah Franklin was a tallow chandler, a soap-maker and a candle-maker. Josiah was born at Ecton, Northamptonshire, England, on December 23, 1657, the son of Thomas Franklin, a blacksmith-farmer, and Jane White. His mother, Abiah Folger, was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, on August 15, 1667, to Peter Folger, a miller and schoolteacher and his wife Mary Morrill, a former indentured servant.
Josiah Franklin had 17 children with his two wives. He married his first wife, Anne Child, in about 1677 in Ecton and emigrated with her to Boston in 1683; they had three children before emigrating, and four after. After her death, Josiah was married to Abiah Folger on July 9, 1689, in the Old South Meeting House by Samuel Willard. Benjamin, their eighth child, was Josiah Franklin's 15th child and tenth and last son.
Ben Franklin's mother, Abiah Folger, was born into a Puritan family among those that fled to Massachusetts to establish a purified Congregationalist Christianity in New England, when King Charles I of England began persecuting Puritans. They sailed for Boston in 1635. Her father was "the sort of rebel destined to transform colonial America"; as clerk of the court, he was jailed for disobeying the local magistrate in defense of middle-class shopkeepers and artisans in conflict with wealthy landowners. Ben Franklin followed in his grandfather's footsteps in his battles against the wealthy Penn family that owned the Pennsylvania Colony.
Benjamin Franklin's Economics
Benjamin Franklin, in his capacity as a farmer, wrote at least one critique about the negative consequences of price controls, trade restrictions and subsidy of the poor. This is succinctly preserved in his letter to the London Chronicle published November 29, 1766 titled 'On the Price of Corn, and Management of the poor'. Economics was only generally recognized as a science with the publishing of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations which was published 9 years later.
Benjamin Franklin Wrote & Signed
The Declaration of Independence
By the time Franklin arrived in Philadelphia on May 5, 1775, the American Revolution had begun with fighting at Lexington and Concord. The New England militia had trapped the main British army in Boston. The Pennsylvania Assembly unanimously chose Franklin as their delegate to the Second Continental Congress. In June 1776, he was appointed a member of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Although he was temporarily disabled by gout and unable to attend most meetings of the Committee, Franklin made several small changes to the draft sent to him by Thomas Jefferson.
At the signing, he is quoted as having replied to a comment by Hancock that they must all hang together: "Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."
Benjamin Franklin was 1st Postmaster of
the "United States Post Office" USPS
On July 26, 1775, the Second Continental Congress established the United States Post Office and named Benjamin Franklin as the first United States Postmaster General. Franklin had been a postmaster for decades and was a natural choice for the position. Franklin had just returned from England and was appointed chairman of a Committee of Investigation to establish a postal system.
The report of the Committee, providing for the appointment of a postmaster general for the 13 American colonies, was considered by the Continental Congress on July 25 and 26. On July 26, 1775, Franklin was appointed Postmaster General, the first appointed under the Continental Congress. It established a postal system that became the United States Post Office, a system that is still in use today.
Benjamin Franklin's Death & Legacy
Franklin died on April 17, 1790, at age 84. Approximately 20,000 people attended his funeral. He was interred in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia. In 1728, aged 22, Franklin wrote what he hoped would be his own epitaph:
The Body of B. Franklin Printer; Like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be wholly lost: For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more, In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and Amended By the Author.
Franklin's actual grave, however, as he specified in his final will, simply reads "Benjamin and Deborah Franklin."
In 1773, when Franklin's work had moved from printing to science and politics, he corresponded with a French scientist, Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg, on the subject of preserving the dead for later revival by more advanced scientific methods, writing:
I should prefer to an ordinary death, being immersed with a few friends in a cask of Madeira, until that time, then to be recalled to life by the solar warmth of my dear country! But in all probability, we live in a century too little advanced, and too near the infancy of science, to see such an art brought in our time to its perfection.
His death is described in the book The Life of Benjamin Franklin, quoting from the account of Dr. John Jones:
...when the pain and difficulty of breathing entirely left him, and his family were flattering themselves with the hopes of his recovery, when an imposthume, which had formed itself in his lungs, suddenly burst, and discharged a quantity of matter, which he continued to throw up while he had power; but, as that failed, the organs of respiration became gradually oppressed; a calm, lethargic state succeeded; and on the 17th instant (April 1790), about eleven o'clock at night, he quietly expired, closing a long and useful life of eighty-four years and three months.
A signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Franklin is considered one of the Founding Fathers of the U.S. His pervasive influence in the early history of the United States has led to his being jocularly called "the only President of the United States who was never President of the United States." Franklin's likeness is ubiquitous.
Since 1928, it has adorned American $100 bills, which are sometimes referred to in slang as "Benjamins" or "Franklins." From 1948 to 1963, Franklin's portrait was on the half dollar. He has appeared on a $50 bill and on several varieties of the $100 bill from 1914 and 1918. Franklin appears on the $1,000 Series EE Savings bond. The city of Philadelphia contains around 5,000 likenesses of Benjamin Franklin, about half of which are located on the University of Pennsylvania campus. Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway (a major thoroughfare) and Benjamin Franklin Bridge (the first major bridge to connect Philadelphia with New Jersey) are named in his honor.
In 1976, as part of a bicentennial celebration, Congress dedicated a 20-foot (6 m) marble statue in Philadelphia's Franklin Institute as the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial. Many of Franklin's personal possessions are also on display at the Institute, one of the few national memorials located on private property.
In London, his house at 36 Craven Street was first marked with a blue plaque and has since been opened to the public as the Benjamin Franklin House. In 1998, workmen restoring the building dug up the remains of six children and four adults hidden below the home. The Times reported on February 11, 1998:
Initial estimates are that the bones are about 200 years old and were buried at the time Franklin was living in the house, which was his home from 1757 to 1762 and from 1764 to 1775. Most of the bones show signs of having been dissected, sawn or cut. One skull has been drilled with several holes. Paul Knapman, the Westminster Coroner, said yesterday: "I cannot totally discount the possibility of a crime. There is still a possibility that I may have to hold an inquest."
The Friends of Benjamin Franklin House (the organization responsible for the restoration) note that the bones were likely placed there by William Hewson, who lived in the house for two years and who had built a small anatomy school at the back of the house. They note that while Franklin likely knew what Hewson was doing, he probably did not participate in any dissections because he was much more of a physicist than a medical man.