Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston. His father, Josiah Franklin, who was a tallow chandler, had seventeen children; Benjamin was the fifteenth child and the tenth son. His mother, Abiah Folger, was his fathers second wife. After he went to grammar school from age eight to ten, Benjamin started working at his fathers business. He didnt like the work very much, however, and so he began to work for a cutler. When he was just thirteen, he became an apprentice to his brother James, who had just returned from England with a new printing press.
Benjamin learned the printing trade, but in his spare time he tried to improve his education. In 1721 his brother James Franklin started the New England Courant, and Benjamin, who was fifteen at the time, kept busy in delivering the newspaper during the day and writing articles for it at night. These articles, published anonymously, were widely noticed and even acclaimed for their observations of the current events. Because of its liberal bias, the New England Courant frequently displeased the local colonial authorities.
In 1722, because of one of these articles that was considered particularly offensive to the authorities, James Franklin was imprisoned for a month and forbidden to publish his paper, and for a while it appeared under Benjamins name. As a result of disagreements with James, Benjamin left Boston and made his way to Philadelphia, arriving in October 1723. Once in Philadelphia he kept working at his trade and made many friends, among whom was Sir William Keith, the provincial governor of Pennsylvania.
He talked Franklin into going to London to complete his training as printer and to buy the equipment that he needed to start his own printing business in Philadelphia. Franklin took his advice, and arrived in London on December 1724. Unfortunately he didnt get certain promised letters of introduction and credit from Keith, and so he found himself without work or money in a strange city. He managed, however, to get work at two of the best printing houses in London, Palmers and Watts. His work soon won him recognition from a number of distinguished figures in the literary and publishing world.
In October 1726, Franklin returned to Philadelphia and resumed his trade there. The next year, he, and a number of friends, organized a group know as the Junto, which later became the American Philosophical Society. In September 1729, he bought the Pennsylvania Gazette, a dull, poorly edited weekly newspaper, which he made one of the most popular papers around. It was known for its witty style and practical selection of news. In 1730 he married Deborah Read, a Philadelphia woman whom he had known before his trip to England. Franklin was involved in many well-known public projects.
In 1731 he founded what was probably the first public library in America, chartered in 1742 as the Philadelphia Library. He first published Poor Richards Almanack in 1732, under the pen name Richard Saunders. This volume quickly gained a reputation for its practical wisdom. In 1736 Franklin became clerk of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the next year he became the deputy postmaster of Philadelphia. About this time, he organized the first fire company in that city and introduced methods and ideas for the improvement of street paving and lighting.
Always interested in scientific studies, he devised a means to correct undue smoking of chimneys and invented, around 1744, the Franklin stove, which furnished greater heat with a reduced consumption of fuel. In 1747 Franklin began his electrical experiments with a simple object that he had received from Peter Collinson in England. He advanced a tenable theory of the Leyden jar, supported the hypothesis that lightning is an electrical phenomenon, and proposed an effective method of demonstrating this fact.
His plan was published in London and carried out in England and France before he performed his celebrated experiment with the kite in 1752. He invented the lightning rod and offered what is called the one-fluid theory in explanation of the two kinds of electricity, positive and negative. In recognition of his impressive scientific accomplishments, Franklin received honorary degrees form the University of St. Andrews and the University of Oxford. He also became a member of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge and, in 1753, was awarded its Copley Medal for distinguished contributions to experimental science.
Franklin also exerted a great influence on education in Pennsylvania. In 1749 he wrote Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania; its publication led to the establishment in 1751 of the Philadelphia Academy, later to become the University of Pennsylvania. The curriculum he suggested was a considerable departure from the program of classical studies then in style. English and modern foreign languages were to be emphasized as well and mathematics and science. In 1748 Franklin sold his printing business and, in 1751, he was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly, in which he served until 1764.
He was appointed deputy postmaster general for the colonies in 1753, and in 1754 he was the delegate from Pennsylvania to the intercolonial congress that met at Albany to consider methods of dealing with the threatening French and Indian War (1754-1763). His Albany Plan, which was in many ways a foreshadowing of the 1787 U. S. Constitution, provided for local independence within a framework of colonial union, but it was too far advanced of public thinking for it to obtain ratification.
It was his belief that the adoption of his plan would have averted the American Revolution. When the French and Indian War broke out, Franklin bought horses, wagons, and supplies for the British commander General Edward Braddock by pledging his own credit to the Pennsylvania farmers, who then furnished him with the necessary equipment. The proprietors of Pennsylvania Colony, descendants of the Quaker leader William Penn, in conformity with their religious opposition to war, refused to allow their landholdings to be taxed for the prosecution of the war.
So, in 1757, Franklin was sent to England as a representative of the Pennsylvania Assembly to petition the king for the right to levy taxes on proprietary lands. After completing his mission, he remained in England for five years as the chief representative of the American colonies. Franklin returned to Philadelphia in 1762, where he remained until 1764, when he was once again dispatched to England as the agent of Pennsylvania. In 1766 he was interrogated before the House of Commons regarding the effects of the Stamp Act upon the colonies; his testimony was largely influential in securing the repeal of the act.
Soon, however, new plans for taxing the colonies were introduced in Parliament, and Franklin became divided between his devotion to his native land and his loyalty as a subject of George III of Great Britain. Ultimately in 1775, he felt that his powers of conciliation were exhausted, and so he finally acknowledged the inevitability of war. Sailing for America after an absence of eleven years, he reached Philadelphia on May 5, 1775, to find that the beginning stages of the Revolution-the battles of Lexington and Concord-had already been fought.
He was chosen a member of the Second Continental Congress, serving on ten of its committees, and was made postmaster general, an office he held for one year; he was the only one ever to operate the U. S. Postal Service at a profit. In 1775 Franklin traveled to Canada, in a vain effort to enlist the cooperation and support of Canada in the Revolution. When he returned, he became one of the committee of five chosen to draft the Declaration of Independence.
He was also one of the signers of that historic document, addressing the assembly with the statement: We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately. In September of the same year, he was chosen, with two other Americans, Arthur Lee and Silas Deane, to seek economic assistance in France. His scientific reputation, his integrity of character, and his wit and gracious manner made him extremely popular in French political, literary, and social circles, and his wisdom and ingenuity secured for the U. S. id and concessions that perhaps no other man could have obtained. Against the opposition of the French minister of finance, Jacques Necker, and despite the jealousy of his coldly formal American colleagues, he managed to obtain liberal grants and loans from Louis XVI of France. In 1781 Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay were appointed to conclude a treaty of peace with Great Britain. The final treaty was signed Versailles on September 3, 1783. During the rest of his stay in France, Franklin received many honorary distinctions for his notable and diversified accomplishments.
As a dignitary of one of the most distinguished Freemasons lodges in France, Franklin had the opportunity of meeting and speaking with a number of philosophers and leading figures of the French Revolution (1789-1799), upon whose political thinking he exerted a profound influence. Although in favor of a liberalization of the French government, he opposed change through violent revolution. In March 1785, Franklin, at his own request, left his duties in France and returned to Philadelphia, where he was immediately chosen president of the Pennsylvania executive council (1785-1787).
In 1787 he was elected a delegate to the convention that drew up the U. S. Constitution. Franklin was deeply interested in philanthropic projects, and one of his last public acts was to sign a petition to the U. S. Congress, on February 12, 1790, as president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, urging the abolition of slavery and the suppression of the slave trade. Two months later on April 17, Franklin died in his Philadelphia home at eight-four years of age.