Biography of Benjamin Franklin
Portait of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston on January 17, 1706, the fifteenth of 17 children. His father Josiah was an intelligent man, able to adapt to new circumstances and situations with relative ease. Franklin inherited this virtue, shown by his ability to thrive and succeed after arriving penniless in both Philadelphia and London on two separate occasions, after losing or quitting his employment several times throughout his early career. In each circumstance, Franklin was able to procure some form of employment, and eventually prosper.

The most well known instance occurred in 1723, when Franklin left his brother’s apprenticeship at the age of 17 and traveled to Philadelphia with his friend, John Collins. He arrived with three cents to his name, which he promptly spent on three loaves of bread, then gained a job the next day with Samuel Keimer, a man who’s newspaper he later owned.

While working at Keimer’s shop, Franklin made the acquaintance of Governor Keith of Pennsylvania, a close friend of his brother-in-law Robert Holmes. Keith had heard through Holmes of Franklin’s aspirations, and proposed to the 18-year-old the starting of a printing business. Franklin jumped at the opportunity, and Keith sent him to London to form connections that would be essential in starting his business.
Unfortunately for Franklin, Keith sent along no support; no money and no letters of recommendation to assist Franklin in England. Once again, Franklin found himself penniless, and once again, he turned to a printing shop for sustenance, working under the ownership of Samuel Palmer. While there, he continued to publish his works, as he had done under the penname of Silence Dogood while apprenticed to his brother. This time, however, Franklin used his wit to comment on works published by other authors, rather than offering a scathing commentary on the leaders of the Puritan community in Boston.

Although Franklin was enjoying his life in London, an argument with his traveling companion, James Ralph, resulted in a transferal from Palmer’s print shop to that of a more illustrious British printer named Watt, then eventually back to America in July of 1726 to work as a clerk for his good friend Thomas Denham. The knowledge that Franklin gained under Denham’s employ was almost as valuable to him as their friendship; for the few months that Franklin worked under Denham, Thomas became almost like a father too him. Just after turning 21, however, Franklin became dangerously ill, as did Denham. While Franklin recovered, Denham died, and in his will forgave the unpaid sums Franklin owed to him, allowing him to return penniless rather than in debt to his former employer, Samuel Keimer, to beg for a job. Keimer knew of Franklin’s work ethic and thus gave him the job, but despised his employee, and frequently argued with him, mostly over the subject of Franklin’s salary. The feeling was reciprocated by Ben, and so Franklin set out on his own once more, only to run into a rich heir by the name of Hugh Meredith who proposed to Franklin the idea of starting a printing shop. Franklin agreed, of course, and together they created a prosperous printing shop, trouncing the predictions of the city that three surviving printing shops was not possible in Philadelphia. In concordance with the founding of the printing shop, Benjamin Franklin also created the Junto, a group of men who gathered on Friday nights to discuss important topics such as religion, politics, and the improvement of their society. Among these improvements were Franklin’s idea of heightened public safety. To achieve that goal, such ideas as an established tax to provide for better watchmen, the creation of a firefighting crew with equipment, the building of an orphanage, a lottery to purchase cannons, and the chartering of a university – the University of Pennsylvania – were put into place. Franklin himself also continued to improve and succeed. After using the profit from his printing business to buy the newspaper of his detested old employer, Samuel Keimer, and turning it into The Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729, Franklin continued with his daily writings, being the first man in and the last to leave. The result of this dedication was Poor Richard’s Almanac, a book predicting weather forecasts and providing witty sayings that Franklin used as a means to educate the general populace. Not all his writings were for the public, however; for himself he created the Thirteen Virtues of Franklin, and went over them daily to remind himself to employ them in his life.

The next ten years of Benjamin Franklin’s life was relatively simple; Franklin made peace with his brother, mourned the loss of his young son Francis, accepted the position of post-master, and continually looked for ways in which he could improve society. This culminated in his invention of the Franklin stove in 1742; a new iron stove which improved heating and decreased the threat of fire in the homes of the British colonists. Perhaps the most famous of his experiments took place in 1952, with Franklin’s electrical tests and his notorious experiment with a kite and a key in a thunderstorm. His tests with electricity ranged everywhere from attempting to kill his Christmas turkey with an electrical charge to placing metal rods in the ground and observing the result when lightning struck them during a storm. The latter line of experimentation led to the invention of the lightning rod, which made a house virtually safe from lightning by absorbing its heat and channeling the energy into the ground. His efforts earned Franklin honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, and William & Mary universities, as well as a gold medal from the Royal Society in London. His increased notoriety did not result in retirement, however; instead, Franklin continued with his inventions and produced a catheter similar to the English version to treat his sick brother with. The French and Indian war put a temporary standstill on his inventing as Franklin was called to supervise the defense of the northwestern frontier. Franklin was called away from this, however, to journey to London over a matter of dispute with William Penn’s descendants.
While the Penn’s refused to compromise with the people of Pennsylvania, Franklin did not allow his trip to be ruined. Instead, he employed his time cultivating a friendship between his landlord Margaret Stevenson and her daughter, planning an engagement between his son William and Margaret’s daughter Mary (which eventually failed ☹ ), and learning how to play a variety of instruments.
When negotiations with the Penn’s failed as miserably as William and Mary’s wedding plans did, Franklin returned to the colonies to accept the appointment given to him by the people during his journey to England: that of a member of the Pennsylvanian legislature. Franklin’s dealings with the Indians and an outraged mob determined to exterminate them led to his nomination as Speaker of the House of the Pennsylvanian legislature. As a result of this, Franklin was presiding when a petition was formed asking King George III to take control of the Pennsylvanian colony, as the Penn’s were not performing sufficiently. The Penn’s blamed Franklin for the insult, and actively campaigned against him to prevent his re-election. When Franklin was removed from court, he retaliated against the Penn’s by traveling to England yet again to personally deliver the petition to King George, who again refused to interfere.

Upheavals back in the colonies forced Franklin to assume a different role after the king turned down his petition; that of representative for the colonies. While Franklin worked hard to over turn the Stamp Act – the cause of unrest – the Parliament tried to justify it as a means to pay for the British protection of the colonies. The Stamp Act was eventually overturned, however, partly in due to Franklin’s hard work. Naturally, the colonies lauded him as a hero, but Franklin’s success did not last long. Finding that Franklin was the source of the circulation of troubling letters written by Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson – letters which provoked great outrage and the removal of Hutchinson by the colonists – Parliament put Benjamin Franklin on trial and found him guilty for causing unrest, although the official conviction condemned him for trying to snatch up the governship of Massachusetts for himself. As a result of his conviction, Franklin lost his employment as the deputy post-master general. Combined with the news that his wife, Deborah – whom Franklin had not seen for 10 years – had recently died of a stroke, Franklin left England a bitter man, promising revenge upon the country he could no longer claim as his own.

The next part of Ben Franklin’s story is well known. Along with other brilliant radicals, Franklin coaxed the people of the colonies into rebelling against England, and forming united states for people to live freely within. Starting a war, however, is easier than continuing one, and Franklin found himself once again sailing over to Europe in 1776 to raise support for the colonies among nations such as France and Spain. While the people in France hailed Franklin as a hero, and were charmed by his rustic appearance – fur hat and all – the monarchs were unwilling to support a cause that seemed lost. Undaunted, Franklin spent his time migrating within the social circles of Paris; attending parties and social gatherings, pleading his new country’s cause amongst his upper society friends, and occasionally inventing objects such as the bifocals when he had nothing else better to do. After the Americans won the battle of Saratoga the French were finally convinced, along with their Spanish neighbors. With the added help, the rebels were able to overcome the British troops, and eventually win their freedom from England.

The American victory would have been short-lived without the creation of a proper government and set of guidelines for the country to be brought up on. Benjamin Franklin played an important rule in politically shaping the United States, as mediator of the two warring sides of the Continental Congress and brilliant mind contributing ideas. As important as this role was, however, Franklin receives just as much credit for all his other duties as he does for the birth of our country. Benjamin Franklin was the ideal well-rounded man, and thanks to his development of the scientific and historical side of life, many inventions and generally useful ideals and sayings can be found spread throughout America today.

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