Benjamin Franklin (never President)
Source: Library of Congress
The "Good" Interesting Stuff:
The "Bad" Interesting Stuff
His Legacy: To this day, Franklin is considered to be one of the most extraordinary and accomplished Americans in our nations history. He not only was a part of an elite group that helped found a new nation, but he was a writer, inventor, businessman, musician, scientist, diplomat and an international celebrity. His numerous inventions included bifocals, the lightning rod, catheter, the library chair, and he evened coined electrical terms still used today like "positive & negative". He created the first catalog, was the first to discover that storms tended to move from west to east, and seemed to have an interest in anything and everything. His contributions are long; it's easy to see why people sometimes think he served as President of the U.S., given his loyalty to independence and his successes in almost every area imaginable.
- Born in Boston, Massachusetts, into a very large family; he had five older sisters, five older brothers and two younger sisters.
- His father, a candle maker, wanted Franklin to be a preacher, so he started sending him to school when he was 8 years old, though by the age of 10 he left school to work with his father to work at the candle shop.
- Given his obsession of reading, at the age of 15 Franklin's father allowed him to become an apprentice to his older brother James, who started the first independent newspaper in the colonies called "The New England Courant". He not only had the job of typesetting the newspaper, but also selling the papers to people in the streets.
- After his request to write for the newspaper was declined, Franklin adopted the name "Mrs. Silence Dogood", a middle-aged widow who would write 14 published letters to the paper that became the talk of the town; when he revealed this to his brother, it caused a great rift in their relationship.
- Franklin left his apprenticeship at the age of 17 without permission, which made him a fugitive. He went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he was able to get work immediately at several print shops around the city.
- After only a few months in Philadelphia, he was asked by the Governor of the colony to go to London, England to acquire the equipment necessary to start another newspaper. Franklin would make the trip to England, but found the Governor's promises were empty, so he stayed there a couple of years and worked at a London print shop.
- When he was 17, Franklin proposed to 15 year old Deborah Read while he was a boarder at her mother's Philadelphia home. Because he was on his way to London at the request of the Governor, and also because of Franklin's financial instability, her mother refused Franklin's marriage request.
- When Franklin returned to Philadelphia after his London trip, he rekindled his relationship with Deborah. Unfortunately, during his time in London she had married a man named John Rodgers. Rodgers, however, had issues with huge debts and to avoid prosecution he fled the country and left his wife Deborah behind. Because Rodgers fate was unknown, and because bigamy was not allowed, Deborah was not free to marry. So she and Franklin established a common-law marriage on September 1, 1730.
- Shortly after their marriage, Franklin learned of an illegitimate son, William, who had recently been born; he and Deborah would take him in & raise him (William's real mother to this day is not known).
- Franklin & Deborah would have a young boy named Francis, who died of smallpox at the age of four; their second child, Sarah (or who they often called "Sally") lived through adulthood, married, had seven children and would care for her father in his old age.
- His son William was provided great education and became a lawyer; like his father he would have an illegitimate son named Temple, but left him in foster care. William was a British Loyalist, and became the last Royal Governor of New Jersey in 1763. As Franklin's views of British rule over the colonies became clearly for American independence, it ended the relationship between father & son.
- Deborah greatly feared the sea, so she never accompanied Franklin on his long trips to Europe, though he repeatedly requested her presence.
- Franklin would learn of his grandson Temple on one of his missions to England. He got to know the boy and arranged for his education; he never told his wife about him. Deborah would die in 1774 at the age of 66 from a stroke while Franklin was still in England. He returned home a year after she died, along with his 16-year old grandson Temple, who he now had custody of.
- Franklin never re-married, but became known for his numerous mistresses in several countries, some which resulted in illegitimate children.
Professional Life/Service to Country:
- After working for a year in London, Franklin went back to Philadelphia and at the age of 21 created Junto, a group of "like-minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved the community."
- At 23, Franklin became the publisher of "The Pennsylvania Gazette," which focused on forums for local reforms, essays and observations. Eventually he also published books, always taking the opportunity to read them before selling them. His Gazette was not a perfect publication; it often lacked editing & he never sought to raise the standards of the paper. While it was something that was important to him, it was one of many things he had interest in and his attention was often spread thin.
- When he was 25, he was initiated into the local Masonic Lodge; he would become Grand Master three years later, and that same year would publish the first Masonic book in America, the "Constitutions of the Free-Masons."
- In 1732 he published the first German language newspaper in America, though it failed after only a year as four other print shops copied his idea and dominated the market.
- He published the famous "Poor Richard's Almanack" (with some original content and some borrowed) under the pseudonym Richard Saunders. It sold about 10,000 copies per year and is still known today.
- He officially retired from the printing business when he was 41; at this time he went into various business arrangements and became more involved in politics, serving in several government positions.
- Franklin found himself in Europe in the 1760's, and became the leading spokesperson for American interests in England.
- He returned to Philadelphia after his 2nd England mission in 1775, after conflicts between the colonies & Britain had started. He was appointed a delegate of Pennsylvania for the Second Continental Congress. He was appointed one of five people to draft the Declaration of Independence, but was disabled by gout during most of that time and didn't attend most meetings. But he is credited in making several small but important changes to the draft given to him by Thomas Jefferson, before it was passed to the Congress for review, discussion and approval.
- Was appointed the first United States Postmaster General on July 26, 1775, after the need for a U.S. post office was identified. He helped established the system that is still in place today.
- From 1776 to 1785, Franklin served as an Ambassador to France, eventually negotiating the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War. During that time he was an international celebrity, second only to George Washington in terms of fame as an "American."
His Later Years:
- He began writing "Autobiography" in 1771, but did not complete it before he died in 1790 as he took a few multi-year breaks from working on it.
- Was elected President of the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society in 1785, even though he would never take a public stance against defending the end of slavery and fighting to end it under the newly formed United States.
- His son William, who lived in England until his death, did try to reach out to Franklin after the war, but Franklin did not acknowledge him.
- He continued to serve his country as the laws and structure was being developed, but his role was more of counsel than an active, daily participant.
- Franklin had a lung illness for 16 days before he died at the age of 84 at his Philadelphia home
To Learn More (Adults):
If you cannot see images of books below, please disable your ad blocker for this website (the books are images from Amazon.com)
To Learn More (Children):
Related Places to Visit:
Christ Church Burial Ground
20 North American Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
The Christ Church in Philadelphia has one of the most fascinating burial grounds in the U.S., with over 1,400 grave sites located in the city's historical district, just steps away from Independence Hall. Many colonial and Revolutionary-era men & women are buried here, with Benjamin Franklin being the most notable, along with four other signers of the Declaration of Independence.
The Grounds are open March-November (weather-permitting); check website for hours.
Photography by Visions on Fourth Street
Independence National Historical Park
520 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Independence Hall is where the United States was formed; it was the meeting place of the Continental Congress members, the Declaration of Independence was first read here & then signed, & the U.S. Constitution was also drafted & signed here. Men representing each of the 13 colonies met in these rooms, often during the hot, miserable summer months, debating a separation from Britain & more importantly, what this new form of government would look like & how it would be able to stand the test of time.
In December 1790, the capital of the U.S. was moved from New York City to Philadelphia. This had been part of a negotiation early on as everyone had opinions on where the capital should be. New York City was too far north, and Philadelphia was given its time in the spotlight mainly because of the historical significance. Several of the buildings used to run the government are part of the Park. Ten years later in May 1800, the U.S. capital was moved to its final place of Washington City (now Washington, D.C.). The area chosen was considered to be centrally located between the northern and southern states, but the land chosen was nothing but swamp land so the city had to be built from scratch, mostly with slave labor.
In addition to Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and more than a dozen other buildings are on the property to visit. Benjamin Franklin's grave is also within walking distance.
Photography by Visions on Fourth Street