Thomas Jefferson Knowledge Institute

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin FranklinBenjamin Franklin (1706-90) was a printer, author, inventor, scientist, philanthropist, statesman, diplomat, and public official. He organized the first lending library in the country and the first volunteer fire department. His scientific pursuits included: electricity (his experiments with lightning fortunately did not cost him his life), mathematics and mapmaking. He invented the Franklin Stove, a significant increase in effiency compared to the fireplace. A former slave owner, he became the first president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery (1785); a member of the Continental Congress (1775-76) where he signed the Declaration of Independence(1776); a negotiator and signer of the final treaty of peace with Great Britain (1783); and a delegate to the Constitutional Convention where he signed the federal Constitution (1787). Franklin was one of only six men who signed both the Declaration and the Constitution. But before then he was inspired by -- Native Americans!

1744, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Indians and Colonists were hammering out a treaty to settle issues regarding land ownership. The treaty was later published by printer Benjamin Franklin, who had attended the negotiations. While there, Franklin became intrigued by the fact that six Indian nations, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga, Mohawk, and Tuscarora, had formed one ruling government. He questioned the Six Nations' leaders. What he discovered was the oldest participatory republic on the earth, one in which the government derived its just powers from the consent of the governed. "Our Colonies should do that," thought Franklin. Inspired, ten years later Franklin created the "Albany Plan," a proposal to unite the colonies. King George II rejected the plan, and Colonists weren't terribly interested, either, The governors of the Colonies saw union as a possible threat, and under King George II the Colonies were fairly content and prosperous.

That would change when George III took the throne. It took tyranny to actually impel the Colonies to unite. And Benjamin Franklin was involved from the first proposal of a union in 1754 to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

"Few men have exhibited a more worthy conduct than Dr. Franklin, through his long life. Through every vicissitude of fortune, he seems to have been distinguished for his sobriety and temperance, for his extraordinary perseverance and resolution. He was not less distinguished for his veracity, for the constancy of his friendship, for his candour, and his fidelity to his moral and civil obligations. In the early part of his life, he acknowledged himself to have been sceptical in religion, but he became in maturer years, according to the testimony of his intimate friend, Dr. William Smith, a believer in divine revelation. The following extract from his memoirs, written by himself, deserves to be recorded: 'And here let me with all humility acknowledge, that to Divine Providence I am indebted for the felicity I have hitherto enjoyed. It in that power alone which has furnished me with the means I have employed, and that has crowned them with success. My faith in this respect leads me to hope, though I cannot count upon it, that the divine goodness will still be exercised towards me, either by prolonging the duration of my happiness to the close of life, or by giving me fortitude to support any melancholy reverse which may happen to me as well as to many others. My future fortune is unknown but to Him, in whose hand is our destiny, and who can make our very afflictions subservient to our benefit.' We conclude our notice of this distinguished man and profound philosopher, by subjoining the following epitaph, which was written by himself, many years previously to his death:

The body of
BENJAMIN 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;
Yet the work itself shall not be lost,
For it will (As he believed) appear once more
in a new
and more beautiful edition,
Corrected and amended
by the Author."

--Lives of the Signers to The Declaration of Independence by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, 1837

In the Pennsylvania Gazette, Benjamin Franklin objected to Britain's practice of exporting convicted felons to the States...

He responded to an argument from Thomas Paine advising Paine "...not to attempt unchaining the tiger..."

The papers of Benjamin Frankiln at Yale University Library