Sunday, September 22, 2013

Benjamin Franklin Biography

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
portrait by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis, circa 1785

v     Benjamin Franklin was a newspaper printer by occupation, but he was also an author, scientist, political theorist, and diplomat, and is considered one of the founding fathers of America.

Benjamin Franklin National Memorial,
in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

v     From 1776-1785 Ben served as an American ambassador in France, convincing them to help us win the Revolutionary War. With his persuasion France gave crucial money and military assistance.

v     When the Revolutionary War started in 1775, Ben was one of five people who drafted the Declaration of Independence. He was the only one to sign all four documents of the revolution: The Declaration of Independence, The Treaty of Alliance with France, The Treaty of Paris, The US Constitution.

v     He was also elected governor of Pennsylvania, serving three one-year terms.

Franklin's return to Philadelphia in 1785, by Jean Leon Ferris.

v     Ben started many important institutions in America, including one of the first volunteer firefighting companies, one of the oldest libraries, The University of Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Hospital – the first in America.

v     In 1733 Benjamin published his first Poor Richard's Almanack which was very popular and made him wealthy. An almanac is a calendar, mixed with seasonal weather forecasts, astronomical and astrological facts, practical household advice, puzzles, and other amusements. Ben’s almanacs also contained many witty sayings, like “a penny saved is twopence dear, Fish and visitors stink in three days,” and, “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

v     Ben was a strong supporter of free speech: “In those wretched countries where a man cannot call his tongue his own, he can scarce call anything his own.” He also said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

v     During his life, Ben had owned as many as eleven slaves, as they were common in Philadelphia. But his opinion changed during his many travels in Europe. Returning home, Ben became an abolitionist, freeing his two remaining slaves, and starting the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.  He also argued for the rights of peaceful Indians living in Pennsylvania.

v     He invented the lightning rod and bifocals, among other things.

bust by Jean-Antoine Houdon, 1778
Personal Life:

He was born in Boston. His father, a chandler, wanted him to be a minister, but didn’t have enough money for Ben to finish school. At ten he dropped out and started working with his brother James as an apprentice printer. Although poor, his family was friend to the famous minister Cotton Mather, who was very influential in Benjamin’s life, especially the idea of volunteering and starting charitable societies.

James founded the first independent newspaper in the colonies, the New-England Courant, and Ben wanted to write for it. James thought Ben was too young, so Ben wrote under the pen name ‘Mrs. Silence Dogood’, a middle-aged widow, fooling everyone and gaining popularity. Two years later, when James realized he’d been tricked, Ben ran away to Philadelphia, the largest city in the colonies, to find work. He was seventeen and worked in a number of printing companies.

In that year Ben also met the love of his life, Deborah Read, the 15 year-old daughter of the landlady where he was staying. The mother disapproved of her daughter marrying so young, and meanwhile, Ben was encouraged to go work in London, which ended up being a mistake. While he was away Deborah married some jerk who took her dowry and left her, fleeing to Barbados because of his debts. She was left penniless and couldn’t remarry. But Ben didn’t care. He came back and they had a common-law marriage.

In 1729 he became publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Around 1747 he retired from printing and went into politics and science. In 1771 Ben toured Britain and Ireland and was appalled by the poverty he found there. He feared that colonial America would share the same fate. Ben became popular as a spokesman for the colonies in London when he got the oppressive Stamp Act repealed.

He died of a lung infection. Over 20,000 people attended his funeral. He wrote 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.”

Other Famous Quotes:

v     “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
v     “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”
v     “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
v     “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”
v     “Whatever is begun in anger, ends in shame.”
v     “There was never a bad peace or a good war.”
v     “Many people die at twenty five and aren't buried until they are seventy five.”
v     “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is Freedom, in water there is bacteria.”
v     “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
v     “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.”

Franklin on the 100 dollar bill

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