Scenes from the Life of Benjamin Franklin

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Benjamin Franklin was a leader of America's Revolutionary generation. His character and thought were shaped by a blending of Puritan heritage, Enlightenment philosophy, and the New World environment. Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston into a pious Puritan household. His forebears had come to New England in to avoid the zealous Anglicanism of England's Restoration era.

Franklin's father was a candle-maker and skillful mechanic, but, his son said, his "great Excellence lay in a sound Understanding, and solid Judgment. In honoring his parents and in his affection for New England ways, Franklin demonstrated the permanence of his Puritan heritage.

Scenes from the life of Benjamin Franklin 1916 [FULL LEATHER BOUND]

Rejecting the Calvinist theology of his father, Franklin opened himself to the more secular world view of Sir Isaac Newton and John Locke. He read the deist philosophers, virtually memorized the English paper Spectator, and otherwise gave allegiance to the Enlightenment. Like his favorite author, Joseph Addison, Franklin sought to add the good sense and tolerance of the new philosophy to his Puritan earnestness. Thus, by the time he left home at the age of 17, his character and attitude toward life had already achieved a basic orientation.

The circumstances of his flight from home also reveal essential qualities.

Denied a formal education by his family's poverty, Franklin became an apprentice to his brother James, printer of a Boston newspaper. While learning the technical part of the business, Franklin read every word that came into the shop and was soon writing clever pieces signed "Silence Dogood," satirizing the Boston establishment. When the authorities imprisoned James for his criticisms, Benjamin continued the paper himself.

Having thus learned to resist oppression, he refused to suffer his brother's petty tyrannies and in ran away to Philadelphia. Penniless and without friends in the new city, Franklin soon demonstrated his enterprise and skill as a printer and gained employment. In he went to England, where he quickly became a master printer, sowed wild oats, and lived among the aspiring writers of London.

Successful Businessman

He returned to Philadelphia and soon had his own press, publishing a newspaper Pennsylvania Gazette , Poor Richard's Almanack, and a good share of the public printing of the province. He became clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly and postmaster of Philadelphia, at the same time operating a bookshop and entering partnerships with printers from Nova Scotia to the West Indies.

He was so successful that at the age of 42 he retired. He received a comfortable income from his business for 20 more years. Franklin philosophized about his success and applied his understanding to civic enterprises. The philosophy appears in the adages of "Poor Richard" and in the scheme for moral virtue Franklin explained later in his famous Autobiography. He extolled hard work, thriftiness, and honesty as the poor man's means for escaping the prison of want and explained how any man could develop an exemplary character with practice and perseverance.

Though sayings like "Sloth maketh all things difficult, but Industry all easy" do not amount to a profound philosophy of life as Franklin knew perfectly well , they do suggest useful first steps for self-improvement. The huge circulation of both the sayings of "Poor Richard" under the title "The Way to Wealth" and the Autobiography, plus their distorted use by miserly and small-minded apostles of thrift, led later to scathing assaults on Franklin by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and D.

Lawrence—but they in fact criticize a caricature, not the whole Franklin. Franklin became involved in civic improvement in by organizing the Junto, a club of aspiring tradesmen like himself, that met each week. In the unformed society of Philadelphia it seemed obvious to these men that their success in business and improvement of the city's life required the same thing: plans and institutions to deal with needs cooperatively.

Thus, Franklin led the Junto in sponsoring civic improvements: a library, a fire company, a learned society, a college, an insurance company, and a hospital. He also made effective proposals for a militia; for paving, cleaning, and lighting the streets; and for a night watch. His simple but influential social belief that men of goodwill, organizing and acting together, could deal effectively with civic concerns remained with him throughout his life. Franklin next turned to science. He had already invented the Pennsylvania fireplace soon called the Franklin stove.

His attention fastened primarily on electricity. He read the new treatises on the subject and acquired ingenious equipment. In his famous kite experiment, proving that lightning is a form of electricity, he linked laboratory experiments with static electricity to the great universal force and made a previously mysterious and terrifying natural phenomenon understandable.

Franklin's letters concerning his discoveries and theories about electricity to the Royal Society in London brought him fame. The invention of the lightning rod, which soon appeared on buildings all over the world, added to his stature.

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His scientific ingenuity, earning him election to the Royal Society in , also found outlet in the theory of heat, charting the Gulf Stream, ship design, meteorology, and the invention of bifocal lenses and a harmonica. He insisted that the scientific approach, by making clear what was unknown as well as what was known, would "help to make a vain man humble" and, by directing the experiments and insights of others to areas of ignorance and mystery, would greatly expand human knowledge. Franklin the scientist, then, seemed to epitomize the 18th-century faith in the capacity of men to understand themselves and the world in which they lived.

Competing with science for Franklin's attention was his growing involvement in politics. His election in to the Pennsylvania Assembly began nearly 40 years as a public official. He used his influence at first mainly to further the cause of his various civic enterprises.

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But he also became a leader in the long-dominant Quaker party, opposing the Proprietary party, which sought to preserve the power of the Penn family in affairs of Pennsylvania. Franklin devised legislative strategy and wrote powerful resolves on behalf of the Assembly, denying Proprietary exemption from taxation and otherwise defending the right of the elected representatives of the people to regulate their own affairs.

At first Franklin had not the slightest thought about America's separation from Great Britain. He had grown up with allegiance to Britain and had a deep appreciation of the culture of the country of William Shakespeare, John Milton, Joseph Addison, and Alexander Pope.

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In he celebrated the rapid increase of colonial population as a great "accession of power to the British Empire," a big and happy family wherein the prosperity of the parent and the growth of the children were mutually beneficial. Franklin expressed his patriotism by proposing a Plan of Union within the empire at Albany in , and a year later in giving extensive service to Gen.

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Edward Braddock's expedition to recapture Ft. Duquesne from the French. To defend the empire during the French and Indian War , Franklin persuaded the Quaker Assembly to pass the first militia law in Pennsylvania, appropriate money for defense, and appoint commissioners including himself to carry on full-scale war.

As the war progressed, he worked with British commanders to win a North American empire for Britain. For 3 decades or more Franklin allied himself in thought and deed with such men as William Pitt, who conceived of Britain as a vital, freedom-extending realm as dear and useful to its subjects in Boston and Philadelphia as to those in London or Bristol. Even in this patriotism of empire, however, the seeds of disaffection appeared.

The Albany plan, Franklin noted, dividing power between the king and the colonial assemblies, was disapproved by the Crown "as having placed too much weight in the democratic part of the constitution, and [by] every assembly as having allowed too much to [Royal] Prerogative.

He sided, he declared in , with "the people of this province … generally of the middling sort. Franklin lived in England from to , seeking aid in restraining Proprietary power in Pennsylvania, meanwhile enjoying English social and intellectual life. He attended meetings of the Royal Society, heard great orchestras play the works of George Frederick Handel, made grand tours of the Continent, and was awarded honorary doctor's degrees by St. Andrews and Oxford Back in America for nearly 2 years , Franklin traveled through the Colonies as deputy postmaster general for North America. In 20 years Franklin vastly improved postal service and at the same time made his position lucrative.

He also continued his aid to poorer members of his family, especially his sister, and to the family of his wife, the former Deborah Read, whom he had married in They had two children, Frankie, who died at 4, and Sally, who married Richard Bache. Deborah Franklin also reared her husband's illegitimate son, William, often his father's close companion, who was appointed governor of New Jersey and was later to be notable as a loyalist during the Revolution. Franklin considered Deborah, who died in , a good wife, mother, and helpmate, though she did not share his intellectual interests or even much of his social life.

Politics occupied most of Franklin's busy months at home. He opposed the bloody revenges frontiersmen visited on innocent Native Americans in the wake of Chief Pontiac's Conspiracy, and he campaigned to further restrict the proprietor's power. On this and other issues Franklin lost his seat in the Assembly after 13 consecutive victories in an especially scurrilous campaign. His Quaker party retained enough power, however, to return him to England as agent, commissioned especially to petition that Pennsylvania be taken over as a royal colony—a petition Franklin set aside when the perils of royal government loomed ever larger.

Franklin played a central role in the great crises that led to the Declaration of Independence in He first advised obedience to the Stamp Act. Sir Charles Kemys Tynte. Arthur Vansittart, Esq. Richard Vernon, Esq. John Upton, Esq. Charles Walcott, Esq. Weymouth and Melcombe. Robert Waller, Esq.