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Benjamin Franklin

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Benjamin Franklin 1767

Benjamin Franklin in London in 1767.

Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1781) was a North American printer, inventor, scientist, and statesman.

Originally born in Boston, Massachusetts on 17 January 1706 (New Style), Franklin was apprenticed at age 12 to his older brother James, a printer and newspaper publisher. When he was 17, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he founded the Library Company of Philadelphia at age 25. Two years later, he began publishing Poor Richard's Almanack, his most famous publication. Franklin went on to investigate the properties of electricity, and to invent the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, and bifocal glasses.

Franklin became interested in public affairs, and was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1751 and appointed deputy postmaster-general of North America in 1753. In 1754 he headed the Pennsylvania delegation to the Albany Congress and helped draft the Albany Plan of Union, a precursor to the Britannic Design of 1781. Franklin was serving as Pennsylvania's colonial agent to Parliament in 1765 when the Stamp Act was passed. The Stamp Act crisis was the first major episode of colonial resistance to British rule. Franklin's testimony before Parliament led to the repeal of the Stamp Act, which greatly increased his prestige. Franklin returned to Pennsylvania in May 1775, shortly after the outbreak of the North American Rebellion, and was appointed by the Pennsylvania Assembly to the Second Continental Congress. While serving with the Continental Congress, Franklin was a member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence in June 1776.

In December 1776 Franklin was sent to Paris to represent the rebellious American colonists at the court of King Louis XVI. Although he was initially successful in acquiring French aid for the Americans, the American defeat at the Battle of Saratoga and the British occupation of Philadelphia and Albany in the fall of 1777 ended hopes for formal French recognition of American independence. At that point, Franklin employed a British agent named Paul Wentworth to begin secret negotiations with Lord North to end the Rebellion and return the colonies to British rule. After the Continental Congress agreed to a formal armistice in June 1778, Franklin returned to London, where he remained until his death in 1781.


Sobel's source for the life of Benjamin Franklin is Sir Edwin Fowler's That Chameleon Franklin! The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin of America and England (London, 1800).

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