Benjamin Franklin is one of the eminent spirits who appeared to President Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Temple on August 21, 1877. This interesting story is detailed in the Eminent Spirits Appear to Wilford Woodruff wiki.
Myths, Rumors and Historical Revisionism
Jefferson remarked in a letter to Jonathan Williams in 1796, that he had seen with “extreme indignation the blasphemies” lately circulating regarding Franklin. “But” continues Jefferson, “his memory will be preserved and venerated as long as the thunders of heaven shall be heard or feared.” We, as Latter-day Saints, should regard the libel of this Father of liberty, science and society with this same disdain.
Franklin is often the first of the founding fathers treated as a deist. This is utterly fallacious considering Franklin’s own words. Franklin recorded in his autobiography that he was Christian, though absenting himself from the sects of the day by reason of creeds he could not be persuaded to believe.
Franklin observed the Sabbath and asserted that he never doubted the existence of God nor the divine Creation and preservation of the Earth through Providence. Additionally, he professed the immortality of souls, the primacy of service to our fellow men and the judgment of mankind according to their works.
I had been religiously educated as a Presbyterian; and tho’ some of the dogmas of that persuasion, such as the eternal decrees of God, election, reprobation, etc., appeared to me unintelligible, others doubtful, and I early absented myself from the public assemblies of the sect, Sunday being my studying day, I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that He made the world, and governed it by His providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter. 1
Franklin is often portrayed as critical the idea of a providential God who controls the course of events. He is believed to have instead embraced the Enlightenment and Rationalist thoughts of the time. The following letter is Franklin’s response to Thomas Paine after he received a draft manuscript of Paine’s “Age of Reason” The manuscript advocated against the concept of a providential God. Franklin’s opinion on such beliefs is expressed thus:
TO THOMAS PAINE.
I have read your manuscript with some attention. By the argument it contains against a particular Providence, though you allow a general Providence, you strike at the foundations of all religion. For without the belief of a Providence, that takes cognizance of, guards, and guides, and may favor particular persons, there is no motive to worship a Deity, to fear his displeasure, or to pray for his protection. I will not enter into any discussion of your principles, though you seem to desire it. At present I shall only give you my opinion, that, though your reasonings are subtile and may prevail with some readers, you will not succeed so as to change the general sentiments of mankind on that subject, and the consequence of printing this piece will be, a great deal of odium drawn upon yourself, mischief to you, and no benefit to others. He that spits against the wind, spits in his own face.
But, were you to succeed, do you imagine any good would be done by it? You yourself may find it easy to live a virtuous life, without the assistance afforded by religion; you having a clear perception of the advantages of virtue, and the disadvantages of vice, and possessing a strength of resolution sufficient to enable you to resist common temptations. But think how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced, inconsiderate youth of both sexes, who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue, and retain them in the practice of it till it becomes habitual, which is the great point for its security. And perhaps you are indebted to her originally, that is, to your religious education, for the habits of virtue upon which you now justly value yourself. You might easily display your excellent talents of reasoning upon a less hazardous subject, and thereby obtain a rank with our most distinguished authors. For among us it is not necessary, as among the Hottentots, that a youth, to be raised into the company of men, should prove his manhood by beating his mother.
I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person; whereby you will save yourself a great deal of mortification by the enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a good deal of regret and repentance. If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it. I intend this letter itself as a proof of my friendship, and therefore add no professions to it; but subscribe simply yours,
The claim that Franklin was a womanizer is amusing, especially when considering the primary sources.
Credible historians agree that in spite of the Franklin skirt chaser traditions, there is not a shred of evidence supporting such behavior during his life in France or America. These rumors were fabricated after his death.
Franklin is famous for developing a set of 13 virtues which he practiced from the age of 20 until his death. Chastity is included as a value Franklin strenuously practiced throughout his life. This most likely included, not only physical virtue, but purity in language, conversation and thought. In his autobiography, Franklin writes that although he struggled to find faith in his early life, he was extremely grateful that he never committed any serious transgressions or was guilty of injustice. (Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, pg. 39) During his life, there were no accusations existing, except for an ungrounded political slander with reference to his son William’s legitimacy.
Some claim that Franklin was a womanizer and fathered illegitamate children. Of these claims, Andrew Allison writes:
Carl Van Doren, whose masterful biography of Franklin was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, noted that “there is no support for the tradition which insists that the philosopher was a lively lecher in France.” Another historian has asked, “Did he really have affairs with French women? There is no shred of evidence. In that age of diaries and memoirs not a single Parisienne ever boasted that she had captured the famous philosopher.” And a third scholar places the whole matter in perspective:
In any sophisticated social gathering at which the name of Benjamin Franklin comes up, somebody is almost sure to remark with a leer, “Say, that old boy was quite a man with the ladies,” or “Wasn’t he the old reprobate?” This concept of the worthy doctor seems to have started many years after his death and to have grown during recent years-there is no reference to it in early writings about him, except for scurrilous political slander regarding his son William’s legitimacy.
There is not one iota of evidence in history to justify this image. True, Franklin liked women, and many women adored Franklin. He was closely associated with several, ranging from eleven-year-old Catherine Shipley in England to sixtyish Madame Helvetius in France. He spent much time in their company, and some of his most interesting writing is in correspondence with female friends. But there is nothing to indicate that his relations with any of them were other than gallant and intellectual.
No wonder Jefferson wrote in later years: “I have seen, with extreme indignation, the blasphemies lately vended against the memory of the father of American philosophy. But his memory will be preserved and venerated as long as the thunder of heaven shall be heard or feared.” (The Real Benjamin Franklin, pages 232-233)
The History Channel and other likeminded organizations love to portray Franklin and other Founders as drinking, quirky, womanizing individuals. For the record, those who appreciate primary sources will be interested to know that one of Franklin’s 13 fundamental maxims, was “Eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation.” Franklin was known as the “Water American”. He earned this nickname as a young man in England. His British circle of friends tended to drink beer, but Franklin would only drink water
One expert on the life and diet of Franklin believes that drinking wine was not an addiction or something done in excess, but rather, was used for health and an alternative to unclean water. Contrary to the popular myths, Franklin was strong, fit, and trim, even by today’s standards.
Defense from Latter-day Prophets
“I am going to bear my testimony to this assembly, if I never do it again in my life, that those men who laid the foundation of this American government and signed the Declaration of Independence were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits, not wicked men. General Washington and all the men that labored for the purpose were inspired of the Lord.” (Wilford Woodruff, Conference Report, April 1989, pp. 89-90)
“The temple work for the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence and other Founding Fathers had been done. All these appeared to Wilford Woodruff when he was president of the St. George Temple. President George Washington was ordained a high priest at that time. You will also be interested to know that, according to Wilford Woodruff’s journal, John Wesley, Benjamin Franklin, and Christopher Columbus were also ordained high priests at that time. When one casts doubt about the character of these noble sons of God, I believe he or she will have to answer to the God of heaven for it.” (Ezra Taft Benson, This Nation Shall Endure, p. 18)
Life Sketch from Lives of the Signers
Character Sketch from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing, the 1848 original.
Probably a greater man than Benjamin Franklin never lived, regarded that analytical discrimination which distinguishes true greatness in inherent qualities rather than in brilliant external displays; and in almost every particular characteristic of a man, he presented a model of excellence of the highest standard.
Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on the seventeenth day of January, 1706. His father was a true Puritan, and emigrated hither from England, in 1682. He soon afterward married Miss Folger, a native of Boston. Being neither a mechanic nor farmer, he turned his attention to the business of a soap-boiler and tallow-chandler, which was his occupation for life.
The parents of Benjamin wished him to be a minister of the gospel, and they began to educate him with that end in view, but their slender means were not adequate for the object, and the intention was abandoned. He was kept at a common school for a few years, and then taken into the service of his father. The business did not please the boy, and he was entered, on probation, with a cutler. The fee for his admission to apprenticeship was too high, and he abandoned that pursuit also, and was put under the instruction of an elder brother, who was a printer. There he continued until he became quite proficient, and all the while he was remarkable for his studiousness, seldom spending an hour from his books, in idle amusement. At length the harmony between himself and brother was intenupted, and he left his service and went on board of a vessel in the harbor, bound for New York. In that city he could not obtain employment, and he proceeded on foot to Philadelphia, where he arrived on a Sabbath morning. He was then but seventeen years old, friendless and alone, with but a single dollar in his pocket. He soon found employment as compositor in one of the two printing establishments then in Philadelphia, and was at once noticed and esteemed by his employers, for his industry and studious habits.
Having written a letter to a friend at New Castle, in Delaware, in which he gave a graphic account of his journey from Boston to Philadelphia, which letter was shown to Governor Keith, of that province, that functionary became much interested in the young journeyman printer, and invited him to his mansion. Friendship succeeded the first interview, and the governor advised him to set up business for himself, and offered his patronage. The plan of operation was rather an extensive one, and involved the necessity of making a voyage to England for materials. Franklin went to London, but found Sir William Keith’s patronage of so little avail, that he was obliged to seek employment for his daily bread. He obtained a situation as journeyman printer in one of the principal offices there, and by the same line of industry, studiousness, punctuality, and frugality, he soon won to himself numerous friends. Unfortunately he was thrown in the way of some distinguished infidels while he was in London, (among whom was Lord Mandeville,) and received flattering attentions from them. His mind became tinctured with their views, and he was induced to write a pamphlet upon deistical metaphysics, a performance which he afterward regretted, and candidly condemned.
With the fruits of his eamings Franklin resolved to take a trip to the Continent, but just as he was on the point of departure, he received an offer from a mercantile friend about to sail for America, to accompany him as a clerk. He accepted it, and embarked for home in July, 1726.
With his new employer, at Philadelphia, Franklin had before him a prospect of prosperity and wealth, but soon a heavy cloud obscured the bright vision. His friend died, and once more Franklin became a journeyman printer with his old employer, In a short time he formed a partnership with another printer, and commenced business in Philadelphia, where his character, habits, and talents, soon gained him warm friends, public confidence, and a successful business. So multifarious were the public and private labors of usefulness of this great man, from this period until his death, that our circumscribed limits will permit us to notice them only in brief chronological order.
In 1732, Franklin began his useful annual, called “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” It was widely circulated in the Colonies, and in England, and was translated into several Continental languages of Europe. lt continued until 1757. About the same time he commenced a newspaper, which soon became the most popular one in the Colonies. By constant, persevering study, he acquired a knowledge of the Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian languages. He projected a literary club, called the Junto, and the books which they collected for their use, formed the nucleus of the present extensive Philadelphia Library. He wrote many pamphlets containing essays upon popular subjects, which were read with avidity, and made him very popular. With his popularity, his business increased, and his pecuniary circumstances became easy in a few years.
In 1734, he was appointed government printer for Pennsylvania, and in 1736 he received the appointment of Clerk of the General Assembly. The next year he was made postmaster of Philadelphia. The income arising from these offices, and from his business, relieved him from constant drudgery, and left him leisure for philo-sophical pursuits, and the advancement of schemes for the public good.
ln 1741, he commenced the publication of the “General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for the British Plantations,” which had a wide circulation. In 1744 he was elected a member of the General Assembly, and was annually re-elected, for ten consecutive years. It was about this time that he made some of his philosophical discoveries, upon the mysterious wings of which his fame spread world-wide.
ln 1753 he was appointed a commissioner to treat with the Indians at Carlisle. In 1754, he was a delegate from Pennsylvania to a Convention of representatives of the Colonies that met at Albany to consult upon the general defense and security against the French. He there proposed an admirable plan of union. About this time he was appointed deputy Postmaster General. He was also active in improving the military affairs of the colony, and rendered General Braddock distinguished service in providing material for his expedition against Fort Du Quesne.
ln l757, Franklin was sent by the General Assembly of the Province, to London, as its counsel in a dispute with the governor; and he so managed the case as to obtain a verdict for the Assembly. He remained a resident agent for the Colony, in England, for tive years, and formed many valuable acquaintances while there. On his return, he was publicly thanked by the General Assembly, and the sum of twenty thousand dollars was presented to him as compensation for his important services.
In 1764, he was again sent to England as agent for the Colony, upon business similar to that for which he was first sent, and he was there when the Stamp Act was passed, loudly and boldly protesting against it. His opinions had great weight there; and, having been appointed agent for several of the Colonies, the eyes of statesmen at home and abroad were turned anxiously to him, as the storm of the Revolution rapidly gathered in dark and threatening clouds. He labored assiduously to effect conciliation, and he did much to arrest for a long time the blow that finally severed the Colonies from the mother country. Satisfied at length that war was inevitable, he returned home in l775, and was at once elected a delegate to the General Congress. He was again elected in 1776, and was one of the committee appointed to draft a Declaration of Independence, voted for its adoption, and signed it on the second of August.
In September Franklin was appointed one of three commissioners to meet Lord Howe in conference on Staten Island, and hear his propositions for peace. The attempt at conciliation proved abortive, and hostilities commenced. About this time a Convention was called in Pennsylvania, for the purpose of organizing a State government, according to the recommendation of the General Congress. Franklin was chosen its President, and his wisdom was manifested in the Constitution which followed. He was appointed by Congress a Commissioner to the Court of France, to negotiate a treaty of alliance. Although then over seventy years of age, he accepted the appointment, and sailed in October, 1776. He was received with distinguished honors, and strong expressions of sympathy in behalf of his country were made; yet the French ministry were so cautious, that it was not until after the news of the capture of Burgoyne reached them, and American affairs looked brighter, that they would enter into a formal negotiation. A treaty was finally concluded, and was signed by Franklin and the French Minister, in February, 1778. America was acknowledged independent, and the French government openly espoused her cause. Franklin was invested by Congress with almost unlimited discretionary powers, and his duties were very arduous and complex; yet he discharged them with a fidelity and skill which excited the admiration of Europe. Great Britain at length yielded, and consented to negotiate a treaty of peace upon the basis of American independence; and on the third day of September, 1783, Doctor Franklin had the pleasure of signing a defmitive treaty to that effect.
Franklin now asked leave of Congress to return home to his family, but he was detained there until the arrival of Mr. Jefferson, his successor, in 1785. His return to America was received with every demonstration of joy and respect, not only from the most distinguished individuals, but from nearly every public body in the country. Notwithstanding his great age (eighty years) the public claimed his services, and he was appointed President of Pennsylvania, which office he held three years. In l787, he was in the Convention which framed the present Constitution of the United States, and this was the last public duty he performed. The gout and stone, with which he had been afflicted many years, terminated his life on the seventeenth day of April, 1790, in the eighty-fourth year of his age. A vast concourse of people followed his body to the grave, and the whole country, nay the whole civilized world, mourned his loss.” 2
Character Sketch from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, the 1829 original.
Benjamin Franklin was born at Boston, on the 17th of January, 1706. His ancestors were from the county of Northampton, in England, where they had for many generations possessed a small freehold estate, near the village of Eaton. During the persecutions in the reign of Charles II., against the puritans, the father of Benjamin, who was of that persuasion, emigrated to America, and settling in Boston, had recourse for a livelihood to the business of a chandler and soap boiler. His mother’s name was Folger. She was a native of Boston, and belonged to a respectable family.
At an early age, young Franklin discovered, as his parents thought, a more than ordinary genius; and they resolved to give him an education, with reference to the profession of a clergyman. Accordingly, he was placed at a grammar school, where he soon attained the reputation of a lad of industrious habits, and respectable genius.
His parents, however, at the expiration of a year, found that their slender revenues would not admit of the expense of collegiate instruction. He was, therefore, soon after taken home to prosecute the business of his father. In this occupation he was employed for two years, but it was ill adapted to his constitution, and he felt unwilling to continue cutting wicks for candles, filling moulds, and running of errands. He became uneasy, and at length resolved to embark on a seafaring life. To such a proposition, however, his parents strongly objected, as they had already lost a son at sea. He was permitted, however, to change his business, and allowed to choose an occupation which was more congenial to his inclinations.
His fondness for books had, from an early age, been singularly great. He read every thing within his reach. His father’s library was itself scanty, being confined to a few such works as Defoe’s Essay upon Projects, Mather’s Essay on doing Good, and the Lives of Plutarch. These he perused with great attention, and they appear to have exercised a favorable influence on his mind. His love of books was frequently noticed by his father, who, at length, proposed to bind him as an apprentice to an elder brother, who was at that time a printer of a newspaper in Boston. He was accordingly thus situated, in the year 1717, when he was scarcely twelve years of age. He soon became a proficient in the mechanical part of the business, and seized every opportunity for reading books that he could borrow from his acquaintance, in which employment he spent the greater part of his nights. He soon began to indulge himself in writing ballads and other poetical pieces; but, it is said, that his father speedily satisfied him that this was not the species of composition in which he could excel. His next efforts were directed to prose composition, in which his success is well known, and duly appreciated. With a passion for reading and writing, he imbibed a kindred one for disputation; and adopting the Socratic method, he became dexterous in confuting and confounding an antagonist, by a series of questions. This course gave him a skeptical turn with regard to religion, and while he was young he took every opportunity of propagating his tenets, and with the ordinary zeal of a new convert. He was, however, soon convinced, by the effect produced on some of his companions, that it was extremely dangerous to loosen the ties of religion, without the probability of substituting other principles equally efficacious. The doubts which subsisted in his own mind, he was never able to remove; but he was not deficient in fortifying himself with such moral principles as directed him to the most valuable ends, by honorable means. By habits of self-denial, early formed, he obtained a complete dominion over his appetites, so that, at the age of sixteen, he readily discarded animal food, from the conviction produced in his mind by perusing a work on the subject, that he should enjoy a more vigorous state of health without it. He now offered his brother to maintain himself, for half the sum paid for his board; and even with this he was able to make savings to purchase what books he wanted. In his brother, he found a harsh master, and Benjamin felt indignant at the treatment which he experienced from him in the way of business. His brother had established a newspaper, in which the apprentice contrived to insert some papers and essays anonymously. These were read and highly commended by people of the best judgment and taste in the town. The young man began now to feel his importance, which was still more impressed on him by having the paper published in his own name, that of his brother, for some political offence, having been interdicted by the state.
On the release of his brother, who had for some time been imprisoned for the above political offence, Franklin was treated by him with so much severity, that at length he determined to leave him. His indentures having before this been cancelled, he secretly went on board of a vessel, bound to New-York, in which he took passage for that city. After a few days spent in New-York, having sought in vain to procure business, he proceeded on foot to Philadelphia, where he at length arrived, fatigued and destitute of all means of support. He was now but seventeen years of age, at tile distance of four hundred miles from home, nearly penniless, without employment, without a counselor, and unacquainted with a single person in the city.
The day following his arrival he wandered through the streets of Philadelphia with an appearance little short of a beggar. His pockets were distended by his clothes, which were crowded into them; and provided with a roll of bread under each arm, he proceeded through the principal streets of the city. His uncouth appearance attracted the notice of several of the citizens, and among others of a Miss Reed, who afterwards became his wife, and by whom, as he passed along, he was thought to present a very awkward and ridiculous appearance.
There were at this time but two printing offices in Philadelphia. Fortunately, in one of these he found employment as compositor. His conduct was very becoming; he was attentive to business, and economical in his expenses. His fidelity not only commended him to his master, but was noticed by several respectable citizens, who promised him their patronage and support.
Among others, who took much notice of him, was Sir William Keith, at that time governor of the province. The governor having become acquainted with the history of his recent adventures, professed a deep interest in his welfare, and at length proposed that he should commence business on his own account; at the same time, promising to aid him with his influence and that of his friends, and to give him the printing of the government. Moreover, the governor urged him to return to Boston, to solicit the concurrence and assistance of his father. At the same time, he gave him a letter to that gentleman, replete with assurances of affection, and promises of support to the son.
With this object in view, he sailed for Boston, and at length, after an absence of several months, he again entered his father’s house. He was affectionately received by the family. To his father he communicated the letter of Governor Keith, which explained the object of his return. His father, however, judiciously advised him, on account of youth and inexperience, to relinquish the project of setting up a printing office, and wrote to this effect to his patron, Governor Keith. Having determined to follow the advice of his father, he returned to Philadelphia, and again entering the employment of his former master, pursued his business with his usual assiduous attention.
Governor Keith, on learning the advice and decision of Franklin’s father, offered himself to furnish the necessary materials for a printing establishment, and proposed to Franklin to make a voyage to England to procure them. This proposal Franklin readily accepted, and with gratitude to his ,generous benefactor, he sailed for England in 1725, accompanied by his friend Ralph, one of his literary associates in Philadelphia.
Before his departure, he exchanged promises of fidelity with Miss Reed of Philadelphia, with whose father he had lodged. Upon his arrival in London, Mr. Franklin found that Governor Keith, upon whose letters of credit and recommendation he relied, had entirely deceived him. He was now obliged to work as a journeyman printer, and obtained employment in an office in Bartholomew-close. His friend Ralph did not so readily find the means of subsistence, and was a constant drain upon the earnings of Franklin. In that great city, the morals of the young travelers were not much improved; Ralph forgot, or acted as if he had forgotten, that he had a wife and child across the Atlantic; and Franklin was equally forgetful of his promises and engagements to Miss Reed. About this period he published, “A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain,” dedicated to Ralph, and intended as an answer to Wollaston’s “Religion of Nature.” This piece gained for him some degree of reputation, and introduced him to the acquaintance of Dr. Mandeville, author of the “Fable of the Bees,” and some other literary characters Franklin was always temperate and industrious, and his habits in this respect were eventually the means of securing his morals, as well as of raising his fortune. In the interesting account which he has left of his own life, is a narrative of the method which he took in reforming the sottish habits of his fellow-workmen in the second printing office in which he was engaged in London, and which was situated in the neighborhood of Lincoln’s-inn-fields. He tried to persuade them that there was more real sustenance in a penny roll, than in a pint of porter; at first, the plan of economy which he proposed was treated with contempt or ridicule; but in the end he was able to induce several of them to substitute a warm and nourishing breakfast, in the place of stimulating liquors.
Having resided about a year and a half in London, he concerted a scheme with an acquaintance, to make the tour of Europe. At this juncture, however, he fell in company with a mercantile friend, who was about returning home to Philadelphia, and who now persuaded Franklin to abandon his project of an eastern tour, and to enter his service in the capacity of a clerk. On the 22nd of July, 1726, they set sail for Philadelphia, where they arrived the 11th of October.
The prospects of Franklin were now brighter. He had attached to his new adopted profession, and by his assiduous attention to business gained the confidence of his employer so much, that he was about to be commissioned as supercargo to the West Indies, when of a sudden his patron died, by which, not only his fair prospects were blighted, but he was once more thrown out of all employment.
He had, however, one resource, and that was a return to the business of printing, in the service of his former master. At length, he became superintendent of the printing office where he worked, and finding himself able to manage the concern with some skill and profit, he resolved to embark in business for himself. He entered into partnership with a fellow-workman, named Meredith, whose friends were enabled to furnish a supply of money sufficient for the concern, which was no doubt very small; for Franklin has recorded the high degree of pleasure, which he experienced from a payment of five shillings only, the first fruits of their earnings. “The recollection,” says this noble spirited man, “of what I felt on this occasion, has rendered me more disposed, than perhaps I might otherwise have been, to encourage young beginners in trade.” His habitual industry and undeviating punctuality, obtained him the notice and business of the principal people in the place. He instituted a club under the name of “the Junto,” for the purpose of the discussion of political and philosophical questions, which proved an excellent school for the mutual improvement of its several members. The test proposed to every candidate, before his admission, was this; “Do you sincerely declare that you love mankind in general, of what profession or religion soever? Do you think any person ought to be harmed in his body, name, or goods, for mere speculative opinions, or his external way of worship? Do you love truth for truth’s sake; and will you endeavor impartially to find and receive it yourself, and communicate it to others.” Mr. Franklin and his partner ventured to set up a new public paper, which his own efforts as writer and printer caused to succeed, and they obtained likewise the printing of the votes and laws of the assembly. In process of time, Meredith withdrew from the partnership, and Franklin met with friends, who enabled him to undertake the whole concern in his own name, and add to it the business of a stationer.
In 1730, he married the lady to whom he was engaged before his departure for England. During his absence he forgot his promises to her, and on his return to America, he found her the wife of another man. Although a woman of many virtues, she suffered from the unkindness of her husband, who, fortunately for her, lived but a short time. Not long after his death, Franklin again visited her, soon after which they were married, and for many years lived in the full enjoyment of connubial peace and harmony.
In 1732, he began to publish “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” a work which was continued for twenty-five years, and which, besides answering the purposes of a calendar, contained many excellent prudential maxims, which were of great utility to that class of the community, who by their poverty or laborious occupations, were deprived of the advantages of education. Ten thousand copies of this almanac are said to have been published every year, in America. The maxims contained in it, were from time to time republished both in Great Britain, and on the continent.
The political course of Franklin began in the year 1736, when he was appointed clerk to the general assembly of Pennsylvania; an office which he held for several years, until he was, at length, elected a representative. During the same year, he assisted in the establishment of the American Philosophical Society, and of a college, which now exists under the title of the University of Pennsylvania. In the following year he was appointed to the valuable office of post-master of Philadelphia. In 1735 he improved the police of the city, in respect to the dreadful calamity of fire, by forming a society called a fire company, to which was afterwards added an assurance office, against losses by fire.
In 1742 he published his treatise upon the improvement of chimneys, and at the same time contrived a stove, which is in extensive use at the present day.
In the French war of 1744, he proposed a plan of voluntary association for the defense of the country. This was shortly joined by ten thousand persons, who were trained to the use and exercise of arms. Franklin was chosen colonel of the Philadelphia regiment, but he refused the honor in favor of one, whom he supposed to be more competent to the discharge of its duties.
During the same year he was elected a member of the provincial assembly, in which body he soon became very popular, and was annually re-elected by his fellow-citizens for the space of ten years.
About this time, the attention of Mr. Franklin was particularly turned to philosophical subjects. In 1747, he had witnessed at Boston, some experiments on electricity, which excited his curiosity, and which he repeated on his return to Philadelphia, with great success. These experiments led to important discoveries, an account of which was transmitted to England, and attracted great attention throughout all Europe.
In the year 1749 he conceived the idea of explaining the phenomena of thunder gusts, and of the aurora borealis, upon electrical principles; he pointed out many particulars, in which lightning and electricity agreed, and he adduced many facts and reasonings in support of his positions. In the same year, he thought of ascertaining the truth of his doctrine by drawing down the forked lightning, by means of sharp pointed iron rods, raised into the region of the clouds. Admitting the identity of lightning and electricity, and knowing the power of points in conducting away silently the electric fluid, he suggested the idea of securing houses, ships, &c. from the damages to which they were liable from lightning, and hence he applied his discovery to the securing of buildings from the effects of lightning, by erecting pointed iron rods, which should rise some feet above the most elevated part, and descend some feet into the ground or the water. The effect of these, he concluded, would by either to prevent a stroke, by repelling the cloud beyond the striking distance, or by drawing off the electrical fluid, which it contained; or at least, conduct the stroke to the earth without any injury to the building. It was not till the summer of 1752, that Mr. Franklin was enabled to complete his grand experiment. The plan which he proposed was, to erect on some high tower, or elevated place, a sort of hut, from which should rise a pointed iron rod, insulated by being fixed in a cake of resin. Electrified clouds passing over this, would, he conceived, impart to it a portion or their electricity, which might be rendered evident to the senses by sparks being emitted, when the knuckle or other conductor was presented to it. While he was waiting or the erection of a spire, it occurred to him, that he might have a more ready access to the region of clouds by means of a common kite; he accordingly prepared one for the purpose, affixing to the upright stick an iron point. The string was as usual, of hemp, except the lower end, which was silk, and where the hempen part terminated, a key was fastened. With this simple apparatus, on the appearance of a thunderstorm approaching, he went into the fields, accompanied by his son, to whom alone he communicated his intentions, dreading probably the ridicule which frequently awaits unsuccessful attempts in experimental philosophy. For some time no sign of electricity appeared; he was beginning to despair of success, when he suddenly observed the loose fibers of the string to start forward in and erect position, he now presented his knuckle to the key, and received a strong spark. How exquisite must his sensations have been at this moment? On this experiment depended the fate of his theory; repeated sparks were drawn from the key, a phial was charged, a shock given, and all the experiments made, which are usually performed with electricity. He immediately fixed an insulated iron rod upon his house, which drew down the lightning, and gave him an opportunity of examining whether it were positive or negative, and hence he applied his discovery to the securing of buildings from the effects of lightning.
It will be impossible to enumerate all, or even a small part of the experiments which were made by Dr. Franklin, or to give an account of the treatises which he wrote on the branches of science. Justice requires us to say, that he seldom wrote, or discoursed on any subject, upon which he did not throw light. Few men possessed a more penetrating genius, or a happier faculty of discrimination. His investigations attracted the attention, and his discoveries called forth the admiration of the learned in all parts of the world. Jealousy was at length excited in Europe, and attempts were made, not only to detract from his well earned fame, but to rob him of the merit of originality. Others claimed the honor of having first made several of his most brilliant experiments, or attempted to invalidate the truth and reality of those, an account of which he had published to the world. The good sense of Dr. Franklin led him to oppose his adversaries only by silence, leaving the vindication of his merit to the slow, but sure operations of time.
In 1753 he was raised to the important office of deputy post master general of America. Through ill management, this office had been unproductive: but soon after the appointment of Franklin, it became a source of revenue to the British crown. In this station, he rendered important services to General Braddock, in his wild and fatal expedition against fort Du Quesne. When, at length, Braddock was defeated, and the whole frontier was exposed to the incursions of the savages and the French, Franklin raised a company of volunteers, at the head of which he marched to the protection of the frontier.
At length, in 1757, the militia was disbanded by order of the British government, soon after which Franklin was appointed agent to settle the disputes which had arisen between the people of Pennsylvania, and the proprietary government. With this object in view, he left his native country once more for England. On his arrival, he laid the subject before tile privy council. The point in dispute was occasioned by an effort of the proprietors to exempt their private estates from taxation; and because this exemption was not admitted, they refused to make appropriations for the defense of the province, even in times of the greatest danger and necessity. Franklin managed the subject with great ability, and at length brought the proprietary faction to terms. It was agreed, that the proprietary lands should take their share in a tax for the public service, provided that Franklin would engage that the assessment should be fairly proportioned. The measure was accordingly carried into effect, and he remained at the British court as agent for his province. His reputation caused him also to be entrusted with the like commission from Massachusetts, Maryland, and Georgia. The molestation received by the British colonies, from the French in Canada, induced him to write a pamphlet, pointing out the advantages of a conquest of that province by the English; and the subsequent expedition against it, and its retention under the British government, at the peace, were, it is believed, much influenced by the force of his arguments on the subject. About this period, his talents as a philosopher were duly appreciated in various parts of Europe. He was admitted a fellow of the royal society of London, and the degree of doctor of laws was conferred upon him at St. Andrews, Edinburgh, and at Oxford.
In 1762 he returned to America. On his arrival the provincial assembly of Pennsylvania expressed their sense of his meritorious services by a vote of thanks; and as a remuneration for his successful labors in their behalf, they granted him the sum of five thousand dollars. During his absence, he had annually been elected a member of the assembly, in which body he now took his seat. The following year he made a journey of sixteen hundred miles, through the northern colonies, for the purpose of inspecting and regulating the post offices.
In 1764, he was again appointed the agent of Pennsylvania, to manage her concerns in England, in which country he arrived in the month of December. About this period the famous stamp act was exciting violent commotions in America. Against this measure, Dr. Franklin strongly enlisted himself, and on his arrival in England, he presented a petition against it, which, at his suggestion, had been drawn up by the Pennsylvania assembly. At length the tumults in America became so great, that the ministry found it necessary either to modify the act, or to repeal it entirely. Among others, Dr. Franklin was summoned before the house of commons, where he underwent a long examination. “No person was better acquainted with the circumstances and internal concerns of the colonies, the temper and disposition of the colonists towards the parent country, or their feelings in relation to the late measure of parliament, than this gentleman. His answers to the numerous questions put to him in the course of this inquiry, not only show his extensive acquaintance with the internal state of the colonies, but evince his sagacity as a statesmen. To the question, whether the Americans would submit to pay the stamp duty if the act were modified, and the duty reduced to a small amount? He answered, no, they never will submit to it. British statesmen were extremely desirous that the colonial assemblies should acknowledge the right of parliament to tax them, and rescind and erase from their journals their resolutions on this subject. To a question, whether the American assemblies would do this, Dr. Franklin answered, ‘they never will do it, unless compelled by force of arms.'”
The whole of this examination on being published was read with deep interest, both in England and America. To the statements of Dr. Franklin, the repeal of the stamp act was, no doubt, in a great-measure, attributable.
In the year 1766, and 1767, he made an excursion to Holland, Germany, and France, where he met with a most flattering and distinguished reception. To the monarch of the latter country, Louis XV., he was introduced, and also to other members of the royal family, by whom as well as by the nobility and gentry at court, he was treated with great hospitality and courtesy. About this time, he was elected a member of the French Academy of Sciences, and received diplomas from several other literary societies in England, and on the continent.
Allusion has already been made, in our introduction, to the discovery and publication, in 1772, of certain letters of Governor
Hutchinson, addressed by that gentleman to his friends in England, and which reflected in the severest manner upon the people of America. These letters had fallen into the hands of Dr. Franklin, and by him had been transmitted to America, where they were at length inserted in the public journals. For a time, no one in England knew through what channel the letters had been conveyed to America. In 1773, Franklin publicly avowed himself to be the person who obtained the letters and transmitted them to America. This occasioned a violent clamor against him, and upon his attending before the privy council, in the following January, to present a petition from the colony of Massachusetts, for the dismission of Mr. Hutchinson, a most violent invective was pronounced against him, by Mr. Weddeburne, afterwards Lord Loughborough. Among other abusive epithets, the honorable member called Franklin a coward, a murderer, and a thief. During the whole of this torrent of abuse, Franklin sat with a composed and unaverted aspect, or, to use his own expression, in relation to himself on another occasion, “as if his countenance had been made of wood.” During this personal and public insult, the whole assembly appeared greatly amused, at the expense of Dr. Franklin. The president even laughed aloud. There was a single person present, however, Lord North, who, to his honor be it recorded, expressed great disapprobation of the indecent conduct of the assembly. The intended insult, however, was entirely lost. The dignity and composure of Franklin caused a sad disappointment among his enemies, who were reluctantly compelled to acknowledge the superiority of his character. Their animosity, however, was not to be appeased, but by doing Franklin the greatest injury within their power. They removed him from the office of deputy post master general, interrupted the payment of his salary as agent for the colonies, and finally instituted against him a suit in chancery concerning the letters of Hutchinson.
At length, finding all his efforts to restore harmony between Great Britain and the colonies useless; and perceiving that the controversy had reached a crisis, when his presence in England was no longer necessary, and his continuance personally hazardous, he embarked for America, where he arrived in 1775, just after the commencement of hostilities. He was received with every mark of esteem and affection. He was immediately elected a delegate to the general congress, in which body he did as much, perhaps, as any other man, to accomplish the independence of his country.
In 1776, he was deputed by congress to proceed to Canada, to negotiate with the people of that country, and to persuade them, if possible, to throw off the British yoke; but the inhabitants of Canada had been so much disgusted with the zeal of the people of New-England, who had burnt some of their chapels, that they refused to listen to the proposals made to them by Dr. Franklin and his associates. On the arrival of Lord Howe in America in 1776, he entered upon a correspondence with him on the subject of reconciliation. He was afterwards appointed, with two others, to wait upon the English commissioners, and learn the extent of their powers; but as these only went to the granting of pardon upon submission, he joined his colleagues in considering them as insufficient. Dr. Franklin was decidedly in favor of a declaration of independence; and was appointed president of the convention assembled for the purpose of establishing a new government for the state of Pennsylvania. When it was determined by congress to open a public negotiation with France, he was commissioned to visit that country, with which he negotiated the treaty of alliance, offensive and defensive, which produced an immediate war between England and France. Dr. Franklin was one of the commissioners who, on the part of the United States, signed the provincial articles of peace in 1752, and the definitive treaty in the following year. Before he left Europe, he concluded a treaty with Sweden and Prussia. By the latter, he obtained several most liberal and humane stipulations in favor of the freedom of commerce, and the security of private property during war, in conformity to those principles which he had ever maintained on these subjects. Having seen the accomplishment of his wishes in the independence of his country, he requested to be recalled, and after repeated solicitations, Mr. Jefferson was appointed in his stead. On the arrival of his successor, he repaired to Havre de Grace, and crossing the English channel, landed at Newport in the Isle of Wight, whence, after a favorable passage, he arrived safe at Philadelphia, in September, 1785.
The news of his arrival, was received with great joy by the citizens. A vast multitude flocked from all parts to see him, and amidst the ringing of bells, the discharge of artillery, the acclamations of thousands, conducted him in triumph to his own house. In a few days, he was visited by the members of congress, and the principal inhabitants of Philadelphia. From numerous societies and assemblies he received the most affectionate addresses. All testified their joy at his return, and their veneration of his exalted character.
This was a period in his life of which he often spoke with peculiar pleasure. “I am now,” said he, “in the bosom of my family, and find four new little prattlers, who cling about the knees of their grandpapa, and afford me great pleasure. I am surrounded by my friends, and have an affectionate good daughter and son-in-law to take care of me. I have got into my niche, a very good house, which I built twenty-four years ago, and out of which I have been ever since kept by foreign employments.”
The domestic tranquillity in which he now found himself, he was not permitted long to enjoy, being appointed president of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, an office which he held for three years, and the duties of which he discharged very acceptably to his constituents. Of the federal convention of 1787, for organizing the constitution of the United States, he was elected a delegate, and in the intricate discussions which arose on different parts of that instrument, he bore a distinguished part.
In 1788, he withdrew from public life, his great age rendering retirement desirable, and the infirmities of his body unfitting him for the burdens of public office. On the 17th of April, 1790, in the eighty-fourth year of his age, he expired, in the city of Philadelphia. He was interred on the 21st of April. Congress directed a general mourning for him, throughout the United States, for the space of a month. The national assembly of France testified their sense of the loss which the world sustained, by decreeing that each member should wear mourning for three days. This was an honor perhaps never before paid by the national assembly of one country, to a citizen of another. Dr. Franklin lies buried in the northwest corner of Christ Church yard, in Philadelphia. In his will he directed that no monumental ornaments should be placed upon his tomb. A small marble slab only, therefore, and that, too, on a level with the surface of the earth, bearing the name of himself and wife, and the year of his death, marks the spot in the yard where he lies.
Dr. Franklin had two children, a son and a daughter. The son, under the British government, was appointed governor of New-Jersey. On the occurrence of the revolution, he left America, and took up his residence in England, where he spent the remainder of his life. The daughter was respectably married in Philadelphia, to Mr. William Bache, whose descendants still reside in that city.
In stature, Dr. Franklin was above the middle size. He possessed a healthy constitution, and was remarkable for his strength and activity. His countenance indicated a serene state of mind, great depth of thought, and an inflexible resolution.
In his intercourse with mankind, he was uncommonly agreeable. In conversation, he abounded in curious and interesting anecdote. A vein of good humor marked his conversation, and strongly recommended him to both old and young, to the learned and illiterate.
As a philosopher, he justly ranks high. In his speculations, he seldom lost sight of common sense, or yielded up his understanding either to enthusiasm or authority. He contributed, in no small degree, to the extension of science, and to the improvement of the condition of mankind. He appears to have entertained, at some periods of his life, opinions which were in many respects peculiar, and which probably were not founded upon a sound philosophy.
Few men have exhibited a more worthy conduct than did 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 candor, and his fidelity to his moral and civil obligations. In the early part of his life, he acknowledged himself to have been skeptical in religion, but he became in mature 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 is 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. 3