The First American
A Printers Epitaph
The Body of
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 believd, appear once more,
In a new & more perfect Edition,
Corrected and amended
By the Author.
He was born Jan. 6, 1706.
Composed by Franklin at twenty-two years of age.
Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston Massachusetts, right around the time Puritanism died, whether he was born to early or Puritanism died to later, is left to bewilderment, however the two overlapped long enough to be aquatinted, whether it was coincidence or faith one will never know, however the mark left on him would never diminish. He was born to Josiah Franklin, and Josiahs second wife Abiah Folger. Josiah was a tallow chandler by trade, and had 17 children; Benjamin being the 15th child and the 10th son. The Franklin family was in modest circumstances, like most New Englanders of the time, despite his lower living he still attended grammar school from age eight to ten, after completion Benjamin was taken into his fathers business. By cleverness and hard work he altered himself from the son of a poor candle- and soap-maker into a world-famous scientist, diplomat, philosopher, and writer.
After completing grammar school at age 10, Benjamin was taken into his fathers trade, however he did not remain there long, Benjamins passion for word a loath for the uncongenial candle stick making soon lead him down a different path: cutler. His brother James, having recently returned from London, brought to Boston a new printing press, Benjamin became apprenticed to his brother at the age of 13, during his time with James Franklin, Ben learned the printing trade, devoting his spare time to the advancement of his education. Two years later, in 1721, James established the New England Courant. Ben, merely a pubescent 15 year old was delivery boy by day and author by night. The articles where published anonymously and won wide notice and acclaim for their pithy observations on the current scene. Because of its liberal bias, the New England Courant frequently incurred the displeasure of the colonial authorities. In 1722, as a consequence of an article considered particularly offensive, James Franklin was imprisoned for a month and forbidden to publish his paper, and for a while it appeared under Benjamins name. From this point forward, through all his trials, and tribulations, Ben would call himself a printer.
At the age of 17, after a number of disagreements with James, Ben left Boston to set out to make his fortune and settled in Philadelphia; he arrived in early October 1723, and was quickly able to find a job as a printer. As he perfected his trade his circle of friends increased, among the circle, perhaps more deservedly in the center was Sir William Keith, the royal provincial governor of Pennsylvania. Sir William Keith was able to persuade Benjamin to travel to the great city of London to complete his training as a printer and to purchase the equipment needed to start a printing establishment in Philadelphia. Whether the Governors interest were feigned from the start or simply contaminated due to unintereste deriving from interest of something new will never be told, what is know is that upon arrival of the young 18 year old in London on a cold day in December 1724, promised letters of introduction and credit, as well as an expense fund were not to be found, leaving Franklin without means in a strange city. Franklin however was able to rely on his resourcefulness, cunning, wit, and sheer intelligence to obtain employment at two of Londons foremost printing houses: Palmers and Watts. In October 1726, Franklin had saved enough money to return to Philadelphia, with his press, and resumed his trade. The following year, with a number of his acquaintances, he organized a discussion group known as the Junto, which later became the American Philosophical Society. In September 1729, he bought the Pennsylvania Gazette, a dull, poorly edited weekly newspaper, which he made, by his witty style and judicious selection of news, both entertaining and informative. In 1730 he married Deborah Read, a Philadelphia woman whom he had known before his trip to England. He also published during this time, one of his more respected and well known works containing weather information, calendars, and witty sayings, he called his book Poor Richards Almanack and wrote it in 1732 under the pen name Richard Sounders.
As he became more prosperous, Franklin interested himself in civic affairs. In 1736 Franklin became clerk of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the next year was appointed deputy postmaster of Philadelphia. About this time, he organized the first fire company in that city and introduced methods for the improvement of street paving and lighting. Always interested in scientific studies, he devised means to correct the excessive smoking of chimneys and invented, around 1744, the Franklin stove, which furnished greater heat with a reduced consumption of fuel. He founded the first public circulating library, the Philadelphia Library, in 1742. Several years later he established the first public hospital. He also invented the bifocal lenses, enabling people to read and glance in the mirror at the same time, glasses were no longer restricted to one operation or the other.
Franklin began his electrical experiments in 1747 with a simple apparatus that he received from Peter Collinson in England. He went about attempting to demonstrate that lightning is an electrical phenomenon based on a tenable theory of the Leyden jar. Many credits Benjamin Franklin with the discovery of lightening, however much to his dismay, after his plan was published in London the experiment was conducted in England and France before he carried out the infamous kite experiment in 1752. He progressed, and developed on his idea of electricity to follow in suit with his other two fire prevention efforts, a public fire department, and a fireplace that contains the fire with in it, not your house, by inventing the lightning rod. He also put forward what is known as the one-fluid, a way of explaining electricity in two ways, positive and negative, he stated all this, including his kite experiment, in his book entitled Experiments and Observations on Electricity. In recognition of his impressive scientific accomplishments, Franklin received honorary degrees from the University of St. Andrews and the University of Oxford. He was also the first American to become a member of the French Royal Academy of Science and also the first American to be awarded to Copley Medal in 1753, one of the highest awards of the Royal Society of London, he later became a fellow of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge. Franklin also played a large role in the advancement of education, a radical idea implemented in the Constitution, which was co-written by Franklin, and originated from the Northwest ordinance of 1785. In 1749 he wrote Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania; its publication led to the establishment in 1751 of the Philadelphia Academy, later to become the University of Pennsylvania. The curriculum he suggested was a considerable departure from the program of classical studies then in vogue. English and modern foreign languages were to be emphasized as well as mathematics and science.
In 1748 Franklin finally sold his printing business and was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1750, he served in it until 1764. He was promoted in the mail service and was appointed deputy postmaster general for the colonies in 1753, and only a year later in 1754 he was the delegate from Pennsylvania to the intercolonial congress meeting in Albany to consider methods of dealing with the French and Indian War, starting in 1754 and carrying on untill 1763. His Albany Plan, in many ways prophetic of the 1787 U.S. Constitution, provided for local independence within a framework of colonial union, union being a term Franklin stressed throughout his political career, but was too far in advance of public thinking to obtain ratification. It was his staunch belief that the adoption of this plan would have averted the American Revolution. The Pennsylvania Colonies being descendants of the Quaker leader William Penn, in conformity with their religious opposition to war refused to allow their landholdings to be taxed for the prosecution of the war. Thus, in 1757, Franklin was sent to England by the Pennsylvania Assembly to petition the king for the right to levy taxes on proprietary lands. After completing his mission, he remained in England for five years as the chief representative of the American colonies. During this period he made friends with many prominent Englishmen, including the chemist and clergyman Joseph Priestley, the philosopher and historian David Hume, and the philosopher and economist Adam Smith.
In 1762 Franklin returned to Piladelphia from England where he stayed untill 1764 when he was sent back to England, this time as a representative to Pennsylvania. In 1766 he was interrogated before the House of Commons regarding the effects of the Stamp Act upon the colonies; his testimony was largely influential in securing the repeal of the act. However not long after the stamp act new forms of unfair taxation where implemented and Ben found himself torn between his people and his land, and his loyalty as a subject of George III of Great Britain. His inner turmoil was soon put to rest, as he realized the inevitable war ahead. After being gone for some 11 years, Franklin headed home to find that the Revolution had begun with out him, the battles of Lexington and Concord having already passed. He was chosen as a member of the Second Continental Congress, and served on ten committees. His position in the postal service increased as well, leaving him no reason to be disgruntle, he held the position postmaster general for a full year.
He was 70 years old by the time he returned to America. He helped write the Declaration of Independence and was one of those who singed it. He next went to France where he renewed old contacts and secured an alliance against Great Britain, without which the colonists would undoubtedly have been defeated. On September 3, 1783 at Versailles he helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris that ended the war. Returning home once more, now a well seasoned traveler if you will, Franklin helped write to Constitution (they were afraid to let him for they thought he might include a joke in it). His intervention at some times preventing the delegates giving up and simply going home. His greatness lies with in the pages of his unfinished autobiography, his last great act, two months before his death, was a petition he sent to Congress concerning the freedom of the slaves. He died April 17, 1790 in his Philadelphia home at the age of 84.