censorious adj : harshly critical or expressing censure; "was censorious of petty failings"
Benjamin Franklin ( – April 17 1790) was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author and printer, satirist, political theorist, politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman and diplomat. As a scientist he was a major figure in the Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. He invented the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, a carriage odometer, and a musical instrument. He formed both the first public lending library in America and first fire department in Pennsylvania. He was an early proponent of colonial unity and as a political writer and activist he, more than anyone, invented the idea of an American nation and as a diplomat during the American Revolution, he secured the French alliance that helped to make independence possible.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Franklin learned printing from his older brother and became a newspaper editor, printer, and merchant in Philadelphia, becoming very wealthy, writing and publishing Poor Richard's Almanack and the Pennsylvania Gazette. Franklin was interested in science and technology, and gained international renown for his famous experiments. He played a major role in establishing the University of Pennsylvania and Franklin & Marshall College and was elected the first president of the American Philosophical Society. Franklin became a national hero in America when he spearheaded the effort to have Parliament repeal the unpopular Stamp Act. An accomplished diplomat, he was widely admired among the French as American minister to Paris and was a major figure in the development of positive Franco-American relations. From 1775 to 1776, Franklin was Postmaster General under the Continental Congress and from 1785 to 1788 was President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania. Toward the end of his life, he became one of the most prominent abolitionists.
Franklin's colorful life and legacy of scientific and political achievement, and status as one of America's most influential Founding Fathers, has seen Franklin honored on coinage and money; warships; the names of many towns, counties, educational institutions, namesakes, and companies; and more than two centuries after his death, countless cultural references.
AncestryFranklin's father, Josiah Franklin, was born at Ecton, Northamptonshire, England on December 23, 1657, the son of Thomas Franklin, a blacksmith and farmer, and Jane White. His mother, Abiah Folger, was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, on August 15, 1667, to Peter Folger, a miller and schoolteacher and his wife Mary Morrill, a former indentured servant. A descendant of the Folgers, J. A. Folger, founded Folgers Coffee in the 19th century.
Ben Franklin's great-great-grandmother was Alice Elmy from Diss on the Suffolk / Norfolk border in England.
Around 1677, Josiah married Anne Child at Ecton, and over the next few years had three children. These half-siblings of Benjamin Franklin included Elizabeth (March 2, 1678), Samuel (May 16, 1681), and Hannah (May 25, 1683).
Sometime during the second half of 1683, the Franklins left England for Boston, Massachusetts. They had several more children in Boston, including Josiah Jr. (August 23, 1685), Ann (January 5, 1687), Joseph (February 5, 1688), and Joseph (June 30, 1689) (the first Joseph died soon after birth).
Josiah's first wife, Anne, died in Boston on July 9, 1689. He was married to Abiah Folger on November 25, 1689 in the Old South Meeting House of Boston by Samuel Willard.
Josiah and Abiah had the following children: John (December 7, 1690), Peter (November 22,1692), Mary (September 26, 1694), James (February 4, 1697), Sarah (July 9, 1699), Ebenezer (September 20, 1701), Thomas (December 7, 1703), Benjamin (January 17, 1706), Lydia (August 8, 1708), and Jane (March 27, 1712).
Early lifeBenjamin Franklin was born on Milk Street in Boston on January 17, 1706 and baptized at Old South Meeting House. His father, Josiah Franklin, was a tallow chandler, a maker of candles and soap, whose second wife, Abiah Folger, was Benjamin's mother. Josiah's marriages produced 17 children; Benjamin was the fifteenth child and youngest son. Josiah wanted Ben to attend school with the clergy but only had enough money to send him to school for two years. He attended Boston Latin School but did not graduate; he continued his education through voracious reading. Although "his parents talked of the church as a career" for Franklin, his schooling ended when he was ten. He then worked for his father for a time and at 12 he became an apprentice to his brother James, a printer. When Ben was 15, James created the New England Courant, the first truly independent newspaper in the colonies. When denied the option to write to the paper, Franklin invented the pseudonym of Mrs. Silence Dogood, who was ostensibly a middle-aged widow. The letters were published in the paper and became a subject of conversation around town. Neither James nor the Courant's readers were aware of the ruse, and James was unhappy with Ben when he discovered the popular correspondent was his younger brother. Franklin left his apprenticeship without permission and in so doing became a fugitive.
At age 17, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, seeking a new start in a new city. When he first arrived he worked in several printer shops around town. However, he was not satisfied by the immediate prospects. After a few months, while working in a printing house, Franklin was convinced by Pennsylvania Governor Sir William Keith to go to London, ostensibly to acquire the equipment necessary for establishing another newspaper in Philadelphia. Finding Keith's promises of backing a newspaper to be empty, Franklin worked as a compositor in a printer's shop in what is now the Church of St Bartholomew-the-Great in the Smithfield area of London. Following this, he returned to Philadelphia in 1726 with the help of a merchant named Thomas Denham, who gave Franklin a position as clerk, shopkeeper, and bookkeeper in Denham's merchant business. That same year, he edited and published the first Masonic book in the Americas, a reprint of James Anderson's Constitutions of the Free-Masons. Franklin remained a Freemason throughout the rest of his life.
Deborah ReadIn 1724, while a boarder in the Read home, Franklin had courted Deborah Read before going to London at Governor Keith's request. At that time, Miss Read's mother was wary of allowing her daughter to wed a seventeen-year old who was on his way to London. Her own husband having recently died, Mrs. Read declined Franklin's offer of marriage. His inventions also included social innovations, such as paying forward.
As deputy postmaster, Franklin became interested in the North Atlantic Ocean circulation patterns which carried mail ships. Franklin worked with Timothy Folger, his cousin and experienced Nantucket whaler captain, and other experienced ship captains, learning enough to chart the Gulf Stream, giving it the name by which it's still known today. It took many years for British sea captains to follow Franklin's advice on navigating the current, but once they did, they were able to gain two weeks in sailing time.
In 1743, Franklin founded the American Philosophical Society to help scientific men discuss their discoveries and theories. He began the electrical research that, along with other scientific inquiries, would occupy him for the rest of his life, in between bouts of politics and moneymaking. and he was the first to discover the principle of conservation of charge. In 1750, he published a proposal for an experiment to prove that lightning is electricity by flying a kite in a storm that appeared capable of becoming a lightning storm. On May 10, 1752, Thomas-François Dalibard of France conducted Franklin's experiment (using a 40-foot-tall iron rod instead of a kite) and extracted electrical sparks from a cloud. On June 15, Franklin may have possibly conducted his famous kite experiment in Philadelphia and also successfully extracted sparks from a cloud, although there are theories that suggest he never performed the experiment. Franklin's experiment was not written up until Joseph Priestley's 1767 History and Present Status of Electricity; the evidence shows that Franklin was insulated (not in a conducting path, since he would have been in danger of electrocution in the event of a lightning strike). (Others, such as Prof. Georg Wilhelm Richmann of Saint Petersburg, Russia, were electrocuted during the months following Franklin's experiment.) In his writings, Franklin indicates that he was aware of the dangers and offered alternative ways to demonstrate that lightning was electrical, as shown by his use of the concept of electrical ground. If Franklin did perform this experiment, he did not do it in the way that is often described, flying the kite and waiting to be struck by lightning, as it would have been fatal. Instead, he used the kite to collect some electric charge from a storm cloud, which implied that lightning was electrical.
On October 19 in a letter to England explaining directions for repeating the experiment, Franklin wrote:
"When rain has wet the kite twine so that it can conduct the electric fire freely, you will find it streams out plentifully from the key at the approach of your knuckle, and with this key a phial, or Leiden jar, maybe charged: and from electric fire thus obtained spirits may be kindled, and all other electric experiments [may be] performed which are usually done by the help of a rubber glass globe or tube; and therefore the sameness of the electrical matter with that of lightening completely demonstrated."
Franklin's electrical experiments led to his invention of the lightning rod. He noted that conductors with a sharp rather than a smooth point were capable of discharging silently, and at a far greater distance. He surmised that this knowledge could be of use in protecting buildings from lightning, by attaching "upright Rods of Iron, made sharp as a Needle and gilt to prevent Rusting, and from the Foot of those Rods a Wire down the outside of the Building into the Ground;...Would not these pointed Rods probably draw the Electrical Fire silently out of a Cloud before it came nigh enough to strike, and thereby secure us from that most sudden and terrible Mischief!" Following a series of experiments on Franklin's own house, lightning rods were installed on the Academy of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania) and the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall) in 1752.
In recognition of his work with electricity, Franklin received the Royal Society's Copley Medal in 1753, and in 1756 he became one of the few eighteenth century Americans to be elected as a Fellow of the Society. The cgs unit of electric charge has been named after him: one franklin (Fr) is equal to one statcoulomb.
On October 21, 1743, according to popular myth, a storm moving from the southwest denied Franklin the opportunity of witnessing a lunar eclipse. Franklin was said to have noted that the prevailing winds were actually from the northeast, contrary to what he had expected. In correspondence with his brother, Franklin learned that the same storm had not reached Boston until after the eclipse, despite the fact that Boston is to the northeast of Philadelphia. He deduced that storms do not always travel in the direction of the prevailing wind, a concept which would have great influence in meteorology.
Franklin noted a principle of refrigeration by observing that on a very hot day, he stayed cooler in a wet shirt in a breeze than he did in a dry one. To understand this phenomenon more clearly Franklin conducted experiments. On one warm day in Cambridge, England, in 1758, Franklin and fellow scientist John Hadley experimented by continually wetting the ball of a mercury thermometer with ether and using bellows to evaporate the ether. With each subsequent evaporation, the thermometer read a lower temperature, eventually reaching 7 °F (-14 °C). Another thermometer showed the room temperature to be constant at 65 °F (18 °C). In his letter "Cooling by Evaporation," Franklin noted that "one may see the possibility of freezing a man to death on a warm summer’s day."
Musical endeavorsFranklin is known to have played the violin, the harp, and the guitar. He also composed music, notably a string quartet in early classical style, and invented a much-improved version of the glass harmonica, in which each glass was made to rotate on its own, with the player's fingers held steady, instead of the other way around; this version soon found its way to Europe.
Public lifeIn 1736, Franklin created the Union Fire Company, one of the first volunteer fire fighting companies in America. In the same year, he printed a new currency for New Jersey based on innovative anti-counterfeiting techniques which he had devised.
As he matured, Franklin began to concern himself more with public affairs. In 1743, he set forth a scheme for The Academy and College of Philadelphia. He was appointed president of the academy in November 13, 1749, and it opened on August 13, 1751. At its first commencement, on May 17, 1757, seven men graduated; six with a Bachelor of Arts and one as Master of Arts. It was later merged with the University of the State of Pennsylvania to become the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1751, Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond obtained a charter from the Pennsylvania legislature to establish a hospital. Pennsylvania Hospital was the first hospital in what was to become the United States of America.
Franklin became involved in Philadelphia politics and rapidly progressed. In October 1748, he was selected as a councilman, in June 1749 he became a Justice of the Peace for Philadelphia, and in 1751 he was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly. On August 10, 1753, Franklin was appointed joint deputy postmaster-general of North America. His most notable service in domestic politics was his reform of the postal system, but his fame as a statesman rests chiefly on his subsequent diplomatic services in connection with the relations of the colonies with Great Britain, and later with France.
He also joined the influential Birmingham based Lunar Society with whom he regularly corresponded and on occasion, visited in Birmingham in the West Midlands.
Coming of RevolutionIn 1763, soon after Franklin returned to Pennsylvania, the western frontier was engulfed in a bitter war known as Pontiac's Rebellion. The Paxton Boys, a group of settlers convinced that the Pennsylvania government was not doing enough to protect them from American Indian raids, murdered a group of peaceful Susquehannock Indians and then marched on Philadelphia. Franklin helped to organize the local militia in order to defend the capital against the mob, and then met with the Paxton leaders and persuaded them to disperse. Franklin wrote a scathing attack against the racial prejudice of the Paxton Boys. "If an Indian injures me," he asked, "does it follow that I may revenge that Injury on all Indians?"
At this time, many members of the Pennsylvania Assembly were feuding with William Penn's heirs, who controlled the colony as proprietors. Franklin led the "anti-proprietary party" in the struggle against the Penn family, and was elected Speaker of the Pennsylvania House in May 1764. His call for a change from proprietary to royal government was a rare political miscalculation, however: Pennsylvanians worried that such a move would endanger their political and religious freedoms. Because of these fears, and because of political attacks on his character, Franklin lost his seat in the October 1764 Assembly elections. The anti-proprietary party dispatched Franklin to England to continue the struggle against the Penn family proprietorship, but during this visit, events would drastically change the nature of his mission.
In London, Franklin opposed the 1765 Stamp Act, but when he was unable to prevent its passage, he made another political miscalculation and recommended a friend to the post of stamp distributor for Pennsylvania. Pennsylvanians were outraged, believing that he had supported the measure all along, and threatened to destroy his home in Philadelphia. Franklin soon learned of the extent of colonial resistance to the Stamp Act, and his testimony before the House of Commons led to its repeal. With this, Franklin suddenly emerged as the leading spokesman for American interests in England. He wrote popular essays on behalf of the colonies, and Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts also appointed him as their agent to the Crown.
While living in London in 1768, he developed a phonetic alphabet in A Scheme for a new Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling. This reformed alphabet discarded six letters Franklin regarded as redundant (c, j, q, w, x and y), and substituted six new letters for sounds he felt lacked letters of their own. His new alphabet, however, never caught on and he eventually lost interest.
In 1771, Franklin traveled extensively around the British Isles staying with, among others, Joseph Priestley and David Hume. In Dublin, Franklin was invited to sit with the members of the Irish Parliament rather than in the gallery. He was the first American to be given this honor. While touring Ireland, he was moved by the level of poverty he saw. Ireland's economy was affected by the same trade regulations and laws of England which governed America. Franklin feared that America could suffer the same effects should Britain’s colonial exploitation continue.
In 1773, Franklin published two of his most celebrated pro-American satirical essays: Rules by Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced to a Small One, and An Edict by the King of Prussia. He also published an Abridgment of the Book of Common Prayer, anonymously with Francis Dashwood. Among the unusual features of this work is a funeral service reduced to six minutes in length, "to preserve the health and lives of the living."]]
By the time Franklin arrived in Philadelphia on May 5, the American Revolution had begun with fighting at Lexington and Concord. The New England militia had trapped the main British army in Boston. The Pennsylvania Assembly unanimously chose Franklin as their delegate to the Second Continental Congress. In June 1776, he was appointed a member of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Although he was temporarily disabled by gout and unable to attend most meetings of the Committee, Franklin made a several small changes to the draft sent to him by Thomas Jefferson.
Ambassador to France: 1776-1785In December 1776, Franklin was dispatched to France as commissioner for the United States. He lived in a home in the Parisian suburb of Passy, donated by Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont who supported the United States. Franklin remained in France until 1785, and was such a favorite of French society that it became fashionable for wealthy French families to decorate their parlors with a painting of him. He was highly flirtatious in the French manner (but did not have any actual affairs). He conducted the affairs of his country towards the French nation with great success, which included securing a critical military alliance in 1778 and negotiating the Treaty of Paris (1783). During his stay in France, Benjamin Franklin as a freemason was Grand Master of the Lodge Les Neuf Sœurs from 1779 until 1781. His number was 24 in the Lodge. He was also a Past Grand Master of Pennsylvania. In 1784, when Franz Mesmer began to publicize his theory of "animal magnetism", which was considered offensive by many, Louis XVI appointed a commission to investigate it. These included the chemist Antoine Lavoisier, the physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the astronomer Jean Sylvain Bailly and Benjamin Franklin.
Constitutional ConventionWhen he finally returned home in 1785, Franklin occupied a position only second to that of George Washington as the champion of American independence. Le Ray honored him with a commissioned portrait painted by Joseph Duplessis that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. After his return, Franklin became an abolitionist, freeing both of his slaves. He eventually became president of Pennsylvania Abolition Society.
In 1787, Franklin served as a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention. He held an honorific position and seldom engaged in debate. He is the only Founding Father who is a signatory of all four of the major documents of the founding of the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris, the Treaty of Alliance with France, and the United States Constitution.
In 1787, a group of prominent ministers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, proposed the foundation of a new college to be named in Franklin's honor. Franklin donated £200 towards the development of Franklin College, which is now called Franklin & Marshall College.
Between 1771 and 1788, he finished his autobiography. While it was at first addressed to his son, it was later completed for the benefit of mankind at the request of a friend.
In his later years, as Congress was forced to deal with the issue of slavery, Franklin wrote several essays that attempted to convince his readers of the importance of the abolition of slavery and of the integration of Africans into American society. These writings included:
- An Address to the Public, (1789)
- A Plan for Improving the Condition of the Free Blacks (1789), and
- Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim on the Slave Trade (1790).
In 1790, Quakers from New York and Pennsylvania presented their petition for abolition. Their argument against slavery was backed by the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society and its president, Benjamin Franklin.
President of PennsylvaniaSpecial balloting conducted 18 November 1785 unanimously elected Franklin the sixth President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, replacing John Dickinson. The office of President of Pennsylvania was analogous to the modern position of Governor. It is not clear why Dickinson needed to be replaced with less than two weeks remaining before the regular election. Franklin held that office for slightly over three years, longer than any other, and served the Constitutional limit of three full terms. Shortly after his initial election he was re-elected to a full term on 29 October 1785, and again in the fall of 1786 and on 31 October 1787. Officially, his term concluded on 5 November 1788, but there is some question regarding the de facto end of his term, suggesting that the aging Franklin may not have been actively involved in the day-to-day operation of the Council toward the end of his time in office.
Virtue, religion and personal beliefsLike the other advocates of republicanism, Franklin emphasized that the new republic could survive only if the people were virtuous in the sense of attention to civic duty and rejection of corruption. All his life he had been exploring the role of civic and personal virtue, as expressed in Poor Richard's aphorisms.
Although Franklin's parents had intended for him to have a career in the church, Franklin became disillusioned with organized religion after discovering Deism. "I soon became a thorough Deist." He went on to attack Christian principles of free will and morality in a 1725 pamphlet, A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain. He consistently attacked religious dogma, arguing that morality was more dependent upon virtue and benevolent actions than on strict obedience to religious orthodoxy: "I think opinions should be judged by their influences and effects; and if a man holds none that tend to make him less virtuous or more vicious, it may be concluded that he holds none that are dangerous, which I hope is the case with me."
A few years later, Franklin repudiated his 1725 pamphlet as an embarrassing "erratum." In 1790, just about a month before he died, Franklin wrote the following in a letter to Ezra Stiles, president of Yale, who had asked him his views on religion:
Quakerish, Victorian, abusive, accusatory, back-biting, belittling, bitchy, blackening, blameful, calumniatory, calumnious, captious, carping, catty, caviling, chiding, choicy, choosy, condemnatory, conscientious, contemptuous, contumelious, critic, critical, damnatory, defamatory, demure, denunciatory, deprecative, deprecatory, depreciative, depreciatory, derisive, derisory, derogative, derogatory, detractory, discriminating, discriminative, disparaging, exacting, execrating, execrative, execratory, fastidious, faultfinding, hidebound, hypercritical, invective, inveighing, judgmental, libelous, meticulous, mid-Victorian, minimizing, narrow, objurgatory, old-maidish, overcritical, overmodest, particular, pejorative, perfectionistic, picky, precise, precisianistic, priggish, prim, proscriptive, prudish, punctilious, puristic, puritanic, puritanical, reproachful, reprobative, reviling, ridiculing, sanctimonious, scandalous, scoffing, scrupulous, scurrile, scurrilous, selective, sensitive, slanderous, slighting, smug, stiff-necked, straitlaced, strict, stuffy, vilifying, vituperative