A politician, a physicist, and a humanist philosopher, Benjamin Franklin is best known as a Founding Father of the United States of America. Born on January 17, 1706, the seventeenth child of a family of modest means, Benjamin Frankly left school early on to work for his brother’s newspaper, the New England Courant. Adopting a pen name, he wrote a handful of successful articles, before leaving Boston for Philadelphia, where he purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette, which became under his helm among the most popular newspapers of the colonies. In 1732, under the name of Richard Saunders, Franklin wrote Poor Richard’s Almanack, a series of popular pamphlet which continually appeared from 1732 to 1758 and became a household favorite.
Franklin soon became prosperous, and famous all over the colonies. He involved himself in cultural and social life, establishing the Junto, a philosophical club, and helping to create many public infrastructures, such as a library, a hospital, and a college which later became the University of Pennsylvania. He also created his state’ first Fire Brigade.
A natural inventor, Benjamin Franklin also illustrated himself in the field of sciences. He most notably undertook experiments on lightning and molecules, and witnessed the rise of the world’s first hot-air balloon at the French court in 1783.
Franklin’s name is also associated with politics. An altruistic freemason, Benjamin Franklin was popular among the public, and was elected a member of Pennsylvania’s colonial assembly in 1751. In 1757, he became the colony’s representative in London to defend its interests before the King. After traveling to Belgium and the Netherlands, he was chosen by his peers in 1764 to become the colonial Ambassador to London. When he returned to Philadelphia, Franklin firmly supported American independence. In the months leading up to July 4th, 1776, he was a member of the Committee of Five drafting the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Three months later, he became the first U.S. ambassador to France, and was sent to Versailles on a mission to convince King Louis XVI to back American independence. The French literary and scientific elite, which viewed him as a living embodiment of the humanist values of the Enlightenment, gave him a warm welcome. The English defeat at Saratoga in February, 1778, finally convinced the French to send an army, a fleet, and considerable financial help to the U.S.
After the battle of Yorktown, in October, 1781, in which American and French forces defeated the British, Benjamin Franklin began negotiating peace with representatives of the British crown. He was to be one of the main authors of the Treaty of Paris, which finally granted independence to the United States.
Upon returning to Philadelphia, in 1785, Franklin was more popular than ever. He was elected President of the State of Pennsylvania, a position he held until 1788. He devoted the rest of his life to fighting for the abolition of slavery and was a delegate to the 1787 convention which wrote the U.S. constitution.
Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790, at the age of 84. He is without a doubt one of the most illustrious figures of American history. A man of science and letters, he remained close to the people, and embodied values of justice, industry, and equity. The “first great man of letters,” as David Hume liked to call him, represented what was best in the Century of Enlightenment. He was an idealist and a pragmatist: “Without the freedom to think, there can be no wisdom; and no freedom of the people without freedom of speech; that shall be the right of all men as long as it does not injure the liberty of others”.
(Texte de Margaux MIGNARD)