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Benjamin Franklin and American History

By Mrs. Boynton

Teacher of Grades 4-5 Bible Study, History, Geography, Latin, Math 6/7, Lower School Music, Upper School Latin II, Bell Choir

Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony, on January 17, 1706. He was the 15th of 17 children born to Josiah Franklin. Benjamin attended the Boston Latin School until the age of 10, during which time he was needed in his father’s candle-making shop. Although his formal education was very brief, he was a voracious reader and active thinker.

At the age of 12, Benjamin was apprenticed to his brother James as a type-setter in his print shop. Although the job was physically demanding, and he was often mistreated by his brother, this job allowed Benjamin the opportunity to read often and learn the printing trade. When Benjamin was 15, his brother James started to publish the New England Courant, the first newspaper in Boston to print news and editorials from the colonies rather than news of foreign affairs. Benjamin wanted to publish some of his own writing in his brother’s paper, but James refused. Determined, Benjamin Franklin wrote letters under the pseudonym of Silence Dogood, a fictitious Bostonian widow. He wrote the letters and slipped them under the door of the print shop for his brother to find.

The witty letters were published in the paper to great acclaim. The people in Boston all wanted to know who had written the letters. After 14 letters had been published, Benjamin admitted that he had been the author. The people thought Benjamin was clever, but his brother James was angry. At the age of 17, with 3 more years left of his apprenticeship, Benjamin Franklin ran away. He ended up in Philadelphia, which would be his home for the rest of his life. There he met his wife, Deborah Read, whom he married 7 years later.

In 1729 Benjamin Franklin began publishing the Philadelphia Gazette, which became the most successful newspaper in Philadelphia. In 1733 he began publishing Poor Richard’s Almanack, a book that contained weather reports, recipes, and many of Benjamin Franklin’s witty maxims such as “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” He also made several contributions to his city by starting the fire brigade, the Library Company (the first subscription library), the Pennsylvania Hospital, and the American Philosophical Society. These institutions still exist today. In 1749 Benjamin Franklin retired from his business. He now had time to turn to his interests in science. Franklin had already invented swim flippers and a more heat-efficient stove. He would also invent bifocal glasses, a musical instrument called the glass armonica, the rocking chair, the penny, and others. He would also conduct his famous electricity experiments. He coined the electrical terminology we still use today: battery, charge, conductor, and electrify. He also invented the lightning rod. In his many trips to and from London, he discovered the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean, taking 2 weeks off the trip from Europe to North America.

In the 1750s Benjamin Franklin turned his focus to politics. He became a member of the Philadelphia city council and the Pennsylvania Assembly. In 1757 he was appointed by the assembly to be the colony’s representative in England. He stayed in London for the next 18 years. He came to England as a loyal Englishman, but after witnessing corruption in English politics, and intercepting letters from the Massachusetts governor calling for a reduction of liberties for the colonists, Franklin came back to America as an ardent supporter of the Patriot cause. Benjamin Franklin was elected to the Second Continental Congress and served on the committee of 5 men that helped to draft the Declaration of Independence. He signed the declaration in 1776. Later that year he was sent to France as the first American ambassador to France. Due in large part to his wit and fame as a scientist, Benjamin Franklin was very popular in France. His popularity gave him opportunities to help his new country that others would not have had.

Through his efforts, the French signed a Treaty of Alliance with America in 1778, which secured financial and military aid. Benjamin Franklin remained in France through the duration of the American Revolutionary War. His skilled diplomacy led to the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, ending the war. In 1785 he would finally return to America. In 1787, at the age of 81, Benjamin Franklin was elected to be Pennsylvania’s representative at the Constitutional Convention. While at the convention he would make many important contributions, including the Great Compromise, which created the system of representation we have in congress today. Benjamin Franklin became one of only 8 men to sign both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790, at the age of 84. His funeral was attended by more than 20,000 people. All of them are there to honor a man who made lasting and important contributions as an author, civic engineer, inventor, scientist, statesman, and founding father. _____________________

This historical thought was delivered by students in fourth and fifth grade at devotional on 1/19/23. Each week one class leads the student body in prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, scripture recitation, a meditation, and an historical thought. Family and friends are welcome, Thursdays 8:30-9:05 am.

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