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Ben Franklin

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Franklin, Benjamin, 1706--90, American statesman, printer, scientist, and writer, b. Boston. The only American of the colonial period to earn a European reputation as a natural philosopher, he is best remembered in the United States as a patriot and diplomat.

Printer and Writer

The son of a tallow chandler and soapmaker, Franklin left school at 10 years of age to help his father. He then was apprenticed to his half brother James, a printer and publisher of the New England Courant, to which young Ben secretly contributed. After much disagreement he left his brother's employment and went (1723) to Philadelphia to work as a printer. Industry and thrift-qualities he was to praise later-helped him to better himself.

After a sojourn in London (1724--26), he returned and in 1729 acquired an interest in the Pennsylvania Gazette. As owner and editor after 1730, he made the periodical popular. His common sense philosophy and his neatly turned phrases won public attention in the Gazette, in the later General Magazine, and especially in his Poor Richard's Almanack, which he published from 1732 to 1757. Many sayings of Poor Richard, praising prudence, common sense, and honesty, became standard American proverbs.

Franklin also interested himself in selling books, established a circulating library, organized a debating club that developed into the American Philosophical Society, helped to establish (1751) an academy that eventually became the Univ. of Pennsylvania, and brought about civic reforms. His writings are still widely known today, especially his autobiography (covering only his early years), which is generally considered one of the finest autobiographies in any language and has appeared in innumerable editions.

Scientist

Franklin had steadily extended his own knowledge by study of foreign languages, philosophy, and science. He repeated the experiments of other scientists and showed his usual practical bent by inventing such diverse things as the Franklin stove, bifocal eyeglasses, and a glass harmonica (see harmonica 2). The phenomenon of electricity interested him deeply, and in 1748 he turned his printing business over to his foreman, intending to devote his life to science. His experiment of flying a kite in a thunderstorm, which showed that lightning is an electrical discharge (but which he may not have personally performed), and his invention of the lightning rod were among a series of investigations that won him recognition from the leading scientists in England and on the Continent.

Statesman

Diplomat from Pennsylvania

Franklin held local public offices and served long (1753--74) as deputy postmaster general of the colonies. As such he reorganized the postal system, making it both efficient and profitable. His status as a public figure grew steadily. A Pennsylvania delegate to the Albany Congress (1754), he proposed there a plan of union for the colonies, which was accepted by the delegates but later rejected by both the provincial assemblies and the British government. He worked for the British cause in the French and Indian War, especially by providing transportation for the ill-fated expedition led by Edward Braddock against Fort Duquesne. Franklin was a leader of the popular party in Pennsylvania against the Penn family, who were the proprietors, and in 1757 he was sent to England to present the case against the Penns. He won (1760) for the colony the right to tax the Penn estates but advised moderation in applying the right.

He returned to America for two years (1762--64) but was in England when the Stamp Act caused a furor. Again he showed prudent moderation; he protested the act but asked the colonists to obey the law, thus losing some popularity in the colonies until he stoutly defended American rights at the time of the debates on repeal of the act. He was made agent for

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