Remembering Benjamin Franklin – America’s Greatest Diplomat


On January 17, 2006, our nation will celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birthday of Benjamin Franklin. His birth began a long line of those whom we have since termed “Founding Fathers”, who came in preparation for the establishment of the American Republic. Samuel Adams would come in 1722; George Washington in 1732; John Adams in 1735; Patrick Henry in 1736; Thomas Jefferson in 1743; and James Madison in 1751. In fact, by 1760, a period of only 54 years, all 121 of the men we generally call Founding Fathers would be born. Fifty-five of them would attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The other 66 would attend the ratification conventions or otherwise be active in promoting and adopting the Constitution of the United States.

Of their work, other national leaders would say:

"It will be the wonder and admiration of all future generations, and the model of all future constitutions." (William Pitt, leader of British Parliament)

"It is the greatest piece of work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man." (William E. Gladstone, prime minister of England)

"I think and believe that it is one of the most perfect organizations that ever governed a free people.” (Sir John A. Macdonald, first prime minister of Canada)

John Adams believed these and others were fulfilling a larger purpose in establishing America. Said he:

"I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence for the illumination of the ignorant, and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth." (Above quotes in Skousen, The Making of America, pp.7-9)

The great English philosopher, John Locke, in his Second Essay Concerning Civil Government apparently felt the birth of particular persons into this world was by design and purpose. Said he: “…for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, [they are] sent into the world by His order and about His business…”

Who Is the Real Benjamin Franklin?

Andrew M. Allison, author of The Real Benjamin Franklin, published by NCCS, begins his book by declaring:

“There are many Benjamin Franklins. Or at least he has taken on many different forms in the history books and conversations of the last two centuries.

“Some historians have shown us an aged statesman whose wise and steadying influence kept the Constitutional Convention together in 1787, while others have pictured a chuckling prankster who couldn't resist a funny story. Some remember Franklin for flying a kite in a thunderstorm; others think of him as a successful printer of the colonial era; still others know him only as an expounder of clever maxims ("A penny saved is a penny earned") or the author of a now famous autobiography.

“More recently, a certain brand of biographers and journalists has conjured up sensational tales of a lecherous old diplomat in his seventies who enjoyed illicit affairs with adoring young French women. And a few years ago Franklin even reappeared as a British spy! Some of these myths are now being repeated and embellished in school textbooks and ‘educational’ television programs.

“There are many other versions of Franklin as well—some slanderous, some complimentary. New portrayals continue to come forward, multiplying and changing with each generation.

“Which of all these Benjamin Franklins, if any, is real? This book is an attempt to answer that question. Or, more accurately, it is an attempt to let Franklin himself provide the answer. The Real Benjamin Franklin makes no effort to develop another ‘fresh interpretation’ of the Sage of Philadelphia. Instead, it seats us across the table from the one person who really knew Ben Franklin—that is, Franklin himself—and gives him an opportunity to explain his life and ideas in his own words. (See Allison, The Real Benjamin Franklin, preface)

A Life of Incredible Accomplishments

No short letter can do justice to Benjamin Franklin’s life. However, a short preview of the highlights of his life can remind us of how blessed we Americans should feel that such an one so talented and brilliant was helping found our nation. Again, Andrew Allison outlines for us the biographical highlights of this amazing personality.

1706, January 17
Born in Boston, Massachusetts.
1714
Placed in the Boston Grammar School (age 8); completed only two years of formal schooling.
1718
Bound as an apprentice to his half-brother James, a printer (age 12); during his apprenticeship, published several newspaper pieces under the pseudonym "Silence Dogood."
1723, September
Ran away to Philadelphia, where he began working in the print shop of Samuel Keimer (age 17).
1724, November 5
Sailed to England (age 18); worked in London in the printing trade until his return to Philadelphia in July 1726.
1728
Set up a printing partnership with Hugh Meredith (age 22).
1729, October 2
Began publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette (age 23); bought out his partner the following summer.
1730, September 1
Married Deborah Read (age 24).
1732, December 19
Published the first issue of Poor Richard's Almanack (age 26).
1736, October 15
Appointed clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly (age 30); his four-year-old son "Franky" died of smallpox the next month.
1737
Appointed postmaster of Philadelphia (age 31).
1739–40
Invented the "Franklin Stove" (age 33 or 34).
1743
Founded the American Philosophical Society (age 37).
1747, November
Organized a militia to defend Pennsylvania against the French (age 41).
1748, January 1
Formed a partnership with David Hall and retired from active business to pursue scientific interests (age 41).
1751, August
Elected a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly (age 45).
1752, June
Conducted his famous kite experiment outside Philadelphia to prove that lightning and electricity were identical (age 46).
1753, August 10
Appointed, jointly with William Hunter of Virginia, Deputy Postmaster General of North America (age 47).
1754, June
His plan for a union of the American colonies was approved by the Albany Congress (age 48); however, it was later rejected by the British government and by the colonial assemblies.
1756, January
As military commander of militia forces along the Pennsylvania frontier, supervised construction of three stockades for defense against the Indians (age 50).
1757, June 20
Sailed for England as an agent of the Pennsylvania Assembly (age 51); spent the next five years in London working to settle disputes between the Assembly and the colony's proprietors.
1762, August 24
Began his return voyage to Philadelphia (age 56); the following month his 31-year-old son William was appointed royal Governor of New Jersey.
1764, November 9
Traveled again to England as an Assembly agent (age 58); while there, he was also appointed an agent for Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.
1766, February 13
Examined before the House of Commons regarding the effects of the Stamp Act in America (age 60); his knowledgeable replies helped lead to the repeal of the unpopular law several days later.
1774, December 19
His wife, who had not accompanied him to England because of her fear of ocean travel, died in Philadelphia (age 68); Franklin learned of this in February.
1775, March 22
Sailed back to America, having failed in his repeated attempts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Great Britain and the colonies (age 69).
1775, May 6
Chosen a delegate to the Second Continental Congress (age 69); served on many important committees and used his influence to help bring about American independence.
1776, September 26
Appointed by Congress to negotiate a treaty of alliance with France (age 70); arrived in Paris on December 21.
1778, February 6
Concluded treaties of alliance and of amity and commerce with the French government (age 72); presented to Louis XVI in March.
1783, September 3
Signed the definitive treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States, for which he had been the principal American negotiator (age 77).
1785, September 14
Arrived back in Philadelphia, having served in Paris almost nine years (age 79).
1785, October 18
Elected President (Governor) of Pennsylvania (age 79); served in this post for three years.
1787, March
Appointed a delegate to the Constitutional Convention (age 81); despite his old age and failing health, he attended sessions daily and participated actively during the four-month convention.
1790, February 3
As president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, signed a memorial to Congress calling for an end to slavery (age 84).
1790, April 17
Died peacefully at his home in Philadelphia (age 84).

“God Governs in the Affairs of Men”

Probably no instance in Franklin’s life is more telling of his beliefs and character than the moment he arose on the floor of a confused, angry, and frustrated Constitutional Convention to plead for the one method he knew could help them solve their problems. Said he:

“…The small progress we have made...is, methinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding.... In this situation of this assembly, groping, as it were, in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard—and they were graciously answered....

“I have lived, Sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that ‘except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that, without his concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel....”

Perhaps no other better advice could be given today to our confused, quarreling, and misguided Congress than these words of Franklin. How appropriate it would be to have this counsel from Benjamin Franklin read on the floor of Congress and in legislative halls throughout the land on January 17th.

Sincerely,

Earl Taylor, Jr.