Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin started as an apprentice to a printer and developed his own print shop. He would later start the first library in the colonies in Philadelphia. In addition, he began the first fire department (1730), the first hospital, and the first militia (after the government refused to act after a threat from the French and Indians). In terms of the hospital, the Pennsylvania Assembly didn't want the hospital so Franklin said he'd raise half of the money (2000 Pounds) and if he did the assembly would match it. They agreed since they didn't think he'd be able to get the money, but he did and the bill was signed May 11, 1751 to build a hospital to care for the sick, poor, and insane who were wondering the streets of Philadelphia. In 1754, France began to increase their goal of driving the English colonists out of the frontier. There was also an increase in Indian raids. The colonial militia system was failing so Franklin began to circulate ideas for an American militia (he printed a major newspaper, Poor Richard's Almanack, and was the Postmaster for the colonies). He taught unity, and it worked. He came up with the "Join, or Die" political cartoon.

The reason Franklin used a snake was because there was a French myth that if you bury a snake, you have to bury each part separately because the pieces would get back together and live. Each piece of the snake represents a colony and indicated that the French wanted to keep the colonies separate. The rattlesnake specifically was used since it doesn't bother anyone, it is cautious, and it gets rid of vermin, but it isn't afraid and its eyes are always alert. The rattle warns before striking and only strikes when provoked. Franklin was known for his experiment with lightning as well (kite and key experiment). The experiment showed how it was possible to harness lightning and led to the development of the lightning rod. In England, Franklin put them on the king's gun powder shops and the people thought it was sabotage. The lightning rod keeps the building from being hit (today most homes have similar protections). In terms of helping the poor, Franklin believed charities were best rather than public money (tax dollars). He had experience by raising money for the hospital in PA. He is quoted as saying "I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth, I traveled much, and I observed in different countries that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And on the contrary, the less that was done for them, the more they did for themselves and became richer" (November 27-29, 1765). Altogether, Franklin believed that charities could better serve those who had a need and believed that the government would lead people to be dependent on the government rather than work hard to get out of a tough situation. Franklin didn't profit from his inventions, but rather gave his inventions to be freely used by anyone.

Franklin supported declaring independence in 1776 and edited Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. One of the changes he made was eliminating "property" and using "pursuit of happiness" for the inalienable rights. Pursuit of happiness in 1776 meant "happen chance" of that everyone should have the chance at the life they want. At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Franklin and John Adams met with British General William Howe (after the colonists were defeated in the Battle of Long Island) in which Howe demanded that the Declaration of Independence be rescinded before any other negotiations. Franklin and Adams refused. During the Revolution, Franklin was able to put together the alliance with France. Independence would not have been won without the help of France.

In terms of his beliefs, Franklin was religious (Presbyterian) and believed in worship and prayer. Also, he felt people should live within their means (penny saved is a penny earned). He devised a list of 13 virtues and practiced one each week (each would be practiced four times in a year).

"All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance? 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?" - Benjamin Franklin, To Colleagues at the Constitutional Convention – Franklin was addressing importance of God (nature’s God as in the Declaration of Independence). Franklin believed God gave men natural rights and that it was government’s duty to protect those rights.

Back to Benjamin Franklin main page