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Benjamin Franklin, born January 17, 1706
Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. Franklin was a leading author and printer, satirist, political theorist, politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. As a scientist, he was a major figure in the Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. He invented the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, a carriage odometer, and the glass ‘armonica’. He formed both the 1st public lending library in America and 1st fire department in Pennsylvania. He was an early proponent of colonial unity and as a political writer and activist he, more than anyone, invented the idea of an American nation and as a diplomat during the American Revolution, he secured the French alliance that helped to make independence possible.
Franklin is credited as being foundational to the roots of American values and character, a marriage of the practical and democratic Puritan values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions, and opposition to authoritarianism both political and religious, with the scientific and tolerant values of the Enlightenment. Franklin became a newspaper editor, printer, and merchant in Philadelphia, becoming very wealthy, writing and publishing Poor Richard’s Almanack and the Pennsylvania Gazette. Franklin was interested in science and technology, and gained international renown for his famous experiments. An accomplished diplomat, he was widely admired among the French as American minister to Paris and was a major figure in the development of positive Franco-American relations. Toward the end of his life, he became one of the most prominent abolitionists.
Benjamin Franklin was born on Milk Street, in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1706. His father, Josiah Franklin, was a tallow chandler, a maker of candles and soap, whose 2nd wife, Abiah Folger, was Benjamin’s mother. Josiah’s marriages produced 17 children; Benjamin was the fifteenth child and youngest son. Ben attended Boston Latin School but did not graduate; he continued his education through voracious reading.
At the age of 17, Franklin proposed to 15 year old Deborah Read while a boarder in the Read home. At that time, the mother was wary of allowing her young daughter to wed Franklin. Her own husband having recently died, Mrs. Read declined his offer of marriage to her daughter. Besides, Franklin had a baby boy named William, by a woman whose identity remains unknown. Deborah married a man named John Rodgers. This proved to be a regrettable decision. Rodgers shortly avoided his debts and prosecution by fleeing to Barbados with her dowry, leaving Deborah behind. With Rodgers’ fate unknown, and bigamy illegal, Deborah was not free to remarry.
Franklin established a common-law marriage with Deborah Read on September 1, 1730, and besides taking in young William, together they had two children. The 1st, Francis Folger Franklin, born October 1732, died of smallpox in 1736. Sarah Franklin, nicknamed Sally, was born in 1743.
Like the other advocates of republicanism, Franklin emphasized that the completely new republic could survive only if the people were virtuous in the sense of attention to civic duty and rejected corruption. All his life he explored the role of civic and personal virtue, as expressed in Poor Richard’s aphorisms. Franklin later in life rarely attended Sunday services but commented that "…Sunday being my studying day, I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that He made the world, and governed it by His providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing Great to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter." One of Franklin’s endearing beliefs was in the respect and tolerance of all religious groups. He consistently attacked religious dogma, arguing that morality depended more on virtue and benevolent actions than on strict obedience to religious orthodoxy: "I think opinions should be judged by their influences and effects; and if a man holds none that tend to make him less virtuous or more vicious, it may be concluded that he holds none that are dangerous, which I hope is the case with me."
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