The Constitutional Convention adjourned on September 17, 1787, and would be Benjamin Franklin’s last moment in the spotlight of American history. It was a fitting finale for this man who had done so much to shape the nation he lived in. Franklin was 81 years old, in failing health, and hoping for a well-deserved rest.
Franklin, who began his life journey as a teenage runaway from Boston in 1723, spent his final years in Philadelphia. He died quietly in his home on April 17, 1790, with his daughter Sarah at his bedside. Unsurprisingly, his funeral drew a large crowd, estimated at 20,000 mourners, in a city of just 44,000 people.
Ben Franklin was truly one of the renowned members of the founding generation. No American has spent more time on the world stage or had more impact in a wider variety of fields than this brilliant man.
Unlike so many men who are a creature of their time, Franklin was a man who helped create the time in which he lived. In many ways, it seems that Franklin’s life purpose was the betterment of mankind. Franklin was one of those rare gifted men who excels at everything they do, and his list of accomplishments is truly breathtaking.
In his profession as a printer he was unparalleled in British America. Franklin owned his first newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, when he was just 24 years old and made it one of the most successful newspapers in 18th century America.
Franklin was an innovative entrepreneur, writing stories to entertain his readers and using the latest typesetting technology to improve print quality. Recognizing newspapers as sounding boards, Franklin used the Gazette to promote his political and civic ideas in hopes of shaping public opinion.
As an author, he also achieved remarkable success. Seeing the financial opportunity of almanacs, Franklin in 1732 began writing Poor Richard’s Almanack which became one of the most popular in America. Franklin also wrote his Autobiography which remains one of the best-selling autobiographies of all time.
In addition to running his printing business, Franklin devoted himself to civic improvements in his adopted hometown of Philadelphia. In 1727, when he was 21, he founded the Junto Society, a group whose mission was to find ways to improve civil society. The concept was so well received in all the colonies that in 1743 it became the American Philosophical Society.
In 1736, to protect people and their property from fire, Franklin established the Union Fire Company, Philadelphia’s first fire brigade. To
to ensure that property losses could be covered, Franklin established the Philadelphia Contributionship, the oldest property insurance company in the United States.
In 1749 Franklin created the Academy of Philadelphia, which in 1755 became the College of Philadelphia and included the first American medical school. Today, that institution is the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1751, Franklin established the city’s first hospital, the Pennsylvania Hospital. This facility, which continues to be a renowned teaching hospital, was ahead of its time in the care of the mentally ill.
Ben Franklin was the first American scientist, enjoying a glowing reputation on both sides of the Atlantic. He was one of the first scientists to unravel the mystery of electricity and understand its incredible abilities.
He was also a practical genius, inventing and creating objects to facilitate the everyday life of the common man; various things such as the Franklin stove, lightning rods, a flexible catheter and bifocal glasses.
As remarkable as these accomplishments are, they pale in comparison to what Franklin did to help his country domestically. In 1754, he was the first to conceive of a “United” States when he proposed his Plan of Union to the Congress of Albany. This plan, which called on the thirteen colonies to work as one, foreshadowed the eventual Articles of Confederation, our first national government.
In 1766 his testimony before Parliament helped repeal the Stamp Act. In 1775, he became our first Postmaster General, essentially creating the American postal system. The following year, Franklin, along with John Adams, led the efforts of the Second Continental Congress to proclaim our Declaration of Independence.
In 1778, he single-handedly negotiated the treaty of alliance with France, securing their aid in the American Revolution. In 1783, Franklin was part of the American delegation, including Adams and John Jay, who negotiated the Treaty of Paris with England, ending the war and securing our independence. Finally, in 1787, during the Constitutional Convention, he played an important role in the development of our new Constitution.
WHY IT MATTERS: So why should the life of Benjamin Franklin matter to us today?
Benjamin Franklin was an American titan, and in his day he was as admired and respected as George Washington.
Like Washington, Franklin’s accomplishments were legendary. Franklin was the only Founding Father to sign the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance, the Treaty of Paris, and the Constitution.
Ben Franklin was always there for his country and helped America take its place as a sovereign nation on the world stage.
Until next time, let your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae”, Love of country guides me.
Tom Hand is a West Point alumnus and Army veteran. He has a website, www.americanacorner.com.