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 in which he lived. Franklin was 81 years old, in poor health, and hoped for a well-deserved rest.
Franklin, who began his life journey as a teenage runaway from Boston in 1723, lived out his last few years in Philadelphia. He passed away quietly in his home on April 17, 1790, with his daughter Sarah at his bedside. Not surprisingly, his funeral drew a large crowd, estimated at 20,000 mourners, and this in a town of only 44,000 people.
Ben Franklin was truly one of marquee members of the Founding generation. No American spent longer on the world stage nor had more impact in a greater variety of areas than this brilliant man.
Unlike so many men who are a creature of their times, Franklin was a man who helped to create the times in which he lived. In many ways, it seems the focus of Franklin’s life was the betterment of mankind. Franklin was one of those rare, gifted men who excel in everything they do, and the list of his accomplishments is truly stunning.
In his chosen profession as a printer, he was without parallel in British America. Franklin owned his first paper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, when he was just 24 and turned it into one of the most successful papers in eighteenth century America.
Franklin was an innovative entrepreneur, writing stories to entertain his readers and using the latest typeset technology to improve print quality. Recognizing newspapers as sounding boards, Franklin used the Gazette to promote his political and civic ideas in the hopes of shaping public opinion.
As an author, he also had remarkable success. Seeing the financial opportunity in almanacs, Franklin, in 1732, began writing Poor Richard’s Almanack which became one of the most popular ones 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 city of Philadelphia. In 1727, as a young man of 21, he formed the Junto Society, a group whose mission was find ways to improve civil society. The concept was so well-received throughout the colonies that in 1743 it became the American Philosophical Society.
In 1736, to keep people and their possessions safe from fire, Franklin created the Union Fire Company, the first fire brigade in Philadelphia. To
ensure that losses of property could be covered, Franklin created 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 America’s first medical school. Today, this institution is the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1751, Franklin established the first hospital in the city, Pennsylvania Hospital. This facility, which continues to be a renowned teaching hospital, was ahead of its time in dealing with the mentally ill.
Ben Franklin was America’s first man of science, with a glowing reputation on both sides of the Atlantic. He was one of first scientists to unlock the mystery of electricity and comprehend its incredible capabilities.
He was also a practical genius, inventing and creating items to make everyday life easier for the common man; diverse things such as the Franklin stove, lightning rods, a flexible catheter, and bifocals.
As remarkable as these accomplishments are, they pale in comparison to what Franklin did to help his country on a national level. In 1754, he was the first to conceive of a “United” States when he proposed his Plan of Union at the Albany Congress. This plan, which called for the thirteen colonies to work as one, foreshadowed the eventual Articles of Confederation, our first national government.
In 1766, his testimony before Parliament helped result in the repeal of 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 efforts at the Second Continental Congress to proclaim our Declaration of Independence.
In 1778, he single-handedly negotiated the Treaty of Alliance with France, obtaining their assistance in the American Revolution. In 1783, Franklin was part of the American delegation, including Adams and John Jay, that brokered the Treaty of Paris with England, ending the war and securing our independence. Finally, in 1787, at the Constitutional Convention, he played a significant role in crafting 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, 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 her place as a sovereign nation on the world stage.
Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae”, Love of country leads me.
Tom Hand is a West Point alumnus and Army veteran. He has a website, www.americanacorner.com.