Benjamin Franklin was involved in the effort to unify the American colonies longer and signed more of our nation’s key documents than any other Founding Father. Yet, this talented man spent all but two years from 1757-1775 living in Europe and he was the last of the Founders to advocate for independence.
Franklin retired from business in 1748 at the age of 42. He had gotten wealthy from his printing business and decided to devote the remainder of his life to civic improvements and governmental affairs. He became a member of the Philadelphia City Council in 1748, beginning a period of more than four decades of involvement in American politics and statecraft.
In 1753, Franklin was named deputy-postmaster general for the northern colonies, and he began to think more about America as one body instead of thirteen individual parts.
He even wrote to several friends about the idea of greater cooperation among the colonies.
At the outbreak of the French and Indian War in 1754, the British government asked colonial leaders to meet and discuss ways to coordinate their efforts with Indian treaties and other matters. This conference, the Albany Congress, met in the summer of 1754 and Franklin was chosen by Pennsylvania to lead its delegation.
Franklin’s Plan of Union calling for greater cooperation among the colonies was approved by the Albany Congress on July 10, 1754. However, despite the potential benefits of this unity, the pact met with a cold reception from colonial legislatures who did not want to give up any of their control and power.
A few years later, in 1757, Franklin was sent to London as the agent for the Pennsylvania legislature to lodge a complaint against the Penn family, the founders and proprietors of the state. Franklin was to spend all but two of the next eighteen years abroad, as he developed a real taste for England and Europe.
While most of his time was initially spent with fellow scientists, Franklin kept an interested eye on issues pertaining to the American colonies. He opposed the Stamp Act when it was enacted in 1765 and argued against taxing the colonies to pay for the recently concluded French and Indian War.
His resistance to Parliament and their tax schemes made Franklin a sort of American spokesman in England. In fact, three additional states (Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts) asked Franklin to represent them as well in England. That said, Franklin continued to hope for a reconciliation between England and her American colonies.
Franklin finally returned from England in 1775, soon after the “shot heard round the world” at Lexington and Concord. He was disillusioned with England and immediately dove into colonial efforts to secure our freedom from the Mother Country. Though late to join the cause, Franklin soon became a prominent spokesman for the movement.
Pennsylvania unanimously chose Franklin as their delegate to the Second Continental Congress, and he was appointed to the committee to draft our Declaration of Independence. After signing this founding document, Franklin stated, “we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
Due to the high regard in which Franklin was held, Congress sent him to France in December 1776 to negotiate a treaty with that country. Although the French were cautious and wanting to see some successes before committing to a pact, Franklin got them to sign the Treaty of Alliance in 1778, a huge coup for the newly created United States. Upon the conclusion of our war with England, Congress selected Franklin, along with John Adams, John Jay, and Henry Laurens, to negotiate a peace agreement. Running into difficulties with France, our supposed ally, Franklin and his team decided to directly negotiate with England. The deal they struck was the Treaty of Paris, which granted the United States very generous terms.
Franklin returned to America in 1785 at the age of 79, revered as one of our greatest patriots, but America was struggling under the Articles of Confederation. In 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia to try to fix this unworkable system of government. Not surprisingly, Pennsylvania named Franklin as one of its delegates and he proudly affixed his signature to our newly proposed Constitution.
When asked by Elizabeth Powel if we had created a republic or a monarchy with the new Constitution, Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” What he meant was this republic we had created was dependent on the active and informed participation of the people. Failing that involvement, our republic would not last long.
WHY IT MATTERS So why should Benjamin Franklin’s efforts to secure America’s independence from England matter to us today?
Benjamin Franklin arguably did more to gain America’s freedom than anyone apart from George Washington. Early on, Franklin viewed the thirteen colonies as one body and saw the need for the colonies to unify their efforts to improve the quality of life for all citizens.
Once convinced separating from England was the best course of action, he fully supported the effort to gain America’s independence. Franklin, despite the risk to his fame and fortune, Franklin was always there for his country.
As a statesman, Franklin’s impact was unmatched. He is the only Founder to have signed the four documents that shaped America: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance with France, the Treaty of Paris (ending the American Revolution), and the Constitution.
Franklin helped America take her place as an independent nation on the world stage.
For that, we should be eternally grateful.
SUGGESTED READING Carl Van Doren’s Benjamin Franklin is arguably the finest book ever written about the life of Benjamin Franklin. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1939. It is an excellent account of this remarkable man’s life and is highly recommended. PLACES TO VISIT One of America’s most revered buildings is Independence Hall.
Located in downtown Philadelphia in Independence National Historical Park, it is one of our nation’s treasures. It is a must visit for all Americans.
Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae”, Love of country leads me.
Tom Hand is a Ford Plantation resident and a West Point alumnus. Read more at americancorner.org or email him at email@example.com.