18th century American printer, inventor and statesman
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  • Benjamin Franklin

    Benjamin Franklin FRS FRSE (17 January 1706 [O.S. 6 January 1705] - 17 April 1790) was an American polymath and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman and diplomat. As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. As an inventor, he is known for the lightning rod, bifocals and the Franklin stove, among other inventions. He founded many civic organizations, including Philadelphia's fire department and the University of Pennsylvania.


    17 Jan 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts


    17 Apr 1790, in Philadelphia


    Benjamin Franklin: A Documentary History, by Leo Lemay
    Detailed chronology of events, from the birth of Franklin's father to Franklin's burial, divided into seven periods, the first three became the basis for three volumes of The Life of Benjamin Franklin
    "28 March, Saturday, BF [Benjamin Franklin] to Peter Collinson: 'Your kind present of an electric tube, with directions for using it, has put several of us on making electrical experiments. ...For my own part, I never was before engaged in any study that so totally engrossed my attention and my time as this has lately done.' P [The Papers of Benjamin Franklin] 3:118-9. Cf. April, 1745 (and sources cited there); 6 March (b) and 13 July 1747; and 8 Feb 1770. P 3:115-18 has an excellent headnote on the manuscripts and printed editions of BF's Experiments and Observations on Electricity. "
    Junto Society Founder of the Month: Benjamin Franklin, by Monty Rainey, Jan 2003
    Includes portrait, essay, bibliography and recommended reading
    "Franklin implemented an idea he had learned in part from Cotton Mather in Boston. He formed the Junto, fashioned after Mather's neighborhood benefit societies at the Boston churches. He brought together twelve members, including three coworkers from Keimer's shop. The group met each Friday night and continued to do so for the next 30 years. The Junto was a private forum for discussion and 'a surreptitious instrument for leading public opinion.' One of the functions of the group was to brainstorm publicly beneficial ideas. When they found one, the members would drum up wider support throughout the public ranks."
    Related Topic: Thirteen Colonies

    Web Sites

    The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary
    Website, now maintained by Franklin & Marshall College, dedicated to celebrating the 300th anniversary of Franklin's birth; includes interactive timeline of his life and a virtual display of the exhibition "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World"

    Web Pages

    NewBenjamin Franklin | Libertarianism.org
    Links to essays, columns and other resources about Franklin
    NewBenjamin Franklin - Online Library of Liberty
    Includes portrait, short biography and links to various versions of Franklin's works and to selected quotations
    "Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was a Founding Father of the American republic, an author, inventor, and diplomat whose life and ideas came to be identified with the new American nation. He wrote the best selling Poor Richard's Almanac (1733), a posthumously published Autobiography, and many articles advocating American independence from Great Britain. From 1776-1785 he was the American ambassador to France, and from 1785-1788 he was governor of Pennsylvania."


    Ben Franklin on Liberty, by Gary M. Galles, Mises Daily, 3 Feb 2003
    List of select quotes by Franklin on the subject of liberty, with introductory and closing remarks
    "As a member of the Second Continental Congress, Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence. As a member of the Constitutional Convention, he helped draft the Constitution. ... Franklin's role in our founding has, however, been eclipsed in modern memory by his many other accomplishments. ... Unfortunately, the result has been that attention which deserves to be paid to what Franklin said about America and the liberty it was designed to protect has often been crowded out by that paid to his other accomplishments. It is worth remembering some of those inspirational words."
    Related Topic: Liberty
    Benjamin Franklin: The Man Who Invented the American Dream, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Apr 1997
    "Benjamin Franklin pioneered the spirit of self-help in America. ... When Franklin saw that something needed doing, he did it. ... Franklin was a late-blooming radical. ... Franklin urged that the Declaration be adopted unanimously, saying we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."
    Related Topic: John Hancock
    Benjamin Franklin - Hero of the Day, The Daily Objectivist, 2000
    Two excerpts from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
    "[I] grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions, the consequences of which they did not foresee, ... and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always deserved. I continu'd this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced any thing that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly ... This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engag'd in promoting ..."
    Childhood Ends at Puberty, by Charley Reese, 15 Apr 2006
    Recounts the early life of Benjamin Franklin and argues for ending formal basic education by 13
    "Franklin, at the age of 8, studied at Boston Grammar School. He ... finished his formal schooling at George Brownell's English School — at age 11. From 11 to 12, he worked in his father's shop making candles and soap, then tried the cutlery business ... From age 13 to 15, he worked for his brother and wrote broadside ballads. He borrowed books to read, among them John Bunyan, Xenophon, John Locke, various histories and religious polemics, and improved his writing by imitating the essays of Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele in the London Spectator. ... At age 16, Franklin started his own newspaper, and his career was under way."
    Empire or Liberty: The Antifederalists and Foreign Policy, 1787-1788 [PDF], by Jonathan Marshall, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1980
    "Few Federalists harbored any doubts as to America's future greatness under a centralized, energetic regime. ... Benjamin Franklin, too, had abandoned the ideal of the small Spartan republic, as he began to sense the awesome implications of 'our growing Strength, both in Numbers and Wealth.'"
    Franklin's Golden Rules, by Mark Skousen, The Daily Reckoning, 18 May 2006
    "Benjamin Franklin made great contributions as an inventor, scientist, writer, and founding father, but he is also offered valuable advice on money matters. ... An incurable optimist, Franklin was always bullish on America, and life in general. ... Franklin continued to live frugally, even during his retirement ..."
    Frederic Bastiat, Ingenious Champion for Liberty and Peace, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Jun 1997
    Lengthy biographical essay, covering those who influenced Bastiat as well as those influenced by him, his writings (including correspondence with his friend Félix Coudroy), his roles in the French Constituent and Legistative Assemblies and his legacy
    "Bastiat came across a copy of Poor Richard's Almanack in 1827. He wrote a friend: 'I have discovered a real treasure—a small volume of the moral and political philosophy of Franklin. I am so enthusiastic about his style that I intend to adopt it as my own.'"
    In Pursuit of Liberty, by Jarret Wollstein, May 1997
    Primer on liberty concepts, including voluntary vs. coercive associations, individual rights, government and possible future improvements in the status quo
    "Even the United States imprisoned over 115,000 Americans of Japanese descent during World War II in the name of 'national security.' As Benjamin Franklin observed in 1759, those who give up their liberty in exchange for government promises of security, end up with neither liberty nor security."
    NewLiberty, safety, and Benjamin Franklin, by Eugene Volokh, The Volokh Conspiracy, 11 Nov 2014
    Parses the famous Franklin quote about "essential Liberty" and "little temporary Safety" in the two contexts in which he made it
    "As Ben Wittes has noted ... 'The words appear originally in a 1755 letter that Franklin is presumed to have written on behalf of the Pennsylvania Assembly to the colonial governor ... Franklin was writing ... in his capacity as a legislator being asked to renounce his power to tax lands notionally under his jurisdiction. ...' Then Franklin famously repeated the words right before the Revolution, as a defense of the colonies' right not to have their charters and laws altered by Parliament - again, we're talking here about 'liberty' in the sense of communal self-government, not individual liberty."
    No U-Turns, by Jack Dennon, 29 May 2006
    Critiques the U.S. Constitution and the government it allowed to be set up, with quotes from Albert Jay Nock and Lysander Spooner
    "Recall that on his way home from Independence Hall, where he had been delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1789, Benjamin Franklin is said to have been asked what kind of government he and the others had created. 'A republic,' answered Franklin, 'if you can keep it.' If the Franklin fable be true, then evidently like many today, Ben had not read the fine print."
    The Philosophy of Paine, by Thomas Edison, The Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas Alva Edison, 7 Jun 1925
    Edison laments the lack of interest in Paine's writings, outlines his life, discusses the main writings and encourages others to read him
    "Franklin knew him for a great patriot and clear thinker. ... Franklin also had a hand and probably was responsible in even larger measure for the Declaration. But all of these men had communed with Paine. ... Paine, you know, came over to the Colonies after meeting Franklin in London. He had encountered numerous misfortunes, and Franklin gave him letters to friends back home which resulted in his becoming editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine in January of 1775."
    The Physiocrats, by Wendy McElroy, Future of Freedom, Dec 2010
    Discusses the 18th century French economists and their influences on Adam Smith, on American agriarianism and on Henry George
    "Several Founding Fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, traveled to France where they personally met the Physiocrats. Franklin first visited Paris in 1767 and, at that point, formed close bonds of friendship with the French economists with whom he shared many beliefs, including free trade, agrarianism, and natural law. Upon his return to America, he maintained active contact with them through correspondence. In one letter, Du Pont enclosed his work Physiocratie. Declaring himself 'perfectly charmed' by the work, Franklin claimed to have received 'a great deal of instruction from it.'"
    The Rocky Road of American Taxation, by Charles Adams, Mises Daily, 15 Apr 2006
    Adapted from the author's For Good and Evil: The Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization
    "The philosophic Dr. Franklin signed the [Constitution] 'with tears, and apologized for doing it at all, from the doubts and apprehensions he felt.' He then observed and predicted, 'that its complexion was doubtful; that it might last for ages, involve one-quarter of the globe, and probably terminate in despotism.'"
    Thomas Paine-Passionate Pamphleteer for Liberty: A Singleminded Private Individual Aroused Millions to Throw Off Their Oppressors, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Jan 1996
    Biographical essay, highlighting Paine's writings in Common Sense, American Crisis, Rights of Man and Age of Reason
    "He befriended a London astronomer who introduced him to Benjamin Franklin, then working to expand business with England. Franklin seems to have convinced Paine that he could make a better life in America, and Franklin provided a letter of introduction to his son-in-law in Philadelphia."
    Time Out of Mind, by Christopher M. Montalbano, 12 Mar 2007
    "All of us have heard since childhood that Benjamin Franklin was the first to propose 'daylight saving time.' ... The letter is really an example of American satire at its finest — it might have been written by Mark Twain 100 years later, or H. L. Mencken 50 years after that. It is hilarious. It concludes with a pure libertarian reductio ad absurdum of the idea that the state should enforce such an institution."


    The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D.: Originally Written by Himself, and Now Translated from the French, 1791
    Also known as 'The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin', addressed to his son


    Benjamin Franklin ★ The Founding Fathers of the United States 1 ★ Documentary, 19 Nov 2002
    Documentary television program about the life of Franklin, produced by Twin Cities Public Television St. Paul/Minneapolis with Middlemarch Films


    NewBen Franklin: Conservative, Libertarian, or Radical Democrat?, by David Boaz (moderator), Mark Skousen (speaker), 19 Jan 2006
    Book Forum hosted by Boaz, with presentation by Skousen discussing Franklin's Autobiography, Skousen's The Compleated Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and under what political viewpoint would one categorize Franklin
    "When Franklin died in 1790, he left unrecorded the last 33 years of his illustrious career as signer of the Declaration of Independence, ambassador to France, and delegate to the Constitutional Convention."

    The introductory paragraph uses material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.