Today in 1706, Benjamin Franklin was born. He was a diplomat, writer, printer, inventor, and politician.
Beloved in America and Europe, Franklin may very well have been the most popular figure in the world during his lifetime.
Born in Boston, Franklin migrated to Philadelphia, where he set up his own printing shop at a very young age. Beginning in 1732 under the pseudonym Poor Richard Saunders, Franklin published a popular yearly Almanac. The publication became known for its historical anecdotes, puzzles, weather forecasts, and various other aphorisms.
Concerning political sensibilities, Franklin held nationalist inclinations. In 1754, he conceived of the Albany Plan, a failed attempt to unify all of the colonies into a homogenous group under the crown. Although Franklin believed the plan would strengthen colonial resistance against Indian raids, the proposal was considered unpalatable given the divergent cultural and political differences between the colonies.
He spoke French fluently and admired European culture. As an accomplished diplomat, his charm often captivated the royal courts. Sent by the colonies to Britain to contest the unpopular Stamp Act, Franklin was later instrumental in securing a French alliance during the War of Independence. As an ambassador to France, he contributed greatly to the warm Franco-American relations that defined the era.
Franklin served as a delegate to the Continental Congress. At first Franklin adopted a temperate approach to the colonial campaign of resistance against Britain, but later developed into an unapologetic advocate for political autonomy.
When remediation efforts proved futile, he became part of a five-man committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. By supporting the severance of the colonies from the British crown, he broke with fellow member of his home delegation John Dickinson, also an immensely popular figure.
Ironically, Franklin’s son was a loyal Tory, and their strained relationship was never reconciled. Even still, Franklin dedicated his autobiography to his son. He invented bifocals, a metal-lined fireplace known as the Franklin stove, the lightning rod, a glass harmonica, the first flexible urinary catheter, and various other fabrications. He helped build the city of Philadelphia into a respectable community, organized one of the country’s first fire departments, manumitted his slaves, and founded the first American abolition society.
As an old man, Franklin was frequently ill and suffered from gout. As an aging but venerated man, he was appointed by his state was a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention, which produced a recommendation for a new federal constitution. Though Franklin’s health prevented him from contributing to the resulting plan in a significant way, he became a strong supporter of the new model.