The Truest Founding Father

On April 17th, 1790, Benjamin Franklin, American printer, publisher, author, inventor, scientist, and diplomat, passes away from Pleurisy in his beloved Philadelphia. One of the foremost of the founding fathers, Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence and was one of its signers, represented the United States in France during the American Revolution and served as the first U.S. Postmaster, among other feats.

Franklin was born in Boston, the 10th son out of 17 children born to a man who made soap and candles, one of the lowliest artisan crafts. His formal education ended at age 10, and at 12 he was apprenticed to his brother James, a printer. His mastery of the printer’s trade, a point of pride to the end of his life, was achieved between 1718 and 1723. In the same period he read tirelessly and taught himself to write effectively.

Franklin soon realized, as did all the Founders, that writing competently was such a rare talent in the 18th century, anyone who could do it well immediately distinguished themselves. “Prose writing” became, as he recalled in his Autobiography, “of great Use to me in the Course of my Life, and was a principal Means of my Advancement.” Franklin assisted with and eventually ghost-published James’ newspaper, The New England Courant, before parting ways with his brother

Franklin then rambled for a time, finding himself as far away as London, before returning to the relative tolerance of Philadelphia, where he took a common-law wife and set himself up as a printer of note. In fact, Franklin secured the contract to print Pennsylvania’s first paper currency. He kibitzed regularly with other wisenheimers on weighty matters, and eventually helped form the American Philosophical Society. He then founded both the library for, and the Academy of Philadelphia, which grew into the University of Pennsylvania, just for good measure.

Soon Franklin became clerk of the Pennsylvania legislature in 1736 and postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737. Prior to 1748, though, his most important political service was his role organizing a militia for the defense of the colony against invasion by the French and the Spaniards, whose privateers were operating in the Delaware River. Life then changed when at age 42, Franklin had become wealthy enough to retire from active business; he took off his leather printer’s apron and became a gentleman, “master of his own time,” free to do what other gentlemen did–engage in what he termed “Philosophical Studies and Amusements.”

Franklin also made important contributions to science, especially in the understanding of electricity, and is remembered for the wit, wisdom, and elegance of his writing in Poor Richard’s Almanac and elsewhere. He traveled to London with frequency, and as the storm clouds of colonial rebellion formed, Franklin labored in vain to bring a negotiated settlement to the question of independence.

Returning to Philadelphia, Franklin’s contributions were instrumental in drafting the Declaration of Independence, and he soon found himself back overseas, this time seeking an alliance and military aid from France. It should be noted that Franklin’s distinct touch is on both the document officially beginning the Revolution, and the one ending it, the Treaty of Paris. Franklin was so celebrated in France, he intended to remain there forever, but 1785 saw him return to America “to die,” a process which lasted nearly 60 months.

Not to be deterred by convention, the Renaissance man’s other profligacy was in the loving arts, as he is said to have sired not less than three nor more than 300 children; this places him well above Washington as the all-time champion founding father. Washington appears on a lousy buck, but Franklin is on the Benjamin.

Coincidence? Methinks not.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.

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