Benjamin Franklin -- Practical Wise Man

Benjamin Franklin, perhaps more than any other single individual, epitomizes the impact that home-education has had upon the world and upon American culture.

Born on January 17, 1706, Franklin built a life characterized by stunning accomplishment. After 84 years of self-education in the tradition of early America, he died as a world hero on April 17, 1790.

Without endorsing or canonizing his every action or viewpoint, the Quaqua Society is pleased to remember the life of a man who shared so much practical wisdom with the world. We do so by candidly examining the different fields of endeavor where Franklin's actions were particularly noteworthy.

I. Scientist

Franklin was a renowned scientist and had a very inquisitive mind.

His most famous achievement was a kite experiment demonstrating that lightening was simply a form of electricity. He also developed the basic lexicon for electricity that we use today, including terms such as "positive," "negative," "charge," and "conductor." His electrical experiments nearly killed him (in 1753, Swedish scientist Georg Wilhelm Richmann died trying to replicate Franklin's lightening experiment). Franklin's eighty-six page book, Experiments and Observations on Electricity, Made at Philadelphia in America, was published in English, French, Italian, and German, making Franklin an international celebrity. He met with Italian scientist Alessandro Volta and discussed Franklin's storage of electricity in batteries.

One of Franklin's favorite areas of inquiry was meteorology. He plotted storms, forecasted weather, chased whirlwinds, studied lightening, measured ocean currents, took ocean temperatures, and completed a detailed chart of the Gulf Stream. He conducted evaporation experiments with a Cambridge chemist, and proposed the idea of Daylight Savings Time.

His other scientific interests included human bioscience and agriculture. Franklin formulated theories about human circulation and identified "dry bellyache" as lead poisoning. He studied uses of fertilizer and encouraged systematic study of agricultural techniques.

On one occasion, critics accused Franklin of defying God with his development of lightening rods. Franklin countered that his antagonists should forgo roofs, lest they defy God's will by staying dry in the face of His rain.

II. Inventor

Benjamin Franklin was an accomplished inventor.

He created bifocals, lightening rods, rocking chairs, and swim fins. His Franklin stove was safer, more fuel-efficient, and less smoky than contemporary stoves. In his old age, he developed a "long arm" to reach books on high shelves. All of these inventions are still in use today.

Franklin also produced the first American flexible urinary catheter, designed watertight bulkheads for ships, and built an odometer for his wagon. He created the "armonica," a glass musical instrument with a ghostly, soothing sound, lauded by both Mozart and Beethoven.

Franklin declined to take out patents on his inventions, even though he could have made a fortune off them. He considered them to be a gift and heritage for mankind.

III. Traveler

Benjamin Franklin was a world traveler. In addition to his inter-colonial trips, Franklin completed eight voyages across the Atlantic Ocean. He visited England, France, Canada, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and the African island of Madeira.

Franklin's travels attest to his physical hardiness. During his many months at sea, he was nearly ship-wrecked. On other occasions, he trekked across the cold and war-torn northwestern frontier -- first to complete assignments related to the French and Indian War, and then later to visit Montreal as a diplomat.

IV. Civic & Philanthropic Leader

Benjamin Franklin's civic and philanthropic achievements were profound.

Franklin established Union Fire Company, the first fire company in America. He started the American Philosophical Society, the first learned society in America. Out of concern for the literacy of people with modest means, he initiated America's first circulating library.

Benjamin Franklin organized the Pennsylvania Hospital. He supported the effort of a famous preacher, George Whitfield, to establish an orphanage. He constituted the Night Watch and Militia, a police force, to help keep peace and safety in Philadelphia. He promoted lighting, pavement, clean streets, and urban sanitation. Franklin donated various long-standing charitable funds for education and apprenticeship.

Franklin also established the Junto, a young working-man's group dedicated to self-improvement and civic service. Every Friday evening, members met to discuss political, religious, and business matters. The group discussed how to better their individual lives and society as a whole. Franklin also enjoyed family history.

Benjamin Franklin was perhaps most proud of his role in organizing America's system of postal delivery – first while working for the Crown, and then for the American government. He not only set up the postal system and postal delivery routes in Philadelphia, but eventually served as Deputy Postmaster General of North America. Franklin made the postal system profitable by introducing strict accounting controls and increasing the speed and reliability of delivery. He donated his salary to the care of wounded soldiers.

V. Soldier

During his service as a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly, Franklin became concerned about the Commonwealth's failure to defend its colonists against the French and Indians. Over the opposition of Thomas Penn, Franklin organized a private militia of 10,000 armed men called Franklin's Militia Association of 1747, which then defended Pennsylvania.

Benjamin Franklin fought in the French and Indian War against the French and Native American forces. Franklin initially refused a position as colonel in the Pennsylvania militia (government-sponsored instead of private), and served instead as a common soldier. Nonetheless, Governor Robert Morris later appointed Franklin to be colonel and sole commander over the Pennsylvania militia. Franklin oversaw construction of forts along the frontier.

He assisted the British commanding officer, General Braddock, with military strategy and management of the supply lines. Franklin persuaded the British to contract with the colonialists for supplies rather than simply commandeering the property from them. He also warned Braddock that the Native Americans would resort to guerilla tactics. When Braddock scornfully rejected Franklin's advice, Britain suffered a humiliating defeat at Fort Duquesne. American forces later exploited the British strategic vulnerabilities exposed during the French and Indian War.

While General George Washington led American forces at home, Franklin engaged in rigorous, dangerous espionage and subversive treaty negotiation abroad. He completed dangerous journeys to both Canada and France. Without Franklin, America probably would not have won the Revolutionary War.

During the Revolutionary War, Franklin was forced to hide on a commercial ship in order to reach France undetected. He contended with a formidable British espionage network, which monitored and undermined his diplomatic plan. The British even managed to plant a spy as one of Franklin's own secretaries.

Franklin procured two key foreign soldiers to assist the Revolutionary Army: Marquis de Lafayette and Friedrich Wilhelm, Baron von Steuben. Marquis was a tactical aide to Washington, and Baron von Steuben trained the Continental Army at Valley Forge.

Benjamin Franklin ultimately cajoled pledges for economic and military support from both France and Spain. This European support helped politically demoralize the British. The French navy provided indispensable, direct assistance during the decisive American-French victory in Yorktown, Virginia, forcing the stunned British to surrender once and for all.

VI. Educator

Franklin was a home-educated man who had only one year of formal training, in a grammar school. Throughout his life, he continually educated himself and his community.

His collection of papers is so extensive that it has taken a team of editors at Yale University, working constantly, forty years to compile the first thirty-seven volumes of an anticipated forty-seven volume set.

He organized the Academy of Philadelphia, now known as the University of Pennsylvania.

He received honorary degrees from Oxford University, Harvard College, Yale College, St. Andrews University, and the College of William & Mary. The prestigious Royal Society in London recognized Franklin with a gold medal in 1753, and inducted him as a member in 1756. Franklin was also inducted into the French Academy of Science and the Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences.

Franklin's view of education was both practical and progressive. He believed that women should acquire an education in business and obtain commercial skills. Unlike mainstream academia, which favored Latin, he favored the commercially-useful languages of the day (French, Italian, and Spanish). He encouraged the study of agricultural science and techniques at his Academy of Philadelphia. Franklin promoted his ideas with publications such as Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania and A Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge Among the British Plantations in America.

Franklin also delivered a rather stinging warning about economic and intellectual elitism in education. Writing under the "Mrs. Silence Dogood" pseudonym, he recounted her fictional deliberation about whether to send her son to Harvard. In the process, Dogood fell asleep and began to dream that she was journeying toward Harvard. Its gate was guarded by "two sturdy porters named Riches and Poverty," and students were approved only by Riches. Once admitted, the students "learn little more than how to carry themselves handsomely, and enter a room genteelly (which might as well be acquired at a dancing school), and from thence they return, after abundance of trouble and charge, as great blockheads as ever, only more proud and self-conceited."

VII. Businessman

Franklin had extensive practical business and entrepreneurial experience. His commercial success allowed him to retire at an early age, permitting him to devote more time to scientific and civic pursuits.

Benjamin Franklin was, at times, a candlemaker, soap-maker, newspaper printer, book publisher, book store owner, general store owner, real-estate investor, and journalist. He was most famous for a newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and his annual Poor Richard's Almanack.

Franklin established the first fire insurance company and advocated widow's insurance.

VIII. Economist

First and foremost, Franklin popularized the American Dream – hard work, equal opportunity, and rags-to-riches success.

As the home-educated son of an immigrant who had seventeen children, Franklin ran away from Puritan Boston to Philadelphia. He apprenticed, started his own successful business enterprises, and became one of America's most influential leaders.

Franklin's unpretentious climb to success came to epitomize the emergent American meritocracy. In early America, unlike Europe, wealth and power could be obtained through intellect and ability, instead of only inheritance, patronage, or enrollment in an elite educational institution. Practical wisdom and elbow grease were to be valued over pomp and circumstance.

Franklin's most important contribution to economic theory was in the area of tax policy. He aggressively fought British taxation, including the Stamp Act. He observed the oppressive consequences of British economic policy in Ireland. Both at home and abroad, Franklin championed the notion that Americans would not accept taxation which was excessive or exacted without representation. Sovereign economic policy was linked to democratic political accountability for the first time.

Franklin helped establish paper currency in America. He advocated regional economic blocks and promoted treaties to enhance international trade. In a revised draft of the Pennsylvania Declaration of Rights, Franklin sounded an antitrust theme, suggesting that states had the right to discourage large concentrations of property which would endanger the happiness of mankind (his suggestion was rejected by the convention).

Perhaps the most intriguing insight of Franklin was his recognition that political developments are heavily influenced by long-term economic trends, which are in turn driven by demographic patterns and natural resources. Using "political arithmetic," he predicted that the population in the United States would double every twenty-five years, pushing the population of North America past that of Great Britain within one hundred years. He was the first to note various interactions between immigration, natural resources, labor markets, commodities markets, and the general international economy. He also saw relationships between real estate markets, labor markets, economic conditions, and marriage patterns. The very idea that there was any sort of relationship between such variables was, at the time, a new concept. See, e.g., Benjamin Franklin, Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, &c. (1751), in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin ("Papers") 4:225-34.

IX. Artist

Franklin was a versatile artist. He had a pronounced interest in music, and played the violin, harp, and guitar. He also played a musical instrument of his own invention, the armonica, which had a tone appealing to Mozart and Beethoven.

In addition, Franklin was a writer, poet, and sketch artist. He was a newspaper cartoonist, and actually drew the first political cartoon. He also created a device of thirteen linked circles and the "Fugio" design, used on the United States Fugio cent coin of 1787.

X. Futurist

Franklin was a free-thinking futurist who was, in many ways, far ahead of his peers. At the same time, he understood how to move people forward incrementally, without alienating them or outstripping their collective tolerance for risk and change.

After the first air balloons in the world were launched in France, Franklin predicted the balloons would be used by militaries to achieve aerial spying and bombing.

Franklin took great interest in the 1776 construction, design, and use of David Bushnell's Turtle against the British Royal Navy in New York Harbor. The Turtle was the world's first military submarine. Franklin corresponded about the Turtle with both Bushnell and military leaders, and even made suggestions about interior lighting for the vessel.

In order to raise money for cannons to needed to defend his city, Franklin organized a public lottery. On another occasion, he attempted to kill a turkey using an electrical shock. Franklin was very interested in Chinese culture, particularly Chinese agriculture, and wrote about Chinese silkworms and medicinal rhubarb. He met with Captain James Cook and kept abreast of Cook's exploration effort.

Franklin predicted the emergence of regional global economic structures. In 1754, his Albany Plan of Union proposed a plan for permanent intercolonial union of the American colonies (in 1754, James Madison was three years old, and Thomas Jefferson was eleven). Franklin's Plan contemplated a grand council with power over matters of common defense, taxation, westward expansion, and Indian relations. The colonial assemblies rejected his idea, but the Plan later served as a blueprint for the Articles of Confederation. Support for enhanced federal cooperation continued to build under the Articles, laying the political groundwork necessary for the final Constitution.

Franklin suggested that Britain cede Canada to the United States to facilitate common economic and political cooperation. A similar objective, but a very different sovereign framework, precipitated the North American Free Trade Agreement.

At the conclusion of the American Constitutional Convention, Franklin wrote a French associate and suggested that the nations of Europe should establish a central authority similar to that of the United States of America. Two hundred years later, Europe has united under the banner of the European Union.

As discussed elsewhere, Franklin had a futuristic vision of civil rights, women's education, and race relations.

XI. Socialite

Franklin was well-known for his sharp wit, in both verbal and written form. He coined so many famous and humorous phrases that few other English speakers, except William Shakespeare and Samuel Clemens, can rival his mixture of deep insight and pithy delivery.

He was a reputable humorist, social pundit, satirist, and philosopher. Highly respected in England and France, he was a popular international celebrity, notorious flirt, and popular figure at Parisian parties. He met notable European intellects, including Voltaire, William Robertson, David Hume, and Adam Smith. Like George Washington, Paul Revere, John Paul Jones, Rufus King, John Hancock, and John Dickinson, Franklin was a Free Mason. At one point he became Grand Mason of France's most powerful Masonic order. Based in part upon Franklin's recommendation, the Papal Nuncio named Father John Carroll, Franklin's former traveling companion, to become head of the Catholic Church in America.

Franklin spoke French and fathered an illegitimate child, William. The two became estranged for a time after William decided to support the British during the Revolutionary War. William became a British Governor and, after a long tumultuous period, ultimately reconciled with his father.

Franklin's popularity was rooted in widespread respect for his intellect and personal charisma. Franklin was hated and feared by the Penn family in Philadelphia, the Puritan clergy in Boston, the powerful Lee family in Virginia, British loyalists, and numerous other community leaders. They all considered Franklin to be a grave threat to their own personal political and economic interests, which he openly defied. But Franklin's support was broad, deep, domestic, international, popular, and professional. Although powerful interests attempted to defame Franklin and surreptitiously undermine his efforts, few dared to engage his incisive arguments directly or confront his with direct physical force.

XII. Whistleblower

Benjamin Franklin brought the truth to light on many occasions, often at great personal peril.

On one occasion, while in England, he chanced upon correspondence from the appointed Royal Governor Thomas Hutchison of Massachusetts. The letters criticized the Massachusetts Assembly and asserted that Americans were not entitled to the same liberties as Englishmen.

Franklin sent the letters to Thomas Cushing, Speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly, and Cushing then gave them to Samuel Adams, a leading Massachusetts revolutionary. Adams published the letters, generating colonial public outcry and demands for Hutchison's removal.

The English Parliament was incensed at Benjamin Franklin, and ordered him to appear with an attorney before the Lord's Committee of His Majesty's Privy Council for Plantation Affairs. The elderly Franklin was defamed before the body, which suggested that Franklin's motive was to become the next Governor of Massachusetts. For an hour and a half, Franklin was ridiculed before all of England's most noble ladies. Franklin was subsequently stripped of his prized Postmaster position. The incident proved to be a grave miscalculation on England's part, for it incurred the wrath of Franklin and caused him to view himself as an American rather than an Englishman.

Franklin blew the whistle again by signing the Declaration of Independence, thereby placing himself in mortal danger for the crime of treason. "We must all hang together," he admonished the other Signers, "or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

XIII. Civil Rights Leader

Benjamin Franklin lived in the religiously-tolerant, ethnically-diverse City of Philadelphia. He had some understanding of the thorny problems caused by unmanaged immigration and ethnic conflict, and also denounced perceived Puritan bigotry. Although Benjamin Franklin did own slaves during some portions of his life, he repented of the practice and demonstrated that he was one of America's most socially-progressive Framers.

1) Native Americans

Benjamin Franklin's first diplomatic assignment was as Pennsylvania Indian Commissioner. Franklin studied Native American culture and politics, discussed political ideas with them, and observed the advantages of cooperation achieved by the Six Nations of the Iroquois. Franklin printed numerous accounts of treaty councils conducted with Native American tribes.

In 1763, the British and French signed a peace treaty, creating a truce which did not extend to Native Americans. Hostile Indians continued to attack colonial settlers on the western Pennsylvania frontier. Unfortunately, the attacks led many colonialists to adopt a racist view against all Native Americans. Innocent and peaceful Indians were massacred in retaliation.

Near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, lived the Moravians, a group of immigrants from Eastern Europe. The Moravians protected the friendly Native Americans from attack, and arranged to transport them to Philadelphia for safe haven. As a result, racial tensions flared throughout Pennsylvania and Philadelphia.

Benjamin Franklin, at great political risk, lobbied for the protection of the Native Americans, writing:

If an Indian injures me, does it follow that I may revenge that Injury on all Indians? It is well known that Indians are of different Tribes, Nations and Languages, as well as the White People. In Europe, if the French, who are White People, should injure the Dutch, are they to revenge it on the English, because they too are White People? The only Crime of these poor Wretches seems to have been, that they had a reddish brown Skin, and black Hair; and some People of that Sort, it seems, had murdered some of our Relations. If it be right to kill Men for such a Reason, then, should any Man, with a freckled Face and red Hair, kill a Wife or Child of mine, it would be right for me to revenge it, by killing all the freckled red-haired Men, Women and Children, I could afterwards any where meet with.

Benjamin Franklin, Narrative of the Late Massacres (1764), in Papers 11:42ff.

Rioters approached Philadelphia, and the Governor made a midnight call upon Franklin for advice. Franklin swiftly gathered an armed posse of around eight hundred men to defend the city. Franklin's wife, Deborah, armed herself and refused to leave the Franklin home, even though the residence was a target of the rioters. As Franklin's well-equipped militia group encountered the unruly mob, Franklin persuaded the invaders to return home to their farms. The Native Americans, and Philadelphia, were saved.

However, Franklin's action incurred the wrath of the powerful William Penn clan. The Penns had advocated cultural genocide and expatriation of all Indians in Pennsylvania, including rewards for all Native-American scalps. Franklin's reconciliation challenged the power of the Penn family and incurred their permanent disfavor.

2) African Americans

Although Benjamin Franklin owned slaves during some portions of his life, he changed his ways and provided in his will that his slaves should be freed. Franklin's observations of African-American students convinced him that Black children could indeed learn higher intellectual concepts in the same manner as Anglo children.

Franklin approved language in the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence which strongly condemned the King of England for promulgating the slave trade. When the Continental Congress considered the preliminary version forwarded by the Drafting Committee, it excised the anti-slavery language from the final draft.

Decades later, Franklin was elected president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. In tandem with Benjamin Rush, he drafted bylaws for the first anti-slavery society in America. He also cooperated with various organizations to enhance legal, economic, and social opportunities for freed slaves. This campaign included an initiative to create black schools, assist free Blacks to obtain work, promote family-friendly values, and improve the conditions for Black children.

Franklin understood that the history of education is largely a reflection of racial, ethnic, and religious animosity. Majority demographic groups almost invariably attempt to suppress legitimate intellectual competition from demographic minorities:

At present few or none give their Negro Children any Schooling, partly from a Prejudice that Reading and Knowledge in a Slave are both useless and dangerous; and partly from an Unwillingness in the Masters and Mistresses of common Schools to take black Scholars, lest the Parents of the white Children should be disgusted and take them away, not chusing to have their Children mix’d with Slaves in Education.

Benjamin Franklin to John Waring, 3 January 1758, in Papers 7:356. Franklin himself visited a "Negro School" in 1763, and stated the students had the potential to perform at the level of white students.

Franklin had a sophisticated understanding of economics, demographics, warfare, and racial conflict. He recognized that slavery was, on top of everything else, economically counterproductive and socially unsustainable. Slavery was a ticking time-bomb which would eventually explode, even if the northern states chose to ignore the situation entirely. Since a stitch in time would save nine, it was in the enlightened, long-term self-interest of the southern states to proactively phase-out slavery. A conscientious, explicit, up-front solution would permit a balancing of equities, afford adequate transition time for change, allow management of the risks, facilitate dignified concession, and avoid catastrophic violence or vindictive retribution.

In 1789, as one of his final public acts, Franklin wrote an anti-slavery treatise condemning the horrors of slavery and signed a petition to the United States Congress urging abolition. When Senator James Jackson of Georgia attacked him, Franklin responded with a parody argument in support of the (Muslim) Barbary pirate's contemporary enslavement of Christians. Regrettably, Congress did not act on Franklin's effort, and the matter was ultimately resolved decades later by the bloody American Civil War.

XIV. Statesman

Of all his many contributions, Franklin's greatest gift to world society was as a world statesman.

1) Pennsylvania Politician & Representative

Benjamin Franklin understood local politics. He was elected to the Common Council of Philadelphia, served as Clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and became a member of the Assembly. He also became Speaker of the Assembly and President of the Executive Council of Pennsylvania (President of Pennsylvania).

Franklin was a Delegate from Philadelphia to the Pennsylvania State Convention, President of Pennsylvania Convention, and Pennsylvania State Convention Congressional Delegate for the Congressional debates on Articles of Confederation.

Most importantly, he was also a delegate to represent Pennsylvania in the Second Continental Congress, during the debate and ratification of the Constitution of the United States.

2) Diplomat

Franklin is the greatest diplomat in American history. He crafted America's most important and difficult treaties.

Franklin served as the Colonial Representative of Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, to England. At certain times he was the Congressional Commissioner to Canada, and the Congressional Representative to British Lord Howe. Franklin negotiated other pacts, such as the first commercial treaty between Sweden and the United States, the first treaty of friendship between Germany and America, and an agreement with the Barbary states of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli to stop Muslim piracy against American ships (the piracy temporarily abated, but years later President Jefferson, who worked with Franklin and John Adams on the Barbary piracy issue, was forced to deploy the armed forces to decisively end the piracy).

As discussed elsewhere, Franklin served as Congressional Commissioner (Ambassador) to the Court of Louis XVI of France, and negotiated several critical treaties for exchange of commerce and common defense during the Revolutionary War. No other Framer or Founder commanded as much international respect and admiration.

Franklin was responsible for negotiating the Peace Treaty with France and Britain. He managed to preserve America's ability to geographically expand westward, in spite of contemporary incursions by France, England, and Spain. In many respects, he was America's first Secretary of State.

3) Framer of the American Political & Legal System

No Framer exercised more influence over the birth of America's political and legal system than did Benjamin Franklin. If Washington was Father of the Nation, Franklin was Grandfather of the Nation.

A masterful politician, diplomat, and facilitator, Franklin understood how to accomplish goals by maneuvering quietly behind the scenes. He tempered his strong conviction with disciplined, salient, unpretentious expression. He left his fingerprints everywhere without alienating other delegates, and often convinced people that they had thought of his ideas themselves. "Such is the vanity of mankind," Franklin once wrote, "that minding what others say is a much surer way of pleasing them than talking well ourselves."

Indeed, but for the deep respect commanded by Franklin and Washington, it is doubtful the warring delegates at the contentious Constitutional Convention would have even persisted to a successful conclusion. Franklin was a key peacemaker and deal-maker, and the Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia because he lived there. When the Convention began to unravel, Franklin broke a vexing impasse by successfully introducing a specific motion (drafted by others) which provided that there would be equal state representation in the Senate and proportional representation in the House of Representatives.

Franklin was the only Framer to exert a direct impact on every one of America's important founding documents. He is the linchpin of the Revolutionary Era who ensured that every founding document would share a common purpose. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton shed light on the meaning of the Constitution by authoring the Federalist Papers; Franklin and five other Framers performed a similar service by enshrining the philosophical consensus achieved through the Declaration of Independence within the provisions of the Constitution.

Franklin's 1754 Albany Plan of Union, which was presented anew years later before the Second Continental Congress, set forth a blueprint for inter-colonial representation and defense. Many aspects of the Plan (except, notably, for Plan features enhancing national government power) were borrowed for the Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781. Franklin actually presented the Articles of Confederation of United Colonies. The Articles of Confederation served as America's first constitution and had a great influence on the delegates' efforts to formulate the second and final Constitution.

Franklin was also a member of the Second Continental Congress Committee to draft the 1776 Declaration of Independence. Prior to this appointment, he had written a precursor draft version of the Declaration of Independence, which helped inform his second attempt. Thomas Jefferson chaired the Committee and performed much of the draftsmanship as part of Franklin's effort to garner critical political support from Virginia, but Franklin edited the document and contributed many of the underlying ideas. Franklin, for example, suggested the famous phrase "self-evident truths." Jefferson reportedly quipped that the only reason Franklin didn't write the entire document was because Franklin would have included jokes in the text.

Franklin was one of the six men who signed both the Declaration and the Constitution of the United States (the others were George Read, Rodger Sherman, Robert Morris, George Clymer, and James Wilson). He was the only person to sign all four of the documents which directly helped to create the United States in its current form: the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Treaty of Alliance, Amity, and Commerce with France (1778), the Treaty of Peace between England, France, and the United States (1782), and the Constitution (1787) (Rodger Sherman signed the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Articles of Confederation, but not the treaties; Franklin influenced, but did not sign, the Articles of Confederation).

Benjamin Franklin completed most of these arduous civic endeavors in his old age, after he had already cemented his own public reputation. Instead of choosing a comfortable retirement, he continually risked his life, his reputation, his family, and his friendships until the very year of his death. Unlike most of the other Framers, Franklin labored in the face of his knowledge that he would not live long enough to personally enjoy the fruits of constitutional liberty.

4) Protector of the Liberty to Home Educate

One of the best examples of Benjamin Franklin's handiwork also happens to be very significant to home educators. He understood that the home is the last bastion of liberty.

During the Pre-Revolutionary Era, Britain maintained control over colonists by quartering troops in private residences. This tactic allowed the crown to intimidate political enemies, harass colonial women, invade the privacy of private residences, monitor families for signs of political disobedience, and prevent unapproved instruction of America's home-educated children.

In Pennsylvania, an outraged Benjamin Franklin responded by securing a "Quartering Bill" that included language preventing forcible quartering of British troops in private Pennsylvania residences.

Later, when the Declaration of Independence was drafted, Franklin approved language condemning the practice of quartering troops.

Later still, Franklin supported the 1787 Constitution, which eventually protected familial privacy by devoting an entire Third Amendment to a prohibition against quartering. The Fourth Amendment and incorporation of the Writ of Habeas Corpus provided additional important protection against the improper seizure of children. Through the First Amendment, freedom of expression and association were preserved.


In many ways, the versatile Franklin possessed the most important talents of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison (home-educated men, one and all). Indeed, but for Franklin, none of the other three men would have attained their greatest achievements.

Along with his great personal abilities, Franklin enhanced the performance of those around him. He had an extraordinary combination of personal qualities, including ambition, patience, timing, foresight, temporence, detachment, maturity, and forbearance. He knew how to win both the War and the peace. He developed his abilities without the benefit of inherited wealth, political advantage, or an elite education. He began his life as an ordinary early American.

Franklin's precise ranking in the pecking order of the American Framers may be reasonably debated. He was, like everyone else, possessed of human weaknesses. Nonetheless, there can be no doubt that this home-educated man was one of the most accomplished individuals in world history, let alone the United States. Benjamin Franklin demonstrated practical wisdom in action.

Note: Walter Isaacson wrote a biography of Franklin, which was released in June 2003, after this web page was written. Several magazines published pieces on Franklin during the publicity campaign for the book. On article deemed Benjamin Franklin the "most indispensable of the Founding Fathers." To read the article, click here.

The July 7, 2003, Vol. 162, No. 1 Special Issue of Time also explores Franklin's life in considerable depth, lauding him as the "most remarkable of the founding fathers." To read the articles, click here.

Back to:
1) Index of Quaqua Legal and Historical Pages
2) History
3) Legal Resources
4) Quaqua Society Home Page