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Benjamin Franklin. Impact on American History. California State Standards. 3.4 Students understand the role of rules and laws in our daily lives and the basic structure of the U.S. government.

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benjamin franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Impact on American History

california state standards
California State Standards

3.4 Students understand the role of rules and laws in our daily lives and the basic structure of the U.S. government.

1. Describe the lives of American heroes who took risks to secure our freedoms (e.g., Anne Hutchinson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr.).

5.4 Students understand the political, religious, social, and economic institutions that evolved in the colonial era.

5.5 Students explain the causes of the American Revolution.

  • Describe the views, lives, and impact of key individuals during this period (e.g., King George III, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams).
founding father
Founding Father
  • Writer
  • Printer
  • Politician
  • Scientist
  • Inventor
  • Statesman
  • Diplomat
the paradox of franklin
The Paradox of Franklin

Owned slaves

Railed against Germans in PA

Not a feminist

Supported the military

Rejected Christianity

Socialistic views

Fathered an illegitimate child

Held Americans in low regard

the man of many faces
The Man of Many Faces
  • The Oldest of the Founders
    • Washington, 26 years younger
    • John Adams, 29 years younger
    • Jefferson, 37 years younger
    • Madison and Hamilton, nearly 50 years younger
the man of many faces6
The Man of Many Faces

Prior to the Revolution, Franklin was already world famous:

Member of the prestigious Royal Society

Honorary degrees from St. Andrews and Oxford

A world leader in science and philosophy

the man of many voices
The Man of Many Voices
  • Pseudonyms:
  • Silence Dogood, Alice Addertongue, Cecilia Shortface, Polly Baker, Busy Body, Obadiah Plainman, Anthony Afterwit, Richard Saunders, Poor Richard, An American, A New-England Man, A Briton, A London Manufacturer
  • While in London, used 42 different signatures
apprenticeship and printer
Apprenticeship and Printer

Hierarchical New England

Two years of formal education

Candle and soap maker

Apprenticed to his brother James, printer

1721, New England Courant, James’


In 1722, at 16, Franklin secretly submitted satires, signed by Silence Dogood

leaving boston
Leaving Boston
  • James’ paper was shut down
  • Franklin found apprenticeship intolerable
  • Franklin had become
    • “a little obnoxious to the governing Party”

He was viewed as an “Infidel or Atheist”

In 1723, left Boston for Philadelphia

young franklin and social mobility
Young Franklin and Social Mobility
  • Patronage was the accepted way of achieving upward social mobility
  • Not uncommon for men of humble birth to rise to prominence
  • Franklin’s talents were soon recognized by the governors of PA and NY
  • Even Cotton Mather expressed an interest
the great social divide
The Great Social Divide
  • Gentlemen and Commoners
  • Gentlemen were born wealthy
  • Gentlemen did not work
  • Puritan hard work ethic were meant for commoners
a gentleman
A Gentleman
  • By 18th century standards, Gentlemen did not labor or toil with their hands
  • They inherited wealth
  • Income was generated through rents, or interest on money
  • They were free to pursue interests or leisure
  • This is what Franklin aspired to…
changing times
Changing Times
  • By the middle of the 18th century a new economic class was emerging
  • This group was neither born into wealth nor commoners
  • They were the known as “middling” men
  • Included: commercial farmers, artisans, merchants, traders, shopkeepers, etc
  • They were becoming wealthy and saw themselves as better then commoners
middling men
Middling Men
  • Franklin epitomized this new man
  • Wealthy and Industrious
  • Interested in learning
  • Interested in giving back to society
  • Franklin organized local artisans who met to discuss common issues
  • Secret fraternity in England
  • Emphasized:

Generosity, Goodwill,

and Sociability

Also, allowed artisans to mix easily

with Gentlemen

Perfect organization for Franklin

franklin s dilemma
Franklin’s Dilemma

By the 1730s Franklin was:



Civic Minded

But not a Gentleman

Feared being ridiculed as a

…Molatto Gentleman…

franklin the entrepreneur
Franklin the Entrepreneur
  • Monopolized printing in Philadelphia
  • Franchised print shops from New England to Antigua
  • Was postmaster general
  • Rented houses
  • Owned paper mills
  • Creditor
retirement at 42
Retirement at 42
  • By 1748 Franklin had acquired enough wealth to retire
  • Timing significant
  • Purchased several slaves
  • Moved to a quieter part of town
  • Franklin attributed his success to
    • Industry and Frugality
franklin the gentleman
Franklin the Gentleman

Painted by Robert Feke

franklin s experiments
Franklin’s Experiments
  • Time to read, write, and experiment…

…with electricity

Proved that lightning was electricity

Published Experiments and Observations on Electricity in 1752

Made him an international figure

fame and recognition
Fame and Recognition
  • Degrees from Yale, Harvard, and William and Mary
  • Praised internationally for the invention of the lightning rod
public service
Public Service
  • More important to Franklin than his scientific achievements
  • Member of Philadelphia City Council
  • Justice of the Peace
  • Member of the Pennsylvania Assembly
a citizen of the empire
A Citizen of the Empire
  • Albany Plan for Union
  • Return to England, 1757
  • London, lived the next 15 of 17 years
  • Met with Britain’s preeminent figures in science, literature, the arts, etc.
  • Became a great supporter of the Empire
  • A Royalist
changing fortunes
Changing Fortunes
  • Franklin in London
  • Supported the Stamp Act
  • His enemies blamed Franklin for the Stamp Act
  • Franklin’s response to the Stamp Act:
  • “… a firm loyalty to the Crown… will always be the wisest Course for you and I to take…”
return to philadelphia
Return to Philadelphia
  • In 1763 Franklin returned to Philadelphia
    • was instantly looked at as a colonial leader
    • inspected the colonies postal service

-- helped quell the rioters from western PA

  • Returned to London in 1765, as an agent for

pro loyalists forces who wanted PA to

become a royal colony.

Planning a short visit, he stayed another 10 years

  • House of Commons, Feb. 1766
  • Argued against the Stamp Tax
  • Parliament repealed the Stamp Act
  • Parliament enacted the Declaratory Act
the crown vs parliament
The Crown vs. Parliament
  • Franklin viewed the king as a benign power for good
  • He saw Parliament as the problem for the empire/colonies
  • He believed only the King could rule the colonies and not Parliament
finally taking up the cause
Finally taking up the Cause
  • After repeated attempts to reconcile, Franklin changed his mind.
  • Franklin had come to realize the pejorative view many in England had.
  • Franklin humiliated by the King’s Privy Council.
  • March, 1775 sailed for America.
super patriot
Super Patriot
  • Upon returning, Franklin had to become a super patriot.
  • Member of Second Continental Congress.
  • Immediately embraced independence.
  • Some suspected Franklin’s motives.
  • …Samuel Adams, Richard Henry Lee
  • Son William, an embarrassment
franklin the democrat
Franklin the “democrat”
  • Proposed radical Constitution for


Simple democracy and popular radicalism

franklin the diplomat
Franklin the Diplomat

July 1776, Lord Howe wrote Franklin

Franklin’s response was swift and strong

After the defeat at Long Island, Howe, again sent out peace offerings.

Franklin and John Adams met with Howe and rebuffed his call to return to conditions that existed in 1763

france the ally
France the Ally

Foreign aid and involvement was essential

Franklin lobbied to go to France

In February 1778 France and the United States signed two treaties: commercial and military

diplomatic success
Diplomatic Success

Against tremendous odds,

Franklin solely responsible for the Franco-American alliance

Franklin also participated in the peace negotiations with Great Britain

a stranger in his nation
A Stranger in his Nation

By 1784 Franklin had spent 23 of the last 27 years abroad

While he had countless admirers, he had made enemies as well

When he was recalled by Congress, in 1785, Franklin thought he might be a …stranger in his own country…

returning home
Returning Home

On September 14, 1785 Franklin returned to Philadelphia

Philadelphia had become the leading city in the new nation

Soon Franklin was elected to the ruling executive council in Pennsylvania

franklin in 1785
Franklin in 1785

Portrait by Charles Wilson Peale

the constitutional convention
The Constitutional Convention

Represented Pennsylvania

Did not know most of the delegates

Did not make any great speeches

Seemed detached for most of the proceedings… and did not agree with much of the final draft…but signed it anyway

franklin and slavery
Franklin and Slavery

Franklin’s thoughts on African Americans evolved over time

By the early 1780s Franklin had become a leading abolitionist

In February 1790 Franklin petitioned the Congress to abolish slavery

franklin vs congress
Franklin vs. Congress

Franklin’s petition generated outrage in the Congress and nation

Franklin was accused of upsetting the social order

The petition was rejected as Congress decided it had no authority to interfere in the affairs of the states

franklin s death
Franklin’s Death

Religious views kept private

Child of the Enlightenment

Believed in one God, Creator of the Universe

Doubted Christ’s divinity

But recognized Christ’s


Died April 17, 1790

reaction to franklin s passing
Reaction to Franklin’s Passing

France reacted more then America

Eulogized many times over

In America things were different

While the House adopted a tribute, the Senate did not

John Adams, VP, and others were jealous of Franklin

Others linked Franklin to the French Revolution

franklin s legacy
Franklin’s: Legacy

In the 1790s many of Franklin’s writings/ autobiography were published

While reviled by the Federalists, many Republicans embraced Franklin

The new rising “middling” class of artisans saw Franklin as their hero

This group now saw themselves as worthy to aspire to higher stations

franklin s way to wealth
Franklin’s “Way to Wealth”

Published in 1758 Franklin published his influential work as an essay.

Franklin used adages and advice that he had dispensed in Poor Richard’s Almanac.

Franklin Way to Wealth was and continues to be very influential

franklin s way to wealth quotes
Franklin’s Way to Wealth, quotes
  • "There are no gains, without pains"
  • "One today is worth two tomorrows"
  • "Time is money"
  • "A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things"
  • "Get what you can, and what you get hold"
  • "Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears, while the used key is always bright"
  • "Have you somewhat to do tomorrow, do it today"
  • "The eye of a master will do more work than both his hands"
  • "Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise"
celebration of labor
Celebration of Labor

Work and virtue became synonymous

Parson Weems praised Washington as a man of industry and later wrote about Franklin

Hard work was now viewed as admirable

Men of low birth were encouraged to work their way to success…..just like Franklin

franklin as an inspiration
Franklin as an Inspiration

James Harper, publisher,

mayor of New York City

Thomas Mellon, founder of Mellon Bank

lasting legacy
Lasting Legacy

Important concepts that have defined Americans:

  • Self made man
  • Enterprise and opportunity
  • Innovation
  • Industry
  • Work for a living
and in the end
And in the End

Franklin was the second most important figure in the Revolution

In the early years of the Republic, Franklin personified the American Dream


The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin,

Gordon S. Wood

Benjamin Franklin, Edmund S. Morgan

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,

Benjamin Franklin

Way to Wealth, Benjamin Franklin