HOT TOPIC: Benjamin Franklin
Volume 3, Issue 17 - January 14, 2007

"Today is the 301st anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth. He was born in Boston on January 17, 1706, the tenth son of soap maker. His father wanted Benjamin to enter the seminary, bit it wasn’t meant to be. Benjamin was apprenticed to his brother James, a printer. After helping James compose pamphlets and set type, 12-year-old Benjamin would sell their products in the streets.

At 15 he helped his brother start The New England Courant, the first newspaper in Boston to publish articles, opinion pieces, advertisements, and news of ship schedules. Ben wanted to write for the paper, and he did so under the pen name of “Silence Dogood.” This sense of independent action was true to the Franklin way, and soon his family was at odds with Boston’s puritan leadership. By 1723 Ben made the move to Philadelphia.

The rest is literally history. Franklin found work as an apprentice printer. He did so well that the governor of Pennsylvania sent him to London to buy fonts and printing equipment. Through this trip Franklin both established European contacts that would serve him well the rest of his life, and he also found his bride Deborah Read.

Franklin’s cunning mind, political acumen, scientific inquiry and writing talent made him a unique character; one of those rare figures who actually stands up to his legend. While he did not compose the documents penned by the Founding Fathers, his mark was left on them as he influenced his peers. Once committed to independence, he fought voraciously for it, even to the point of forsaking his son William who remained loyal to the crown. In his later years as ambassador to France he helped our young nation sign treaties and secure badly-needed funding. When Thomas Jefferson succeeded Franklin as French ambassador he was asked: "It is you who replace Dr. Franklin?" Jefferson replied earnestly, "No one can replace him, Sir; I am only his successor." Indeed.

Since his death in 1790, the world has reinvented itself as a more enlightened place where scientific evidence and democratic deliberation have replaced the ignorance and despotism of ages past. Franklin’s life remains a study in the American spirit in all its candor, aspiration and idiosyncrasy. Thank you Mr. Franklin, and happy birthday!"

©2005 Walter McKenzie

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