BLTC Press Titles

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Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian

Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment

Rudolf Steiner

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll


by Benjamin Franklin


The facts of Franklin's life from his birth, January 17, 1706, to the time of his first political mission to England, can best be learned from the Autobiography. He remained in England from 1757 to 1762, and not only won the fight of the Pennsylvania colonists against the proprietors, but made many acquaintances that were valuable to him on his second visit. In recognition, chiefly, of his scientific researches, both Oxford and Edinburgh conferred on him the degree of LL.D. Upon his return to America he devoted himself largely to the improvement of the postal service. In 1764, when the passage of the Stamp Act was threatened, he was again sent to England and remained until 1775 as the agent of Pennsylvania, and for a part of the time of Massachusetts and Georgia. On his return he landed in Philadelphia shortly after the Battle of Lexington, and at once became active as postmastergeneral for the colonies, as member of congress, and as member of the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence. In 1776 he was appointed one of the commissioners to France. His reputation as a scientist and as a practical "philosopher" had preceded him, and as the man himself appealed to the imagination of the French people, he was able to exert great influence in favor of the colonies. In 1778 he was appointed minister 'a France, and in 1781 a member of the peace commission. Though he was nearly eighty years old when in 1785 he returned to America, he served three terms as president — i.e., governor — of Pennsylvania, and as delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He died April 17, 1790.

Franklin's long active life was contemporary with some of the most important events in the history of America. When he began to write for his brother's newspaper in Boston the Mathers were still fighting for the old theocratic rule in New England; at the time of his death the government of the United States was fully organized under the constitution. Only less important than the political development was that in scientific and economic thought, and literary taste. Franklin was not only an interested spectator of all these changes, but he had an important part in accomplishing many of them. He was considered by many of his contemporaries as the greatest American statesman; he was the first American investigator in science to attract particular notice abroad; and he wrote the earliest American book that is now read by any one except the special student and the lover of the curious.

2. Franklin's Character

Franklin's character may be best understood by remembering that he was a New Englander of the lower middle class who escaped in youth to the freer atmosphere of the Middle colonies. A first glance at the history and literature of early New England shows the high ideals, the strong religious impulse and devotion to duty that characterized the first settlers. A little closer study reveals the presence at the same time of practical qualities which have since become associated with the word "Yankee." Even the most rapt and devout leaders among the Puritans showed hard common sense when they came to drive bargains with the Indians and with one another; and there were always a large number of tradesmen and artisans who lacked some of the higher idealism, but in whom the qualities of practical shrewdness and ingenuity were developed almost to excess. It was from this class that Franklin came.

In New England, men of Franklin's stamp were kept in the background by their social and intellectual superiors. It is only by the writings of an occasional bold individual, like Robert Calef, or Franklin's grandfather, Peter Folger, that we are reminded of their existence. Benjamin Franklin had too strong a personality to be repressed anywhere; but the punishment which his brother endured on account of a newspaper joke indicates what might have been in store for him if he had remained in Boston. In Philadelphia, however, he found a chance for greater freedom of thought and action. His religious questionings, which would have made him an outcast in Boston, were but mildly censured; his suggestions for civic improvements were more readily received and carried out; and his opportunities to succeed in business and to become a man of weight in the community were better.

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