Benjamin Franklin is considered by many to be one of the greatest Americans to ever live, and is also held as an important pillar of America's national heritage. Some may also argue that he exemplifies the American dream and all that is truly American. As the son of a candlemaker and only receiving a minimal amount of formal education, Benjamin Franklin was unlimited by his modest background and used his dedication and determination to master many disciplines in his quest for success. Throughout his life Benjamin Franklin took on the roles of statesman, philanthropist, inventor, revolutionary, publisher, and philosopher. In regards to his and personal and political ideologies and achievements, Benjamin Franklin epitomized the Ideal American.
Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 17, 1706. He was the fifteenth of seventeen children born to an English candlemaker and soap boiler who had emigrated to America twenty years prior in search of religious freedom. Since Benjamin Franklin was so fond of reading as a young child, it was decided by his father that he was to become a printer. He began his career as a printer at the age of twelve, when he apprenticed his older brother James. He eventually took over the printing business from his brother and worked diligently to run it himself. The Governor recognized the drive and work ethic present in Franklin and therefore put up the money for him to finance his own business. The Governor suggested that Franklin travel to London to acquire his printing equipment develop English acquaintances. After 2 years in England, Franklin arrived back in America as a skilled printer. Upon his return, he traveled to Philadelphia to start up a newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, which would eventually allow him to acquire great wealth. Benjamin Franklin believed that the only way to gain true wealth was through a commitment to hard work. He also believed that wealth was accessible to everyone, in that everyone was equal and were afforded the same opportunities in order to realize the American Dream. What exactly is the American Dream? Benjamin Franklin saw it as the realization of goals that enable equality, liberty and freedom.
Benjamin Franklin saw the importance of industry and the dangers of procrastination. This is evident in "The Way to Wealth," in which he wrote "sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy," or "early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise," or once again "one today is worth two tomorrows" and "have you somewhat to do tomorrow, do it today." Franklin valued to opportunity for free enterprise, and believed that those who are productive are blessed. This is expressed in his statement "God gives all things to industry." The capitalist, democratic system presently adhered to in the United States, as well as much of the present-day Western world was built upon the principles established by Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin also valued the importance of independence. He states "But with our industry, we must likewise be steady, settled and careful, and oversee our own affairs with our own eyes, and not trust too much to others." He also states in reference to debt and credit that "the borrower is a slave to the lender and the debtor to the creditor, disdain the chain, preserve your freedom; and maintain your independency: be industrious and free; be frugal and free." It is evident through these statements that Benjamin Franklin equated freedom with wealth and the absence of poverty. The way to achieve this freedom is through industry, hard work, and reliance only on one's self. It was through thriftiness and hard work that Franklin acquired wealth and prosperity.
Benjamin Franklin invented a warmth-giving stove, bifocal eyeglasses and the lightning rod. He developed a way to correct the excessive smoke in chimneys and demonstrated how the use of lime can improve acid soil. He also helped improve the educational system in Pennsylvania. Although Benjamin Franklin was a man of many interests and talents, he is most certainly best known for being an exceptional statesman. In the English and French wars, he sided with the British and tried to encourage peace with the Native Americans and the French. Franklin also fought for Native American rights. He returned to London for a while and used his networking there to stress the importance of America as a colony. However, he became disillusioned with the British and their self-importance, and decided to refer to himself as an American rather than an English American. This was the starting point for Franklin's fight for independence.
Franklin was also hard working in the realm of civic duty. In 1776 Benjamin Franklin was instrumental in drafting "The Declaration of Independence," along with Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, which is foundational to the freedom of America. This reads: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." As a civic leader, Franklin's ideas inspired the development of the first circulating, public library in the country in Philadelphia, a municipal police force, a fire force, a municipal hospital, the American Philosophical Society, the first efficient and profitable postal system, and the University of Pennsylvania.
The main achievement of Benjamin Franklin is his contribution to the cause of the American Revolution, and the newly formed federal government. Furthermore, Franklin's diplomatic services in France aided in the victory of the Revolutionary War. He promoted a strong federal government with a respect for individual rights. Franklin maintained that the status of a man in society was determined not by inherited honors and privileges, but by personal achievement.
Moreover, Benjamin Franklin left a legacy that lives on as a powerful influence for both America and the world at large. The constitution, which Franklin helped to draft, has acted for more than two centuries as the fundamental law of the United States of America. In the scientific world, terms that Franklin invented are still in use is reference to electricity. Also, his image has appeared on postage stamps, as well as American currency. Benjamin Franklin's continuing influence is summarized as follows:
Franklin's life and activity created the background of a new ethics based on the principles of the Enlightenment and the Puritan tradition of the early English settlers, which would shape American principles in the centuries to come." (Benjamin Franklin 1706-1790, 2001-2002).
Although it has been traditionally thought that the idea of Enlightenment spread from Europe to America, it may also be suggested that republican ideology moved from Britain to America to France to Europe, via "carrier-catalysts" from America (The Trilateral Center, 2002-2003). Whereas enlightenment spread from Europe across to America, it could be argued that Revolution, or liberty, equality, and fraternity spread from America across to Europe.
As American Minister to France from 1778 to 1785, Benjamin Franklin was the most visible proponent of republican ideology in pre-revolutionary France. If he had never served as Minister, the French Revolution may never have occurred. Franklin promoted an example of equality and fraternity that was truly American in nature, although he did adopt his ideology from the British. The American Revolution, inspired by the ideas of Benjamin Franklin, provided an example by which others, such as France, would enthusiastically follow.
Benjamin Franklin's initial objective as American Minister to France was to persuade the King's Ministers to finance the American Revolution. Franklin essentially served as a "propagandist of the enlightened ideology piped into America by English Whig rhetoric through the activities of writers...and through Franklin's many enlightened associates" (The Trilateral Center, 2002-2003). He presented himself to French Philosophers as humble, noble and enlightened; as an example of the Ideal American. This image was…