Historical Markers
Benjamin Franklin [American Revolution] Historical Marker
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Benjamin Franklin [American Revolution]

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Chestnut St., between 3d and 4th Sts. at Independence National Historical Park.

Dedication Date:
June 30, 1990

Behind the Marker

"The history of our Revolution," John Adams once sniffed, believing that his own contributions to American independence were largely unrecognized, "will be one continual lie from one end to the other. The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin's electrical rod smote the earth and out sprung General Washington, fully clothed and on his horse. Franklin then proceeded to electrify them with his rod and thence forward these three - Franklin, Washington, and the horse - conducted all the policy, negotiations and war."

It's doubtful that Franklin could have conjured a better image, though he was a master at simultaneously promoting his own image and the cause of American independence.

Color portrait of Benjamin Franklin wearing a brown suit with a white dress shirt showing at the collar area.
Benjamin Franklin, by Benjamin Wilson, 1759.
The son of a modest Boston family, Franklin ran away from home as an adolescent, crossed the Atlantic twice in the 1720s attempting to set up a printing business, and later settled in Philadelphia, where his skills - printing, writing, investing, and seeking knowledge - were all indispensable to the development of the colonial city. Franklin quickly thrived amidst the tremendous social and economic changes that were taking place there. He capitalized on the challenges to the Quaker elite by increasingly ambitious, non-Quaker colonists by setting up his own printing business and a newspaper that encouraged the emerging middle class to pursue its material interests for the benefit of the colony. In the process, Franklin secularized the Puritan values of hard work, frugality, civic duty, and scholarship, and established such invaluable institutions as the American Philosophical Society, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the College of Philadelphia (today the University of Pennsylvania).

Always eager to advance his own fortunes, Franklin creatively wedded public service to entrepreneurial opportunities. As a public servant he helped create forts on the Pennsylvania frontier and served as a diplomat at various Indian seats of power; a necessary prerequisite for his later interests in land speculation on Pennsylvania's frontier. After 1750, Franklin, as an elected member of the Pennsylvania Assembly, spent most of his career in trans-Atlantic diplomacy, which allowed him to further his own scientific interests and to secure the financial and military aid from France that the colonies needed to win their war for independence.

Franklin's transition from ambitious entrepreneur to "public man" was not without potentially career-ending mistakes. Early on, he underestimated the importance of building a political coalition between the various ethnic groups in the colony and criticized German settlers, which bruised some feelings. His success, after 1756, in persuading a younger generation of Quaker activists to follow his lead in replacing the Penn family's proprietorship with royal control of the colony hampered Pennsylvania's participation in the growing resistance to British revenue-raising measures; a fact that contributed heavily to the "internal revolution" in which Quakers and Proprietary supporters were displaced by new men in 1776. Franklin also hoped to have it both ways on the Stamp Act in 1765. He opposed the Act itself, but, once it was in place, he tried to secure local patronage awarded by the British ministry for a close friend. This disastrous mistake nearly resulted in the ransacking of his house by an angry mob, who believed that Franklin as an American-born official had forgotten where his true loyalties lay.

While hardly a radical, Franklin embraced the cause of Independence in time to play a critical role in the American struggle for independence. Elected as an agent to England by the Massachusetts legislature in 1771, Franklin, in January, 1774, was publicly scolded by England's Privy Council for leaking information to the Boston radicals that implicated Royal Gov. Thomas Hutchinson in a conspiracy to impose military rule in Boston. Colonists viewed the humiliation as Britain's way of making Franklin the scapegoat for the growing imperial crisis. As a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, Franklin voted for American independence in July 1776 and accepted appointment as the new nation's minister to France. In this capacity, he exploited the traditional animosity that existed between France and Great Britain by successfully appealing for French military and financial aid that proved critical to the success of the patriot cause.

Franklin's marriage to Deborah Read and his subsequent family life - while never perfect - provided an anchor to his peripatetic lifestyle. In 1763 Franklin and his wife built a home in Philadelphia suitable to someone of his achievements and gentlemanly reputation. On pieces of land he acquired south of High Street (present Market Street) between Third and Fourth Streets he erected a fine house set back from High Street in an open area known as Franklin Court. Franklin actually lived at this residence for a surprisingly short time, though he eventually retired there.

In 1785, Franklin returned to Philadelphia from France, and was elected to the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania. As its chairman, he was, in effect, the governor of the state for a three-year period. Franklin also served as a Pennsylvania delegate to the constitutional convention of 1787, along with Thomas Mifflin, markerRobert Morris,marker James Wilson, George Clymer, Thomas Fitzsimons, Governor Morris, and Jared Ingersoll. When the convention nearly broke up over disagreement about the nature of representation in Congress, Franklin brokered the compromise that resulted in equal representation of states in the Senate and representation by population in the House of Representatives. His closing speech, delivered on September 17, 1787, was widely reprinted by supporters of the new federal constitution. One of the greatest men of his age, Franklin died on April 17, 1790, at the age of eighty-four.

To learn more about Benjamin Franklin's political career,marker click here.

To learn more about Benjamin Franklin's accomplishments as a scientist and inventor, markerclick here.

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