123. Benjamin Franklin, the Boy Printer. When Franklin was born in Boston (1706) there were men still living who had seen John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts, and Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island. Franklin's father was a poor but hard-working man. He made soap and candles. Benjamin's nine brothers had learned trades, but his parents had decided that he should be the "scholar of the family." At eight he went to school to prepare for college and was soon at the head of his class.
But a family of seventeen was hard to feed and clothe, and Benjamin was sent to another school where he could fit himself for business. But he did poorly in arithmetic, and was taken out of school at ten and put to work with his father.
In the port of Boston Franklin saw the ships and sailors of all nations, and longed to go to sea, but his father took him to visit the shops, where he saw men busy at work with all kinds of tools. Although Benjamin liked to work with tools, he liked to read better, and spent all his little earnings in buying books. He borrowed books when he could not buy them.
Finally Franklin's parents decided that since he loved books so p221 well he might be a printer, and put him to learn the trade with an older brother. Benjamin was to serve his brother for his board and clothes until he was twenty-one. He worked hard at his trade, and read more books than before. He improved his own language by writing out in his own words what he had read, and then comparing his account with the author's.
He now offered to take half the money that his board cost, and board himself. His brother agreed to this plan, and Benjamin saved money and bought more books.
He longed to write something for his brother's paper. He did so, and put it at night under the door, but he did not dare sign his name to what he had written. His brother showed it to his friends. They praised it, and it was printed. It was fun for Benjamin to hear people guessing that the writer must be some great man in Boston. Franklin wrote several other articles, and called them the "Dogood Papers," but his brother was angry when he learned who wrote them.
Franklin was now only seventeen, but because of his brother's cruelty he sold his books and took a boat for New York without saying good-by to his parents. He afterwards said that leaving home in this way was a great mistake.
No one in New York wanted a printer, so young Franklin took a boat for Perth-Amboy, New Jersey, on his way to Philadelphia. His ship was caught in a storm, and the passengers were wet and hungry when they landed.
Franklin set out on foot across the state for Burlington. For nearly three days he walked in the rain along muddy roads, looking so rough people thought he was a runaway servant. He was tired and homesick. But he took boat again, and reached Philadelphia on Sunday morning, landing at the foot of Market Street.
p222 He was so hungry, he thought more of something to eat than of dressing up for Sunday. He was in a sorry plight. With his pockets stuffed with soiled shirts and stockings, and a roll of bread under each arm and one in his hand, Franklin walked up Market Street, and passed the home of his future wife, Deborah Reed. No wonder she laughed at him. She would have laughed more if some one had said: "There goes a boy who will some day become your husband and the greatest man in Philadelphia."
Franklin found work in a printing office, saved his money, and bought books to study. He got acquainted with other young people, who also loved books, and with whom he often spent his evenings.
To the surprise of Franklin and his brother printers, one day Sir William Keith, the governor of Pennsylvania, called at the shop to see Franklin. Governors did not then pay much attention to poor printers. The governor, who was dissatisfied with Philadelphia printers, promised to send him to England to buy a printing press.
Franklin, with the governor's letter in his pocket, hastened back to Boston in order to get his father's help to go to London. How happy were parents, brothers, and sisters to see the long-absent son and brother! But his father could give him no aid, and the young printer returned to Philadelphia. The governor, however, promised to pay his expenses, and Benjamin took ship for England.
p223 The governor had not even given him letters of introduction, to say nothing of money, and Franklin found himself a stranger in one of the largest cities in the world.
He did not whine or spend his time grumbling, but went bravely to work in a printing office. He set a good example to his beer-drinking comrades by drinking only water. He was stronger and did more work and did it better than any of them.
The next year a Philadelphia merchant persuaded Franklin to return to America to become his clerk. But in a few years he went to work again at his old trade as printer, and in a short time became the editor of the "Pennsylvania Gazette."
Franklin had already married Miss Reed, the young lady who had laughed at him for making a show of himself on his first day in Philadelphia.
124. A Rising Young Man. He was now a rising young man in the old Quaker city. From year to year he did many things to help others. He started a circulating library, the first in America, out of which has grown the Philadelphia Public Library. He founded a school, which has become the great University of Pennsylvania, and a society, called the American Philosophical Society, which still holds important meetings.
Franklin improved the heating of houses by inventing the "Franklin stove," but refused to take out a patent, and thus make himself rich at other people's expense. He also formed the first "fire department" in any American town.
Who has not heard of "Poor Richard's Almanac"? Franklin p224 printed it, and the people liked it so well that he sometimes printed ten thousand copies. Here are a few of the quaint and true sayings: "A word to the wise is enough." "God helps those who help themselves."
"Early to bed and early to rise,
Franklin and his young wife kept these rules faithfully. She worked in the printing office as well as in the house. They hired no servants. Their furniture, dress, and food were plain. He ate his breakfast of bread and milk out of a wooden bowl with a pewter spoon. Mrs. Franklin surprised him one day by giving him a china bowl and a silver spoon. She said her husband deserved such things as well as other men.
The people of Philadelphia admired Benjamin Franklin more and more. At the age of thirty he was chosen clerk of the Assembly of Pennsylvania, and afterward was elected a lawmaker in the Assembly. Every year for ten years his neighbors elected him to help make the laws of the colony.
In a few years Franklin was made deputy postmaster-general for all the colonies by the king. He surprised the people by declaring that the mail should be carried from Philadelphia to Boston every week! He was postmaster-general for more than twenty years.
p225 In 1754 Franklin was sent by the colony of Pennsylvania to Albany, New York, to meet men from other colonies to make a treaty with the Iroquois, and to plan a union of the Thirteen Colonies. While George Washington was still a surveyor, before Wolfe captured Quebec, and when Patrick Henry was yet a boy, Franklin wrote out a plan of union, which pointed out the way toward that greater Union, the United States of America.
Franklin was now becoming famous outside of Pennsylvania. Yale College honored him with the degree of Master of Arts. The old University of Cambridge, England, gave him the same degree.
All the wise men in England and France were excited by news of an experiment made by Benjamin Franklin. He had made electricity by using glass tubes, and he had seen the lightning flash in the storm cloud. He decided to prove, if he could, that lightning and electricity are the same. No one had yet done this.
He made a kite out of silk, to which he fastened a small iron rod. Then he tied a hempen string to the kite and the rod. To the lower end of the string he tied a silken cord to protect his hand from the electricity. On the string he tied a key.
One day when the storm clouds were rolling up, Franklin sent his kite high up among them, while he waited. Soon the loose fibers on the hempen string moved. Franklin placed his knuckles close to the key, and sparks came flying at his hand.
When the news of this experiment was published some very wise men smiled; others said it was a trick. The great Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh, however, gave him the doctor's degree, and societies of wise men in England, France, and Spain elected him a member. He was now the most famous American.
125. Franklin's Part in the Revolution. Already we have seen that England and her colonies were beginning to quarrel. What p226 wiser man could be sent to England to defend the colonies by tongue and pen than Benjamin Franklin? He made friends for America among the great men of England.
When the Stamp Act was passed the members of Parliament asked him nearly two hundred questions about the effects of the Stamp Act on America. He wrote many letters to great men, and long articles to the English newspapers, explaining how the Stamp Act injured America. Both England and America rejoiced when the king and Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, and Franklin sent his wife a fine London gown in honor of the event.
For eight years more, while America was busy opposing the tax on tea, Franklin was in England trying to get Parliament and the king to give the Americans better treatment. But it was all in vain. He often talked with William Pitt, the great friend of America, who introduced into Parliament a plan for making friends between the two countries. But the plan was defeated.
Franklin saw that war would come, and hastened back to his beloved America, where he arrived just after the battle at Lexington and Concord (1775).
Pennsylvania sent him to the Congress of 1775, which, sitting in Philadelphia, made George Washington general of the Continental army. Franklin saw that if the thirteen scattered colonies were to defeat Great Britain they must unite. So he introduced into Congress a plan of union, but the other members were not ready for it.
p227 Franklin was one of five men who were named by Congress to write the Declaration of Independence (1776).
Soon after, Congress sent him to France to influence the king and the people of that country to aid America in winning independence. The French hated the English, but admired Benjamin Franklin. The king gave money secretly, and many French officers came to serve in the American army.
In 1778, Franklin influenced the King of France to take sides openly with the Americans. French war ships and French soldiers by thousands now came to help fight our battles.
After helping to make the treaty of peace with England in 1783, Franklin came home with many honors. Though nearly eighty years old, the people of Pennsylvania immediately elected him governor.
Franklin did one more great work for his country. In 1787 the states sent their wisest men to Philadelphia to make a constitution or plan of government. Pennsylvania chose Franklin, p228 with others, to meet with these men in Independence Hall.
George Washington, as we have seen, was the president of this meeting. Many speeches were made, and there was debating for many weeks. The meeting was always glad to hear Franklin speak, for he was a very wise man. As he had helped to make, and had signed, the Declaration of Independence, so now, after helping make the Constitution, he signed it. Many persons did not like the Constitution. Franklin said there were some things in the new plan which he did not like, but declared that he signed it because of the good things it did contain. He showed his wisdom, for it is one of the best plans of government ever made.
Franklin spent his last days with his daughter, and, surrounded by his grandchildren, died in 1790, at the age of eighty-four.
The Leading Facts. 1. Franklin's parents were poor, had seventeen children; hence Benjamin, though a studious fellow, was put to the printer's trade. 2. Franklin wrote the "Dogood Papers." Left home for New York, but went on to Philadelphia. 3. Persuaded to go to London. He returned and married. 4. Franklin started a circulating library, a school which became the University of Pennsylvania, and a society called The American Philosophical Society. 5. He invented a stove, founded the first fire department in America, and printed "Poor Richard's Almanac." 6. Wrote the first plan of an American Union, and won degrees from English and Scotch universities. 7. Franklin was one of the committee to write the Declaration of Independence. 8. Was sent to France where he won the help of France in the War of the Revolution. 9. Franklin was governor of the state of Pennsylvania, was a delegate to help make the Constitution, and died at 84.
Study Questions. 1. How long ago was Franklin born? 2. Tell of his school experiences. 3. Why did Franklin not go to sea? 4. Tell the story of his bargain with his brother. 5. What did Franklin hear about the "Dogood Papers"? 6. Tell the story of the "runaway printer." 7. How did he save his time in Philadelphia? 8. How did he happen to go to London the first time? 9. What good example did he set to London printers? 10. Why did he return to Philadelphia? 11. What three great institutions did he found? 12. Why did the people like "Poor Richard's Almanac"? 13. How did Benjamin Franklin and his wife live? 14. What public offices did he hold? 15. Who planned the first union of the thirteen colonies? 16. Picture Franklin proving that electricity and lightning are the same. 17. What honor came to him on account of his experiment? 18. What did he go to England a second time for? 19. How did Franklin aid in the repeal of the Stamp Act? 20. How long did he remain in England and who were his friends? 21. What did Benjamin Franklin do in Congress? 22. In what great events did he have a part? 23. What was his work in France? 24. What was his last work in France? 25. How old was Franklin when elected governor? 26. What was his last great work? 27. How did he spend his last days? 28. Point out the obstacles he overcame all along in his career.
Suggested Readings. Franklin: Baldwin, Four Great Americans, 71‑122; Hart, Camps and Firesides of the Revolution, 158‑162; Hart, Colonial Children, 197‑199, 210‑214; Wright, Children's Stories of Great Scientists, 71‑89; Bolton, Famous American Statesmen, 38‑66; Brooks, Century Book of Famous Americans, 65‑76.
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