The Autobiography of Franklin

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THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

WITH INTRODUCTION AND NOTES
EDITED BY CHARLES W ELIOT LLD
P F COLLIER & SON COMPANY, NEW YORK (1909)





INTRODUCTORY NOTE


BENJAMIN FRANKLIN was born in Milk Street, Boston, on January
6, 1706. His father, Josiah Franklin, was a tallow chandler who
married twice, and of his seventeen children Benjamin was the youngest
son. His schooling ended at ten, and at twelve he was bound apprentice
to his brother James, a printer, who published the "New England
Courant." To this journal he became a contributor, and later was for
a time its nominal editor. But the brothers quarreled, and Benjamin
ran away, going first to New York, and thence to Philadelphia, where
he arrived in October, 1723. He soon obtained work as a printer,
but after a few months he was induced by Governor Keith to go to
London, where, finding Keith's promises empty, he again worked as a
compositor till he was brought back to Philadelphia by a merchant
named Denman, who gave him a position in his business. On Denman's
death he returned to his former trade, and shortly set up a printing
house of his own from which he published "The Pennsylvania Gazette,"
to which he contributed many essays, and which he made a medium for
agitating a variety of local reforms. In 1732 he began to issue his
famous "Poor Richard's Almanac" for the enrichment of which he borrowed
or composed those pithy utterances of worldly wisdom which are the
basis of a large part of his popular reputation. In 1758, the year
in which he ceases writing for the Almanac, he printed in it "Father
Abraham's Sermon," now regarded as the most famous piece of literature
produced in Colonial America.

Meantime Franklin was concerning himself more and more with
public affairs. He set forth a scheme for an Academy, which was
taken up later and finally developed into the University of Pennsylvania;
and he founded an "American Philosophical Society" for the purpose
of enabling scientific men to communicate their discoveries to one
another. He himself had already begun his electrical researches,
which, with other scientific inquiries, he called on in the intervals
of money-making and politics to the end of his life. In 1748 he
sold his business in order to get leisure for study, having now
acquired comparative wealth; and in a few years he had made discoveries
that gave him a reputation with the learned throughout Europe. In
politics he proved very able both as an administrator and as a
controversialist; but his record as an office-holder is stained by
the use he made of his position to advance his relatives. His most
notable service in home politics was his reform of the postal system;
but his fame as a statesman rests chiefly on his services in connection
with the relations of the Colonies with Great Britain, and later with
France. In 1757 he was sent to England to protest against the
influence of the Penns in the government of the colony, and for five
years he remained there, striving to enlighten the people and the
ministry of England as to Colonial conditions. On his return to
America he played an honorable part in the Paxton affair, through
which he lost his seat in the Assembly; but in 1764 he was again
despatched to England as agent for the colony, this time to petition
the King to resume the government from the hands of the proprietors.
In London he actively opposed the proposed Stamp Act, but lost the
credit for this and much of his popularity through his securing for
a friend the office of stamp agent in America. Even his effective
work in helping to obtain the repeal of the act left him still a
suspect; but he continued his efforts to present the case for the
Colonies as the troubles thickened toward the crisis of the Revolution.
In 1767 he crossed to France, where he was received with honor; but
before his return home in 1775 he lost his position as postmaster
through his share in divulging to Massachusetts the famous letter of
Hutchinson and Oliver. On his arrival in Philadelphia he was chosen
a member of the Continental Congress and in 1777 he was despatched
to France as commissioner for the United States. Here he remained
till 1785, the favorite of French society; and with such success did
he conduct the affairs of his country that when he finally returned
he received a place only second to that of Washington as the champion
of American independence. He died on April 17, 1790.