Central Institute of American Historical Studies

At one point early on in his career the young Ben Franklin wrote out a list of character attributes that he thought would be wise to refine during his lifetime. He was very willing to admit his personal issues involving sexual promiscuity. Therefore he felt if he were to write these desirable traits out on paper and spend a few weeks developing their strengths within his own personality, he would mature to be a very socially acceptable and exceptionally popular gentleman in the Philadelphian community.

In his master list were such points as diplomacy, industry, honesty and frugality. The twelfth of his virtues was chastity. He showed them to a Quaker friend in Philadelphia who told him that he had omitted one very important virtue –namely humility[1].      

He officially fathered three children. A son named William (who was born out of wedlock), and two daughters Sally and Francis both with his common law wife Deborah Read. Francis died at the age of 6. His son William became integral to the political world of the British King George III, and remained loyal throughout the Revolutionary War. Sally remained vibrant in Franklin’s life until his death in April 1790.                  

Benjamin Franklin regularly formatted his opinions and philosophies in the writing of his own original publication titled Poor Richard’s Almanac. Many of his contemporaries falsely assumed that his middle name was “Richard”. But his uncanny ability to make money at just about every venture he went into proved that he was not very poor either. Many of the homes throughout the New England colonies had just two primary reading sources; the Bible and Poor Richard’s almanac. His publications including a newspaper called The Gazette were often known for their pithy quotes that were regularly included in it. A few of these famous quotes were:

“Industry pays debts while despair increases them.”

“God helps those that help themselves”

“There are no gains without pains”[2]

Franklin’s reputation and businesses continued to grow over the years prior to 1776 as he became more of an influence in moving the colonies toward revolution and independence. Benjamin Franklin’s Gazette was not quite 50 years old when the Declaration of Independence was printed on the front page. This, the first concrete sign of a free American government, set the stage for over 200 years of history writing by the free exchange of ideas.[3] 

Benjamin Franklin had a unique ability to bring others into his ideas and then mentor then in his civil and scientific projects, leaving them to carry on without him. He initiated many civil developments within the city of Philadelphia. Many were “firsts” in the nation. Many of these established institutions continue to this day as normal and necessary aspects and integral parts of the American lifestyle at large.

He helped initiate a public library system where books could be borrowed by the common people of the city. He also help to establish the first metropolitan style police department and fire department. He founded the first fire insurance company in 1752 as well as the first higher learning academy which we now know as the University of Pennsylvania. His work as a statesman probably had the most immediate impact on the events of the 18th Century. [4]

[1] Litz, Robert  Benjamin Franklin: Citizen of the World (A&E Networks 1994 DVD) quote by Whitfield J. Bell Jr.   

[2] Cambou, Don  The American Revolution–The Conflict Ignites (History Channel Documentary,1994 DVD) narration

[3] Sibert, Jacquelyn S.  The Presidents (Indianapolis, Indiana. Curtis Publishing Company, 1989) p.vii

[4] Rogers, Cara  People Who Changed the World (Australia, Igloo Books Ltd, 2010) p.63

Central Institute of  American Historical Studies
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