History of the 4th of July: Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin

America

Born on January 17, 1706, in Boston, he was one of the earliest and oldest of the American Founding Fathers. He served as a lobbyist to England, was first Ambassador to France, and has been called “The First American.”

France

Philadelphia

Following the Constitutional Convention of 1787, as Benjamin Franklin exited the Philadelphia State House he was reportedly asked by the outspoken Mrs. Elizabeth Willing Powel of Philadelphia, the leading saloniste, acquainted with John Adams and a close personal friend of George Washington,

Philosophy

As a moral philosopher, he was a personal mystery. Though he believed that the new Republic could survive only if its citizens were virtuous and he wrote pithy and wise sayings in “Poor Richards’ Almanac” — he did not live by all of them himself. He is usually considered a deist, at least in the early part of his life. Nevertheless, he proposed clergy-led prayer each morning during the Constitutional Convention in June of 1787. He said “God governs the affairs of men” yet he also said, “I have some doubts as to [Jesus’] divinity.” He was a huge fan and supporter of the international evangelist George Whitfield and would go on to publish all his sermons. But he did not subscribe to Whitfield’s theology.

Deist, or…

Puritan Ezra Stiles, president of Yale, knew of Franklin’s deist leanings, but wanted, if possible, to pin down the nimble-footed freethinker to some basics. In friendship, Stiles asked for some kind of creedal confession, however limited. Franklin, who said that this was the first time he had ever been asked, on March 9, 1790, readily obliged:

Epitaph

For his own epitaph, Franklin wrote at the age of 22:

Writer and technologist. Author of fascinating articles about history, tech trends, and pop culture. billpetro.com @billpetro

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