In school, I would often get the accomplishments of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson confused. Who was it that ran around a lightning storm with a kite? And which one authored the Declaration of Independence?
As I am a fan of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger I learned that one of Charlie’s heroes is Benjamin Franklin. I read Poor Charlie’s Almanack that is based on Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack that followed a fictional middle-class tradesman discuss the merits of hard work and frugality. After reading Munger’s ode to Poor Richard and visiting Philadelphia I picked up Walter Isaacson’s Biography of Benjamin Franklin.
I was not disappointed.
Franklin was born in Boston in colonial times at the start of the 18th century to a poor family. He apprenticed as a printer under his brother eventually moving to Philadelphia where he authored many articles, short stories, and pamplets. As a business man he franchised print shops across the colonies and built a network of print shops.
Franklin had a thirst for knowledge and created philosophical societies, volunteer fire departments, and other knowledge centric endevours. Eventually he retired from being a printer in his mid 40s striking a deal with his heir to continue to recieve a portion of the prophets for years to come.
His focus turned into politics and he spent 15 years in England as a representative of the colonies to negotiate on their behalf. Early on Benjamin Franklin was loyal to the British Crown while denouncing parliment. Eventually he saw that Britian would never give the colonies fair representation and became a support of the American Revolution. He helped edit portions of the Declaration of Inedpendence which Thomas Jefferson authored.
During the war Benjamin Franklin was the American representative to France and helped secure the alliance with France that ultimately led to the Americans winning their independence. He then negotiated the paece treaty with Britain at the end of the war to secure the terms for the recognition of the new American state.
In his final years he helped bridge the divide at the Constitutional convention to forge the colonies to a middle ground that formed the constitution. His ability to advocate for compromise, democracy, and put issues into perspective helped him shape 4 of the most important early documents in US history, the Declaration of Independence, Alliance with France, Treaty with Britian, and the Constitution.
In his final years he fought for the aboloition of slavery and to create a program that would provide eduction, apprenticeships, and support former slaves.
While Franklin’s life reads like a highlight real he had many flaws just as all people do from his promiscuous younger years fathering an illegitimate child, to spending the last years of his wife’s life apart from her as she was ill to arguing for bad policies. What Franklin excelled at was finding his way back to guiding principles and usually open to new ideas that may change his opinions.
Despite his flaws, Franklin fought for the middle class and believed in a strong middle class advocating for hard work, frugality, and public works. He has inspired many others along the way through his curiosity, wisdom, and benevolence.