Franklin, Benjamin (1706–1790)

AuthorDennis J. Mahoney

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Benjamin Franklin, president of Pennsylvania, was the oldest delegate to the CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF 1787. A beloved elder statesman of the young Republic, Franklin lent prestige to the Convention by his presence. His signature on the new Constitution was a symbol of the continuity of revolutionary principles and a warranty of the democratic character of the document.

Franklin's public career began in 1736, when he was appointed clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and lasted for more than half a century. He served as a member of the assembly and as postmaster of British North America even while pursuing a private career as a printer and inventor.

In 1754, as a delegate to the Albany Congress, Franklin proposed the "Albany Plan" of colonial union. Under his plan, the British Crown would have appointed a president-general and the colonial legislatures would have chosen delegates to a Grand Council with power to raise an army and navy, to make war and peace with the Indian tribes, to control commerce with the Indians, and to levy taxes and customs duties to pay the expenses of the union. The plan, one of the earliest moves toward American FEDERALISM, was too consolidated to find support in the colonies and too democratic to be acceptable in England.

From 1757 to 1762, and again from 1766 to 1775, Franklin was the agent in England of Pennsylvania and several other colonies. In that capacity he explained to Parliament American opposition to the Stamp Act, that is, to TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION, and persuaded WILLIAM PITT to propose a plan of colonial union within the British Empire.

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Returning to Pennsylvania in 1775, Franklin was named a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, where, in July, he proposed ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION establishing a "league of friendship" among the colonies with a Congress that would exercise considerable legislative power. The following year he served on the committee that drafted the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.

From 1776 to 1785, Franklin served as minister of the United States to France (and was accredited to several other European governments as well). He negotiated the French military and financial assistance that was crucial to the success of the Revolution, and he carried out a propaganda campaign to win European support for the American cause. In...

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