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American independence, the beginnings of which we have just been considering, was accomplished after a long struggle. Many brave men fought on the battlefield, and many who never shouldered a musket or drew a sword exerted a powerful influence for the good of the patriot cause. One of these men was Benjamin Franklin.

He was born in Boston in 1706, the fifteenth child in a family of seventeen children. His father was a candle-maker and soap-boiler. Intending to make a clergyman of Benjamin, he sent him, at eight years of age, to a grammar-school, with the purpose of fitting him for college. The boy made rapid progress, but before the end of his first school-year his father took him out on account of the expense, and put him into a school where he would learn more practical subjects, such as writing and arithmetic. The last study proved very difficult for him.

Two years later, at the age of ten, he had to go into his father's shop. Here he spent his time in cutting wicks for the candles, filling the molds with tallow, selling soap in the shop, and acting the part of errand-boy.

Many times he had watched the vessels sailing in and out of Boston Harbor, and often in imagination had gone with them on their journeys. Now he longed to become a sailor, and, quitting the drudgery of the candle shop, to roam out over the sea in search of more interesting life. But his father wisely refused to let him go. His fondness for the sea, however, took him frequently to the water, and he learned to swim like a fish and to row and sail boats with great skill. In these sports, as in others, he became a leader among his playmates.

With all his dislike for the business of candle-making and soap-boiling, and with all his fondness for play, he was faithful in doing everything that his father's business required. His industry, together with his liking for good books and his keen desire for knowledge, went far toward supplying the lack of school training. He spent most of his leisure in reading, and devoted his savings to collecting a small library.

His father, noting his bookish habits, decided to apprentice Benjamin to his older brother, James, a printer in Boston. Benjamin was to serve until he was twenty-one and to receive no wages until the last year. In this position he was able to see more of books, and made good use of his opportunities. Often he would read, far into the night, a borrowed book that had to be returned in the morning. He also wrote some verses and peddled them about the streets, until his father discouraged him by ridiculing his efforts.

About this time, in order to get money for books, he told his brother that he would be willing to board himself on half the money the board had been costing. To this his brother agreed, and Benjamin lived on a very meager diet. Remaining in the printing-office at noon, he ate such a simple lunch as a biscuit or slice of bread and a bunch or two of raisins. As a meal like this required but little time, young Franklin could spend most of the noon hour in reading. By living thus he easily saved half of what his brother allowed him, and at once spent his savings in books.

This youth was never idle, because he put a high value upon time; he was never wasteful of money, because he knew the easiest way to make money was to save what he had. These were qualities which helped Benjamin Franklin to get on in the world.

But during this period of his life he had great hardships to bear, for his brother was a stern taskmaster, and was so hot-tempered that he would sometimes beat Benjamin cruelly. No doubt the young apprentice was sometimes at fault. Be that as it may, the two brothers had so many disagreements that Benjamin determined to run away and seek his fortune elsewhere.

Having sold some of his books to get a little money, at the age of seventeen, he secured a passage on board a sloop for New York. Upon his arrival, friendless and almost penniless, he began to visit the printing-offices in search of work. But failing to find any, and being told that he would be more likely to succeed in Philadelphia, he decided to go to that city.

Franklin's Journey from New York to Philadelphia.Franklin's Journey from New York to Philadelphia.

To-day, the journey from New York to Philadelphia, a distance of ninety miles, can be made in two hours. But, of course, in Franklin's time there were no railroads, and it was a more difficult undertaking.

He first had to go by a sailboat from New York to Amboy, on the New Jersey coast. On the way a storm came up, which tore the sails and drove the boat to the Long Island shore. All night Franklin lay in the hold, while the waves dashed angrily over the boat. At length, after thirty hours, during which he was without food or water, he was landed at Amboy.

As he had no money to spare for coach hire, he started to walk, along rough country roads, the fifty miles across New Jersey to Burlington. For over two days he trudged along in a downpour of rain. At the end of his first day's journey he was so wet and mud-spattered, and had such an appearance of neglect, that on reaching an inn, there was talk of arresting him for a runaway servant.

Having arrived at Burlington, he was still twenty miles from Philadelphia, and boarded a boat for the remainder of his journey. As there was no wind, the passengers had to take turns at the oars, and in this way they continued down the Delaware until midnight. Then fearing they might pass the town in the darkness--streets not being lighted in those days--they landed, made a fire out of some fence-rails, and waited for morning.

The next day, which was Sunday, they reached Philadelphia, and young Franklin, poorly clad and travel-soiled, with only a little money in his pocket, was making his way alone through the streets of Philadelphia. But he was cheerful and full of hope. His health was strong, and he was hungry for his breakfast. Going to a baker's shop he bought three large rolls, and, his pockets being already stuffed with shirts and stockings, he tucked one roll under each arm, and walked up Market Street eating the third. His ludicrous appearance afforded much amusement to a certain Deborah Read, who stood at the door of her father's house as he passed by. Little did she think that this strange-looking fellow would one day become the greatest man in Philadelphia and even in Pennsylvania. Little did she think that one day, not many years after that morning she would become his wife. Both these things came to pass.

Having eaten as much as he wished, he continued up the street, giving the two other rolls to a woman and a child who had come on the boat with him.

In a short time he found work with one of the two master printers in Philadelphia. One day, while at work in the printing-office, he received a call from Sir William Keith, Governor of Pennsylvania. Governor Keith's attention had been directed to this seventeen-year-old youth by Franklin's brother-in-law, and he called on this occasion to urge him to start a printing press of his own.

Franklin in the Streets of Philadelphia.Franklin in the Streets of Philadelphia.

When Franklin said he had not the money to buy a printing press and type, the Governor offered to write a letter for Franklin to take to his father in Boston, asking him to furnish the loan. The following spring Franklin took the letter to his father, but the father refused to lend him the money.

Upon Franklin's return to Philadelphia Governor Keith advised him to go to England to select the printing-press and other things necessary for the business outfit, promising to provide funds. Franklin took him at his word, and sailed for London, expecting to secure the money upon his arrival there. But the faithless Governor failed to keep his word, and Franklin was again stranded in a strange city.

Without friends and without money he once more found work in a printing-office, where he remained during the two years of his stay in London. Here, in his manliness and strength, he was very different from the printers with whom he worked. They spent much of their money in beer-drinking, and when Franklin refused to drink with them, they made fun of him, by calling him a water-American. But the young man who had lived upon a simple diet in order to buy books was not disturbed by such taunts.

After two years he returned to Philadelphia, where, four years later, he married Miss Read. In the meantime he had set up in the printing business for himself, but in so doing had to carry a heavy debt. He worked early and late to pay it off, sometimes making his own ink and casting his own type. He would also at times go with a wheelbarrow to bring to the printing-office the paper he needed.

His wife assisted him by selling stationery in his shop as well as by saving in the household, where the furnishings and food were very simple. Franklin's usual breakfast was milk and bread, which he ate out of a wooden porringer with a pewter spoon. In time, when their money was more plentiful, his wife gave him a China bowl and a silver spoon. On observing how hard Franklin worked, people said, "There is a man who will surely succeed. Let us help him."

In all these years of struggle Franklin was cheerful and light-hearted. This was no doubt largely owing to his natural disposition, but in part also to his healthful reading habits, which took him into a world outside of himself. No matter where he was or what the stress of his business, he found time to read and improve himself. He also adopted rules of conduct, some of which, in substance, are: Be temperate; speak honestly; be orderly about your work; do not waste anything; never be idle; when you decide to do anything, do it with a brave heart.

Some of the wisest things Franklin ever said appeared in his Almanac, which he called "Poor Richard's Almanac." Beginning when he was twenty-six years of age, he published it yearly for twenty-five years, building up a very large circulation. It contained many homely maxims, which are as good to-day as they were in Franklin's time. Here are a few of them:

  "God helps them that help themselves."

  "Early to bed and early to rise, Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."

  "There are no gains without pains."

  "One to-day is worth two to-morrows."

  "Little strokes fell great oaks."

  "Keep thy shop, and thy shop will keep thee."

Franklin always had a deep interest in the public welfare. He started a subscription library in Philadelphia and established an academy, which finally grew into the University of Pennsylvania. Having a decidedly practical turn of mind, he had great influence in organizing a better police force and a better fire department. He invented the Franklin stove, which soon became popular because it was so much better than the open fireplace. But the most wonderful thing he ever did was proving that lightning was the same thing as electricity.

Before he made this discovery, men of science had learned how to store up electricity in what is called a Leyden jar. But Franklin wished to find out something about the lightning which flashed across the clouds during a thunder-storm. Therefore, making a kite out of silk and fastening to it a small iron rod, he attached to the kite and to the iron rod a string made of hemp.

One day when a thunder-cloud was coming up he went out with his little son and took his stand under a shelter in the open field. At one end of the hempen string was fastened an iron key, and to this was tied a silken string, which Franklin held in his hand. As electricity will not run through silk, by using this silken string he protected himself against the electric current.

Franklin Experimenting with Electricity.
Franklin Experimenting with Electricity.

When the kite rose high into the air, Franklin watched intently to see what might follow. After a while the fibres of the hempen string began to move, and then, putting his knuckles near the key, Franklin drew forth sparks of electricity. He was delighted, for he had proved that the lightning in the clouds was the same thing as the electricity that men of science could make with machines.

It was a great discovery and made Benjamin Franklin famous. From some of the leading universities of Europe he received the title of _Doctor_, and he was now recognized as one of the great men of the world.

Franklin rendered his country distinguished public services, only a few of which we can here mention. More than twenty years before the outbreak of the Revolution, he perceived that the principal source of weakness among the colonies was their lack of union. With this great weakness in mind, Franklin proposed, in 1754, at a time when the French were threatening to cut off the English from the Ohio Valley, his famous "Plan of Union." Although it failed, it prepared the colonies for union in the struggle against King George and the English Parliament.

Ten years after proposing the "Plan of Union" Franklin was sent to England, at the time of the agitation over the Stamp Act, to make a strenuous effort to prevent its passage. He was unsuccessful in accomplishing his mission, but later did much toward securing the repeal of the Stamp Act.

Returning from England two weeks after the battle of Lexington and Concord, he immediately took a prominent part in the Revolution. He was one of the five appointed as a committee to write the Declaration of Independence, and during the discussion over that remarkable State paper, it was he that said, "Yes, we must indeed all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

Lafayette Offering His Services to FranklinLafayette Offering His Services to Franklin

After the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, he was sent to France to secure aid for the American cause. The French people gave him a cordial reception. There were feasts and parades in his honor, crowds followed him on the streets, and his pictures were everywhere displayed. The simplicity and directness of this white-haired man of seventy years charmed the French people, and won for him a warm place in their hearts. On one of the great occasions a very beautiful woman was appointed to place a crown of laurel upon his white locks, "and to give the old man two kisses on his cheeks." All this was a sincere expression of admiration and esteem. He did very much to secure from France the aid which that country gave to us. He indeed rendered to his country services[11] whose value may well be compared with those of Washington.

  [11] Franklin was one of the three commissioners to make a treaty with England at the close of the Revolution. The two other commissioners were John Adams and John Jay. They were all men of remarkable ability, and their united effort secured a treaty of peace highly favorable to their country. But, as in many other brilliant political achievements in which Franklin took part, his delicate tact was a strong force.

Franklin left France in 1785, after having ably represented his country for ten years. All France was sorry to have him leave. Since it was hard for him to endure the motion of a carriage, the King sent one of the Queen's litters in which he was carried to the coast. He also bore with him a portrait of the King of France "framed in a double circle of four hundred and eight diamonds."

Although in his last years he had to endure much idleness and pain, yet he was uniformly patient and cheerful, loving life to the end. He died in 1790, at the age of eighty-four, one of the greatest of American statesmen and heroes.

Review Outline

Franklin's School-Life, Benjamin In His Father's Shop, His Fondness For The Sea, Bookish Habits, Franklin Boards Himself, He Runs Away From Home, His Journey From New York To Philadelphia, In A Printing-Office Again, His Manliness, In Business For Himself, Economy And Simplicity In Living, "Poor Richard's Almanac," Franklin's Public Spirit, His Great Discovery, Franklin The Statesman, His "Plan Of Union," Franklin In France, His Last Years.

To The Pupil

1. Give an account of Franklin's bookish habits, and of his experiences on the journey from Boston to Philadelphia, when he ran away from home.

2. How do you explain the success in life of this poor boy? In making your explanation think of all his strong traits of character and of all his good habits.

3. What simple ways of living did Franklin adopt when he was trying hard to pay his debts?

4. Memorize the "Rules of Conduct" and the six homely maxims.

5. Tell about Franklin's experiment with the kite. What great discovery did he make at this time?

6. What did Franklin have to do with the following: the Stamp Act; the Declaration of Independence; securing aid from France?

7. How was he treated by the French people and their King?