I am lucky enough to share a birthday with Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, and I wanted to make sure to remember him on this special day over 300 years after his birth.
Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts. Although he was the old sage of the American Revolution and the Founding generation, Benjamin Franklin’s considerable work in the areas of journalism, science, and invention often obscure his many contributions to the creation of the Constitution and protection of American freedoms. His stature was second only to George Washington in lending credibility to the new federal government, and his wisdom helped ensure the structural stability of what is now the oldest written constitution still in force in the world.
Franklin’s Albany Plan of 1754 was the first formal proposal for a union of the English colonies. Though it failed to gain the requisite support, it signaled the colonies’ desire to be more independent from the mother country. Also, the Albany Plan’s federal system government in some ways foreshadowed the political system created by the Constitution three decades later.
As a delegate of the Second Continental Congress, Franklin, along with Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, was a member of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Franklin was the first United States Postmaster General, an ambassador to France, and as a delegate at the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
Franklin was also an early opponent of slavery who feared that the institution would corrode the cords of friendship among the new American states. Despite his abhorrence of the slave system, however, Franklin was willing to compromise on the issue at the Constitutional Convention, and he remained optimistic about the young nation’s prospects.
Franklin began writing an Autobiography in 1771 while he was living in England. The account of his life ends at age 51 (1757), well before the American Revolution, so the book does not discuss the Founding period or the Constitution. It chronicles the first half-century of his life and contains the author’s reflections on life, literature, religion, and philosophy.
Do you or your students share a birthday with any major historical figure?
See our curriculum Founders and the Constitution for a complete lesson on Benjamin Franklin.