Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)45 min
- appreciate Franklin’s contributions to his community and country
- understand the purpose of the Albany Congress
- analyze the basic components of the Albany Plan
- understand Franklin’s views on the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution
- explain Franklin’s role in the Constitutional Convention
- explain Franklin’s efforts to oppose slavery
- Handout A—Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790)
- Handout B—Vocabulary and Context Questions
- Handout C—In His Own Words: Benjamin Franklin and the Albany Plan of Union
Additional Teacher Resource
- Review answers to homework questions.
- Conduct a whole-class discussion to answer Reading Comprehension Question 3 and the Critical Thinking Questions.
- Ask a student to summarize the historical significance of Benjamin Franklin.
Benjamin Franklin was one of the most famous Americans of his era. He was a businessman, inventor, philanthropist, and statesman. His Albany Plan was the first formal proposal for a union of the colonies. Franklin became a champion of American rights during the crisis with England, and after independence, he joined the call for revising the Articles of Confederation. At the Constitutional Convention, Franklin took a moderate position on most issues. Though he favored a stronger central government, he also insisted on safeguards against tyranny. Franklin was also an early opponent of slavery. His last public act was to recommend that Congress adopt a plan to extinguish slavery.
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 of the mother country. Also, the Albany Plan’s federal system of government in some ways foreshadowed the political system created by the Constitution three decades later.
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.
Have the students come together as a large group and share their answers to Handout C.
- Have the students assume the role of a British official who has the duty of supervising the American colonies in 1754. Then have them compose this official’s report on the Albany Plan to the king. The report should be in the form of a two to three-paragraph essay, and it should explain why the official thinks the Albany Plan is either a good or a bad idea.
- Have the students create a debate between two delegates at the Albany Congress, one who supports Franklin’s plan and another who opposes it. The debate should be no longer than one page in length and should be in the form of a script or dialogue.
Franklin reflected many years later on the consequences of the rejection of the Albany Plan:
Remark, February 9, 1789.
On Reflection, it now seems probable, that if the foregoing Plan or some thing like it, had been adopted and carried into Execution, the subsequent Separation of the Colonies from the Mother Country might not so soon have happened, nor the Mischiefs suffered on both sides have occurred, perhaps during another Century. For the Colonies, if so united, would have really been, as they then thought themselves, sufficient to their own Defence, and being trusted with it, as by the Plan, an Army from Britain, for that purpose would have been unnesessary: The Pretences for framing the Stamp-Act would not then have existed, nor the other Projects for drawing a Revenue from America to Britain by Acts of Parliament, which were the Cause of the Breach, and attended with such terrible Expence of Blood and Treasure: so that the different Parts of the Empire might still have remained in Peace and Union. But the Fate of the Plan was singular. For tho’ after many Days thorough Discussion of all its Parts in Congress it was unanimously agreed to, and Copies ordered to be sent to the Assembly of each Province for Concurrence, and one to the Ministry in England for the Approbation of the Crown. The Crown disapprov’d it, as having plac’d too much Weight in the democratic Part of the Constitution; and every Assembly as having allow’d too much to Prerogative. So it was totally rejected.
Source: The U.S. Constitution Online. http://www.usconstitution.net/albany.html
- Ask the students to decide if they agree or disagree with Franklin’s idea that “the subsequent Separation of the Colonies from the Mother Country might not so soon have happened” if the Albany Plan had passed.
- Ask the students to discuss how the Albany Plan could have been modified in order for it to pass.