Friday, May 9, 2014

Paper: Benjamin Franklin: A Great American

Recently, I lost my flash drive, or, rather, forgot about it and it was apparently stolen. This happened at Bronx Community College (BCC), where I work. There is a lot on the flash drive, such as my diary, my creative writings, my resume, and my academic papers. Because I'm such a strong believer in academic integrity, I've decided to post my papers online over the course of the next several days. I hope people find them interesting - I always try to find something interesting about every topic I'm given, which isn't always an easy task.

I'm starting with my BCC papers. This one I wrote (several years ago) for a history class, qualifying a great American. (The campus is home to The Hall of Fame for Great Americans, a national landmark.)

Benjamin Franklin: A Great American
We use the term often, but what is it that makes a great American? Courage? Patriotism? Impact? Intelligence? Ingenuity? Humility? Honesty? Kindness? No, it is not any one of these things but rather an amalgam of them that makes a great American. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) embodied all these traits. He was a statesman, diplomat, inventor, scientist, philosopher, publisher, and Founding Father. He did many things to shape the modern world during his time. He is probably best remembered as a key figure in the American Revolution. That is why, above all, he is a great American.
                  Some of Franklin’s most important work was in convincing the American colonies to unite. He proliferated some of these ideas in The Pennsylvania Gazette (1729-1766), writing much of the material himself. It was in this paper that Franklin published what is often regarded as the first political cartoon. The illustration depicted a snake made up of 13 segments, one for each colony, warning that the colonies should “JOIN, or DIE.” This was especially important because war had just broken out between the British and French, what is often referred to as the French and Indian War. Both forces had Native American allies, which made war especially dangerous for the colonists.
                  In 1754, during the War, Franklin was sent to Albany, New York to represent Pennsylvania at a colonial conference to discuss defense against the Indians. At the conference, he suggested the first real plan for the union of the colonies. The goal was to bring together the 13 colonies into “one general government.” It was approved by the delegates at the Albany Congress, but the colonies never ratified it. It was later the basis for the Articles of Confederation.
                  Franklin was very influential in shaping attitudes against the British Crown, as well as exposing its injustices. He was the key American figure against the Stamp Act, issued in 1765 by British Parliament, taxing the colonies in the form of a stamp required to make documents legit. At first, Franklin did not oppose the Act, believing the principle more important: whether or not British Parliament had a right to tax its colonies. Then, when he learned of how strongly opposed the colonies were to the Act, he went before British Parliament to testify against it. For two hours, he answered a series of 174 questions dealing with “taxation without representation,” answering concisely for each question. It was repealed a short time later. This strengthened American resolve to not be subordinated by the Crown.
                  Nevertheless, other instances arose that would eventually drive the British and its colonies to war, such as the Boston Tea Party, Boston Massacre, Townshend Acts, and so on. Franklin made sure to continue to expose such occurrences through his publications and meetings with other influential men. Franklin lost his son, who supported the Crown, to his determination in the American cause and independence; his resolve was amazing.
                  War broke out in 1775, the American Revolution. The following year, Franklin was part of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, along with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. It is said that Franklin could not be trusted not to put a joke in the Declaration, and that is why Jefferson was chosen to write it. It was ratified by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.
                  One of Franklin’s key contributions during the War was in influencing France to join on the side of the colonies. Franklin was appointed foreign minister to France shortly after the adoption of the Declaration. In 1777, after news of the American victory at Saratoga reached Parish, Franklin rushed to the French foreign minister with a copy of a proposed treaty. King Louis XVI had agreed to sign it but only if Spain would. Fearing it would take too long, Franklin devised a trick. Franklin knew that a British secret agent, Paul Wentworth, was in Paris sent for him. Franklin spoke with him but said nothing. The agent reported that Franklin spoke in circles. Franklin knew word would reach King Louis XVI about his talk with the British secret agent; it did. Fearing the Americans and British were talking peace, the King signed the treaty, not waiting for Spain, which entered the war later. According to The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and Other Writings, Franklin “combined his popularity with his diplomatic skill to achieve America’s first great diplomatic victory, the French Allegiance” (271). Soon after France and Spain joined, the War ended.
                  Franklin was also instrumental in the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1783), which officially ended the Revolutionary War. John Jay and John Adams came to France to work on the treaty with Franklin although it was nearly the same as Franklin’s original. Spain, France, and Great Britain all had interests in the colonies. Thus, satisfying them all proved difficult for Franklin. It gave the new nation everything it could reasonably expect.
                  Franklin’s influence is just as great with regards to the American way of life. One way in which he did this was through helping found many new instrumental institutions. His Junto members, for instance, members of Franklin’s self-improvement organization, started America’s first circulatory library in 1731 by collecting their books together and sending to England for more. They pooled their money together to buy books and then used them for free. The library still exists today as The Library Company of Philadelphia. It still has the original collection.
                  Fire loss was a heavy and frequent burden that threatened the economic welfare and safety of Philadelphia residents at the time, of which Franklin was one. He was, therefore, very concerned with fire safety and prevention. Thus, he used his newspaper to help establish the city’s first fire department in 1736 as well as to organize American’s first fire insurance company in 1752.
                  Franklin always had a deep love and interest in education. One endeavor to that end was his “Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania [sic],” which outlined a college that would not focus on education from the clergy but would prepare students for live of business and public service.  The Pennsylvania Academy was established soon after the publication of the paper in 1749 (Franklin 207). It opened its doors for the first time in 1751. Today, it is known as the University of Pennsylvania.
                  Franklin also contributed to society through his important discoveries. He is most famous to us today as being the man who discovered that static electricity an lightning are essentially the same thing. He devised the now famous kite experiment to prove this theory of his, being one of the first men in the world to experiment with electricity. The experiment took place in 1752, during a thunderstorm. Franklin flew a kite high into the clouds, being careful to insulate the part of the kite wire he held. A bolt of lightning struck the kite wire, traveling down to a metal key tied at the end, causing a spark. A month earlier electricians in France had verified the same theory. This was before Franklin got an opportunity to hear about it (Franklin 233). The successful experiment proved Franklin’s hypothesis and propelled advancement in the taming of electricity from something not well understood and deep in mystery and superstition to an important resource.
                  To this day, few people know about Franklin’s other big discovery: the Gulf Stream, a large water ocean current that brings warm water from the Gulf to Western Europe thereby making the climate there hotter than it would otherwise be. Franklin was the first scientist to study its movement in the Atlantic Ocean. He began a chart of it at the age of 18 during his first Atlantic voyage, spending much time studying its course, as well as recording its temperature, speed, and depth. His chart of the Gulf Stream was finally completed in 1785 when Franklin was on his way home from England.
                  Franklin is also remembered for his many inventions. Franklin likened a new invention to a newborn baby (Franklin 226). His first true invention was the Franklin stove. He learned that by he could make his own stove twice as warm and work with one fourth as much fuel when he arranged the flues in an efficient way. His stove was created in 1742, an iron furnace stove that used less wood, was safer, and provided more heat for less fuel.
                  Franklin was both nearsighted and farsighted; he had glasses for reading and for everyday nearsightedness. Tired of having to constantly switch from his reading glasses to his distant lenses, Franklin had two pairs of spectacles cut in half and put two of each in one frame, known as bifocals today. Bifocals are something enjoyed by many people today that enable them to simply move their eyes up or down to see far or near.
                  Shortly after Franklin’s famous kite experiment, he invented the Franklin Rod. This invention protected many people’s homes from being burned down after being hit by lighting. It does this by first attracting the lighting to the point of the rod, developed from Franklin’s “ theory of points” where he found that a spark was attracted more readily by a pointed object than by a blunt one, and then safely channeling the electricity to the ground. When lightning struck Franklin’s home and the home suffered no damage, he had proven the effectiveness of his invention. Franklin was proclaimed the tamer of lightning. It is called the lightning rod today and is employed widely to attract and neutralize lightning from causing damage to tall buildings and structures. A Franklin saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
                  Franklin made other important contributions to society. His Poor Richard’s Almanac (1733-1758), for instance, proliferated helpful information and advice. Almanacs were important in Franklin’s day. Many families only had two print materials, a Bible and an almanac. Also, almanacs contained many different kinds of information, such as holidays, the tides, the quarters of the moon, and the dates of fairs and law court sessions, as well as general information. Franklin took on the persona of one Richard Saunders, a poor man who needed money to take care of his carping wife. Franklin’s witty proverbial sayings were the main reason for its success. Here are some The Sayings of Poor Richard:
                  Well done is better than well said.
                  Fish and visitors stink after three days.
                  Those who in quarrels interpose, must often wipe a bloody nose.
                  There are lazy minds as well as lazy bodies.
                  Who is strong? He that can conquer his bad habits.
Franklin did not create all his sayings; he got them from other languages, which he taught himself and partially mastered, such as French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Latin.
                  Franklin’s political contributions are perhaps the most important. In 1787, Franklin was sent as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. However, because of age (he was 81) and illness, he could not take a very active part. Nevertheless, his key contribution here is being one of the principle authors of the Great Compromise, which helped small states and large states get together and choose a plan to follow to solve the dispute between the two over representation in Congress. They set up a two-house Congress. His presence as well as Washington’s helped the Constitution get ratified.
                  Franklin also sought the abolition of slavery in America. In 1788, he wa elected president of the first antislavery society in America, the Pennsylvania Society for the Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. Franklin’s last public act was to sign an appeal to Congress calling for the speedy abolition of slavery. Although the abolition of slavery would not occur for some time after his death, Franklin made his opinion known about the immorality, setting a precedent for others to follow.
                  Franklin had accomplished many good deeds throughout his life for the betterment of America. We, the American people, therefore, remember him as a great American who lived for self-improvement, civic-improvement, equality, and justice. In Philadelphia, Ben’s memory is honored with the Benjamin Franklin Institute that contains the Benjamin Franklin Memorial Chamber, which houses a great statue of Franklin by James Earle Fraser.

Works Cited

Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and Other Writings. 300th Anniversary Edition. Ed. L. Jesse Lemisch. New York: Signet Classics, 1961.

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