Many misconceptions exist about the American Founding Fathers. Some want to place them upon an altar of worship; others prefer to demonize them wholesale. Both are ignorant of the fact that the Founders were just people, and as such their foibles tell us as much about their character as their achievements do. By examining the life of Benjamin Franklin, I discovered that the truth is anything but simple when it comes to the American colonial period.
Ben Franklin had little “formal” schooling, but remained a voracious reader all throughout his life (ironically, he was awarded with an honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in 1759; thereafter, he became known as Doctor Franklin). He became a printer’s apprentice when he was only 12 years old. After running away from home, he eventually became a prolific publisher before he was 30. It was only through the apprenticeship system and his entrepreneurial efforts that he was as financially successful as he was.
As he advanced through the years, he engaged in several philanthropic and civic ventures of many kinds. His scientific endeavors further endeared him in the public eye. With the reputation that he garnered, it is not that much of a surprise when he began his more serious diplomatic assignments during his later life. The famous “Examination of Doctor Franklin” by the British Parliament in 1766 further esteemed him in the eyes of his fellow colonists, for being the hero who so eloquently stood against the Stamp Act.
What I found most intriguing were Franklin’s connections to the militia. After the introduction and passage of a militia bill in 1755, he was appointed chairman of a committee that would oversee the defense fund appropriations provided by the Pennsylvania Assembly. Dr. Franklin was affectionately referred to as “General Franklin,” when he rode out into the field to supervise the stockade construction that was to serve as the defense line against the French. This was not his only military endeavor, for in July of 1775, he was serving as the chairman of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety. Some of his activities in this role were to organize militia units and supply them with firearms, munitions, and other assorted equipment, besides laying out strategic plans of defense.
Benjamin Franklin’s life is nothing short of inspirational. A true Renaissance man, he implemented those Enlightenment ideals into practice by demonstrating that anyone with the right character, fortitude, and skill set can accomplish anything, even the freeing of a nation.