Friday, April 17, 2009

On This Day: April 17, 1790 - Ben Franklin Dies

On this day in 1790, the first American super-star died. Benjamin Franklin was the most accomplished American of his age, and perhaps any age. Franklin was successful in many areas, he was an accomplished author, printer, scientist, inventor, politician, and diplomat. In his spare time, he was a civic activist who founded one of the most influential libraries in the (then) colonies, reformed the U.S. postal system and laid the groundwork for the modern system, and created one of the first volunteer fire fighting companies.

His career covered an amazing breadth of subjects, but he is perhaps best known for his work discovering electricity (the famous kite experiment), and also for his efforts to bring France into the War for Independence. Popular with many influential French thinkers, Franklin was dispatched to gain support for the cause. In many ways, it was Franklin's efforts to secure French loans that kept the Continental Army in the field. Franklin, along with John Adams and John Jay, would go on to negotiate the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War.

To future generations, Franklin is an icon of the Revolutionary period. During his lifetime, however, he was far more popular with the crowns of Europe than he was with the leadership of the Colonies. John Adams, whom he had collaborated with on the Declaration of Independence and later in France, absolutely loathed the man. He would complain that his own role in the Revolution will be forgotten in favor of Franklin, he would write: "The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin's electrical rod smote the earth and out sprang General Washington. That Franklin electrified him with his rod - and thenceforward these two conducted all the policies, negotiations, legislatures, and war."

Though not quite accurate, Adams was correct that the average American would always cherish the memory of Franklin. His funeral was attended by 20,000 people who crowded around the church to say goodbye. To this day, thousands of people visit his simple grave in Philadelphia, and toss pennies onto the tombstone of the man who advised a young nation that "a penny saved is a penny earned".

this post by Tom Haynes

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