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Benjamin Franklin

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Franklin, Benjamin (1706–90), U.S. printer, publisher, writer, politician, economist, scientist, statesman, and diplomat. At the start of his career he made his fortune as a publisher and printer and derived substantial revenue from writing his famous Poor Richard's almanacs (published annually between 1732 and 1757). As a writer, however, he is best revealed in his personal letters, journals, and autobiography, where he appears the most pragmatic of idealists, the most haphazard of scientists, and, most particularly, a witty and cynical observer of society. As a scientist, Franklin had practical ingenuity and produced bifocals and the Franklin stove. His main contributions to pure science were experiments with electricity. His famous experiment with the key and kite during an electrical storm, which confirmed that lightning was actually electricity, is typical of his genius. While realizing the tremendous implications of his discovery, he left most of the unraveling of his theories to others, while he himself produced the eminently practical lightning rod. In 1736 Franklin became the clerk of the Pennsylvania State Assembly and began gradually to give up the management of his business concerns to devote his full time to public service, writing, and scientific inquiry. In 1753 he was made deputy postmaster general of the colonies. In 1754 he gave his support to the British colonial effort against the French in the French and Indian Wars, organizing a volunteer army and supervising the construction of a fort in frontier Pennsylvania. In July 1757 he was sent to England to represent the colony of Pennsylvania. There he made a spectacular showing before the House of Commons, successfully arguing for repeal of the hated Stamp Act. Impressed by his achievements, the colonies of Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts also decided to retain him as their agent. He continued to represent colonial causes in England until after the battles of Lexington and Concord, when he saw that there was no hope of reconciliation between England and America and returned home. There he joined the second Continental Congress, serving on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. He was sent to France in 1776 to plead for support, and was instrumental in winning the military support of Lafayette and others. He was appointed minister to France in 1778. Returning to Philadelphia in 1787, he was an influential figure in the drafting of the Constitution.

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