In 1754 representatives from several colonies met in
Albany, New York, to establish a common defense policy for the
frontier and improve relations with the Iroquois. Franklin attended
as a delegate and drafted a plan for establishing a common government.
The plan was adopted by the convention but then rejected by the
legislatures of the colonies. Though the convention failed, it
set a precedent for the later Continental Congress, while Franklin's
plan became a model for the Articles of Confederation.
The Autobiography, written in several
stages in Franklin's later life, is his most famous piece of writing.
In it he tells the story of his youth and early career as a printer.
The book presents Franklin as a self-made man, someone who succeeded
through hard work and good behavior. While Franklin the man certainly was hard
working, the image of Franklin presented in the book is idealized.
Franklin's story of success of prosperity is the story of the American
Dream, which partly explains why the book remains so popular today.
In 1787 Franklin attended the Constitutional Convention,
where the United States Constitution was written. The delegates
at the convention could not agree on whether each state should
have an equal number of votes in the new legislature or a number
of votes in proportion to their population. This difference pitted
small states against big ones, and nearly sunk the whole convention.
On July 3, Franklin broke the deadlock by moving that the legislature
have two houses, one with equal representation and the other with
proportional representation. This became known as the Great Compromise.
Indentures were a common form of contract in the eighteenth century.
Generally, a person would agree to work for a period of time without
pay (except room and board) in return for training, education,
or some other service. Many people emigrating from Britain to America
paid for their journey by signing indentures. After arriving they
would work as servants for a number of years to pay off the cost
of their trip. Franklin signed a nine-year indenture to be an apprentice
to his brother. When Franklin left James's printing shop, he was
breaking his indenture, which technically was illegal. (He knew
James wouldn't chase him down, however, since his indenture was
secret. Had Ben's indenture been public, he would not have been
allowed to publish James's newspaper while James was in prison.)
Every year from 1732 to 1757, Franklin published an
almanac. It had all the traditional components of an almanac, such
as weather tables and agricultural information, but it also contained
the sayings and proverbs of "Poor Richard." Poor Richard was none
other than Franklin himself, writing in the persona of an innocent
country bumpkin whose simple sayings were uncommonly wise. Poor
Richard became a celebrity and was quoted everywhere. Franklin's
almanac sold over 10,000 copies annually and helped make him a
Passed by Parliament in 1764, the Stamp Act placed
a tax on most paper transactions in the colonies. Nearly every
official document, from court papers to contracts, required a stamp showing
that the tax had been paid. The tax was intended to help pay for
the recently ended French and Indian War. The colonists heavily
opposed the Stamp Act. It was repealed soon afterwards, in part
because of Franklin's testimony against it in the House of Commons.
Passed by Parliament in 1767 as the Revenue Act but
known as the Townsend Acts, these laws taxed all glass, paper,
lead, tea, and paint entering the American colonies. The colonists
bitterly opposed these acts, which hurt American trade.
Treaty of Paris
The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, officially ended
the Revolutionary War. Franklin was the lead negotiator of the
treaty, in which Britain recognized American independence and granted
it all of the territory east of the Appalachian Mountains and south
of Canada. The treaty also secured American fishing rights off
the coast of Newfoundland and bound the British to remove their
troops from the Ohio Valley.
Second Continental Congress
In September of 1774, representatives from all the
colonies except Georgia met to decide how to respond to the Coercive Acts,
which closed Boston's harbor. This was the First Continental Congress.
The Second Continental Congress met a year later, after the Battles
of Concord and Lexington set the colonies in open conflict with
Britain. Franklin attended the Congress as a delegate from Pennsylvania
and argued for American independence.
Battles of Concord and Lexington
On April 19, 1775, British troops marched from Boston
to confiscate a stockpile of weapons held by rebellious colonists. On
their way, the troops met by local militias. The two sides fired shots,
and by the end of the day both British and militia troops had been
killed. With these accidental battles, the Revolutionary War started.