Benjamin Franklin and the American Revolution: Importance & Role

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  • 0:02 A Man of Many Talents
  • 0:35 Early Years
  • 1:59 Role as a Revolutionary
  • 3:37 Franklin the Diplomat
  • 4:31 Young Nation, Elder Statesman
  • 5:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
Benjamin Franklin was in many ways the premier American Renaissance man. His life and career were as eclectic as they were extraordinary. Learn about the man, and read more about his role in the American Revolution.

A Man of Many Talents

Amongst the pantheon of American heroes who led the young 13 colonies into nationhood during the latter part of the 1700s, few stand taller than Benjamin Franklin. George Washington led the Continental Army and served as the first president, Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence and John Adams fought for Independence in Congress and as a diplomat abroad. Yet, Benjamin Franklin perhaps best embodied the soul of the American Revolution.

Early Years

Born in 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts, Franklin only attended school for a few years, working as a printer apprentice in his teenage years. During this time, he wrote a series of letters to a newspaper under the pen name Mrs. Silence Dogood, an early indication of his wit and charisma.

At the age of 17, Franklin left home for Philadelphia, the town that would forever be related to his name. He worked in several printing shops, founded a subscription library and became a Mason. Franklin developed as a writer during these years, working on Poor Richard's Almanac, which became a very popular publication.

For a man with little formal schooling, Franklin ventured into numerous experiments and inventions during the mid-1700s. He invented bifocal glasses, the lightning rod and a new form of a stove, just to name a few artifacts. Franklin experimented with electricity as well, discovering new facts about electric currents and conductivity. He also studied ocean currents, weather patterns and meteorology. Franklin also worked on creating a fire department, the American Philosophical Society and the Pennsylvania Hospital (the first hospital in the future United States). He also entered into politics, winning a seat in the Pennsylvania Assembly in the 1750s. In 1764, he became the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He soon traveled to London, where world-changing events were taking place.

Roles as a Revolutionary

When Franklin was in London, British policy toward the colonies was starting to evolve. Notably, in 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, levying new taxes on the American colonies. Franklin served as an unofficial American spokesman in London, speaking against the Stamp Act and lobbying for its repeal, which he was eventually able to secure. This catapulted Franklin into a leading position on matters of colonial policy. Franklin would stay in Europe for several more years, traveling and establishing strong connections and loyal friends. Franklin became quite beloved in France, creating lasting ties that would become quite useful for Americans in several years' time.

In 1775, Franklin returned to Philadelphia as the fires of revolution were being stoked. British policy toward the colonies had continued on an inflammatory course over the past decade, and Franklin was soon to take another leading role in his elder years. Following the outbreak of fighting at Concord and Lexington in Massachusetts in 1775, the Second Continental Congress was formed, and Franklin was elected as a delegate from Pennsylvania. In 1776, Franklin took part in an extremely important committee for the Congress - that of drafting a declaration proclaiming the colonies' independence from the British Crown. Franklin helped to review the text written by Thomas Jefferson, providing input into the final version of the Declaration of Independence. Soon after the colonies declared their independence, Franklin was named the Postmaster General for the young independent nation. Yet, affairs would once again take him overseas to support the American cause.

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