At 70, Benjamin Franklin was the longest-standing signatory of the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Five years earlier Franklin had visited Ireland in September and October 1771 and reportedly spent five unpleasant days at Hillsborough Castle as a guest of Wills Hill, then of the Earl of Hillsborough (later the 1st Marquess of Downshire) and of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. .
Locally, many people assume that a straight line connects these two events and that Royal Hillsborough should be considered “the birthplace of the United States”.
As a multifaceted man, Franklin can be seen as a polymath, inventor, scientist, printer, politician, Freemason, and diplomat.
The “Pennsylvania Gazette” (which he acquired in 1729) and “Poor Richard’s Almanack” (which he launched in 1732) were part of a printing press which made Franklin one of the richest men in the colonies. Americans, allowing him to retire in 1749 at the age of 43.
Between 1726 and 1748 he was the most devoted citizen of Philadelphia. In 1727 he founded a self-improvement society and joined the masons. Culturally, he created America’s first subscription library (1731) and wrote the founding document of America’s first learned society. More specifically, he founded the First Philadelphia Fire Department and the first mutual insurance company in the United States. Two other businesses are worth mentioning: he helped establish an academy that became the University of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Hospital, America’s first permanent hospital.
As a scientist, he was a major figure in the history of natural (or physical) philosophy for his discoveries and theories concerning electricity. As an inventor, he is remembered for the lightning rod, bifocal lenses, and the Franklin stove, among other inventions.
Between 1757 and 1762 and again between 1764 and 1775, Franklin undertook two extended political missions to England primarily to represent the interests of Pennsylvania in its struggles with the Penn family, the owners of the colony.
During his second mission he visited and stayed with some of the most eminent scientists of the time: Joseph Priestly, the chemist, Thomas Percival, the physician, and Erasmus Darwin, the physician. Darwin was the grandfather of Charles Darwin and Francis Galton.
It was also around this time that Franklin met the Earl of Hillsborough at an event in Dublin. The Earl invited him to stay at Hillsborough Castle.
There is no justification for assuming that Franklin’s stay at Hillsborough was unpleasant if we accept Franklin’s own account.
‘He [the Earl of Hillsborough] seemed attentive to anything that could make my stay in his house pleasant, and put his eldest son, Lord Kilwarling [Kilwarlin], in the phaeton with me, to lead me a forty mile tour, so that I could see the country, the sieges and the factories, covering me with his own hood, lest I catch a cold. In short, he seemed extremely anxious to impress me, and the colonies through me, with a good opinion of him.
Certainly, on their return to London, Franklin tried to appeal to the Earl, but the latter affected not to be at home even though Franklin was convinced that the Earl was in residence.
In the summer of 1772, they reconnected in a polite meeting in Oxford. Hillsborough was keen to bow and compliment Franklin. Franklin returned the favor, as he later confided to his son William: “I complimented him on his son’s performance in the theater, although indeed she was only indifferent; so that this account has been settled ”.
Although he opposed the introduction of George Grenville’s Stamp Act in 1764, he insisted that it be accepted when it became law in 1765, thus seriously underestimating American resentment. It may have redeemed its reputation somewhat by obtaining its repeal in 1766.
Franklin was an extremely reluctant advocate of total separation from Britain (and in this he was not the only one). He was in favor of peaceful compromise and the preservation of empire, once observing that “any encroachment on rights is not worth rebellion.”
Indeed, he was truly shocked by the “Boston Tea Party” of 1773 which he described as an “act of violent injustice on our part”, in particular because the East India Company was not the enemy of the colonists. and because it was wrong ”. destroy private property ”. These views were shared by George Washington.
Remarkably, until November 1775, even Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, asserted that “there was not in the British Empire a man who more cordially enjoys a union with the Great. -Brittany “.
However, by May 1775, upon his return to America, Franklin had virtually abandoned all hope of reconciliation and was emotionally preparing for independence.
In June 1776, Franklin was part of the “committee of five” appointed to draft a declaration of independence. When John Hancock, as President of the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence, he said, “There must be no pulling in different ways. We must all stick together.
Since they were all engaged in treason, Franklin replied, “Yes, indeed we must all hang together, or most certainly we will all be hanged separately.” ”
Later that year Franklin was sent to Paris to enlist French aid in the war. His personal charm and formidable negotiating skills, combined with French antipathy to the British, secured an alliance with France, military equipment and financial support that made an American victory possible.
In 1783 Franklin helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris which brought the war to a formal conclusion.
He did not return to America until 1785.
In 1787, it was an elderly and very frail Franklin who was delegated to the Constitutional Convention which made the Constitution of the United States. The following year, he retired from public life.
Franklin more than deserves to have his portrait on the $ 100 bill because he is the only “founding father” who put his signature on the four key documents that collectively made U.S. independence a reality: the declaration of independence, the treaty of alliance with France, the Treaty of Paris and the American Constitution.