The Clifnote Chronicles: Benjamin Franklin

The Clifnote Chronicles takes a look back at America's First Badass and what you can learn from him

This week America inaugurates its 45th President.  I’m not going to get into whether you’re excited or mortified about the next four years, because frankly I think everybody on both sides of the aisles needs to redirect some of the manic levels of intensity they carry around for the executive office toward their local representatives.  If y’all were even half as paranoid about your city or state elections as you were about the Presidency we wouldn’t be at each other’s throats while getting played like a damn fiddle by the media.  But that’s a rant for another day.  Instead I’m going to tell you about Benjamin Franklin, America’s most prominent founding father and first celebrity badass.  

J.K. Franklin the Philly Prince

Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston on January 17, 1706, the tenth son to Josiah and Abiah Folger.  His father owned a candle and soap shop, where Ben worked early in his childhood.  Benjamin spent just two years in formal schooling before his father sent him to apprentice at his older brother’s printing press.  James published his own newspaper, The New England Courant.  The paper struggled early, and Ben longed to contribute, though his brother refused.  Not to be discouraged, Franklin found a way around his brother’s egotistical rejections and sent correspondence to the Courant under the pseudonym Silence Dogood.  The essays flourished, but when Franklin admitted he had been writing them James’ harassment of his little brother worsened and Benjamin eventually fled Boston for Philadelphia at just 16 years old.

Franklin worked at another press in Philadelphia, and met his future wife Deborah Read while he was there also.  Benjamin excelled at this new press and was promised his own if he travelled to England, though when he got there the necessary materials never arrived.  He returned, went back to work helping to run a print shop, but found himself so much better than the man he was working for that he borrowed some money and WENT INTO BUSINESS FOR HIMSELF.  

Pay attention to the words in red, those of you currently sitting there wondering why you’re working for a boss you’re noticeably smarter than.  Make the leap.  Follow Benny’s lead.

The Most Interesting Man in the Colonies

It’s after Benjamin goes into the printing business for himself that he starts his life as the colonial Richard Branson, the real life 18th century Dos Equis Man.  He began printing The Pennsylvania Gazette, which grew to become the most popular newspaper in the colonies thanks to his successful contributions and circulations.  In 1754 the paper published the first political cartoon.  

His success as a newspaper publisher sparked success with the printing and circulation of Poor Richards Almanack, a pamphlet full of agricultural information like astrological schedules, weather predictions, household hints and tips, and even puzzles and short stories.  It’s from Franklin’s almanacs that we get much of his wit such as

“A penny saved is a penny earned

Early to bed early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise

He who lies down with dogs shall rise with fleas”

I think that last one might have been a warning about being careful about who you take home from the bars.  Whatever the case, Franklin is printing newspapers, almanacs, and running a bookstore.  If it’s ink on paper, he’s got his hands on it.  Horizontal integration at its finest.  Franklin quietly established a printing empire throughout the colonies with nothing more than hard work and the ability to always close a deal.  

Benjamin Einstein

So what’s Franklin up to in his spare time?  Oh, just inventing EVERYTHING.  Let’s take a look at the inventions Franklin’s name is attached to.

  1. Bifocal glasses
  2. Lightning Rod
  3. Franklin Stove (more efficient way to heat one’s house using a stove)
  4. Flexible catheter #ouch
  5. Glass armonica, used by such musical peasants as Beethoven and Mozart
  6. Discovered that lightning was electricity
  7. Founded America’s first library
  8. Founded America’s first volunteer fire department
  9. Started America’s first hospital
  10. Started America’s first mutual insurance company
  11. Daylight Savings Time
  12. American Philosophical Society
  13. First political cartoon
  14. University of Pennsylvania
  15. Swim fins

The best part about all of this?  Franklin retired at 42, so most of this came either during his time running his printing press in Philadelphia, or during “retirement” when he was just sitting around tinkering with shit and inventing half the damn world we live in.  Franklin also spent quite a bit of time abroad.  He travelled often to England and France, and is considered the first ambassador of the United States.  

Reluctant Revolutionary

Following his retirement Franklin wrote and spoke fondly of America’s position as a colony to England.  During the Boston Tea Party he believed the East India Tea Company was owed reparation for damages sustained, and truly believed reconciliation could be made with England so as to maintain their position with Great Britain.  Some of you might read this and think Franklin a traitor, but really he was just looking out for number one.  By this time he’s an international celebrity.  In America he’s regarded as a brilliant philosopher, businessman, and literary.  When he goes to Europe he’s treated like a foreign treasure, studied and revered and aggrandized wherever he goes.  You can’t blame the guy for wanting to keep his gravy train rolling.  Independence is unknown, it’s economically unstable.  Dude’s rich and powerful right where he is.  I don’t blame him for trying to stay British either.  

When he does start to see independence as America’s only option though, Franklin is totally onboard.  He helps contribute to the drafting of the Declaration.  He oversees the second Continental Congress.  Once fighting breaks out he travels to France to secure their support for the colonies.  The French themselves make no attempt to hide that it’s their adoration for Benjamin that sways their position for American independence.  After the war he helps draft the Treaty of Paris of 1783.  Here’s a guy who wanted virtually no part of revolution, but as soon as he changes his mind he practically runs the show.  

C Notes

Benjamin Franklin was a pioneer of the colonies and the revolution.  In addition to his professional and societal achievements, he was also one of the first public abolitionists.  Franklin embodied the American Dream before there was an America to dream of, and fully defined the phrase “Hustle by any means.”  Now that you know a little more about him, get out there and take his lifestyle to heart so you acquaint yourself with his portrait too.

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