(January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790)
Benjamin Franklin was one of the greatest figures in the American Enlightenment and the struggle for American independence.
He was born in Boston and was apprenticed to the printing trade — where he educated himself. He set up his own printing trade after a brief spell in Britain. He bought and ran the Philadelphia Gazette. He founded the Philadelphia library and in 1744 set up the American Philosophical Society.
He was an inventor and philosopher. He proved that lightning was electrical by a famous experiment with a key tied to a kite. He invented bi-focals and the water-harmonica.He was interested in education and civil liberties.
Between 1764 and 1775 he was representative of the American colonies in London. While there he encouraged Thomas Paine to visit America, an action which was to have lasting influence. Frankllin was, like Paine, a participator in the American revolution and played his part in writing the American Constitution.
Franklin was brought up as a Presbyterian, but became a deist. He respected religion but thought it had been corrupted. He wrote:
I believe in one God, the creator of the universe; that he governs it by his Providence; that he ought to be worshipped; that the most acceptable service we can render to him is doing good to his other children; that the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this.
He later became more sceptical of religion and firmly believed in the separation of church and state. Such views were typical of thoughtful and educated people in the eighteenth century.
Today, Benjamin Franklin House, London where where he lived between 1757 and 1775, is open to the public as a museum.