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Benjamin Franklin

1706-1790

Benjamin Franklin was born at Boston, on the 17th of January, 1706. His ancestors were from the county of Northampton, in England, where they had for many generations possessed a small freehold estate, near the village of Eaton. During the persecutions in the reign of Charles II., against the puritans, the father of Benjamin, who was of that persuasion, emigrated to America, and settling in Boston, had recourse for a livelihood to the business of a chandler and soap boiler. His mother's name was Folger. She was a native of Boston, and belonged to a respectable family

At an early age, young Franklin discovered, as his parents thought, a more than ordinary genius; and they resolved to give him an education, with reference to the profession of a clergyman. Accordingly, he was placed at a grammar school, where he soon attained the reputation of a lad of industrious habits, and respectable genius.

His parents, however, at the expiration of a year, found that their slender revenues would not admit of the expense of collegiate instruction. He was, therefore, soon after taken home to prosecute the business of his father. In this occupation he was employed for two years, but it was ill adapted to his constitution, and he felt unwilling to continue cutting wicks for candles, filling moulds, and running of errands. He became uneasy, and at length resolved to embark on a seafaring life. To such a proposition, however, his parents strongly objected, as they had already lost a son at sea. He was permitted, however, to change his business, and allowed to choose an occupation which was more congenial to his inclinations.

His fondness for books had, from an early age, been singularly great. He read every thing within his reach. His father's library was itself scanty, being confined to a few such works as Defoe's Essay upon Projects, Mather's Essay on doing Good, and the Lives of Plutarch. These he perused with great attention, and they appear to have exercised a favorable influence on his mind. His love of books was frequently noticed by his father, who, at length, proposed to bind him as an apprentice to an elder brother, who was at that time a printer of a newspaper in Boston. He was accordingly thus situated, in the year 1717, when he was scarcely twelve years of age. He soon became a proficient in the mechanical part of the business, and seized every opportunity for reading books that he could borrow from his acquaintance, in which employment he spent the greater part of his nights. He soon began to indulge himself in writing ballads and other poetical pieces; but, it is said, that his father speedily satisfied him that this was not the species of composition in which he could excel. His next efforts were directed to prose composition, in which his success is well known, and duly appreciated. With a passion for reading and writing, he imbibed a kindred one for disputation; and adopting the Socratic method, he became dexterous in confuting and confounding an antagonist, by a series of questions. This course gave him a skeptical turn with regard to religion, and while he was young he took every opportunity of propagating his tenets, and with the ordinary zeal of a new convert. He was, however, soon convinced, by the effect produced on some of his companions, that it was extremely dangerous to loosen the ties of religion, without the probability of substituting other principles equally efficacious. The doubts which subsisted in his own mind, he was never able to remove; but he was not deficient in fortifying himself with such moral principles as directed him to the most valuable ends, by honorable means. By habits of self-denial, early formed, he obtained a complete dominion over his appetites, so that, at the age of sixteen, he readily discarded animal food, from the conviction produced in his mind by perusing a work on the subject, that he should enjoy a more vigorous state of health without it. He now offered his brother to maintain himself, for half the sum paid for his board; and even with this he was able to make savings to purchase what books he wanted. In his brother, he found a harsh master, and Benjamin felt indignant at the treatment which he experienced from him in the way of business. His brother had established a newspaper, in which the apprentice contrived to insert some papers and essays anonymously. These were read and highly commended by people of the best judgment and taste in the town. The young man began now to feel his importance, which was still more impressed on him by having the paper published in his own name, that of his brother, for some political offence, having been interdicted by the state.

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Last modified January 2, 2004