Benjamin Franklin (1705–1790) was one of America’s first renaissance men—his career included work as a statesman, scientist, writer, printer, and diplomat. Born in Boston, Franklin eventually settled in Philadelphia. He published Poor Richards Almanack for twenty-five years and later wrote an autobiography that is still in print. His inventions, such as the bifocal lens and the Franklin stove, as well as his investigations into the properties of lightning, earned him international recognition. Widely popular in Europe as a witty and urbane natural philosopher, Franklin served as a diplomat in England, but devotion to individual freedom and love of his native land brought him back to America in 1775. Franklin became a delegate to the Continental Congress, helped draft the Declaration of Independence, and became one of its signers.

When Franklin returned from his position as minister to France in 1785 (passing the post on to Thomas Jefferson), he intended to retire from public service and devote himself to family life. Instead, he was elected president of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Council, an equivalent position to today’s governor. He would hold the office for three terms, until 1788. When Franklin wrote this letter in 1787, after fifty years of public service, he still showed no signs of slowing down. Just one month earlier, he had served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. He remains one of the great moral, intellectual and political figures in American history.

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