Announcer: Major funding for "Benjamin Franklin" was provided by David M. Rubinstein, investing in people and institutions that help us understand the past and prepare us for the future.
By the Pew Charitable Trusts, a global non-governmental organization that seeks to improve public policy, inform the public, and invigorate civic life; and by The Better Angels Society and its members: Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine; The University of Pennsylvania, impact through innovation and inclusion; Gilchrist and Amy Berg; Perry and Donna Golkin; and by these additional contributors.
♪ By the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by generous contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.
Man as Benjamin Franklin: Histories of "Lives" are seldom entertaining, unless they contain something either admirable or exemplar.
Know then, "That" I am an "Enemy to Vice", and a "Friend to Vertue".
A mortal "Enemy" to arbitrary "Government" and unlimited "Power".
I am naturally very jealous for the "Rights and Liberties" of my "Country"; and the least appearance of an "Incroachment" on those invaluable "Priviledges", is apt to make my "Blood" boil exceedingly.
[Thunder] Benjamin Franklin.
♪ Man: Franklin is, by far, the most approachable of our Founders.
He's not somebody made of stone, like a George Washington.
Franklin was pretty simple in his moral code.
He was driven by a desire to pour forth benefits for the common good.
But there's a lot in Benjamin Franklin that makes you flinch, and we see Franklin not as a perfect person, but somebody evolving to see if he could become more perfect.
Narrator: He was a teenage runaway who achieved such remarkable success that his example would be handed down for generations as the embodiment of the American dream.
He was a printer, a publisher, and a writer, producing everything from essays on politics and religion to biting satires and words of wisdom that would endure forever.
[Thunder] He was a prolific inventor and a scientist whose pioneering discoveries would make him the most famous American in the world.
He was a civic leader, the founder of a library and a college, who introduced a host of improvements that made the lives of everyday people better.
He embraced the Enlightenment belief in the perfectibility of human beings; but no one understood their foibles and failings, including his own, better than he did.
♪ He also owned and enslaved human beings and benefited from the institution of slavery.
[Gunshot] He was a reluctant revolutionary who became an indispensable founder of a new nation; helped craft the document that declared his country's independence; and then did as much as anyone to secure the victory that assured it.
And he guided the complicated compromises that created his nation's Constitution, then tried to rectify its central failing.
Man: He constantly remade himself from apprentice, to printer, to scientist, to government official, to revolutionary, to abolitionist.
He never was finished with himself.
He always thought that he was a work in progress.
Narrator: He could be funny and unforgiving; folksy and philosophical; generous and shrewdly calculating; broadminded, yet deeply prejudiced; a family man, who spent years away from his wife and let political differences destroy his relationship with his son.
He concealed those contradictions behind a carefully crafted public image.
Man: He's a Puritan who then becomes the leading figure in the Enlightenment.
So that he stands astride so many contradictions in his own life, that he understands them and they don't become contradictions for him.
They become some seamless web of insight.
Man: He wrote so much.
He wrote so well.
He's somebody that we need to know about.
He can put us in touch with the sensibilities of the 18th century in a way that makes it both accessible and, yet, captures its remoteness.
[Thunder] Woman: Franklin is endlessly, endlessly interesting.
He is the only Founding Father who evidently had a sense of humor, who was evidently human, who evidently had a sex life.
And there's so much about him that makes him seem approachable, on the one hand, and super-human on the other hand.
Narrator: "Let all men know thee," Benjamin Franklin said, "but no man know thee thoroughly."
Man as Franklin: I never intend to wrap my "Talent in a Napkin".
To be brief; I am courteous and affable, good "humour'd" unless I am first "provok'd", and handsome, and sometimes witty.
If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.
♪ ♪ Narrator: Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston on January 17, 1706, the youngest son and 15th child of Josiah Franklin, who had come from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1683.
Josiah made candles and soap and became a respected member of South Church, one of the town's 3 congregations of Puritans.
When his first wife died in childbirth, Josiah married Abiah Folger of Nantucket, who came from a family of free-thinkers.
Benjamin would be her eighth child.
He grew up in a 4-room house where the dinner table was always crowded, and often included friends his pious and serious-minded father invited over for conversation.
From the start, the boy was precocious.
He was reading the Bible by age 5.
His sister Jane recalled that he "studied incessantly" and "was addicted to all kinds of reading."
But he was also irreverent.
He found the long prayers before each meal tedious and suggested his father simply say grace once over the entire winter's supply of food.
"It would be," young Benjamin said, "a vast saving of time."
♪ Narrator: He and his boyhood friends fished and frolicked in a nearby pond.
An avid swimmer, he designed rudimentary fins to propel himself faster across the water; other times, he floated on his back and let himself be pulled along by a kite.
Josiah initially thought his son should study for the ministry and enrolled him at age 8 in the Boston school that prepared students for Harvard College.
But the academy proved too expensive, and eager to have another set of hands, his father put him to work in the family's candle shop.
He was 10 years old; his schooling was over.
Brands: I think it was crucial to Franklin's success that he had very little formal education.
When people go through formal schools, they learn what you're supposed to know.
They also learn what you don't have to know.
With Franklin, he never knew what he didn't have to know, so, he assumed he had to know everything.
♪ Narrator: In 1718, at age 12, Franklin began the work that would define the rest of his life.
He signed a 9-year apprenticeship, legally indenturing himself to his older brother James, who had opened a printing shop in Boston.
Printing was an amazing business if you were both clever with your hands and good at thinking.
Printers are setting type upside-down and backward.
And you have to be really hyper-literate to understand how language works that way, and to correct things as you go along, and get it right.
Narrator: Handling the heavy sets of lead type strengthened and broadened his shoulders.
Having access to books strengthened and liberated his mind.
Man as Franklin: Often I sat up in my room reading the greatest part of the night, when the book was borrowed in the evening and had to be returned early in the morning lest it should be missed.
And all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in books.
Woman: Here was a kid who only had two years of formal education, ever.
So, what did he do?
He taught himself how to write.
Narrator: He composed poetry-- including a ballad commemorating the recent killing of Blackbeard the pirate.
He read articles from "The Spectator," a London periodical, and, on paper salvaged from the print shop, attempted to reproduce them by memory.
He stayed up late at night and rose early each morning to continue his reading before the shop opened.
"I was," Franklin said, "extremely ambitious."
In 1721, his brother James decided to publish his own weekly newspaper, "The New-England Courant."
From its inception, the paper courted controversy.
Its first issue attacked Cotton Mather, Boston's pre-eminent preacher and the colony's strict and severe moral authority.
Mather called the newspaper wicked, filled with immorality, and lies.
What James Franklin does is he creates the first real independent newspaper in America.
His paper, in Boston, is, quote, "Not published by Authority."
All the others, you were given a stamp of authority.
Narrator: On April 2, 1722, an essay appeared over the name of Silence Dogood, who claimed to be a widowed woman from the countryside, and who had lots of homespun wisdom and sharp social critiques to share.
It was an immediate hit.
No one, including James Franklin, had any idea that the real author was a teenage boy, James's 16-year-old brother Benjamin, who had secretly slipped the essay under the door.
More of Silence Dogood's articles began to appear.
She offered irreverent advice on funeral eulogies, advocated fiercely for women's education, and in one dispatch poked fun at Harvard and the wealthy parents who dreamed of sending their children to the elite institution.
Man as Franklin: Most of them consulted their own Purses instead of their Childrens Capacities.
At Harvard They learn little more than how to carry themselves handsomely, and enter a Room genteely... and from whence they return, after Abundance of Trouble and Charge, as great Blockheads as ever, only more proud and self-conceited.
[Horse whinnies] [Door closes] Narrator: In the summer of 1722, James was jailed for 3 weeks without trial for questioning the competence of Cotton Mather and the colony's other leaders.
Quoting from an article he had read in a London newspaper, Benjamin, as Silence Dogood, came to his brother's defense.
Man as Franklin: Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech.
Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation, must begin by subduing the Freeness of Speech.
Narrator: When James was released from jail and resumed putting out his newspaper, Benjamin confessed publicly that he, in fact, was writing Silence Dogood's essays.
Many cheered him for his artfulness, but James was jealous.
They would argue--and it sometimes came to blows.
[Slap, shouting] Man as Franklin: I fancy his harsh and tyrannical "Treatment" of me, might be a means of impressing me with that "Aversion" to arbitrary "Power" that has stuck to me "thro'" my whole "Life".
Narrator: Franklin decided to run away, even if it meant breaking his legal obligation to his brother.
After selling some of his books to pay for his passage, he slipped out of town on a ship heading south, convincing the captain to keep quiet under the false pretense that he had gotten a girl pregnant and needed to leave.
He was 17 years old.
♪ 11 days later, on October 6, 1723, Franklin arrived at the Market Street wharf on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love founded by William Penn, a Quaker for whom the colony of Pennsylvania was named.
With 6,000 residents, Philadelphia was now America's third-largest city after Boston and New York.
It was a thriving outpost of the British Empire-- its streets filled with both newcomers and Native peoples, including the Lenape, on whose land the city now stood.
Isaacson: People are coming from all sorts of backgrounds.
There's Anglicans, there's Jews, there's slaves, freed slaves.
There's the Germans coming in and the Presbyterians and the Native Americans who were there.
And, unlike Puritan Boston, where you have to follow the theocratic maxims of the Mather family, people in Philadelphia have a certain tolerance.
Woman: Colonial Philadelphia had a different vibe, a different flavor.
Growing commerce, saloons and taverns, a sort of hospitable place, but also a place in which people could find themselves and create themselves.
Franklin landing in Philadelphia at this moment was perfect for him, in terms of timing.
He didn't have to be someone who came from great wealth in order to find opportunity.
Man: He's just a kid.
He's run away from his apprenticeship, so, he's scared, probably, that they're going to track him down.
He's not sure what comes next.
Narrator: "I was dirty from my journey," Franklin wrote, "and I knew no soul nor where to look for lodging.
I was fatigued and very hungry."
It was a Sunday, and he saw a crowd of well-dressed people heading into a church.
They were Quakers about to attend their weekly service, marked by sitting in silence together.
Man as Franklin: I sat down among them, and after looking round awhile and hearing nothing said, I fell fast asleep, and continued so till the meeting broke up, when one was kind enough to rouse me.
[Dog barking] Narrator: Walking up Market Street, he passed a house and exchanged glances with a 15-year-old girl standing in the doorway, who, he was sure, "thought I made, as I certainly did, a most awkward, ridiculous appearance."
He went to work at one of the city's print shops and eventually began renting a room at the house he had passed that first morning.
The girl he had seen was his landlord's daughter-- Deborah Read.
They struck up a romance, and by the fall of 1724 were talking of marriage.
Meanwhile, patrons of the print shop had noticed Franklin's skill and diligence.
One of them, Pennsylvania's governor William Keith, offered what seemed to be the opportunity of a lifetime.
He would send Franklin to London with letters of introduction and credit to purchase the equipment needed to start his own print shop in Philadelphia.
Marriage to Deborah would have to wait.
Benjamin was bound for England.
♪ Man as Daniel Defoe: The great center of England is the city of London and parts adjacent.
All that vast mass of buildings, and how much farther it may spread, who knows?
New squares and new streets rising up every day to such a prodigy of buildings that nothing in the world does, or ever did, equal it, except old Rome.
Narrator: With more than 600,000 residents, 100 times the size of Philadelphia, London was the teeming hub of an empire that considered its far-flung colonists with mild disdain.
They viewed Americans as backwards suppliers of raw materials and as purchasers of manufactured goods only England could provide.
Man: Coming out of the Provinces, he found a greater world.
In England, he was young and impressionable and able to make his way into that huge metropolis of London from nothing but his ability.
Narrator: Upon his arrival, Franklin learned too late that Governor Keith had a reputation for unreliability.
There were no letters of credit or introduction.
Once more, he would have to fend for himself.
For a year and a half, he made the most of it.
London had more print shops than all of the American colonies combined, and he quickly found work, impressing his employers with his strength and his sobriety.
Unlike all the other workers, he did not drink a pint of beer 6 different times during the workday.
Man as Franklin: I drank only "Water"; the other "Workmen" "wonder'd" to see from this that the "Water-American", as they "call'd" me, was stronger than themselves.
Narrator: He spent his free time poring through books, especially Enlightenment treatises by Isaac Newton, René Descartes, John Locke, and other philosophers who argued that truths were to be found through the study of how things work in the natural world.
♪ Jenkinson: The Enlightenment.
It's a commitment to reason and science.
It's a belief that every problem can be solved and that every institution can be reformed, that life on Earth is perfectible, at least up to a point, and maybe altogether.
Narrator: In London, Franklin also seemed to have forgotten Deborah and indulged in what he called "foolish intrigues with low women."
He wrote her only one letter.
In his absence, Deborah married someone else.
[Dog barking] But when a Quaker merchant offered Franklin a job as a clerk selling merchandise in a general store back in Philadelphia and then dangled a potential partnership, he headed home.
During the 12-week voyage, Franklin wrote out a plan for future conduct, with 4 basic rules: be "extremely frugal," "endeavour to speak the truth in every instance," "apply myself industriously to whatever business I take," and "speak ill of no man whatever."
In Philadelphia, he threw himself into his new job, becoming, he said, an "expert at selling."
But that winter, his employer took ill and died.
Franklin decided to return to his old trade as a printer.
[Bell rings] In 1728, he opened his own shop on Market Street with a partner whose father underwrote the initial expenses.
He had devised a foundry for casting type, saving the cost of sending to England for replacements, and won a contract to print the authorized history of the Quakers.
When his new partner took to drinking, Franklin found other backers to buy him out and continued as sole proprietor.
In his drive to succeed, he often worked until 11 at night and was back at his shop before dawn.
Man as Franklin: I took care not only to be in "Reality" "Industrious" and frugal, but to avoid all "Appearances of the Contrary".
Narrator: He made sure people noticed, and his business increased.
Chaplin: He was a writer.
You know, writers invent.
He might be his own best invention.
Franklin is so relentless in learning how to do things, learning how to do things correctly in a certain way, how to write, how to dress, how to speak to different kinds of people.
It's sort of impossible to know what was there before he did all that and invented himself.
Narrator: With 11 other up-and-coming tradesmen, Franklin formed a club that met each Friday evening to socialize and forge business connections.
But they also discussed current events and politely debated a variety of topics-- What is wisdom?
What defines good writing?
Did importing indentured and enslaved servants help or hurt the colonial economy?
The official name of the group was the Leather Apron Club.
Informally, they called themselves the Junto, from the Latin for "joined together."
At 21, Franklin was its youngest member, but unquestionably its driving force.
Isaacson: Franklin believed that the virtues and values of a working middle class were going to be the backbone of American society.
The artisans, the shopkeepers, the people who put on leather aprons early in the morning to help serve the public.
Narrator: The Junto moved its meeting place from a local tavern to a rented house, and at Franklin's suggestion, each member brought some books that the other members could read.
Eventually, they broadened the idea into the Library Company of Philadelphia, America's first subscription library open to the public, who paid small dues for the chance to borrow books imported from Europe.
Dunbar: And, every year, more and more books would be collected and extend knowledge.
What was so important about the Library Company was that it wasn't just for wealthy, elite men.
Man as Franklin: This "Library" afforded me the "Means of Improvement" by constant "Study", for which I set apart an "Hour" or two each "Day"; and thus "repair'd" in some "Degree" the "Loss of the Learned Education" my "Father" once intended for me.
Jenkinson: He always looked around wherever he was and said, "What needs to be done?
What are the things that a community ought to have?"
He had read enough to know that there was more elsewhere and he wanted to make those good things happen to the community of Philadelphia.
Isaacson: Self-reliance, which Franklin loved, and community engagement may seem like they oppose each other.
But as Franklin repeatedly said, the good that we can do together surpasses the good we can do alone.
Narrator: Over the coming years, Franklin and his Junto would turn to other civic projects to improve life in Philadelphia.
Under their guidance, the city formed volunteer fire companies.
They advocated for a police force paid by a property tax.
And at one Junto meeting, Franklin raised the idea of starting a college.
When the Public Academy of Philadelphia finally opened in 1751, Franklin would be elected president of the board.
It was the first non-sectarian college in America and would later become the University of Pennsylvania.
Expanding on the Junto model, he proposed and organized the American Philosophical Society, whose members would be scientists and intellectuals from throughout the colonies, who could share ideas and scholarly papers by mail if they could not come to meetings in person.
It would become the colonies' first learned society.
And to build a new hospital, he devised a plan that matched private donations with public funds, giving people, he said, "an additional motive to give, since every man's donation would be doubled."
He always believed that if you just get a few good and interested men, always men, on any civic problem, you can solve it.
Dunbar: Ben Franklin is, I think, emblematic of what America wanted to be, should be, could be.
The things that he spoke of, the things that he wrote about, often missing are other people.
Women, people of color, in particular, enslaved men and women, never had the opportunities that a Ben Franklin had.
♪ ♪ Narrator: Franklin's print shop was thriving.
Pennsylvania's colonial legislature awarded him the contract to print its paper currency.
When he learned that South Carolina was looking for a printer, he dispatched one of his employees to open a shop in Charleston.
And on October 2, 1729, he began publishing his own newspaper, "The Pennsylvania Gazette."
He filled its pages with reports from other newspapers in America and England, along with crime stories, notices of fires and deaths, a moral advice column, funny tales he concocted that flirted with sexual innuendo, and letters from readers, including some he wrote himself, under tongue-in-cheek pseudonyms like Anthony Afterwit and Alice Addertongue.
"If you would make your paper a vehicle of scandal," Addertongue advised in one letter, "you would double the number of your subscribers."
The "Gazette" caught on.
Dunbar: Ben Franklin understood the power of the printing press.
He understood that those who controlled words, those who are able to disseminate information, um, had a certain amount of power.
He could be the arbiter of what was seen as important.
Brands: The idea, first, was to engage people, to entertain people.
Franklin understood that if you could get people to laugh with you, you're halfway to getting them to agree with you.
Narrator: He also welcomed essays espousing opinions of all kinds.
Man as Franklin: If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.
Isaacson: He said in the end you have to bear some responsibility for the type of ideas that you put forward.
And if they're really odious, if they're really harmful, you have to curate them out.
Woman: If you made a mistake, you could, as they always did in those days, add an errata page.
And you could fix anything with that errata page.
Narrator: Local merchants advertised their goods in the "Gazette;" tradesmen advertised their services.
Franklin also published notices offering rewards for runaway indentured servants, like he had once been, and slaves for sale.
Man: To be sold in Lots or singly, a choice parcel of Negroes lately Imported, consisting chiefly of young Men and Girls, bred to Plantation Business; also Jamaica Rum, Sugar of sundry Sorts, Molasses, Cotton, and Pimento.
Run away from the subscriber, a Negroe lad called Ned, about 18 years of age, 5 feet 7 inches high, speaks pretty good English, but thick, has very thick lips, and is much pitted with the small-pox; TO BE SOLD, A LIKELY young breeding Negroe Woman, speaks good English, understands her Needle and any sort of Household Work, and has had the Small-Pox.
Enquire of the Printer.
♪ Narrator: When Benjamin Franklin had returned from England, he had fallen back into some of the habits he had acquired in London.
Man as Franklin: That hard-to- be-govern'd Passion of Youth hurried me frequently into Intrigues with low Women that fell in my Way, which were attended with some Expence.
Besides a continual Risque to my Health by a Distemper which of all Things I dreaded, tho' by great good Luck I escaped it.
Narrator: Now, as he became a successful businessman, he decided he needed to settle down and get married.
Meanwhile, his former fiancée Deborah Read had seen her marriage fall apart.
Her husband had abandoned her and fled to the West Indies.
Reports came back that he had died there in a brawl, but they were unconfirmed.
In Quaker Pennsylvania, Deborah was in a legal limbo.
If she remarried and it turned out he wasn't dead, she would be guilty of bigamy, punishable at the time by 39 lashes and life imprisonment.
She now lived with her widowed mother, who sold homemade remedies to support them both in their house on Market Street.
Franklin felt some responsibility for Deborah's unhappiness, and he said, "our mutual affection was revived."
On September 1, 1730, forgoing a legal wedding, they simply moved in together and entered into a common-law marriage, a practice not all that uncommon.
Man as Franklin: She "prov'd" a good and faithful "Helpmate".
Assisted me much by attending the "Shop".
We "throve" together, and have ever mutually "endeavour'd" to make each other happy.
Cohn: I think he loved her.
I think they rubbed on together beautifully, as he would have said.
I think during the time that Franklin was an up-and-coming tradesman, it was a perfect union.
Skemp: She was an excellent choice for a wife.
She was well connected; she belonged to Christ Church, which was the church in town.
It was less of a romantic relationship than it was a good, strong, business-like partnership.
Narrator: But there was a complication.
Franklin had recently fathered a son with another woman.
He never revealed the mother's identity, but Franklin wanted to take custody of the child.
Deborah agreed the boy could live with them.
He was named William.
She takes in his son, who is not her son, and raises him, not always happily.
[Door opens] [Bell rings] Narrator: Benjamin and Deborah expanded the print shop to include sales of her mother's ointments, fine soap from Franklin's family back in Boston, coffee, tea, chocolate, and other items.
Deborah purchased rags, which mills throughout the colonies turned into paper, creating another profit center.
She also managed the household, and at night bound books by candlelight.
Narrator: Two years into their union, in 1732, they had a child of their own, Francis.
His proud and doting father called him Franky.
But just after his fourth birthday, Franky came down with smallpox and died.
The huge tragedy of their lives was the death of Franky.
Franklin was one of the few people in the Colonies who was 100% behind inoculation.
But it was thought that because Franky had a very bad cold at the time, they should hold off until he recovered enough to be able to withstand the assault on his system that inoculation would provide.
He never was inoculated.
Franklin never forgave himself.
♪ Narrator: Franklin's exposure to the writings of Europe's Enlightenment thinkers had led him to reject most of the Puritan teachings of his family's church in Boston.
He no longer worshipped a God intimately connected with a person's daily life who answered private prayers or sent down punishments.
But he still believed in a Supreme Being who had created the world.
Man as Franklin: I believe He is pleased and delights in the happiness of those He has created; and since without virtue man can have no happiness in this world, I firmly believe He delights to see me virtuous.
A virtuous heretick shall be saved before a wicked Christian.
Narrator: No one feared for Benjamin's soul more than his pious parents back in Boston, whose Calvinist Puritanism espoused that salvation came solely through God's grace rather than good works and anyone who strayed from that doctrine would be eternally damned.
Benjamin, for whom tolerance was becoming central to his evolving beliefs, tried to explain himself.
Man as Franklin: "Honored Father and Mother", I imagine a "Man" must have a good deal of "Vanity" who believes that all the "Doctrines" he holds, are true; and all he rejects, are false.
I think vital "Religion" has always "suffer'd", when "Orthodoxy" is more regarded than "Virtue".
And the "Scripture" assures me, that at the last "Day", we shall not be "examin'd" by what we thought, but what we did.
Schiff: He's a man of omnivorous curiosity, um, of endless invention, of endless self-invention.
He's so bent on self-improvement, on teaching himself how to write properly, or cleansing himself of his moral sins.
He gives us this idea that human nature may be flawed in some ways, but anything can be improved.
Narrator: In his constant effort for self-improvement, Franklin made a list of 12 virtues that could lead him to what he called "moral perfection": temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, and chastity.
Then he made a chart with 7 columns for each day of the week and rows labeled with each virtue and went to work on his progress, marking any infraction with a black spot.
"I was surprised," he said, "to find myself much fuller of faults than I had imagined."
Isaacson: Every week, Franklin would make a chart and check, did he master the virtue?
At one point, he said, "I've mastered all the 12 "virtues I had.
"And I showed it around with great pride.
"And one of my friends said, 'Franklin, you're missing a virtue you might want to try.'"
And Franklin says, "What's that?"
And the friend says, "Humility.
You might want to add that one to your list."
Man as Franklin: In reality, there is perhaps no one of our natural "Passions" so hard to subdue as "Pride".
Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself.
Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my "Humility".
[Baby crying] Narrator: 7 years after the death of their son Franky, Deborah gave birth to another child, a daughter named Sarah.
They called her Sally.
Franklin's son William was now a teenager, as restless as his father had been at that age.
Deborah treated him with occasional coldness, but Franklin was indulgent as a father, making sure the boy got the formal education Franklin himself had been denied.
At age 16, William enlisted to fight against the French and their Indian allies in what was called King George's War, and quickly rose to the rank of captain, tracking down deserters in Pennsylvania.
[Gunshot] When he returned to Philadelphia, his father began to envision William rising in the ranks of the British Empire and made plans for him to study the law in England.
Dunbar: Franklin had started to acquire some wealth.
Like many other Colonial Pennsylvanians, he held a number of enslaved people, up to 5 or 6, in his home, including a married couple, Peter and Jemima.
He was committed to slave labor.
He used it alongside of his business ventures in order to gain more wealth.
[Horse nickers] Narrator: At the time, nearly a tenth of Philadelphia's residents were enslaved, toiling in homes and businesses.
Brown: We tend to associate slavery with plantation labor in the South.
But there were slaves all up and down the Eastern Seaboard, every one of the 13 Colonies.
And they did everything.
They served as domestic servants; they served as cooks; um, they served as nursemaids; they served as dock workers; they served as hired hands.
The advantage was that Africans couldn't leave.
Indentured servants filled out their time.
Africans, you had for life.
Narrator: Many of Franklin's Quaker friends considered slavery a sin that threatened to corrode the moral fiber of the community at large.
Franklin published some of their anti-slavery tracts-- though he intentionally kept his own name as printer off the title page.
Dunbar: Franklin lived in a moment in which slavery was being challenged, pretty constantly, in Philadelphia.
He was very aware that this was happening, yet he still made the decision to hold onto his men and woman who were enslaved.
He made a choice.
Narrator: Franklin's publishing empire was expanding and making more money.
He was named clerk of Pennsylvania's colonial assembly, which didn't pay well, but had won the contract to print their proceedings, which did.
He made even more profits printing the paper currency for Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey.
With former employees, he would establish printing partnerships in Newport, Rhode Island; New York City; and Antigua in the West Indies; as well as the one in Charleston, South Carolina.
He published Bibles, and Samuel Richardson's "Pamela," the first novel printed in America, along with treaties with Native peoples that were used to systematically dispossess them of their lands.
In 1737, he was appointed Philadelphia's postmaster, giving him access to news from Europe and the rest of the Colonies before his competitors.
One of the advantages of being a printer is that he is totally tuned into the news.
He's totally tuned into everything that's going on in North America.
His vision is broader than most of his neighbors.
He had a kind of public opinion embedded in his brain.
And he knew that opinion in the end was what would decide where power resided.
♪ Man as Franklin: Early to "Bed", and early to rise, makes a "Man" healthy, wealthy and wise.
Narrator: By now, thousands of readers from South Carolina to New York were buying Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanack," which he had launched in 1733.
Many printers published almanacs.
They outsold everything in the colonies except Bibles and had the advantage of requiring people to buy a new one each year.
But Franklin's stood out.
In addition to weather predictions, astronomical, astrological, and other observations, he included aphorisms that combined wisdom with humor, philosophy with word play.
All of it was ostensibly written by the hapless Richard Saunders, who claimed he was writing his almanac simply because his wife threatened to burn his books if he didn't earn something from them.
Jenkinson: Franklin got this from his reading of Jonathan Swift.
Swift had produced the "Bickerstaff Papers," which was a parody of the almanac.
And Franklin decides to incorporate this style into Richard Saunders.
And it was genius.
People go to almanacs for all sorts of important things-- when to plant potatoes or peas; when...what's the best time to harvest-- but they stayed because these fillers were funny, witty, and useful.
Narrator: "Fish and visitors," Poor Richard wrote, "stink in 3 days."
"He that lies down with dogs, shall rise up with fleas."
"God helps them that help themselves."
"Haste," he said, "makes waste."
And "lost time is never found again."
Man as Franklin: God heals, and the doctor takes the fees.
A countryman between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats.
The greatest monarch on the proudest throne, is obliged to sit upon his own arse.
Schiff: Franklin is endlessly quotable.
You could live your life, I think, in Franklin aphorisms, most of which, we should say, are stolen from other people but slightly reworked, so in Franklin's version, they're in a better form.
"Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead."
Isaacson: I think one of Franklin's great inventions is that American style of homespun humor, somebody who's pricking at the pretensions of the elite, somebody who has sort of a cracker barrel sensibility.
This new style of humor where people are poking fun at themselves indirectly.
You see it in Mark Twain and Will Rogers and others.
I think it started with Franklin.
♪ Narrator: The man who had arrived in Philadelphia virtually penniless at age 17 was now the city's largest bookseller, its most successful printer and publisher, and the biggest paper merchant in all the colonies.
He considered himself prosperous enough to retire from the day-to-day running of his businesses in 1748, at age 42.
"I would rather have it said, 'He lived usefully,'" Franklin wrote his mother, "than 'He died rich.'"
Man as Franklin: I am in a fair "Way" of having no other "Tasks" than such as I shall like to give my "Self", and of enjoying what I look upon as a great "Happiness", "Leisure" to read, make "Experiments", and converse at large with such ingenious and worthy "Men" as are "pleas'd" to honour me with their friendship and "Acquaintance", on such points as may produce something for the common benefit of mankind, uninterrupted by the little cares and fatigues of business.
Brands: There was something in Franklin that always wanted a little bit more.
He wanted to learn more.
He wanted to go to more interesting places.
He wanted to have a broader influence.
Narrator: Despite his lack of a formal education, Franklin had turned himself into an influential writer and thinker.
Now, with more time to pursue whatever intrigued his restless imagination, he would become better known as a scientist and inventor.
He studied the earth's rotation; conducted experiments showing that dark cloths absorb more heat than bright fabrics; and became fascinated by the human body's circulatory system.
Isaacson: He loved anatomy, he loved botany, he loved the way leaves had veins.
He was most curious to know everything you can know about everything that was possibly knowable.
Wanting to know everything is a key to his creativity.
Narrator: He observed weather patterns and correctly deduced that the coastal storms now called Nor'easters actually moved in from the south.
For an ailing brother, he fashioned a more comfortable catheter.
And he designed a metal stove to fit into a hearth, improving on the ones many German immigrants were using.
Franklin's radiated more heat out into the room and had an opening for those who still wished to bask in the fire's glow.
An ironworker who was a fellow Junto member began manufacturing them, and they sold for 5 pounds each throughout the northeast.
When Franklin was urged to take out a potentially lucrative patent on his invention, he declined.
Man as Franklin: As we enjoy great advantages from the invention of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by an invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously.
Narrator: But nothing he did as a scientist would do more to serve others, and bring him more fame, than his work in the fledgling field of electricity.
"I never was before engaged in any study," Franklin wrote, "that so totally engrossed my attention and my time."
Jenkinson: Franklin had become interested in electricity, which, at the time, was certainly not understood, but it was also sort of a parlor trick.
People would come in with a--with a glass rod and some silk and shock each other and lift pieces of paper.
Narrator: He and his Junto friends staged electricity parties in which they used a charge to ring bells and make a toy he called an electrical spider jump around.
Men and women exchanged electrical kisses.
Franklin also electrified a gilt-edged portrait of King George II that created what he called a high-treason shock if someone touched his crown.
[Zap] He used a more powerful shock to kill a turkey and reported that it seemed uncommonly tender compared to one slaughtered the conventional way.
Isaacson: He kept saying, "We have to find useful things to do with this electricity."
He said one of the only useful things in his first year of experiments was that he would get shocked and knock him down; and he said, "Electricity was useful for making a vain person humble."
Narrator: As his studies turned more serious, and he began documenting his observations, [Zap] he came up with new terms to describe electricity's mysterious properties.
[Zap] It had two charges, he wrote, positive and negative, and it could travel by what he called a conductor.
He grouped a collection of glass containers together, each possessing an electrical charge, and named it a battery, using the military term for an array of cannons.
Isaacson: Benjamin Franklin comes up with the most important theory of the era, which is the Single Fluid Theory of Electricity, which is that it's not some substance, but it's a positive and a negative.
And it flows from positive to negative.
Narrator: But pure science had less appeal to Franklin than putting it to practical use.
[Thunder] Man: Lightning was seen as being Divine Retribution.
Of course, the irony was that most of the buildings that were destroyed by lightning were churches 'cause in a lot of communities in the 18th century, they were the highest structure.
[Thunder] Isaacson: Franklin is convinced that lightning bears a similarity to an electrical spark.
He's looking at electric sparks, he's looking at lightning, and he puts in his notebook all the similarities and at the end of the page, he says, "Let the experiment be made."
[Thunder] Narrator: Franklin detailed his theory that lightning was electricity and that metal objects could draw off a charge.
He proposed an experiment that involved placing a person in what he called a sentry box on a high tower or hilltop and raising a sharply pointed iron rod when storm clouds approached.
He shared his observations with a London scientist, Peter Collinson, who had supplied him with equipment for his electrical studies.
Franklin was planning to conduct the experiment on the new steeple of Christ Church off Market Street as soon as its construction was completed.
But the work went slowly and Franklin grew impatient.
He then came up with an alternative way to test his theory.
He was less confident in this method and decided to do it in secret, trusting only his son William to take part.
In June of 1752, with storm clouds threatening, he and William went to a field with a silk kite, to which Franklin had attached a sharp-pointed wire.
Dangling at the end of the kite's long twine string was a metal key.
They got the kite aloft and Franklin maneuvered it toward the approaching clouds.
Dray: What he was showing was that the atmosphere became electrified, [Thunder] not that the kite had to be struck by a lightning bolt, which is often the way it's depicted in illustrations.
Narrator: Franklin suddenly noticed the individual strands of hemp along the kite's string stiffening and standing on end.
He moved his free hand toward the key and felt a mild shock on his knuckle.
When the rain began, and water started streaming down the twine, sparks flew off the key.
[Zapping] Franklin was exultant.
"Thereby," he wrote of his experiment, "the sameness of electrical matter with that of lightning has been completely demonstrated."
[Thunder] Meanwhile, the theories he had shared with Collinson had been published, and unbeknownst to him, other scientists were already testing and verifying them.
Experiments using his original sentry box proposal had been taking place all over England and Europe.
"Monsieur Franklin's idea," a French physicist wrote, "has ceased to be a conjecture; here it has become a reality."
Dray: The kite experiment, that really was the symbol of his breakthrough.
[Thunder] It showed that the atmosphere was electrified, that thus thunder and lightning were electrical forces.
And it overthrew centuries of superstition and scientific confusion about what this might be.
Man: He made a really fundamental contribution to basic science.
And the fact that he did it as an American, coming out of the wilds of, uh, of America, in the European eyes, made him, uh, instantly world famous.
Chaplin: There's a hilarious little piece in the "Gentleman's Magazine" in London where this commentator says that "Now we know "that Mr. Franklin's theories about "emptying the clouds of electricity are actually true; "whereas, once upon a time, we didn't even think there was such a person as Mr.
'Cause it does seem incredibly improbable that the reigning expert on an enormous attribute of Nature would come from Philadelphia, wherever the hell that was.
Narrator: Benjamin Franklin had unlocked the mystery of electricity, but he still wanted to put his discovery to work.
In Germany during the mid-century, 386 churches had been struck by lightning and more than 100 bell ringers killed.
[Thunder] In Italy, hundreds more people perished when a bolt hit a building that had gunpowder stored in it.
[Thunder] Franklin concluded that lightning seeks the path of least resistance to connect with the ground.
Providing a better conductor might safely divert the charge.
He then arranged for what he called lightning rods to be placed atop Pennsylvania's State House and his college building-- the first such devices ever erected in the world.
[Thunder] Isaacson: Lightning bolts aren't there sent by an angry god.
It's not something you can just try to pray and it goes away.
You have to find practical, scientific solutions that help us understand our cosmos.
[Thunder] Jenkinson: The lightning rod changes the world.
It's one of the most important inventions of the Enlightenment and, of course, he won't patent it.
He believes a good idea belongs to humankind.
Narrator: Some religious leaders objected that Franklin was attempting to interfere with one of God's most effective methods of punishing sinners.
Man as Franklin: Surely the "Thunder of Heaven" is no more supernatural than the "Rain, Hail or Sunshine of Heaven", against the "Inconvenience" of which we guard by "Roofs & Shades" without "Scruple".
[Thunder] Narrator: Scientists in America and Europe were hailing him for his achievements in electricity.
Harvard, Yale, and the College of William and Mary in Virginia gave him honorary degrees.
London's Royal Society made him the first person living outside of Britain to receive its prestigious Copley Medal.
And one English scientist called his work "the greatest discovery that has been made since the time of Sir Isaac Newton."
In Germany, the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant said Franklin had stolen the fire of heaven and called him the "modern Prometheus."
[Thunder] ♪ Man as Franklin: By the collision of different sentiments, sparks of truth are struck, and political light is obtained.
Brands: He had a kind of social intelligence that matched his book learning intelligence.
He really was an American genius, but part of his genius lay in his ability to get people to work with him and to move things in a direction he wanted them to go.
Narrator: Franklin's involvement in civic affairs took a new political turn when he was elected to Pennsylvania's colonial Assembly in 1751.
Man as Franklin: I conceived my becoming a member would enlarge my power of doing good.
I would not however insinuate that my ambition was not flattered by all these promotions.
It certainly was.
For considering my low beginning they were great things to me.
Narrator: He worked on everything from regulations on the size of bread loaves to a tax on dogs; pushed through a plan to pave Market Street and keep it swept of dust; then gained approval to install newly designed street lamps in the city with 4 replaceable glass panes that made them easier to repair.
In 1752, the British government appointed the 46-year-old Franklin to the top postal job in America, sharing the title of deputy postmaster with a man from the South.
Franklin immediately started making the colonies' mail service more efficient.
He established the first home-delivery system and cut the time it took for a letter to get from Philadelphia to New York City to one day.
On an inspection tour that took him through Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, he learned more about the colonies south of Pennsylvania.
Isaacson: The American identity begins to form when Franklin creates a Postal System that allows people to communicate up and down the coast.
Most of the Colonies thought of themselves closer to London.
Even letters would go, from Charleston, if it had to go to Boston, it would go to London, and then back to Boston.
So, by doing a Postal Road up and down the coast, he helps knit the American Colonies together.
Narrator: The future prosperity of the British Empire, Franklin wrote in one essay, lay in the American colonies.
Because of the abundance of land, he predicted the white population would double every 20 years, and within a century would even surpass England's.
All of this disregarded the sovereignty of Native peoples, whose land it had been for millennia.
In the same essay, he argued, strictly on economic grounds, that the importation of black slaves diminished a nation because "The Whites who have Slaves" are "enfeebled" by not working themselves.
Brown: He is combining racism and opposition to the slave trade, simultaneously.
Some of the initial efforts to stop the slave trade to North America originated in concern that there were too many black people there.
It was an immigration problem, rather than a moral problem.
Narrator: He also worried about the influx of immigrants he described as having "a swarthy complexion," including Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians, and Swedes-- even the Germans, who now represented a third of his own colony.
"Why," he wrote, "should Pennsylvania, "founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, "who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them."
[Dog barking] Man as Franklin: We have so fair an "Opportunity", by excluding all "Blacks and Tawneys", of increasing the lovely "White and Red".
But perhaps I am partial to the "Complexion of my Country", for such "Kind of Partiality" is natural to "Mankind".
Brown: In the middle decades of the 18th century, notions of racial inferiority were so deeply embedded that the unusual fact of this document, actually, is how he says, at the end, "Or maybe I'm just biased in favor of people like myself."
Franklin doesn't deserve particular praise for that.
But it is unusual in the sense of he's being self-reflective about his own prejudices.
It's the self-reflective part which is slightly unusual.
The prejudices are not.
[Birds singing] Narrator: In 1754, increased white settlement in the Ohio River Valley ignited another struggle with France for control of Native lands-- what would come to be called the French and Indian War.
Franklin was chosen as one of 4 Pennsylvania delegates to meet with representatives from 6 other colonies in Albany, New York, to negotiate with Native Americans they hoped would side with England in the conflict.
He was familiar with the way the Iroquois nations had formed a confederation, the Haudenosaunee, more than a century earlier that promoted unity through consensus on matters that affected them all.
It gave him an idea.
Man as Franklin: It would be a very strange thing, if 6 nations of ignorant savages should be capable of forming a scheme for such a union, and be able to execute it in such a manner as that it has subsisted for ages, and appears indissoluble; and yet that a like union should be impracticable for 10 or a dozen English colonies, to whom it is more necessary, and must be more advantageous.
Narrator: Franklin urged his fellow delegates to consider creating their own charter to encourage the colonies to work together.
He and Thomas Hutchinson, an ally from Massachusetts, spearheaded a committee that drew up what was called the Albany Plan of Union.
It proposed a Grand Council for the Colonies, empowered to make treaties with Indians, regulate trade, oversee land sales on the frontier, build forts and raise troops for common defense, and enact whatever taxes and duties were needed for it all.
Individual colonies would keep their own authority over everything else under their own constitutions.
In an article in the "Gazette," he attached a drawing showing a dismembered snake representing the colonies.
At the bottom was a dire warning.
Isaacson: It says, "Join or die."
And it's his way of saying that we have to come together to have one national sensibility.
So, he's the great visionary that sees that we have to knit the Colonies together, rather than have each of the Colonies think of themselves as sort of a separate entity reporting back to London.
Narrator: On both sides of the Atlantic, the Albany Plan was considered too radical.
Man as Franklin: Its "Fate" was singular.
The "Assemblies" did not adopt it, as they all thought there was too much "Prerogative" in it; and in England it was "judg'd" to have too much of the democratic.
Despite all the failure, and it was a total failure, [Laughs] it did possibly plant some kind of seed for future organization among the "Colonies".
♪ Narrator: In 1755, Franklin met with Major General Edward Braddock, who had arrived in America boasting that he and his British redcoats would have little trouble defeating the French and their Native American allies.
Franklin warned the general against overconfidence.
[Gunfire] On July 9, 1755, 8 miles from Fort Duquesne, where the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers join to form the Ohio, Braddock's forces stumbled into an ambush and were routed by French and Indian soldiers.
Nearly 1,000 of the British were killed or wounded; most of the officers died, including Braddock.
In the battle, two horses were shot out from underneath a young lieutenant colonel and land speculator from Virginia, and 4 bullets pierced his coat.
But somehow, 23-year-old George Washington survived.
The French and Indians soon pushed farther into Pennsylvania, burning houses, killing and capturing settlers, spreading panic across the colony.
In Philadelphia, the Assembly seemed paralyzed.
Dominated by Quaker pacifists, it resisted raising an army.
Meanwhile, the governor, appointed by William Penn's sons in England, steadfastly rejected any tax on the family's lands in Pennsylvania to help defend the colony.
Man as Franklin: Vassals fight at their lord's expense; but our lord would have us defend his estate at our own expense!
It is even more slavish than slavery itself.
Narrator: When a raiding party struck a settlement only 75 miles north of Philadelphia, Franklin led a force of militiamen, including his son William, over rough terrain to the scene, where they buried the dead and began to build a series of forts.
The winter weather was cold and wet.
Franklin spent his 50th birthday encamped at Lehigh Gap.
But the immediate crisis had been met.
In Philadelphia, Franklin was hailed as a hero.
"The people," he wrote a friend, "happen to love me."
Narrator: In June of 1757, Franklin once more found himself on a ship bound for England.
The Assembly had sent him on a mission to try to negotiate with the Penn family in person about their refusal to be taxed.
He brought his son William along as his assistant, but Deborah and Sally stayed behind.
Deborah worried that her husband's ship might be attacked by the French or go down in the dangerous waters of the North Atlantic.
Woman as Deborah Franklin: I have been in much pain for some days on account of my Husband, for by this time he is, as I suppose, near the Land's End of England, and of course in danger of being taken, which I pray God prevent.
I am not able to bear the least thing in the world and I find myself very weak indeed.
Narrator: Approaching the coast of England, Franklin's ship was nearly wrecked on the rocks, just as his wife had feared, but finally landed safely.
"Were I a Roman Catholic," he wrote Deborah, "perhaps I should on this occasion "vow to build a chapel to some saint; "but as I am not, if I were to vow at all, it should be to build a lighthouse."
In London, he found lodging at a home on Craven Street, a short walk from the British government offices at Whitehall.
Isaacson: When he gets to London, Franklin tries to recreate his family life.
And, so, he finds a landlady who's quite like Deborah Franklin, named Margaret Stevenson, who has a daughter named Polly.
And they set up on Craven Street a replica of what he had back in Philadelphia.
Narrator: Franklin and William had brought along two enslaved men, known only as Peter and King, as servants.
"Peter behaves very well to me in general," Franklin wrote home to Deborah, "and begins to know the town so as to go anywhere on errands."
But King, sensing an opportunity for freedom in his new surroundings, ran away.
Dunbar: What we know about these men is relatively little.
What we do know is that, while Ben Franklin's feelings or opinions about slavery may have changed over time, he doesn't set his slaves free, ever.
They run off and he doesn't necessarily pursue them, perhaps, with as much vigor as he might have.
And they die off.
But at no moment do we really see Franklin step out front and say, "I am setting an example by setting my slaves free."
Narrator: When Franklin met with the Penn family, they categorically dismissed the notion that they should pay any taxes at all.
They saw the colony solely as a source of wealth and power for them, and declared Franklin a malicious villain.
Franklin decided to change tactics.
He thought he might be able to persuade King George II and his ministers to declare Pennsylvania a Crown colony, like most of the others in America, where governors were appointed by the King.
He let Deborah know he would not be returning as quickly as the two of them had planned.
Franklin was enjoying London.
♪ Isaacson: London was the greatest city in the world at the time.
It was filled with coffee shops and had a thriving intellectual middle class.
And Franklin goes around with his friends, mainly scientists and writers, and they spend their afternoons in the coffee shops discussing new ideas.
That glittering, sophisticated world was made for Ben Franklin.
He was made for a dinner party and conversation.
Philadelphia might have been extraordinary for the New World, but it couldn't compare to the absolute sophistication of the Old World.
Brands: There were people who shared his views on science; there were people who shared his broadminded view of all sorts of human institutions.
He made friends very easily.
In fact, if Debbie had been willing to relocate from Philadelphia to London, Franklin might very well have become a permanent resident of London.
Narrator: In England, as he had in America, Franklin forged intellectual and affectionate relationships with a number of young women whose intelligence he appreciated-- exchanging letters, providing advice, and encouraging their ambitions; the kind of attention he neglected to give his own daughter Sally.
Skemp: Sally was born at a bad time, I think, just as Benjamin Franklin became involved in politics and was away most of the time.
And, so, I don't think she ever really got to know her father.
And her father didn't seem particularly interested in knowing her in those days.
She wanted the education that her brother had and never got it.
She wanted to go to England with him; that never happened.
Narrator: With William by his side, Franklin traveled beyond London whenever possible.
A friend reported to Deborah that "William is daily in the company of his father, "who is at the same time his friend, his brother, his intimate, and easy companion."
[Church bell rings] In Edinburgh, they socialized with two of the Enlightenment's leading thinkers, the economist Adam Smith and the philosopher David Hume.
At St. Andrews, the university placed a crimson and white robe over Franklin's shoulder and presented him, a man with only two years of formal education, with an honorary doctorate.
From that moment on, most people referred to him as Doctor Franklin.
One evening in Cambridge, he attended a concert of sorts, where the rims of wine glasses were rubbed to produce musical notes.
Cohn: Franklin looked at that and he thought, "Now, that's just inefficient."
Why move your arms to that degree?
Why not take the glasses and have them move and your hand stay still?
Narrator: He hired a London glassblower to create a series of 36 glass bowls, to specific thicknesses and sizes.
Cohn: And rather than having your fingers move around the glass, the glasses rotated, and he wet his fingers and played it like a keyboard.
[Music playing] Narrator: He named his new invention the armonica, after the Italian word for harmony, and charmed visitors with performances on it.
Soon, more of the instruments were being manufactured and sold, though Franklin again refused to patent or profit from his invention.
What pleased him most was that, in musical circles throughout England and Europe, the armonica created a sensation.
In Austria, Franklin's invention provided the music for a royal wedding.
Even Mozart and Beethoven would compose chamber pieces for it.
Cohn: The sound it made was described as celestial ravishment.
[Music playing] [Thunder] [Birds singing] Man as Franklin: I have long been of the opinion that the foundations of the future grandeur and stability of the British Empire lie in America, broad and strong enough to support the greatest political structure human wisdom ever yet erected.
[Thunder] [Explosions] Narrator: By 1761, the French and Indian War had exploded into a global conflict called the Seven Years' War, involving all the European powers.
In North America, England had won a decisive victory against the French by capturing Quebec.
Man as Franklin: No one can rejoice more sincerely than I do on the possible addition of Canada; and this not merely as I am a colonist, but as I am a Briton.
Brown: Franklin is one of the earliest to say, "Look, the weight of the British world is going to be in North America."
And he put himself at the center of it.
He imagined himself as being the kind of linchpin between these--this emerging empire in North America and the seat of power in London.
Narrator: By this time, William Franklin had completed his legal studies and enjoyed socializing with wealthy friends in the upper class.
William also took up with women from London's high society, and others with less sterling reputations.
Just like his own father, he sired a son out of wedlock.
Unlike his father, William arranged for the baby boy to be secretly placed in a foster home.
♪ On September 22, 1761, hundreds of England's well-born and well-connected gathered in Westminster Hall for the coronation of a new monarch: King George III.
[Church bell rings] Among those present for the occasion were two staunch defenders of the Empire-- Benjamin and William Franklin.
From the balcony, Benjamin watched the lavish ritual.
On the hall's floor, his son William stood with a more privileged crowd of nobles and high officials.
Then William marched in a small procession into Westminster Abbey, where the crown was to be placed on George's head.
♪ Benjamin, not part of that select group, walked back to Craven Street alone.
Franklin's efforts to elevate his son's station were paying off.
William had caught the attention of ministers in the new king's government who decided that he, though barely into his early thirties, was a natural leader.
With their support, William Franklin was chosen to be the next royal governor of New Jersey.
And there was other good news.
William had fallen in love with Elizabeth Downes, the daughter of a wealthy owner of sugar plantations in Barbados, and they were now engaged.
Benjamin Franklin had been gone from Philadelphia for 5 years.
He was now 56, and still captivated by life in England.
Man as Franklin: Why should this island, which compared to America is but like a stepping stone in a brook, enjoy in almost every neighborhood more sensible, virtuous, and elegant minds than we can collect in ranging 100 leagues of our vast forests?
Narrator: In the summer of 1762, he booked passage for Philadelphia, determined to convince Deborah to come back with him, and promising his English friends he intended to return to London permanently.
Man as Franklin: In two "Years" at farthest I hope to settle all my "Affairs" in such a "Manner", as that I may then conveniently remove to England, provided we can persuade the good "Woman" to cross the "Seas".
That will be the great "Difficulty".
Narrator: Franklin would be at sea when William was married in St. George's Church in London, and when he bowed to George III in St. James's Palace, kissed the new king's ring, and swore his eternal allegiance to the crown.
♪ Narrator: On November 1, 1762, Benjamin Franklin arrived back in Philadelphia.
It wasn't a teeming metropolis like London, but with a population of nearly 25,000, it had surpassed Boston and New York as the largest city in the American colonies.
Deborah and 19-year-old Sally welcomed him home.
A few months later, William arrived from England with his new wife Elizabeth, and Franklin accompanied them across the Delaware River to New Jersey, where Benjamin watched proudly as his son became that colony's ninth governor.
As deputy postmaster of His Majesty's colonies in North America, Franklin embarked on another inspection tour that took him through 6 colonies, all the way to New Hampshire.
The trip lasted 5 months.
[Horse whinnies] Jenkinson: Franklin sees the many different American styles.
There's a Northern community; there's a New England community; there are the Middle Colonies; the Upper South; the Lower South.
He begins to understand the vast complexity of the Colonial situation.
And nobody else did.
He was the best-informed person in the New World about the diversity of geography, of economy, of social structure, and he also saw discontentments.
There was concern about representation; [Rooster clucks] there was concern about arbitrary economic tariffs that were being imposed by Britain, and the increasing sense that the British don't really understand us and they're also using us as an extraction machine for British wealth.
And, even though they will say we're British citizens, they're not treating us with full respect that an Englishman deserves.
♪ Woman as Deborah Franklin: I went to hear the Negro children at Church.
There were 17 that answered very prettily indeed, and 5 or 6 that were too little, but all behaved very decently.
It gave me a great deal of Pleasure, and I shall send Othello to the School.
Narrator: Deborah Franklin had enrolled Othello, an enslaved child in the Franklin household, in a new school in Philadelphia, part of an effort to educate Black children in North America that Benjamin Franklin had endorsed.
At Deborah's urging, her husband made a personal visit to the school.
Man as Franklin: I was on the whole much "pleas'd", and from what I then saw, have "conceiv'd" a higher "Opinion" of the natural "Capacities" of the black "Race", than I had ever before entertained.
Their "Apprehension" seems as quick, their "Memory" as strong, and their "Docility" in every "Respect" equal to that of white "Children".
You will wonder perhaps that I should ever doubt it, and I will not undertake to justify all my "Prejudices", nor to account for them.
Cohn: I think a major turning point in Franklin's life was when he visited that classroom.
He did not like Black people when he was a young man.
There's no way of getting around that.
It's very distasteful to say, but it's true.
He had once written that the hardest thing for a man to do is to change long-standing prejudices of belief.
But to succeed in doing it is a test of one's humanity.
♪ Man as Franklin: If an Indian injures me, does it follow that I may revenge that injury on all Indians?
These poor "People" have been always our "Friends".
Their "Fathers" received ours, when "Strangers" here, with "Kindness and Hospitality".
Behold the "Return" we have made them!
[Bird cries] Narrator: Native Americans had been completely left out of the treaty negotiations between France and Britain that ended the Seven Years' War.
As white settlements continued to push onto their homelands, Indians from the Great Lakes to Western Pennsylvania fought back.
On December 14, 1763, 50 frontiersmen from the town of Paxton, Pennsylvania swarmed into the small village of Conestoga and slaughtered the 6 unarmed Susquehannock Indians they found there.
The mob moved on to Lancaster, where they murdered 14 more defenseless men, women, and children.
Though the Susquehannocks were known to be friendly, the so-called Paxton Boys had killed them anyway.
Public opinion about the massacre was split-- between the Quakers, guided by William Penn's advice to be friends of the Indians, and the newer immigrants, mostly Scots-Irish and Germans from the backcountry, who accused the Quaker-led assembly of coddling native peoples.
Benjamin Franklin called the perpetrators "barbarous Men" who had brought "eternal disgrace" to their race and religion.
The Paxton Boys then marched on Philadelphia, where more than 100 Indians had been brought for their safety.
Franklin helped raise a militia to stop them and negotiated an end to the crisis.
But his outspokenness created a backlash, especially among the settlers of the backcountry, which the Penn family exploited.
They slandered Franklin's son William as illegitimate, falsely claiming that his birth mother had starved to death, and that Benjamin had hidden her body in an unmarked grave.
In all the controversy, Franklin lost his Assembly seat.
But the legislature now adopted his position that Pennsylvania should be a Crown colony and reappointed him as their agent in London.
After only two years in Philadelphia, Franklin was going back to England.
Deborah had made it clear she intended to stay; they were building a new home just off Market Street.
He promised he wouldn't be gone long.
♪ Wood: Coming out of the Seven Years' War, Britain is on top of the world.
They had acquired a huge amount of territory, all the territory up to the Mississippi River.
It was expensive to maintain and, so, you needed to tax it.
Franklin certainly went along with it.
And he said, "Well, empires cost money."
And, much to his chagrin, he found himself going the wrong way, out of touch with American public opinion.
[Men shout indistinctly] Narrator: The recent war with France had expanded England's empire, but left its treasury depleted.
In the spring of 1765, the king's ministers and Parliament came up with a new way to raise more money from the American colonies.
Now all legal documents, newspapers, books, almanacs, even decks of playing cards, would need official stamps, purchased from the government.
In Virginia, Patrick Henry denounced the act as taxation without representation.
Riots broke out in New York; New London, Connecticut; Annapolis, Maryland.
In Boston, a group calling themselves the Sons of Liberty hanged and burned the stamp commissioner in effigy.
Then the mob destroyed the mansion of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson, who had worked with Franklin back in 1754 to propose the Albany Plan of Union.
The leaders of the protests had appropriated the motto Franklin had used at the time to encourage the colonies to act together: "join or die."
Franklin didn't like the Stamp Act either, but from London advised Pennsylvanians against over-reacting.
His political enemies back home now spread false rumors that he helped write the Stamp Act and had been bribed by promises of a higher royal appointment.
When a mob threatened to attack the Franklin home in Philadelphia, Deborah wouldn't budge.
Woman as Deborah Franklin: I said when I was advised to remove that I was very sure you had done nothing to hurt anybody, and I had not given any offence to any person at all.
I sent to ask my brother to come and bring his gun.
If any one came to disturb me, I would show a proper resentment.
Narrator: Shocked at the reports of mob violence in the colonies, Franklin wrote William that unless some compromise could be found to ease the tensions, events were "laying the Foundation of a future total Separation."
He flooded London newspapers with letters arguing that the Stamp Act was unfair, that the recent riots did not represent the attitude of a majority of the colonists.
He circulated a political cartoon illustrating that, if the crisis escalated, the Empire would be dismembered.
On February 13, 1766, Franklin appeared before Parliament, patiently answering questions posed by its members.
Could an army make the colonists comply, he was asked.
[Man shouts indistinctly] Man as Franklin: Suppose a military force is sent into America.
What are they then to do?
They cannot force a man to take stamps who chooses to do without them.
They will not find a rebellion; they may indeed make one.
Narrator: The Stamp Act was repealed.
But the Privy Council, the King's top advisors, had refused to act on Franklin's petition to make Pennsylvania a Crown colony.
Franklin decided to remain in England anyway.
There were hints that he might be in line for a high post in the ministry responsible for the American provinces.
And he used his connections to begin lobbying on behalf of William and a group of speculators to acquire millions of acres of Indian land along the Ohio River, then sell it in small parcels to settlers for an immense profit-- and create a new colony.
[Horse whinnies] Meanwhile, Franklin put his scientific skills to work for the empire.
He helped install lightning rods on St. Paul's Cathedral; came up with a hot-water piping system to keep the House of Commons warm; and, working with a cousin, a whaling captain from Nantucket, he created the first chart of what was called the Gulph Stream, which helped explain why ships going from London to America took longer than those going the other way.
Woman as Deborah Franklin: Yesterday I had the pleasure to receive your letter.
I had not heard one word about you since the latter end of August, which was near 5 months, but I shall not dwell on that at this time.
Narrator: Back in Philadelphia, as she had always done during Benjamin's long absences, Deborah Franklin took care of everything.
She managed her husband's many business enterprises and supervised the myriad details of the new home they were building.
All the while, she waited for his promised return.
In the fall of 1767, their daughter Sally married a Philadelphia merchant, Richard Bache, and in 1769 she gave birth to a baby boy, whom she named after his grandfather.
They called him Benny.
That same year, Deborah suffered a stroke that left her incapacitated for months.
As she recovered, she wrote her husband that her worries about him had been at least partly responsible.
Woman as Deborah Franklin: I often tell my friends I was not sick, it was only more than I could bear.
And so I fell down and could not get up again.
But I had taken up a resolution never to make any complaint to you or give you any disquiet.
♪ Narrator: Even though the Stamp Act had been repealed, the colonies were still expected to help pay off war debts; Parliament now imposed import duties on glass and china, paint and tea.
When the Massachusetts Assembly passed a resolution objecting to the new measures-- and called on other colonial legislatures to do the same-- Britain sent 15 warships and 1,000 troops to Boston.
Their presence, Franklin wrote from London, "seems like setting up a blacksmith's forge in a magazine of gunpowder."
He redoubled his efforts to find a compromise between the hard-liners on both sides of the Atlantic.
Brown: He sees the issue as one of respect.
What holds an empire together is a sense of common feeling.
Of common economic interest, of interdependence, of identification.
The power doesn't reside in the capacity to make people do what you want them to do.
Isaacson: Benjamin Franklin keeps trying to hold the British Empire together.
Trying to figure out some middle ground in which the Colonies get to control themselves through their own assemblies and legislatures, but still loyal to the Crown of England.
And that was Franklin's hope, that somehow he could keep together what he called this "fragile, noble vase."
'Cause he said, "Once it gets broken, you're not going to put it back together."
Man as Franklin: Being born and bred in one of the countries, and having lived long in the other, I wish all prosperity to both.
But I do not find that I have gained any point in either country, except that of rendering myself suspected by my impartiality: in England of being too much an American, and in America of being too much an Englishman.
Narrator: As the political crisis continued to build, Franklin spent part of the summer of 1771 at a friend's estate southwest of London.
He was 65 years old and decided to make an accounting of his life, something, he wrote, "my posterity may like to know."
It was filled with stories of how, in his words, "I emerged from the poverty and obscurity "in which I was born and bred, "to a state of affluence and some degree of reputation in the world."
It was the beginning of what would become one of the most-read and influential autobiographies ever written.
Isaacson: He begins with two very interesting words: "Dear Son."
And he's addressing it to William, or at least pretending he's addressing it to William.
'Cause he's trying to say, "Remember where we come from.
"We're working class and middle class.
We're not trying to be aristocratic."
Narrator: But he soon put his memoir aside; world affairs were overtaking both Benjamin Franklin-- now the agent representing several colonies in England-- and William Franklin--the royal governor of New Jersey.
Man as Franklin: It is very uncertain what "Turn" "American Affairs" will take here.
The "Friends of both Countries" wish a reconciliation; the "Enemies" of either, endeavor to widen the "Breach"; God knows how it will end.
♪ He was never thinking, we need to be independent.
He was always thinking, if we can just work out a few fundamental problems between us and the British Ministry, that things are going to be fine.
He probably could have been won over to the British side as a Loyalist, like his son, if things had gone slightly differently.
Narrator: Tensions between England and the colonies worsened, especially after British soldiers fired on a Massachusetts mob in 1770, killing 5 Americans-- the Boston Massacre.
Franklin's position was becoming increasingly untenable.
He was trying to represent the interests of Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Georgia, in addition to Pennsylvania.
In 1772, Franklin was shown confidential letters written by his old ally Thomas Hutchinson, now the governor of Massachusetts.
The only way to quell colonial unrest, Hutchinson had advised London, was through harsher measures, including, he suggested, "an abridgment of liberties."
Franklin surreptitiously sent copies of the letters to the leaders of the Massachusetts Assembly.
He hoped that the firebrands in Boston would turn their anger from Parliament to Hutchinson, blaming his bad advice for the crisis with Britain, making room for cooler heads to broker a reconciliation.
Instead, it only inflamed passions.
The letters were leaked to newspapers, sparking an uproar throughout the colonies.
The Massachusetts Assembly drafted an angry petition to the king, demanding that Hutchinson be removed.
As the Assembly's agent, Franklin would have to be the one to present that petition before the King's Privy Council.
To make matters worse, Franklin had felt obligated to admit that he was the one who had originally shared Hutchinson's letters.
And, so, Franklin was seen as this person who stole other people's mail, which was quite an egregious offense for someone who was a postmaster.
Narrator: Just a few days before Franklin was scheduled to appear before the Privy Council in January of 1774, news arrived from America that changed everything.
The Sons of Liberty, dressed as Indians, had boarded 3 ships in Boston Harbor and dumped 46 tons-- 342 crates-- of English tea into the sea.
Officials in London were still seething at that act of defiance when, on January 29, Franklin entered a meeting room at Whitehall called the Cockpit, where Henry VIII had once staged cockfights.
To the Privy Council, and the crowd of spectators gathered there, Franklin was now the face of an insolent American uprising, although Franklin considered the Boston Tea Party an "act of violent injustice on our part"-- the very kind of provocation he had always counseled against.
Alexander Wedderburn, the sharp-tongued and politically ambitious solicitor general, who considered the recent events in Boston treasonous, made clear from the start that the hearing would be an attack on Franklin's character.
Man as Wedderburn: Your Lordships will not wonder that I consider Dr. Franklin not so much in the light of an agent for the Assembly's purpose, as in that of a first mover and prime conductor of it for his own as the actor... Narrator: Wedderburn spoke for a solid hour, sometimes pounding on the table as he berated Franklin with one denunciation after another, sometimes using sarcasm that prompted the nobles and high officials in the audience to snicker and jeer as they urged him on.
Throughout it all, Franklin stood stock still, refusing to show any emotion.
Man as Wedderburn: ...answerable to the law.
The good men of Boston have lately held their meetings... Isaacson: They're accusing Benjamin Franklin of fomenting this Revolution and he just stays there, silent, and treats them with silent contempt.
Narrator: When Wedderburn finally finished his diatribe, he asked if Franklin had a statement to make or would take questions.
The hearing was over.
♪ London newspapers now referred to Franklin as "old Doubleface," a "grand incendiary," and a "grey-headed traitor."
Americans, the essayist Samuel Johnson wrote, "have been taught by some master of mischief how to put in motion the engine of political electricity."
Two days after his humiliation in the Cockpit, Franklin was informed that he had been dismissed as deputy postmaster for North America.
Any hopes he had for a higher post also evaporated, as did his dreams for the vast land scheme along the Ohio.
Franklin walked into the Cockpit an Englishman and walked out of the Cockpit an American because it became very clear to Franklin that he, as an American, would never receive the respect that he believed he was due.
At that point, Franklin realized there is no future for me or for people like me within the British Empire.
Narrator: On December 14, 1774, Deborah Franklin had another stroke, more massive than the one 5 years earlier.
She lingered on for a few days, then died on the 19th, still waiting for her husband, who had been away for 15 of the last 17 years, to return to her and the new house on Market Street he had never seen.
Schiff: He's away from Deborah for the last 10 years of her life.
He knows she's ill. And he doesn't come back.
If Franklin gets failing grades in any subject, it's the family relations, both in terms of the marriage and in terms of his son.
Man as William Franklin: Philadelphia, December 24, 1774.
Honoured Father, I came here on Thursday last to attend the Funeral of my poor old Mother.
I heartily wish you had happened to have come over in the Fall, as I think her Disappointment in that respect preyed a good deal on her Spirits.
I cannot help being concerned to find that you postpone your Return to your Family.
You have had by this Time pretty strong Proofs that you are look'd upon with an evil Eye in that Country.
You had certainly better return to a Country where the People revere you, and are inclined to pay a Deference to your Opinions.
I am ever, Honoured Sir, Your dutiful Son William.
Narrator: For Franklin, his breach with England was complete.
Now a political rift seemed to be growing between him and his son.
In the coming year, a revolution would begin, unlikely alliances would be forged, loyalties would be tested, families would be torn apart, and Benjamin Franklin would be in the middle of it all.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Announcer: Next time on "Benjamin Franklin"... Patinkin as Franklin: We pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
Announcer: revolution... Man: Nobody has any idea how this is going to turn out.
Choosing sides means choosing fates.
Announcer: diplomacy... Woman: Franklin had to convince one monarch to help the Americans overthrow another monarch.
Announcer: and a final cause.
Second man: And it's the first outspoken debate in American history on slavery.
Announcer: Don't miss the conclusion of "Benjamin Franklin," next time.
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♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Announcer: Major funding for "Benjamin Franklin" was provided by David M. Rubinstein, investing in people and institutions that help us understand the past and prepare us for the future.
By the Pew Charitable Trusts, a global non-governmental organization that seeks to improve public policy, inform the public, and invigorate civic life; and by The Better Angels Society and its members: Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine; The University of Pennsylvania, impact through innovation and inclusion; Gilchrist and Amy Berg; Perry and Donna Golkin; and by these additional contributors.
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