Benjamin Franklin was a founding father of the United States and is one of the most celebrated American figures today. He was a jack of all trades – a statesman, inventor, writer, publisher, diplomat, and founder of the US Postal Service, amongst other things, but was Benjamin Franklin ever a President? It would be very easy to think so, since his story is so entwined with United States history. After all, his face is notoriously on the $100 bill, arguably the most noteworthy piece of money, and has earned its place in the American zeitgeist. Diddy did say that it’s “all about the Benjamins, baby,” after all.
The short answer is no, Benjamin Franklin was never President of the United States of America. By the time of the first presidential election, he was too old and sick to serve in office. It is a common misconception, and although he was never President, he was one of the “Founding Fathers” and played an integral role in the United States declaring independence from Britain and becoming a sovereign country. Let’s do a quick refresher U.S. history and learn why Benjamin Franklin holds such an important place in the story of America.
Did Benjamin Franklin Hold Public Office?
Ok, so he wasn’t President. Did Ben Franklin ever hold any public office?
Yes, though he never held the presidential office, Ben Franklin was a public servant and held many roles within government:
- During the revolutionary war, he served as part of the Second Continental Congress, in which he helped draft the Declaration of Independence.
- He also played a key role in negotiating the Treaty of Paris, which helped end the Revolutionary War.
- He served as a delegate in the convention where the U.S. Constitution was created.
- He served as the first Postmaster General of the United States.
- He is the only one of the founding fathers to have signed all four documents that established the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance with France, the Treaty of Paris, and the Constitution.
What Is Benjamin Franklin Famous For?
The question really should be, what isn’t Benjamin Franklin famous for? Among the notable roles he played in founding the United States, Benjamin Franklin was also an author, publisher, inventor, and the founder of many U.S. institutions that still stand today. An overachiever to an extreme level, it’s almost as if everything this man touched turned to gold.
His first claim to fame was as an owner of a successful printer shop he started in Philadelphia. He printed books, brochures, government pamphlets, and even currency. He eventually expanded this printing service business throughout the colonies. He was so successful in this enterprise that he retired at the ripe age of 42. He also owned and published a newspaper titled the Pennsylvania Gazette, which was very popular and is widely known to have published the first-ever U.S. political cartoon.
He became more involved in civic life after his printing and publishing businesses became successful and set out to improve his hometown of Philadelphia by establishing several community organizations. Most notably, he founded the first free public library in the United States, on which the library system we have today is based. He founded Philadelphia’s first fire department and the University of Pennsylvania too.
Franklin was also integral in creating the postal service for the colonies, in which he played multiple roles that eventually led to him serving as the first postmaster general of the United States. He oversaw all post offices from Georgia to Massachusetts in this role.
No big deal, right? That’s not all.
Early retirement allowed Franklin to focus on his public service commitments and pursue his interest in the sciences. He became very interested in electricity in the 1740s and proved that lightning is electricity through his famous kite experiment. One day on June 10, 1752, Franklin went outside in the middle of a thunderstorm and flew a kite with a conductive wire attached near a thunderstorm cloud. He was able to collect electricity in a Leyden jar. This experiment led to his invention of the lightning rod, which would be placed on top of buildings to protect them from catching fire during storms. He also coined a lot of electricity terms that are still relevant today, such as battery, conductor, and charge.
One last notable invention of Franklin’s was the bifocals, which are dual-purpose glasses you can use to read up close and see at a distance, instead of having two pairs of glasses with different uses. Bifocals are still used today and make it easier for people who need glasses to read and see far away.
Where Was Benjamin Franklin From?
A humble beginning, Ben Franklin was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts, which was a British colony at the time, to his father, Josiah Franklin, and mother, Abiah Folger. An English soap and candle maker, his father was married before Abiah and bore a whopping total of 17 children. Ten of them were with Benjamin’s mother, Abiah, who was from Nantucket, Massachusetts.
Franklin was only formally educated until he was ten years old, which is when he went to apprentice for one of his older brothers who owned a printing shop. This apprenticeship taught Franklin everything he needed to know about the printing business. After a fight with his brother, he left Boston for Philadelphia, where he eventually started his own print shop.
Did Ben Franklin Have a Family?
Yes, Franklin had a common-law marriage with Ms. Deborah Read Rogers, whose first husband had abandoned her and was therefore unable to get a divorce. They had two children together, one of which died of smallpox when he was four years old. Franklin had another child, William, with an unknown woman but raised him with Deborah. He had eight grandchildren.
How Did Ben Franklin Die?
Franklin died at his home in Philadelphia on April 17, 1790, from a pleuritic attack. He was 84 years old. Pleurisy is inflammation in the surrounding membranes of the lungs that is often caused by viral infection. Franklin wasn’t well in his old age and suffered from obesity, resulting in multiple health problems that worsened with age. He was in poor health during the signing of the U.S. Constitution and was not often seen in public during this time until his death. He died just one year after George Washington was inaugurated into the presidential office, the first U.S. President. This is ultimately why Franklin never had the chance to serve as President of the United States.
Was Benjamin Franklin for or Against Slavery? Did He Own Enslaved People?
Franklin owned anywhere between seven to nine enslaved people in his life. In his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, there were known to be paid advertisements for the sales of enslaved people. He also allowed people to sell enslaved people inside a general store he owned. Later in life, he turned against slavery, becoming somewhat of an outspoken abolitionist, and opened up a school for enslaved Black people in Philadelphia. However, he didn’t weigh in on the matter during the 1787 Constitutional Convention.
Who Are Considered to Be Founding Fathers? Which Ones Were Presidents?
According to the “Founding Fathers of the United States” Wikipedia page, historian Richard B. Morris saw seven men as part of this group: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. Of the list above, all but Ben Franklin and John Jay served as President. However, from my research, this list isn’t set in stone. For some historians, many others played formative roles in founding the United States who deserve to be on this list, including women! Founding Mothers, anyone?
If Ben Franklin Wasn’t President, Why Is He on the One-Hundred-Dollar Bill?
Benjamin Franklin played a formidable role in establishing the United States and, through his contributions, is recognized as one of the most celebrated American figures in history.
Are there other people on U.S. Money that weren’t presidents? Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton, who is on the $10 bill, are the only two people on U.S. currency that did not serve as President of the United States. Hamilton served as the first secretary of the treasury during George Washington’s term as President and is credited as the founder of the U.S. financial system.
Some Food for Thought: Ben Franklin’s Daily Routine
In my research for this article, I became curious about how Ben Franklin was able to accomplish so much in his life. So I looked up Ben Franklin’s daily routine. He had a rigid daily structure in place, waking up at 5 a.m. and setting daily intentions before going to work. He would ask himself, “What good shall I do this day?” every morning, and every evening, “What good have I done today?” If this isn’t a prime example of living life with the utmost intention, I don’t know what is.
Well, that just about does it on Ben Franklin for the day. Hopefully, the next time you’re at trivia night at a bar with your friends and the trivia host poses the question, “How many terms did Benjamin Franklin serve as President of the United States?” you can assuredly raise your hand and say, “None! He was never President!” And bask in the glory of being right.
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Lily Reiner is a writer and editor living in Glendale, CA.