Was Benjamin Franklin President?


Michael Benton, Contributor

| updated

Copy Link Code

benjamin franklin presidentThe United States Constitution was ratified in 1789 and in the same year, the first President and Vice President were elected. George Washington was an obvious choice to lead the nation after gaining unanimous admiration for his service as the commanding General of the victorious Continental Army. John Adams, elected Vice President, was a renowned diplomat who had been an early proponent of independence when the Continental Congress met nearly 15 years before. There was another man, however, who may have had the popularity and admiration necessary to challenge these men for leadership of the nation if only he had entered his name. That man was much older than either Washington or Adams and in fact, near death. His name was Benjamin Franklin. President Washington and the nation received the news of Franklin's death in 1790 with grief and mourning. Franklin was 84 years old when he passed away, an extraordinary age in contemporary terms, and he had played many roles throughout his lifetime. His contributions to America were not just political but cultural and scientific as well. After years of service to the nascent nation, Franklin must have been proud to witness the unifying of the States under a Constitution that he helped form.

Benjamin Franklin was a representative of the colonies to Britain for over a decade before the outbreak of revolution. He had earned the respect of Parliament, but never would Franklin lose sight of what was important for the American colonies. With the passage of oppressive laws such as the Stamp Act in 1765 and after his visit to Ireland in 1771, where he witnessed the brutality of British rule, Franklin feared for the future of America under the Crown. After a scandal erupted in 1774 in which Franklin was implicated in the leaking of sensitive letters of the Governor of Massachusetts asking for British troops to squash the rebellious population of Boston, Franklin was outed as a proponent of American Independence. He returned to Philadelphia that year and joined the First Continental Congress in deliberation on revolution. In 1776, Franklin advised Thomas Jefferson on the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

When war broke out, Franklin went to France on a mission to secure the support of Britain's greatest nemesis. The French had always loved Franklin, since his days as a scientist when he proved the electrical nature of lightning with a kite and his wit as a writer penning inspirational aphorisms and hilarious satire in his periodical, "Poor Richard's Almanack". Franklin was successful in his diplomatic efforts there, including the peace talks that ended the war with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. He returned to Philadelphia with his hero status confirmed. Was Ben Franklin a President? Technically, he became President of Pennsylvania in 1785 and served for three consecutive terms; it was not until later that the title was changed to Governor. Was Benjamin Franklin President of the United States? No, but he did become one of only two men depicted on American dollar bills and was commemorated on the first Postage Stamp, issued in 1847.