Benjamin Franklin: In His Own Words...

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Epitaph

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Portrait of Franklin

The original oil portrait, upon which this engraving of Franklin was based, was a prized possession of Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, Franklin's host while in the Paris suburb of Passay where Franklin lived from 1777-1785. The print carries an inscription in French that reads: "Honor of the New World and of Humanity, This lovable and true sage guides and enlightens them; Like another mentor, he conceals from the common eye, Under the features of a mortal, a divinity."

Benjamin Franklin. N  Boston, dans la Nouvelle Angleterre, le 17 Janv. 1706
Juste Chevillet (1729-1802) [after a painting by Joseph Duplessis (1725-1802)]
Benjamin Franklin. Né à Boston, dans la Nouvelle Angleterre, le 17 Janv. 1706
Engraving, 1778
Prints & Photographs Division (1)
LC-DIG-ppmsca-10080

Benjamin Franklin to Deborah Franklin (1705?-1774), January 6, 1773
Benjamin Franklin to Deborah Franklin (1705?-1774), January 6, 1773
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Manuscript letter
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Manuscript Division (54)

Partial Transcription

A Letter to His Wife

On the occasion of his birthday, January 6, 1773 (old-style, according to the Julian calendar) Benjamin Franklin reflects on earlier years with his wife, Deborah Read Rogers Franklin. Franklin recalls that "It seems but t'other Day since you and I were rank'd among the Boys and Girls, so swiftly does Time fly!" But Franklin still looked forward to "so great a Share of Health and Strength. . . as to render Life yet comfortable."

Jefferson Eulogizes Benjamin Franklin

After Benjamin Franklin's death in 1790, Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, wrote to the Reverend William Smith, who had been recruited by Franklin to head the new Philadelphia Academy, recalling that there was "more respect and veneration attached to the character of Doctor Franklin in France than to that of any other person in the same country."

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) to William Smith (1727-1803), February 19, 1791|
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) to William Smith (1727-1803), February 19, 1791
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Manuscript letter
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Partial Transcription

Report of the Committee "to whom was referrd the consideration of the Legacy left by Doct. B. Franklin to the Corporation,"
Report of the Committee "to whom was referrd the consideration of the Legacy left by Doct. B. Franklin to the Corporation," June 18, 1790
Manuscript document
Manuscript Division (57)

Partial Transcription

Philadelphia Accepts Legacy from Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, who like George Washington believed that public officials should work without a salary, stipulated in his will that his salary as president of the Executive Council of Pennsylvania should be given to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia. Trusts were established to manage the funds and to loan money at interest to apprentices seeking to establish their own business. Two trade schools, the Franklin Union in Boston and the Franklin Institute were later established with these funds and in 1990, as devised by Franklin, the funds, then worth more than seven million dollars, were distributed to schools and scholarship funds.

Praise for Franklin from James Madison

James Madison had high praise for Benjamin Franklin's intellect and personality in his notes for a biographical memorandum on Franklin: "I never passed half an hour in his company without hearing some observation or anecdote worth remembering."

James Madison's (1751-1836) notes on Benjamin Franklin
James Madison's (1751-1836) notes on Benjamin Franklin
Manuscript document, post 1817
Enlarged version
Manuscript Division (58)

Partial Transcription

William Maclay's diary April 23, 1790
William Maclay's diary April 23, 1790
Manuscript diary
Enlarged version
Manuscript Division (59)

Partial Transcription

The Senate Rejects Efforts to Honor Franklin

After Benjamin Franklin's death on April 17, 1790, the United States House of Representatives voted to wear black crepe as "a mark of the veneration due to his memory," but the United States Senate, as reported by Pennsylvania Senator William Maclay, refused to wear "crape on their arms for a Month" and did not publicly acknowledge Franklin's death until 1791.

Franklin's Epitaph

A young Benjamin Franklin wrote this doggerel verse in 1728 to serve as his epitaph. Franklin, who loved to write humorous and satirical verses as well as essays, made copies of this verse for friends at various times in his life. This version, not in Franklin's hand, was among the papers owned by Franklin's grandson, William Temple Franklin.

Epitaph, 1728
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Epitaph, 1728
Manuscript verse
Manuscript Division (61)

Partial Transcription