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Collection Benjamin Franklin Papers

About this Collection

The papers of statesman, publisher, scientist, and diplomat Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) consist of approximately 8,000 items spanning the years 1726 to 1907, with most dating from the 1770s and 1780s. The collection's principal strength is its documentation of Franklin's diplomatic roles as a colonial representative in London (1757-1762 and 1764-1775) and France (1776-1785), where he sought to win recognition and funding from European countries during the American Revolution, negotiated the treaty with Britain that ended the war, and served as the first United States minister to France.  The papers also document Franklin's work as a scientist, inventor, and observer of the natural world, and his relations with family, friends, and scientific and political colleagues.

Notable correspondents include John Adams, Sarah Franklin Bache, Anne-Louise Brillon de Jouy, Edmund Burke, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, Cadwallader Colden, Peter Collinson, Thomas Cushing, Charles-Guillaume-Frédéric Dumas, Charles James Fox, Deborah Read Franklin, William Franklin, William Temple Franklin, Joseph Galloway, George III, King of Great Britain; Rodolphe-Ferdinand Grand, David Hartley, Mary Stevenson Hewson, Jan Ingenhousz, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, John Paul Jones, the Marquis de Lafayette; Henry Laurens, Antoine Lavoisier, Arthur Lee, Jane Franklin Mecom, Robert Morris, Richard Oswald, Joseph Priestley, William Strahan, Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes; George Washington, Jonathan Williams, Jonathan Williams Jr., and more.

Benjamin Franklin: An Index of His Papers in the Library of Congress (PDF), created by the Manuscript Division in 1973 after the bulk of the collection was microfilmed, provides a complete list of the correspondents and notes the dates of the items indexed and their locations in the collection by series. Materials added to the collection after 1973 are not listed in this index.

A current finding aid (PDF and HTML) to the Benjamin Franklin Papers is available online with links to the digital content on this site.

A brief history of the collection may be found in the provenance essay in the Articles and Essays section of this website.

Description of Series

The Benjamin Franklin Papers are organized in five series. Series 1-3 were reproduced on twelve reels of microfilm in 1972, scans of which comprise a significant portion of this online collection. Materials in series 4-5 were scanned in 2016 from the originals. A brief description of each series follows.

  • Series 1: 1772-1783 (Reels 1-4)
    Seventeen volumes documenting Benjamin Franklin's career as a diplomat in England and France. Most of this material dates from Franklin's time in France.  It documents his efforts to get aid and diplomatic recognition for the American colonies and concerns the negotiations he participated in that brought the American Revolution to an end with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The papers in Series 1 were purchased by the United States government from Henry Stevens in 1882, along with Series 2, and transferred to the Library of Congress in 1922.

    The Craven Street letterbook (volume 11), 1772-1773, whose title memorializes Franklin's address in London, is one of the few pre-Revolutionary Franklin letterbooks to survive. Volume 10 is one of two copies of the Petition to the King, October 26, 1774, that the First Continental Congress sent to Franklin in London to deliver to King George III (a third copy, which Franklin made for himself, is in Series 2, Volume 18, page 256.) Other volumes contain Franklin's negotiations in London, 1775; his correspondence with British diplomat and fellow scientist David Hartley, 1775-1781; letters from French correspondents to Franklin, in French,1777-1780; six letterbooks of the United States legation in Paris,1779-1782; records of the American peace commissioners in Paris,1780-1783; and the journal,1782, of their British counterpart, Richard Oswald.
  • Series 2: 1726-1818 (Reels 5-12)
    Fourteen volumes. Eleven of these are a selection of Franklin's correspondence, 1726-1790 made by William Temple Franklin, Benjamin's grandson and secretary, and heir to his papers. The letters have editorial annotations, deletions, and other changes made by William Temple Franklin before publication of his three-volume Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin External (1817-1818). This series also contains a volume of notes entitled “Medical, Nature Printing and Addenda,” and two volumes of William Temple Franklin's own papers. The papers in this series, purchased along with Series 1 by the United States government from Henry Stevens in 1882, were transferred to the Library of Congress in 1903. They are calendared in Worthington Chauncey Ford, List of the Benjamin Franklin Papers in the Library of Congress External (Government Printing Office, 1905).
  • Series 3: 1728-1841 and undated (Reel 12)
    Two boxes of miscellaneous Franklin papers, not part of the 1882 Henry Stevens purchase, that came to the Library as separate gifts and purchases. Included is the original manuscript of Franklin's “Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion;” correspondence, 1760-1779, with Mary (Polly) Stevenson Hewson, daughter of his London landlady Margaret Stevenson; a facsimile copy of his ledger as postmaster general, 1775-1778; his correspondence with scientist Jan Ingenhousz, 1777-1785; and other papers.
  • Series 4: 1744-1907 (Not filmed; not scanned)
    Seven boxes containing copies of Franklin manuscripts held by other institutions and transcripts of material from Series 1 and 2 which were not microfilmed with the rest of the collection.
  • Addition: 1753 (Not filmed; not scanned)
    A letter, 1753, from Franklin to evangelist George Whitefield concerning the importance of “good works” in the Christian faith. The letter, written in an unknown hand, is a print made from a microfilm in the American Philosophical Society Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Benjamin Franklin Papers in Other Collections at the Library of Congress and Other Libraries

There are letters to and from Benjamin Franklin in other collections in the Manuscript Division, notably in the papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Silas Deane. The Marian Carson and Peter Force collections contain transcriptions, reproductions, and printed material relating to Franklin, as does the Library's collections of reproductions made from British (Public Record Office) and French (Ministère des Affaires Etrangères) archives. The Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress holds the approximately two hundred books and pamphlets that Henry Stevens sold the U.S. Government along with the Franklin papers in 1882.

In addition, there are other significant collections of Benjamin Franklin papers at the American Philosophical Society, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; the Clements Library at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; and the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.

The modern edition of Benjamin Franklin's papers, published by Yale University Press, is available on Founders Online External and as a digital edition External sponsored by the American Philosophical Society and Yale University.