This is the second in a five-part series dedicated to exploring the lives, ideas, and contributions of the five individuals most directly responsible for the founding of the United States. Without the courageous actions of James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, America would not be the country that it is today. In Part Two, we discuss Benjamin Franklin and his role in shaping our nation’s heritage of economic liberty.
October 2, 1729. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Local farmer and printer Hugh Meredith and a young Benjamin Franklin purchase the second newspaper ever published in Philadelphia: The Universal Instructor in all Arts and Sciences: and Pennsylvania Gazette. The new owners were determined to make their venture a success and immediately got to work. They shortened the title to The Pennsylvania Gazette and reorganized the paper to focus on current public events, including articles from readers and Franklin himself.
In time, The Pennsylvania Gazette would become the most successful newspaper across the 13 colonies. The Gazette’s success would make Ben Franklin a wealthy man, but it did something much more important for Franklin and the country that he would soon help found: it ingrained in Franklin the importance of economic freedom and the ability to work and live without government interference.
Benjamin Franklin was one of our Republic’s first entrepreneurs, and he would guide our dedication to economic liberty.
Born in Boston on January 17, 1706, Franklin was the tenth son of a local soap-maker. His father originally intended for him to join the clergy, but Franklin’s love of reading led him to become an apprentice for his brother James, who worked as a printer. Franklin’s first job was working at his brother’s print shop and selling pamphlets on the street.
Franklin’s subsequent apprenticeship on his brother’s newspaper, The New England Courant (the first in Boston), ended when his brother discovered that the paper’s extremely popular column, supposedly written by a widow named “Silence Dogood,” was in fact written by the teenaged Franklin.
At age 17, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia. He married, continued his work as a printer, and published pamphlets on liberty, religion, and monetary policy. Along with his ownership of The Pennsylvania Gazette, Franklin and his wife also ran a supply store and a bookstore. By the age of 42, his business pursuits had become so successful that he was able to retire.
But Franklin was more than just a business owner, inventor, or scientist.
Franklin’s interest in public service goes back almost as far as his entrepreneurial pursuits. In 1730, he was elected to be the official printer for Philadelphia. He also founded one of the first public libraries and the city’s first fire and police services. He helped organize the Pennsylvania militia, raised funds for a hospital, and helped found what would become the University of Pennsylvania. Franklin was eventually appointed postmaster of Philadelphia and, later, postmaster of all the American colonies. As far back as 1752, Franklin was the first to propose a plan to unite those colonies. He was an essential participant in the formation of the Declaration of Independence, diplomatic efforts in the post-revolutionary era, and the debate and drafting of the subsequent U.S. Constitution.
But arguably, it was Franklin’s entrepreneurial background that laid the groundwork for his participation in the American Revolution and formation of the United States. Perhaps more than anything else, he wanted America to become a society where individuals would be free to develop themselves to the maximum of their own capabilities.
The fight for Franklin’s vision continues to this day.
Across the United States, the government consistently interferes with people’s pursuit of happiness and their ability to earn a simple, honest living. This interference takes many devious forms: arbitrary licensing laws that operate as an unscalable barrier for would-be entrepreneurs, or prohibitions on certain forms of advertising because they are merely “commercial” speech (as if the First Amendment contains such a distinction). Some state and local governments even force certain entrepreneurs to get permission from their would-be competitors before they can open their doors.
These violations of our basic economic liberty would have horrified Franklin and the other Founders. For these reasons, among others, Pacific Legal Foundation and our allies fight on behalf of small business owners and other entrepreneurs in courts and legislatures across the United States.
Franklin once wrote, “The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” Being a successful entrepreneur takes creativity, courage, and drive. Ben Franklin helped set this important precedent.
All government has to do is get out of the way.