Benjamin Franklin and Pennsylvania
Benjamin Franklin, the Boston-born son of Puritan parents, moved to Pennsylvania as a young man for various reasons. He was eager to escape the lingering spirit of Puritanism, to make a fortune, and to find an outlet for his unconventional religious outlooks, which placed the public good and material well-being ahead of religious doctrine.
The young Franklin had chafed under Boston’s conservative leadership, especially when his brother was arrested for his newspaper’s pointed criticisms of the local elites. Clearly, “Puritanism had been too strong for too long to vanish overnight” (Nash and Graves, 2004, p. 53). Unable to find work printing work elsewhere, he left for Philadelphia, returning to the printing business and applying his practical, somewhat materialistic religious outlooks to performing acts of secular good.
Philadelphia was vastly more tolerant than the Boston Franklin left. Founded as a haven for England’s Quakers, it was a relatively open-minded place without a conservative elite monitoring intellectual activity, and it embraced a deep sense of the common welfare. He built a thriving business but shunned greed, writing that “Avarice and happiness never saw each another” (Nash and Graves, 2004, p. 59). He used the Junto as an outlet for helping the public with a library, hospitals, street-paving, and philanthropy, as well as making it a forum for his scientific research and other ideas, free from control or censorship by local authorities.
Franklin initially came to Pennsylvania to seek work and intellectual freedom, eventually finding both. Ultimately, Franklin and Pennsylvania benefited each other – he found the prosperity and tolerance Boston lacked, and Pennsylvania found in Franklin a skilled politician and elder statesman in the cause for independence, with the commitment to liberty that they as Englishmen (and later as Americans) demanded.
Nash, R. and Graves, G. (2004). From These Beginnings, Volume I. New York: Longman.