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Terra cotta medallion depicting Benjamin Franklin Jean-Baptiste Nini 1777

This terracotta portrait medallion of Benjamin Franklin, owned by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, was produced by Jean-Baptiste Nini in 1777 while Franklin was serving as an American representative in France, where he had a key role in persuading the French to aid the American cause.

If George Washington is aptly called the father of his country, Benjamin Franklin, born January 17, 1706, could be called the grandfather of our nation. As a young man, Franklin opened his own printing office in Philadelphia and by 1728 was publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanack. A man of diverse interests, Franklin was a leader in forming America’s first lending library – in 1731. He was instrumental in establishing a firefighting company, an academy and the Pennsylvania Hospital. He also was a prolific inventor, and his experiments with electricity gained him an international reputation as an experimental scientist.

Franklin’s political vision was far-reaching. He was one of the first Americans who had the foresight to realize that the 13 separate colonies needed to put aside their differences and present a united front. Franklin was the first person to publish the famous “Join or Die” snake image in 1754. During the Albany Congress, he submitted a proposal for an inter-colonial union to defend the colonies from French and Indian attack. His Plan of Union was rejected by the colonies but later became a precedent for the government adopted by the Continental Congress. The “Join or Die” image was revived during the 1760s when the colonies resisted Parliamentary attempts to tax them without their consent.

Benjamin Franklin’s vision of an independent, united America led him to serve in the Continental Congress, where he helped draft the Declaration of Independence. He also served his country during the war as a diplomat, working to obtain badly needed French support and later by negotiating a favorable peace with Great Britain. His last great service to the nation was to act as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, where he was a voice for moderation and compromise. He died in 1790 just as the new nation was being born.