We think of him as a paragon of industry and success, but Ben Franklin received his share of setbacks. Rising from poverty to riches by his own work, he was not immune to disaster. It’s helpful to see that Ben Franklin—the inventor, author, businessman, and civic leader—was as prone as any of us to despair and self-pity.
In 1774, Franklin exercised bad judgment in distributing the private letters of a high British official. Franklin’s intention was to use the letters to unite England and her colonies, but his plan backfired. Americans were even more incensed by the letters and the British government was furious that the correspondence of a member of Parliament was made public.
Franklin, who was living in London at the time, admitted his responsibility. In addition to being publicly lambasted in the King’s council, he was removed from his office as deputy postmaster of America. He was proud of this position, and of his skills in vastly improving mail delivery throughout the colonies.
Now his royal post was gone, and Franklin was devastated. He advised his son to get out of public service and become a farmer. “It is honester and more honorable, because a more independent employment.”
In a letter to his sister Jane, he writes, “I am deprived of my office. Don’t let this give you any uneasiness. You and I have almost finished the journey of life; we are now but a little way from home, and have enough in our pocket to pay the post-chaises.”
Poor Ben Franklin. Tumbled from power at the ripe age of 72, he found little comfort in his past accomplishments. It was all over for him.
He soon returned to America, where he was promptly chosen by Pennsylvania to be their delegate at the Second Continental Congress.
Small consolation to a man who was deputy postmaster.
He also served on the Committee of Five that produced the Declaration of Independence. He then served as America’s diplomat in Paris, obtaining French military support for the colonists that was invaluable in winning American independence.
Returning to the United States, he was invited to the convention that drew up the new nation’s Constitution. Simultaneously he served as the president of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council until 1788. Even then, it was two years before Franklin finally took that post-chaise home, dying in 1790, at age 84.
Like many Americans who are facing joblessness right now, Franklin gave way to despair. And, like many Americans, he moved on to a new future, and greater success than he could have imagined.