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Finding Franklin: A Resource Guide

Library of Congress Resources

The digital collections of the Library of Congress contain a wide variety of materials related to the life and times of Benjamin Franklin. This page compiles links to primary-source material throughout the Library of Congress Web site, including manuscripts, letters, broadsides, and images.

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Benjamin Franklin - n  Boston, dans la nouvelle Angleterre, le 17 Janv. 1706 / Duplessis pinxit, Parisiis 1778 ; Chevillet sculpsit Benjamin Franklin - né à Boston, dans la nouvelle Angleterre, le 17 Janv. 1706 / Duplessis pinxit, Parisiis 1778 ; Chevillet sculpsit.
1 print : engraving. 1778.
Prints & Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number:

Digital Collections

Benjamin Franklin Papers

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.

A selection of highlights from this collection includes:

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875

This collection contains a large selection of Congressional material related to Benjamin Franklin's political career from 1774 to 1790. Search the following publications in order to locate material related to Franklin's involvement in the American Revolution and its aftermath.

  • Farrand's Records contains the documentary records of the Constitutional Convention. At the age of eighty-one, Benjamin Franklin was the oldest delegate at the Constitutional Convention. On September 17, 1787, the last day of the Constitutional Convention, Franklin urged his fellow delegates to sign the proposed Constitution.
  • The Journals of the Continental Congress are the records of the daily proceedings of the Congress from 1774 to 1789. Benjamin Franklin was a member of the Continental Congress from 1775 until he was selected on September 26, 1776, as one of the commissioners to France. On September 14, 1778, he was appointed as Minister to France.
  • The Letters of Delegates to Congress aims to make available all the documents written by delegates that bear directly upon their work during their years of service in the First and Second Continental Congresses, 1774-1789. On or about June 21, 1776, Thomas Jefferson asked Franklin to review a draft copy of the Declaration of Independence.
  • The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, a six-volume set covering the years 1775 to 1785, contains hundreds of letters sent to and from Benjamin Franklin during the time he served as Minister to France. This publication also contains a biographical essay on Franklin.
  • The United States Statutes at Large, volume 8, contains every foreign treaty from 1778 to 1845, including the Treaty of Alliance with France (1778) and the Treaty of Paris (1783), both of which Franklin helped negotiate while serving in France.
  • Benjamin Franklin began serving as President of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery in 1787. In this capacity, Franklin submitted a petition to Congress calling for the abolition of slavery that was printed in the Annals of Congress on February 12, 1790.

Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789

This collection contains documents relating to the work of the Continental Congress and the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. Franklin's diplomatic work is represented by broadsides of a commercial treaty with Sweden and the preliminary articles of peace ending the Revolutionary War. Search this collection using the phrase "Benjamin Franklin" to find additional material related to Franklin.

George Washington Papers

The George Washington Papers contains 62 items to, from, or referring to Benjamin Franklin (some references are in the editorial notes that accompany the transcripts). Many of these materials document Franklin’s and Washington’s roles in the American Revolution.

Among the collection’s Franklin-related materials are:

  • A letter from Washington to Franklin on December 28, 1778, introducing the Marquis de Lafayette.
  • A letter from Washington to Franklin and the other American representatives in France on October 22, 1781, enclosing official documentation of the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.
  • A letter from Franklin to Washington on September 16, 1789, congratulating him on his administration and pledging eternal “Esteem, Respect, and Affection.”

James Madison Papers, 1723 to 1859

The James Madison Papers contain 3 items to or referring to Benjamin Franklin. Among the collection’s Franklin-related materials is an unsigned manuscript copy of a poem attributed to the New Jersey loyalist and Anglican clergyman Jonathan Odell that satirizes Franklin’s participation in the Revolution in terms of his invention of the Franklin stove.

Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827

The Thomas Jefferson Papers contain 55 items to, from, or referring to Benjamin Franklin. Many of these materials document Franklin’s vital diplomatic service representing the new nation in France during and just after the American Revolution.

Among the collection’s Franklin-related materials are:

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America's Library

Meet Amazing Americans: Benjamin Franklin

Designed for elementary and middle-school students, America's Library provides information about Benjamin Franklin's career as a printer and a writer as well as his scientific experiments with electricity.

Jump Back in Time: France Allied with American Colonies, February 6, 1778

On February 6, 1778, Benjamin Franklin was in France signing the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance.


American Treasures at the Library of Congress: Franklin on Electricity

In a document that is more a draft scientific report than a letter, Benjamin Franklin writes to Dutch physician and scientist Jan Ingenhousz about electricity and the Leyden jar, an early form of electrical condenser.

American Treasures at the Library of Congress: "Original Rough Draught" of the Declaration of Independence

The "original Rough draught" of the Declaration of Independence shows revisions by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to Thomas Jefferson's original handwritten text.

American Treasures at the Library of Congress: Poor Richard Illustrated

The enduring popularity of Poor Richard's Almanac is emphasized in this print published nearly seventy years after Franklin's death.

Benjamin Franklin: In His Own Words

This exhibition indicates the depth and breadth of Benjamin Franklin's public, professional, and scientific accomplishments through important documents, letters, books, broadsides, and cartoons.

Declaring Independence: Drafting the Documents

This exhibition includes a timeline, an essay on the drafting of the documents, and related documents and prints. Benjamin Franklin's contributions can be found in Thomas Jefferson's "original Rough draught" of the Declaration of Independence, which contains revisions by Franklin and John Adams. The exhibit also includes an 1876 lithograph of the "Declaration Committee" that shows Benjamin Franklin working along side Jefferson, Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston.

The Dream of Flight

The first manned balloon flight, in a Montgolfier-designed hot-air balloon on November 21, 1783, lasted twenty-five minutes and landed about five-and-one-half miles from the Paris site where it started. Among the spectators that day was Benjamin Franklin, who wrote about the flight in a letter to Sir Joseph Banks.

Religion and the Founding of the American Republic

This exhibition explores the role religion played in the founding of the American colonies, in the shaping of early American life and politics, and in forming the American Republic. Included is a copy of Benjamin Franklin's speech to the Constitutional Convention requesting that the convention begin each days' session with prayers. Also contains Franklin's original proposal for the Seal for the United States that adapted the biblical story of the parting of the Red Sea.

Thomas Jefferson

Presented here is a copy of Thomas Jefferson's and Benjamin Franklin's plan for the Great Seal from 1776. Although Congress rejected the elaborate seal, it did retain the words "E Pluribus Unum," which became the country's motto.

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Manuscript Division

Manuscript Division Finding Aids Online

A finding aid for the Benjamin Franklin Papers collection in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division can be found online as an HTML or a PDF document (PDF file requires the Adobe Reader).

Prints and Photographs Division

Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC)

Search PPOC using the phrase Franklin, Benjamin, 1706 1790 to find digital images related to Franklin, such as prints, photographs, and political cartoons.

Today in History

January 17

Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts. His accomplishments as scientist, publisher, and statesman are particularly remarkable when considered in the context of colonial North America, which lacked the cultural and commercial institutions to nourish original ideas. A spirit of pragmatic innovation imbued all of Franklin's intellectual, social, and scientific pursuits. He dedicated himself to the improvement of everyday life for the largest number of people and, in so doing, made an indelible mark on the emerging nation.

February 6

On February 6, 1778, France and the fledgling United States of America signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance in Paris, France. The Treaty of Amity and Commerce recognized the United States as an independent nation and promoted trade between France and the United States. Benjamin Franklin was one of the diplomats who negotiated the Treaty.

April 15

The Continental Congress ratified preliminary articles of peace ending the Revolutionary War with Great Britain on April 15, 1783. International intrigue and intense negotiation preceded the formulation of these preliminary articles. Franklin was one of the representatives of the United States in the negotiations.

May 9

On May 9, 1754, "Join, or Die", considered the first American political cartoon, was printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette. The impetus for the cartoon, which is believed to have been devised by Benjamin Franklin, was concern about increasing French pressure along the western frontier of the colonies.

November 14

On November 14, 1732, the Library Company of Philadelphia signed a contract with its first librarian. Founded by Benjamin Franklin and friends in November 1731, the library enrolled members for a fee of 40 shillings but had to wait for its books to arrive from England before beginning full operation.


Jonathan Lyons

In a 2014 presentation Jonathan Lyons discusses his book The Society for Useful Knowledge, analyzing how Benjamin Franklin and his circle helped to shape the history of science and technology in early America. Lyons argues that a knowledge revolution set the stage for American independence.

Walter Isaacson

This audio recording features Walter Isaacson discussing his book Benjamin Franklin: An American Life at the 2003 National Book Festival.

J. A. Leo Lemay

J.A. Leo Lemay presents a lecture on Benjamin Franklin in a 2006 program sponsored by the Interpretive Programs Office, Manuscript Division, Center for the Book and Publishing Office. His presentation was based on a compilation of the sources for his projected seven-volume biography of Franklin.

Marcello Pera, Giannicola Sinisi, Antonin Scalia, Monica D'Agostini

In 2010 the Libraryof Congress's European Division sponsored a conference exploring the intellectual relationship between Benjamin Franklin and Italian enlightenment philosopher Gaetano Filangieri, author of The Science of Legislation. Though the two never met, they corresponded from 1782 to 1787 on issues surrounding constitutional law and the the drafting of constitutions.

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  March 7, 2018
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