In December of 1776 he was dispatched to France as commissioner for the United States. He lived in a home in the Parisian suburb of Passy donated by Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont who would become a friend and the most important foreigner to help the United States win the war of independence. Ben Franklin remained in France until 1785, a favorite of French society. Franklin was so popular that it became fashionable for wealthy French families to decorate their parlors with a painting of him. He conducted the affairs of his country towards that nation with such success, which included securing a critical military alliance and negotiating the Treaty of Paris (1783), that when he finally returned, he received a place only second to that of George Washington as the champion of American independence.
When Franklin was recalled to America in 1785, Le Ray honored him with a commissioned portrait painted by Joseph Siffred Duplessis that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
In addition, after his return from France in 1785, he became an abolitionist who eventually became president of The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. Nevertheless, Franklin had owned several slaves, and never freed any of them. His fortune had been earned selling newspapers that advertised slave sales. Ultimately, he chose not to bring the matter of slavery to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when asked to do so by the abolition society to which he belonged.
While in retirement by 1787, he agreed to attend, as a delegate, the meetings that would produce the United States Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation. He is the only Founding Father who is a signatory of all three of the major documents of the founding of the United States: The Declaration of Independence, The Treaty of Paris and the United States Constitution. Franklin also has the distinction of being the oldest signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. He was 70 years old when he signed the Declaration, and 81 when he signed the Constitution.
Also in 1787, a group of prominent ministers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania proposed the foundation of a new college to be named in Franklin's honor. Franklin donated ?200 towards the development of Franklin College, which would later merge with Marshall College in 1853. It is now called Franklin and Marshall College.
Later, he finished his autobiography between 1771 and 1788, at first addressed to his son, then later completed for the benefit of mankind at the request of a friend.
In his later years, as congress was forced to deal with the issue of slavery, Franklin wrote several essays that attempted to convince his readers of the importance of the abolition of slavery and of the integration of Africans into American society. These writings included:
" An Address to the Public from the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, (1789)
" Plan for Improving the Condition of the Free Blacks (1789), and
" Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim on the Slave Trade (1790).
On February 11, 1790, Quakers from New York and Pennsylvania presented their petition for abolition. Their argument against slavery was backed by the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society and its president, Benjamin Franklin. Because of his involvement in abolition, its cause was greatly debated around the states, especially in the House of Representatives.
Death and afterwards
Memorial marble statue of Ben Franklin
Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790 at the extremely advanced age (for that time) of 84, and was interred in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
At his death Franklin bequeathed ?1000 (about $4400 at the time) each to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, in trust for 200 years. The origin of the trust began in 1785 when a French mathematician named Charles-Joseph Mathon de la Cour wrote a parody of Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack called Fortunate Richard. In it he mocked the unbearable spirit of American optimism represented by Franklin. The Frenchman wrote a piece about Fortunate Richard leaving a small sum of money in his will to be used only after it had collected interest for 500 years. Franklin, who was 79 years old at the time, wrote back to the Frenchman, thanking him for a great idea and telling him that he had decided to leave a bequest to his native Boston and his adopted Philadelphia of 1,000 pounds to each on the condition that it be placed in a fund that would gather interest over a period of 200 years. As of 1990 over $2,000,000 had accumulated in Franklin's Philadelphia trust since his death. During the lifetime of the trust, Philadelphia used it for a variety of loan programs to local residents. From 1940 to 1990, the money was used mostly for mortgage loans. When the trust came due, Philadelphia decided to spend it on scholarships for local high school students. Franklin's Boston trust fund accumulated almost $5,000,000 during that same time and eventually was used toestablish a trade school that, over time, became the Franklin Institute of Boston. (excerpt from Philadelphia Inquirer article by Clark De Leon)
In recent years a number of anti-Semitic groups have been promoting a fabricated quotation which has been debunked by historians: Neo-Nazi Theory (American founding fathers).
Franklin's likeness adorns the American $100 bill. As a result, $100 bills are sometimes referred to in slang as "Benjamins" or "Franklins." From 1948 to 1964, Franklin's portrait was also on the half dollar. He has also appeared on a $50 bill in the past, as well as several varieties of the $100 bill from 1914 and 1918, and every $100 bill from 1928 to present. Franklin also appears on the $1,000 Series EE Savings bond.
In 1976, as part of a bicentennial celebration, Congress dedicated the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial in Franklin's hometown of Philadelphia, including a 20-foot high marble statue. Many of Franklin's personal possessions are also on display there. The memorial is located in Philadelphia's Franklin Institute. It is one of the few National Memorials located on private property.
In 1998, workmen restoring Franklin's London home (Benjamin Franklin House) dug up the remains of six children and four adults hidden below the home. The Times of London reported on February 11, 1998:
"Initial estimates are that the bones are about 200 years old and were buried at the time Franklin was living in the house, which was his home from 1757 to 1762, and from 1764 to 1775. Most of the bones show signs of having been dissected, sawn or cut. One skull has been drilled with several holes. Paul Knapman, the Westminster Coroner, said yesterday: "I cannot totally discount the possibility of a crime. There is still a possibility that I may have to hold an inquest."
The Friends of Benjamin Franklin House (the organization responsible for the restoration of Franklin's house at 36 Craven Street in London) note that the bones were likely placed there by William Hewson, a young surgeon who lived in the house for 2 years and who had built a small anatomy school at the back of the house. They note that while Franklin likely knew what Hewson was doing, he probably did not participate in any dissections because he was much more of a physicist than a medical man. Hewson ironically died of septicaemia on May 1, 1744 which he contracted from cutting himself while dissecting a putrid corpse.