Among the most famous of all charitable bequests: Franklin did not believe that a public servant should be enriched and famously gave 1,000 pounds on his death to his two cities: Boston and Philadelphia; This is his Boston donationThis was Franklin’s paycheck for serving as the President of Pennsylvania, signed by his executor and the state Treasurer, and distributed to his executorsBenjamin Franklin was born on Milk Street, in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1706. He attended Boston Latin School but did not graduate; he continued his education through voracious reading. Although "his parents talked of the church as a career" for Franklin, his schooling ended when he was ten. He worked for his father for a time, and at 12 he became an apprentice to his brother James, a printer, who taught Ben the printing trade. When Ben was 15, James founded The New-England Courant, which was the first truly independent newspaper in the colonies. When denied the chance to write a letter to the paper for publication, Franklin adopted the pseudonym of "Silence Dogood", a middle-aged widow. Mrs. Dogood's letters were published, and became a subject of conversation around town. When his brother was jailed for three weeks in 1722 for publishing material unflattering to the governor, young Franklin took over the newspaper and had Mrs. Dogood (quoting Cato's Letters) proclaim: "Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech." Franklin left his apprenticeship without his brother's permission, and in so doing became a fugitive.At age 17, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, seeking a new start in a new city.Franklin made money during his life, and both he and Philadelphia flourished. He was a philanthropist, co-founding Pennsylvania Hospital and boosting other cultural and social institutions, such as the Library Company. “Liberality is not giving much,” Poor Richard wrote in 1748, “but in giving wisely.” Franklin was a tireless improver, and his inventiveness made lasting contributions to American philanthropy. For example, Franklin led the first effort in British North America to offer tax relief in exchange for charitable activity. Franklin likewise pioneered the concept of the matching grant. While raising funds for the Pennsylvania Hospital, Franklin approached the colonial legislature to propose that once the hospital had raised £2,000 in private contributions, the colonial government should contribute another £2,000 to the effort. “Every man’s donation would be doubled,” Franklin later wrote. “The subscriptions accordingly soon exceeded the requisite sum.”Perhaps Franklin’s best-remembered charitable donation was his final bequest. Franklin left the then considerable sum of £1,000 to his native Boston and another £1,000 to his adopted Philadelphia.The 1789 codicil to his will states, “It having long been a fixed political opinion of mine, that in a democratical state there ought to be no offices of profit, for the reasons I had given in an article of my drawing in our constitution, it was my intention when I accepted the office of President, to devote the appointed salary to some public uses.“I was born in Boston, New England, and owe my first instructions in literature to the free grammar schools established there. I have, therefore, already considered these schools in my will. But I am also under obligations to the State of Massachusetts for having, unasked, appointed me formerly their agent in England, with a handsome salary, which continued some years…"He then gave 1,000 pounds to the city of Boston, with the idea of initially lending out money to young men and allowing the fund to accumulate over 100 years. “If this plan is executed, and succeeds as projected without interruption for one hundred years, the sum will then be one hundred and thirty-one thousand pounds; of which I would have the managers of the donation to the town of Boston then lay out, at their discretion, one hundred thousand pounds in public works, which may be judged of most general utility to the inhabitants, such as fortifications, bridges, aqueducts, public buildings, baths, pavements, or whatever may make living in the town more convenient to its people, and render it more agreeable to strangers resorting thither for health or a temporary residence. The remaining thirty-one thousand pounds I would have continued to be let out on interest, in the manner above directed, for another hundred years, as I hope it will have been found that the institution has had a good effect on the conduct of youth, and been of service to many worthy characters and useful citizens. At the end of this second term, if no unfortunate accident has prevented the operation, the sum will be four millions and sixty one thousand pounds sterling, of which I leave one million sixty one thousand pounds to the disposition of the inhabitants of the town of Boston, and three millions to the disposition of the government of the state, not presuming to carry my views farther.”He gave 1,000 pounds also to the city of Philadelphia.In April 1790, after Franklin’s death, his executors, led by Henry Hill, and assisted by Hill’s son-in-law William Hill Wells, did an inventory of the estate, listing various personal assets, and noting that 2,250 pounds remained of Franklin’s salary with the state. This was in the form of 3 orders that he had refused to cash, in keeping with his belief that he should not personally benefit from public service. This document is one of those pay orders.The executors set about paying out the monies owed to Franklin’s family, as well as compensating debts accumulated over his lifetime and now due. These funds came out of cash assets and private equities.On June 8, 1790, as part of their executors’ duties, the executors went to the state to claim a portion of the salary owed to Dr. Franklin from the uncashed checks, with the goal of fulfilling Franklin’s wishes of donating his salary to Boston. It took them time to align both the funds and all the logistics and in early February 1791, Henry Hill notified the city of Boston that their funds were finally ready to be distributed. He noted the lapse of time, saying, “The convenient disposal of certain public securities allotted by our testator the late Dr. Franklin for making good his legacies to the Cities of Boston and Philadelphia, is at length so newly accomplished that we are now ready to pay in full, the sums noted at bottom. Boston accepted the funds and received them in early March 1791. Philadelphia did too but not until May. Of the three 750 pound pay orders, at least one was cashed in May 1791 to accommodate the gift to Philadelphia, meaning that the disbursal in 1790 must have gone to Boston. This is that original document, Franklin’s salary that formed the bulk of the donation given to Boston in 1791.Document signed, to Treasurer David Rittenhouse, “In Council, Philadelphia, April 25, 1788.” “Sir, Pay to his Excellency Benjamin Franklin Esquire or order the sum of seven hundred and fifty pounds being one half year’s salary due to him as President of the State.” It is signed across the side by John Nicholson, Register General.On the verso: “ Received June 8th, 1790 of Christian Tobegas (then-) State Treasury Payment in full of the within order. But order of Henry Hill Esq, one of the Executors of his Excellency B. Franklin deceased.” Signed by William Hill Wells, who was the son-in-law of Hill and worked with him.Our gratitude to the Papers of Benjamin Franklin at Yale and to American Philosophical Society, whose archives proved instrumental in this research. (Inventory #: 11400)
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