Unique among the founding fathers of the United States of America, Benjamin Franklin signed all four documents critical to the nation's independence from Great Britain. Although the only federal office Franklin ever held was Postmaster General of the United States, he was a leader in his state government, and his reputation for worldliness, wisdom and political acumen earned him entry into the inner circle of the nation's founding fathers.
1776: Declaration of Independence
The members of the Second Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin to the Committee of Five, a group of the nation's leaders who would draft the Declaration of Independence. He joined future presidents John Adams of Massachusetts and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Roger Sherman from Connecticut and Roger Livingston of New York. Franklin officially represented Pennsylvania.
Formed on July 11, 1776, the committee took less than a month to draft the now-famous document. Although there is no definitive historic record of what took place or who attended each meeting, unofficial accounts agree that Franklin was suffering with gout during the time the committee convened and was unable to attend all the meetings. Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, sent a copy for Franklin's input before drafting the final version.
Lawmakers approved and adopted the document on July 4, 1776. John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, was first to sign the copy of the Declaration of Independence known as the Dunlap Broadside. Once an official copy was available, all 56 members of the Second Continental Congress, including Benjamin Franklin, signed.
1778: Treaty of Alliance with France
Meanwhile, the Revolutionary War was raging, and American troops were beginning to lose ground. Late in 1776, founding fathers dispatched the country's top diplomat, Benjamin Franklin, to secure France's assistance.
In 1778, King Louis XV signed an agreement for mutual support. They also made a Treaty of Amity and Commerce, which affirmed a commercial trade alliance between the two nations and recognized the United States as independent of England.
These treaties were advantageous to both parties. For the French, they provided American support against British aggression and a promise of future trade. For the Americans, the agreements provided uniforms, weapons and ammunition to shore up their forces. French support gave the decisive edge General George Washington needed to lead his troops to a final victory.
1783: The Treaty of Paris
The Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War. Article 1 of the treaty verified the geographic borders, freedom, sovereignty and independence of the United States. Other articles ended hostilities between Great Britain and other antagonists such as France, Spain and Holland.
Franklin and his colleagues John Adams, John Jay and Henry Laurens negotiated the terms of the Paris Treaty with English representatives David Hartley and Richard Oswald. Franklin played a key role in the negotiations. Having spent time in Paris, Franklin understood better than his compatriots that negotiations had a critical social component that would play out at the dinner tables and gatherings of French decision makers, so he spent much of his time informally discussing the key issues at social gatherings. His co-negotiators thought he was just enjoying himself, and they went straight to Great Britain to forge a side treaty, offending the French in the process.
Franklin was able to make peace between the three great nations and get the Treaty completed. He and the other key figures signed it and sent it to England and America for review. The Treaty of Paris marked the end of the Revolutionary era and the beginning of normalized relations between Europe and the U.S.
1787: The Constitution of the United States
Easily the most important and renowned document Benjamin Franklin would ever sign, the Constitution of the United States became law at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. All 13 colonies sent representatives to the convention with the exception of Rhode Island. All in all, 57 delegates attended and 39 signed the document, including Benjamin Franklin. The founding father, age 81, was the oldest attendee.
The group of delegates were not unanimous in their support of the document, even after several revisions. Many doubted that the document could unite the colonies into a cohesive union that could withstand the test of time.
In an address to the assembly, Franklin wrote that he, too, had reservations regarding the final U.S.Constitution, drafted by James Madison, but he was prepared to set those aside for the good of the nation. Thirty-eight delegates joined Franklin in signing the Constitution in September 1778, and it continues to be a living document that has been amenable to centuries of change.