The 5 best Ben Franklin documents online at the Library of Congress

The new Library of Congress online archive of Benjamin Franklin’s papers contains a whopping 8,000 documents. It’s the first sweeping digitization of Franklin’s papers. Included are personal letters between Franklin and his family members, some drawings of his inventions, and important political correspondence with such figures as George Washington and John Adams. You can access the full archive here.  But in case you don’t have time to sort through all 8,000 papers just now, here are five highlights.

1. One of Ben Franklin’s copies of the grievances he delivered in 1774 to King George III. Julie Miller, curator of early-American manuscripts at the Library of Congress, said people are often surprised by the respectful tone of the First Continental Congress’s petition, despite the long list of grievances. “Americans understood that they had a disagreement with Great Britain but didn’t think of themselves as rebels,” she said. “So they framed their protest against Parliament, not the king.”

Camera icon Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
One of Ben Franklin’s copies of the grievances he delivered in 1774 to King George III.. (LIBRARY OF CONGRESS)

2. One of Franklin’s drafts of the Treaty of Paris, which in 1783 ended the Revolutionary War. This is the treaty in which Britain formally recognized the independence of its 13 former American colonies. Franklin was one of the negotiators sent to Paris. The others: John Adams, John Jay, and Henry Laurens.

Camera icon LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
One of Franklin’s drafts of the Treaty of Paris, which in 1783 ended the Revolutionary War

3. Franklin’s sketch for bifocals, which he drew in a letter in 1785 to his friend George Whatley. Franklin is also credited with inventing the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, and swim fins, among other highly useful objects.

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Franklin’s sketch for bifocals

4. Franklin’s “Craven Street Letterbook” from 1772-73. It’s named after the street where he lived while he was a diplomat in London. This design detail is from the second and third pages of the book, one of 134 images from the new Library of Congress digital archive.

Camera icon LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Franklin’s “Craven Street Letterbook” from 1772-73.

5. A sketch of a kite. It’s probably no relation to the kite of electricity-experiment fame and most likely has something to do with maritime navigation, according to the Library of Congress. Still, a kite drawing in Franklin’s own hand is something to see. The sketch is part of a long letter Franklin wrote to French architect Julien-David Le Roy while aboard a ship in 1784.

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A sketch of a kite.

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