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America’s Polymath
A Reading Comprehension Passage by Common Core Texts

Benjamin Franklin may have been America’s most famous polymath. Despite how it appears, the word “polymath” has little to do with math. Rather, it means someone who is skilled in many areas. Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father, scientist, writer, and inventor, fit that description perfectly.

Franklin was born in 1706 in Boston. His father did not have enough money to send each of his seventeen children to school. Therefore, Ben Franklin’s schooling ended at the age of ten. This did not stop Franklin from becoming a skilled and popular writer. At the age of 16, he wrote a series of letters to the New England Courant under the false name “Silence Dogood.” His letters poked fun at New England life and soon became the talk of the town.

By the age of 22, young Franklin had set up his own printing business in Philadelphia. Over the next decade, his talent for business helped him to become one of the richest men in North America.

Always restless for a new project, Franklin spent his free time improving society. He created the first library in North America. He founded Philadelphia’s first police force and fire department. Incredibly, Franklin also found time to conduct scientific research and create inventions. He created the lightning rod, bifocal glasses, swimming fins, and an improved stove. Franklin was also a musician, a composer, and a skilled chess player.

But Benjamin Franklin’s most important contribution was to the world of politics. His skill as a writer allowed him to help Thomas Jefferson draft the Declaration of Independence. His international reputation as a brilliant thinker persuaded France to support the colonies in their fight against the British. Finally, his abilities as a speaker persuaded delegates to sign the United States Constitution. Because of Franklin, the Constitution became law. It remains the guiding document of the United States government to this day.


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