Term Paper: Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography

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Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography

Benjamin Franklin, by his own account, was an unusually energetic, curious, productive person. We don't often see a person who is so multi-talented, and who also has the ambition and wherewithal to act upon his talents.

Thomas Jefferson, and perhaps even Leonardo DaVinci, could be compared to Franklin, with their wide-ranging inventions and thinking.

Franklin's areas of inquisitiveness were extensive and, rather than just taking a passive interest in his ideas, he went on to manifest them as libraries, post offices, stoves, fire stations and, ultimately, to help draft the document that signifies the free state of America. It is a curious study to determine exactly what it was that Franklin possessed that set him so far above others in his achievements and contributions.

Franklin's boyhood was not necessarily filled with any more opportunities or advantages than the average boy. Assisting his father at age ten in the tallow business, then indentured to his brother as a printing assistant, his opportunities did not seem glamorous or anything that might lead to fame and fortune. He was clearly a bright person, but was not handed extraordinary privileges with the exception, perhaps, of one.

He attended grammar school at the age of 8, and was a voracious reader. His love of reading was encouraged by his father; Franklin read, bought and sold some fairly complex books at a very young age (Franklin, pg.16). Extensive reading brought out the writer in Franklin, and at the age of 18, Franklin wrote his Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain. Franklin's work in his brother's print shop provided him access to more books and he was inspired to write some poetry.

Although when we think of Ben Franklin, we do not necessarily think of him as a writer, his gift of communication through writing was apparently the primary key to Franklin's successes throughout his career. He notes that, "prose writing has been of great use to me in the course of my life, and was a principal means of advancement" (Franklin pg. 18). His father provided him with constructive criticisms of his writing style, and Franklin worked diligently on his own to perfect and polish his ability to write. Perhaps Franklin's love of learning can be attributed to the fact that he only spent a short time in a structured school setting, and was, for the most part, out in the real world working, communicating and learning.

Whatever the reasons for his accomplishments, writing was at the core of realizing his ideas.

When Franklin proposed the idea of the first library, he first wrote a plan and set out the rules and concepts of the library's nuts and bolts. In fact, writing helped Franklin to clarify his thoughts and to bring his ideas into fruition. For example, he composed prayers for his own use in lieu of going to church, and he carefully organized in writing the "virtues" that he determined would help him in his quest for moral perfection. His written paper on house fires was to serve as the basis for the first system of insurance, in addition to the articles of agreement signed by insured property owners.

These written documents also led to the formation of firehouses. Owning a newspaper was a natural profession for a man so attached to words. Having them delivered by horseback with the postal system gave him an advantage over other publications, and was also a benefit to the colonists who had scarce contact with the rest of the country.

After inventing the efficient Franklin stove, he promoted his idea by publishing a pamphlet that explained its construction and use.

True to his chosen nature, he did not accept a patent for the stove, offering it up for the betterment of humankind rather than taking a profit. Written proposals written for the formation of a college, and later for a community hospital served to inspire the community to get involved and support these projects. He convinced people to support a city street-cleaning project by writing a newspaper article, which eventually led to writing a bill for getting the city streets paved and later, lit. Every accomplishment credited to Ben Franklin started with his ability to write out a plan, an idea or a project, and to organize it in well-written words. The first plan to form a union of the colonies, although initially rejected, was written by Franklin. Numerous conciliatory plans and proposals were written by Franklin for the purpose of keeping peace and providing for the British army when they arrived in America. All of his work involving political and civic matters was initiated by documents written by Franklin, including his drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

Writing his autobiography forced Franklin to organize his entire extraordinary life into a set of words. Although there are moments in the book when his ego seems all too apparent, and we can guess that some of his memories might be somewhat biased, his ability to think, organize and write is nonetheless proven again in this meticulously detailed narrative. Having said that, I would also say that the book is so jammed full of facts and details that it could have been organized more carefully in a way that would have made it easier to read. Franklin tried to offer a contiguous story from his childhood to his old age, but his focus on its chronological arrangement may deter from its effectiveness.

He also devotes quite a few pages to his wartime activities, but offers very sparse coverage of other aspects of his life, for instance, his own family relationships.

In his introduction addressed to his son, Franklin admits his vanity (pg. 13). His fascination with himself is remarkable and, yet, he was certainly a remarkable man, if we are to believe everything he has written.

A found Mark Twain's exaggerated criticism of this autobiography hilarious with a strong note of truth to it. Ben Franklin, although one could not call him self-righteous, tried to set an example of the ultimate highly-principled, over-achiever that would rankle some readers.

Twain's reference to Franklin's "inventions of maxims and aphorisms calculated to inflict suffering upon the rising generation of all subsequent ages" would have proved greatly amusing to Franklin, who also possessed a wise and honest sense of humor.

Twain laughably blames Franklin for his own "present state of general debility, indigence, and mental aberration" (Twain). In other words, it would be extremely difficult for the average boy to try to live up to Franklin's moral code, his productive, constructive pace, as well as his kind and patriotic heart. That Franklin, in retrospect, idealized his own childhood goes without saying, and Twain resents, humorously, its impact on his own boyhood and the boyhood of every other regular kid in America. Twain's parting shot, that anyone could have entered Philadelphia for the first time with only two shillings and four rolls of bread under his arm, is a lovely salute to Franklin, who he obviously greatly respects.

I agree with Jackson Turner, that Benjamin Franklin gave credibility to America when it was still a very small, disorganized and unfocused young country. I also agree that Franklin's genius was probably not the result of his childhood experiences, or the way he was raised, but was more the result of the inherent gifts he possessed when he entered the world.

Turner does not want us to think that all of the incredible insights, inventions, inspirations and experiments were due to Franklin's discipline, studying or rigorous routines, but were only the evidences of Franklin's true genius.

The fact that Franklin did not have an easy start, but was able to make the best of his circumstances seems to be at the heart of his personal nature. Many people would resent having so… [END OF PREVIEW]

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