Benjamin Franklin and Ralph Waldo Emerson Term Paper

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Franklin & Emerson

Benjamin Franklin and Ralph Waldo Emerson are both emblematic, almost legendary figures in American history. Both espoused what would become quintessential American values including staunch affirmations of personal freedom and liberty. Neither advocated a religious hand in state affairs, but both promoted a personal spirituality rooted in common sense morality and humanitarian ideals. Both used the written word to express their ideas, and both eventually spoke out in favor of abolishing slavery. Yet in spite of the many issues upon which the two men would have agreed, Franklin and Emerson held differing worldviews. Franklin was a pre-revolutionary American whose hand helped shape the nation and wrest it from the British crown. Emerson was not so concerned about political issues as Franklin and unlike his predecessor never held a diplomatic post or public office. Undoubtedly their views on politics differed because by the time Emerson was born the nation had been fully formed, its unity taken for granted until the Civil War.

Also, Emerson was a far more rugged individualist than Franklin was. Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac contained a wide range of proverbs that emphasized social responsibility and etiquette, issues about which Emerson cared for less than he did about issues like self-reliance: a topic Emerson addressed in an essay by the same name. Their religious views also would have clashed somewhat had the two men met. Franklin advocated religious freedom and discounted the role of organized religion in creating a morally upright society but did not significantly departure from a Judeo-Christian perspective on deity. Emerson, on the other hand, became immersed in alternative spirituality and points-of-view. Contact with Eastern religion including Hinduism helped Emerson formulate a cohesive transcendental vision. Emerson was much more of a mystic than was Franklin, whose views were far more consistent with the Christian beliefs of his generation.

Religion may have been the issue upon which Emerson and Franklin would have disagreed the most. In his essay on "The Over-soul," Emerson grows esoteric in his references to how "Time, Space, and Nature shrink away" into the Over-soul and how "time and space are but inverse measures of the force of the soul." Moreover, Emerson refers to a sort of universal intelligence that inspires human beings to achieve great things. His transcendental vision is quintessentially Eastern in its approach and wholly divorced from Puritanical Christianity except via occasional -- albeit heartfelt -- references to Jesus Christ. When Emerson does mention Jesus in "The Over-soul," though, he does so in a way that divorces Christ from Christianity.

Mentioning a "union of man and God" and the "eternal One," Emerson's religious views are far different from Franklin's. Franklin viewed the role of the human being as wholly subservient to a God, and also mentions "Degrees of Beings" superior to humans ("Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion"). Similarly, Franklin declares that human beings are imperfect creatures. Emerson refers to the "pure nature"… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Benjamin Franklin and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  (2008, June 22).  Retrieved January 18, 2020, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/benjamin-franklin-ralph-waldo-emerson/793510

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"Benjamin Franklin and Ralph Waldo Emerson."  Essaytown.com.  June 22, 2008.  Accessed January 18, 2020.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/benjamin-franklin-ralph-waldo-emerson/793510.