Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was a complex and thought-provoking individual. He relayed his political, social, and revolutionary ideas through direct writings that he penned under his name and under anonymity. During a time when the American colonies were under imperial rule and such writing would have been labeled and treasons and punishable by jail or death.
 
 
The Revolutionary Era of literature spanned from 1750 to 1830. It was about gathering support for the Revolutionary War by instilling pride and patriotism in American citizens. Benjamin Franklin was one of the most influential writers of the time. Literary works in this era came in the form of political pamphlets and short stories with a lesson. The style of the writings was influential and elaborate. The Revolutionary War significantly influenced the literature of this time by providing the people with a new line of thinking. American writers could write about freedom not only from England but also from the classical European style of writing. Benjamin Franklin’s most famous works included “Poor Richard’s Almanac” and his autobiography. Benjamin Franklin’s work predominantly featured lessons on the value of life; saving money; the value of knowledge and health. (1)

Benjamin Franklin wrote his writings in aphorisms, which are concise statements with a principle (2). A perfect example of this is the statement “an apple a day, keeps the doctor away”. Apples are a healthy food and are good for you; this statement is simple and concise. If you eat healthily, a good diet will prevent visits to the doctor.

Franklin’s greatest literary feat was in politics that Franklin made his greatest impact. Franklin’s political writings are full of fascinating reflections on human nature, on the character of good leadership, and on why the government is such a messy and problematic business. He further had thoughts on citizenship, federalism, constitutional government, the role of civil associations, and religious freedom. Franklin had an unrivaled understanding of the individual human soul. At the heart of his political vision is a view of democratic citizenship, a rich understanding of the qualities of the heart and mind necessary to support liberty and sustain happiness. Franklin’s valuable insight into political issues continues to be relevant today. (3)

Franklin gives a list of virtues in his writings (4):

Temperance (Eat not to Dulness. Drink not to Elevation.)

Silence (Speak not but what may benefit others or your self. Avoid tri¬fling conversation.)

Order (Let all your Things have their Places. Let each Part of your Business have its Time.)

Resolution (Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.)

Frugality (Make no Expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.)

Industry (Lose no Time—Be always employed in some¬thing useful—Cut off all unnecessary Actions.)

Sincerity (Use no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.)

Justice (Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.)

Moderation (Avoid Extremes. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.)

Cleanliness (Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Cloaths or Habitation.)

Tranquility (Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.)

Chastity (Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dulness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or Reputation.)

Humility (Imitate Jesus and Socrates.)

Franklin shares his aphorisms’ and in doing so is laying a solid foundation for democratic citizenship. The first building blocks of that foundation are not less important for being so humble. It is important to bear in mind that the audience for whose edification Franklin proposed his list was the common folk of America, not its elite. These were the people on whose virtues a prosperous democracy would be built or on whose vices it would founder. Franklin recognized two distinctive features of American society. First, Americans began life with little and needed to make their own way. Second, America provided sufficient opportunity that prosperity was within the reach of almost anyone who was willing to work for it. This is a recipe for tremendous economic development and social happiness, but only if the human soil is properly prepared. (5)

The readings in class of Benjamin Franklin “The Way To Wealth” suggests the way to be self-sufficient on an individual level and as a nation. The writing from Franklin in 1758, talks about virtues such as frugality, diligence, frugality, debt, and knowledge. Franklin states “The taxes are indeed very heavy, and if those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us”. (6) Prior to moving to Florida, I was a resident of Connecticut. In addition to paying Federal taxes, Connecticut has personal state income taxes, gas taxes, and most likely roadway use taxes in the form of 60 plus tolls that are being proposed. Further the burden of local property taxes on real property. The question is was Franklin teaching us personal financial responsibility or was he trying to teach us about the financial responsibility of the government?

Franklin goes on to state “Would you not say, that you are free, have a right to dress as you please, and that such an edict would be a breach of your privileges, and such a government tyrannical? And yet you are about to put yourself under that tyranny when you run in debt for such dress! Your creditor has authority at his pleasure to deprive you of your liberty, by confining you in jail for life, or to sell you for a servant, if you should not be able to pay him!”(6) Was Franklin predicting the debt ceiling or today’s personal debt in American society? It is my belief that Franklin was warning us about mistakes that he had seen and experienced in his worldview of the time.

Nevertheless, the writings of Benjamin Franklin are timeless. They teach us about the good and evil that is inherent in man (people). If you have moral conviction and principles it will guide you to do the right thing and something that we need in the American society today. Furthermore, as it relates to the moral guidance and responsibility of our elected leaders. His writings and advice are relevant today as much as they were 260 years ago.

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