One of the most famous people not only in his lares and penates, but also all over the world, Benjamin Franklin not only gained much weight in politics, but also presented the world with his autobiography, setting a trend for the future presidents of practically every country.
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One must give credit to where it belongs – there are a number of important messages in Franklin’s book, as well as words of wisdom and moral rules to follow.
However, there is one aspect that makes the entire idea of setting a perfect moral example a bit ambiguous, which is a little too hard emphasis on Franklin’s morals.
Whether Benjamin Franklin’s attempt at self-improvement works out fine or turns into another tedious moralizing and self-appraising song is the issue of the given paper.
It is quite peculiar that Franklin did not resort to telling about every single step he took and every single thing that happened to him; rather, he described the most important events – or, at least, the ones that he considered crucial for his life and career – and names the key people who influenced him or were somehow related to his life.
In addition, the idea of disclosing his correspondence with various people was quite an interesting move that made the readers plunge into the story.
Speaking of the facts that support the idea of Benjamin Franklin using his autobiography writer image to pose himself as a person worth genuine admiration, one must admit that there are a number of facts in favor of this theory.
To start with, the references to the childhood years made in the very first paragraphs of the book are rather graphic. Indeed, Franklin speaks of his childhood as the first stage of recognizing the basics of virtue and goodness.
Even when telling about the people surrounding him, Franklin ties them to his personality: “The notes one of my uncles (who had the same kind of curiosity in collecting family anecdotes) once put into my hands, furnished me with several particulars relating to our ancestors” (Franklin, 1909, 5).
However, it is also worth mentioning that Franklin does not abuse his right to speak about himself in autobiography – he also addresses the readers, sending them messages of what basic human virtues are, and what features a man of power must possess to become a wise and just governor of the country.
Moreover, Franklin addresses the people in a rather patronizing yet delicate manner, which makes the autobiography even a bit touching:
My old competitor’s newspaper declin’d proportionably, and I was satisfy’d without retaliating his refusal, while postmaster, to permit my papers being carried by the riders.
Thus he suffer’d greatly from his neglect in due accounting; and I mention it as a lesson to those young men who may be employ’d in managing affairs for others, that they should always render accounts, and make remittances (Franklin, 1909, 97)
Thus, it is clear that, even the certain elements of self-appraise do not seem out of place here – on the contrary, they are quite appropriate here, taking into account that it was the president writing the book, which means that there would be a lot of memorable and grandeur events in Franklin’s life.
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Therefore, the autobiography is a blend of facts about Franklin’s life, as well as his achievements, and the memories of his interactions with a lot of people who had the greatest impact of the development of the world’s leading country.
Logically, Franklin would not disclose the facts that he would have been ashamed of– on the contrary, an autobiography is a perfect way to show all the merits of the person in question, which Franklin did – and, one has to admit it, he did it brilliantly.
In addition, it is quite important that Franklin speaks not only about his political achievements, but also about his human emotions, shares his ideas and even tells the public about the moments when he felt uncomfortable and even ashamed of what he did or saw someone doing.
Among the greatest revelations for the readers could be the fact that the speech of a preacher had the most tremendous effect on Franklin:
Another stroke of his oratory made me asham’d of that, and determin’d me to give the silver; and he finish’d so admirably, that I empty’d my pocket wholly into the collector’s dish, gold and all.
At this sermon there was also one of our club, who, being of my sentiments respecting the building in Georgia, and suspecting a collection might be intended, had, by precaution, emptied his pockets before he came from home. (101)
Reading Franklin’s autobiography, one does not see a titan in disguise – one can see a man, like millions of other people, the man who was choosing his own track of life and who was being influenced by a number of people, yet followed only those whom he considered the ones worth making an example of.
However, one might argue that the impression of a mere mortal finally reaching the top of his career and setting moral standards for people by telling about his own life could have been the initial intent, and that there is more than meets the eye in Franklin’s autobiography.
To Franklin’s credit, one must mention that he actually explains in details all of his functions as a Politian and further on a president, without diminishing any other person’s role in the grand events that he was taking part in:
“My activity in these operations was agreeable to the governor and council; they took me into confidence, and I was consulted by them in every measure wherein their concurrence was thought useful to the association (105).
Therefore, it can be hardly considered true that Benjamin Franklin’s work was aimed at self-promotion; on the contrary, sincere and honest, it sends important messages to the audience, making good points and offering good solutions for the questions it raises.
In addition, it quite important that the entire book is based on the experience of a man whom the nation considers one of those few worth appreciation and admiration. Despite the fact that the book does have a couple of too on the nose morals and at times becomes too preachy, it still works as a solid thing in itself.
Although one can say that the entire book is a one-man show, it is clear that an autobiography is actually aimed at depicting the life track of one man. Thus, Franklin’s autobiography is a strong and impressive work devoid of any element of self-appraise.
Franklin, B. (1909). The autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. New York City, NY: P F Collier and Son Company.