“The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” was begun by the author in 1771. It begins with a letter to his son in order to give him some of his history. Benjamin had been doing research while in Europe about his family tree and thought his son would like a tangible recounting from his life. This book became on of the first autobiographies and the example used later in form. The book is broken up into four sections. The breaks are during significant times in history that he was a major contributor including the Revolutionary War. Since Benjamin was multi lingual the book was originally written in French while he was in France. It was published in France in 1791 and then in English in 1793.
He wrote some of the book as a lesson in virtue. Since Benjamin took his journey toward self improvement very seriously, he was eager to share the lessons he learned. Benjamin Franklin was an advocate for education for women. He believed math and science would be much more beneficial to a woman than dancing and embroidery.
When we look at the life of Benjamin Franklin the humility in the book stands out. There is no mention of his work during the Revolutionary War. But he does give examples of programs he began to benefit his community, including the first library, the Franklin Stove, and electricity. He also includes his work to establish the University of Pennsylvania and his struggles with religion. He finally established his own religion. He also began a philosophy society by gathering a few learned people into a debating circle.
This is a wonderful book that touches the lives of one of the most extraordinary people in the history of the United States.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin begins as a letter to his son, William Franklin, Esq. The Governor of New Jersey. While in Europe at the home of the Bishop of St. Asaph in Twyford, Benjamin Franklin begins his autobiography in 1771. Since Franklin had made a prior trip with his son to investigate his roots, he came to the conclusion that William might be interested in learning about “the circumstances of my life.” He had a few weeks of vacation and thought to fill it with this autobiography.
Benjamin was the fifth generation youngest son born to the youngest son. His father thought the name Franklin came because the family may have been French, or Frank as they were called in the early fifteen hundreds. Benjamin goes on to give some more background on his family then moves on to his father and mother immigrating to New England.
In about 1685 Benjamin’s father brought his wife and three children to New England. His father had four more children with that wife and then ten with the next wife. Benjamin was the fifteenth child of seventeen and the youngest boy.
While his older brothers became apprentices at varying trades, Benjamin was put in grammar school at eight. His father had planned on Benjamin going into the church as a “tithe of his sons.” Benjamin learned to read at such a young age that he had no memory of not knowing how to read. He was a good student and quickly rose to the top of his class. His academics developed so fast that his father was soon faced with financing him through college. With a large family this was impossible so he enrolled Benjamin in private lessons with Mr. George Brownwell. There Benjamin did well in writing but not in arithmetic.
At the age of ten Benjamin was taken from school and began working with his father in his business as a tallow – chandler and soap – builder. He spent his time cutting wicks, filling molds and running errands. But Benjamin was not happy in his job. He wanted to go to sea. Benjamin convinced his friends to help him take some stones that had been gathered to build a house and build a wharf in a spot they had made in to a quagmire by stomping around while they searched for minnows.
The next day the removal of the stones was noticed and the young culprits were discovered. Although Benjamin and his friends had worked diligently throughout the night, their efforts were not praised. Through the punishment his father gave him Benjamin learned an important lesson, “that which was not honest could not be truly useful.” Benjamin had a great respect for his parents. His father was wise and had a strong constitution as did his mother. His father died at 89 and his mother at 85. Benjamin erected a marble headstone over their graves in Boston. In 1827, through voluntary contributions of the citizens of Boston the worn headstone was replaced with an obelisk made of granite and twenty – one feet high.
By the time Benjamin was twelve years old, his father had accepted the fact that he didn’t want to make candles and soap. Since he was afraid Benjamin’s restless spirit would send him to the sea, he took him for a walk to find something else he might be interested in pursuing. They checked out bricklayers, joiners, etc. After considering Benjamin’s love of constructing small machines for his experiments, his father thought to put him to work with Benjamin’s cousin, Samuel as a cutler. “But the fee for my apprenticeship displeased my father,and I was taken home again.”
In 1717 Benjamin’s brother, James returned from England with a “press and letters.” Since he set up his business in Boston their father apprenticed Benjamin to his brother. At twelve years old Benjamin signed his letters of indenture till the age of twenty one. This allowed the “bookish” Benjamin to spend more time reading. He borrowed books from the local bookseller. From reading these books Benjamin developed his writing style.
At this time Benjamin made friends with another young man who was also considered bookish. They often engaged in spirited debates including Benjamin’s opinion that women should receive the same education men did. During his teen years Benjamin developed a sense of self discipline that would carry him throughout his life. He spent his time after work, before work and on Sundays writing and reading. During his lunch time, he would eat a small amount and use the money to buy books. He also spent that time studying topics such as arithmetic, philosophy and grammar. It was also through these studies that he became skeptic about religion.
In 1720 Benjamin’s brother, James began a newspaper called the New England Courant. Benjamin wanted to submit an article, but knew his brother would not print it since he was still a young man. So he slid it under the door at night. His brother found it, and not knowing the author, printed it. This worked so well that Benjamin repeated it often until he was discovered.
Benjamin wanted his indenture to end early, but couldn’t get his brother to agree. Finally, James was imprisoned for a month because of an article he printed but would not reveal the author. After his imprisonment was finished his sentence was for James Franklin to never print the New England Courant again. James and his friends got around that by making the paper in Benjamin’s name. Therefore he had to end his indenture. But, James had him sign another, secret indenture to finish out his time so he wouldn’t lose Benjamin’s talent.
The change in dynamics lead the brothers into many arguments until Benjamin finally quit. James sent the word out to other printers not to hire him, so Benjamin traveled to New York City at age seventeen. His friend, Collins arranged the flight by getting him aboard a sloop headed to New York. Collins told the captain Benjamin was fleeing a forced marriage to a girl of ill repute. Benjamin sold his books to raise a little money for the trip.
Although he didn’t find work in New York, a printer there sent him to work for his son in Philadelphia. During the trip Benjamin saved a drunk from drowning, but what he remembers most about the incident was the book the man was carrying, Pilgrim’s Progress. He goes on to marvel at how many languages the book had been translated into. While on the voyage Benjamin became ill. But having read that cold water is good for a fever, he drank a lot of it and went to bed. The next day the fever was gone.
By the time Benjamin arrived in Philadelphia, he was dirty, tired and only had a dollar and change to his name. When he finally finds the son of the man he was to work for, he finds the job gone. But the man sends Benjamin to another printing shop in town. Benjamin split his time between the two printers, although he considered them both almost illiterate. The second printer helped him find lodgings with John Read where Benjamin made the acquaintance of Miss Read.
During this time Benjamin was happy. He made liked minded friends who were young and liked to read and he saved some money. All was going smoothly until his brother in law heard of him and sent him a letter telling him about the grief of his family at his abrupt departure. When his brother in law received the letter the governor was with him. The governor thought Benjamin’s writing style was exceptional and wished him to remain so he could help the printers with their writing. The governor also decides to help Benjamin set up his own printing press. Although he will get help from the government, Benjamin will also need financial help from his father, so Benjamin returns for seven months hoping to get some help. His father agrees but only after Benjamin has turned twenty one. He feels his son is still too young for such an enterprise. Also, James is still angry at Benjamin for quitting.
Benjamin heads back to Philadelphia taking Collins with him. Unfortunately, Collins has developed a drinking problem. Benjamin doesn’t drink. When Collins refuses to help with the rowing, he and Benjamin have a fight and Benjamin throws him in the water. After that he and Collins part company with Collins going to Barbados and never to repay the money he borrowed from Benjamin. They never see each other again.
When Benjamin returns to Philadelphia he tells the governor his father refuses to help him financially so the governor offers to help him. But, first Benjamin wants to travel to England where he can make contacts with booksellers and stationery makers. Until this comes about, Benjamin continues to work for Keimer, the printer. He also begins to court Miss Read, but doesn’t ask her to marry him until after the trip to England. He takes his friend and fellow reader and writer, James Ralph with him. Although Ralph had a wife and child, he was determined to go with Benjamin. He thought that Ralph wanted to establish some connections to begins transporting and selling goods but soon learned that Ralph was having problems with his wife’s family and planned to leaver her and child with them and never come back to America.
After reaching England Benjamin discovers the governor didn’t write a recommendation as he promised, so Benjamin was advised to take a job at Palmer’s which was a famous printing house. He and Ralph settle into to English life with Ralph forgetting his family and Benjamin forgetting Miss Read. The two men spend their time making friends and enjoying themselves. Although Benjamin does say that most of the time he worked hard at his business.
Benjamin and Ralph part ways. Ralph moves to the country with his girlfriend and takes up teaching and writing bad poetry while Benjamin takes lodgings with an old woman and spends a lot of his off time swimming. He considered opening a swimming school since his feats at swimming gathered so much praise but a respected friend advised him to return to Philadelphia. So after about eighteen months in London he sailed back home.
Back in Philadelphia Benjamin discovers a lot of changes. He finds his job with the governor is gone so he goes to work in a dry goods store for his friend. After the friend dies Benjamin goes back to printing. After spending time in New Jersey making more connections, Benjamin goes back to Philadelphia and works almost continuously.
During this time he develops a newspaper and a new religion he calls Deism. He keeps his paper from bankruptcy through diligent work and gets the position of official printer for the Pennsylvania Assembly. His finances pick up and he pays off all his debts. Then he hires two men to help out in the printing. After a debate in the House over paper money, Benjamin writes a pamphlet that sways the vote for paper currency. He is hired to print the first bills and gets more jobs printing official documents.
Benjamin decides it is time to settle down and start a family. He marries Miss Read on September first, 1730. This is a second marriage for her because she left her first husband after discovering he had another wife. He moved to the West Indies and died. She helps him start the first public library in America. At this point Benjamin laid the work on his autobiography aside while he concentrated on the Revolutionary War. In early 1780, after the war, Benjamin picked up the autobiography and resumed writing.
This part begins with copies of letters of encouragement sent to Benjamin by two men that read the first half of his autobiography. He brings up the success of the library he started in 1730. He bought some books in England and is now writing from France.
One of Benjamin’s obsessions is improving himself. He writes a list of thirteen virtues that he promotes and follows. Temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity and humility. In his quest for these virtues, Benjamin decided to tackle one a week so as not to lose sight of any. He began with a notebook to mark off his accomplishments and keep himself accountable. Even though he doesn’t achieve the perfection he strove for, Benjamin is happier. Humility was the most difficult for Benjamin. But he soon learned that changing his wording to “I apprehend” instead of “certainly” helped. Ironically, he became almost too proud of his humility.
Benjamin takes a break from writing his autobiography for four years then begins again in 1788. During these years Benjamin kept reading and forming opinions. He wanted to create another political party that would follow virtues instead of wars. He even went so far as to begin a charter, but never found the time to follow through with the Party of Virtue.
In 1732 Benjamin began Poor Richard’s Almanac under the name of Richard Saunders. It lasted twenty five years and was very profitable for him. His little aphorisms were meant to instruct people as was some of the articles he included in his paper, The Pennsylvania Gazette. As the years pass Benjamin delves into a variety of causes including the education of women. He also becomes fluent in French, Italian, Spanish and Latin. The debating club Benjamin’s began years earlier, Junto spreads throughout America and Benjamin becomes the Clerk of the General Assembly in Pennsylvania in 1736. He is appointed the Deputy Postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737 and later becomes the Postmaster General of the United States.
Benjamin also turns his considerable mind to improving the new nation. He helps to set up a property tax to support a police force and helps to form the first fire department. He works on planning the colonial defense and keeps a plan in progress for an Academy that later becomes the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1742 Benjamin invents the stove and refuses to patent it so it can be made more readily available. After he becomes the Commissioner of Peace he drafts a treaty with the American Indians. In 1751 he and his friend, Thomas Bond draft a bill to fund a hospital. He is also at work in an advisory position on the construction of a new Presbyterian meeting house.
Benjamin organizes a street sweeping service and drafts a bill to provide funds for paving the roads and providing lighting. He works at developing more efficient lighting. Because of his many contributions to mankind and his many accomplishments, Benjamin is awarded honorary degrees from many prominent schools of the time including Harvard and Yale.
In 1754 England goes to war against France. Benjamin goes to work at helping to improve the defense of the colonies and setting up a government. This involves a lot of traveling between Pennsylvania and New York. It also comes to the attention of England who sees the colonies as becoming to self sufficient. This prompts England to send reserve units to America.
Benjamin takes on the task of gathering supplies to help the moral of the troops. And although he praises the British generals he thinks they treat the colonial troops harshly. During the war he works closely with the military and helps to raise funds for a militia. Benjamin spent a lot of his personal funds raising supplies that was never refunded to him.
In 1746 Benjamin was in Boston. There he met with a Dr. Spence who showed him some electrical experiments. Since this was new to him, Benjamin was fascinated. He took this and expanded on it when he figured that lightening carried electricity. He publishes papers on his experiments including the kite experiment and becomes famous. He is awarded the Medal of Honor from the Royal Society. The Pennsylvania Assembly appoints Benjamin as the Commissioner to England and he is sent to petition for the rights of the colonies. Because of Benjamin’s fame in England due to his scientific studies they hope he will be able to make their cause heard by the government in England. When he arrives in England the King and his government are completely unresponsive. He returns to the colonies to a grateful people for his efforts.
Benjamin Franklin – the youngest son in a family of seventeen children, Benjamin was extremely intelligent. He spent a great deal of time reading and studying. When he was twelve he was apprenticed to his brother on a printing press and began to write. At seventeen he ran away to Philadelphia where he spent most of the rest of his life. There he began his own paper and became active in the political climate. Although he was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States he excluded all mention of the Revolutionary War from the book. Instead he wrote with intentions of telling his son about his past and giving wisdom towards self improvement.
Benjamin began his own religion when he became disenchanted with the religions around him. He also developed a debating club or philosophy group to gather forward thinkers about him. Part of self improvement to Benjamin was the betterment of society. Therefore, he began the first library in America as well as the first Fire Department, Police Force, and became one of the first Postmaster Generals. He also developed street lights and street sweepers.
As an inventor and scientist, Benjamin discovered ways to harness electricity and designed a stove. He refused to take out a patent for the Franklin Stove because he wanted everyone to have access to it. Benjamin was an avid swimmer. He promoted a healthy lifestyle including fresh air, exercise and a well rounded diet. He discouraged vices such as drinking alcohol.
Josiah Franklin – Benjamin’s father. He fathered seventeen children. Immigrated to America with his first wife, then remarried after he death. Although he was trained as a dyer he discovered the trade was not needed in Boston. So he started a fairly successful business as a tallow – chandler and soap – builder. His original intention was to give Benjamin to the church as a sort of tithe for the many sons granted to him by God. But, when Benjamin’s desire did not go that way, but towards books, Josiah tried to find him another occupation. With such a large family he was unable to afford college for Benjamin so he tried him out with his oldest son in the printing business.
Josiah loved his sons and was frightened that would join the navy or work on ships. The occupation was extremely dangerous and took children away never to return. He wanted his sons to have a solid occupation and stay near. He encouraged his children and kept a small library of mostly religious texts that Benjamin read often.
Deborah Read – Benjamin’s wife. He met her while he was boarding in her father’s house when he moved to Philadelphia at seventeen. Four years later, Benjamin was considering marriage, but most girls thought a printer would not be a good prospective husband. He began courting Miss Read, but then left for London on what he thought was a short business venture. Since Benjamin spent eighteen months there her friends convinced her the engagement was off. So she married another man, only to discover he already had a wife. She was very unhappy so she left her husband, who moved to the Caribbean. When Benjamin returned to Philadelphia she was free again and the two married. She was a very good mate to him and helpful in his endeavors. She was instrumental in helping him start the first libraries.
Benjamin Franklin Biography
Born January 17, 1706 Benjamin Franklin was a genius. He was learned in a huge variety of subjects and was constantly at work on self improvement. Benjamin was never idle. He left school at the age of twelve because he had achieved all they were able to teach him. Then he apprenticed with his father but was so restless that his father sent him to apprentice with his older brother, James where he learned the printing trade. He also began writing for the newspaper his brother printed. Since he was only twelve, he wrote under a pseudonym.
By the time he was seventeen, he had reached the pinnacle he could learn with his brother and left for Philadelphia where he put his printing skill to use building a career. He began a newspaper and used his writing to influence public opinion.
Benjamin became a leading author of his time. He was also a political theorists, a politician and a freemason. As a scientist he discovered and began to harness electricity among other things. As an inventor he made the Franklin stove, but refused to take a patent on his invention so it would be readily available to the public.
Benjamin was an advocate for education for women. He believed that learning math would be more useful than dancing to a women if she becomes a widow. He also advocated education for slaves. During his time in England he became an abolitionist. By 1770 he had freed all his slaves and began to attack the institution of slavery.
In his drive for self improvement, Benjamin became very active in improving his environment. He was very active in his community and started the first professional fire department, as well as raising funds for a police department. He also invented and raised funds for street lights and organized street sweepers. Benjamin began the first library in America and wrote the charter for the University of Philadelphia. These are just a few of the many projects he was instrumental in.
One of his most notable achievements was as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was on the committee for the Declaration of Independence and helped to procure supplies for the military. He was also an ambassador to England in an attempt to prevent the war. The Congress of the Confederation appointed him as their first Minister to Sweden. Then the Continental Congress appointed him as their first Minister to France. He became the first Postmaster General of the new nation, and before that the Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly.
Benjamin Franklin lived to be 84 years old at a time when the life expectancy was much less. He was very active in politics and his community throughout his life. His list of accomplishments is astounding. He was buried in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia and about twenty thousand people attended his funeral. Philadelphia has five thousand likenesses of Benjamin Franklin, and his face is on the hundred dollar bill.