Keene State College, Spring ‘12
Ben Franklin, nicknamed ‘The First American’ (Waldstreicher, 9) played several crucial roles in the early development of our country during the 1700’s. "Printer, philosopher, scientist, author, and patriot, impeccable husband and citizen ... Benjamin was one of the greatest pioneers of the United States.” (Lawrence, 20) From lighting streets to printing newspapers to starting libraries to wooing foreign heads of state to helping form a new nation, Franklin changed the world around him for the better continually. Yet contrary to popular culture in modern America, fame and fortune are not the primary drivers of his ambition. Rather it a simpler obsession with practical contribution and self-betterment. And most importantly to him, his tireless pursuit to improve the world around him helps creates a much safer, freer, more prosperous way of life for the American colonists and all future generations. As he wrote to his mother in 1750, “I would rather have it said, he lived usefully, than He died rich.”(Morgan, 29) From a young age, Franklin was a very deep thinker and a natural leader. “He had that rare capacity for surprise that has made possible so many advances in human knowledge, the habit of not taking things for granted, the ability to look at some everyday occurrence and wonder why.” (Morgan, 5) As the 15th of 17 kids, Ben was the youngest son of the youngest son for the five generations. As early as grammar school we see Franklin’s focus on self-improvement. “I had risen gradually from the middle of the class that year to the Head of it.” (Franklin, 33) Franklin’s upbringing was ideal for a curious mind. His brother James owned a print shop, so his access to books, newspapers, people, and events were remarkable for the son of a Boston candle-maker. “From a Child I was fond of Reading, and all the little Money that came into my Hands was laid out in Books.” (Franklin, 36) Franklin came from a big, humble family so any success was not simply handed to him in aristocratic fashion. Contrary to pompous proprietors of the day like Thomas Penn who had been given land by the King of England, Franklin had to work for it. And work he did. At age 10, Franklin was taken out of school to help his father make candles and soap. He learned much from Josiah including basic business skills and how to debate. But Franklin decided that making candles was not his calling due to the nature of the business, being very repetitive and requiring no reading or writing. Josiah viewed Franklin as being quite bookish, so he went to work with his brother, James, to help with his printing business. “In a little time I made great Proficiency in the Business, and became a useful hand to my Brother.” (Franklin, 37) Franklin was beginning to view writing as a tool in which he could express his many ideas and argue his insightful points, and he was also teaching himself how to write better by mimicking other authors. Over time and through his own industriousness, the printing business went on to provide Franklin with travels to New York, Philadelphia, and England, and also made him independently wealthy. But Franklin had far more important issues on his mind other than accumulation of wealth. His family religion was actually an early obstacle in these formative years; it simply did not match up with his view of the world. New England Puritans were a strident bunch, and the Congregational churches throughout Boston delivered sermons that demonized all but the lucky few who experienced Faith through an inner conversion from God. (Morgan, 16) They believed Faith was all that mattered in determining whether your afterlife would be spent in Heaven or in Hell. Franklin found Deism aligned much better with his beliefs. In it, God is benevolent and is shown to Man through good deeds by Him and by the people. Virtue, not Faith, is what matters most to a Deist....
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