Ben Franklin and Alexis de Toqueville

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Tanner Clarke
Mr. Poitinger
AP US History- DYAD
3 August 2012
Two Outlooks of the American Culture
Though their descriptions are fifty years separated in time; Alexis de Tocqueville and Benjamin Franklin have very similar, but different perspectives of the American culture in the early 1700’s through the mid 1800’s. Franklin explains his life story through his book, the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and describes many things he encounters and learns along the way. De Tocqueville summarizes his observations of the American culture and government in his piece of literature, Democracy in America. In both accounts, each of the two historical men have many ideas that they could agree on, but also some they may debate about because of their two different perspectives. But in the end, each of the two give a vivid description of the American culture back in the colonial era.

One viewpoint that Franklin and de Tocqueville seemed to agree on in the American culture is the equality of men and women. Both Franklin and Tocqueville stated that they believe in somewhat equal rights for women, but their different eras did not share the same agreement. In The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Franklin is telling the reader about how he would have heated debates with a man named John Collins. During one particular debate, Franklin and Collins were arguing over if women should be given the same amount of schooling and learning as everybody else. Franklin said that John Collins, “…was of opinion that it was improper, and that they were naturally unequal to it” (Franklin 11). This opinion by Collins illustrates and shows how women were treated as lower class citizens and that they were not as important to society as men were. On the other hand, de Tocqueville observed women’s equality in the United States differently. He knew that women may not hold the same offices as men and may not have all the same rights, but he also noticed that women were very important to the society. He even states in his work, Democracy in America, that, “…though their [women’s] lot is different, they consider both of them [men and women] as beings of equal value” (Tocqueville, Alexis de). This statement capitalizes on the idea that women are important and equal in their own way. From reading both pieces of literature, one can see the two different perspectives of the American Culture; meaning how women were seen in society.

In addition to the varying outlooks on women’s rights; Franklin and de Tocqueville also had different views on how money influenced the way citizens lived. From Franklin’s point of view, how one manages their money characterizes that person as a whole and shows whether they honor themselves or not. He believes one should control his/ her money and not the other way around. Personally, Franklin was interested in having enough money to do the things he wanted. For example, in his autobiography he says, “[I] propos'd to my Brother, that if he would give me Weekly half the Money he paid for my Board, I would board myself. He instantly agreed to it, and I presently found that I could save half what he paid me. This was an additional Fund for buying Books” (Franklin 6). Franklin did things to please himself and honor himself instead of letting money take over his life. He knew it was essential to make money, but he focused on more important things in life; like reading in his case. De Tocqueville saw a whole different society when he came to America. He noticed how the wages a citizen made and how wealthy they were controlled their lives to high degrees. Money had the power to up and move a whole family from a rural, farm life, to a life in the city where the father would be performing a job that he had no skill in. De Tocqueville even describes some of those situations and says, “These men have generally but little education and industry, with but few resources; they stand, therefore, almost at the mercy of the master” (Tocqueville,...
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