In 1771, Ben Franklin began writing his Autobiography to his Son. In Franklin’s Autobiography, he explains to his son, on several different occasions, morality, virtues, and understanding the rules in which God intended us to follow to make us better humans. In this essay, I will point out incidents where Ben Franklin was showing his son instances of morality and virtues to show him how self-restraint gives you freedom. Then I will give my opinion and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these morals and virtues that Franklin has expressed.
Ben Franklin states in his autobiography that we should be “Free, as being, by the general practice and habit of the virtues, free from the dominion of vice” (95). Franklin talks of his best friend John Collins, a Clerk at the Post Office, and how his vice is drinking of alcohol and gaming (34). Franklin was very upset to learn of his childhood friends difficulty with drinking and gaming. He had hoped that they would be able to work together since Collins had a wealth of knowledge from reading and his “pretty” collection of books. Franklin wanted to help Collins, even wanted to take him with him to see the Governor of New York, but Collins was too drunk. Franklin had to support Collins, including paying his rent. Finally, Franklin let Collins know that he would have to take care of himself, and Collins, after an argument with Franklin, which ended up with Collins being thrown in a river by Franklin, decided to go to Barbados, never to be heard from again.
Franklin also reasons with the printers to stop their vice, their custom of drinking at work. He tries reasoning with them and tries to convince them “that the bodily strength afforded by beer could only be in proportion to the grain or flour of the barley dissolved in the water of which it was made; that there was more flour in a pennyworth of bread; and therefore, if he would eat that with a pint of water, it would give him more strength than a quart of beer” (46). He explains to them that having good moral character and good virtues is what he encourages these men to do by pointing it out to them how possible it is to be virtuous, and encouraged them to make themselves better men by following the virtues that he follows.
Ben Franklin stated in order to be free we should practice industry and frugality, and be free from debt (95). Franklin practiced this on a daily basis. He states that “I took care not only to be in reality industrious and frugal, but to avoid all appearances to the contrary” (66). He believed that by dressing plainly, staying out of “places of idle diversion” (66), living within your means, and following the same schedule day in and day out was beneficial to his success. Franklin was the first to admit he was not perfect. He struggled with the virtue of Order, and when he got frustrated with the perfection of this virtue, he was ready to admit that he had a faulty character in that respect, and says “for something, that pretended to be reason, was every now and then suggesting to me that such extreme nicety as I exacted of myself might be a kind of foppery in morals, which, if it were known, would make me ridiculous; that a perfect character might be attended with the inconvenience of being envied and hated; and that a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself, to keep his friends in countenance” (89). He does give himself a pat on the back for giving it his best effort and says he is a better man for trying.
In our every day lives, we struggle with self-restraint. We often wonder why can’t we have this or that whenever or where ever we want it. We have to use self-restraint every day in order to keep our lives in order. If we were to indulge in everything we wanted, we would be prisoners to others. People would hold what we wanted and manipulate us into doing things we didn’t want to do just so that we can...