Benjamin Franklin: the Enlightenment Figure

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Cameron Geiss Geiss 1 HIST 2111, Wolf
Benjamin Franklin Writing
9/22/09
Benevolent Leader for a Virtuous Nation
There were many people that helped contribute to the Enlightenment, but the most prominent American leader was a well-know political figure named Benjamin Franklin. The Enlightenment, also called the Age of Reason, was period of time when people tried to justify life in terms of scientific theory and rationalism. “The Enlightenment was responsible for inspiring revived interests in education, science, and literature” (“HistoryKing.com”). It also emphasized progression away from traditional customs and foundations that were supposedly restraining modern civilization. These ideas ran throughout the eighteenth century and spurred debates over religious order. During the Enlightenment Benjamin Franklin encouraged changes in the nature of human thought that, consequently, questioned the validity of popular institutions. Philosophy, the inquiry of wisdom, encouraged new ideas based on the principle of natural law. Franklin, an established philosopher, inventor, printer, author, scientist, and visionary, was well-known for his contributions during the Age of Reason. In his autobiography Franklin detailed the significant strides he made to further his education and writing abilities, because he believed that “self-education, self-improvement, self-discipline were the constituent parts of the self-made man” (Masur, 16). Franklin’s transcendental calling led him to become a “consummate Enlightenment figure” through his constant pursuit to

Geiss 2 improve mankind through revolutionary social understandings, religious establishment, political development, and new scientific inventions. Franklin’s reputation was well-known in the colonies, especially in Philadelphia, because of the social contributions he made for the betterment of society. He communicated his ideas from his Printing House via newspapers, to which he had many subscribers. Franklin contributed to the Enlightenment by spreading his ideas in society through his creation of the Junto, a private group in which the members shared differing viewpoints on a range of topics. This group discussed “any Point of Morals, Politics or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the Company” (Franklin, 75). Some of the most notable contributions of the Junto include “proposals for a circulating library, a fire company and fire insurance company, and better cleaning and illuminating the streets” (Masur, 6). The “Libraries…made the common Tradesmen & Farmers as intelligent as most Gentlemen from other Countries” (Franklin, 85). The social contributor was aware of his humble upbringing and the success he achieved through education. Franklin ascended to the highest social status and, because of his success, he was compelled to offer others, like himself, the opportunity he had been given. As an effort to support the opportunities of the poor, Franklin came up with the idea to create a free school for children who could not afford the price of most public schools. This institution would have resisted the predestination of poor youth towards future financial dependence, thus creating more social equality. He often thought of the well-being of others and introduced his institutions in support of that goal. Franklin, having been raised in a family with a limited financial status, was aware that education was the primary benefactor contributing

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to his success. Without education, Franklin may have been a labor worker, confined to a lifestyle of the lower or middle class. His newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, “[stimulated] new interests in education, science and literature, and as a consequence many new colleges were founded” (“HistoryKing.com”). He, along with the help of the...
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