From a young age, Benjamin Franklin's livelihood depended upon language. From his first job as an apprentice printer to his last as a founding father, Franklin was a prolific writer who both shaped and communicated his own beliefs through newspapers, periodicals, books, letters and public addresses. His political speeches, ethical essays and witticisms helped him reach the nation's inner circle where he made an indelible mark on U.S. history.
Benjamin Franklin on Religion
Born to a Puritan family in 1706, Franklin's early religious upbringing was couched in Calvinism. His parents believed in doing good works and helping others. Along with their staunch religious beliefs, they valued a strong work ethic, which Franklin would actualize throughout his life.
However, he was an intellectual with a curious mind. As an enlightened adult, he no longer believed in the judgmental, stern God of the Puritan faith. Instead, the God he worshipped was benevolent and helpful. In his letter to the Continental Congress in 1787, Franklin referred to God and "the Father of lights" and "a Superintending providence in our favor."
In a 1790 letter to Ezra Stiles, the president of Yale, Franklin wrote that the fundamentals of his religion included a belief in God as the supreme deity and creator and a commitment to serving others as the way to serve God. In a 1790 letter to Ezra Stiles, the president of Yale, Franklin wrote that the fundamentals of his religion included a belief in God as the supreme deity and creator and a commitment to serving others as the way to serve God. He also said he believed God would ultimately judge him by how he had lived his life.He also said he believed God would ultimately judge him by how he had lived his life.
Franklin believed that good ethics were essential to living a good life. In his autobiography, he made a list of 13 virtues he tried to live by. They included temperance in food and drink, silence, order, resolution, industry, frugality, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity and humility.
Although he wrote that he never quite accomplished all the virtues on his list, he did say that the effort itself made him a better person. He said he was a happier man than if he had never challenged himself to be virtuous.
Benjamin Franklin on Education
A lifelong advocate for education, Benjamin Franklin laid the groundwork for the nation's first university. Although he only had two years of formal education as a child, he strongly believed in the value of learning, as he wrote in his "Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania" of 1747. He said that education is the "foundation of happiness" for families and society. He proposed that handwriting, drawing, arithmetic, accounts, geometry astronomy and English grammar should be the primary courses of study along with history and geography.
Benjamin Franklin's Unique Brand of Humor
Franklin instilled his annual publication, Poor Richard's Almanack, with wit and humor. His readers were mainly colonists with little education, and in the persona of Poor Richard, he set out to reach these common folk.
Franklin's comments on life, wealth, family and folly in the Almanack were not always wholly original, but they took on the character of colonial America through Franklin's reworking. "Lost time is never found again," "haste makes waste" and "a right heart exceeds all," are some of Poor Richard's sayings that provide insight into the author's character as well as the practical views of his day.
Benjamin Franklin and the Enlightenment
Franklin, having spent many years in England and France, was certainly influenced by the Enlightenment, an 18th-century intellectual movement centered in Europe. Touting the importance of reason and revering liberty, tolerance and constitutional government, the Enlightenment put forth many of the same ideals that Franklin expressed in his writing.
In a letter he wrote in 1789, Franklin spoke about liberty, saying the wherever liberty dwells, that is his country. He also expressed his hope that all nations on earth would someday share a love of liberty and a respect for the rights of all people. In his "Petition from the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery," Franklin wrote that liberty in equal portions was the birthright of all mankind.
What Franklin Said About the Constitution
A large part of Benjamin Franklin's wisdom came from his equanimity. Just as he wrote that he struggled to live up to his list of virtues, he was also philosophical about the Constitution. In the notes of a speech he delivered at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, he admitted he did not wholly approve of the document. However, he said that he would "agree to this Constitution" despite what he believed were its faults for the sake of the government.
He went on to vow he would never again mention his objections once the document was signed. In conclusion, Franklin asked the other members of the Convention to do likewise for the good of the country and set down their signatures beside his.