Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston as the son of a candle maker. From humble beginnings, he grew into a renowned figure of American history. “He became famous for being a scientist, an inventor, a statesman, a printer, a philosopher, a musician, and an economist”. Today, Americans recognize him for being one of our Founding Fathers and a prominent citizen of the city of Philadelphia. In his autobiography, Franklin shows that he desired self-improvement and in pursuit of this goal focused on improvements of four different types: intellectual, moral, business, and social.
Franklin’s intellectual improvements were numerous. As a child, he had a thirst for knowledge. He exhibited a readiness to learn and read at an early age, and while in school, he rose to the head of his class and then skipped a grade. After Franklin’s father pointed out that he had a poor manner of writing, Franklin resolved to improve not only his manner of writing but also his arrangement of thoughts in his written work. His ambition was to become a good English writer. In his young age, he also was intent on improving his language and when he got older he taught himself French, Italian, Spanish, and Latin. He used the library as a means of improvement by constant study of one to two hours per day here. Franklin went to great lengths to achieve moral improvement. As a young man, Franklin developed a plan regulating his future conduct in life that he adhered to even in his old age. He wrote a list of moral characters that he would like to possess such as temperance, frugality, and humility. He had thirteen categories in all that he wrote down in a book to carry with him.
He had a separate column for each day of the week. He would pull out the book and mark which virtues he felt he had committed a fault in that day so that he may examine them and improve upon them. During the course of this practice, Franklin said that he found himself fuller of faults than he would have thought, but he had the satisfaction of seeing those faults diminish. His actions also showed that he strove for moral perfection. He thought excessive drinking was a detestable habit and abstained from doing so when his coworkers drank all day long. He spent no time in taverns, playing games, or displaying antics of any kind. He also believed in the importance of frugality and did his best to save money on housing. During the eighteen months he lived in London, he worked hard and spent little on himself except for the occasional play or book. It was his practice of frugality that lead to his wealth and distinction later in life. Benjamin Franklin had a Quaker friend that pointed out that he thought that Franklin had a problem with pride and so Franklin endeavored to be more humble.
He attributed his humility, or sometimes his appearance of humility, with allowing him to hold so much weight with his fellow citizens. Franklin also strove for truth, sincerity, and integrity in all of his business dealings. Not only did Franklin improve intellectually and morally but he also made improvements in business. In little time after becoming an apprentice to his brother, he exhibited great proficiency in the printing business. He was able to take a failing newspaper and make it profitable by developing a better type and better print which led to an increase in the number of subscribers. He made a mold to be used in printing houses to combat the problem of equipment deficiencies. He also made a copper press to print paper money. He filled the spaces in Poor Richard’s Almanac with proverbial sentences for the benefit of its readers. Similarly, he made use of newspapers to communicate instruction. Franklin also contributed greatly to social improvements in his day.
He formed a club of mutual improvement called JUNTO. He started the Philadelphia public library which was an institution that was imitated by other towns. He laid the ground work for a more effective city watch and started the first fire company. He established a Philosophical Society in Pennsylvania and also an academy that grew into the University of Pennsylvania. He invented a more efficient and economical stove known as the Franklin stove. He helped in the establishing of a hospital in Philadelphia and also in streets being paved.
Franklin was generally successful in his attempts at self-improvement, excelling from an early age. He attempted to be the best person he could be and genuinely desired to help others. He convinced coworkers to stop drinking and spend their money of food instead and also loaned money to them. He loaned money to his friends, Collins and Ralph, even though they took advantage of him and never repaid their debts. He recognized that Keimer was only using him to train his workers and then was going to fire him, yet Franklin still cheerfully put Keimer’s printing house in order. Franklin was also always eager to help young beginners. He further demonstrated that he was not a self-promoter when he had a chance for a better business deal but declined because of the obligations he felt he had with his current partners.
Franklin has long been revered as one of the great figures of American history. As a Founding Father, he was instrumental in the early days of shaping the American government. Throughout his lifetime, he strove for improvement in intellectual, moral, business, and social areas and was successful in his attempts in each of these areas. He was a benevolent individual who desired to help others, and he authored his autobiography in the hope that posterity would follow his example and reap the same benefits
Benjamin Franklin: Glimpses of the Man. 1994. The Franklin Institute Science Museum. http://www.fi.edu/franklin/ (accessed June 4, 2012).
Franklin, Benjamin. 1909. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Ed. Charles W. Eliot. New York: P F Collier & Son Company.
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