Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography. The work of a selfish man?

Essay 2002 5 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography – The work of a selfish man?

Benjamin Franklin was one of the most famous and important participants in the American Revolution of the 1760’s to 1780’s. Like 55 other important political figures of that time, he was a delegate of the Continental Congress who signed the Declaration of Independence. He is the author of many valuable maxims that are used in everyday conversations still today[1]. Without doubt – Franklin is one of the first celebrities and most remembered political figures in US history. He had an enormous impact on the new American self-confidence and, even more important, the American way of life. But when looking at his Autobiography, many people argue that it does not include any reference to his achievements for society. In contrast, it is stated that these works seem to be revolving only around the events that had a purpose for him personally. Is Franklin a mere egoist or someone who cares about others, too?

The first evidence of Franklin mentioning aid to others in the Autobiography is assistance to the “Tallow-Chandler and Soap-Boiler” (Franklin, 542) job of his father. Like all children in the 18th century he is involved in work for the family. This is not surprising, yet. Besides, he learns in his childhood, that “nothing was useful which was not honest” (Franklin, 543). If we look at honesty as a part of respecting and also helping people, Franklin therefore must have been taught mature behavior at an early age.

His working career starts when he is still a kid. Franklin’s inclinations are to become a printer. From the age of 12 on, he does an apprenticeship at his brother’s business. Franklin tells us about his time there: “In a little time I made great proficiency in the Business, and became a useful hand to my Brother” (Franklin, 545). Once again, it is not only pure self-interest that makes a difference in his life. This is even more evident by the fact that he obviously wrote his Autobiography many years later; still, he regards part of his apprenticeship as being “a useful hand to his brother”. And Franklin seems to have taken the advices of his family members for granted, too:

[…] my Father happened to find my papers, and read them. Without entering into the discussion, he took occasion to talk to me about the manner of my Writing […] I saw the Justice of his Remarks, and thence grew more attentive to the Manner in Writing, and determined to endeavor at Improvement. (Franklin, 546)

Although the future signer of the Declaration of Independence is seeking to improve his own abilities, he does not totally rely on himself only. This piece of advice from his father might have had an influence on his future writing style, too.


[1] I.e. his statements in the Almanac; the most famous are brought together in The Way To Wealth


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
445 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
Sewanee the University of the South
Benjamin Franklin Autobiography English American Literature



Title: Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography. The work of a selfish man?