Benjamin Franklin in his Autobiography and in Edmund S. Morgan’s Biography Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin was the first American hero. He was essential in formulating America’s cause and his role in the peace negotiations with England made him an idol for generations. In his Autobiography the reader can follow the course of his life until his 30th birthday. Although he does not give any accounts on his role in achieving American Independence, his work delivers a good impression on his character. Nevertheless, to understand Franklin more thoroughly it is essential to consider a modern biography about him. In comparison to the Autobiography which lays stress on his attitude and principles towards life, Edmund S. Morgan’s work Benjamin Franklin estimates his achievements for America by using these principles as an explanation for his success.
When comparing Franklin’s own story about his life with any other biography, we have to take into account whom he addresses with his writing. The first part of the Autobiography is dedicated to his son William and is written while the old man is on a political mission in England in 1771. Unlike Morgan’s Benjamin Franklin, published in 2002 and written for a broad audience, Franklin did not explicitly address the public with the first part of his work. Even though the Autobiography has by today been published and distributed all over the world, it is crucial to consider that its initial purpose was only to inform his son.
Benjamin Franklin’s life until his 30th birthday (this is where the last and fourth part of his Autobiography ends) is therefore described differently in the two books.
One of the important differences is that Franklin in the first part of his work lays a lot of stress on his profession as a printer and how he became one while Morgan’s book seems to neglect the events before his 18th birthday. Morgan does not mention how Franklin got into his job, but begins with a description of his first trip to England. In the Autobiography we have to jump to about the middle of part one to hear about this voyage. This conveys a lot about the emphasis that Franklin lays on his childhood and youth, being formative years for him.
Franklin himself tells us about the apprenticeship at his brother’s shop, how he set up his own printing business and how his paper eventually becomes important in directing the attention of highly respected community members to him:
Another [effect] was, that the leading Men, seeing a News Paper now in the hands of one who could also handle a Pen, thought it convenient to oblige & encourage me.
The first mentioning of Franklin’s printer business in Morgan’s work, however, is difficult to determine. In contrast, he more often and more vehemently stresses the importance of Franklin’s alteration from his own curiosities (such as his scientific studies with, for example, electricity) to a dedication to public service, which arose out of his job as a printer. Morgan observes that “the pursuit of scientific knowledge was not his goal in life and […] public service was more important”.
 Franklin (1771): 27
 Morgan (2002: 1)
 Franklin (1771: 75)
 Morgan (2002: 45)