Benjamin Franklin is often called the “father“ of America, the fabulous American, or “the first American”, or as a anonymous reporter from 1856 wrote in the New York Times that Franklin “was the incarnation of the true American character… Franklin was the true type of the pure, noble, republican feeling of America“(Huang p.31). Born as the son of a soap and candle maker in 1706 he then became one of the most famous Americans in his time and is even today well known, he is the embodiment of the American dream, from the dishwasher to the millionaire. Franklin was also an inventor, writer and philosopher, furthermore he was the first American who was international honoured and respected as politician and scientist. He was also “the only leading American who signed all four of the major documents that laid the foundation of the republic: the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Treaties of Alliance (1778), the Peace Treaty between Great Britain and the United States (1783), and the Constitution of the United States (1787)” (Huang, p.37). But was is it that made him “the first American”? Which are the “American” attributes that Franklin embodies and in how far can one read these attributes and attitudes in Franklin’s autobiography and other writings? Was it his liberal and democratic sense, his belief in science and in progress that made him ahead of his time? Did his attributes shape the following generations and characterize the American Way even in nowadays? Is that the reason to say Benjamin Franklin is the first American? In his autobiography he describes his life in his own words and it is impressive how much attributes that are today considered to be American can be found autobiography and in some other writings of him. So the focus will be the search for similarities between Franklin’s “character” and the so called Americanness or thing that are supposed to American.
The first very American thing about Benjamin Franklin is his way from rags to riches, it is also the first thing that comes to one’s mind when thinking about America. He fulfilled “the” American Dream. He was born as the son of a soap and candle maker and became one of the most famous Americans at his, and even still in our time. But of course his fame, and wealth didn’t fall from the sky, it was his work ethic, his self-reliance, his self-education, and his endurance that brought him that far. This work ethic, and endurance is very American, and an example for “Americanness”. In his autobiography one can easily recognize that Franklin is always working hard, trying to educate himself as far as possible, and to outperform others. In his time as a printer’s apprentice he tried to read every book he could as one can read in his autobiography; “ Often I sat up in my room reading the greatest part of the night, when a book was borrow’d in the evening and to be return’d early in the morning” (lemay p.10). He even started a Vegetable Diet in order to save money for books: “…and then propos’d to my Brother, that if he would give me Weekly half the Money he paid for my Board I would board my self. He instantly agreed to it, and I presently found that I could save half what he paid me. This was an additional Fund for buying Books.”(lemay p.12-13). But not only that Franklin read a lot, he was also always trying to be better than others, to outperform them, as one can see when Franklin tells about the conversations with his friend John Collins, Franklin’s father remarked that Ben lacks in “elegance of expression, in method and in perspicuity” (lemay p.11). Franklin immediately starts to imitate the excellent writing from a volume of the Spectator in order to improve his style of writing, and to get a “tolerable English writer” (lemay p.12). Franklin did not only want to excel in his writing but also in his rhetoric. He was for instance very interested in the Socratic Method of dispute. “And soon after I procur’d Xenophon’s Memorable Things of Socrates, wherein there are many Instances of the Same Method. I was charm’d with it, adopted it, dropt my abrupt Contradiction, and positive Argumentation, and put on the humble Enquirer and Doubter. […] I found this Method safest for my self and very embarrassing to those against I used it, therefore I took a Delight in it, practis’d it continually and grew very artful and expert in drawing People even of superior Knowledge into concessions the Consequences of which they did not foresee, entangling them in Difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining Victories that neither my self nor my Cause always deserved.” (lemay p.13). This quote shows how much Franklin was into improving himself, he adopted the Socratic method in an instant, and even improved it so that he was able to convince people even though they were superior or maybe right. This self education shows Franklin’s work ethic and attempt to outperform others. And exactly this work ethic and attitude makes the difference, it characterizes Franklin, and it is also characteristic for the Americans. It also shows that anyone can make it in the American society, with enough patience, endurance, and of course a lot of work everything is possible, what leads us again to the term “American Dream” and to the saying that everything is possible.