Essay, Research Paper: Benjamin Franklin

Famous People

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Franklin is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in American history.
The numerous advancements contributed by Franklin were made possible by a lot of
work on his part. His outlook is best represented by his famous quote, “Dost
thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made
of.” Franklin did not sway from that philosophy, and spent little time at
leisure, as it was not productive. Franklin’s work ethic, moral outlook, and
constant interest in self-improvement throughout his life are his biggest claims
to fame. Franklin’s strict adherence to his thirteen virtues-which he created
in his pursuit of moral perfection-is responsible for many of his countless
contributions to the colonies. Very important to Franklin’s life, was the
little book he carried on his person at all times. In this book, he charted on a
day to day basis, which virtues he had not obeyed, and marked a check for each
mistake. Franklin set aside one week per virtue, and ordered his virtues such
that whenever perfection in a virtue was attained, it would make achieving the
following virtue easier. Franklin found that he had much to improve upon.
Another ingredient to Franklin’s recipe for greatness was his daily schedule.
Franklin divided his day up by the hour and knew what he was to be doing at all
times. This he found difficult at times, and involving the virtue Order, at one
time he almost gave up. In one of Franklin's few pessimistic moments, he is
quoted as saying, “This article (order) therefore cost me so much painful
attention, and my faults in it vexed me so much…that I was almost ready to
give up the attempt and content myself with a faulty character in that
respect.” An amusing anecdote about a man who concludes that “a speckled axe
is best” follows, and in looking back on his life, Franklin demonstrates his
mastery of the thirteenth virtue, Humility. Even before he set his thirteen
virtues to writing, Franklin could be seen demonstrating many of them. In one
instance involving his friend Collins, Franklin demonstrates Resolution,
Justice, and Sincerity. During a voyage, Collins refuses to row, and Franklin
resolves to perform what he must. An argument ensued, and Franklin, knowing that
Collins was a good swimmer, decided the only course of action would be to throw
him overboard. He was in a clear state of mind the whole time, and did
absolutely nothing that he would regret later on. Temperance was also a virtue
that Franklin had practiced his entire life. He was never a heavy drinker, and
always ate in moderation. Franklin prided himself on being an excellent debater,
and while creating his virtues, he added Silence as a guide to others explaining
one reason he was such an excellent crafter of argument. “2. Silence- Speak
not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.”
Franklin means for others not to get caught up in petty squabbles, but rather to
speak only to that which is important, and when doing so, only to benefit the
other party. When you mix the Silence virtue with the Sincerity virtue, which
Franklin is quoted as meaning “Use no harmful deceit. Think innocently and
justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.” you will become well respected,
and a very powerful arguer. Franklin himself was both, and through trials,
tribulations, and experience, sets forth these very useful tools of debate. The
two virtues that Franklin was exceptionally good at were Industry and Frugality.
“6. Industry- Lose not time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off
all unnecessary actions.” There was not one time after his childhood during
which Franklin was not employed, or at the very least, seeking work. The little
leisure time Franklin allowed himself was spent in the pursuit of
self-education, by reading books or engaging in conversation or argument with a
friend. During most of his life he held down many jobs throughout the city, and
had other money coming in from the numerous print shops he had gone into
partnership and paid the overhead costs for. “5. Frugality- Make no expence
but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.” Most of the money
Franklin spent went to improving his business or buying a few books, which was
the only leisure he allowed himself. However, even Franklin himself made
mistakes, an example being an excursion with his friend Ralph, to London. He was
sent by the governor with the promise of enough money to set up his own printing
press. Unfortunately for Franklin, the governor backed out of his end of the
deal. He eventually found work, but worked himself into a debt spending money on
seeing plays, and dining with his greedy friend. They eventually separated on
less than good terms, and Franklin never saw the money Ralph owed him.
Franklin’s view on the situations is as follows, “…and by the loss of his
friendship, I found myself relieved from a heavy burden.” While the preceding
statement may seem harsh, Franklin is very much justified in saying it, and
accurately demonstrates the economical worth he placed on everything he
encountered. In conclusion, Franklin’s life was shaped by these thirteen
virtues, and he rarely swayed from the moral path they lit. There is no single
virtue that can be selected, and thought of as less important than the rest. The
fame and fortune of such a man as Franklin, who followed these thirteen
guidelines in his journey to become a morally perfect man, is proof enough that
his system worked, and still would work today. However, Franklin’s virtues,
which he claimed were “necessary or desirable”, were set by him and for him.
An individual must choose the path down which they wish to trod, and follow it
without hesitation. Franklin’s virtues can be appreciated and respected, but
how realistically, in today’s society, can they all possibly be attained?

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