The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

Public Projects, Communality, and Civic Duty Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Industriousness Theme Icon
Vanity and Humility Theme Icon
Error and Correction Theme Icon
Self-Improvement and Self-Education Theme Icon
Public Projects, Communality, and Civic Duty Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Public Projects, Communality, and Civic Duty Theme Icon

Benjamin Franklin is remembered in the United States as one the country’s founding fathers for good reason. Among his many civic achievements described in the Autobiography are the founding of Philadelphia's (and the country’s) first public lending library, the first company of firemen, a graduated property tax, Philadelphia’s first paved roads, the University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania’s first public hospital, public lighting, and one of the first plans for a union of the 13 colonies in case of a need for defense.

Franklin is concerned, even in religious matters, that his activities and the public activities encouraged by government produce good citizens—citizens capable of improving themselves and the lives of others through their industry. After all, what good is self-improvement or personal vanity if their fruits are not later used to assist others? Franklin describes how he undertook this assistance through public service as a statesmen, military leader, and scientist in what he likes to call “the Age of Experiments.”

Public Projects, Communality, and Civic Duty ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Public Projects, Communality, and Civic Duty appears in each section of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
Section length:
Get the entire Autobio of Ben Franklin LitChart as a printable PDF.
The autobiography of benjamin franklin.pdf.medium

Public Projects, Communality, and Civic Duty Quotes in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Below you will find the important quotes in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin related to the theme of Public Projects, Communality, and Civic Duty.
Part 1 Quotes

That felicity, when I reflected on it, has induced me sometimes to say, that were it offered to my choice, I should have no objection to a repetition of the same life from its beginning, only asking the advantages authors have in a second edition to correct some faults of the first. So I might, besides correcting the faults, change some sinister accidents and events of it for others more favorable.

Related Characters: Benjamin Franklin (speaker)
Related Symbols: Errata
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, beginning the second paragraph of the book, Benjamin Franklin says he would be content with reliving his life over again--though he would enjoy having the ability to edit or delete certain faults, errors, and accidents of his history.

Here, Franklin reveals a deep satisfaction with his own life, as well as an affirmation of life against death. He acknowledges his desire to revise and correct certain mistakes and events, but more powerfully claims that he would willingly choose to live his life over again despite these. In a way, Franklin's desire to revise his life (like a printer revises a second printing after checking for errata) doesn't seem to be motivated by wanting more pleasure for his life, but rather to correct the faults and errors he has committed so as to become more virtuous and industrious.


Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

My brother’s discharge was accompany’d with an order of the House (a very odd one), that “James Franklin should no longer print the paper called the New England Courant.”

Related Characters: Benjamin Franklin (speaker), James Franklin
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Having served his jail sentence for publishing a controversial political piece in The New England Courant, Benjamin Franklin's brother James has been forbidden to continue printing the newspaper. Benjamin supposes that James's imprisonment was due to his refusal to reveal the author of the piece. During his brother's confinement, Benjamin managed the paper, and made sure to write pieces in it that criticized the Assembly responsible for incriminating James.

Here, we see the strict censorship of early eighteenth century Boston, and the authoritarian nature of the Assembly's power with regard to policing public discourse. Further, James's right to refuse revealing the author's name was not considered--such a right did not exist at the time. Yet, while the Assembly deemed James's conduct as an error in need of correction, Benjamin saw through the Assembly's 'arbitrary' power, and sought to criticize their 'correction' through his own political writings.

Part 2 Quotes

It will moreover present a table of the internal circumstances of your country, which will very much tend to invite to it settlers of virtuous and manly minds.

Related Characters: Benjamin Vaughn (speaker)
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs in section two of the autobiography, in Benjamin Vaughan's letter.

Vaughan is trying to convince Benjamin Franklin to continue writing his autobiography, believing that it will paint a portrait of New England life which will attract people with virtue and intellect similar to Franklin's. Reading about New England through the lens of Franklin's mind may attract people who might see America in a similar light. Vaughan sees Franklin as the perfect person for introducing New England to the world; he's the ideal combination of industriousness, humility, ingenuity, and passion--those qualities which make up the prototype of a productive citizen invested in bettering himself and his society.

It will be so far a sort of key to life, and explain many things that all men ought to have once explained to them, to give them a chance of becoming wise by foresight.

Related Characters: Benjamin Vaughn (speaker)
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

Continuing the sentiments of the previous quote, Benjamin Vaughan believes that the autobiography will be a source of education for many people. Benjamin Franklin's principled way of conducting himself, and his wide variety of experiences--from his poverty to his extraordinary wealth, his political participation, travels, free-thinking, and many innovations--will inspire and inform people in a way that will prepare them in advance--give them wisdom by foresight--to successfully deal with future hardships and obstacles. Franklin's story proves that poverty (in some cases at least) doesn't necessarily limit one's future; it also provides a method for achieving "moral perfection," and it discusses the nature of human relations at large. As such, it's a vehicle for the reader's self-improvement.

Part 3 Quotes

I have always thought that one man of tolerable abilities may work great changes, and accomplish great affairs among mankind, if he first forms a good plan, and, cutting off all amusements or other employments that would divert his attention, makes the execution of that same plan his sole study and business.

Related Characters: Benjamin Franklin (speaker)
Page Number: 107-8
Explanation and Analysis:

Benjamin Franklin says this after discussing his project of forming The Society of the Free and Easy, a society to be composed of the "good men of all nations."

Franklin's sense of industriousness and dedication to his work--no matter the magnitude of its requirements--shines out in this passage. Franklin's philosophy about how to achieve one's goals doesn't begin by saying that one must have so much talent that the ascertainment of any goal be effortless; rather, he says that a tolerable or average ability is sufficient to achieve great things. He doesn't see the need to work hard at something as necessarily correlated with lack of aptitude; rather, he seems to view achievement as the process of enduring hard work which leads to self-improvement. Seen as a process, self-improvement is almost a never-ending goal. 

Further, Franklin believes that the most effective way to achieve one's goals is to clearly plan them out and refrain from engaging with anything that might serve as obstacles. Perhaps this is also an element of the hard work that goes into self-improvement: stopping those behaviors, habits, and activities that distract one from more meaningful but perhaps more difficult things.

When I disengaged myself, as above mentioned, from private business, I flatter’d myself that, by the sufficient tho’ moderate fortune I had acquir’d, I had secured leisure during the rest of my life for philosophical studies and amusements… but the publick, now considering me as a man of leisure, laid hold of me for their purposes, every part of our civil government, and almost at the same time, imposing some duty upon me.

Related Characters: Benjamin Franklin (speaker)
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

Having given over the management of his printing business to David Hall, Benjamin Franklin thought he would be able to dedicate most of his time to purely intellectual pursuits. Here, however, he tells us that much of his time would be soon taken up performing civil service instead. 

Franklin reveals a strong sense of civic duty and community involvement here. Besides his own willingness to perform roles in public office, there's a sense that the community expected him to--that the community, aware of Franklin's ingenuity and industriousness, felt him to be an indispensible staple to the workings of things. It seems that, for Franklin, retirement is not an option for him--but he also might agree that complete retirement should never be an option for anyone, and that everyone should maintain an involvement in public affairs and the greater good.

Thus, if you teach a poor young man to shave himself, and keep his razor in order, you may contribute more to the happiness of his life than in giving him a thousand guineas. The money may be soon spent, the regret only remaining of having foolishly consumed it; but in the other case, he escapes the frequent vexation of waiting for barbers, and of their sometimes dirty fingers, offensive breaths, and dull razors; he shaves when most convenient to him, and enjoys daily the pleasure of its being done with a good instrument.

Related Characters: Benjamin Franklin (speaker)
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

After having described his innovative plan for keeping the streets of London and Westminster clean, Benjamin Franklin gives us this anecdote.

This quotes further reveals Benjamin Franklin's philosophy of industriousness--that it is much more important to acquire lasting skills and good habits than to seek satisfaction in temporary or material pleasures. To start of with a lot of money but little skill will not get one very far; knowledge and routine must be established in order for one to enjoy the freedom of independence and the satisfaction of self-sufficiency--qualities which support the pursuit and maintenance of wealth. The work of self-improvement leads to lasting pleasure, despite the investment of effort required--as opposed to the instantaneous and temporary pleasure made possible by the finite resource of money.

The British government, not chusing to permit the union of the colonies as propos’d at Albany, and to trust that union with their defense, lest they should thereby grow too military, and feel their own strength, suspicions and jealousies at this time being entertain’d of them, sent over General Braddock with two regiments of regular English troops for that purpose.

Related Characters: Benjamin Franklin (speaker)
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:

The British government, denying the proposed union of the colonies--which commissioners (including Benjamin Franklin) from each colony had drafted in Albany--has sent English troops to New England in order to satisfy the colonies' need for a military power to defend against the Indians (and to have an excuse to tax America). Franklin intimates that this is also a gesture aimed at intimidating the colonies, as the British government is suspicious of New England growing an independent military power.

Franklin's keen sense of diplomatic and military relations continues revealing itself here. He understands England's fear that a union of the colonies may allow them an independence that could threaten British power. England is painted as a force of vanity, concerned with regulating the American economy and maintaining its revenue from taxation, rather than a genuine force that acts out of practical or strategic concern for America's growth.

One paper, which I wrote for Mr. Kinnersley, on the sameness of lightning with electricity, I sent to Dr. Mitchel, an acquaintance of mine, and one of the members also of that society [the Royal Society], who wrote me word that it had been read, but was laughed at by the connoisseurs.

Related Characters: Benjamin Franklin (speaker)
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

The paper to which Benjamin Franklin refers in this quote is one where he argues for the sameness of electricity with lightning.

Franklin's sense of confidence in his own thinking and innovation is humbly shown to us here. He paints the "connoisseurs" as vain and unimaginative people who cannot look past their current beliefs in order to consider the possible truth behind Franklin's new theory. That Franklin's theory was "laughed" at shows that even people in very eminent academic positions can lack the decorum and intellectual integrity to consider a radical theory with levelheadedness and open-mindedness. Franklin oozes humility here, considering that his theory would later be proven correct and he would be heralded as a genius for it.

On the whole, I wonder’d much how such a man [Lord Loudoun] came to be entrusted with so important a business as the conduct of a great army; but, having since seen more of the great world, and the means of obtaining, and motives for giving places, my wonder is diminished.

Related Characters: Benjamin Franklin (speaker), Lord Loudoun
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

After describing Lord Loudoun's indeciveness and irresponsibility in directing several 'paquets' (or mail, freight, and passenger transportation boats), Benjamin Franklin makes this remark about his own lack of surprise that an incompetent person like Loudoun can come to occupy such an eminent position as General.

Here is another one of the few instances of Franklin's pessimism in the autobiography. Like his belief that the mistakes of history are commonly repeated, this passage reveals his sense of wisdom about the corrupt and haphazard ways people acquire positions and offices of great authority. Franklin is taken aback by Loudoun's incompetence, but at the same time, based on his experiences traveling the world and meeting many people, he is after all not so shocked.