The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Part 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Franklin begins Part three with a note that he is beginning it from home (Philadelphia) in August 1788 and that many of his papers were lost during the war. Franklin begins to describe “a great and extensive project which he had conceived” by quoting a scrap of paper with his reading history in May of 1731. It details how “parties” are responsible for the great events of the world rather than singular individuals, and describes how parties form and dissolve.
Now Franklin formalizes some of the opinions about clubs, institutions, and parties that were already implied in his earlier writings on the various organizations he founded and/or participated in. If one man could accomplish so much, Franklin reasoned, then many men working together could achieve gains exponentially greater.
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The note concludes with the observations that a “United Party for Virtue” could bring into effect great good in the world. These notes were the inception of Franklin’s idea, which he added to from time to time. He lays out his religious creed (that there is a God and the best way to serve him is to do good to man) as the creed of the party. His idea was that the party would be open to young single men only at first, that they should both declare their assent to the creed and exercise themselves with a thirteen week virtue-cycle before joining.
Franklin, in his pontificating on the power of parties, seems to forget that institutions like the Presbyterian Church (in which he had so little faith) were founded with similar good intentions to his “United Party for Virtue.” Perhaps Franklin is a bit overly optimistic about the goodness of people or concerning people’s willingness to strive for moral improvement.
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Franklin says they should have been called “The Society for the Free and Easy,” but of course the party never came to be. What he gives in the Autobiography, he says, is as much as he can remember of it except that he shared the idea with two young men who liked it. Franklin reiterates his conviction “…that one man of tolerable abilities may work great changes, and accomplish great affairs among mankind…”
Despite his conviction that the party he describes would have done much to improve the fledgling United States and even the world, Franklin gives little or no explanation of why it never came to be or why he didn’t pursue its founding with same intensity with which he pursued the foundation of other institutions. Perhaps he saw his society as a project for the coming generations.
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In 1732, Franklin first published his almanac (Poor Richard’s Almanac) under the name Richard Saunders and continued it 25 years. He said he wanted it to be entertaining and useful, and it made him a lot of money. He filled it with proverbs to instruct the common people.
Franklin reveals that his penchant for instruction coupled with entertainment (what we see in the Autobiography) has deep roots in his personal history, and that the mixture often produces profit for the mixer.
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Franklin used his newspaper to instruct the people as well. He reprinted excerpts from Samuel Johnson’s Spectator and wrote several small, instructive pieces of his own. He refrained from printing any libel or gossip and refused to fill his paper with private altercations. Other printers, he remarks, were not so scrupulous.
Franklin didn’t see personal profit, moral practice, or education as incompatible spheres. He tried to bring his moral practice to his profitable business and always tried to educate himself and others through their joint application. He might be described as self-congratulatory on these matters, even glib.
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In 1733, Franklin sent one of his workers to Charleston, South Carolina, where there was no printer. He gave the man a press and letters and entered into an agreement of partnership with a one third share of profits. The man kept poor accounts but when his Dutch widow took over (in Holland women were taught to manage accounts) the accounts grew clear and precise. He recommends learning mathematics for American women as it is more useful to them later in life than music or dancing.
Nearly every personal experience, for Franklin, had lessons with potential for broader application or scope. He saw how business practices changed in the hands of a woman with the proper education, knew that women were capable, if not (in his mind) of the same intellectual feats as men, at least of mathematics and accounting, and suggests a progressive change in the nation’s custom and practice.
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Then in 1734 a talented Irish preacher named Hemphill arrived in Philadelphia. Franklin began to attend his sermons and hear him because his preaching was practical and moral, but orthodox Presbyterians disapproved of Hemphill. Franklin defended him and tried to raise a party in his favor when the orthodox party tried to have him officially banned from preaching. He wrote on Hemphill’s behalf.
Franklin was to have several encounters with talented Irish preachers to which he allied himself, his money, and his writing. It seems, even in his middle age, he had enough faith in organized religion to endeavor to improve it for more practical and educational ends.
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It was soon discovered that Hemphill hadn’t written his sermons but rather had memorized the sermons of others. Many of Hemphill’s supporters then abandoned his cause, but Franklin continued with him, thinking it was better to receive good sermons composed by others rather than poor self-made ones. After he was defeated, Hemphill left the congregation and Franklin never joined in it after.
Ever the pragmatist, Franklin almost seems to have believed it didn’t matter that Hemphill hadn’t been the author of his own sermons because the sermons that he hadn’t authored were so much better (instructive, practical) than the sermons written and preached by the local ministers. The experience led to his ultimate disillusionment with organized Christianity.
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Franklin had begun studying languages in 1733, learning French, Italian, and Spanish. Then, returning to Latin and seeing he remembered more from his boyhood than he had thought, returned to its study and learned it as well. He recommends that Americans be educated in practical modern languages and then classic languages because, in his opinion, the learning of the former helps with learning the latter.
Here we see a situation where Franklin’s conviction concerning the acquisition of modern languages before ancient languages has, in effect, become the general practice in the United States. That change in practice, however, did not necessarily come into effect because of Franklin’s writings.
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After being away from Boston ten years, Franklin returned to visit his relations. He called at Newport to see his brother James, the printer, and they forgave each other their former differences. James was in ill health and asked Franklin to see after his young son and widow if he should die. James did die and Franklin adopted the boy, thus, he says, making amends for the erratum of leaving his brother’s employ.
Finally Franklin was able to reconcile his old quarrel with his hard-headed and perhaps hard-hearted brother, James. Franklin seems glad for the opportunity to have done a good turn for his brother, but the reader should question whether these early mistakes of Franklin’s are the kind of moral money, getting paid and repaid tit-for-tat, that Franklin treats them as.
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Franklin goes on to tell how he lost one of his young sons in 1736 to smallpox. The boy was four. He advises everyone with children to have them vaccinated and avoid his mistake.
Hardly a grief or personal loss existed that was great enough for Franklin not to derive some moral lesson or instructive possibility from it.
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In the meantime, the Junto had grown so popular its members wished to expand. New branches of the club were formed to prevent them exceeding their agreed upon membership of twelve. Five or six new branches succeeded under different names and were useful to the original members.
This was a period of great expansion in Franklin’s family, institutions, wealth, and character. He was rapidly becoming the man who would eventually preside over the founding fathers of the United States of America.
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Franklin was chosen as clerk of the General Assembly in 1736 without opposition and again the next year despite one member’s making a speech against him in favor of another candidate. The position secured him the business of printing the votes and laws. He didn’t like that the man opposed him and became friends with him by asking the man to lend him a book. He had read somewhere that “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you have obliged.”
Franklin makes his first appearance as a public servant. Franklin has no qualms with his public involvement effecting his personal gain, and blithely advertises the fact that it did. He tells an anecdote about overcoming the animosity of strangers via a kind of reverse indebtedness. Habits, the moral might go, once established, are more closely followed than obligations.
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Colonel Spotswood the onetime governor of Virginia and then postmaster-general was dissatisfied with the accounting of his Philadelphian deputy in 1737 and offered the position to Franklin who accepted it. The position was a great advantage to Franklin in business.
Once again Franklin accepted a position as a public servant and profited from it in his personal affairs. He gained the advantages Bradford once had, and must have felt he had finally arrived.
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After receiving the commission as postmaster in Philadelphia, Franklin began to turn his attention to public affairs. As usual, he thought it best to begin with small matters. He reformed the city watch (an early kind of police group). Previously, paying one’s way out of having to serve in the watch was very profitable to the constable in charge of it. Franklin changed the rate because it was too onerous on the poor.
Now secure in his business, family, and in the public estimation, Franklin could undertake the public works that would extend his fame throughout the colonies and make him a key figure in the nation building that was to take place after the American Revolution.
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In all, Franklin proposed “a more effectual watch, the hiring of proper men to serve constantly [rather than common citizens taking turns]… and levying a tax that should be proportion’d to the [person’s] property.” It was one of the first, if not the first, graduated income/property taxes put into effect in the colonies.
Regardless of some of his duplicities, it is hard to argue that Franklin’s establishing a more effectual watch not only helped the already disadvantaged from the burden of an onerous tax, but also cut down on crime and saved lives.
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Next, Franklin proposed establishing the first company of firemen. Thirty men were found for the task of keeping leather buckets for water and strong bags and baskets in good order for removing goods from burning buildings. The company was to meet once a month to discuss its affairs. The utility of the institution was immediately obvious. Many more wanted to join the company, but Franklin advised them to form their own group.
The first fire company, like the first crude police force in Philadelphia, also saved individuals and the city money and expense as well as, one imagines, the lives and health of many citizens. Once the company was established, its practicality was so obvious that similar companies proliferated in Philadelphia and across the colonies.
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At the time of his writing, “The Union Fire Company” that Franklin formed still existed, flourished and had since acquired fire-engines, ladders, fire-hooks and other useful implements. Between the founding of the company and Franklin’s writing the city never lost more than one or two houses to fire at a time.
Franklin seems almost to have viewed the institutions he helped to found as his own progeny. The industriousness he applied to their formation came back in later years to stroke his vanity.
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In 1739, the travelling Irish preacher Reverend Whitefield came to Philadelphia, but soon found that he had no place to preach because the local preachers took a dislike to him. Multitudes attended his services, Franklin says, noting on the growing zealotry (religious fervor) in the colonies around that time. Franklin proposed building a meeting hall open to preachers of all faiths and the funds were soon raised.
Reverend Whitefield came to town and Franklin began his second friendship with a charismatic Irish preacher. Franklin saw the occasion as an opportunity to construct a meeting hall that would be serviceable to the preachers of all religions and perhaps prove a practical secular gathering place in the years to come.
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Reverend Whitefield removed to Georgia where there were many orphans due to the hardships suffered by the people settling that colony for the first time. Whitefield proposed the project of building an orphanage there to Franklin, who resolved not to contribute because he thought that the orphanage should be built in Philadelphia and the orphans brought to it. After hearing Whitefield speak, however, he gave all the money in his pockets. Other members of the congregation were likewise moved.
Franklin’s love for his home city of Philadelphia was so great that it made him propose an idea against his practical nature. Surely an orphanage in Georgia would be more practically serviceable to the orphans of Georgia than an orphanage in Philadelphia, but that’s besides the point. This is an anecdote about a notable public speaker who used his skill for the greater good.
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Some people doubted Whitefield’s integrity, but Franklin thought him an upright man. They had a civil rather than religious friendship. Franklin tells an anecdote about the loudness and clarity of Whitefield’s voice, estimating and imagining that thirty thousand men could have heard and listened to him at once. Franklin notes that an itinerant (travelling) preacher has the advantage of getting to perform his sermons many times.
As with any talented man, people had their doubts about the Reverend Whitefield. Franklin’s endorsement shouldn’t necessarily countermand this public opinion in the reader’s mind—we have already seen that he was something of a sucker for charismatic Irishman, and threw in his lot with a plagiarist and fraud.
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Franklin also notes that Whitefield’s writing and printing gave his enemies the advantage of attacking his points at their leisure. Franklin says Whitefield’s supporters would have been more numerous had he never written anything at all.
Franklin notes, as an aside, the advantages, as far as the foundation of religious practice, of the spoken over the written word.
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Franklin’s business was now growing continually and his circumstances became easier every day. He says money itself is prolific in nature. His Carolina partnership worked out, so he promoted other workmen and established them with printing-houses in other colonies. All his partnerships at this point were carried on and ended amicably after a pre-agreed term of six years.
Here Franklin acknowledges the ambivalent condition his monetary security placed him in. When he thought he would have more time for personal improvement and leisure, he was called upon again and again to serve the community and provide for the common good.
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Franklin says there were two things about living in Pennsylvania that troubled him: that there was no militia and no college. Therefore, in 1743, Franklin drew up a proposal to establish an academy. He thought the Reverend Mr. Peters would be a good man to oversee it. He had more success the next year in proposing a “Philosophical Society.”
Franklin noted some flaws in the civic landscape of Pennsylvania that he undertook to personally remedy. It comes as no surprise that a man who devoted so much of his time and energy to his own education should undertake to give others an opportunity for the same advancement.
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Franklin thought it wise to establish a militia because Spain and France had recently gone to war with Britain. Franklin wrote a pamphlet in favor of starting one called “Strong Truth.” He called a meeting in the meeting house he’d had built, distributed copies of the pamphlet to all present and had them sign it (signing meant that they would be members of the militia). The enlisters soon amounted to 10,000 armed men divided in companies.
Another factor that may have contributed to Franklin’s station in the post-war proceedings of the founding fathers was his keen foresight in the establishment of American militias for defense. He saw the growing chasm between British and American interests, and, once again, was enough of a pragmatist not to count on the aid of diplomats far from his home.
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The officers of the Philadelphia company chose Franklin as their Colonel but he declined and suggested a Mr. Lawrence in his stead. He proposed a lottery to help with the cost of building a battery below the town. It was soon built. Colonel Lawrence, Franklin and some others went to New York to borrow cannons from Governor Clinton. He at first refused any, but as he grew more intoxicated through the evening he allowed them to borrow eighteen.
Franklin’s vanity did not extend into martial (military) affairs. He seems genuinely to have not considered himself qualified for the management of troops in war, nor to have desired political advancement through wartime efforts or military accomplishment. That, however, didn’t keep him from becoming involved.
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The Governor of Pennsylvania and council took Franklin into confidence. Franklin proposed a fast to ask God’s blessing in the establishment of their militia and in any future need for success. Franklin drafted the proclamation. The clergy now influenced the members of their sects to join the association.
The political men in Pennsylvania saw that Franklin was right when it came to Pennsylvania’s defense. It is interesting to note the importance of the clergy and religious institutions in political machinations of the time.
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It was difficult to establish a militia among the numerous Quakers because of their doctrine of passivity. Some men advised Franklin to step down from his position in the Assembly because the Quakers held a majority there, but Franklin refused, saying he would leave office only if voted out. He was chosen again unanimously the next election.
The Quakers believed that war, even defensive war, was against God’s commandments. Franklin shows little compunction in labeling this a foolish (because impractical) belief. He seems to have learned a lot about politics from his dealings with the Quakers.
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Franklin tells an anecdote that shed light on the feelings of the Quakers. In the fire company it was proposed that they should encourage the plan to build a battery by raising money amongst themselves. The next meeting only one of the twelve Quakers, who by their doctrine should have opposed spending money on military matters, showed up to vote against the proposal. The rest stayed away, thus abstaining from the vote and allowing the measure to pass.
The Quakers, in an odd double bind between practical reality and religious conviction, allowed the practitioners of other faiths to see to defense. The majority of them, Franklin seems to argue, in their heart of hearts saw that practical reality took precedence to religious conviction or questions of creed.
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One Mr. Logan wrote an address to the Quakers explaining his approval of defensive war. He bought sixty pounds in lottery tickets toward the battery from Franklin with the direction that any winning should be applied to that same expense. Logan told Franklin an anecdote about William Penn to the effect that Penn allowed a servant to defend his ship by not ordering him to go below deck. The Quakers supported necessary military matters frequently yet covertly, sometimes giving money simply “For the King’s Use” or for the buying of “grain” where grain was taken to mean gunpowder.
Not all Quakers were of the same mind when it came to the doctrine of passivity, and Franklin seems to argue that the wisest among them saw that only fools would sit idly by as their enemies ransacked there cities and murdered their families. The wise and pragmatic (in Franklin’s eyes) Mr. Logan even saw a precedent for more practical behavior from the Quakers from the earliest days of the Pennsylvania colony.
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Franklin says the Quakers suffered many embarrassments for having once published as one of their principles that no war was lawful. Franklin tells an anecdote about the sect called the Dunkers and one of its founders, Michael Welfare, who told Franklin he would rather not publish the tenants of the Dunker faith because God might reveal yet undisclosed truths to them in time. Franklin calls this modesty in the sect “a singular instance in the history of mankind.”
Now Franklin returns to his aside about the importance of the flexibility of the spoken word for Religious establishments and the importance of allowing flexibility and an acknowledgement of human error into the fabric of religious tenants and the convictions of religious practitioners.
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Franklin goes back in his narrative to tell how he invented a stove for the better heating of rooms in 1742. He wrote and published an account of and description of the stove. Governor Thomas offered to give Franklin a patent for the stove, but he refused preferring that the public profit rather than himself. An ironmonger in London, however, patented it there and made a fortune by it.
It’s easy to forget, in the first two thirds of the Autobiography, that Franklin was and is renowned for his scientific achievements. This account of his invention of a superior heating stove reminds the reader of Franklin’s scientific abilities though it still leads one to question how, exactly, he came to possess them.
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Peace having been declared between Britain, Spain, and France, Franklin turned his thoughts back to establishing an academy. He published another pamphlet, this one called “Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania” and set out on foot to raise the necessary subscriptions. He quickly raised a significant sum. He presented the academy as the idea of some public-spirited gentleman not himself in order to keep his neighbors from thinking it was a project of vanity.
Having successfully motivated the people to establish and maintain a militia for their defense, Franklin perhaps had premonitions that said militia would come to be greatly advantageous to his colony despite its not having been needed in the war between Britain, Spain, and France. Once again Franklin was able to employ seeming humility to garner public support for his academy project.
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The academy subscribers chose out of their number 24 trustees and appointed Mr. Francis, the attorney general, and Franklin to draw up the academy’s constitution. When it was done, the academy was started in 1749. The house built for it was soon found too small, so they reappointed the public meeting house as the new academy space with a stipulations that it still be open as a public space to preachers of any faith and that a free-school be opened for the instruction of poor children.
The public-spirited subscribers—men of means and education—chose Franklin perhaps because of his humility while soliciting them and probably because of the success of his other public projects. Franklin’s earlier project to build a public meeting house for preachers and speakers of all faiths proved to be useful in an unforeseen way.
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Franklin had to supervise the work that had to be done on the building, which he said he did cheerfully because he had recently taken on an able, industrious partner at the printing house named Mr. David Hall. The trustees of the academy were soon incorporated by a charter, more land was given from the proprietary governors, and the University of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) was officially established.
Finally, having escaped his tendency for poor partnerships and onerous friendships, Franklin is freed from some of the daily demands of his business. We see that not just Franklin’s ideas for public institutions but, in some cases, the institutions themselves survive in evolved form unto the present day.
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Governor Thomas put Franklin into the commission of the peace, the city chose him for council, and he was soon after made an alderman. Then the citizens at large chose him as burgess to represent them in Assembly. He was glad, at last, as burgess, to be able to take part in debates. He says his ambition was flattered by the promotions.
Franklin was elected into higher public positions by both the Assembly and the citizens at large. These advancements pleased Franklin’s vanity and were the consequences of his industry. His early debate techniques—the Socratic Method that he so loved—could finally be employed in to the public’s service.
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Franklin gradually withdrew from his position as justice of the peace because he felt he lacked the necessary knowledge of common law. When he took the seat in the House his son was appointed clerk.
Despite how his advancements flattered his vanity, Franklin felt himself unqualified for one of his positions (not to mention taxed for time). His own success extended to the success of his family.
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The following year Governor Thomas called for members of the House to serve as commissioners of peace for the treaty being drawn with the Carlisle Indians. Franklin was commissioned and went with the speaker of the House. They forbade the Native Americans to drink until the treaty had been drawn. Afterward the Native Americans got very drunk, and apologized for their behavior the next day. Franklin notes how alcohol wreaked havoc among the Native American tribes.
Franklin, who would later serve as ambassador to France during the American revolution, acquired some of his earliest experience as a diplomat in these dealings with Native American tribes. These dealings are not without a touch of their age’s racism, though Franklin seems to have been genuinely moved by the deplorable, alcohol-dependent condition of the men he dealt with.
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In 1751, Dr. Thomas Bond, Franklin’s friend, had the idea to establish a public hospital in Philadelphia. He had difficulty getting subscriptions. Franklin helped by writing on the subject in the newspapers. Then Franklin proposed a measure in the house to match donations once a large sum was reached. The measure passed because members of the Assembly doubted Bond could raise so much. He succeeded and the hospital was built.
Now, with many great contributions and a considerable stock of wealth, Franklin was able to enter the public arena as a philanthropist and humanitarian and to help with and give council on projects he did not author but nonetheless supported. He was able to use his influence in the Assembly to support private entrepreneurs.
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A Rev. Gilbert Tennent asked Franklin for help in getting subscriptions for a Presbyterian meeting house. Franklin refused because he did not want to place too many requests with his neighbors. He advised Tennent, in short, to ask everyone for money, including those he thought would give none. Tennent succeeded in raising enough.
Now we see the skepticism of the Presbyterians Franklin developed in his early misadventures with charismatic travelling preachers at work. He is, however, willing to give advice, and to help his fellows get want they want for themselves.
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Franklin notes that Philadelphia lacked paved streets, an inconvenience for everybody. At length, Franklin was successful in getting a number of streets near the market paved. It was difficult, even then, to keep the pavement clean, so Franklin had his neighbors pay in six pence a month to employ a man to haul off the mud. Eventually the people submitted to a tax to have all the streets paved. Franklin submitted the bill for it to the Assembly just before going to England in 1757.
It seems there was no public project too large or small for Franklin’s attention. New developments, however, need new systems to manage them, and, though people like the convenience afforded by public projects, they are seldom willing to consent to give their money. Franklin was able to convince his friends and neighbors of the convenience and utility only after the streets were built.
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Next, the people, following the example of a Mr. John Clifton who placed a streetlamp at his door, desired to have the streets lit by gas lamps at night. Franklin designed a superior model of lamp with four panes of glass and a vent at the bottom. Franklin says he was surprised that in London they did not adopt these vents in their lamps to keep them clean.
Not content merely to help the city of Philadelphia to acquire its first public lighting, Franklin applied his scientific know-how to the designing a superior model of street light. Franklin notes how men seldom change their habits, even when an alternative way of doing things is obviously advantageous.
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While he was inn London, Franklin had proposed to a Dr. Fothergill that the streets be swept when the dust on them was dry and manageable rather than when it had gathered into a thick mud. He proposed to have several men sweep the dust up in dry seasons, a proposal which he says was put into practice. Franklin says that though these civic matters may seem small and not worthy of relating, they are small only in particular and not as a whole. He gives a version of the “teach a man to fish” proverb but changes it to teaching a man to shave.
As with Vaughn’s injunction, derived from the first part of Franklin’s Autobiography, that a man should live each moment of his life with the whole of the life in mind, Franklin sees each public improvement, from constructing an academy to sweeping the streets, as an essential unit in the building of a better society.
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Franklin became joint postmaster-general in 1753. Franklin and his partner made improvements to the office, which, after a period of three years, made it very profitable to them and to the king in England, but, Franklin says, he was removed from office by a mistake of the ministers.
Franklin once again had no qualms with turning a public appointment to his private improvement, especially if it meant a financial improvement for his superiors as well. The ministers in England took issue.
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As postmaster-general Franklin had to take a trip to New England where the College of Cambridge (Harvard) presented him an honorary Master of Arts. He was given the honorary degree for his achievements with electricity.
News of Franklin’s work with electricity, known to many American readers before they read the Autobiography, almost comes as a shock within the work itself.
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In 1754 war with France seemed imminent and a congress of commissioners from different colonies was assembled at Albany to confer with the Native American chiefs of the Six Nations. James Hamilton sent Franklin and the speaker of the House Mr. Norris to join Thomas Penn and Secretary Peters as commissioners to act for Pennsylvania and give gifts to the Native American chiefs.
Once again Franklin is called on to demonstrate his diplomatic prowess. The appointment was both practical for the state of Pennsylvania, as Franklin had already demonstrated his skill in this capacity, and something somewhat flattering to Franklin’s vanity.
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On his way to Albany Franklin drew a plan for the union of all the colonies under one government for the sake of defense. He laid the plan before the congress and it turned out other commissioners had drafted similar proposals. Franklin’s was preferred and recommended. It was sent to the Assemblies of the various colonies, but they did not adopt it because they thought there was a secret agenda behind it.
Franklin, beyond his inventions, public projects, and the like, was among the first to draft a plan for the union of the colonies, such a plan was the first step toward uniting them into an independent nation. The assemblies balked to implement the plan because they feared how the crown might react.
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Therefore the Board of Trade did not approve Franklin’s plan and an alternative plan, where the governors would draw on the treasury of Great Britain for the expense of defense was adopted. The colonies would pay the expense later in the form of taxes. Once imposed after the French and Indian War, these taxes were one of the main causes of the American Revolution. Franklin says things might have been better for both the British and the colonists if his plan had been adopted, but adds that “history is full of the errors of states and princes.”
Franklin, in no unclear terms, suggests that the plan implemented in favor of his own, because of the hesitancy of the Assemblies, directly led to the conditions that provoked the Revolutionary War. Franklin takes a detached view of the circumstances, however, to say that such mistakes riddle the annals of history, perhaps even suggesting that the Revolutionary war could not have been prevented, only delayed.
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Franklin pauses to talk about the man who became governor of Pennsylvania after James Hamilton, Mr. Morris, a man constantly disputing with the Assembly and, therefore, Franklin, in civic matters, but also overwhelmingly friendly to Franklin in day to day life. Eventually, Mr. Morris got tired of his contests with the house, and, like his predecessor Hamilton, quit his office.
When he introduces Mr. Morris to the reader, Franklin illustrates yet another lesson in the disadvantages of argumentativeness. Franklin was a great negotiator and a diplomat capable of finding concord between parties with sometimes wildly divergent views.
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The disputes James Hamilton and Morris were having with the Assembly had to do with hereditary governors in Pennsylvania who refused to allow taxes to be passed unless their own estates were excused. The Assembly held out against this injustice, but Mr. Morris’s successor, Captain Denny, managed to force the Assembly to give way to it.
Franklin’s sense of equity and justice caused him to be uncompromising, however, when it came to the taxation of the estates of the proprietary (or hereditary) governors. He felt their estates should be subject to the same taxes as those of the common citizens.
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During Governor Morris’s term, war broke out with France (The French and Indian War). The government at Massachusetts Bay projected an attack upon a place called Grown Point and sent representatives to New York and Pennsylvania to solicit help. The solicitor in Pennsylvanian was a Mr. Quincy who applied to Franklin for help. Franklin managed to pass a bill offering him ten thousand pounds through the House, but the governor refused to ratify it unless a clause were inserted protecting the estates of proprietary governors.
The impracticality of the exemptions that the proprietary governors expected soon became apparent in wartime. Their insistence on exemption prohibited or, at least, impeded Pennsylvania’s government from taking the necessary measures for strategic defense, and the people of Pennsylvania felt their movements constrained by unseen noblemen reaping the rewards of their property an ocean away.
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Franklin managed to skirt the governor’s dissent by drawing the money from the Loan Office, which was fully under the Assembly’s power. Mr. Quincy went home to Massachusetts proud of his suit and ever afterward held Franklin in high esteem and friendship.
Ingenuity and creativity were Franklin’s strong suit. He was able to find a way around the restrictions Mr. Morris’s veto imposed upon the Assembly’s political power.
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The British sent General Braddock to the colonies with two regiments of regular English troops for the war. He landed in Alexandria, Virginia and marched to Frederictown, Maryland where he waited on carriages. Franklin was sent to advise him on how best to procure them from the governors. He went with his son, William, to speak to the general at Frederictown.
Once again the colonies called on Franklin for diplomatic service and he and his son William, the addressee of Part One of the Autobiography, were obliging to the demand. The ineptitude of the British army and generals becomes clear almost from the moment of their first arrival.
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Braddock’s men were only able to secure 25 wagons when they needed 150. Franklin said there were many in Pennsylvania and drafted the terms for which he felt the farmers would offer their wagons to the army. Franklin advertised these terms and was in part able to procure the necessary wagons by personally vouching that they would be paid for in full if they were lost or destroyed when farmer’s signed contracts lending them to the army.
Sticking his neck out a bit in service to the crown and the British army, Franklin tries to suggest ways in which the British can procure themselves the necessary wagons for their supplies. Franklin saw that the army wasn’t going to make the necessary guarantees to secure themselves the wagon, so, perhaps cavalierly, offered them himself.
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When Franklin returned to Braddock’s camp, a Colonel Dunbar spoke to him of how the troops lacked the necessary stores for their long march toward French territory in the west. Franklin applied to a committee of the Assembly to send such items as his son (being more familiar with military life) thought that the troops would need. The Assembly applied the food and goods, twenty large parcels of sugar, cheese, butter, wine, coffee, rice and other necessities.
Not only did the army lack the wagons to tote their supplies—they lacked the supplies themselves. Where was the might of the British empire? The people of Pennsylvania were able to get together the proper supplies and arrange for them to be transported to Braddock in Maryland.
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The parcels were very graciously received and General Braddock was very grateful to Franklin for supplying him the necessary wagons and continuing to help him until his defeat. Franklin calls Braddock a brave man, but reveals that he was probably a poor general: he underestimated the Native Americans that his troops would be fighting. Franklin tried to offer him counsel, but Braddock laughed him off.
No dullard, Franklin quickly apprehended the weaknesses of Braddock’s army and their strategic deficiencies. European racism couple with British Nationalism crippled Braddock’s military sense. He should have, as Franklin suggests, interviewed the British subjects in America to better understand his opponents.
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Franklin tells how the Native Americans massacred Braddock’s troops after they crossed a river and were in one large mass. All the wagons, provisions, artillery and stores were left to the enemy after the army scattered and the men had fled. Franklin says that the news of Braddock’s defeat spooked Colonel Dunbar who fled with his army to Philadelphia. It was the first sign, Franklin says, that the Americans had been overestimating the “prowess of British regulars.”
Braddock, to Franklin’s frustration, met with precisely the end that Franklin foresaw, practically from the moment Braddock and his troops landed in Virginia. Colonel Dunbar lacked even General Braddock’s bravery. These inept military leaders and foolhardy maneuvers opened the eyes of the American British subjects to the fallibility of the British.
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Furthermore, the army had robbed the inhabitants during its marches through the country. Franklin contrasts this with the behavior of the Americans’ French allies during the Revolution. (The French behaved impeccably and occasioned no complaints.)
Not only was the British command incapable of meeting the enemy, they did not treat the Americans like the British subjects they were. These were signs of the growing rift between the colonies and the crown.
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The French published some of General Braddock’s papers that had come into their hands which showed the hostile intentions of the British before the war and which contained some notes that spoke highly of Franklin and recommended him. But those recommendations, due to the failure of the campaign, were never of any use to him.
Even the recommendations of the failed and inept General Braddock were flattering to Franklin, who did, it seems, do much to support the British troops to his own inconvenience and at his own expense. Naturally, the recommendations of dead general published by the enemy were of no use to him.
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The only thing Franklin had asked Braddock was that he not enlist any more of the Americans’ bought servants and that he should discharge those who had been already enlisted. The general complied. Colonel Dunbar refused Franklin the same request. When the wagon-lenders heard about the loss of their wagons they all went to Franklin to claim payment for them. General Shirley saved Franklin from their lawsuits by setting up commissioners to examine the claims and order payment.
Franklin advocated for the rights of the masters of indentured servants. If an indentured servant were serving in the British army, not only was he not fulfilling the terms of his binding agreement to his master, he add ample opportunity for escaping his indentures. In seeking this end, Franklin had in mind the interests of his constituents.
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Men had come to Franklin in Philadelphia before Braddock’s defeat with a subscription paper for raising money for a celebratory firework display to be held after Braddock’s victory. Franklin of course urged prudence, and suggested they wait until the victory had been won.
Still a die-hard pragmatist, Franklin expresses his skepticism of anyone who thinks he can predict the future. Franklin also seems somewhat amazed at the blind conviction that the British would simply win the war because they were the British.
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Now Governor Morris redoubled his efforts to secure money from the Assembly for the defense of the province. The Assembly withheld because of the injustice of the proprietary governors not having to pay the tax, eventually the Assembly’s friends in Britain pressured the proprietary governors into paying the tax. Franklin was appointed to allocate the defense money, some sixty thousand pounds. Franklin proposed a bill to establish a voluntary militia and wrote a dialogue arguing for it.
Now the Assembly fought back against Governor Morris, hobbling him as governor by denying him the necessary funds to defend the province. Perhaps this was the wrong time for tax disputes, but the Assembly felt it finally had the governor and the proprietaries pinned. They did. The Assembly won out and Franklin’s vanity was flattered as he was called on to serve the public once again.
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Governor Morris applied to Franklin to take charge of Pennsylvania’s northwestern frontier, which was infested with the enemy. Franklin accepted the position, enlisted over five hundred men, took his son William as his aid-de-camp and set about constructing forts on the frontier.
Governor Morris applied directly to Franklin to manage the colony’s defense. Despite of his lack of military experience, he consented, receiving an elevating position and having the humility to accept it all at once.
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Franklin and his troops left from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania which he found exceptionally well-prepared for defense even though the community there was supposedly pacifist. He says that “common sense, aided by present danger, will sometimes be too strong for whimsical opinions.”
Franklin shows that his wartime experience bolsters his understanding of practical philosophy. Whatever a people’s religious tenants, he argues, they will stand up to save themselves and their families.
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Franklin sent men to build forts along the Minisink River and resolved to go himself to Gnadenhut where the Native Americans had already destroyed a fort and killed many inhabitants of the town. Before they left Bethlehem, eleven farmers came to Franklin asking for guns to get their cattle back from the Native Americans who had stolen them. He gave them the guns, but ten of them men were killed because their weapons failed to discharge in the rain.
Though inexperienced in war, Franklin had the bravery to go into the heart of the action in service of his country. He tells an anecdote that shows the ingenuity of the Native American warriors, who had ways of doing battle and tricks at their disposal such that the white settlers found themselves at a disadvantage
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At Gnadenhut, Franklin and his men built themselves huts and buried the dead. The next morning they planned and marked out their fort. It was finished in a week though the weather was so bad that every other day the men could not work. This, Franklin says, caused him to observe that when men were busily employed they were much better behaved and in better tempers. After the fort was finished the men set out in parties to scour the country where they observed how the Indians had dug holes to watch their progress and keep their fires concealed.
Despite his lack of experience, Franklin seems to have done a decent job cleaning up after the invasions of the Native Americans in that area and securing the frontier against further attacks. He observes how the dignity of man increases under forced labor. Once again Franklin marvels at the ingenuity of the Native Americans; he seems to have learned from General Braddock’s grave underestimation of this people.
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Franklin arranged with the chaplain of his company that he should preach before the men received their daily allotment of rum so that his preaching would be heard. Franklin soon received a letter from the governor asking him to come back to Philadelphia and attend the Assembly. Franklin returned after giving over command to one Colonel Clapham who was experienced at warring with the Native Americans.
Displaying his wit and humor, a wit and humor always in service of practical ends, Franklin relays this anecdote about the chaplain’s sermons. Soon Franklin’s skills as a statesman were required back home. He seems to have genuinely been regarded as one of the most capable men for any civic affair on the continent.
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While at Bethlehem, Franklin had learned more about the Moravians (the sect that had settled the country there). He asked about the Moravian marriages, if it were true that they were settled by lot rather than the free choice of the parties involved. It proved to be partially true in some circumstances and when he asked if this led to the parties sometimes being unhappy he was answered in the affirmative, but, it was added, they might also be unhappy if they decided for themselves—a point he could not deny.
Ever the inquisitor, Franklin took his return journey as an opportunity to further his education and learn more about the customs and ways of strange peoples. Franklin seems pleased to find that the Moravian way of handling marriages is equally practicable as the traditional non-arranged style then in practice in the colonies. People might be unhappy, the moral goes, no matter what.
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When he returned to Philadelphia, Franklin found the war efforts to be coming along nicely. The officers of the militia there chose Franklin to be colonel of the regiment, and this time he accepted the position. However, he managed to offend the proprietor general when, undertaking a journey to Virginia, his men escorted him out of town with their sabers drawn—an honor which had not been paid the proprietor when he visited the province. Franklin said he was ignorant of the etiquette or would not have allowed it.
The institutions and plans Franklin set in motion before his campaign on the frontier progressed even in his absence. With some military experience under his belt, and the experience of having seen the ineptitude of the British commanders, Franklin is willing to accept the honor he had previously denied. The small-hearted proprietary governors decided to harangue him for a trifling matter of conduct.
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Governor Morris wanted to set up Franklin as a general, but Franklin refused, not thinking as highly of his military abilities as the governor.
Though Franklin accepted the position of colonel, he still did not trust himself in military matters and showed the humility and good grace to refuse a generalship.
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Franklin pauses his narrative of the war to relate some of his scientific achievements. He says that he was shown some electric experiments in Boston in 1746 by a Scotsman. They were performed imperfectly but impressed Franklin. Back in Philadelphia, his library received a gift of a glass tube from a Mr. Collinson with some account of its use. He recreated the experiments he saw in Boston as well as some he heard account of from England and performed some new experiments of his own.
Franklin’s scientific achievements, though he begins to discuss them briefly here, are largely excluded from the Autobiography. He seems more concerned, in these pages, with the human conflicts and disputes surrounding his scientific publications than he is concerning the scientific findings themselves. Experimental glass tubes were a relatively new devices at the time.
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Franklin had more glass tubes made, and Philadelphia soon had several experimenters, the foremost being a man name Mr. Kinnersley, a neighbor whom Franklin encouraged to demonstrate experiments for a fee because he (Kinnersley) was out of business. Franklin wrote Mr. Collinson with accounts of the success of his experiments. Collinson read the reports to the Royal Society where they were not, at first, given much notice.
Knowing his neighbor Mr. Kinnersley to be a man of some learning and talent, Franklin seems committed enough to his idea (that the best way to serve God is to do good to man) to use the new glass tubes to do his neighbor a good turn. Franklin was eager to share his and his neighbor’s finding with larger scientific communities.
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Franklin wrote a paper to the Royal Society on the sameness of lightning with electricity, but the paper was received with laughter there. Dr. Fothergill however got the papers printed in a small book. It took some time before the Count de Buffon, a famous European scientist, had the papers translated into French.
Given the scientific entrenchment of our own age, it can seem like something of a revelation to the modern reader that, a few centuries ago, it was a laughable idea that electricity and the natural phenomenon known as lightning were one and the same.
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In France, the leading theoretician on electricity, Abbe Nollet, would not at first believe that an American had done such admirable work. Nollet wrote a volume of letters addressed to Franklin decrying Franklin’s work. Franklin decided against answering Nollet because, he says, his experiments could be reproduced and verified without the help of letters. Franklin’s book was translated into Italian, German, and Latin and its theories were “universally adopted” by the scientists in Europe.
Franklin trusted in the scientific method, in the reproducibility of experimental findings. His faith in it was so strong that he refused to allow himself to be drawn into an ad hominem (personally directed) debate with a jealous Frenchman. Franklin must have been flattered to see his findings translated into the languages he had spent his early adulthood mastering.
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Franklin’s book became famous when one of its proposed experiments, drawing lightning from the clouds, was performed by one M. de Lor for the king and court of France. Franklin says he won’t lengthen the Autobiography with accounts of the experiments or the one he later performed with a kite and key in Philadelphia because accounts can be found in the histories of electricity.
The reader of the Autobiography wishes Franklin had taken the trouble to describe the experiment performed by M. de Lor and written more personally about the famous experiment using a kite and key. A personal account of these experiments would have had its own historical value.
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News of the success of Franklin’s experiments in France soon came back to the Royal Society in London, a summary of Franklin’s papers was published and the members of the academy made amends for the slight they had given him by making him a member of the Society and presenting him the gold medal of Sir Godfrey Copley for the year 1753.
Only after Franklin’s experiments were reproduced in the hands of the enemy French did the British proto-scientific community take Franklin’s writings and publication seriously. His work was recognized for pioneering a new field of study.
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Governor Denny presented Franklin with the medal at a special ceremony in Philadelphia, drew Franklin aside, and assured Franklin of his readiness to be of service to him. Franklin refused any monetary gifts and told Denny that he should put forward any of Denny’s proposals he felt to be for the good of the people and would do everything in his power to make his administration as easy as possible, but Denny renewed the same disputes as his predecessors. He and Franklin became good friends. Denny told Franklin that his old friend Ralph was still alive in England and esteemed one of the best political writers there.
Governor Denny tried to use the occasion of Franklin’s award ceremony as an opportunity to ingratiate Franklin and soften him to the position of the proprietary governors, but Franklin, of course knowing that even the award wasn’t coming from Denny, but from scientists in London, balked to form any kind of political alliance merely out of fellow-feeling and not based on the public good. Denny, speaking from the more congenial offices of friendship, was able to give Franklin news of his old friend.
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The Assembly grew frustrated with the proprietaries and resolved to petition the king against them. They appointed Franklin as their agent to the king to present their petition. The Assembly had sent a bill to the governor granting sixty thousand pounds to the king, ten thousand of which was to be subjected to the orders of the then general, Lord Loudoun, but the governor refused to ratify the bill because of the interest of the proprietary governors.
Once again Franklin was asked to serve as a diplomat on behalf of the Pennsylvania Assembly. The Assembly was attempting to fund the king and the war effort and trusted that the king and his agents were disapprove of any actions by the proprietary governors that would hind the Assembly from doing so.
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Franklin made ready to travel to London and paid passage on a ship, but Lord Loudoun arrived at Philadelphia to arbitrate between the Assembly (Franklin) and Governor Denny. Lord Loudon sided with the governor, and Franklin encouraged the Assembly to draft another bill more amenable to the proprietary governors’ instructions. They did so and the governor ratified it. In the meantime, his ship had sailed with his things to London, which was a considerable loss to him.
The arbitration of Lord Loudoun temporarily resolved the impasse between the Pennsylvania Assembly and the proprietary governors, but Franklin seems to have had enough of deadlocked relations between the House and governor. He advised the Assembly to draft a new bill according to the governors demands perhaps so as not to spurn the powerful Loudoun.
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Franklin, still wanting to make the journey, went to New York to catch another ship. He arrived in New York in April and it was almost June before he sailed, the ships were constantly delayed because they were waiting for Lord Loudoun’s letters. Eventually, though the general was constantly at his desk and seeming to be writing, he was removed from his office because the ministers in England never heard from him. Franklin’s ship was almost detained to take part in a siege on Loisburg that the general eventually and ineptly decided against.
If General Braddock’s conduct had struck Franklin as inept and unbefitting of the British Empire, how much more, then, Lord Loudoun’s impotent and infinitely delayed letter writing and botched sieges? The difference in timescale between Franklin’s age, when ships would wait two months to make a one month passage across the Atlantic, and the punctuality of the present era is very striking.
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Franklin says he wondered how such a man came to be entrusted with the affairs of a whole army. He says General Shirley who replaced Braddock would have done a much finer job than Loudoun, who was a disgrace to the nation. Franklin says he believes Shirley was glad to be relieved of the burden of commanding the army.
Franklin momentarily wonders how Loudoun got his power, but as with his statement about history being riddled with mistakes of states and princes, he recognizes that the giving of generalships was a matter of political intrigue, or else Shirley would have been appointed.
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While waiting in New York, Franklin received the accounts for provisions, etc., which he had furnished Braddock. He was unable to receive payment, in part because of suspicions that he had used his position to line his own pockets, which he had not done. He was never paid.
Graft and greed were so commonplace in the British Empire at the time that the clerk in charge of paying Franklin’s default position assumed Franklin had already stolen more than he was owed.
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Franklin’s captain on his ship boasted of the speed of the ship, but it proved to be dreadfully slow until they rearranged the cargo. The ship’s speed was measured at the rate of 13 knots (very fast at the time). Franklin says he shares the fact because he believes that ships could be made much faster if experiments were applied to hull shape and cargo distribution, that sailing could, in brief, be made more of a science.
Ever-hungry for scientific development and improvement, Franklin suggests that the dynamics of shipbuilding, ripe for experimentation, be studied scientifically for the building of faster ships. Soon after his death, such experiments were begun, eventually leading to the development of the much faster clipper ships.
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Franklin tells of an incident that occurred when they were nearing their destination-port, Fallmouth. The watchman failed to see a lighthouse and they narrowly avoided shipwreck. Nonetheless, the event impressed Franklin with the utility of lighthouses so that he should encourage their building more in America. In the morning, they arrived at Fallmouth.
Any incident Franklin experienced that might turn toward the making of a better United States of America (in this case by the construction of lighthouses) was one he gave special attention to in writing the history of his experiences.
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