In these selections from his Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin reflects upon his rise in the world and the self-taught lessons that brought his success.
“Franklin seems to have a unique appeal,” writes the historian Gordon S. Wood. “He seems the most accessible, the most democratic, and the most folksy of the Founders. . . . Indeed, perhaps no person in American history has taken on such emblematic and imaginative significance for Americans as has Franklin.”
Yet the man came late to his identity as an American, enjoying a wide circle of European contacts and living abroad more years than any other American leader.
In his famous Autobiography he displays the iconic American virtues of thrift, ambition, hard work, self-improvement, and common sense. But the promotion of good morals in his book was, observed the North American Review in 1818, a fraud. “The groundwork of his character, during this period, was bad; and the moral qualities, which contributed to his rise, were of a worldly and very profitable kind.” In other words, like many of the Founders, aspects of Franklin’s character remain something of a puzzle.
'The Quintessential American' is published and offered for free by Now and Then Reader, Digital Publishers of Serious Nonfiction. Each week, Now and Then releases original and excerpted nonfiction books and essays for e-readers ranging from 5,000 to 30,000 words.