Franklin the Living Dead
Although Franklin died and was buried long ago, he continues to be more popular than most political leaders who are alive today. People continue to name libraries and clubs after Ben. And although not many people today (other than historians and the occasional odd English professor) quote Cotton Mather, there are plenty of web-sites that offer advice from "Poor Richard."
At your table, see if you can figure out what makes Franklin seem "modern" even though we can all name people who are still sucking up oxygen even though their ideas seem long-dead. Can you think of lines from Franklin that express a mode of thought that seems to reflect a contemporary viewpoint? Can you think of characteristics or comments that make Franklin seem like a normal human being instead of like a historical legend in a textbook? On the other hand, if you think of Frankllin's ideas as representative of the tiime in which he lived--go ahead and pursue that point. Just be sure, as usual, to back it up with a quote or two.
An Early American Image Consultant
Long before today's crop of politicians began taking off their suit jackets when they visit state fairs. Franklin was already a master of manipulating his image. By strategically altering his appearance to appeal to French fantasies about American life, for example, Franklin succeeded in winning overwhelming popularity during his time overseas as a diplomat. (Since that time, a great many other individuals and groups have used Franklin's image to market other visions of American life.)
Work with the other people at your table to select several quotations from Franklin that document his awareness of the importance of making the right impression.
· When Franklin met other people, what kind of impression was he hoping to make? What virtues or values did he want to seem to possess, and why did he think they were important?
· What did he do to make sure that he presented the right image?
· How would you feel about the issue of Franklin's sincerity? Do you think there was any gap between the private public (or outer and inner) Franklins? If so, does that bother you?
· Franklin has often served as a kind of poster-boy for America--would you? What image of America does Franklin seem to be selling?
And no--you don't have to answer all those questions. They are merely intended to start you down a promising trail of exploration. See where it takes you.
No Wonder They Name Libraries After Him
What money is to Donald Trump, and what votes and political popularity are to Bill Clinton, and what spiritual improvement was to the Puritans, books and reading were to Benjamin Franklin. In fact, when Franklin composed an epitaph for himself early in his life, here is what he wrote:
The Epitaph of Young Benjamin Franklin
The body of
B. Franklin, Printer
(Link the Cover of an Old Book
Its Contents torn Out
And Stripped of its Lettering and Gilding)
Lies Here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be Lost;
For it will (as he Believ'd) Appear once More
In a New and More Elegant Edition
Revised and Corrected
By the Author.
What evidence does the Autobiography offer of Ben's interest in books, reading, and education?
Does it offer any clues to help us understand why books and reading were so important to him?
Although Franklin posed as "Poor Richard" when he penned his popular almanac, his autobiography doesn't sound like the production of a man who has taken a vow of poverty.
Do you have any suggestions about how we should describe Franklin's attitudes towards poverty and prosperity? Did money matter to him? If Franklin attended a "Getting Ahead" seminar with William Bradford and Tom Paine, would they all have agreed about how much importance should be placed on money?
If Franklin Wrote a Personal Ad . . .
would he be advertising for someone who liked to "eat by candlelight and take long walks in the rain"? From all accounts, Franklin was a very sociable man--a little too sociable for Thomas Jefferson's tastes when both men were in Paris. People often say that you can tell about people by the company they keep. Can we tell anything about Franklin based on his taste in people?Was there anything in particular he seemed to look for in the men and women he counted as his associates or intimates? Does that help us understand him any better?
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