Group Title: man for all ages
Title: A man for all ages
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Title: A man for all ages
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Language: English
Creator: Smart, Karl Lyman
Copyright Date: 1989
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Source Institution: University of Florida
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Copyright 1989


Karl Lyman Smart


I express my thanks to an extremely supportive committee, especially to Professors

John Seelye and David Leverenz for their astute insights and timely suggestions, as well as

a sincere willingness to take time from their busy schedules to help shape and refine my

own perceptions and understanding of Franklin and nineteenth-century American literature

and culture. I wish also to thank my parents for instilling within me an early love of

literature and a desire for education, as well as for their continuing support and

encouragement. In addition to the gratitude I feel for my children, Audrey and Morgan,

whose birth during my doctoral program provided added incentive to "get the thing done,"

I express my heartfelt appreciation to my wife, Karen, whose faith in me and commitment

to my schooling, through the best and the worst, are most responsible for my completion

of this dissertation and degree.



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................................................. iii

A B ST R A C T ..................................................................................... v

INTRODUCTION .............................................................. .... 1

N otes ....................................... ....... ........ .................. ...... 8

PIOUS SAINT ...................................................... 9

Notes ................ ..... ... ......... ........ ....... ........... ........ 45

2 MID-CENTURY (1830-1859): SHIFTING EMPHASES .............. 47

Notes ....................................... .................. 85


N otes ..................................... ....... .......... .. 119



N ote .................................................. 170

AND THE SIMPLIFICATION OF TEXTS ......................... 171

7 THE FIN DE SIECLE MYTHICIZED IMAGE ....................... 200

N otes .......... ....................... ..................................... 236

C O N CLU SIO N .............................................................................. 238

W ORK S CITED ............................................................................. 244

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................................................. 253

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Karl Lyman Smart

May 1989
Chairman: John Seelye
Major Department: English

Few persons have had an image with greater enduring power than Benjamin

Franklin. This study focuses on the image of Franklin from his own carefully self-crafted

public figure through subsequent nineteenth-century biographers and critics who refashion

it to reflect prevalent attitudes and ideologies. Images range from a pious Christian to a

mythicized, larger-than-life figure credited for almost every event in American colonial

history. Emphasizing literature intended for children, the image of Franklin is traced

through four distinct phases of the nineteenth century: Early (1800-1829), Mid-Century

(1830-1859), Civil War and Post-Civil War (1860-1879), and Late (1880-1900).

Franklin's popularity persists through the century as writers selectively emphasize

certain elements of his life (for instance, his rise from obscurity to fame and fortune) while

suppressing more controversial behavior (his religious skepticism or "amorous intrigues").

Juvenile literature, a genre fully developed in the nineteenth century, grows more important

to the changing image as representations of Franklin and his life story become the means

of inculcating the rising generation with values and attitudes deemed most important. The

selective refashioning of Franklin by Mason Weems and other early writers codifies crucial

aspects of the figure, and prepares the way for later writers like Horatio Alger to bring

about a more complete transformation. The Franklin which early twentieth-century critics

such as D. H. Lawrence reacted against and the image which still remains popular are

largely a creation of the nineteenth century.


In America few individuals have elicited such varied reactions or been the subject of

so many sustained studies as Benjamin Franklin. A leading figure of the eighteenth

century, Franklin's life, work, and writings generated an interest in his own day which has

continued through the succeeding two centuries. With a person who achieved that amount

of fame and notoriety, it becomes a difficult task to determine the real man in the midst of

all the myth and folklore that have accumulated. Few American myths have had such

enduring power and generated so frequent a retelling as those relating to the early years of

America and the individuals associated with the creation of the United States. The

mythicized stories of Franklin and the founding fathers explain the origins of America and

help to provide a sense of "Americanness" for the United States and its citizens.

Of the great mythic heroes of the Revolutionary era--the three most prominent being

Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson--none has become such an emulative model as

Benjamin Franklin. Franklin's life story, as the original American "boy who made good,"

suggests that anyone can rise to fame and fortune regardless of background or financial

means. Additionally, Franklin, the gentleman and courtier before parliaments and kings,

embodies civilized colonial life and loyalty to the United States. Perhaps no other man is

invoked even today by so many groups: printers, merchants, Masons, politicians,

diplomats, scientists, inventors, postmen, nutritionists, newspapermen, librarians,

community service groups, religionists of every persuasion, and countless others (Wecter

52). In this study I look at some of the reasons for Franklin's popularity, review

characteristics Franklin has come to represent, identify when Franklin began to be viewed

in legendary terms, and look at the trends present during the formative phases of the myth

which transformed the historical figure into legend, reinforcing his mythic representations.

For the serious student or scholar trying to get at the real man, a study of Franklin's

image and mythicizing becomes crucial. The early twentieth-century debunking of and

reaction against Franklin came in large part from a rejection of the figure created by writers

of the nineteenth-century. Any current appraisal of Franklin is complicated by both the

larger-than-life image of the nineteenth century and the twentieth century's reaction to it.

Robert D. Miles in his article "The American Image of Benjamin Franklin" (one of the few

studies which traces Franklin's image) states, "it is hard to imagine a matter more vital to

the student of American civilization than an appreciation of the authentic Benjamin

Franklin" (143). Though finding the "authentic" individual behind the convincing masks

Franklin himself created and the images later writers presented may itself prove impossible,

identifying the genesis of important aspects of his image can provide new perspectives on

one of America's most representative men and reflect influential ideologies present in

nineteenth-century American culture and society.

Various views of and attitudes towards Franklin, many inaccurate, have persisted

since Franklin's own day. For instance, the commonly held notion that Franklin's

reputation declined soon after his death has little support from existing documents.

According to Melvin H. Buxbaum, author of the most current bibliography of Franklin

material (1983), "Franklin apparently did not suffer any great loss of popularity at least

among most of his fellow Americans or people abroad" (xiv). Through careful study of the

evolving image of Franklin, we can begin to see more clearly what the man was, what he

has come to represent, the accuracy of many characteristics and anecdotes attributed to him,

and the foundation for attitudes many still hold about him.

The process of mythicizing began during the latter half of the eighteenth century in

Franklin's own lifetime. Franklin himself acted as the first creator and perpetuator of his

own legend. A commonly held notion during the eighteenth and nineteenth century,

epitomized by Emerson's Representative Men (1850), was that the spirit and genius of an

historical age could be represented in a single person who could serve as a spokesman for

that period. From his writings, Franklin appears aware of this notion of

representativeness, acting as a model for his time as well as for generations to follow.

Mitchell Breitwieser suggests the following:

By offering an exemplary demonstration of the benefits of calculating self-
government (and of the practical techniques that made it generally available),
Franklin hoped to excite the human nature latent in his fellow men, leading
them from the divisive passions of particular interest toward unanimous
admiration for reason. (203)

Franklin seems extraordinarily cognizant of and attentive to his reputation, not in a vain

self-aggrandizing way, but with a keen awareness of what he believed could be his

exemplary function. Throughout his life we see Franklin consciously designing roles to fit

what he perceived as the needs of a situation, cultivating the characteristics he felt

circumstances demanded. These created persona varied, from the image of the hard

working printer who demonstrated his industry by pushing a wheelbarrow full of

newspapers through the streets of Philadelphia to the eccentric Rousseauian naturalist who

paraded through Paris with a marten-fur cap. We see this sense of creating a persona and

modeling one's self for the public and for posterity especially evident in Franklin's

autobiography. The pedagogical tone of the Autobiography suggests Franklin's primary

interest lay in self-preservation not in self-discovery. Though Franklin, no doubt, felt

confident he would be remembered, his overriding concern seems centered on how he

would be remembered. Franklin's "continuing popularity in a radically divided political

milieu may suggest that he made himself into an adequate representation of the whole"

(Breitwieser 207).

Franklin's self-fashioning has its counterpoint in the way in which he was regarded

by his posterity. Writings about Franklin reveal information not only about the historical

figure, but suggest, often unconsciously, views and prejudices of an author and attitudes

found in the author's environment. As Buxbaum observes,

for 200 years Franklin has been a yardstick by which people have measured
the worth of popular American ideas concerning success, democracy,
freedom, self-reliance, humanitarianism, life, and the practical virtues of
hard work, and frugality for the common man like Poor Richard or the
modest hero who inhabits the pages of the Autobiography. (xiv)

Franklin as the embodiment of the typical American and the means by which Americanness

is measured becomes a crucial barometer of a given age and the values subscribed to and


Particularly relevant to the ideologies of an era is the literature intended for and read

by a juvenile audience. During the nineteenth century, literature for children really comes

into its own, and the material represents in part what was deemed most important to society

by the adult world. Writing for children often emphasizes those values and ideas which are

felt to be crucial to relay to the rising generation. Commonly, adult material is diluted and

simplified for the child's palate. Moreover, juvenile literature represents a broad spectrum

of society, authored by diverse individuals often concerned in promoting various causes,

such as religion, temperance, or hard work. Literature for children often contains implicit,

and at times explicit, messages reflecting the milieu of the time. Additionally, children's

literature is accessible to the broad population, not limited to specialists or scholars. While

critical studies on Franklin have often addressed crucial issues and provide important

information helpful in arriving at a more accurate view of the man, their readership and

overall influence are often generally small. Children's literature, perhaps more than any

other genre, provides the fullest picture of how Franklin was and is viewed and how the

image of the mythic American hero came to be.

Therefore, as I approach a study of Benjamin Franklin I emphasize nineteenth-

century children's literature.1 During this century numerous articles and biographies on

Franklin written specifically for the child audience appeared. With the first authorized

publication of the Autobiography in 1818 and the continuous printing of The Way to

Wealth throughout the century, Franklin grows as a central figure in the American

consciousness. Early nineteenth century accounts of Franklin primarily retell Part One of

the Autobiography, often with a short concluding summary of Franklin's later years. By

the end of the nineteenth century, however, the full-blown mythic figure appears, as

Franklin becomes one of the most popular figures of biographies. He has developed

Promethean qualities by which he can be given responsibility for every major event in

eighteenth century colonial history, from the success of the French and Indian War to the

ratification of the Constitution. By tracing the image created in the nineteenth century, we

can more closely arrive at the Franklin behind the myth and assess the view of the man still

commonly held by many today.

For purposes of discussion and in identifying major movements and changes in the

image of Franklin, I divide the nineteenth century into four segments: Early (1800-1829),

Mid-Century (1830-1859), Civil War and Post-Civil War (1860-1879), and Late (1880-

1890). As with any chronological division there remains a degree of overlap between

periods in that history does not occur in exclusive 20 or 30 year segments. These

divisions, however, do provide access to general trends occurring at certain times, helping

to bring a focus upon societal changes which promoted certain aspects of the image.

The early period (1800-1829) was affected primarily by the image Franklin himself

created and promoted during his lifetime, an image his contemporaries reinforced. While

much of the material aimed at children is simple anecdotes or short selections, full-fledged

fictionalization appears in this period through the efforts of the able myth-maker, Mason

Weems. Weems, intent on showing Franklin as a devout Christian, invents numerous

incidents to demonstrate Franklin's religious faith despite his sometimes skeptic public

stance. Increased interest in religion reinforces key aspects of the Franklin figure. By the

end of this period, authors begin following the Weems tradition, moralizing upon the life of

Franklin, further selecting and emphasizing certain events in his life upon which to


The mid-century (1830-1859) marks a change in the number and kind of works to

appear on Franklin. While excerpts of the Autobiography and short anecdotes from

Franklin's life remain popular as fillers in periodicals and collected works, additional study

by scholars and the availability of previously unpublished Franklin material help to round

out the figure and give a more authentic picture of the man. This emphasis, however, is

countered by the interjection of additional fictional elements into the Franklin narrative.

During this period the intensely religious aspect of the image fuses with the hard-working,

penny-pinching figure established earlier, reflecting important societal attitudes. With

greater frequency authors selected a few traits of Franklin around which they related

incidents of his life to prove a point or provide a moral.

In the era of the Civil War and the post-Civil War (1860-1869) we see more secular

societal, economic, and literary forces forging an increasingly mythic image of Franklin.

With increased industrialization and urbanization in America and a rising middle class,

Franklin becomes as it were a patron saint and exemplary model held to all who would rise

from less than favorable circumstances to obtain a degree of independence and security in

an increasingly complex society, prototypic of the self-made man. Of particular importance

is the emphasis on Franklin's scientific achievements, evident in part by the more frequent

appearance of the title "doctor," an appellation used previously but reinforcing here the

notion of upward social mobility to those willing to work hard. The influence of Franklin

further extends into the popular culture as fictionalized accounts of his life appear with few

vestiges of the real man and as the Franklinian archetype of the "poor boy who made good"

becomes a commonly depicted character in novels and a growing theme in fiction. Most

notably the Horatio Alger myth of "rags-to-riches" dramatically shows the impact and

permutation of the Franklin myth in popular thought as Franklin is appropriated by

novelists and provides the prototype to characters such as Alger's Ragged Dick (critics

noting the similarity to the name of Poor Richard) and serves as the inspiration to other

struggling protagonists in novels such as Alger's Bound to Rise and Risen from the Ranks.

Additionally, Franklin finds his way into the mainstream of pedagogical writing by this

time, with selections of Franklin's writing appearing in influential and widely read school

books such as the McGuffey Readers. The nationalistic and patriotic impulse surrounding

America's centennial celebration and continuing through the end of the century further

sparks interest in Franklin and in the important figures involved in the formation of the

United States. This nationalism further affixes the image of Franklin within the American

tradition, reinforcing his status as an American hero.

In the late period (1880-1890) the image reaches its full mythic proportion. In

addition to the continued mention and depiction of Franklin in books and periodicals

(something that continued from the previous periods of the century), these final two

decades of the century show an image of Franklin synonymous with hard work,

perseverance, patriotism, success, and honesty, as the mythicizing process has completely

abstracted important ideologies and beliefs from the historical narrative.2 The greatness of

Franklin's character is further enlarged as additional emphasis is given to his political work

and his diplomatic assignments. As the critical studies begin looking at the multi-talented

man, or the "many-sided" Franklin as he is referred to, the grandeur and importance of the

figure presented in juvenile reading material grow as well. By the close of the nineteenth

century, Franklin becomes a figure of extraordinary size and influence, as is evident in two

turn-of-the-century biographies, Hezekiah Butterworth's True to His Home: A Tale of the

Boyhood of Franklin (1897) and Elbridge Brooks' The True Story of Benjamin Franklin,

The American Statesman (1898), where an omnipotent Franklin is even given credit for the

success of the Revolutionary War, having forged character in struggling Americans

through the maxims of Poor Richard.

By tracing the image of Franklin through popular literature of the nineteenth century

(emphasizing literature for children) and in looking at the economic, intellectual, and social

climate of the time, we can begin to see how Franklin was mythicized beyond his own

writings and why Franklin has persisted as a popular hero who remains a central symbol in

American society. Although Franklin was not the first self-made man, one critic observes

that he certainly became the archetype of one for Americans, embodying the conservative

Protestant ethics of piety, frugality, and diligence, representing the initiative and

forcefulness needed to get ahead, and demonstrating the fusion of social progress and

individual fulfillment (Cawelti 5-6, 9). This image of Franklin comes to us through the

retelling of Franklin's life as nineteenth-century Americans sought an anchor in the midst of

enormous changes, an individual to symbolize and exemplify the values and beliefs central

to the American system. The Franklin which early twentieth-century critics such as D. H.

Lawrence reacted against and the image which still remains popular are largely a creation of

the nineteenth century.


1. The image of Franklin can be assessed from various sources. Richard D. Miles
in his 1957 article, "The American Image of Benjamin Franklin" (American Quarterly, 9
[1957]: 117-143), relies on selected samples from correspondence and major works of the
past two centuries to trace the image of Franklin. While his study is worthwhile, it does
little more than highlight general attitudes and views, dealing very little with evolvement of
themes and influences of one work upon another. Also limited, but certainly more
comprehensive than Miles' discussion of Franklin's refashioning, is Charles W. White's
Benjamin Franklin: A Study in Self-Mythologizing (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.,
1987). White discusses Franklin's own "self-mythologizing" and the subsequent evolution
of the image through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While focusing on major adult
biographies (Sparks, Bigelow, Parton, and others), White fails to show the important
ideological and societal links to the increasingly mythic figure. Moreover, with the
exception of Mason Weems, White all but ignores the presentation of Franklin in literature
for children. Though the biographies White discusses play a crucial role in Franklin's
mythologizing, they remain only a part of the mythic refashioning which follows
Franklin's death. In his preface to the bibliography, Benjamin Franklin 1721-1906: A
Reference Guide (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983), Melvin H. Buxbaum recommends that a
beneficial area of study would be to "trace the development of Franklin's image as it
appeared in juvenile literature" (xix). As my introduction suggests, a thorough critique of
works written primarily for children proves fruitful in many respects, in that the image
developed in juvenile literature forms in large part the basis of the myth that later writers
either endorse or debunk.

2. For an insightful discussion of the mythicizing process in relation to history, see
Richard Slotkin's essay, "Myth and the Production of History," in Ideology and Classic
American Literature (New York: Cambridge UP, 1986).


THE EARLY PERIOD (1800-1829):

By the beginning of the eighteenth century the figure of Franklin as the hard

working advocate of integrity and prudence had already begun to be firmly entrenched in

the popular consciousness. One of the most significant works to influence the early image

of Franklin was the 1758 printing of Poor Richard's Almanack. After a successful run of

twenty-four continuous years of publication, Franklin reviewed the previous editions of the

almanac and selected those maxims and sayings which encouraged honesty, industry, and

frugality. At the time of the 1758 edition the persona of Poor Richard had become widely

known both in America and abroad and his maxims part of frequently quoted proverbial

advice (Van Doren 107-109). Franklin shows his awareness of Poor Richard's popularity

by inventing another persona for the 1758 edition, the old man called Father Abraham, who

freely quotes the advice of Poor Richard. In a speech to a group of people concerned about

rising taxes and the high cost of living, Father Abraham recounts those maxims which

inculcate hard work, integrity, and thrift. The popularity of this edition and the advice

therein is evident by its continuous reprinting as The Way to Wealth through the remaining

years of the eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century. The ironic

conclusion of the 1758 preface (later reprinted as The Way to Wealth) where the group

listening to the old man's speech "approved the Doctrine, and immediately practiced the

contrary" (Writings 1302) was largely ignored by subsequent readers, who strictly read it

for its admonition to work and save.

The Way to Wealth demonstrates the process of abstracting and generalizing which

occurred with Franklin. First, during the quarter of a century which Franklin was writing

his almanac, Poor Richard began to be viewed by many readers as one and the same with

Franklin. What Poor Richard thought and said was transferred directly to Franklin without

acknowledging Poor Richard as a literary creation. Additionally, the Poor Richard who is

remembered and whose image is transferred to Franklin is the zealous economizing worker

of the 1758 edition, a narrow view at best of the character which developed over the years

of the almanac's publication. Carl Van Doren observes that The Way to Wealth

stands with the Autobiography as the best and farthest known of all
Franklin's writings, and which has been taken for the essence of his
wisdom. It is not that, and it gives only one aspect of the younger Franklin.
Father Abraham at the auction is an old man talking about economy. He has
chosen from Poor Richard the sayings which specially prove his point, and
left out the rest. Having the last word, he has had almost the only word.

Few readers know the Poor Richard of the earlier years whose raciness, periodic

extravagance, and sometimes cynical view of money and women made him known and

popular with his contemporary readers.1

With the selected view of Franklin which came during the latter half of his own

lifetime due to the popularity of The Way to Wealth and with the image of the frugal, hard-

working tradesman reinforced in the Autobiography, it is not surprising that the early

nineteenth century perpetuated a narrow view of Franklin. After Franklin's death in 1790,

various versions of the Autobiography appeared throughout the decade following, with the

authorized William Temple edition not appearing until 1818. The publication history of the

Autobiography itself sustained an interest in Franklin through this period as portions of the

available manuscript were published, translated, and retranslated.2 Besides the material

William Temple Franklin published in his 1818 three-volume Memoirs of the Life and

Writings of Benjamin Franklin, the first attempt to publish any sizable amount of

Franklin's writing did not come until 1840 with Jared Spark's ten-volume The Works of

Benjamin Franklin. The mere unavailability of other material lent itself to a narrow view of

Franklin. Consequently, much of the writing of this time intended for children consisted of

excerpting selections of the Autobiography or other well known pieces (Franklin's epitaph,

"The Whistle," or "Advice to a Young Tradesman," for example), as well as the printing of

The Way to Wealth in small chapbooks.

While The Way to Wealth was not written for children, by the turn of the century it

had become appropriated into the domain of acceptable children's literature. Looking at

prefaces to various editions reveals the growing importance placed on Franklin and his

counsel to provide for and improve one's self, an important message to be learned by the

nineteenth-century child. The preface to an 1810 edition of The Way to Wealth gives a

long introduction on the benefits of wealth with a specific charge to "the young" to avoid

the evils of poverty (as if poverty were a sin to be committed like lying, stealing, or

adultery). The preface begins, "There is scarcely among the evils of life, any so generally

dreaded as poverty" (3). An explication of the causes of poverty--carelessness, negligence,

and indulgence--follows. The preface reminds us that no man feels more sympathy for the

poor or can offer better counsel to them than "the sage Dr. FRANKLIN," and suggests that

the obtainment of wealth offers certain advantages: it always commands respect, it allows

for independence and self-reliance, and it enables the possessor to enjoy the "purest and

sublimest pleasures" of doing good (4-7). A final injunction implores the young reader to

seriously apply the advice they are about to read: "If you would enjoy [wealth], listen to the

instructions of Dr. FRANKLIN, and let the words of his mouth sink deep in your heart;

for simple and unlearned is the multitude to which they are addressed" (8). The message of

the preface implies that if readers follow the advice found therein, they too may rise to

fortune like Franklin.

An edition of the The Way to Wealth printed by Williams, Orton, and Company

includes the subtitle, To Be Followed by Those Who Would be Good Children and Rich

and Wise Men, inherently suggesting that adherence to the tenets within produces good

children, and that these good children will become prosperous, wise men as they continue

in the path Franklin prescribes. Lest any fear, however, that Franklin's sole focus centers

on the getting of money, the preface acknowledges the debt to heaven any who obtain

wealth incur and the great responsibility of those whose fortune God has provided:

Yet, little friends, you must always keep in mind, that riches and the honor
of the world are not the only things for which you are to strive, and when
he [Father Abraham] had finished his maxims, the same man wisely
observes, that learning, wealth, and honor, which are obtained by industry,
prudence and honesty, may all be blasted without the blessing of Heaven:
therefore see that blessing humbly, and be not uncharitable to the needy, but
comfort and help them. (4-5)

To keep the attention of the juvenile mind upon the text, or at least on the book, various

woodcuts intersperse Poor Richard's maxims, many not relating at all to text but rather

providing visual relief for the young reader. For instance, accompanying the versified

maxim, "Then plough deepJ While sluggards sleep/ And you will have corn to sell and

keep" (8), is a woodcut of a river barge preparing to dock near a warehouse, the picture

and the verse having little connection.

An 1817 edition further suggests the importance Franklin's proverbial admonitions

had assumed and the degree to which they were held in esteem. The anonymous writer of

the preface asserts, "This little treatise is much and justly admired, as well as its celebrated

author..... It is to be doubted whether any other work of the kind equal to it ever

appeared" (3). An English printing of this edition published by A. R. Merrifield shows

that Franklin's importance had crossed the Atlantic. The English edition adds, "Poor

Richard (Saunders) and Father Abraham have proved, in America, that they are no

common preachers. --And shall we, brother Englishman, refuse good sense and saving

knowledge, because it comes from the other side of the water?" (Introduction).

Like The Way to Wealth, the Autobiography was also appropriated for juvenile

reading. The first editions of the Autobiography, appearing in the 1790s, contained only

Part One. To give a complete account of Franklin's life to readers, old and young alike,

publishers often included summaries of Franklin's later life, continuing the narrative where

the Autobiography ends. An 1809 edition of the Autobiography demonstrates how an

explanatory note joins Franklin's account with the later summary as the editor informs the

reader that "the life of Dr. Franklin, as written by himself, so far as it has yet been

communicated to the world breaks off in this place," and that it is now continued by one of

"the Doctor's intimate friends" (130), a Dr. Henry Stuber of Philadelphia, whose generally

straightforward summary is extracted from nine issues of the periodical Universal Asylum

and Columbian Magazine appearing during 1790 and 1791. The preface of this 1809

edition of the Autobiography suggests how a work written not necessarily for a juvenile

audience can contain important information for children:

The accounts which [Franklin] has left of his life will show, in a striking
example, how, by talents, industry, and integrity, he rose from obscurity to
the first eminence and consequence in the world; and must prove an
inducement to the rising generation to "go and do likewise." (Preface)

Whether the Autobiography was read by adults and its lessons in turn imparted to children

or whether young people read it themselves, the important rise to fortune through hard

work central to the first part of the Autobiography grows to become a fundamental aspect

of Franklin's image.3

Franklin, then, through his own writing becomes an exemplary model for others to

follow, particularly for children. In addition to available editions of the Autobiography

aimed primarily at adults, abridged versions were also printed for children, as well as

selected excerpts from the Autobiography, often appearing in juvenile periodicals. An

1800 Child's Life of Franklin excerpts heavily from the Autobiography, joining lengthy

quotations with a thin narrative. Besides the lesson shown in Franklin's diligence as a

young boy, the anonymous author of this work stresses Franklin's patriotism and

benevolence (Buxbaum 49).4

Successive issues of The Youth's Monthly Visitor, an early nineteenth-century

religious periodical aimed at children, freely uses excerpts from the Autobiography as filler.

The intent of the magazine is expressed in an editorial preface of the initial issue of

February 1, 1822, wherein the editor expresses his certainty that this periodical will

contribute "in no small degree, to the instruction of YOUTH," promoting both "the moral,

as well as the literary improvement of both sexes" (v). In this first issue we find selections

from Part Two of the Autobiography, here entitled, "Plan of Dr. Benjamin Franklin for

Attaining Moral Perfection and Regulating the Employment of Time." An editorial note

accompanying the selection suggests the commonness of this practice of excerpting

Franklin material: "This very excellent paper, which we have more particularly adapted to

youth, has been reprinted in an ingenious work just published, entitled, The Art of

employing time to the greatest Advantage, the true Source of Happiness'" (55). Already

Franklin is being quoted and displayed to prove a point, in this instance to encourage

upright living and wise use of time. The selection in The Youth's Monthly Visitor

contains the discussion of Franklin's thirteen virtues, the system which Franklin used to

measure his progress in applying these virtues, and the daily schedule he followed to best

use his time.

The fifth issue of The Youth's Monthly Visitor (June 1, 1822) includes what is

titled, "Morning Prayer of Dr. Franklin." Again, following an excerpt from Part Two of

the Autobiography ("O Powerful Goodness! bountiful Father! merciful Guide! .. .), the

editor says Franklin used this invocation "to solicit" the assistance of the being whom he

conceived to be "the Fountain of Wisdom" (Lemay, Autobiography 71).5 A January 1,

1823, issue of the same magazine contains Franklin's 1728 epitaph. Though never used

on Franklin's grave, the epitaph proved to be a popular piece, quoted in periodicals,

editions of the Autobiography, and numerous biographical accounts throughout the

century. Its clever comparison of Franklin to a book reminds readers of his work as a

printer while acknowledging his belief in and dependence on a supreme power.

In addition to the use of this type of excerpted Franklin material in periodicals, we

see early school books reprinting similar short pieces, as in The American Preceptor; Being

a New Selection of Lessons for Reading and Speaking (1805). In his prefatory remarks,

Caleb Bingham, an important American educator and editor of the reader, indicates he has

given preference to "American genius" in his selections and pledges that "this book

contains nothing offensive to the most rigid moralist" (Preface). He then includes two

Franklin selections: 'The Whistle," one of the most popularly anthologized pieces of the

century, and "Advice to a Young Tradesman," a piece further warning against idleness and

extolling the benefits of hard work. The Franklin material selected for many of these early

periodicals and school readers and the prefatory remarks in early editions of the

Autobiography suggest Franklin is viewed as a great American leader whose thoughts and

wisdom are worth repeating to the young mind.

As the nineteenth century progresses there seems to be a growing awareness of, or

at least concern about, Franklin's nontraditional views of Christianity. Up until the end of

the second decade of the nineteenth century, we see virtually no defensive posturing to

vindicate Franklin's skeptical side and little trumping up of Franklin to show him as the

perfect model for impressionable minds or the exemplar for a given cause. The image

Franklin perpetuated in the Autobiography and the continuing popularity of and The Way

to Wealth seem sufficient to keep Franklin's writings a part of the popular reading material.

Generally, writers make little attempt to change the image Franklin promoted of himself.

This, no doubt, came in part from the scarcity of material other than the Autobiography,

The Way to Wealth, and a limited number of similar miscellanies.

A marked change in the presentation of Franklin and the type of Franklin material to

appear begins with Mason Locke Weems (best known for his child's life of Washington) in

his 1818 biography, The Life of Benjamin Franklin; With Many Choice Anecdotes and

Admirable Sayings of this Great Man, Never Before Published by any of his Biographers.6

Weems' interest in Franklin stems at least back to the turn of the century when he was

involved in almanac printing and freely talked of borrowing from Franklin's writings,

particularly from The Way to Wealth, for his own almanacs (Works, II, 85; III, 26). One

of the first recorded references to his interest in writing a biography on Franklin comes in a

July 31, 1815, letter to Thomas Jefferson, in which Weems wrote "that no American ever

led a life better calculated to do good to our youth than did Dr. Franklin," and that a

biography on Franklin, like others he has written, may "help to multiply the virtues of

Industry, Sobriety, Frugality, Honesty, Patriotism, devotion to useful science &c for

which Dr. Franklin was so illustrious" (III, 130). To assist him in writing the book,

Weems asked Jefferson to send him any "Bon Mots, anecdotes, stories, &c, all which, if

only tolerably 'cooked up,' wou'd make a savory dish for Juvenile palates" (II, 130).

Despite Weems' embellishment of the Franklin story, it was never as popular as his

biographies of George Washington (c. 1800) and General Francis Marion (1809), though

his life of Franklin continued to sell well enough to still be in print in 1876. The 1818

edition of Franklin's biography was Weems' third attempt at recounting the founding

father's life; the first two of 1815 and 1817 were little more than a selective quoting from

the Autobiography. The third edition, however, is entirely Weems' creation with his

"never before published" material effectively sanitizing and Christianizing Franklin, making

him the literal embodiment of Poor Richard's proverbial wisdom and virtues. We sense the

reverence and esteem Weems gives to Franklin in a few lines of verse which adorn the title


Sage Franklin next arose in cheerful mien,
And smil'd, unruffled, o'er the solemn scene;
High on his locks of age a wreath was brac'd,
Palm of all arts that e'er a mortal grac'd;
Beneath him lay the scepter kings had borne,
And crowns and laurels from their temples torn.

Franklin, the wise old man, stands dignified despite his years of toil. Not only has he

stood before kings but he has risen above them, their accomplishments and ornaments

beneath him.

The tone and approach of Weems' life of Franklin and his life of Washington are

similar, even though the popularity of the latter far surpassed that of the former.7 While

Weems had little factual information to contend with in recounting Washington's younger

years, he had Franklin's own memoirs to reconcile with in his idealization of the printer's

youth. In the end, not surprisingly, Franklin proved the better teller of his own life's

story. In many of Weems' biographies, certain invented anecdotes caught the reading

public's popular imagination and were perpetuated as true. No such popular fable emerges

from Weems' biography of Franklin, although a deathbed scene which ends the book

continued to be frequently quoted throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The most famous creation from the Weems canon comes from the Washington biography--

that of Washington and the cherry tree. The context of Weems' anecdote suggests a

twofold purpose and is typical of the literature of the day intended for children. In the

anecdote, Weems not only suggests that young people tell the truth, but he relates the story

to convince parents that physically spanking or beating children encourages dishonesty, for

they are apt to lie for fear of corporal punishment: "lads will lie to spare the rod"

(Washington, 15).8

Weems begins his book on Franklin in a manner which sets a precedent for

subsequent biographers to follow. Listing many of the accomplishments of Franklin's later

years, Weems juxtaposes these with his humble beginnings. The tone is one of adulation

and awe.

an obscure tallow-chandler and soap-boiler, of Boston, where he was born
on the 17th day of January, 1706. (5)

The bold-type titles listed suggest the areas of Franklin's major accomplishments, his

moral, scientific, civic, and diplomatic achievements, all the more remarkable given his

indigent origin. Weems continues by saying that some men are recommended by their

looks and some by their names, with few receiving the advantages of both. Of course, "the

hero of this work" is among the favored few. After a brief mention of Franklin's charming

looks, the remainder of the chapter is devoted to a discussion of Franklin's name and

family. Weems goes to great lengths to establish Franklin as a "gentleman," a curious

thing for the man who came to represent the antithesis of inherited privilege and birth. All

of Franklin's ancestors, according to Weems, were "well born," but this did not cause any

to "deem it beneath them to continue ... useful courses" (6). In part Weems seems to be

showing that despite America's interest in usefulness and in labor, common men can

maintain a degree of gentility. The apocryphal details of this first chapter Weems attributes

to an "indubitable authority," no doubt his own fertile mind. Such authority or

camouflaged hearsay and fiction ("from the best accounts which I have been able to pick

up" [6]) serves as the basis for Weems' narrative, which grows ever more imaginative.

In the beginning of the book, Weems uses Franklin's ancestry to establish a

tradition of honesty, temperance, and hard work which Franklin is naturally inclined to

follow. Weems states, "it would appear that a passion for learning had a long run in the

family of the Franklins" (6). Speaking of an Uncle Thomas who was trained as a

blacksmith in England, and who was not above working by "the din and sweat of his

anvil," Weems says he was a great reader who "instead of wasting his leisure hours, as too

many of the trade do, in tippling and tobacco, ... acquired enough of the law to render

himself a very useful and leading man" (6-7). Weems also focuses on Franklin's Uncle

Benjamin, who is briefly mentioned in the Autobiography, but who in Weems' account

plays a significant role during Franklin's youth. Weems tells of Ben corresponding with

this English uncle, who came and visited his American relatives before his death. The

notoriety of Weems' Uncle Benjamin comes, in part, from folios of sermons he transcribed

and pamphlets he collected as well as his own seemingly endless doggerel verse. Uncle

Benjamin, having survived his wife and nine of his ten children, comes to America when

Franklin is nine and, according to Weems, spends the remainder of his years in young

Benjamin's home. Weems characterizes Uncle Benjamin as "another old English

gentleman of the right stamp, though a very hard-working man at the silk-dying trade, was

equally devoted to the pleasures of the mind" (7). According to Weems, young Ben is said

to have taken great enjoyment in his uncle's company and in spending a great deal of time

with him. The delight is not to be wondered at, says Weems, "for he was an old man who

wore his religion very much to win young people --a pleasant countenance, --a sweet

speech --and a fund of anecdotes always entertaining, and generally carrying some good

moral in the tail of them" (7). While Weems begins a tradition of establishing Uncle

Benjamin as an important figure in Franklin's formative years, it is not until the latter part

of the century that Uncle Benjamin eclipses other influential forces to become, in some

instances, the sole source of Franklin's virtues.

For Weems, Franklin's father has a more important influence upon young Franklin

than either his Uncle Thomas or Uncle Benjamin. The proverb, "The devil tempts every

man, but the idler tempts the Devil,' was a favorite canto with wise old Josiah; for which

reason, soon as their little lips could well lisp letters and syllables, he had [his children] all

to school" (10). After discussing Josiah's many virtues, Weems observes, "The reader

must already have discovered that Ben was uncommonly blest in a father" (13). Josiah is

said to have had such wisdom that individuals often call on him to settle public and private

disputes, with the leading men of Boston often consulting him on important civil and

ecclesiastical matters. Many of these influential men join the Franklin family for dinner,

providing an opportunity for Josiah to see his family instructed by introducing topics of

conversation which "would, in a pleasant manner, lead to ideas useful to his family, both in

temporal and eternal things" (14).

In addition to these qualities, Josiah (like Washington's father portrayed by

Weems) is depicted as an extremely patient man with a keen sense for child rearing. After

recounting the often related incident of Franklin and his friends building a stone wharf at

the mill pond, using materials taken from "certain honest masons," Weems depicts Josiah's

behavior as being markedly different from that of the other parents who "chastised their

[sons'] folly with a severe flogging" (12). Franklin's father takes a more temperate

approach. First, he listens to his son's argument that the wharf building project has been a

useful one for the good of the community, and then he proceeds. Rather than spanking,

good old Josiah pursued a different course with his son. To deter him from
such an act in future, he endeavored to reason him into a sense of its
immorality.... [T]he old gentleman, who was a great adept in moral
philosophy, calmly observed to him, that if one boy were to make use of
this plea [of utility] to take away his fellow's goods, another might; and
thus contests would arise, filling the world with blood and murder without
end. Convinced, in this simple way, of the fatal consequences of "doing
evil that good may come," Ben let drop the weapons of his rebellion, and
candidly agreed with his father that what was not strictly honest could
never be truly useful. (12)

Through the triumvirate of Franklin's father and two uncles, Weems provides the

foundation for Benjamin's moral character, and in them and through their actions we see

three cardinal Franklinian virtues demonstrated: industry, piety, and honesty. It is as if

Weems, seeing what Franklin represented or what he wanted him to represent, projected

these traits back in time to Franklin's ancestry, providing the hereditary and environmental

variables to engender similar wisdom and virtue in Ben. These men, particularly Josiah,

become the preceptors integral to helping the young boy find the right path in life. Through

the course of the book Franklin in turn becomes a mentor for the readers, showing them the

way to provident living.

The emergence of the preceptor figure in Weems' version of Franklin's life shows

the influence of Enlightenment thinking in general and of children's literature in particular

upon the Franklin myth. Influenced especially by the educational theories of Rousseau,

English author Thomas Day began a tradition of writing which set the standard for a period

of time known as the "age of admonition" (Meigs 98), an era lasting over fifty years

following the initial publication of Day's Sandford and Merton (1783). Whereas John

Locke had asserted that children should be guided not forced to learn, being invited to let

their natural curiosities work within them, Rousseau went further in suggesting that a wise

preceptor accompany youth in their quest for knowledge, providing and clarifying

information when needed. Feeling that there were few books appropriate for children,

those under Rousseau's influence (Day, and friends Richard and Maria Edgeworth, and

others) sought to depict the appropriate education of children in fiction. To aid the youthful

protagonist, there began

to emerge a stock literary character, the parent or relative or friend or teacher
who knew everything, who could answer all the questions,... who was
always at hand to make a profitable lesson out of everything, to render
every experience educational] ... (Meigs 97)

In a characteristic admonitory way, the mentors in the fiction discourse paragraph after

paragraph in an attempt to elucidate a principle or moral "truth."

Sandford and Merton, published in three parts over a six-year period (1783, 1786,

and 1789) was Day's attempt to present Rousseau's "Emile in the guise of fiction for

English boys" (Darton 146). The story centers on two boys, Tommy Merton, an

overindulged son of a wealthy, retired planter, and Henry Sandford, a rugged boy who

saves Tommy from being bitten by a snake. In this rescue Henry gains Mr. Merton's

respect, and Merton places both boys under the tutelage of a local clergyman, Mr. Barlow.

Barlow serves as the wise preceptor whose numerous stories and admonitions, along with

the example set by Henry, eventually bring about a recalcitrant Tommy's reclamation.

Though Sandford and Merton appears very didactic to modem readers, late eighteenth-

century and early nineteenth-century readers would have expected nothing less. Day's

novel "established itself as a model book for the young," having an influence upon the

genre of children's literature until the end of the nineteenth century when the "belief that

instruction was the primary object in books for the young" eventually weakened (Meigs

101, 232). In the tradition of Day, Weems establishes Franklin's father and uncles as

preceptors who guide the young boy through the vicissitudes of growing up, establishing a

model for later, more fictionalized narratives, when the role of the preceptor becomes

central to the Franklin story.

Besides the carefully crafted details Weems adds to Franklin's life, the tone of his

prose suggests both a religious and a sentimental (sometimes almost melodramatic)

outlook. Without question Franklin is the favorite of his father, "the child of his old age"

whose smile reminds him of his wife "when he first saw her, lovely in the rosy freshness

of youth" (16). No one is more upset by the necessity of taking young Franklin out of

school to work in the family shop than Josiah. Notice the melodramatic juxtaposition of

the school and shop suggested in the language of the following as Ben reflects upon his

change of situation:

To have seen himself, one day, on the high road to literary fame, flying
from class to class, the admiration and envy of a numerous school; and the
next day, to have found himself in a filthy soap-shop; clad in a greasy
apron, twisting cotton wicks!-- and in place of snuffing the sacred lamps of
the Muses, to be bending over pots of fetid tallow, dipping and molding
candles for the dirty cook wenches! Oh, it must have seemed a sad falling
off! (11)

Disgusted with his father's work, Franklin considers going to sea, "but his father objecting

to it, and Ben having virtue enough to be dutiful, the notion was given up for that time"

(11). Here Weems refrains from extolling the virtues of manual labor as he has done

previously, for though Franklin is not above work, his destiny calls him to something


On numerous occasions Josiah and his wife discuss the plight of young Ben. One

night Franklin's mother insists they let young Franklin go to school or find some other

employment so they may stop perpetually worrying about his going to sea. She argues that

while other boys spend spare coins on candy Benjamin buys books, even going without

food to satisfy his insatiable passion for reading. Her impassioned speech visibly moves


Then, with looks as of a heart suddenly relieved from a heavy burden, and
his eyes lifted to heaven, he fervently exclaimed--"O that my son, even my
little son Benjamin, may live before God, and that the days of his
usefulness and glory may be many!"
How far the effectual fervent prayer of this righteous father found
acceptance in heaven, the reader will find perhaps by the time he has gone
through our little book. (17)

In this and other passages Weems sets us up as readers to attribute the inevitable success of

Franklin to the piety and diligence of Josiah and others, and to the devotion to God he later

develops. These forces, which have such a deciding influence upon the young Franklin

and his early life, will soon be infused into the character of the young boy himself, first as

he is apprenticed to his brother James to learn the printing trade, and then as he makes it on

his own as a printer in Philadelphia.

Perhaps one of the most telling aspects of the Franklin story, and a crucial gauge

we can use in measuring changes in Franklin's image through the nineteenth century, is the

handling of the circumstances surrounding his breaking the apprenticeship agreement with

his brother James and his subsequent flight from Boston to New York. Weems shows

Ben in a state of bliss as he begins his profession in printing, for "he is placed by the side

of the press, the very mint and coining place of his beloved books (19); but he

nonetheless goes to great lengths to show the unfairness of the apprenticeship system (a

system in full decline by the time of Weems' writing), providing ample justification for

Franklin's later flight from Boston.9 The oppression of Franklin's indentures and his

resistance to them serve also to foreshadow the oppressive British rule and America's

resistance to tyranny which are to follow.

By the indentures Ben was to serve his brother till twenty-one, i.e. nine full
years, without receiving one penny wages save for the last twelve months!
How a man pretending to religion could reconcile it to himself to make so
hard a bargain with a younger brother, is strange. But perhaps it was
permitted of God, that Ben should learn his ideas of oppression, not from
reading but from suffering. The deliverers of mankind have all been made
perfect through suffering. And to the galling sense of this villainous
oppression, which never ceased to rankle on the mind of Franklin, the
American people owe much of that spirited resistance to British injustice,
which eventuated in their liberties. But Master James had no great cause to
boast of this selfish treatment of his younger brother Benjamin; for the old
adage "foul play never thrives," was hardly ever more remarkably illustrated
than in this affair, as the reader will in due season be brought to understand.

In this manner Franklin is absolved from all wrongdoing associated with what was then a

serious offense. In fact Benjamin becomes heroic in his resistance to the unfair situation of

indentures, and, given Weems' presentation, would seem not only foolish but unpatriotic

to do anything other than break his indentures.

But, for a time, Franklin works peaceably with his brother and grows in knowledge

and skill of the printing trade as he applies himself to the work. Encouraged by his ability

to argue effectively with his friend Collins and to write more effectively (a skill developed

through imitating passages of The Spectator), Franklin submits anonymous articles which

are published in his brother's newspaper. When discovered, the incident causes conflict

between the two as James' friends begin to pay more respect and attention to Franklin. As

differences continue to arise, James "would fly into a passion and treat him with abuse

even to blows" (41). Franklin reacts to this "tyrannical behavior" as expected, with it

imprinting "on his mind that deep rooted aversion to arbitrary power, which he never lost,

and which rendered him through life such a firm and unconquerable enemy of oppression"

(41). Franklin's love of freedom and justice cannot allow him to remain in this situation

for long. An opportunity finally arises that gives Franklin a way to get out of his

indentures. James is arrested for statements he has printed which offend the governing

assembly of Boston, and he is forbidden to continue printing the paper. To skirt the

judgment which specifies he must not print the paper in his name, he relieves Ben of his

indentures and then continues the paper in his younger brother's name. Though secret

indentures are drawn up for the term of Benjamin's apprenticeship, all seem to know these

conditions are flimsy at best, and this provides Franklin with the opportunity of leaving.

When he informs his brother he is going, Ben knows that the indentures will not be held

against him, and thus he "boldly assert[s] his freedom!" (42).

In asserting this freedom, Franklin knows, however, that a question of honor

remains, even given his brother's provoking behavior. Weems, like many later

biographers, makes an apology for Franklin's action but does it in such a way to absolve

him from any blame and make the reader feel his genuine remorse over his "dishonorable

decision." Weems tells us that Franklin's "numerous admirers will here blush for poor

Ben, and hide their reddening cheeks. But let them redden as they may, they will hardly

ever equal that honest crimson which flows in the following lines of his own pen" (42).

Weems then quotes what appears to be a direct passage from Franklin's Autobiography.

While the sentiment of the passage is the same as Franklin's own, Weems is more prone to

describe Franklin's feelings euphemistically. Where Franklin says he was no doubt "too

saucy and provoking," Weems quotes him as having within him "too much of

impertinence." Though Weems was most likely relying upon an inaccurate text (the poorly

translated Robinson text being the most available version of Franklin's Autobiography at

the time of Weems' initial edition), the softening of these characteristics suggests,

nonetheless, the perceived need to place Franklin in the good graces of the reader.

Weems takes Franklin's acknowledgment and casts it within the Christian context

of repentance, relying upon the biblical allusions and language to absolve him. Weems'

charge "Go thy way, honest Ben" (42) parallels Christ's admonition to the woman taken in

adultery: "Go thy way and sin no more." Franklin's confession, says Weems to the

reader, "will plead [his] excuse with all who know their infirmities, and remember what the

greatest saints have done" (42). We are then reminded how Jacob tricked his brother,

robbing him of the birthright, and how David "robbed" Uriah not only of his wife, but of

his life. By comparison, Franklin's actions are mere peccadilloes, and Weems reminds the

reader that "there is mercy with Christ to forgive all, on their repentance and amendment"


As I have suggested, the next aspect of this incident reflecting the changing attitudes

of biographers and readers towards Franklin, the pretense under which Franklin leaves

Boston, becomes a key passage in determining an author's attitude to Franklin. Being left

without work in Boston (James having insured that no other Boston printer would hire

him) and realizing that any generally known flight would result in his apprehension,

Franklin resolves to leave the city by stratagem. He tells us in the Autobiography that his

friend Collins arranged with the Captain of a New York Sloop for my Passage, under the

Notion of my being a young Acquaintance of his that had got a naughty Girl with Child,

whose Friends would compel me to marry her, and therefore I could not appear or come

away publicly" (17). While Weems does not seem bothered by this deception and lie (an

issue some later biographers either apologize or shift responsibility for), he again softens

the language to paint a slightly more agreeable falsehood: "Collins engaged his passage

with the captain of a New York sloop, to whom he represented Ben as an amorous young

blade, who wished to get away privately in consequence of an intrigue with a worthless

hussy, whom her relations wanted to force upon him" (43). In effect Weems lessens the

seriousness of the encounter (ironically, one that never even took place), and further

demeans the character of the young woman.

Two elements in Weems which we see continually recurring throughout the book

are the foreshadowing of Franklin's later greatness during experiences of his early life and

the incessant need to moralize about incidents in Franklin's youth, discoursing which often

leads to long discussions totally unrelated to the topic at hand. We see both these elements

in an early passage of Weems' biography. In a typically Weemsian way, a Biblical parallel

usually accompanies the foreshadowing, which is almost always evangelical in tone. As a

boy, Franklin wrote two poems which his brother printed and sent him out to sell. The

first sold well while the second generated little interest, causing Franklin to doubt his ability

as a poet. As a result, Franklin gives up poetry for good because, according to his own

account, his father convinces him that he cannot support himself financially by writing

poetry and that there is greater utility in mastering prose. Before leaving this incident,

Weems must have a final word: I cannot let fall the curtain on this curious chapter,

without once more feasting my eyes on Ben, as, with a little basket on his arm, he trudged

along the streets of Boston crying his poetry" (22). Here Weems interjects the Biblical

story of David who while tending his father's sheep would never have dreamed he should

some day single-handedly slay the giant Goliath. Then comes the analogy:

In like manner, who that saw this "curly headed child," at the tender age of
thirteen, selling his "blind men's ditties," ... would have thought that this
was he, who, single handed, was to meet the British ministry at the bar of
their own house of Commons, and by the solar blaze of his wisdom, utterly
disperse all their dark designs against their countrymen, thus gaining for
himself a name as lasting as time, and dear to liberty as the name
Washington. (23)

Not only is the Biblical allusion and language important to begin associating Franklin

within the mainstream of traditionally held religious belief, but through association with

undoubtedly the most revered American of the early nineteenth century, Franklin's

greatness is enhanced. The Washington association grows in importance later in the

century until Franklin nearly surpasses (and in the minds of some does surpass)

Washington in popularity and importance (Hart 197; Brooks, True Story 247, 249).

Immediately following this analog comes a curious digression on idleness and the

dangers of tobacco:

O you time-wasting, brain-starving young men, who can never be at ease
unless you have a cigar or plug of tobacco in your mouths, go on with your
puffing and champing--go on with your filthy smoking, and your still more
filthy spitting, keeping the cleanly house-wives in constant terror for their
nicely waxed floors, and their shining carpets--go on I say; but remember it
was not in this way that our little Ben became the GREAT DR.

Weems is too much the preacher to resist any opportunity to sermonize, even when it

seems out of context. Even here the stress is on the obscure who becomes famous, the

"little" which becomes "GREAT." The sense of religion and morals always associated

with an action or event sets that stage for Weems' more direct Christianizing, an effort he

undertakes in confronting Franklin's acknowledged skepticism and early views.

A source of concern which would keep many from an unreserved endorsement of

Franklin was his self-characterization as a skeptic at best and an atheist at worst. In the

Autobiography Franklin tells us that after reading Shaftesbury and Collins, he became "a

real Doubter in many Points of our Religious Doctrine" and by his "indiscreet Disputations

about Religion" began to earn the reputation of being "an Infidel or Atheist" (13, 17). Such

admissions, tame as they seem, caused great concern in the minds of some nineteenth-

century admirers of Franklin. To redeem his reputation many, including Weems, began a

crusade to show Franklin's faith through Christian actions, and in some instances a full

conversion. For many, anything less than a professed Christian failed to serve as an

unblemished model worthy of emulation.

Weems' initial method of defense is to discuss the issue of hypocritical believers,

those who profess Christ but act contrary to his teachings. Weems discusses Franklin's

early arguments with Collins about religion and his use of the Socratic method in disarming

zealous promoters of religion who failed to live up to what they preached. Weems assures

us that Franklin never

took pleasure in confounding those who were honestly desirous of showing
their religion by their good works; for such were always his ESTEEM and
DELIGHT. But he could never away with those who neglected JUSTICE,
MERCY, and TRUTH, and yet affected great familiarities with the Deity,
from certain conceited wonders Christ had wrought in them. (38-39)

Clearly, Franklin's antipathy centers on "false" Christians, for he resents "that the religion

of love and good works tending to this, should be usurped by a harsh, barren puritanism,

with her disfigured faces, whine and cant" (39). It is not that he is adverse to religion, but

he has little tolerance for those who do not live decently and charitably. Especially

noteworthy is Weems' specific mention of "puritanism," suggesting his rejection of man's

innate depravity in favor of a more positive view posited by Enlightenment thinkers and

early nineteenth-century religionists.

Intermittently throughout his Christian moralizing, Weems returns to more secular

concerns with which few readers would take issue: the benefits of hard work and the

dangers and evils of such vice as alcohol. While the themes of industry or temperance

have a much more prominent role in the implicit message of later biographies, both play a

part in Weems' attempt to mythicize his subject. Inevitably coupled with the mention of

industry is the virtue of frugality. The hard-working Franklin saves continually to

purchase books, books which not only help toward his self-education but become the

means to see him secretly out of Boston:

Ben had no money. But he had money's worth. Having, for four years
past, been carefully turning into books every penny he could spare, he had
by this time made up a pretty little library. ... So turning a parcel of them
back again into money, he slipped privately on board of a sloop, which on
the third day landed him safely in New York. (43)

For Weems, himself an avid book maker and seller, it is no surprise that books are seen as

a good investment From New York, Franklin continues on to Philadelphia, where

conscientious saving and hard work continue as a theme: he "picked up money by his

industry, and being quite frugal, lived so happy, that except for his parents, he seldom ever

thought of Boston nor felt any wish to see it" (53).

Seven months after leaving Boston Franklin returns to solicit his father's assistance

in setting up a printing business in Philadelphia. During this visit, Franklin impresses the

workers at his brother's shop. Through his diligence and wise management of money, he

returns in a new suit of clothes, sporting a new watch with nearly five pounds sterling

lining his pockets, important symbols of his new found prosperity. While Franklin's chief

motive in visiting his brother's shop seems to be a desire to taunt James, Weems sees

Franklin's visit as a desire to demonstrate to others what hard work and conscientious

saving can produce. He tells his brother's workers that "great things lay before them if

they [will] but continue industrious and prudent, and make themselves masters of their

trade (55), an admonition aimed at the reader as well. Weems acknowledges that

Franklin was the favorite of his father, but the preferential treatment was deserving for "one

whose rare genius and unconquerable industry, if but conducted by prudence, would

assuredly, one day, lead him to greatness" (56).

Franklin, of course, proves worthy of this trust, and in telling his father why he

had not written during his initial absence from Boston, explains his negligence:

I know, father, what a deep interest you took in my welfare, and therefore I
resolved never to write to you until by my own industry and economy I had
got myself into such a state, I could write you with pleasure. This state I
did not attain till lately. (57)

Throughout the narrative Franklin demonstrates these qualities of prudence and industry,

with Weems always tying them to the success finally (and famously) achieved. Weems

puts his religious stamp to the traits, an aspect of the emerging Protestant work ethic.

Franklin's father tells him these virtues "are the noblest funds that God can bestow on a

young man" (59). While vice can cause a loss of fortune or prevent obtaining one, with

virtue--specifically the qualities of diligence, prudence, and honesty--Franklin "will have

the glory to be the artificer of [his] own fame and fortune" (60). Such dogma develops to a

greater degree during the mid-century and increases in importance even more near the

century's end.

During Franklin's visit to Boston, Weems returns to the issue of religion with

perhaps the longest sustained dialogue on a given subject by any two characters in the

book. While Franklin is unsuccessful in winning his father's support for the printing

venture, the reunion between the two provides Weems an opportunity to explore various

tenets of Christianity. As Franklin prepares to leave, Josiah sighs, "Yes, Ben, we part to-

morrow, and perhaps never to meet again! ... O my son, what a wretch were man

without religion? Yes, Ben, without the hopes of immortality, how much better he had

never been born?" (63). This provides Weems (via Josiah) to reflect on the benefits of

religion and the purpose it gives to life. Josiah admonishes his son to "lay hold of religion,

and secure an interest in those blessed hopes that contribute so much to the virtues and joys

of life" (64). This brings Franklin's confession that many in Boston feel he has no

religion, that he has apostatized from it. "'God forbid!' exclaims his father, 'But whence,

my son, could these prejudices have arisen?'" (64). Franklin proceeds to give the reasons

he has been labeled as such, none of which Josiah either remembers or knows about.

What follows is a long discussion of "true religion." Josiah admits to many of the

points his son makes about professed believers. Ben convinces his father that the end of

religion is God's glory, which interpreted means man's happiness. He reasons that God's

intent in creating man was to see him attain the highest degree of perfection and happiness

possible. This comes to man only through goodness and benevolence, traits conspicuously

absent in the followers of many organized religions. Neglecting the importance of works,

many Christians promote total reliance on faith. Josiah, fearing that his son is treating the

matter of faith too lightly, remarks, "I am afraid, my son, you do not treat this article of our

holy religion with sufficient reverence" (70). Franklin responds,

I mean not the least reflection on FAITH, but solely on those hypocrites
who abuse it to countenance their vices and crimes.... I look on faith as a
mean to beget that moral goodness, which, to me, appears to be the only
qualification of heaven. (70)

For Franklin, religion is like a barren fig tree without the fruits of benevolence and good

works. As Franklin pauses in his artful reasoning, Josiah interjects that had Franklin

studied divinity as he and his Uncle Ben had wanted, he certainly could have obtained a

license to preach. Here Weems goes off on other variations of the theme, only to return to

the final conclusion that if a bad man, through faith or professed righteousness, were to be

admitted into the presence of God, the dissimilarity between the two would be so

horrifying and painful to the man that he would "fly away as weak-eyed owls from the

blaze of the meridian sun" (74).

Expressing his appreciation to his son for elaborating his views, Josiah remarks,

your language indeed is not always the language of the scriptures; neither do
you rest your hopes, as I could have wished, on the Redeemer, but still
your idea in placing our qualification for heaven in resembling God in moral
goodness, is truly evangelical, and I hope you will one day become a great
christian. (74)

To this Franklin responds that he will likely not become a Christian in name as his father

hopes for, but that he is certain they will see each other in the presence of "that

UNUTTERABLE BEING, whose disinterested goodness [is] the spring of all...

felicities" (75). Through this discussion Weems portrays Franklin as an intent believer in

benevolence and righteous living, showing the morality of his views in contrast to

hypocritical religionists. Concluding the fictitious dialogue between the father and son,

described as "one of the most amiable parents, and one of the most acute and sagacious

youths that our country, or perhaps any other has ever produced" (75), Weems waits until

the end of Franklin's life and the conclusion of the book to make his final arguments in

Franklin's behalf.

Another incident from Franklin's own narrative which didactic writers exploit

centers on his boyhood friend John Collins, who helped him escape from Boston. While

Collins is depicted as an astute, able young man, even the favorite of many preachers, he

subsequently falls through a weakness for liquor and cards, providing a lesson and

warning to all. When Franklin leaves Boston the second time, he meets Collins in New

York. Weems works for all the pathos possible in Franklin's discovery of Collins' vice.

Great was the joy of Ben at the sight of his friend Collins, for it drew after it
a train of the most pleasant recollections. --But who can describe his
feelings, when flying to embrace that long esteemed youth, he beheld him
now risen from his chair equally eager for the embrace, but alas! only able
to make a staggering step or two before down he came sprawling on the
floor, drunk as a lord!
To see a young man of his wit --his eloquence --his education --his
hitherto unstained character and high promise, thus overwhelmed by a
worse than brutal vice, would have been a sad sight to Ben, even though
that young man had been an entire stranger. But oh! how tenfold sad to see
such marks of ruinous dishonor on one so dear, and from whom he had
expected so much. (78)

Weems gives an anti-aristocratic sheen to the incident using the cliche, "drunk as a lord."

Even in such small ways Weems endorses the preferability of democratic values, a theme

more evident in later narratives in which Franklin epitomizes American patriotism. In

various invented incidents which follow, Weems shows the depth of depravity to which

Collins has sunk and uses Franklin as a mouthpiece to preach against the evils of drink.

But imbibing is not the only danger against which Weems wants to warn his young

readers. Mere association with those so inclined to the bottle constitutes a serious threat to

one's moral safety. While Collins is with Franklin, he convinces Franklin to loan him

some money, money which Franklin has collected for a friend of his brother's. After

Franklin allows Collins to talk him into parting with some of the entrusted cash, Weems

carries Franklin through a soul-wrenching, two-page soliloquy on the foolishness of his


What demon ... could have put it into my head to tell Collins that I had
Vernon's money! Didn't I know that a drunkard has no more reason in him
than a hog; and can no better be satisfied, unless like him he is eternally
pulling at his filthy swill? And have I indeed been all this time throwing

away Vernon's money for brandy to addle the brain of this poor self-made
brute? Well then, I am served exactly as I deserve, for thus making myself
a pander to his vices. (86)

Franklin feels he is justly punished for his foolishness but fears he may now be forced

back to an apprenticeship in Boston with his brother James, a situation likely if the debt is


Weems continues his address to the reader with a direct warning:

O young men! young men! you that with segars [sic] in your mouths, and
faces flushed with libations of whiskey, can fancy yourselves clever
fellows, and boast the long list of your dear friends, O think of the curses
that Ben bestowed on his dear friend Collins, for bringing him in such a
scrape; and learn that an idle, drinking rascal has no friends. (87)

After two more pages of temperance talk, Weems' Franklin arrives at the decision "for ever

hereafter [to] shun, as I would a beast, the young man who drinks dram and grog" (89).

Of course, Weems must make one final warning, casting the whole incident in a religious


And now perhaps, after all the fair prospects of his youth, and all the fond
hopes of his parents, poor Collins, untimely buried in a foreign church-
yard, only serves for the pious to point their children to his early tomb and
remind them how vain are talents and education without the restraints of
religion. (91)

While rejecting the "barren puritanism" of his progenitors, Weems cannot fully endorse the

more liberal Enlightenment view of man's innate goodness. A necessary function of

religion is to restrain the natural inclinations of man. Without religious instruction, a type

of training which promotes bridling sensual passion, degradation soon follows, no matter

the amount of talent or education one possesses, as we clearly see demonstrated in the case

of Collins.

Weems continues the biography in like manner, proceeding up to the end of Part

One of the Autobiography, interspersing incidents of Franklin's own life with moralizing

admonitions, inventing details in instances where he deems a greater impression needs to

be made. Through various editions of The Life of Benjamin Franklin, Weems added

extraneous miscellany from Franklin's later years to further the volume's marketability,

connecting the various selections with a thin narrative. Extracts from letters and essays as

well as numerous anecdotes all serve to further the image of an upright, industrious, God-

fearing Franklin. In discussing Poor Richard's Almanack, Weems characterizes it as

abounding with "the finest maxims on Industry, Temperance, and Frugality, thrown

together with astonishing conciseness, and written with that happy mixture of gravity and

gaiety that captivates every body, and never tires" (134). He boasts that Franklin often

sold 10,000 to 15,000 copies of it a year in Pennsylvania alone, and it has done more than

any other piece of writing in the middle and southern states to inculcate the


TO WEALTH" (135). He makes special mention that Franklin's best maxims were

collected for the 1758 edition of the almanac which was later reprinted as The Way to

Wealth. Having "whet the reader's appetite" for the almanac and, in particular, The Way to

Wealth, Weems then takes pleasure in reprinting the text of the latter in its entirety.

This practice of reprinting selections of Franklin's writings serves as the model for

the next 30 pages of the book where Weems prints 15 different essays or short pieces,

selections such as "The Whistle," "Stoop, and Go Safe" (an anecdote relating to a visit with

Cotton Mather), and "Advice to a Young Tradesman." To these pieces Weems adds his

own editorial comments and admonitions. Weems follows this excerpted section with a

short discussion of Franklin's interest in electricity and the famous kite experiment, and

some general comments about his diplomatic work in England and France. The remainder

of the book then is devoted, in large degree, to a final attempt at showing Franklin as a

professed Christian. Weems says, "I have been told that Dr. Franklin on his deathbed

often returned thanks to God for having so kindly cast his lot of life in the very time when

of all others he would have chosen to live for the great purposes of usefulness and

pleasure" (181). While many call themselves Christians, Weems sees Franklin as having

"lived to set the example of a better christianity" (181). In a discussion of charitable and

benevolent acts, Weems recounts the many things which Franklin did for others, which to

Weems is the hallmark of true Christianity. His inventions, projects, and public service

testify of his godly life. Weems includes letters and accounts of Franklin's inclination

towards religious things, attempting to frame them within a Christian context. An account

of his motion to adopt prayer at the Constitutional Convention, a letter to a niece

admonishing her to attend church regularly, and a letter denouncing a pamphlet written

against Christianity are printed as proof of Franklin's religious sentiment, which Weems

molds into a profession of Christian faith.

The closing paragraphs of the biography bespeak Weems' most creative attempt at

this pious revisionism, the one which is most noteworthy and which will be associated

with the emerging mythic figure in the years following. Just as the Washington/cherry tree

story seems to have been Weems' greatest mythic moment in his Washington biography

(the one that became affixed to the popular image of the "Father of our country" and which

continues to be told to demonstrate Washington's integrity), a concluding anecdote in the

Franklin biography has enjoyed a similar popularity, though not with the same enduring

power. Weems centers his concluding remarks on Franklin around an account related to

him by a Mr. David Ritter, an acquaintance of Franklin's. While the nature of the

testimonial which follows has the effect of adding credibility to the incident (Ritter is

someone who was there, reporting the final moments of Franklin's life), the discriminating

reader readily notices the elements of a folkloric account.

In the anecdote, Ritter says he "always had a prodigious opinion of doctor

Franklin, as the usefulest man we ever had among us, by a long way; and so hearing that

he was sick, I thought I would go and see him" (236). When Ritter arrives at Franklin's

house, he is greeted by "old Sarah Humphries," a kindly Quaker woman who has been

caring for Franklin in his final sickness. But Ritter is informed that he has come too late,

for Franklin has peacefully passed away just minutes before. Sarah does, however, insist

that Ritter come in and see the body. Ritter describes the body looking natural, eyes

closed, and if but for the lack of breathing, he "would have thought he was in a sweet

sleep, he looked so calm and happy" (237). The implication, of course, is that only those

who die with a conscience devoid of offense before God and man could look so serene.

Ritter notices Franklin's face is somewhat fixed towards the chimney and naturally turns to

see what lies in that direction. He sees that just above the mantle "was a noble picture! O it

was a noble picture, sure enough! It was the picture of our Savior on the cross" (237).

A discussion ensues as to how this picture came to be placed above the fireplace,

especially since many people thought Franklin "was not after this sort [i.e., Christian]"

(237). Sarah explains that "many who makes a great fuss about religion have very little,

while some who say but little about it have a good deal" (237). Ritter agrees with her

observation, and she proceeds to tell him the story behind the picture.

Many weeks ago, as he lay, he beckoned me to him, and told me of this
picture up stairs, and begged I would bring it to him. I brought it to him.
His face brightened up as he looked at it; and he said, "Aye, Sarah," said
he, "there's a picture worth looking at! that's the picture of him who came
into the world to teach men to love one another! Then after looking
wistfully at it for some time, he said, "Sarah," said he, "set this picture up
over the mantelpiece, right before me as I lie;for I like to look at it," and
when I had fixed it up, he looked at it very much; and indeed, as thee sees,
he died with his eyes fixed on it. (237-238)

An exegesis on this event follows with Weems asserting that Franklin died with full faith

and belief in his Savior:

Happy Franklin! Thus doubly blest! Blest in life, by a diligent co-working
with "THE GREAT SHEPHERD," in his precepts of perfect love. --Blest
in death, with his closing eyes piously fixed upon him, and meekly bowing
to the last summons in joyful hope that through the force of his divine
precepts, the "wintry storms" of hate will one day pass away, and one
"eternal spring of love and peace encircle all." (238)

Weems concludes by reprinting Franklin's epitaph, though his own more overtly

religious preface precedes it.

Now Franklin in his lifetime had written for himself an epitaph, to be put
upon his grave, that honest posterity might see that he was no unbeliever, as
certain enemies had slandered him, but hefirmly believed that his
Redeemer liveth; and that in the latter day he shall stand upon the earth; and
that though worms destroyed his body, yet in his flesh he should see God."

The epitaph, differing slightly from Franklin's original, follows:

The Body of
Benjamin Franklin, Printer,
Like the Cover of an old Book,
Its Contents torn out,
And stripped of its Lettering and Gilding,
Lies here, Food for Worms.
Yet the Work shall not be lost:
For it will, as he believed, appear once more,
In a new and more beautiful Edition,
Corrected and amended
By the author. (238)
Weems acknowledges that this epitaph was never put on Franklin's grave, "but the friend

of man needs no stone of the valley to perpetuate his memory" (238). Not contenting

himself with Franklin's own acknowledgment of divinity, Weems puts it within a Christian

context by his prefatory quotation from the biblical book of Job, asserting that Franklin

died firmly believing "that his Redeemer liveth" (238).

The work of Weems suggests an approach to Franklin that continues as the

nineteenth century progresses, with authors refashioning the image and their writing to

reflect prevalent ideologies. Franklin as a prominent figure in American history becomes a

popular subject of such cause-fitting. Weems' primary concern with Franklin appears to be

with religion and making a publicly viewed skeptic conform to the mainstream of American

religious thought. Through his incessant moralizing, particularly the final deathbed scene,

Weems helps forge Christian elements into Franklin's image. The impact of Weems is

evident as subsequent Franklin biographies published throughout the nineteenth century

more often than not make reference to Franklin dying as he stares longingly at a picture of

the crucified Christ. Even as late as 1935 reference is made to this event in a biography

intended for young readers. 10 While the issue of religion becomes less crucial in the latter

nineteenth century, to readers of the early century the piety of Franklin would have

increased his popularity. But perhaps it was all that enforced piety of Weems that made

this book less popular than the life of George Washington.

Weems further corroborates the faith of Franklin in the conclusion of his

Washington biography. Weems concurs with the statement "that a man's death is a true

copy of his life" (Garland facsimile 76). With reference to Franklin's last hours, this

would suggest that his final profession of faith and acceptance of Christ demonstrates his

true nature, a fact suggested in a more startling way in the Washington biography. Not

content with showing Washington's death, Weems' fertile imagination and ministerial zeal

carries the nation's first President into the afterlife. As Washington dies, the voice of the

dearly departed patriot is heard in "the ear of wisdom" saying "Children of Columbia, weep

not for me! My streaming eyes are closed in death. My throbbing heart shall beat no

more. With me the storms of life are past, and I am at rest" (79). Then,

on angel wings, the brightening saint ascended. Far and wide the air was
filled with fragrance; while voices more than human were heard warbling
through the happy regions, hymning the great procession towards the gates
of Heaven. His glorious coming was seen far off; and myriads of mighty
angels hastened forth, with golden harps, to welcome the honored stranger.
High in front of the shouting hosts [was] seen the beauteous [form] of
FRANKLIN .... with all the virtuous patriots who on the side of
Columbia, toiled or bled for liberty and truth. (79)

Franklin, now an exalted angel in God's presence, greets and embraces Washington with

"tenderness unutterable" (79), afterwards leading the newly arrive "saint" to the throne of

God, "whence from a cloud of gold, sweeter than music, the almighty voice was heard,

'Servant of God, well done! faithful has been thy warfare on earth! for the sorrows of a

moment receive now the joys of eternity!"' (80). Franklin, by his prominent presence in

the heavenly throng, is no doubt worthy of the same commendation, his Christianity

verified by his exalted state.

Weems seems aware of the importance of a Christian hero in his own evolving

depiction of Franklin. The first two editions of his The Life of Benjamin Franklin were

little more than a copy of the first part of the Autobiography. Apparently sales were not as

brisk nor as impressive as Weems had hoped, so he set out to add what he calls his

"moralizing scribblings" to the Life (Works III, 250). During 1820 Weems refers to the

1818 version (his first truly original edition) as his "last & Best edition" (292), and in a

letter to his publisher asks for it to be reprinted. This 1818 edition is the first to contain the

incessant sermonizing and the deathbed anecdote. In referring to this biography of

Franklin in late fall of 1820 and seeing the possibility of its use in schools, Weems writes,

"As to Dr. Franklin. We must assuredly print it again. That Book may do, more by

promoting THE SAVING VIRTUES,' to prolong the Independence of this Country, than

all the Maps in the World" (296). By an 1820 Christmas edition, wherein Weems finally

deletes all lengthy quotations from Franklin's Autobiography and adds a few final touches

of his own, the biography assumes the form it ostensibly keeps for the remainder of the


Weems is among the first of a long list of nineteenth-century biographers who see

an instructional and redemptive value in biography. In commenting upon his own works,

Weems observes,

these moralizing Biographies ... will help many a poor child to early
wisdom, and Patriotism & Honor like Washington ... Christian Children
are taught heathen languages, and Worldly Sciences; but very rarely have
they had Preceptors to "teach their young ideas how to shoot."... But still
it will be greater Joy to help young minds to that tenderness of Conscience
& firmness in resisting vice & doing duty. (Works III, 324)

In his life of Franklin, Weems takes the elements of an already engaging story and injects

them with his own particular attitudes and dogma to present Franklin as he "should have

been" if in a given instance he fails to fit the ideal of what Weems wants or needs for

making a point. This attitude remains common throughout the nineteenth century as

biographers transform the life and image of Franklin to fit the expediency of prevailing (or

perceived) needs and ideas.

By the end of this early period, with the continued inclusion of Franklin material in

school readers, the idealized nature of the image begins to grow more evident. Writers

continue to go beyond Franklin's own account in depicting important events in his life, as

is evident in Rev. J. L. Blake's Historical Reader (1825). Blake, an Episcopal clergyman

turned writer, informs his readers that it is his intent to provide information on the "most

interesting and useful portions of history," and readers are to blame "if suitable moral

reflections are not made as they pass along" (iii, viii). Using a varied stock of information

acquired from his work as a cleric and as a schoolmaster, Blake imbues his work with such

didacticism that only an obtuse reader could miss the moral. In writing about Franklin,

Blake chooses to relate his interest in electricity, especially his invention of the lightning

rod. Blake tells the account in dogged (heroic) couplets, depicting Franklin as a valiant

hero who by the invention of the lightning rod completely removes the danger from

electrical storms. The closing six lines provide a feel for the tone and moral quality Blake


His daring toils, the threatening blasts that wait,
Shall teach mankind to ward the bolts of fate;
The pointed steel o'ertop th' ascending spire,
And lead o'er trembling wall the harmless fire;
In his glad fame while distant worlds rejoice,
Far as the lightning shine, or thunders raise their voice. (272)

For Blake, Franklin has not only invented a useful device but has taught the world how to

rise above dangerous challenges and meet the seemingly impossible.

One final example from the early period suggests the roots of a nationalistic impulse

also working in the popularity of Franklin's image and shows the beginnings of other

characteristics which Franklin more fully comes to represent in later accounts. An

anonymously written short biography, Stories about Dr. Franklin; Designedfor the

Instruction and Amusement of Children, adopts much of the same moralizing quality found

in Weems, but with much less emphasis on religion. The preface sets the context of the

book against the backdrop of some anti-American feeling expressed by a French author,

showing first Franklin's greatness and then, by inference, America's. Among other things

the Frenchman is to have said that America has failed to produce one great man in the

annals of world history. The anonymous author responds to this Frenchman by claiming

that Thomas Jefferson had previously identified several great Americans, including

Franklin, "who he thought was one of the greatest [men], the world ever saw" (3). The

author then, condescendingly, proceeds to inform us that he is going to tell his "little

readers something about this great Dr. Franklin" (5). His purpose in doing this is twofold:

First, it is honorable for a country to have great men and for everyone, including children,

to know about them. Second, Franklin may provide encouragement to "little readers,"

even those whose "parents are poor," in showing them that exertion is the key to success,

for Franklin "was never idle. --not like a drone" (6).

The events of this biography follow the incidents recounted in the Autobiography,

at times quoting Franklin's own words directly. Like Weems, this author periodically

interrupts the narrative to moralize on a particular topic the story has called to mind. For

instance, when Franklin borrows books from others because he cannot afford his own, the

author remarks:

This makes me think of what [Franklin] said about his being punctual to
return books, which he had borrowed. He was always up to his word.
This is a good hint to my young readers. What we borrow we should
return, and at the time we promise. Punctuality is an excellent trait in a
man's character. Such a man is trusted without hesitation. He always finds
those, who are not only willing, but pleased to lend him what he needs.

This advice only serves to remind the author of yet another lesson as he continues his


I must not forget another thing. Young Franklin was not only punctual to
return what he borrowed in season, but to return it uninjured.... This
made people still more willing to lend to him. (11)

Following a lengthy discussion of borrowing and returning, the author concludes,

"Franklin set a good example in this respect, and I hope my young readers will try to

follow it" (12).

After relating other incidents from the Autobiography, we then encounter the crucial

events leading up to Franklin's flight from Boston. This author seems keenly aware that

Ben's action in running away from Boston was not only illegal but in direct disobedience to

his father's wishes. Where an author like Weems minimizes this aspect and focuses more

on Franklin's later sorrow at behaving so inexcusably, this account provides another moral

lesson. The incident is introduced apologetically: "I must now tell my young readers

something which I wish I might conceal" (16). The author says that Franklin and his

brother often quarreled, and without taking sides, he believes both were in the wrong--as

"is usually the case" (16). While he acknowledges that Franklin in his later years felt bad

about things between him and his brother, we are reminded that Franklin did feel his

brother had wronged him. As tension grows in his brother's shop, Franklin determines to

go to New York, a decision in part precipitated by James' cruel treatment. This decision

then warrants a lengthy authorial digression and warning:

This determination he made without consulting his father. In this he did
wrong. Parents should always be consulted, especially by children under
age. They generally know what is wise for children to do, even better than
children do themselves. Besides, they have a right to direct all cases which
are lawful. In this instance, we must condemn young Franklin; and indeed
all who do as he now did. (17)

Feeling that one major wrongdoing was enough at this point, the biographer glosses over

any discussion of the "naughty girl" and the lie used to get aboard the sloop. We are

merely told, "When he had determined to go, he sold a part of his books, and with the

money he raised, he went privately on board a sloop sailing to New York" (17-18).

We later have reference to Franklin's disobedience to his father, but it is usually

always qualified or its reprehensibleness lessened by stressing some of Franklin's

redeeming traits. For instance, in the depiction of Franklin's early weeks in Philadelphia

we read, "He had done wrong in leaving home as he did; he now did wrong in not letting

his father know where he was. I ought to say however, that he was quite industrious,

sober, and frugal" (25). These cardinal Franklinian virtues become a palliation for his

wrongdoing and a way that his undesirable behavior can be partially reconciled and

tolerated if not accepted.

Without undue elaboration, the traits of diligence, temperance, and prudence are

mentioned numerous times throughout the text and serve as the foundation for Franklin's

success and greatness, which the author seems so concerned with in the preface. We are

told Franklin "was very industrious, and in a few years made a handsome fortune" (43).

One threat, though, to this industry and hence success is the evil of alcohol. While later

biographies fashion Franklin more directly as a temperance advocate, this biography merely

warns young readers to abstain from liquor if success is desired, with Collins as the prime

example. Franklin's friend again enters the narrative, primarily as a foil to show what lack

of industry and indulgence in drink produce. After recounting the traditional encounters

with Collins as related in the Autobiography, the author pauses to preach:

What a lesson is here taught all my young readers. Collins was a youth of
great promise. He had genius equal to Franklin, and in attainments even
excelled him. He was sober, industrious and beloved. He might have
been eminently useful and respectable. But he began to drink, and drink
ruined him forever. (35)

The account then returns to Franklin, focusing on his success and achievements rendered

by his abstinence and hard work. As further proof of his greatness, we have a brief

discussion of his accomplishments in later life as a scientist, statesman, and diplomat.

One interesting inclusion in this biography is the fictitious anecdote of a visit

Franklin made to Boston in his later years prior to his mother's death. While not stated

explicitly, the incident seems to provide, in the context of the book, a direct contrast to the

type of boy who left Boston under dishonorable circumstances. To the author, Franklin's

original flight from Boston was reprehensible. But Franklin clearly redeems himself

through hard work, by his abstinence from liquor, and through his frugal habits. We have

almost the suggestion that these traits when conscientiously adopted bring not only success

but produce a transforming effect upon an individual that has even physical manifestations.

In the anecdote, Franklin returns to Boston and is admitted into his mother's presence.

Like Odysseus returning home, Ben is not recognized by his mother and would have the

stranger be off. But it is a cold January evening and the servants beg her indulgence to let

the man warm himself by the fire. Reluctantly, she consents. As one thing leads to

another, Franklin ends up staying for dinner and spending the night in a chair in front of

the fire. Not until morning does Franklin reveal his identity to his mother, and she

graciously begs his forgiveness.

While this anecdote was in common circulation (it is retold in other publications in

varying versions) and has no explicit moral drawn here, its inclusion, given the tenor of the

rest of the biography, suggests that a transforming power lay in the virtues Franklin

developed. As we have seen from Franklin's Autobiography, those individuals who fail to

live frugally, honestly, and industriously never rise above their circumstances and end up

as desperate, broken men--notably Collins, Ralph, and Keimer. Franklin, however,

despite his early weaknesses, undergoes a moral change as he adheres to these primary

virtues, correcting all his errataa." This moral transformation results in a change of social

standing as well, with Franklin gaining fame and fortune due to his perseverance. In the

context of this anonymously written biography, the author seems to suggest that these

changes also brought a marked change in Franklin's demeanor, testimony to the physical

manifestations evident in virtuous men.

The Franklin depicted in the majority of these pieces of the early period differs little

from the self-crafted figure portrayed in the Autobiography and the persona of Poor

Richard, images which by this time become virtually inseparable from the historical figure.

We see, however, significant changes beginning to occur and the roots of important trends

emerging. Perhaps more than any other author of this period, Mason Weems has the

greatest influence upon the image and takes the greatest liberty in refashioning Franklin to

fit his particular needs. Few subsequent authors feel so impelled to defend Franklin from

the charge of being anti-Christian. Certainly none does it with greater creativity. In many

ways Weems establishes the image within an acceptable Christian framework, securing

Franklin's story within that framework to such an extent that others fail to see the need to

rework the material in this regard. Weems' image endures until the time his sermonizing

goes out of fashion and societal needs called for a sermon and an image of a different sort.

Nonetheless, remnants of the Weems' sanctimonious and sanitized Franklin continue

throughout the century and are unquestionably accepted as part of the real man. During the

mid-century, we will see further elaboration of aspects of the image which began to appear

during this early period.


1. In his still standard biography, Benjamin Franklin (New York: Garden City
Publishing Co., 1941), Carl Van Doren discusses in more detail the Poor Richard no one
remembers. Chapter 4, Section VI (pp. 106-115) gives a concise history of the almanac
and provides numerous quotes from earlier editions of Poor Richard's Almanack, showing
the "other side" of Poor Richard, and consequently of Franklin. Few readers know the
Poor Richard who said, among other things, the following: "Never spare the parson's wine
nor the baker's pudding" (1733). "A house without a woman and firelight is like a body
without a soul" (1733). "Neither a fortress nor a m--d will hold out long after they begin to
parley" (1734). "A ship under sail and a big-bellied woman are the handsomest two things
that can be seen in common" (1735). "Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it"
(1736). "He that lives upon hope, dies farting" (1736).

2. J. A. Leo Lemay and P. M. Zall offer fine summary and a thorough annotated
listing of the key editions of the Autobiography's complicated publication history in the
Norton Critical Edition of the Autobiography (New York and London: W. W. Norton &
Co., 1986).

3. In discussing eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century children's
literature, one finds it difficult to categorize a work strictly as either juvenile or adult. Most
juvenile reading material of this period was originally published for adults only to be
appropriated to the domain of children. It becomes clear that works like the 1809 edition of
the Autobiography referred to were intended for juvenile as well as adult reading by the
common practice of personally inscribing books. Books like the Autobiography were
commonly given to children as gifts for special occasions or as prizes or acknowledgments
of some meritorious action. In my work in the Baldwin Library at the University of
Florida (one of the finest existing libraries of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century children's
books), I encountered numerous examples of the Autobiography and The Way to Wealth
inscribed to children, as well as other standard adult biographies on Franklin.

4. In some instances I was unable to consult a work directly, either because of its
rarity or inaccessibility. To insure thorough coverage of trends and show connections
between certain aspects of Franklin's evolving image, I rely on the excellent annotations in
Melvin Buxbaum's Benjamin Franklin, 1721-1906: A Reference Guide (Boston: G. K.
Hall, 1983). In those cases where I use Buxbaum, I acknowledge and note the reference.

5. In all citations of the Autobiography, unless otherwise specified by edition date,
publisher, or place of publication, I use the Norton Critical Edition edited by J. A. Leo
Lemay and P. M. Zall (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co., 1986).

6. For additional information on Weems, see Lawrence C. Wroth's Parson Weems
(Baltimore: The Eichelberger Book Company, 1911) and Lewis Leary's The Book-
Peddling Parson (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books, 1984).

7. Robert G. Miner, Jr., in the preface to a photo-facsimile of Weems' 5th edition
of the Life of Washington (New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1977), claims that the
Washington biography became "the second best-selling book of its time" (vii), surpassed
only in numbers sold by the Bible.

8. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes from Weems' Life of George Washington
come from the 1854 edition.

9. W. J. Rorabaugh provides a general overview of the decline of the
apprenticeship system from colonial times through the post-Civil War years in The Craft
Apprentice: From Franklin to the Machine Age in America (New York and Oxford: Oxford
UP, 1986). Though Rorabaugh overstates the significance of Franklin's Autobiography in
bringing about the demise of the apprentice system ("In leaving this legacy [the
Autobiography ], Franklin did more than any other American to put the age-old institution
of apprenticeship on the road to extinction" [15]), he does provide a useful discussion of
other forces affecting the system's waning popularity and usefulness, such things as the
failure of guilds to develop in America, the absence of effective prosecution and
punishment for runaways, the importing of indentured servants, a shift in fundamental
ideologies with greater emphasis on individual rights and freedom, the advent of cash
wages, and a change in familial structures accompanying industrialization and urbanization.
Though a plethora of apprentice advice literature emerged between the Revolutionary and
Civil Wars to counter the system's decline, irreversible economic and societal changes
precluded any return to a dying tradition that had taken hold in America only in limited

10. While the ostensible facts of Weems' account remain the same (Franklin dying
with his eyes affixed to the picture of the Savior), we see the folkloric effect of the
continual retelling of the story through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth
century. The original account has Weems hearing that a minister of a local church, a Rev.
Dr. Helmuth, had a valuable anecdote. Weems proceeds to see the minister who informs
him he knows of the story but that Weems ought to go the source of the account, Mr.
David Ritter. Ritter then becomes the acquaintance of the story who visits Franklin's home
and is informed of the anecdote by Sarah Humphries. In the natural retelling the chain of
events are shortened and the effect heightened. Helen Nicolay's 1935 biography, The
Boy's Life of Benjamin Franklin (New York: D. Appleton, 1935), eliminates Ritter
altogether and has the reverend (Helmuth, though not mentioned by name) speaking to
Franklin directly. Franklin is purported to have quoted to Helmuth several of Watts'
hymns from memory, commenting upon their beauty. He then turns and speaks of the
picture of Christ which hangs above the mantle. He later dies with his eyes affixed to the


As the period of the mid-century begins, the type and tenor of material quoted on

Franklin remain much the same as it had during the previous decades. Relating short

anecdotes and printing excerpts from his writings continues as standard practice. With the

emergence of anecdote books, anthologies containing anecdotal information on important

men, and the continued practice of using short pieces as fillers in periodicals, Franklin

remained a frequent figure in popular reading material. What is significant to note is a

change in the type of anecdotes which seem most frequently published. While a collection

like American Anecdotes contains some lighter pieces like "The Blue Yar Stockings" or

"Franklin and the Barber" wherein Franklin teaches the French court about plain dress in

the one instance and shows that his head is too big for a French wig and by implication for

"all de French nation in the other, by far the majority of the anecdotes tend to do one of

two things: (1) show Franklin as a Christian or at least a religious man or (2) portray

Franklin demonstrating or teaching one of the cardinal principles that have been associated

with him, especially industry and sobriety. The religious and work aspects of the image

seem to be most important, at least by the frequency of anecdotes published.

In addition to continued publication of items like his epitaph, as seen, for instance,

in a September 1837 issue of The Youth's Instructor and Guardian, we see other items like

"Franklin a Christian" in Freeman Hunt's 1830 edition of American Anecdotes. In this

instance Hunt perpetuates Weems' fiction of Franklin on his deathbed delighting in a

picture of Christ on the cross. We see further evidence of the Christianizing in two

anecdotes included in Peter Parley's Book of Anecdotes. Parley, pseudonym for Samuel

Griswold Goodrich, entitles his two entries on Franklin, "Eloquence of Whitefield" and

"Dr. Franklin's Last Words." The "Eloquence of Whitefield" tells of Franklin's

experience in listening to the persuasive preacher, George Whitefield, who was soliciting

money for a religious project in Georgia. Franklin had resolved not to give any money, but

so powerful was the oratorical persuasion of Whitefield that he "drew out all the contents of

his pocket, among which were several gold pieces, and emptied every one into the

collector's box" (136). The editorial comment suggests that Franklin's generous donation

shows he was a firm supporter of religion, the convincing rhetoric of the sermon as

motivation being dismissed when a point is to be made. The anecdote "Dr. Franklin's Last

Words" follows the Weems tradition of placing a dying Franklin in the mainstream of

believing Christians. Approached by a skeptic who doubted the truth of the Bible, Franklin

roused himself from his deathbed, scarcely able to speak, and advised

that it was his last and solemn advice to him, that he should diligently study
and believe in the Holy Scriptures; that there was no safety in unbelief; and
he begged him with his dying breath to think of his eternal interests. (128)

And, of course, who can dispute the last words of a dying man, especially one named

Benjamin Franklin.

In a piece called "Letters to a Young Christian" appearing in a November 1833

issue of The Youth's Instructor and Guardian, another anecdote attempts to show

Franklin's knowledge of and love for the Bible. As a part of a larger discussion of the

need to read and cherish the Bible, the author of the letter tells of Franklin meeting with a

group of English ladies to discuss pastoral poetry and proposing to read to them a

translation of a pastoral poem he has discovered. He reads to them the Book of Ruth from

the Bible, which no one recognizes. They exclaim it is the finest pastoral poem they have

heard. Franklin then "gravely" tells them it is from the Bible, and the author comments

that for all he knows the women were at worst "infidels" who ridiculed the holy word.

"Even in our day," remarks the writer, "how little attention do the sacred oracles

command!" (366). This practice of using Franklin to support religious dogma continues

through the period as we see in an anecdote found in The Year-Book of the Unitarian

Congregational Churchesfor 1856. As various savants of France ask for the strongest

proof as to the divine origin of Christianity, Franklin, in an answer acknowledged as best

by all, observes that the greatest proof of the divinity of "Christianity would be true

Christians" (Buxbaum 121). By implication Franklin's "Christ-like" desire to benefit

others and his numerous benevolent acts witness his true Christianity.

Often coupled with this religious sentiment is an additional moral on temperance or

industry. A March 1838 issue of The Youth's Instructor and Guardian tells of an incident

where Franklin is forced to drink to excess. His host locks the door after a dinner party,

and he and the group insist on Franklin drinking with them. A few months later Franklin

invites the group over, similarly locks the door after dinner, and then insists that his guests

finish off legs of beef and of mutton he has just brought in. The editorial comment

indicates that it is not known whether the group was shamed out of their "beastly practice"

of imbibing, but we should all realize that "intemperance, whether in food or drink, is at

once a sin against God, and a degradation to our rational nature" (87). The anecdote

provides an instance where a secular virtue, temperance, gains religious authority by being

a "sin against God." Similarly, virtues such as industry and prudence begin taking on the

weight of religious sanction as well. While in this period anecdotes are not used to make

the explicit statement that material success is a measure of righteousness, the implication

clearly remains that good practicing Christians work hard, save conscientiously, avoid

idleness, and consequently achieve success. For instance, in a September 1841 issue of

Parley's Magazine idleness is decried in "The Silver Fish-Hook," which suggests a man

would be wealthier and better off actively engaged in useful employment than idling away

his time fishing.

What begins here is a codifying of a largely Protestant tradition, the work ethic, in

secular terms. The emphasis on work appears to have grown along with the economic and

industrial advancements of the nineteenth century, trends which will be discussed in greater

detail in the Civil War and post-Civil War period. As Daniel T. Rodgers observes in his

book The Work Ethic in Industrial America 1850-1920, by the mid-nineteenth century

America had begun to generate a "commitment [to] the moral primacy of work" (xii). More

important than the actual task performed or the speed with which one completed a job was

the force of the idea of work itself. Nineteenth-century writers and ministers dwelt on the

dignity of labor and the worth of those who performed their work conscientiously. The

elevation of work over leisure permeated nineteenth-century life and manners and surfaced

with continual warnings against idleness and the ways of the idler.

Though the work ethic is a complex set of ideas, it had its genesis with the

Protestant Reformation's stress on the obligation each individual had to work and the

accountability individuals had for how they used the time allotted them. Work became

associated with the doctrine of calling, promoted through the idea that God had a

productive vocation for everyone. As individuals worked, their efforts went for the

common good of society and for the glory of God. Work did not replace faith as the

saving principle, but "Protestantism extended and spiritualized toil and turned usefulness

into a sacrament .... In the things of this life, the labor [was] most like to God" (Rodgers

6-7, 8). Stress on the converse of work came in warnings against misspent time, a

tradition extending back to Puritan roots. One reason for the work ethic's pervasiveness

came from preachers' ability to demonstrate the disgrace of idleness while joining

productive hard work with the demands of faith in a palatable form, often in homilies and

Sunday School tracts. Influential preachers like Henry Ward Beecher, who published

widely such popular tracts as Advice to Young Men (1844), gave unqualified endorsement

of work. The influence and popularity of a book such as Beecher's can be seen by its

continuous printing up until the 1920s. Faith and works promoted by such religionists

gave sanction to enterprise and a sense of mission to industrialists and businessmen in their

vocational pursuits (Rodgers 9-10; Bode 125).

Similarly, the call to labor can be seen in a poem such as Longfellow's popular

"Psalm of Life" (1838). Longfellow, later writing of the circumstances surrounding his

composition of the poem, tells us the idea expressed in verse came as "a voice from my

inmost heart, at a time I was rallying from depression" (2). Lest we are convinced that

"Life is but an empty dream" (3), Longfellow charges us to "act, that each to-morrow/

Finds us farther than to-day" (3). Stressing the importance of worthy exemplars like

Franklin, Longfellow suggests that

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time. (3)

Our "footprints" in turn serve as inspiration for others who follow. Thus, Longfellow

states with his now famous line taken from Poor Richard's Almanack, "Let us, then be up

and doing" (3), a rephrasing of the mid-century's obsession with Franklinian industry.

In many discussions of work and warnings against idleness, writers and lecturers

invoked and quoted Franklin. With Franklin's religious skepticism disarmed by Weems

and others, his example and writings (as we see depicted in the Autobiography, The Way

to Wealth, and books and articles wherein elements of these works are excerpted or

elaborated on) become more popular as they are seen to embody and promote the work

ethic. Rather than promoting work and wealth as a way to glorify God as did his

eighteenth-century religious counterpart Cotton Mather, Franklin saw work as a practical

way to obtain material comfort and success. His attitudes and writings about work helped

secularize the religiously held virtue of industry and reinforced the moral importance of

honesty and frugality. As The Way to Wealth codified Franklin's standing as a proponent

of diligence, prudence, and integrity, religionists in turn used Franklin to endorse their

views of prudence and work, thus emphasizing Franklin's importance as well as bringing

him further into the realm of American Protestantism. With the religious emphasis on

wealth, the monetary rewards Franklin obtained slowly replaced the "other-worldly"

rewards of traditional faith.

The religious force of the work ethic developed to such an extent that a man's

worthiness tended to be equated with his monetary assets. Many reasoned that if poverty

or wealth existed purely as a result of an individual's efforts and if wealth resulted from

virtue, the amount of one's wealth would then correspond to the degree of one's

righteousness. Money served as a sign of divine approval, a reward for righteousness.

As wealth was equated with virtue, salvation became the "business" of men (Huber 15).

Many felt, however, that money-getting received too much emphasis, and preachers

sounded cries of warning against too great a concern with materialism. This resulted in

warnings against mammon, as

professional moralists flooded the market with didactic handbooks and
lectures intended to reinforce ethical principles in a country that seemed well
on the way to ruin. Their expressions of concern may have been wholly
genuine or they may have been exaggerated; in either case they demanded
that Americans live up to a thoroughly traditional moral code. (Welter 142)

These moralists, emphasizing the sentiment they saw expressed in an essay like Emerson's

"Self-Reliance" (1841), stressed the development of individual character rather than the

exclusive accumulation of riches as the object of life. Paradoxically, the "very doctrines

the moralists appealed to in order to curb the appetite for mere wealth worked instead to

legitimize it" (Welter 146). Their assurance of a moral universe where good was rewarded

and evil punished worked to undermine their warnings since, for them, wealth was the

natural result of goodness.

This call to work hard combined with the admonition to live frugally, to develop

honesty and integrity, and to avoid tobacco, liquor, and immorality, further moralized the

work ethic. Frugality, like industry, received divine approbation as a religious duty for the

morally upright. The simple, frugal life implied abstinence from such costly vices as

alcohol and tobacco and became integral to the character of not only the hard-working

religious man but of the successful, self-reliant man. The essentially religious doctrines

became central to secular success, for "men could be what they willed to be and an

extraordinary man could look forward to extraordinary rewards" (Welter 147).

Here again, Franklin proved a prime exemplar of these secularized ideals.

Narrative anecdotes from Franklin's life (his saving boarding money to purchase books

while apprenticed to his brother James, his abstaining from alcohol while learning the

printing trade in England, and his regret for indulgence with and subsequent warning

against low women) and the persona of Franklin/Poor Richard provided the structure to

carry the ideology of the proponents of success, reinforcing the mythic stature of Franklin

which began developing in the early period. With a clearer definition of Franklin's

representative traits, details of Franklin's life and his writing not relevant to the specific

cause at hand were overlooked and subsequently forgotten. With the secularization of the

Puritan pulpit and Protestantism, Franklin became an exemplary figure, demonstrating all

the virtues the ethic encompassed. In his own account Franklin himself transformed his

vices into mere peccadilloes, simple errata easily corrected; subsequently, any faults were

usually whitewashed and eliminated altogether from the popular image.

The transformed, secularized Protestant ethic found expression in what has come to

be known as the cult of success, with an accompanying permutation, the cult of self-

improvement. We can see the pervasiveness of the ideas of success, self-improvement,

self-reliance, and self-education (note the characteristic emphasis upon the individual with

the descriptive prefix "self') in looking at material published during the nineteenth century

as well as surveying the popularity of lectures and lyceums where speakers discussed these

topics. One reason that self-help literature succeeded came from the advent of popular

literacy accompanying technological advancements in printing and the greater opportunities

for education. Books and tracts became less expensive to produce with the introduction of

innovative cloth bindings and less expensive ways to make paper. Railroads and other

forms of transportation eliminated distribution barriers, making audiences in interior

regions more accessible. Enhanced chances for education caused the literacy rate to rise to

over 90 percent of white adult males by 1850, the largest literate public hitherto known

(Gilmore 3-4; Bode x).

Readers interested in self-improvement found themselves inundated with a

proliferation of success and self-help advice in pamphlets, tracts, books, magazine articles,

and literature. The sentiment of success fused with the image of the self-made man and is

evident in various writing throughout the nineteenth century. Merle Curti traces the idea of

self-achieved success through various authors of the nineteenth century and characterizes

many of the prominent forms in which writers expressed the idea, showing how Franklin

provides the impetus for many of the changes which follow:

Freeman Hunt, Charles C. B. Seymour, and others had compiled popular
biographies of [successful] men, and innumerable writers had put out
guides to self-help and success. All these writings emphasize the possibility
of fame and fortune for any persevering, hard-working, frugal, virtuous,
and intelligent boy, no matter how obscure, how poor or otherwise
handicapped he might be. In the development of the cult of the American
hero no theme played so great a part as that victory over obstacles, the rise
to eminence in the face of poverty and hardships. Faith in the possibility of
getting ahead through individual effort, which had been so well expressed
in Poor Richard's Almanac, was reflected in Emerson's "Hitch your wagon
to a star," in Margaret Fuller's "Genius will thrive without training," in J.
G. Holland's "We build the ladder by which we rise," and in the various
versions given these aphorisms in ordinary speech. The cult of getting
ahead through one's own efforts was both reflected in and still further
popularized by the McGuffey readers and other schoolbooks, by tales,
essays, and verses in popular magazines and newspapers, and by
commencement addresses in academies and high schools which frequently
began and ended on the theme "Beyond the Alps lies Italy! (645)

The closing line, "Beyond the Alps lies Italy," echoes the sentiment of Longfellow's

"Excelsior," reflecting in poetic form the ideal of rising through hard work and

perseverance. The poem depicts a man laying all aside while pressing forward to

accomplish his purpose. The exclamation "Excelsior," meaning higher, always upward,

concludes each stanza as the man progresses from an Alpine Village to the mountain peaks

and then on to God himself.

As Curti suggests, the cult of success and self-improvement manifests itself in

numerous varied forms throughout the century. Through the first half of the nineteenth

century, Franklin's own life story and writings formed the nucleus of much of the self-help

material. The popularity of The Way to Wealth continued through the first half of the

nineteenth century with various publishers (in the absence of copyright laws) copying

freely part or all of Poor Richard's sayings as found in The Way to Wealth, or amending

and adding to their own editions of the work. 1 When trying to compile a Franklin

bibliography towards the end of the nineteenth century, Paul L. Ford found it impossible to

list all the editions of The Way to Wealth, and indicated it was his belief that the short

treatise had been printed and translated more often than any other work by an American

(Ford 55; Huber 21, 464). With the Autobiography, Poor Richard's wise maxims gave

impetus and fuel to the proponents of success and self-help.

With an increasing interest in Franklin, lecturers and lyceum speakers used Franklin

and his life story as a topic in addressing audiences. A series of Franklin lectures were

begun in Boston in 1831 with the explicit purpose to inspire young men to achieve success

by using the opportunities before them. Beginning the lectures, Edward Everett suggested

Franklin's story of rising in the world from poverty and obscurity could not be too often

repeated. By 1856 Franklin was still held up as an example for young men to follow, as is

evident in a speech by Robert Winthrop, a popular orator, given that year during the

unveiling ceremony of a Franklin statue. Winthrop, along with Jared Sparks, then acting

president of Harvard, had solicited Boston businessmen to contribute funds to construct the

statue. Winthrop, serving on the statue's design committee, speaks of his own feeling of

connection with the early American patriot having been born himself on Boston's Milk

Street, and in his unveiling speech calls for all to follow Franklin's example.

Behold [Franklin], ... holding out to you an example of diligence,
economy and virtue, and personifying the triumphant success which may
await those who follow it! Behold him, ye that are humblest and poorest in
present condition or in future prospect,--lift up your heads and look at the
image of a man who rose from nothing, who owed nothing to parentage or
patronage, who enjoyed no advantages of early education which are now
open,--a hundred fold open,--to yourselves, who performed the most
menial services in the business in which his early life was employed, but
who lived to stand before Kings, and died to leave a name which the world
will never forget. (qtd. in Wyllie 14-15)

Clearly by mid-century the ethic of work and the tradition of success was deeply rooted

into the American consciousness, with Franklin one of the chief exemplars of the tradition.

With increased stress given the ideology of success and marketplace capitalism, a

subtle change begins to enter the Franklin narrative, accompanied by a concomitant shift in

the image itself. Throughout the mid-century less stress is placed on fathers and mothers

as we see a minimizing of parental assistance. As Winthrop observes, Franklin rises

without the aid of "parentage or patronage." This departure from the Weemsian

paternalistic ideology gives way to the greater emphasis on entrepreneurial competition.

While the patriarchal values reflected in Weems and others persists, intermittent examples

like Winthrop's reflect a decline in the significance of parentage, an aspect of the image

becoming more central to the narratives during the Civil War and post-Civil War period.

During the mid-century a new type of book emerges that promotes a topical

emphasis on work and success. Publishers found that an anthology or volume of collected

biographies focused around a central idea proved popular. In numerous instances brief

biographical sketches of Franklin, often demonstrating a certain characteristic, can be

found in these works. An 1830 volume by George Lillie Craik, In Pursuit of Knowledge

Under Difficulties, contains three chapters on Franklin, dealing with his early life up to his

scientific work with electricity. Craik designates Franklin as the greatest self-educated man

who overcame difficult circumstances to stand equal among the best educated of his day.

The secret of this man's success in the cultivation of his mental powers
was, that he was ever awake and active in that business; that he suffered no
opportunity of forwarding it to escape him unimproved; that, however poor,
he found at least a few pence, were it even by diminishing his scanty meals,
to pay for the loan of the books he could not buy; that, however hard-
wrought, he found a few hours in the week, were it by sitting up half the
night after toiling all the day to read and study them. (qtd. in Buxbaum 78)

Craik shows these characteristics as the reasons for Franklin's success and the

achievements he accomplished throughout his life.

The prolific Peter Parley added two books to the list of topical anthologies in 1844

with Tales about Great Men and Lives of Benefactors. In his Tales about Great Men he

defines great men as those "who have been deservedly famed for their eminent knowledge

in various departments of science and literature, or singularly successful in advancing the

best interests of their fellow-men" (vi), criteria which Franklin meets on all points. Parley

places these men before us as readers as a "means of exciting within you a laudable

emulation," to show that such position and honor as these men enjoy is "at your command,

viz., by persevering industry and application" (vi). Of course with this focus, Benjamin

Franklin ranks first among men, and his life is discussed in the first 25 pages of the book.

The instructional tone of the work, reflecting an ideology of literature for use, is established

from the beginning as Parley reminds the reader that "you should never read such

narratives without seeing what you can learn from them" (1). Parley, as is the case in most

of these short biographical sketches, follows closely the events of the Autobiography. The

difference between most of the retold versions lies in the authorial commentary and the

amount of didacticism inserted into the story. In his topical collections, Parley tends to find

ample opportunities to moralize. After relating many of the hardships of Franklin's early

years, Parley interjects,

Only think how much greater are the privileges of most of my readers to
those which Benjamin Franklin enjoyed! And then think again of the good
use he made of those which were within his reach, and learn a lesson of
gratitude and diligence from the reflection. (2)

Parley suggests that young readers should make the most of their many available

opportunities when Franklin succeeded having so few.

As the narrative continues Parley seems almost to lose Franklin's story as he more

frequently speaks directly to the reader about various issues. Attentive to social class

dynamics, Parley uses Franklin as a means to address the working man, the employee who

should be willing to work hard. Consequently, the didacticism increases. While stressing

that any man can improve his situation and respectability through diligent effort, Parley

does not want to promote unrest in workers by unduly emphasizing Franklin's rise to

greatness wherein he leaves hard manual labor behind. Parley quickly asserts there is

virtue in any job, as long as it is diligently and honestly performed. When Franklin grows

increasingly unsatisfied with his work as a tallow-chandler, Parley assures the reader that

this vocation would not

have been in any wise derogatory to his worth or honor, had the duties of
his station been honestly and diligently performed. A man may be truly
respectable, and even dignified, though following a humble calling, by the
high tone of moral and mental rectitude which he daily exhibits. (4)

Franklin, however, wanted "more scope for exercise" of his abilities and intelligence, and

took the opportunity for more meaningful employment when presented to him. The first

opportunity that came to him was the apprenticeship as a printer to his brother. Here again,

Franklin proves the ideal worker.

He needed not a master's eye to keep him at his employment, neither was it
necessary to repeat the same rules over and over again in Benjamin's ears,
in order to fasten them on his memory, as it is with some youths I know.
No, he discovered many things for himself; and the directions which were
laid down to him, he carefully considered and adopted. This, my young
friends, was pursuing the right path, and the same I would earnestly
recommend you to follow. (4)

Parley indicates that Franklin had resolved to himself "to make his own fortune by his

unremitting and persevering industry" (4), and the remainder of the account shows how he


It is typical of these short accounts of Franklin's life that not much is made of the

circumstances surrounding his disagreements with James and his leaving Boston. Thus,

Parley merely states that the two had disagreements and Franklin, not feeling his contract

was binding and "not being willing to endure his brother's severity any longer,... left

him, and went to New York by sea, and from that place to Philadelphia" (7). The

remainder of the incidents related centers on reinforcing the idea that industry produces

success and subsequent greatness. When Franklin arrives in London for the first time and

realizes he has been duped by Governor Keith, he is disappointed at "this unfortunate

occurrence," but he loses no time in "obtaining a situation, as his present necessities call

for pecuniary supplies which his purse could not meet, and which industry alone could

secure" (9). After rising in position at various print shops in London, Franklin then returns

to Philadelphia where he sets up business for himself. "His industry," as Parley reminds

us, "was habitual, but the idea that he was now working for himself, gave it additional

energy" (11). Parley then inserts into the narrative Franklin's story, "The Whistle," as well

as two pages of maxims derived from Poor Richard, further reinforcing the message of

hard work. The many offices and the accomplishments Franklin attained are then listed to

attest to his greatness. Parley concludes with Franklin's death and these comments:

Thus died this great man, who was once only a poor printer's boy, with
scarcely a covering to shelter his head from the dews of nights. Perhaps no
man ever exceeded Dr. Franklin in that solid practical wisdom which
consists in pursuing ends by most appropriate means. (23-24)

For Parley, Franklin had become the incarnation of the work ethic.

While Parley does not diminish his emphasis on industry in a companion book,

Lives of Benefactors, the focus and intent shifts as Parley attempts to show how the world-

wide "wealth, comfort, happiness, and prosperity, created by Franklin's maxims and

Franklin's example, . attest to his benefactions to his country and kind" (159), reflecting

the increasingly international scope of the mythic image. In much the same manner as his

Tales about Great Men, Parley recounts Franklin's early life, this time showing how his

virtues and accomplishments helped improve the human condition. Parley makes more of

James' cruel treatment of Franklin and his leaving Boston, a flight accomplished by eluding

"the vigilance of his parents, who were opposed to his intention" to leave (with the

inference of Franklin's "getting on" with neither parental intervention nor assistance). The

previously troubling aspects of the runaway's story continue to be downplayed to show

Franklin's sterling qualities and the "striking proof of that resolute adherence to

temperance, industry, and frugality, which were among the leading features of his

character" (131). Parley notes the great impact The Way to Wealth had upon his

countrymen, as he tells us "copies of it were long to be found, framed and glazed, in the

houses of the people in Philadelphia, and indeed in every part of the country" (141).

In keeping with his intent of showing Franklin as a benefactor, Parley focuses on

actions of Franklin which clearly have a more determined effect upon other lives. For

instance, the text focuses on Franklin's interest in electricity and his contribution to science,

with the famous kite experiment retold in detail, a trend more significantly evident after the

Civil War as Franklin's scientific work receives greater attention. We see Franklin depicted

out braving the storm, convinced of his hypothesis that lightning is electrical. Just at the

moment of utter despair, lightning strikes, and Franklin feels the tingle of it as the current

runs down the line. Parley reports Franklin as later saying that his emotion was so great at

this instance in making a discovery for the benefit of mankind (which "was to make his

name immortal") that "he heaved a deep sigh, and felt that he could that moment [have]

willingly died" (148), a wish which was nearly fulfilled given the extremely dangerous

nature of the experiment. Franklin's last public act, "in accordance with the whole tenor of

his life," further showed his interest in humanity as he signed an anti-slavery resolution,

"as president of the Anti-Slavery Society," which was presented to Congress (156).

But even these beneficent acts Parley always ties back to those supreme virtues of

honesty, industry, and prudence.

In looking back on Franklin's career, of which we have given a very
imperfect sketch, it is evident that the principal feature in his character was
worldly prudence --not in a narrow and selfish acceptation of the term, but
that prudence, founded on true wisdom, which dictates the practice of
honest, industry, frugality, temperance--in short, all those qualities which
may be classed under the name of "moral virtues," as being the only certain
means of obtaining distinction, respect, independence, and mental. (157)

For Parley, no other writer "inculcates lessons of practical wisdom in a more agreeable and

popular manner" than does Franklin (157). His writings together with his singular conduct

have served to better the human condition.

He has contributed more than any other individual in modern times, to teach
the working classes to feel their power, and to assert their rights. He has
taught them, as well by precept as example, the certain steps by which they
can ascend in the scale of society; and hundreds of thousands have been
thus led from stations of poverty and ignorance, to the most elevated in
society. (158)

With this high praise, few could better serve Parley's purpose in the book to show those

for whom the distinction goodness and beneficence "is felt and acknowledged by mankind"

and whose life and teachings provide "a moral as well as physical sun" for others to follow

(iii). This periodic stress on the "working class" suggests a revision of the image that

correlates with the popular elevation of the self-made man, for which Franklin becomes a

prototypic model.

Two other selections from topical anthologies published in 1853 further show how

Franklin had come to represent the virtues of industry and perseverance. Notably absent

from either sketch is the mention of Franklin's parents. In a selection entitled "The

Boyhood of Franklin" found in The Boyhood of Great Men, Intended as an Example to

Youth, author John G. Edgar writes of men who have "moved" the world and placed

"themselves in positions that give them the power of performing great and worthy actions,

and "who have achieved such greatness "entirely by painstaking, self-denial,

determination, and midnight study" (v). The example of these eminent and distinguished

men can help "to develop in the mind of youth noble tastes and high principles, as well as

to encourage, stimulate, and sustain that spirit of industry, which is essential to the

attainment of any position worth striving for (iv). Such a work, says Edgar, "intended to

incite youth to industry and goodness can require no apology" (v). The beginning of

Edgar's account shows the continued juxtaposition given Franklin's early years and the

accomplishments of his later life.

The life of Franklin presents to youth a model most worthy of respect and
imitation. Born in a humble sphere, and enjoying no advantage save that of
a powerful intellect, we find him, by the exercise of invincible
perseverance, ere long the representative of his native land, in whose affairs
he acted so conspicuous a part, receiving the homage of the most polished
court in Europe, and defying the wrath of the most powerful country in the
world. (186-187)

Franklin's undeniable greatness and its cause are asserted in eloquent grandeur:

"Perseverance and self-denial have raised many to eminence, but never were they more

signally triumphant than in the case of the remarkable man who 'grasped lightning's fiery

wing'" (187).

Edgar highlights the main points of Franklin's early years, skimming over events

such as Franklin's leaving Boston by saying, ever so matter of factly, that

after duly weighing and considering all the circumstances, Benjamin saw no
other course open than to go and try his fortune in New York. Knowing,
however, that if his father were apprised of his intention, he would oppose
this step, it was necessary to go without his leave. (195)

Here a level-headed boy is depicted, making every day normal decisions. Only the bare

thread of the original narrative is maintained as Franklin gets a printing job in Philadelphia

and lodges with Mr. Read, "whose daughter he immediately fell in love with, and

afterward married" (195). Little matter that details of the story are inaccurate (Franklin's

brother to whom he is apprenticed is called "Josiah" not "James"); what matters most is that

Franklin's life story shows, in a broad sense, the effect of working hard and sticking to a

decided upon purpose. The resulting success comes about from Benjamin's tenacious

laboring, without the aid of family or friends. Hard work, not kinship or patronage, prove

the key to ultimate fortune and respectability. "Energy that dies in a day is useless,"

remarks Edgar, for those things that are truly useful to others often take a lifetime of

dedication to achieve (198). Franklin's greatness shows the result of holding to one's

purpose no matter how unpromising the circumstances.

William Russell continues the tradition of holding up Franklin as a paragon of hard

work in Extraordinary Men: Their Boyhood and Early Life, adding the trait of self-denial as

a key to success. Russell observes that "there are few lives more pleasant to contemplate

than that of Benjamin Franklin" (89), primarily because there are no startling surprises but

a constant, steady achievement resulting from good sense and diligence. This is a story of

a man, according to Russell, who like countless others, made something of his life in a

quiet, unobtrusive manner.

A journey printer, the son of humble parents, endowed with no more of
what is understood by the term genius than falls to the lot of thousands of

men who live and die in obscurity, is seen to attain a good position in
business, an eminent one in political science and literature, by the aid alone
of strong, clear common sense, combined with integrity, temperance, and
persevering industry. (90)

By understating what were in reality uncommon abilities in a man, Russell heightens the

importance of Franklin's drive to succeed and the characteristics he displayed to see that

success came.

In his account Russell follows closely the chronology of the Autobiography,

though he does spend more time on some of Franklin's "faults" than other authors. This

seems in line, however, with his characteristic presentation of portraying Franklin as a

common man who rose to greatness through unswerving industry and self-denial. Collins

is contrasted to Franklin in numerous instances as one who had the same potential but

without the "sterling principle and habits of self-denial" Franklin showed (95). Franklin's

brother James is portrayed as a authoritarian master who resorted to "peremptory and harsh

control" with his workers, especially with Franklin (96). As quarrels between the brothers


ultimately Benjamin resolutely broke with his brother, --sold his books, and
with the proceeds, contrived, aided by his friend Collins, who represented
to the master of a trading sloop that he was fleeing the consequences of an
imprudent amour, --to smuggle himself off to New York. (96)

Though a sense of Franklin's own account remains in the Russell retelling of the flight

from Boston, the implication is that the fictitious story by which Franklin boarded the ship

was Collins' idea and instigation. This shifting of the responsibility for the falsehood is

more pronounced in some of the full-length biographical accounts of this period and marks

a further trend in absolving Franklin from any questionable activities, as can also be seen

with the more euphemistic "imprudent amour."

The final observation of the author is that Franklin is not one of those "brilliant" or

"dazzling" figures of history which seem totally beyond the realm of most people, but he

shines as a "more hopeful and cheering [example]to the masses of mankind" (103).

Franklin's example shows "a path to eminence which it requires no seraph's wing, . but

the qualities, prudently but courageously exercised, which he himself possessed, --a clear

intellect, --firm purpose, --self-denial, --energetic labor" (103).

Franklin stands preeminent, despite his low-key status, as a model worthy of

emulation, primarily due to his aesthetic discipline. Here again, the noticeable absence of

Franklin's parents, never mentioned except at Franklin's birth (an act they are unavoidably

a part of), suggests an eminence achieved through individual effort. This characteristic lack

of paternal guidance and assistance reflects larger economic and societal changes as the

prominence of the family farm and an agrarian lifestyle give way to urbanization and the

marketplace, a trend I discuss in greater detail in the next chapter with the rise of the self-

made man. As young men left the farm and entered the urban work force, they necessarily

became more autonomous. The need for independence and self-reliance in a competitive

market grew more pronounced in the rhetoric of the time as individuals had less familial

support on which to rely.

While the emphasis in most of these collected works seems to be shifting from the

religious to the secular (mirroring the secularization of the Protestant work ethic), some

authors, nonetheless, felt it appropriate still to depict Franklin as a professed Christian.

An 1857 holiday gift book, The Christmas Tree: Book of Instruction and Amusementfor

All Young People, contains a section entitled, "Celebrated Men who were Clever Boys," of

which Franklin is a part. The short three-page entry on Franklin first stresses that he was

"industrious" and a "clever workman," and then focuses on Franklin's religious beliefs.

Franklin's final illness is depicted as one of great pain which he endured cheerfully,

acknowledging God's goodness and blessings upon him. The article closes with

Franklin's epitaph and a final comment that "his pure morality and shrewd practical

wisdom are displayed in 'Poor Richard's Almanac' and several other of his works" (30).

Robert A. Lincoln in his encompassing work, Lives of the Presidents of the United States;

With Biographical Notices of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence; Sketches of

the Most Remarkable Events in the History of the Country, From Its Discovery to the

Present Time; and a General View of Its Present Condition, discusses nearly everyone and

everything relating to early American history. His summary of Franklin suggests that

while he may have had religious doubts as a young man, he "became in his maturer years a

believer of divine revelation" (qtd. in Buxbaum 88). Though not as animated as Weems'

defense, the need to assert Franklin's religious orthodoxy was still felt by some, even with

the increased emphasis on Franklin's self-reliance and his secular activities.

As we turn to the full-length Franklin biographies of this period, we see some of

the same trends which were evident in the shorter anthologized pieces. Biographers place

greater stress upon the Poor Richard qualities as they put forth Franklin as a worthy

exemplar. For instance, two short biographies published anonymously during the 1830s,

A Brief Memoir of the Life of Dr. Benjamin Franklin: Compiled for the Use of Young

Persons and Life of Benjamin Franklin depict the hard working, socially mobile Franklin

as the embodiment of Poor Richard's maxims (Buxbaum 83, 87). While the moralistic and

didactic tenor of such works varies from author to author, the primary focus remains the

same: Franklin shows young people how to succeed in life through industry, honesty, and


In 1832 Peter Parley published his first edition of The Life of Benjamin Franklin,

which he indicates in a subtitle had been adapted for use in schools.2 To Parley, nothing

was more attractive or appropriate for instructive purposes than a good biography. He fits

his biography for school use by numbering each paragraph; he then asks corresponding

questions at the bottom of each page to ensure comprehension. Additionally, Parley

includes in an appendix various essays or stories of Franklin's, such as "The Whistle,"

"Advice to a Young Tradesman," The Way to Wealth, "Necessary Hints to those that

would be Rich," which stress the money-getting and self-supporting work side of

Franklin. While Parley's account follows quite closely Franklin's own with a minimal

amount of moralizing, Franklin is shown to be doggedly persevering and industrious as he

seeks his fortune. Franklin's virtues are revealed as he provides the model for children to

follow in becoming productive and successful adults. For instance, after Franklin fails

arithmetic at school, he later "began to feel the want of a knowledge of figures, and was

once very mortified by his ignorance of them" (20). In a characteristically Franklin style,

he obtains a copy of "Cocker's Arithmetic" and through his own diligence, "went through

the whole of it by himself with the greatest of ease. The mortification he had met with

induced him to make great exertions" (20-21, emphasis added). Parley concludes that "we

can succeed in any thing to which we give our earnest attention" (21).

While Parley stays fairly neutral and refrains from moralizing about Franklin's

relationship with his brother James and the flight from Boston, the fault clearly lies with

James, who as master "degraded" Franklin and "frequently beat him" (23). Franklin finds

the apprenticeship tedious and leaves when the opportunity avails itself. Parley admits that

Franklin took unfair advantage of his brother in leaving, "but he was urged to it by very

unkind and even cruel treatment" (25). So without the knowledge or aid of his family,

Franklin sells his books to pay for passage, and "went privately on board of a sloop, had a

fair wind, and in three days found himself in New York" (26). Parley remains less

judgmental in his narrative than other authors of the time and, as we see with the skimming

over the flight from Boston, usually avoids aspects of the story that call for too much

explaining or moralizing, at least those that fall outside the Franklin as Poor Richard

framework. The framework does require, however, that the success achieved be his own,

without the benefit of familial advice or aid.

Parley gives attention to other characters in the biography only insofar as they

contrast Franklin's emulative virtues. Collins, for example, "had fallen into bad habits,

and become a drunkard" (35) while Franklin remains true to his goal of establishing a

successful business. In London, Franklin is shown "diligent in work" while Ralph, "his

shiftless companion[,] consumed a good share of his earnings" (43). Franklin's

commendable perseverance finally sees him set up successfully in his own business.

Parley then provides the standard list of accomplishments of Franklin's later years to

demonstrate the result of his early virtue. Mainly for its entertaining value, Parley includes

the fictitious account of Franklin visiting his mother in his later years and her failure to

recognize him. This adds a sentimental quality to the narrative as she discovers her son's

identity and embraces him "once more before she died" (105).

The guiding principle behind this biography is revealed in the concluding pages of

the story where Parley draws a lesson from Franklin's life.

In considering the character of Franklin, we perceive that the most marked
trait was his habit of economy. By economy we do not mean merely care in
gaining and keeping his money. We mean care of time, of labor, frugality,
industry, system, method in all his business. To this we may add economy
of health; avoiding all excess and unnecessary exposure.

Parley also makes mention of his fine sense of humor and his service to his country, the

latter of which all should feel gratitude for. It is noteworthy that Parley switches to a

characteristic first-person plural "we" as he seems to indicate that there exists an

undisputable consensus between the author and the reader that Franklin represents the traits

he enumerates. The narrative then closes with Franklin's epitaph, a continual reminder of

his piety, and the essays previously mentioned are appended.

An anonymously published 1846 biography, Life of Benjamin Franklin; Embracing

Anecdotes Illustrative of His Character, continues to stress the values of the work ethic as

does Peter Parley and others of this period.3 In addition, this author harks back to the

Weemsian tradition where many incidents promote a short moral lesson for the reader.

Unlike Weems, however, there is no discussion of Franklin's religious beliefs nor any

attempt at Christianizing the image. Similar to some of the shorter sketches found in the

anthologized accounts of great men, this biography focuses on Franklin's faults, primarily

the circumstances surrounding his departure from Boston. The author lists three leading

objects governing the writing of his biography: to provide information previously omitted

in abridged biographies, to provide juvenile readers with Franklin's good example, and to

show the cause and effect of errors Franklin acknowledges and how he overcomes them.

A "perfect model for imitation" has not been presented, "for such a model is to be found in

no human being," (iv) but certainly the figure of the man presented is worthy of emulation

by any reader, young or old in what the author claims is the "most complete abridged

biography" (iv).

The author acknowledges that "free use has been made of the autobiography"

Franklin wrote himself. Especially in the beginning, numerous passages from the

Autobiography are strung together by the author's narrative and moral-making. One such

instance is with the stone wharf incident in Boston which is set up for a nice homily.

There is one incident of his boyhood which we copy, in his own words, for
the moral, which his father's correction impressed upon him, and which
forms an excellent maxim, as a rule of conduct for boys and men. (22)

As if the lesson from Franklin's own account was not clear enough, the author proceeds to

reinforce the message of honesty with a protracted discussion of virtue. Other incidents

such as Franklin's visit to Cotton Mather are recounted as the narrative takes on a topical

arrangement so that anecdotal information can be inserted to demonstrate the author's

carefully planned lessons. In recounting the time of Benjamin's apprenticeship to his

brother James, this biography seems reminiscent of the Weems approach in attributing

Franklin's love for freedom and aversion to the tyranny to his experiences as a youth in

Boston. Where Weems puts forth the evils of the apprenticeship system as being

responsible for Franklin's resistance to his situation, this account depicts the city

assembly's censor against James and his newspaper as the real source of Franklin's early

dislike of arbitrary power.

Perhaps this very difficulty of his brother with the Provincial government
was among the circumstances which suggested to Benjamin Franklin, the
statesman, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, the arguments
which he so successfully applied, with tongue and pen, against tyranny.
Such stretches of power, and arbitrary disregard of the rights, and
infringements upon the property and liberty of citizens, were causes which
silently prepared the way for the "Declaration of Independence."(41)

The narrative then moves directly to Franklin's resolution to leave Boston after

James draws up secret indentures, the efficacy of which rest wholly upon Franklin's honor

and integrity. Interestingly, the author gives no real motive for Franklin's departure.

Though he wants to show this incident as an early error, one that Ben fortunately later

rectifies, the wrongdoing cannot be too serious, and Collins is introduced as the fall guy

responsible for the subterfuge surrounding the actual flight.

One error, as Franklin honestly concedes it was, having been committed in
his unfairness to his brother, others necessarily followed. He determined to
leave Boston secretly, and the young man Collins managed the matter for
him, inventing falsehoods to cover his retreat--falsehoods which prepare the
reader for the subsequent misfortunes which befell Collins, and for the
inconveniences and mistakes into which young Franklin was led, by the
friendship of such an advisor. (43)

Here the author sets up the "cause and effect" principle mentioned in the preface.

Of course, the story is stacked in favor of the hero, Franklin, who only suffers temporary

"misfortunes" for his deeds, while secondary characters such as Collins and, later, Ralph

inevitably end up in complete ruin. The narrator reflects upon Franklin's plight as he

attempts to launch his life in Philadelphia:

But some difficulties and disadvantages still clung to him, growing out of
the manner in which he first went away from Boston. Then, it will be
remembered, he received the improper assistance of a young man. Perhaps,
indeed, Franklin himself might have directed Collins what story he should
tell to cover his flight, and Benjamin might have been more to blame in that
matter than his friend. But in whatever way it was done, the consequences
followed him. He became a party to a wrong transaction, of which he
received the supposed benefits, and he was thus laid under an obligation to
a bad boy, and was tempted and induced to do a very wrong thing in return,
at his persuasion. (52-53)

The use of the descriptive "bad boy" follows the tradition of didactic stories beginning with

Day's Sandford-and Merton. In this instance, however, Benjamin fails to reclaim the

recalcitrant acquaintance, the depth of his degradation being too great. Inverting Day's

motif of the moral influence of the good upon the bad, this narrative suggests the

unfortunate effect the bad boy has upon the good, as Collins induces Franklin to loan him

money which he had collected on a debt of his brother's friend. Franklin's punishment, or

the "effect," lies in living under the fear of being called on to return the loaned money.

Despite any wrong choices and the subsequent consequences which result, Benjamin

always redeems himself because he is "frugal and industrious in his habits," traits which

ultimately allow him to overcome all (48). Collins' demise, which finally results from his

weakness for alcohol, "offers a lesson as impressive, upon the dangers of dram-drinking,

as Franklin's life affords upon the good results of temperance and frugality" (54-55).

Through Franklin's association with less than honorable individuals (in particular

Collins and Ralph), the author shows the danger of forming friendships with those who

have weak character, a moral he elaborates upon further:

The disadvantages of the two persons with whom he was most intimate in
his youth, show the value of advice to the young. If even Franklin could
not escape danger, with his early sagacity, and if all his strength of character
was required to save him from shipwreck, it is a most impressive warning
to others. Few in his situation would escape at all, fewer still could rise like
him to virtue and distinction, in spite of circumstances so adverse to both.

The biography ends at this point as Franklin returns to Philadelphia and sets himself up in a

successful printing trade. But the author must make one more reflection on Franklin's

youth, providing one more caution to young readers, while absolving Franklin from any

real blame for his childhood mistakes.

We have followed Franklin through his boyhood and minority, which the
attentive reader cannot fail to have observed, were seasons to him of
peculiar temptation and exposure. If he did not always do exactly right, his
faults were not deliberate ones, nor were they persisted in when he
discovered them; and he passed with safety through his juvenile trials ...

The remainder of the biography provides loosely joined anecdotes with a catalogue of

accomplishments that takes us through the remainder of Franklin's impressive life and


A final attempt is made to tie all of Franklin's vast achievements in the various

fields of science, politics, and public service to those sterling virtues of Poor Richard

which he tenaciously developed and held to throughout his younger years. "Industry,

Frugality, INTEGRITY--such are the leading lessons of FRANKLIN'S LIFE. From

them, all other virtues, under Providence, are derived. But the foundation of all virtue is

trust in God, and prayer for His assistance .. ." (208). Even here, Franklin's success

ultimately can be attributed to God, though little direct attempt is made to Christianize him,

let alone deal with his religious skepticism. The primary emphasis of the biography is

Franklin's adherence to the work ethic as a means to success.

A small anonymous biography, a Child's Life of Franklin, published during the

1850s as part of the Evergreen Miniature Library by Fisher & Brothers, shows how

admonitory warnings to children, such as those about youthful companionships, persisted

with the Franklin narrative, sometimes being directed more to parents than children.

There is nothing so important in the formation of character as the
associations of childhood. If parents were as careful as they should be in
keeping before the minds of children high and noble objects of pursuit,
there would be far fewer instances of depraved manhood. (15)

Of course, Franklin is put forth as one of those noble objects which shows both the way

and the end of the pursuit. Great stress is placed in this account of the difficulties and

disappointments Franklin overcame to obtain success and which forged the sterling

character Franklin enjoyed in later years.

Youth, as well as manhood, has to meet with disappointments--it is the way
in which we bear them that we display true heroism. And it may be that if
difficulties had not surrounded the early pathway of the boy--the man
would never have developed into the world renowned statesman and
philosopher. (18-19)

The disappointment here referred to is Franklin's being taken from school to work in his

father's business, an instance where Franklin's reaction provides the model for the reader

to follow.4

In a Child's Life of Franklin various passages of Franklin's life are quoted verbatim

from the Autobiography, as well as other short pieces such as "The Whistle" and portions

of The Way to Wealth, with potentially questionable incidents in Franklin's life being

omitted, like his deception to get aboard the sloop bound for New York. In this instance,

the selection from the Autobiography is interrupted by ellipses, and the author interjects that

"Collins undertook to favor [his] flight" (62). The religious sentiment remains rather high

in this short work, but rather than an attempt to defend Franklin from any suspicion of

disbelief, the narrative proceeds upon the assumption of Franklin's given orthodox

religious sentiment. The proposition to institute prayer as part of the proceedings of the

Constitutional Convention is reprinted, with these exuberant editorial remarks following:

Glorious words! Precious testimony! Admirable example! The wisest and
most venerable of all [gathered]..., publicly acknowledged] the utter
insufficiency of all human wisdom, and called] upon his associates to unite
with him in "humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate their
understandings." (169-170)

Other religious pieces like the epitaph are printed as further evidence of his piety.

One revealing inclusion in this biography is an extract from Franklin's will wherein

he leaves his fine crab-tree walking stick to "my friend, and the friend of mankind, General

Washington" (192). While no additional mention of or comparison to Washington is

made, the association with the "Father of our country" becomes an important development

to the image in the latter half of the century. There becomes a type of greatness-by-

association development where the unblemished greatness of Washington falls upon

Franklin. And yet, as purveyors of Franklin's story refashion the image to represent

dominant ideologies of the time, Franklin, in the opinion of some, will come to eclipse

Washington in greatness and importance in this comparative grouping (Hart 197; Brooks

True Story 247, 249).

While its effect on popular literature was to be felt more in the years following the

Civil War, the works of an early biographer and critic, Jared Sparks, play a significant role

in the evolving image of Franklin. After ten years of research and work, Sparks published

his 10-volume Works of Benjamin Franklin. Though by far the most scholarly treatment

of Franklin then produced, Sparks could not help but represent a positive image of the

colonial leader, defending him against the "prejudices" of earlier critics. In a letter to

George Bancroft, friend and colleague, Sparks expresses his feeling for Franklin and

reveals the guiding impetus behind his own approach to depicting him.

There never was a set of prejudices raised against any human being more
utterly unfounded than those against the great American philosopher and
statesman. These prejudices have afforded grounds for an entirely false

estimate of some of the essential traits of his character. It was said and
continues to be repeated, that he was a man of artifice, contrivance, and
finesse, and hence insincere. Nothing could be more erroneous as touching
the character of Franklin. He was cautious in counsel, reserved when
wisdom dictated silence, quick and sagacious in detecting the hidden
elements of any subject; but he never made a promise which he did not
intend to fulfill, nor uttered insinuations designed to deceive or mislead. He
was generous in every sense of the word, --generous to the faults, the
foibles, and the weaknesses of others; generous in his kindly feelings and
sympathies, large in his charities, constant to his friends, forbearing to his
enemies; bland in his deportment, unpretending, unostentatious, proud of
nothing, unless of having risen by his own industry and efforts from an
humble station to one of dignity, influence, and greatness; faithful to every
trust, true to every pledge. ... A more ardent and devoted patriot never
lived, nor loved his country more, or served with a steadier zeal or more
disinterested motives. (qtd. in White 208-209)

Though Sparks tells us that his only interest is to defend Franklin from unfounded

accusations, it becomes clear that he himself had accepted the already developed mythic

greatness of the man, and his writing reflects his own unlimited admiration for this

exemplary founding father.

Sparks, however, makes available previously unpublished and unattributed

Franklin material, and his edition of the Autobiography remained authoritative until

Bigelow's in 1867. With Sparks' work, more information became available on Franklin's

scientific, political, and diplomatic activities, areas which writers begin to emphasize more

during the end of the mid-century and on into the years following the Civil War. But the

uncritical adoration continues to surface in his writing as we see Franklin as one of the

American's most responsible for worldwide happiness and well-being.

It was fortunate for the world, as it was for his own fame, that the
benevolence of such a man was limited only by his means and opportunities
of doing good, and that, in every sphere of action through a long course of
years, his single aim was to promote the happiness of his fellow men by
enlarging their knowledge, improving their condition, teaching them
practical lessons of wisdom and prudence, and including the principles and
the habits of a virtuous life. (85)

This magnanimous beneficence on the part of Franklin allows Sparks to see him as a

Christian in principle, if not in professed faith, as his early deism takes on a moral sheen

through virtuous action.

Utilizing much of the information uncovered by Sparks, Orville Luther Holley

writes one of the most comprehensive biographies then published which was intended for a

young audience. His Life of Benjamin Franklin, as indicated on the title page, was

"intended for school libraries and general reading." With the rather recent availability of

new material, Holley goes beyond the traditional retelling of Franklin's life, frequently

utilizing primary sources to supplement the narrative. In one of the most direct treatments

of Franklin's religious beliefs, Holley makes no attempt to Christianize Franklin, though

Franklin is filled with a religious spirit demonstrated by his moral virtues and actions.

While the moralizing and didacticism is minimal, the portrayal of Franklin as the

embodiment of industry and frugality is certainly as dominant as in other biographies. It is

as if Franklin's possession of the abstracted values of industry, prudence, and integrity

have become more or less a given, the biographer feeling little need to convince the reader

of their existence. Written primarily for older youth, Holley indulges in less interruptive

commentary, sermonizing, or drawing of analogies for the reader.

In his prefatory remarks, Holley indicates that his focus is to show Franklin's

"inner life" and "development of character" before the Revolutionary War, to show "what

he was, as well as what he did," all of which allowed him to be of such service to his

country (4). From the beginning of the book we sense the importance of the growing

success ideology, which gains even greater prominence during the Civil War and Post-

Civil War period in the cult of the self-made man. Holley begins,

No man, probably, was ever more eminently and uniformly successful,
throughout the whole of a very long life, in attaining the chief objects of
human pursuit, than Benjamin Franklin. Of humble origin, with no early
opportunities of education beyond the simple rudiments of knowledge, bred
a tradesman, and compelled by the narrowness of his circumstances to labor
with his own hands for his daily bread, he nevertheless won for himself an
ample estate, an illustrious reputation, and distinguished public honors. (9)

This passage suggests a consciousness of the working class, which grows with increased

entrepreneurial enthusiasm and is developed further in later biographies. Franklin achieved

his success not by luck but by "honest and virtuous enterprise" (9). Although his great

natural abilities helped him achieve eminence, without "his active and persevering spirit,

his industrious, frugal, temperate, methodical, and time-saving habits" no talent could have

compensated and no real distinction would have been obtained.

The tone of Holley's authorial commentary proves calmer and much less didactic

than some of his predecessors. In relating important incidents in Franklin's life, Holley

generally quotes from the Autobiography and then provides his own observations about the

event. For instance, we read the stone wharf escapade in Franklin's own words with

Holley's reflection at the conclusion: "This testimony [that 'honesty is the best policy] is

instructive and valuable. The observation made, and the hints received, during those visits

of the boy, worked like leaven among the thoughts of the man" (16). Or, after quoting

from Franklin's account of the difficulties which arose between him and his brother James,

Holley observes that Franklin resolves to leave Boston since he could no longer tolerate

working for his brother and there was little opportunity to work locally. However, when

Franklin's own telling may in some way offend the sensitivity of the reader, Holley resorts

to his own more euphemistic rendition. In finding a way to leave Boston, Franklin

resorted to his friend Collins, who, at Benjamin's request, engaged a
passage for him in a New York sloop then just about to sail; alleging to the
captain, as to the reason for his leaving Boston clandestinely, that he had an
intrigue with a girl of bad character, whose parents would compel him to
marry her, unless he could make his escape in this manner. (36)

The "naughty girl" has become only a "girl of bad character" and the suggestion of

pregnancy in the original is lessened to an "intrigue." While the idea of obtaining passage

on the ship is clearly Franklin's, the text remains more ambiguous as to whether the

pretense of the bad girl was Franklin's or Collins' invention. In either instance, Holley

makes no issue of the deception in his commentary.

After he has shown Franklin successfully set up in Philadelphia, Holley discusses

Franklin's religious beliefs by quoting from works such as "Articles and Belief and Acts of

Religion" and a letter to Ezra Stiles, then elaborating on Franklin's views. In each instance

as Franklin's religious activities are discussed, Holley is quick to point to Franklin's moral

character, a character primarily founded upon the qualities of Poor Richard which he has

come to represent. Holley's method of defense, an appeal to Franklin's moral virtues and

actions, continues through subsequent biographies and sketches as the evangelical impulse

to depict Franklin in Christian clothing subsides. This appeal to Franklin's morality rather

than Christianity marks an important shift in the image. As the need to defend or discuss

Franklin's religious persuasion declines still further towards the end of the century, what

remains, independent from the religious context, is a paragon model of extreme morality

and virtue. This morality, then, becomes founded on such traits as frugality, integrity, and

doing good: "Franklin's frugality proceeded from a high sense of duty. It was the

legitimate fruit and conclusive proof of his honesty, and of a just sentiment of self-respect

and manly independence" (180). Again we see the use of such terms as "manly

independence" as Franklin is more frequently refit to the emerging ideology of manhood.

We see the prominent emergence of manhood as well as moral goodness in an

image created by a biographer like Holley where Franklin material such as The Way to

Wealth is viewed as a repository of moral goodness, common sense, and practical wisdom.

It is "so well fitted for the daily guidance of common life" (208), that Holley transcribes in

its entirety in his biography. Holley shows that because of these virtues Franklin is "useful

to the end," devoting his final "remaining strength to the cause of education and freedom"

(468). Upon the death of Franklin, Holley remarks:

Thus terminated a life as remarkable for its early development of the highest
traits of character in the midst of the laborious occupations of a tradesman,
as for the achievements in philosophy and the services to his country, which
rendered it illustrious, and which left the richest lessons of wisdom to every
succeeding generation. (468)

Franklin, not above laborious work, rises through his manly moral goodness.

A final mid-century biography I will discuss, Jacob Abbott's Franklin the

Apprentice Boy, further demonstrates the emerging elements of Franklin's image as the

embodiment of industry and perseverance, placing it within a distinctly American

framework. As Franklin comes to represent the values of the work ethic, these same

qualities are seen as distinctly American as well. Not that individuals outside America

could not or did not possess these traits, but certainly there became a clear association of

the spirit of industry with a sense of Americanness. The characterization of America as a

place of industry was not an idea new to the nineteenth century. Franklin himself wrote

about the pervading spirit of work representative of the United States in "Information to

Those Who Would Remove to America," where it is asked of a stranger not "What is he?

but What can he do?" (Writings 977). Moreover, this stress on work adds to the morality

of Americans wherein "vices that arise usually from idleness are in a great measure

prevented. Industry and constant Employment are great Preservatives of the Morals and

Virtue of a Nation. Hence bad Examples to Youth are more rare in America, which must

be a comfortable Consideration to Parents" (982).

As the image of Franklin fuses with the characteristic conscientious, hard-working

laborer of the nineteenth century, Franklin came to typify the average American. Jacob

Abbott, leaving his work as a cleric and educator to become a popular author of juvenile

literature, depicts this view of Franklin. Abbott's works reflect his educational philosophy

as he carefully orchestrates events in his fiction to create a worthwhile model for children.

Most famous for his Rollo series, simple stories in Thomas Day's tradition of instructional

literature, Abbott wrote a number of biographies among the 180 volumes he authored, his

short work on Franklin one of the more popular. For Abbott, Franklin becomes the

archetypal American. To make his biography more engaging to young readers, Abbott

relies upon invented dialogue in the narrative, an element which begins to move the figure

of Franklin toward the realm of fiction.

Abbott's biography begins with a chapter entitled, "Why We Celebrate the Fourth

of July," placing Franklin in a historical context and talking generally about patriotism and

America. The narrative flashes back from the current time (1855) to the colonial era:

"Benjamin Franklin was one of the most distinguished statesmen of America at the period

of the Revolution" (13). After additional comments about the Revolutionary War, the

Declaration of Independence, and Fourth of July festivities, Abbott focuses on Benjamin's

early life, contrasting the young boy to the able statesmen and public figure. Beneath a

picture of young Ben which is arranged next to portrait of Franklin as mature sage, Abbott


Here is a picture of Franklin doing errands for his father when he was a
small boy. ... And now here is another picture of him, representing him as
he was in after life, when he became a great statesman, and was employed
by government to write dispatches, and negotiate treaties, and to perform
other great public functions. Observe how great is the difference. (20)

Continued emphasis is placed on Franklin's indigent beginnings and the lack of

opportunity he had, with a comparison then being made to the reader and the great

privileges enjoyed in the mid-nineteenth century. For Abbott, Franklin's life and works are

in great part the reason for the possibility of a better standard of living.

Your father, reader, is perhaps an independent and thriving man, with
constant and profitable employment, and an income sufficient to enable him
to provide abundantly for all the wants of his family. There are carpets on
the floor in your home, and curtains at the windows, and books upon the
shelves, and the children can go to the school to be instructed. Now it is
very probable that it is owing to some of Franklin's negotiating or treaties,
or to some of the constitution or laws which he helped to frame, that your
father, and thousands of others, are in so prosperous a condition. (21)

Not only does Franklin epitomize the "manly independence" discussed earlier (though

those precise terms are not used), he is shown, in a very literal sense, to have enabled the

reader's father to become "an independent and thriving man," suggestive of entrepreneurial


Abbott's biography takes on a allegorical quality as the individuals in the biography

are drawn as flat figures, usually either representing of good or bad. Though Franklin may

be a little vain and too self-willed, underneath he is genuinely good. Others, such as

James, Collins, or Ralph, contrast Franklin's goodness with some flaw or defect. James,

for instance, is shown as "a violent man" who would "scold and upbraid [Franklin] in the

most harsh and violent manner" (33). When his treatment gets unbearable, Franklin seeks

other employment, and New York is the nearest city that employment as a printer might be

found. Collins, drawn as the most wicked individual in the narrative, assists young

Franklin in his escape.

One of his companions, a very intelligent and active, but rather a bad boy,
proposed a plan to him for getting away. There was a vessel in the harbor
going to New York soon, and Collins told Franklin that he thought he could
get the captain to take him secretly, by making up a false story to deceive

Moralizing upon the deficient moral character of Collins, echoing the "bad boy" motif of

earlier writers, Abbott again resorts to invented dialogue.

"I will tell him," said [Collins], "that the reason why you wish to go away
is, that your parents insist on your marrying a girl that you do not wish to
marry, and that they will prevent your going if they find it out. Then he will
let you come secretly, and hide in his vessel, just before he is ready to sail."

As the goodness and badness of the characters becomes clearly defined, we see a

simplification of the story and a rewriting of the narrative so as to show Franklin in the

most favorable light. The responsibility for the falsehood becomes totally Collins', with no

mention that Franklin consented to the deception.

Little is made of the illegality of Franklin's flight or its inappropriateness. Abbott

seems well aware that Franklin obviously gained fame and success in spite of this

questionable behavior. Abbott makes the point, however, that the road to success would

have been faster and more honorable had Franklin stayed in Boston.

Although Franklin ultimately succeeded very well in his plans, and became
very prosperous, his success was probably retarded and diminished by his
thus running away from home, and not promoted by it. If he had remained
with his brother and honorably fulfilled his obligations as apprentice, there
is every reason to suppose that he would have risen to eminence in Boston
even more rapidly than he did in Philadelphia, and he would in that case
spared himself the many hardships, privations, and sufferings which he
endured, and particularly the remorse which subsequently stung him so
severely, when he thought of his undutiful conduct toward his father and
mother. (41)

One consequence of his leaving Boston that caused later problems was the

obligation he then felt toward Collins, who Abbott says "was a very bright and active-

minded boy, but he was a bad boy in character, or, at any rate, he was beginning to be bad,

and it was very unfortunate for Franklin that he ever had anything to do with him" (97).

The friendship with Collins comes to no good as Franklin loans Collins money which he

has been entrusted to keep.

By thus associating himself with such a young man as Collins, Franklin got
himself into a great deal of difficulty, and brought upon himself much
sorrow. The story of this trouble, however, furnishes so striking and
perfect illustration of the way in which well-meaning young men often get
drawn into difficulty by connecting themselves with the bad.... (97)

This lesson is further developed, though to a much less extent, with Franklin's relationship

with Ralph in London, who Abbott says "was a very intelligent and well-informed man,

but unprincipled, and somewhat inclined to idleness and dissipation. This made him a very

dangerous companion" (124-125).

A few more incidents from Franklin's early life are told, such as his temperate

behavior in England and being dubbed the "Water-American." But the purpose of Abbott's

story is realized as Franklin returns to America and sets up a successful printing business in

America. Abbott's two-dimensional characterizations serve to focus the biography on the

theme: Franklin's rise to fortune from indigent beginnings results from his goodness and

manly labor.

During the whole period of his boyhood and youth, [Franklin] spent his
leisure time, not in idle sports or frivolous amusements, but in learning
something which might be useful to him in future years, and it was this trait
in his character, in no.inconsiderable degree, that his subsequent greatness
was owing. (160)

This archetypal pattern of the poor boy who makes good will become a more dominant

feature after the Civil War as the enthusiasm for the self-made man peaks.

The growing importance of Franklin can be seen in the tangential discussions of

him in seemingly unrelated articles and in the continued stress of his Poor Richard-like

virtues. Two articles printed in The Youth's Instructor and Guardian show how Franklin

could be worked into a text. The September 1849 issue contains an article, "Miscellaneous

Papers on Chemistry," where mention is made of lightning. The author proceeds to

comment on Franklin's role in showing the electrical nature of lightning: "It was reserved

for Dr. Benjamin Franklin, the American Philosopher, to put the matter beyond doubt,--by

direct experimentation, indeed, to reduce it to manifested fact" (419). Franklin's place as

the "American Philosopher," a term used as far back as Weems but with increasing

frequency during the latter half of the century, seems part of a growing interest in and

awareness of Franklin's scientific work and achievements. "Philosopher" in this instance

refers to a broader definition of scientist who, during the Enlightenment, would have

studied and wrote about moral as well as what we now think of as purely "scientific"

subjects, reflective of Franklin's interest in issues like moral perfection as well as electricity

or ocean currents.

A May 1852 issue of The Youth's Instructor and Guardian includes an article

entitled "Mr. Hugh Miller on Geology." In a speech given at the Royal Physical Society,

Miller's discussion of geology digresses into a summary of recent technological

advancements, and his mention of the Watts steam engine leads him to Franklin.

Or who could have surmised, when at nearly the same period, the
Philadelphia printer was raising for the first time his silken kite in the fields,
that there was an age coming in which, through a knowledge of laws
hitherto unknown, but whose existence he was then determining, man
would be enabled to bind on his thoughts to the winged lightning, and send
them, with an instantaneousness that would annihilate time and space,
across land and sea? (218)

Clearly, by this time Franklin has gained place among respected scientists as his renown

becomes ever more far reaching. Miller suggests that Franklin's work laid the foundation

for many of the marvelous advances of the nineteenth century, such as the telegraph,

described poetically as "winged lightning."

Franklin gains a more dominant part in school readers at this time a well,

suggesting that his prominence will be increasing in the next generation as they become

more familiar with and indoctrinated by the mythic image. Noah Webster's Biography For

the Use of Schools appeared in 1830, giving an eleven-page rewriting of the

Autobiography. A pre-Civil War edition of a McGuffey Reader contains a discussion of

Franklin's oratorical powers in a selection written by William Wirt, "Colloquial Powers of

Franklin." Wirt, who claims to have spent a few weeks with Franklin at the home of a

mutual friend, argues that Franklin was most persuasive in "domestic circles" due to his wit

and good sense, making little effort at eloquence in public situations (Buxbaum 130). An

1850 southern reader provides a more typical view of Franklin, but with a tone suggesting

the growing emphasis on success.

Do you despise your humble station and repine that Providence has not
placed you in some nobler sphere? Murmur not against the dispensations of
an all-wise Creator! ... "An honest man's the noblest work of God."...
press forward and the prize is yours! It was thus with Franklin--it can be
thus with you. He strove for the prize, and he won it! So may you! (qtd.
in Mile 126)

Franklin here epitomizes self-reliance and independence, traits needed in an increasingly

competitive society. Those of "humble station," according to this selection from The

Southern Reader and Speaker, should not despair that their state must ever remain low, but

are encouraged to press forward, so, in words similar to the Apostle Paul, they may "win

the prize."

Short pieces in periodical and anthologized works continued to appear as well,

continuing to stress the industrious, prudent image of the man. An anonymously written

article, "Sketches of American Character, Franklin" (the title reflecting Franklin's

representativeness as the typical American), appearing in The Monthly Repository and

Library of Entertaining'Knowledge labels Franklin as "one of the greatest benefactors of

America" (159). A short sketch of Franklin's life is summed up with an overall judgment

of his character, presumably the reason for his influence and his status as a benefactor.

"His industry, frugality, activity, intelligence; his plans for improving the condition of the

providence, for introducing better systems of education; his municipal services, made him

an object of attention ... [and] contributed to render him an object of admiration"

(161,194). In her Boy's Reading-Book, Mrs. L. H. Sigourey includes an article, "Dr.

Benjamin Franklin," that along with other selections she feels will encourage "lessons of

republican simplicity, of the value of time, of the rewards of virtue, of the duties of this

life, as they take hold on the happiness of the next" (1-2). Sigourney attributes much of

Franklin's character and inclination toward industry to his early reading of Mather's

"Essays to do Good," with Franklin purported to crediting the work as laying the

foundation in his mind for his later philanthropy (206). No mention is made in her account

of Franklin's apprenticeship. He leaves Boston merely because he has little opportunity to

improve himself.

Not meeting from his brother any assistance, in his pursuit for
improvement, and finding him neither as kind or as liberal as he had reason
to expect, he left him and went to New York, and Philadelphia, in search of
employment at his trade.

Sigourney places Franklin's whole life in the context of labor, as industry takes precedence

over all else.

Sketches of this nature flourish as Franklin continues to be viewed as the

embodiment of Poor Richard. In A Brief Memoir of the Life of Dr. Benjamin Franklin

(1833), Franklin's commitment to work and prudence establish him as the model that

youthful readers can follow to get ahead. An article entitled "Franklin" written for the

Boys' and Girls' Magazine (1843) shows how industry, obedience, and beneficence lead

to Franklin's greatness, a fame which never recedes due to his continued adherence to these

virtues. Samuel Hutchins provides a moralistic rendition of the Franklin story in Benjamin

Franklin: A Book for the Young and Old, for All (1852). Readers are encouraged to

appreciate and emulate the qualities of Poor Richard which Franklin possessed and learn

the lessons the life of Franklin teaches (Buxbaum 83, 97, 113).

As the image of Franklin becomes more mythic towards the end of this period and

grows to epitomize the traits associated both with Poor Richard and the urban laborer of

antebellum America, we find one fictional treatment of the colonial leader precursory to the

early twentieth-century reaction of the man in Herman Melville's 1855 novel Israel Potter:

His Fifty Years of Exile. Though his book was not intended for children and was not most

likely common reading even among adults of the time, Melville is playing off a stereotypic

view of Franklin--his industry and prudence--which suggests the extent the Poor-Richard

view of Franklin had become ingrained. Caricatures work only when an image is firmly

established, and the maxim-quoting character of Israel Potter lacks the feeling and emotion

to be a complete man.

In a short book intended for children, Nathaniel Hawthorne in Biographical Stories

for Children (1842) does not cast Franklin as a character in a fiction but uses fictional

context to tell Franklin's story. Hawthorne relates incidents about the lives of famous

people by creating a sick boy whose father entertains him by telling stories, biographical

ones being deemed the most suitable. The book proceeds with conversations between

Edward Temple and his father. Hawthorne focuses on two events of Franklin's life, the

incidents of paying too much for a whistle and the building of the stone wharf. In the stone

wharf building Franklin is shown to be "the soul of the enterprise," with his "mechanical

genius" serving to find ways to transport the stones and build a sturdy wharf (112, 116).

Of course, the moral is appropriately drawn that "honesty is the best policy." Edward's

father sums up Franklin's early years by saying, "In this way our friend Benjamin spent

his boyhood and youth, until, on account of some disagreement with his brother, he left his

native town, and went to Philadelphia" (133).

Edward wants to hear more, not because he is more impressed with Franklin than

others, but because "he was a Yankee boy" (135). As they discuss what made Franklin

famous, they agree that Poor Richard's Almanack

did more than any thing else, towards making him familiarly known to the
public. As the writer of those proverbs, which Poor Richard was supposed
to utter, Franklin became the counselor and household friend of almost
every family in America. (136)5
Edward says he has read some of the proverbs but dislikes them for "they are all about

getting money, or saving it" (137). His father responds that "they were suited to the

condition of the country; and their effect, upon the whole, has doubtless been good,--

although they teach men but a very small portion of their duties" (137). Hawthorne also

worked with the Franklinian theme of working to get ahead in the short story, "My

Kinsman, Major Molineux" (1832), where young Robin finds that he must rely upon his

own merits, not those of a wealthy relative and benefactor, for success. But his depiction

of Franklin in his biographical sketch for children suggests at best an ambivalence towards

the national hero. No doubt the maxims of Poor Richard's had unpleasant implications to

Hawthorne, particularly during the years when circumstances caused him to become a hack

writer, producing works like Biographical Stories to survive.

Certainly Franklin's depiction in fiction along with the accounts found in

periodicals, biographies, and anthologies all point to the wide acceptance of Franklin

representing the virtues of industry, frugality, and honesty. The image of the previous

period derived from the Autobiography and The Way to Wealth has genuinely fused with

the figure, never really to be separated again throughout the nineteenth century. At mid-

century, as the stress placed upon the work ethic increases, we see the secular ideas of

success slowly temper the religious elements of the image as Franklin comes to embody the

prevalent success ideology and typify a rise to fame and fortune from obscure beginnings.

This archetypal motif of the "poor boy made good" grows increasingly important as the

self-made man becomes a dominant image and model for emulation, trends we will see

further developed in the Civil War/post-Civil War period.


1. The borrowing of and adding to The Way to Wealth by other authors to promote
self-help and hard work can be seen as early as 1796. In a letter to a co-author discussing
the possibility of printing a new almanac, Mason Weems discusses coming out with his
own "Franklin" almanac, "Franklin because it would contain, among other things, a copy
of The Way to Wealth (Letters II, 85). An 1838 edition of The Way to Wealth printed in
Ithaca, New York, had added such things to Franklin's 1758 preface as "Necessary Hints
to Those Who Would Be Rich" and "The Way to Make Money Plenty in Every Man's
Pocket," as well as three short pieces "Wise and Ignorant," "Rich and Poor," and
"Justice." An undated edition of this same time shows how printers also simplified some
of Franklin's material for children. The subtitle, "To Be Followed by those who would be
Good Children and Rich and Wise Men," suggests that being good and wise depends upon
following Franklin's maxims. This edition intersperses woodcuts with quotations of Poor

Richard, while keeping a narrative line through editorial commentary. An 1850 edition
along with an undated English edition further show the evolutionary process of The Way to
Wealth. The 1850 edition adds material not only for children, but for adults who may read
the work as well. The title page serves as a type of table of contents listing the material
contained in the chapbook: "Advice to a Young Tradesman," "Hints to those that would be
Rich," "Poor Richard's Address," "The Whistle; a True Story (Written to his Nephew),"
The Advantages of Drunkenness," "Maxims for Married Gentlemen," "Maxims for Married
Ladies," "Causes of Men Wanting Money," and "Directions how Persons may supply
Themselves with Money at all Times." The English edition, edited by Bob Short (an
obvious pseudonym), adds more non-Franklin material to the original text. Titled,
Franklin's Way to Wealth or, Poor Richard Improved, this edition includes as a subtitle,
To Which is added Alphabetical Maxims; Worthy the Remembrance and Regard of All.
Short also includes a section, "How to Make Much of a Little, Addressed to the Industrious
Poor," which suggests ways the poor may make do with what they have. Short's
alphabetical maxims (Poor Richard-type maxims alphabetized by the first word of the
saying) add his own philosophy to the Franklin canon of sayings as original maxims are
interspersed with Franklin's: "Better be alone, than in bad Company," or "Industry pays
Debts, but Despair increaseth them" (26). On the back end cover of the book, Short
reflects on Franklin's writing, alludes to an incident in Franklin's autobiography, and
admonishes children to follow the advice contained in the chapbook:

Dear Children. It is impossible to peruse the precepts of honest Richard Saunders without
instruction, and that you may know their additional recommendation, you are informed that
their author was DR. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, originally a journeyman printer, who
contented himself with drinking water, whilst his shopmates were intoxicated with
spirituous liquors and beer. (end cover)

He then asks the readers what they feel resulted from this abstinence. He replies that while
Franklin "by prudence and integrity, rose from obscurity to a statesman," those shopmates
no doubt ended up in a parish poor house. Franklin's success, according to Short, "was
effected by a strict attention to the Proverbs of 'Poor Richard."' This use and reworking of
The Way to Wealth continues through Twain's Gilded Age when the popularity of Franklin
material peaks.

2- This edition of The Life of Benjamin Franklin underwent numerous reprints and
was combined with other works such as The Life of George Washington. In addition to
the original publishers, Collins & Hannay, it appeared in various editions by different
publishers (for instance, an 1839 London edition, The Lives of Franklin and Washington,
published by Thomas Tegg). Interestingly, Samuel Griswold Goodrich, user of the
pseudonym Peter Parley, denied authorship of the work even though a copyright had been
obtained in his name. An expanded biography, The Life of Benjamin Franklin
(Philadelphia: Thomas Cowperthwait & Co.), based on the 1832 edition, appeared in
1842. In both instances, Parley focuses on Franklin's rise to fortune and the
accomplishments that resulted from his early adherence to Poor Richardian virtues.

3. The difficulty in dealing with some of the biographies of this period is
demonstrated by a book such as Life of Benjamin Franklin, Embracing Anecdotes
Illustrative of His Character (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1846). In his
bibliography (Benjamin Franklin 1721-1906, A Reference Guide [Boston: G. K. Hall,
1983]), Buxbaum lists a book of the identical title, different publisher and publication date,
in an 1836 entry. While the books are obviously different according to Buxbaum's
annotations (I was unable to consult a copy of the 1836 biography) and while it was not
uncommon to have anonymously published biographies with the same title, these two

coincidentally have the same number of pages. Also, the 1846 edition which I consulted is
part of a Young American's Library series, the same series as the 1836 edition, while the
1846 edition Buxbaum annotates is listed as part of a Biographical School Series. From
the annotations, my 1846 edition is the same as the one Buxbaum lists as the 1846 edition.
In my work at the Baldwin Library, however, I came across another 1846 biography of a
different title, a Pictorial Life of Benjamin Franklin (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston).
Upon inspection it proved to be identical in every respect to the 1846 Life of Benjamin
Franklin. To show how the matter can grow even more complicated, an 1889 biography,
Poor Richard's Story. A Young Folk's Life of Benjamin Franklin, published in New York
as part of a Daring Deeds Series, lists an author as Henry C. Watson. This volume also,
upon comparison, proved identical to the anonymously printed 1846 Life of Benjamin

4- I am indebted to David Leverenz and the insights I gained concerning issue of
manhood through many conversations on the subject. This passage suggests a variation of
the declining importance of parentage, as a subtle shift from paternal deference to individual
autonomy surfaces in an ideology of manhood. Further reflecting a change from artisan
and patrician values to entrepreneurial competition, the emphasis on "manliness" suggests
an awareness of the uneasiness caused by social mobility and a volatile marketplace.
Beginning as a battlefield code (reinforcing the creed of "fight not flight"), manhood
becomes an ideology of the work force as man's sense of self becomes integrally tied to his
work. Accompanying increased competition and greater opportunities for mobility lies a
fundamental threat of failing. With the decline of evangelical religion which assured other
worldly comfort in the face of risk, new strategies were adopted to recover from
disappointment, most notably here with the stress on manhood. Without the deference
implicit in the religious dogma of the early century, men relied upon their manhood, not on
God, for strength in peril. Franklin, whose success comes from his own perseverance and
hard work, begins to be seen as an exemplar of manly independence essential to success,
though often stressed in these narratives as self-reliance. This aspect intermittently surfaces
through the remainder of the mid-century becoming increasingly strident in the post-Civil
War era with the rise of the self-made man. For a more extended treatment of manhood and
its effect on nineteenth-century writers, see Leverenz's forthcoming book, Manhood and
the American Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1989).

5. By the middle of the century the name Poor Richard had gained prominence that
an author of children's stories adopts it for a fictional character to discourage idleness in her
readers. Mrs. Lovechild in Poor Richard and Other Stories, for the Young (Philadelphia:
Hayes & Zell, 1856), ignorantly uses the name "Poor Richard" for a destitute old man
who never gained the fame or fortune the famous maxims promise. Richard, now in his
advanced years, stands begging outside a rundown hut, dressed in rags, having nothing to
eat. He catches the attention of two children, Frank and Mary, and they stop to talk.
Richard tells them his story.

I was a naughty boy, and so grew up to be a naughty man.... I liked to please myself,
and have my own way best. I was so idle, I would not work.... I wandered idly from
one place to another, earning a few pence now and then, just to keep myself from starving.
But instead of feeling any sorrow for what I had done, I grew worse and worse. (67-68)

By the time the children meet him, he is too old and weak to change. In the story Richard
is the antithesis of everything Franklin's persona has come to represent. The adjective
"poor" enters in when the children later have cause to remember his condition which serves
as a warning against their own potentially deviant behavior. "They did not soon forget his
sad story; and when either of them was naughty, and did not like to obey, the other would


say, 'Remember poor Richard!'" (69-68). Here the descriptor "poor" takes on the meaning
of regret and warning as well as poverty.


During the era of the Civil War and the years following, we see the final inseparable

fusion of Ben Franklin as Poor Richard. By this time the notion of Franklin as the paragon

of industry, frugality, honesty, and perseverance becomes so embedded into the image that

despite what other changes and additions made to it, this aspect remains intact. What

occurs, however, are more subtle changes as values and attitudes shift, paralleling

economic and social changes occurring in society. We can see the broad appeal of Franklin

by the appearance of material even in such specialized publications as The Catholic's

Youth's Magazine, a magazine published to provide "unbiased" reading material for

Catholic children. The September 1860 edition contains a two-page sketch on Franklin,

emphasizing Poor Richard and his injunction against idleness. Major incidents of

Franklin's life are summarized as he is depicted as a hard-working printer. The

anonymous author says, "After spending nearly seven years in the office of his brother,

and having a thorough knowledge of the art of printing as then practiced, [Franklin] left

home to try his fortune.. ." (33). Franklin arrives in Philadelphia with no job, but

because of his dedication to hard work and previous learning, he is able to find work and

grows in skill and distinction as he establishes himself in business. Franklin's ever-present

busyness is described: "While other men were sleeping, or spending time in idleness,

FRANKLIN was engaged in study, or trying experiments" (33).

The name Franklin itself had come to take on significance by this time that George
Hillard uses it metonymically to designate an array of qualities he wishes to inculcate in the

audience of his Franklin readers. He says in discussing the title of his Franklin Fifth

Reader (1877) that the book has been named "in honor of an illustrious son of Boston,

forever associated with her public schools through medals devised in his will" (62).1 The

use of Franklin's name for a reader had begun as early as 1802, when Samuel Willard

dedicated his book, The Franklin Primer, to the "memory of Doct. Benjamin Franklin,...

a man whose manner of life from his youth up, is worthy the most minute observation, and

imitation of the rising generation" (Rosenbach 113). The use of Franklin's name in this

manner continued until the end of the century where it was also appears in satiric works,

such as a primer which spoofs the elements of industry and frugality Franklin had come to

represent. While the satiric 1878 Benjamin Franklin Primer contains none of Franklin's

own writing or any biographical information on him, the lessons on hard work and

conscientious saving satirize the Franklin/Poor Richard-type lessons contained in traditional

readers. The title page does, however, have a statue of Franklin, though it bears little or no

resemblance to the historical figure but stands like a Napoleonic figure, posed with a large

hat and a hand in his coat, perhaps suggesting the status and dominance Franklin had in

lessons promoting work. The primer contains several invented testimonials from leading

figures of the time attesting to its worth: "It makes a fine show" (P. T. Barnum); "There is

nothing superior to it but the Herald" (James G. Bennett); "My children cry for it"

(Brigham Young); "I think it's bully--big stuff' (Sitting Bull); and so forth. The preface

claims that the primer is a good-natured satire on beginning readers in common use, and "is

scarcely less absurd than books in which our children receive their first instruction."

The continued appearance of Franklin material in school readers shows the impulse

to provide children with a model from which to pattern one's life. During this period we

see the continuation of an earlier trend as little emphasis is placed upon religion, as religion

itself becomes more a matter of morals than theology with all things demonstrating a moral

lesson. For instance, the diligent work of the ant in gathering food for hard times

demonstrates moral responsibility rather than instinctual behavior while the careless

behavior of the grasshopper brings just punishment when in winter hunger abounds and

insufficient stores are too be had. With the moral nature of the universe pervading popular

thought and seen as "the base of American culture," financial success in the business world

or in any endeavor is seen resulting directly from good character and as a consequence of

virtue (Elson 337-338). With this type of logic operational, Franklin becomes a prime

exemplar of moral virtue with its accompanying success and is put forth as such in readers

and anthologies aimed at children.

One of the most popular and well-known series, the McGuffey Readers, frequently

included quotes from Franklin. These readers, approved texts in thirty-seven states from

1836 until the end of the century, sold over 122 million copies. William Holmes

McGuffey admired Franklin and borrowed freely from Poor Richard in his lessons, though

in most instances quotes are not attributed to Franklin. McGuffey's intent in his readers

was to teach honesty, frugality, and industry (Wecter 311). Richard D. Moser in his study

of McGuffey Readers sees one of McGuffey's greatest feats as the complete integration of

Christian and middle class ideals. While overt religious discussions are not as common as

in works such as Weems, the moral tone of the readers remains high, with the religious

devotion of such leaders as Franklin or Washington an assumed given. In speaking of

these two early leaders, McGuffey asks, "What other two men whose lives belong to the

eighteenth century of Christendom have left a deeper impression upon the age in which

they lived, and upon all after time?" (Moser 6). The readers stressed such virtues as

honesty, integrity, thriftiness, and industry, virtues integral to religion--to be more desired

than gold. Yet, paradoxically, the reward of such virtues was gold (Moser 105, 118).

With Franklin representing many of the values promoted by McGuffey,

surprisingly few lengthy selections by or about Franklin appear in the readers. Franklin's

primary influence and presence is seen in the anonymously included maxims lifted from

Poor Richard. It is not until the post-Civil War years that a McGuffey Reader contains a

selection of any length from Franklin's Autobiography. The McGuffey's Sixth Eclectic

Reader excerpts Franklin's famous entry into Philadelphia, stressing his rise to fortune.

The piece is prefaced with an introduction focusing on Franklin's business career with little

mention of his diplomatic services. The stress on Franklin as a model of diligent work

remains: "His life is a noble example of the results of industry and perseverance" (431).

More prominent space is given to Franklin in such readers as Sanders' The New School

Reader: Fourth Book (1866), a competitor to McGuffey, which found the reprinting of

The Way to Wealth in its entirety valuable to encourage moral behavior and monetary

rewards which accompany upright living.

A history of the United States by Mrs. Lewis B. Monroe, entitled The Story of Our

Country (1876), published in connection with America's centennial, more overtly suggests

the exemplary nature of Franklin. Characteristic of the subtle new dimensions of the

Franklin image, Monroe stresses the Americanness of her subject, an aspect particularly

prominent in late-century biographies. Monroe invents a mother who retells the history of

the United States to her two young children, Will and Lizzie. In a chapter titled, "How a

Poor Boy Became a Famous Man," Monroe recounts Benjamin's early years and clearly

suggests that following his example can bring success. The mother of the story is

constantly seeing that her children learn "much that will be useful to them in after life" (5),

and the story of Franklin ranks high in what is considered useful.

Just so surely as the needed rain and sunshine come to gladden the growing
trees in spring-time, so surely did the men appear who seemed to have been
born and fitted to help America in her times of greatest danger. One of these
men was Benjamin Franklin, born in Boston in the year 1706. (147)

While this introduction would seem to suggest a discussion concerning the

American Revolution and the creation of the United States, Monroe does not deal with any

of Franklin's activities connected with the war or the events leading up to it. While a later

chapter discusses his involvement in the French and Indian War with General Braddock,

this initial chapter focuses exclusively on Franklin's rise to fortune, the example it provides

to others, and, by inference, the importance these traits had in securing the greatness of

America. While Monroe recounts incidents such as the building of the stone wharf to show

Franklin's growing realization that anything dishonest is not really useful, the main

emphasis centers on Franklin successfully establishing himself as a printer. As Franklin

enters Philadelphia for the first time, Will observes, "Such a boy as that wasn't long

without work, I know" (152). In a dialogue among the three characters, the secret of

Franklin's success is explained.

WILL. How Franklin did succeed in everything!
LIZZIE. I suppose that was because he did everything so well.
MOTHER. Most likely every one would succeed if he were as upright,
industrious, prudent, and saving as Franklin was. (153)

Monroe's not so hidden agenda, one we will see more fully exploited in the fictional

narratives of writers like Alger, suggests that if children develop the moral fortitude of

Franklin, the success he achieved is within their grasp.

A selection on Franklin in the Saint Nicholas Story Book (1875) takes a similar

approach to that of Monroe. As the story of Franklin's success is recounted, the

implication is that anyone can do likewise through conscientious effort. The short article

"Benjamin Franklin" begins with the characteristic comparison between his lowly

beginnings and the later height of fame and fortune achieved.

The life of Franklin is one of the most extraordinary instances on record of
what can be accomplished by study, resolution, and a conscientious nurture
of the faculties. He was born in a humble sphere; he began his career as an
apprentice; he mastered almost all the branches of knowledge, aided by his
own perseverance and determination; and he rose to become arbiter of
nations, the companion of sovereigns; he ascended step by step from the
humble printer's apprentice to a position the most exalted of any in the
world. (44)

The standard events of Part One of the Autobiography are summarized with author simply

glossing over any of the problematic errataa" Franklin discusses in his own narrative. As

Franklin departs Boston we are told that the "situation becoming intolerable, he abruptly

left Boston, and started secretly for New York" (48).

The concluding paragraph reinforces the sentiment of the beginning as we are

reminded of the key to Franklin's success.

Thus full of years and honors died this remarkable man, the most striking
example, perhaps, on record of what energy, virtue, and industry will
accomplish in advancing the fortunes of their possessor. (53)

The stress of this sketch as well as many similar pieces of this period is similar to those of

the mid-century in that Franklin is equated with industry, honesty, and frugality. But a

subtle change begins to occur as Franklin more frequently comes to epitomize what the

nineteenth century calls the self-made man.

While the term "self-made" in referring to a man who gained financial success dates

from much early than the Civil War, it is really through the years following the war as we

approach the period of time dubbed by Twain the "Gilded Age" that the importance of the

self-made man peaks.2 A concomitant stress is placed upon self-education, self-

improvement, and self-reliance through sermons, tracts, self-help manuals, lectures, and

the like as the theme of the archetypal rise to fortune inundates biography and fiction.

Numerous trends, both economic and ideological, come together to emphasize the

importance of common sense and hard work and their place in obtaining success. Though

the genesis of this and many societal trends dates to much earlier periods, they culminate

during the Civil War and post-Civil War period, representative of characteristic attitudes

infused into Franklin's image at this time. Such forces as industrialization, improved

technology, urbanization, a growing consciousness of a definable middle class, and the

proliferation of self-help material all work together to further mythicize Franklin and

promote the importance of his image in the national consciousness.

One of the most significant events in nineteenth-century America to affect post-Civil
War America was growing industrialization and urbanization. Beginning at the end of the

eighteenth century and continuing through the nineteenth century, industry steadily

advanced in scale and capitalization, bringing with it a change from an agrarian- to market-

based economy, especially in the Northeast. Michael Gilmore suggests, "A variety of

factors combined to fuel a runaway expansion of economy. Poor transportation facilities,

the dearth of capital for investment, and chronic labor shortages had inhibited growth in the

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