Autobiography Of Benjamin Franklin Essay

There is no reason to doubt Franklin's earnestness in the anti-slavery petition (he was much on record already opposing slavery)—in fact, in the very last month of his life, he wrote for a Pennsylvania newspaper a lively, slashing hoax ridiculing a speech by the very Southern congressman who had opposed the petition Franklin had signed.

Ralph Ketcham Syracuse University Syracuse, NY Behind Benjamin Franklin's carefully wrought graven image there lurks, according to Jerry Weinberger, "a serious thinker who, though he wore a leather apron, philosophized not with a hammer but a joke." Weinberger's Franklin observes the world with disenchanted eyes, but with this difference: each man's closet nihilism is draped to suit his distinct private purposes.

Weinberger also misunderstands Franklin's relationship to slavery.

He was only a bit player in working out the three-fifths compromise (the language came from Continental Congress usage).

Franklin was in it for the pleasure of playing "the grand game of modernity," as Weinberger terms it.

As with chess, or with the construction of arithmetical magic squares and circles, or with charming and disarming conversation, he was good at it.

Can one leave it at his "apparent dedication to public service"?

Even if he was an Olympic-class voyeur, amateur, and gamesman, these qualities by themselves leave unanswered the question, what did Ben really care about?

When he arrived in London, Franklin immediately understood that the British ministry thought that "The King was the legislator for the colonies"; and he concluded that should British authorities prove adamant (as they did), Pennsylvania and the other colonies would have to leave what he finally called "an old, rotten state." He engaged in many subtle and adroit maneuvers, not in the disgraceful or unrepublican way Weinberger implies, but in a wise, principled, even clever way, quite in accord with the ideals of the American Revolution, of which he is a legitimate hero.

These dark moments were rare for Franklin not because he lacked moral principles but because those very principles gave him a deep affection for simple decency and a supreme vantage point from which to laugh at the pretenses and self-deceptions that surround most efforts to be moral—including many of his own. In his early essay on liberty and necessity, Franklin did conclude that the metaphysical difficulties with the doctrine of free will made the distinction between virtue and vice an empty one.

But a little more experience and reflection soon persuaded him that this conclusion was absurd.

Instead, he urged that we focus our attention on whatever lay within our grasp and means.

Caring so deeply about providence, Franklin made it his business to help others try their hand as well.

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