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Benjamin Franklin “The Autobiography” Review

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is among the most important historical documents of the United States and is the major literary work of its author. It was and is the very first autobiography to reach the general public and gain widespread popularity. The document’s importance lies in the fact that Franklin not only discusses the story of his own career in politics but also presents a strategy for achieving self-supported success in the context of America’s emerging nationhood. The Autobiography can be used as a vital source for understanding Franklin’s ideas of virtue and wealth alongside the politician’s motivation in pursuing active participation in the civil life of the country. Besides, it should be noted that the document is also evidence of the success gained in the printing industry, revealing a lot about both the business and art of the printer’s trade. The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast Franklin’s own account of his life and the current sources available on the Internet.

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Comparison

Comparing and contrasting the websites dedicated to Benjamin Franklin and his Autobiography, it becomes evident that the latter is written in a novelistic format and does not have a rigid and factual structure. For example, looking at the Britannica webpage about Franklin, which references his Autobiography several times, there is a distinct structure that includes topics such as “Early life,” “Youthful adventures,” “Achievement and inventions of Benjamin Franklin,” “Public service of Benjamin Franklin,” and so on. It should also be noted that the Autobiography is also divided into four separate sections; however, they somewhat differ in their focus and tone.

Part One of the Autobiography was written when Franklin resided in England for the last two months of summer in 1771. It is regarded that it was in England when Franklin drew the majority of the outline for his work. As summer 1772 started, Franklin gave some of the written work to his friend Abel James who urged the politician to resume his work over the Autobiography. While Part Two was written in France when Franklin lived there in 1784, Part Three was composed after the politician’s career as he settled at home. The final part, Part Four, is the shortest in the book because it was written when the author was in poor health, living the last several months of his life.

Another important distinction between the websites dedicated to Franklin and his Autobiography lies in the target audience. For example, Part One of the politician’s writings is addressed to his son William as the two became estranged after the end of the American Revolution. However, it is clear that the History webpage that illustrates Franklin’s achievements and life experiences is not dedicated to anyone in particular (History.com Editors 2020). Instead, it is written in a way that would engage large audiences that are searching for some information about him on the web.

Because of the general public’s increased interest in Franklin’s accomplishments, especially in the area of politics, the majority of the early printed versions of the Autobiography contained added texts written by other authors. This allows for rounding out the story of the politician’s years as both national and international diplomat. The texts available on website pages dedicated to Benjamin Franklin are usually written by one author and reviewed by others to ensure proper presentation, fact-checking, as well as the appropriateness of the next for the web format. Therefore, the same way in which Franklin’s Autobiography was composed by several authors, information on web pages is also usually a group effort.

Reliability

In terms of reliability, it can be hypothesized that the Autobiography is a more accurate account of Franklin’s life because it was written himself. Nevertheless, it is necessary to keep in mind the fact that it was written mainly for a relative and could be viewed as an extensive piece of advice than any detailed account or rigorous analysis. Because of its subjectivity, the Autobiography is a collection of anecdotes written from the first-person perspective, even though the general facts about Franklin’s life are preserved. Thus, the book cannot be viewed as the best account of Franklin’s life and career because it is not free of bias. Website sources, on the contrary, have no connection to Franklin as an author and are therefore more objective in their accounts of relevant events and perspectives. For example, on the Biography website page dedicated to Ben Franklin, there is no personal opinion of the author or authors given, which makes the information more reliable and bias-free. Instead of exploring personal ideas and perspectives on different social and political issues, the information on the web page is structured in a way to give the most comprehensive account of Franklin’s life and career (Biography 2020). Therefore, it can be concluded that website information dedicated to Franklin is more reliable, mainly because it references numerous sources, including the Autobiography.

Life in Colonial America

The Autobiography is instrumental for allowing readers to discover the life of eighteen-century colonial America. The specifics of the life of the period play an essential part in the book, thus offering highly valuable information. In general, life in colonial America was difficult, even though colonists made the best of their situation to get a better life for themselves and their families. However, it should be noted that Franklin’s life in colonial America was different from that of regular people, and he represents only one wealthy and respected individuals out of thousands. Besides, there is a certain degree of eighteenth-century idealism in the book.

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Often referred to as the Age of Reason, the eighteenth century was the time for philosophers like Isaac Newton and John Locke, who helped the flourishing of intellectualism and scientific inventions as well as advancing in politics. Franklin partially ascribed to the optimistic opinion that humans could be perfected with the help of political and scientific advancement. It also should be noted that the Autobiography is also an outstanding work mythologizing the American Revolution’s hero. It presents Americans of modern times and passes times with a story of an individual who set the tradition of the American Dream.

Numerous critics and online sources referred to Ben Franklin as the “first American,” and his Autobiography offers good examples of why. In the book, Franklin’s life in Philadelphia is described in great detail, from his arrival to the city to the people he met when exploring it. Readers learn about the market life in the town, about Quakers and their gatherings, as well as about the printing house and the young and often illiterate men working there. Philadelphia is described as a city of working people who did everything they could to survive in the situation. However, Franklin’s exploration is somewhat void of reality because he was appointed the postmaster of Philadelphia and later the joint postmaster for all colonies. Therefore, in some areas of the narrative, Franklin’s account can be seen as the most detailed and reflective of the lives of ordinary folk.

The information available on the websites dedicated to the life and career of Benjamin Franklin is more reflective of the times of colonial America. When exploring the subject of Franklin’s inventions, several points are mentioned. For example, the politician made a significant contribution to the expansion of the printing business throughout the colonies and focused on public service and scientific discovery on retirement. The life in colonial America was different for regular people compared to what Franklin experienced himself, and sources note that (Wood 2021). Thus, when underlining the accomplishments that the politician made throughout his career, the authors of online sources set him apart from the common folk of colonial America. Franklin had the resources to live a life free of physical labor and used his position to advance career-wise. For instance, the Britannica article mentions that Franklin “disparaged the provinciality and vulgarity of America. He was very much the royalist, and he bragged of his connection with Lord Bute, which enabled him in 1764 to get his son, William, then age 31, appointed royal governor of New Jersey” (Wood 2021). The quote shows that the authors of web sources are critical of Franklin’s own account of life in colonial America and that he used his connections to advance, which was something that regular people could not do.

Significance of Autobiography

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is a vital historical document that reflects the memoirs of the notable American politician. Because the author had the capacity to express himself freely and without external influences, he vocalized his position against the outdated values of the old world. Besides, he elevated the importance of higher law values, especially regarding the perspective that the church’s presence was not obligatory to live one’s life righteously. He believed that every American citizen had the duty to perfect their virtues to reach the American dream and make their country power of worldwide influence.

Some of the ideas set forth by Franklin have remained relevant for centuries and can be considered relevant today. While the concept of the American dream has been modified and scrutinized over time, Franklin’s definition was different. It implied that all citizens of the country had the equal right to learn freely and receive equal education regardless of social rank and class. For instance, even though Franklin’s library charged some fees for using books, the funds were used for generating a profit and purchasing more books. Thus, during the colonial era, the American dream described by Franklin was for governmental institutions to reinvest in the education and well-being of citizens, thus establishing public prosperity and education. Franklin believed that the common national sentiment could be reached only when the large majority of citizens became well-educated and understood their role in the country’s formation.

To a modern reader, such a description of the American Dream may seem utopian, mainly because the current government is highly focused on getting wealthier, sometimes at the expense of its people. On the contrary, Franklin wrote, “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations get corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters” (“To the Abbés Chalut and Arnoux” 1787). Nevertheless, it is still relevant because it helps understand the principles on which the codified national mindset was built and how it progressed over time. Because the classification of the American dream in Franklin’s view is concerned with liberty and the pursuit of happiness, hard work and honesty are the qualities that the politician valued the most. Therefore, the way in which Franklin had envisioned America can be regarded as relevant and valuable.

Franklin’s Autobiography continues to be taught at American schools and universities because it encourages younger generations to work hard in order to achieve true fulfillment and happiness with one’s position in society. Through following the maxims laid out by the politicians, readers learn that morals, strong family ties, and hard work should always be placed before monetary enrichment. Franklin wrote, “I grew convinc’d that truth, sincerity and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life” (Franklin and Masur 2003, 14). The politician wanted to ensure that younger readers, who would form the future of the nation, understood the importance of being truthful and moral when dealing with different life issues. In addition, the moral of the Autobiography, which was intended to be read by a younger reader, is that achieving the American dream is a matter of individual work and persistence and thus should not be influenced by external factors.

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Additional Sources

When looking through the Internet sources that explore the life and career of Benjamin Franklin, it becomes clear that most of them are accomplishment-focused. For example, the comprehensive Britannica article discusses the public services in which Franklin engaged, his inventions and achievements, how he spent his last years, and so on. While the emphasis on facts and laying out the dates in which notable events had occurred is important, it lacks critical analysis and comments on the value of Franklin as a thinker and philosopher. Such a perspective is significantly overlooked in the three website pages explored in this paper, even though it can be revealing as to how the politician approached his work and what mark did he want to leave.

When referencing the Autobiography, website sources also emphasize the dates that Franklin himself singled out as important. In other cases, the Autobiography is used as a reference for explaining relevant political ideologies and perspectives, such as Franklin’s opinions regarding British politics. While on the grand scale, these opinions are important to mention, they are not always reflective of Franklin as an individual. Because of this, it could have been helpful if the historical websites dedicated to the politician’s work and life also included discussions of his philosophy, especially concerning the American dream. Reading his Autobiography, it becomes clear that Franklin wanted younger people of a newly-forming nation to be dedicated citizens and individuals who built their life on honesty and humble labor. Instead, the historical sources on the Internet discuss how prominent Franklin was, what his connections were, which role did he play in America’s formation and the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. All of these facts could have been supported by quotes and references to his philosophy of life, thus offering a comprehensive look at the historical figure and his legacy.

Finally, regarding the Autobiography, it could have been helpful to have an online source that would condense the main parts of the book, offer notable quotes, and provide commentary on Franklin overall. The book is not widely accessible through the web and must be either purchased or rented through a library, which limits the access of the general audience to Franklin’s wisdom. Without violating the copyright law, it is possible to develop a source that will make the politician’s teachings more accessible and understandable by a broader population of readers who might have overlooked the subject altogether. Because Franklin was a diverse figure that delved into different areas of life, it is essential not to overlook his teachings and perspectives.

Conclusion

To conclude, both Franklin’s Autobiography and website sources can be used to explore the political figure’s life and achievements. There are significant differences in the presentation and the perspectives of the materials, with the book being more biased and self-indulgent and the website sources being rigid and fact-focused. This comparative analysis showed that there are some areas in which the Autobiography was more advantageous to read and reasons why web sources were more reliable. The Autobiography is essential for understanding Franklin’s life philosophy, expectations of America, and the pursuit of the American dream. Online sources are less biased and more evidence-driven, which is an essential characteristic of effective historical research. Because of these differences in sources, a well-rounded study of Ben Franklin requires both sides to make up a more accurate and reliable account.

References

Biography. 2020. “Benjamin Franklin.” Web.

Franklin, Benjamin, and Louis P. Masur, ed. 2003. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin: With Related Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

History.com Editors. 2020. “Benjamin Franklin.” Web.

“To the Abbés Chalut and Arnoux.” 1787. Web.

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Wood, Gordon. 2021. “Benjamin Franklin.” Web.

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