amp; American Passages - Unit 4. Spirit of Nationalism: Authors

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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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4. Spirit of Nationalism   



4. Spirit of Nationalism

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- William Apess
- J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur
- Jonathan Edwards
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Benjamin Franklin
- Margaret Fuller
- Thomas Jefferson
- Susanna Rowson
- Royall Tyler
- Phillis Wheatley
- Suggested
Author
Pairings
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Benjamin Franklin
[3143] Robert Feke, Benjamin Franklin (c. 1746), courtesy of Harvard University

Benjamin Franklin Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Benjamin Franklin's extraordinary energy and varied talents made him successful as a writer, humorist, statesman, diplomat, businessman, and scientist. The tale of his rise from humble beginnings through hard work and virtue has become a familiar lesson in the American dream. So exemplary is Franklin's story that his Autobiography is often considered, in literary critic Sacvan Bercovitch's term, an auto-American-biography. That is, it functions as a narrative that constructs a kind of ideal American citizen, even conflating Franklin's personal history with the founding of the nation.

Born the youngest son in a family of fifteen, Franklin rebelled at an early age against the narrow constraints of life in Puritan Boston. As a teenager, he rejected his family's pious Puritanism in favor of Deism, a persuasion that privileges reason over faith and rejects traditional religious tenets in favor of a general belief in a benevolent creator. He also rebelled against his lengthy apprenticeship in his brother's Boston print shop. After mastering the printing trade, Franklin violated his contract of indenture to his brother and ran away to Philadelphia, where he found another position as a printer's assistant. On his own in a new city, Franklin learned to look out for his own best interests, though he also was taken advantage of on occasion. Notably, he found himself stranded in England after gullibly accepting a spurious offer of assistance. Always one to turn adversity to his advantage, Franklin soon found work in England and acquired new printing skills.

Franklin returned to Philadelphia in 1726, convinced that virtue and hard work were the keys to success. Crucially, for Franklin, an appearance of virtue and industry was almost as important as actually possessing these qualities. He took pains to cultivate a reputation for hard work, carrying his own paper through the streets in a wheelbarrow and keeping his light burning late to ensure that others would notice his dedication to his business. Franklin prospered following this formula, and by 1732 he was operating his own print shop, publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette, and composing the best-selling Poor Richard's Almanac. As his wealth and stature increased, Franklin involved himself in a variety of benevolent social projects, including the formation of the first American lending library and the first American fire department. In the mid-1740s he began serious work on the scientific experiments that would win him international acclaim. Building on ideals of Enlightenment rationalism in his scientific inquiries, Franklin discovered the theory of electricity that still serves as the basis for our use of electric energy.

Franklin devoted the remaining years of his life primarily to politics, diplomacy, and writing. As a leading member of the Pennsylvania Assembly, he was sent to England in 1757 to articulate the colony's grievances against the Crown. Despite his best diplomatic efforts, he eventually resigned himself to the idea that American independence from British rule was necessary. In 1771, Franklin began composing his Autobiography, only to put the project on hold when the Revolution necessitated his return to America. He was selected as a Pennsylvania delegate to the Second Continental Congress and served on the committee that helped Thomas Jefferson draft the Declaration of Independence. Franklin then spent much of the war as America's minister to France, using his charm and charisma to ensure French support and eventually reach a peace accord with Great Britain. His last official public duty was his service at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.



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