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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Part Three, second section

Part Three, first section

Part Three, third section, and Part Four


As the 1730s and '40s go on, Franklin becomes more and more successful. His newspaper does very well, and he has a good relationship with his printing office in the Carolinas. He continues working on his public works projects, one of which is plans for an "Academy." The plan is unsuccessful at first, and Franklin abandons it temporarily to focus on a plan for colonial defense. He resumes work on the Academy in 1743 after publishing Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania. With the help of the Junto, Franklin oversees a board of trustees and the construction of what soon becomes the University of Pennsylvania, which opens as a full-fledged college in 1755 and a university in 1765.

Meanwhile, Franklin publishes a pamphlet called Plain Truth which outlines the poor defense of the colonies and the need for colonial unity. He organizes a town meeting to discuss the pamphlet, and at this meeting he promotes the need for increased common colonial defense. Franklin establishes a type of lottery to raise defense money, although he has difficulty raising funds because of the large population of pacifist Quakers, whom Franklin respects enormously.

Becoming more obsessed with bettering the quality of life, Franklin invents the stove in 1742, and he beneficently refuses to patent it so as to allow its greater proliferation. To his satisfaction, the use of stoves becomes widespread within his lifetime. Later on, he becomes Commissioner of the Peace, then takes a seat in the Pennsylvania Assembly. One of his projects in the House is to draft a treaty with the American Indians. He respects the Indians, and he laments that the harmful effects of alcohol abuse have "annihilated" some tribes. In 1751, Franklin, with his friend Thomas Bond, draft ideas for building a hospital, and Franklin drafts the bill to secure funding. At the same time, he works as an advisor on the construction of a new Presbyterian meeting house.

His next public project is the organization of a street sweeping service, a very popular idea. He drafts a bill for paving the city and providing lighting. He develops a new design for lights and a more efficient sweeping system after he sees that an old disabled woman can sweep one street clean in less than three hours. Franklin notes that he does all his public service work because, as he says, "Human felicity is produced not so much by pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day." In recognition of his exemplary work, Franklin is awarded honorary degrees from such prominent schools as Harvard and Yale.

In 1754, it becomes clear that England is facing a war with France (war does erupt in 1754, and it is known by two names: the Seven Years' War [in Europe] and the French and Indian War [in America]). Franklin immediately brings forward plans for defense of the colonies. He also draws a plan for setting up the government during the war. He works closely with the Governors of Pennsylvania and New York, a task that requires extensive travel. Franklin develops a funding plan for the armed forces based on loans. However, his efforts begin to concern the English government that the colonies may be becoming too self-sufficient, and as a result it sends numerous reserve forces to the American colonies.

Franklin is placed in charge of collecting wagons for the war effort, which he does by sending around open letters. He manages to gather 150 wagons in only two weeks, at which point he devotes himself to preparing care packages for soldiers so as to increase morale after visiting the camp of a Colonel Dunbar. In general, Franklin praises the British Generals, but he thinks that they are too harsh on and judgmental of American troops. However, after recounting some British military debacles, Franklin states that the American colonists began to question the real skill of the British leaders. Franklin also outlines some of his problems with getting repaid money by the military bureaucracy. He spends a large amount of time in the field, close to battles and the action of war, recounting events in the war which are mostly forgotten today. He eventually becomes a financial commissioner in charge of seeing to the distribution of very large sums in military funding to form a militia. Franklin gives a detailed account of his he set about raising the militia and constructing forts and trenches in the then-Northwest to fight French-allied Indians. However, Franklin's company is never attacked by Indians. For his efforts, Franklin attains the rank of Colonel, which is later removed when the British pass a law removing his honors. He spends much subsequent time working on ways to supply troops and keep them well stocked with supplies.


Early on in this section, notice that Franklin stresses again that his ideas of virtue are not meant to be adopted simply for moral reasons but rather for utilitarian benefits. Franklin tries to make the case that living virtuously makes life easier and more enjoyable. Franklin makes this point perhaps because he wants to appeal to a larger audience of readers. Also, Franklin may be concerned about being judged as too Puritanical or strictly religious. Franklin is, after all, cognizant of his and America's Puritan ancestry. However, whereas the Puritans argues for the practice of virtue because it pleased God, Franklin makes the case for virtue because it pleased man, and thereby indirectly pleases God. There are certainly time in the work when Franklin tries to distance his own ideas from those of his predecessors.

Part Three of the Autobiography in general takes a different tone from the first two parts. Whereas Part One was directed towards people interested in the details of Franklin's personal life, and whereas Part Two was aimed at those seeking self-improvement advice, Part Three seems more interested in enshrining Franklin as an early American hero responsible for so many life improvements. The tone becomes less personal in Part Three as Franklin focuses less on the year-to- year events in which he is engaged and more in general activities of which he is a part. In particular, Franklin spends much time here recounting the events of the French and Indian War as he took part in them. To modern audiences, this is likely the least interesting part of the Autobiography and in many ways the least important part. Franklin likely included it more for his contemporaries and immediate successors who wished to know about the war and how Franklin was involved. The account is most important for illustrating the incompetence of British officers, an incompetence which helped fuel the colonists' belief that they could achieve independence in the 1770s.

Franklin also uses Part Three to prove how well rounded he is. In this particular subdivision, Franklin emphasizes that he was a part of the military as though to ensure the reader that he took part in all manner of services towards his country. While Franklin did not see much action, he does point out his promotions and successes in the armed forces while foreshadowing of course the growing strength and independence of the colonists and the arrogance of the British.

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