The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

by: Benjamin Franklin

Part Three, second section

Commentary

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.