Benjamin Franklin is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in American history. The numerous advancements contributed by Franklin were made possible by a lot of work on his part. His outlook is best represented by his famous quote, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” Franklin did not sway from that philosophy, and spent little time at leisure, as it was not productive. Franklin’s work ethic, moral outlook, and constant interest in self-improvement throughout his life are his biggest claims to fame. Franklin’s strict adherence to his thirteen virtues-which he created in his pursuit of moral perfection-is responsible for many of his countless contributions to the colonies.
Very important to Franklin’s life, was the little book he carried on his person at all times. In this book, he charted on a day to day basis, which virtues he had not obeyed, and marked a check for each mistake. Franklin set aside one week per virtue, and ordered his virtues such that whenever perfection in a virtue was attained, it would make achieving the following virtue easier. Franklin found that he had much to improve upon. Another ingredient to Franklin’s recipe for greatness was his daily schedule. Franklin divided his day up by the hour and knew what he was to be doing at all times. This he found difficult at times, and involving the virtue Order, at one time he almost gave up. In one of Franklin’s few pessimistic moments, he is quoted as saying, “This article (order) therefore cost me so much painful attention, and my faults in it vexed me so much…that I was almost ready to give up the attempt and content myself with a faulty character in that respect.” An amusing anecdote about a man who concludes that “a speckled axe is best” follows, and in looking back on his life, Franklin demonstrates his mastery of the thirteenth virtue, Humility.
Even before he set his thirteen virtues to writing, Franklin could be seen demonstrating many of them. In one instance involving his friend Collins, Franklin demonstrates Resolution, Justice, and Sincerity. During a voyage, Collins refuses to row, and Franklin resolves to perform what he must. An argument ensued, and Franklin, knowing that Collins was a good swimmer, decided the only course of action would be to throw him overboard. He was in a clear state of mind the whole time, and did absolutely nothing that he would regret later on. Temperance was also a virtue that Franklin had practiced his entire life. He was never a heavy drinker, and always ate in moderation.
Franklin prided himself on being an excellent debater, and while creating his virtues, he added Silence as a guide to others explaining one reason he was such an excellent crafter of argument. “2. Silence- Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.” Franklin means for others not to get caught up in petty squabbles, but rather to speak only to that which is important, and when doing so, only to benefit the other party. When you mix the Silence virtue with the Sincerity virtue, which Franklin is quoted as meaning “Use no harmful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.” you will become well respected, and a very powerful arguer. Franklin himself was both, and through trials, tribulations, and experience, sets forth these very useful tools of debate.
The two virtues that Franklin was exceptionally good at were Industry and Frugality. “6. Industry- Lose not time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.” There was not one time after his childhood during which Franklin was not employed, or at the very least, seeking work. The little leisure time Franklin allowed himself was spent in the pursuit of self-education, by reading books or engaging in conversation or argument with a friend. During most of his life he held down many jobs throughout the city, and had other money coming in from the numerous print shops he had gone into partnership and paid the overhead costs for. “5. Frugality- Make no expence but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.” Most of the money Franklin spent went to improving his business or buying a few books, which was the only leisure he allowed himself. However, even Franklin himself made mistakes, an example being an excursion with his friend Ralph, to London. He was sent by the governor with the promise of enough money to set up his own printing press. Unfortunately for Franklin, the governor backed out of his end of the deal. He eventually found work, but worked himself into a debt spending money on seeing plays, and dining with his greedy friend. They eventually separated on less than good terms, and Franklin never saw the money Ralph owed him. Franklin’s view on the situations is as follows, “…and by the loss of his friendship, I found myself relieved from a heavy burden.” While the preceding statement may seem harsh, Franklin is very much justified in saying it, and accurately demonstrates the economical worth he placed on everything he encountered.
In conclusion, Franklin’s life was shaped by these thirteen virtues, and he rarely swayed from the moral path they lit. There is no single virtue that can be selected, and thought of as less important than the rest. The fame and fortune of such a man as Franklin, who followed these thirteen guidelines in his journey to become a morally perfect man, is proof enough that his system worked, and still would work today. However, Franklin’s virtues, which he claimed were “necessary or desirable”, were set by him and for him. An individual must choose the path down which they wish to trod, and follow it without hesitation. Franklin’s virtues can be appreciated and respected, but how realistically, in today’s society, can they all possibly be attained?