Interview with Benjamin Franklin

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by: Mike Kieffer

It was my honor to sit down with Benjamin Franklin to discuss his views on some of the common topics of the day as well as his view of what the "American Dream" is. The following post contains that interview and some interesting facts about Benjamin Franklin.


Before we start with the interview, I want to give you some back ground information on Benjamin Franklin and who he is. He was born January 17,1706. He was one of 10 children born to Josiah Franklin and his second wife Abiah Floger. Franklin is one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He is an author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. He was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence as well as the US Ambassador to France (1776-1785). Franklin is guided by a list of 13 virtues he developed at age 20. Those virtues include: temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity and Humility. [1]

ME: The first series of questions are to get to know you a little better and understand your background. Then we will move into more political and philosophical questions. Let's start with this question. If you could push the reset button and start your live over, would you?

BF: "So I might, besides correcting the faults, change some sinister accidents and events of it for others more favorable. But though this were denied, I should still accept the offer. Since such a repetition is not to be expected, the next thing most like living one's life over again seems to be a recollection of that life, and to make that recollection as durable as possible by putting it down in writing." [1]

ME: Besides your hard word and intelligence, do you give credit to anyone else for your success, happiness and affluence?

BF: "And now I speak of thanking God, I desire with all humility to acknowledge that I owe the mentioned happiness of my past life to His kind providence, which lead me to the means I used and gave them success. My belief of this induces me to hope, though I must not presume, that the same goodness will still be exercised toward me, in continuing that happiness, or enabling me to bear a fatal reverse, which I may experience as others have done: the complexion of my future fortune being known to Him only in whose power it is to bless to us even our afflictions." [1]

ME: Tell me about mill-pond and the lesson your father taught you about honesty?

BF: "There was a salt-marsh that bounded part of the mill-pond, on the edge of which, at high water, we used to stand to fish for minnows. By much trampling, we had made it a mere quagmire. My proposal was to build a wharff there fit for us to stand upon, and I showed my comrades a large heap of stones, which were intended for a new house near the marsh, and which would very well suit our purpose. Accordingly, in the evening, when the workmen were gone, I assembled a number of my play-fellows, and working with them diligently like so many emmets, sometimes two or three to a stone, we brought them all away and built our little wharff. The next morning the workmen were surprised at missing the stones, which were found in our wharff. Inquiry was made after the removers; we were discovered and complained of; several of us were corrected by our fathers; and though I pleaded the usefulness of the work, mine convinced me that nothing was useful which was not honest." [1]

ME: Tell us about your love for reading, and when did it start.

BF: "I was put to the grammar-school at eight years of age, my father intending to devote me, as the tithe of his sons, to the service of the Church. My early readiness in learning to read (which must have been very early, as I do not remember when I could not read..."

"From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in books. Pleased with the Pilgrim's Progress, my first collection was of John Bunyan's works in separate little volumes. I afterward sold them to enable me to buy R. Burton's Historical Collections; they were small chapmen's books, and cheap, 40 or 50 in all. My father's little library consisted chiefly of books in polemic divinity, most of which I read, and have since often regretted that, at a time when I had such a thirst for knowledge, more proper books had not fallen in my way since it was now resolved I should not be a clergyman. Plutarch's Lives there was in which I read abundantly, and I still think that time spent to great advantage. There was also a book of De Foe's, called an Essay on Projects, and another of Dr. Mather's, called Essays to do Good, which perhaps gave me a turn of thinking that had an influence on some of the principal future events of my life." [1]

ME: Now to move onto the more political and philosophical questions. You mentioned 13 virtues before, what are they and why do you feel they are important?

BF: "Be in general virtuous, and you will be happy. At least, you will by such conduct, stand the best chance for such consequences." [3]

"These names of virtues, with their precepts, were

  1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

  2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

  3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

  4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

  5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

  6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

  7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

  8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

  9. MODERATION. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

  10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.

  11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

  12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.

  13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

My intention being to acquire the habitude of all these virtues, I judg'd it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time; and, when I should be master of that, then to proceed to another, and so on, till I should have gone thro' the thirteen; and, as the previous acquisition of some might facilitate the acquisition of certain others, I arrang'd them with that view, as they stand above. Temperance first, as it tends to procure that coolness and clearness of head, which is so necessary where constant vigilance was to be kept up, and guard maintained against the unremitting attraction of ancient habits, and the force of perpetual temptations. This being acquir'd and establish'd, Silence would be more easy; and my desire being to gain knowledge at the same time that I improv'd in virtue, and considering that in conversation it was obtain'd rather by the use of the ears than of the tongue, and therefore wishing to break a habit I was getting into of prattling, punning, and joking, which only made me acceptable to trifling company, I gave Silence the second place. This and the next, Order, I expected would allow me more time for attending to my project and my studies. Resolution, once become habitual, would keep me firm in my endeavors to obtain all the subsequent virtues; Frugality and Industry freeing me from my remaining debt, and producing affluence and independence, would make more easy the practice of Sincerity and Justice, etc., etc. Conceiving then, that, agreeably to the advice of Pythagoras in his Golden Verses, daily examination would be necessary, I contrived the following method for conducting that examination.

I made a little book, in which I allotted a page for each of the virtues. I rul'd each page with red ink, so as to have seven columns, one for each day of the week, marking each column with a letter for the day. I cross'd these columns with thirteen red lines, marking the beginning of each line with the first letter of one of the virtues, on which line, and in its proper column, I might mark, by a little black
spot, every fault I found upon examination to have been committed respecting that virtue upon that day." [1]

ME: Do you think we should take care of the poor?

BF: "I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer. There is no country in the world where so many provisions are established for them; so many hospitals to receive them when they are sick or lame, founded and maintained by voluntary charities; so many alms-houses for the aged of both sexes, together with a solemn general law made by the rich to subject their estates to a heavy tax for the support of the poor. Under all these obligations, are our poor modest, humble, and thankful; and do they use their best endeavours to maintain themselves, and lighten our shoulders of this burthen? On the contrary, I affirm that there is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent. " [2]

ME: How do you feel about wealth, and the best way to gain it?

BF: "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. " [5][6]

"God helps them that help themselves." [6][5]

"The second vice is lying, the first is running in debt." [6][5]

"Finally, there seem to be but three Ways for a Nation to acquire Wealth. The first is by War as the Romans did in plundering their conquered Neighbours. This is Robbery. The second by Commerce which is generally Cheating. The third by Agriculture the only honest Way; wherein Man receives a real Increase of the Seed thrown into the Ground, in a kind of continual Miracle wrought by the Hand of God in his favour, as a Reward for his innocent Life, and virtuous Industry." [4]

ME: What is your belief in God?

BF: "I believe there is one Supreme most perfect Being, Author and Father of the Gods themselves.

For I believe that Man is not the most perfect Being but One, rather that as there are many Degrees of Beings his Inferiors, so there are many Degrees of Beings superior to him." [7]

"And conceiving God to be the fountain of wisdom, I thought it right and necessary to solicit his assistance for obtaining it; to this end I formed the following little prayer..

O powerful Goodness! bountiful Father! merciful Guide! increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest! strengthen my resolutions to perform what that wisdom dictates. Accept my kind offices to thy other children as the only return in my power for thy continual favors to me." [1]

"Let me then not fail to praise my God continually, for it is his Due, and it is all I can return for his many Favours and great Goodness to me; and let me resolve to be virtuous, that I may be happy, that I may please Him, who is delighted to see me happy. Amen." [7]


Sources for quotes used in interview:

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