As you may remember from one of my previous posts, the book club that I am a part of is currently reading through a chronological list of famous autobiographies. Benjamin Franklin’s life story was a work I had never read before, although I was familiar with many of the details of his early life from juvenile biographies I read in school. In his own words, Franklin describes how he became a scholar, a printer, an entrepreneur, and a statesman. It is an unfinished work; I was disappointed to find that it ended a short time before the American War for Independence begins. But although the inclusion of Franklin’s life in these later years would have added interest to the story, I still found his earlier life intriguing. The moral that Franklin wants his readers to take from this autobiography is that diligence and tact will take you far in this world.
With only a modicum of boasting, Franklin describes the unflagging diligence and zeal with which he threw himself into all of his pursuits, growing from a lowly lad into one of the most respected men in the colonies. His diligence to improve his mind was incredible. He would borrow books from a bookstore and stay up all night reading them so he could return them at morning’s light. His voracious appetite for book learning led him to develop the first library system in America. Although there were originally several other printers in Philadelphia, Franklin’s willingness to work hard brought him to the top of the profession. Besides actually working diligently, Franklin notes the importance of appearing to be diligent to those around you, since that appearance is the basis of a good reputation.
Along with diligence, Franklin commends tactfulness as an essential virtue for those who wish to succeed. Many times, when he had a plan or proposal that he wished to put forward, he would imply that he was only a mouthpiece speaking the ideas of others. He realized that by eschewing the credit for his brilliant ideas he would also diminish the jealousy of lesser men. In conversation, he tried never to espouse absolute statements. He would qualify arguments with phrases like, “it seems to me that perhaps….” By being undogmatic, he found it easier to win men to his own point of view.
Benjamin Franklin was a remarkable man with a remarkable ability to reason. Like many men of his era, however, the path of human reason led him away from an understanding of the God of the Scriptures. His autobiography clearly shows that he embraced the Deist philosophy so prevalent during the eighteenth century. His formula for success–diligence and tact–helped him to become one of the leading men of the American Revolution. But the key truth that he failed to understand is that these things only achieve success because they are blessed by a personal God who sustains all things by the Word of his power.