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Benjamin Franklin's Role in Early American Literature

Updated on June 17, 2013

The Age of Reason

Benjamin Franklin delivered the “Age of Reason” to the average American. He spoke plainly and published “Poor Richard’s Almanac” which was an affordable newsletter that regular people could afford to buy and understand. Franklin exemplified the “Age of Reason” with his writing and his ability to share his wisdom with every American.

Franklin wrote in first person which allowed his readers to relate to him on a more intimate level. Until the Age of Reason, literature was mostly framed with a spiritual origin. Writing in first person allowed the reader to be equal to the writer. His first person references to his experiences were relevant and interesting to farmers, housewives, and politicians alike.

Franklin was famous for his list of 13 virtues which included cleanliness, moderation, silence and order among them. He pointed out; “My Intention being to acquire the Habitude of all of these Virtues,” meaning that the effort to be virtuous was also a virtue. This was especially powerful to regular people because total virtue would not be attainable by humans, but by trying to be virtuous, all people are empowered to make the world a better place if only in the attempt. Franklins’ special human quality was also in his acceptance of never completely satisfying his virtue of “order” which was explained by his illustration of his detailed daily schedule. He acknowledged the impossibility of perfection by explaining that his schedule did not allow for the needs of other people impacted by his schedule. In this way, he explained that perfection was not only impossible but selfish.

There is hardly any system in our nation that was not conceived in some way by Ben Franklin. It is astonishing to think of how many things, such as the postal system, firefighters, wood stoves, and electricity that he envisioned, or discovered. His timeless sense of humor in the following quote explains why his writings were so well read: “In reality, there is perhaps no one of our natural Passions so hard to subdue as Pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself. You will see it perhaps often in this History. For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”


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