Central Institute of American Historical Studies

It is often said that only one person truly illustrated the early American colonist’s dream – and that one man may have even been able to define what a colonial American truly was meant to be.  That one person was Benjamin Franklin. Sir Walter Isaacson said that Benjamin Franklin was the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become.[1] Franklin was a free thinker and a very creative personality whose quest for the pleasures and the wisdom of this mortal life could not be quenched.

However, he also had those who were not on the same page with his philosophies and lifestyle practices. Many saw him as a money hungry businessman that would stoop as low as he needed to get or accomplish what he wanted to. The famous writer D.H. Lawrence considered him a hypocrite and a fraud – a man who preached middleclass morality while indulging his private lusts.[2]  

He enthusiastically lived out his somewhat secular worldview by his very eclectic lifestyle, causing many of his contemporaries and even some of his critics of today to see him as a highly immoral man. His personal indulgences tended to make him sort of what we would refer to as a “rock star” of his own day.

The personal and public imagery of Mr. Franklin would expand during the Revolutionary War onto the international stage of society and politics not only in America but in Europe also.  Many times Franklin’s role in life and his actual personal worldview created vast amounts of uncertainty as to how he should have actually been defined. He was easily identified as a deist, yet there were times where he reflected a very good relationship with the Christian leaders of his day. Deism is the doctrine of natural religion that implies that God may only be thought of as an absentee landlord.[3] Many of the founding fathers aspired to such a personal philosophy.  

He was not ashamed of the fact that he was a member of and participated regularly in the secret societies and lodges of the New England colonies, France and Great Britain. Many of these fraternal affiliations were not categorized as morally sound.

According to Franklin’s own “Autobiography”, he started being the independent thinker we know him as today when he ran away from his brother’s oversight in a printing business in Boston, Massachusetts. He settled in Philadelphia in October of 1723 at age 17. He had almost no money and absolutely no friends there. He worked there as a printer’s helper until he was able to finally establish his own printing business in Philadelphia. As a well-established printer, he published the first notable newspaper in Philadelphia – the Pennsylvania Gazette. Franklin’s printing company printed and published the first novel printed in North America - a book titled “Pamela” by Samuel Richardson.

[1] Pinto, Christian J. The Hidden Faith of the Founding Fathers (Adullam Films, 2012 DVD) narration

[2]  Litz, Robert   Benjamin Franklin Citizen of the World (A&E Network, 1994 DVD) narration

[3] Blackburn, Simon Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (New York, Oxford Press, 2006) p.92

Central Institute of American Historical Studies
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