Benjamin Franklin’s Contributions
Benjamin Franklin is one of the most famous and outstanding Americans in the world history. It is difficult to overestimate his contributions in different fields of political thought and practice, science and culture. In addition, he belongs to the Founding Fathers of the USA. Thus, Franklin made the most influential achievements as a politician, an inventor and a thinker. Certainly, there are numerous issues connected with the adequate understanding of the leader. Wood (2005) claims that Franklin was “a man of many masks” who always “hold something back” thus not allowing contemporaries to perceive his personality completely. Wood (2005) considers that Franklin was not American in a degree as it is widely repeated. Such a position legitimizes the challenging analysis of Franklin’s personality, as one should not try to discover his secret thoughts and motives of behavior. Alternatively, this paper seeks to summarize the most prominent and socially important contributions presented by Franklin’s biographers and transformed into the details of social myth concerning him. Franklin realized himself in widely different fields. However, it is possible to interpret the activities as different aspects of the same person who always exerted every effort to improve people’s lives in accordance with the ideas of the Enlightenment.
The Specifics of Franklin’s Epoch
To examine Franklin’s contributions through the prism of the Enlightenment, it is necessary to make an overview of the main tendencies that took place in the USA during the XVIII century, the period of Franklin’s life. In fact, Franklin’s lifespan lasted since the beginning of the century and ended in its last decade; thus, the overview of XVIII century only is enough. The XVIII century was the epoch when the Enlightenment appeared as the main ideological counterpart of colonialism and absolutism. Colonialism and absolutism were the aspects of the same phenomenon and perfectly characterized the political and economic situation of the Old (Europe) and New (America, Australia, and Oceania) Worlds (Mulford, 2012). Absolutism concerns the relations between the sovereign who governs the state and the people who obey. It is highly important to note that the French Revolution that changed the basis of this system started in 1789, at the end of the century. Therefore, the first important characteristics of the XVIII century is that absolutism was on its edge, and it already moved to one of the most vital events that led to the system’s crash (Mulford, 2012).
Along with absolutism, its international analogy, namely colonialism, moved. The phenomena are similar; however, they belong to internal and external state policy respectively. Thus, the colonial system includes a ruling metropolis (instead of a sovereign) and obeying colonies (instead of people). The similarity is obvious since in both cases the main feature is disparity, in particular, one’s will (a person’s or a state’s) becomes the law for others (other people). The base of the theoretical justification for such a state of things was the assumed superiority of one over others (Mulford, 2012). The chauvinistic philosophy the Europeans demonstrated during the Conquest of America perfectly justifies colonialism as a system.
Moreover, some thinkers sought to free people from absolutism and colonialism through the education and intellectual development because they believed that everyone could develop his reason. They were the representatives of the Enlightenment movement. This idea first appeared in Europe and became common among great philosophers and scientists such as Locke who inspired many American philosophers to develop the Enlightenment on their ground (Isaacson, 2003). Americans such as Cooper, Paine and Franklin claimed that the American colonies should be free from the English dominance (Mulford, 2012).
To understand the specifics of the intellectual atmosphere Franklin accepted, it is important to note that he was born in Boston, the main city of New England where preferably protestant merchants lived. Boston was an essential city in the context of the American Revolution (1776-1781) because the first open conflict with England, the famous Boston Tea Party, was there. Most of the New Englanders were Protestants and not Anglicans; thus, their ancestors (as well as Franklin’s father) migrated from Europe due to religious persecutions (Brands, 2010). Boston was one of the great harbors that connected America with Europe; that is the reason there was a great amount of specific literature sent from Europe. Consequently, Franklin’s birthplace and the epoch he lived in allowed him to become one of the most influential and productive Enlighteners in the world history. According to Isaacson (2003), “the Puritanism of Mather and the Enlightenment of Locke … would combine in the Character of Benjamin Franklin.” Franklin realized his American Enlightener’s intention through the main spheres, namely politics, science and philosophy.
Franklin as a Politician
As aforementioned, Franklin became one of the Founding Fathers of the USA when the Declaration of Independence was signed. In fact, this makes him a prominent politician because he participated in the event that had extremely important influence on the world politics. Moreover, Franklin was the only one among the Founding Fathers who signed the three documents, namely the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Treaty of Paris in 1783, and the United States Constitution in 1787 (Brands, 2010). Thus, Franklin served as a politician who nurtured the young American state since its first steps. It is obvious that Franklin had other views concerning the American independence before the Declaration was signed since in 1776 he was already 70 years old, and many personal, social, and political events preceded his participation in the American Revolution.
Franklin’s views depended on numerous factors. In 1754-1763, during the French and Indian War, he was very loyal to England because the English military help was the only way to save the citizens of American colonies that opposed England’s rivals in the Seven Years’ War (Brands, 2010). Moreover, after the Stamp Act was passed, the English Government tried to restore its finances by the unjust increase of taxes for the Americans. Franklin realized that the colonial system bears imparity, and the Americans need to become a part of English Federation where both European Englishmen and Americans have equal rights. Finally, when Franklin lost his hope for a diplomatic solution of English-American conflict, he became one of the Founding Fathers. Thus, his views were very flexible and depended on reasonable arguments and personal experience.
Franklin’s Scientific Contributions
During the epoch of Enlightenment, the science was not so much specialized as it is nowadays. Franklin combined his social and political activities with naturalistic and scientific ones and achieved successful results in this field. He researched the electricity and discovered the electric polarity (Brands, 2010). His considerations concerning positive and negative electric charges are fundamental in current science. In addition, he was the first scientist who researched and measured the main characteristics of Gulf Stream (Brands, 2010). His inventions include lightning rod, Franklin stove, bifocal glasses, glass harmonica, and other devices that became widely used (Isaacson, 2003). The reason for his activity was the intention to help people increase the quality of their lives. Thus, in this regard, he acted as an Enlightener.
Franklin and the Philosophy
Franklin had some important ideas concerning political and moral philosophy. In Autobiography, he recommended to “imitate Jesus and Socrates” and proposed thirteen virtues that would help one to become close to the recommended spiritual state (Franklin, 2006). The virtues, as he list them, are “Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity and Humility” (Franklin, 2006). Isaacson (2003) states that Franklin was the result of two worlds’ syntheses, namely of Enlightenment and Puritanism, and it is obvious through these virtues.
According to Franklin, every man has his natural rights (as it was stated in the Declaration of Independence), such as the rights to life, freedom and private property. In fact, these ideas were common among the followers of Enlightenment; however, they were documented due to the American Revolution, in which Franklin was one of the most prominent participants.
The brief overview of Franklin’s achievements in the fields of politics, science and philosophy demonstrates the integrity of his intentions and beliefs. His activities serve the same reason that is the improvement of people’s life through the freedom, knowledge and moral development. In this regard, Franklin’s viewpoint was the result of the epoch’s main challenges connected with New England’s cultural, economic and political specifics. Thus, Franklin represents a special type of American Enlightener.