If you want some excellent suggestions about dealing with people and managing yourself and improving your personality, read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography - one of the most fascinating life stories ever written, one of the classics of American literature. (Carnegie, 1998, p. 133)
The words of Dale Carnegie prove that the figure of Benjamin Franklin is inseparable from his texts that reflect the historical events, which had drastically influenced the whole life of the prominent American man (Carnegie, 1998). The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is considered one of the most acknowledged works by this significant thinker. It was started in 1771 and first published in 1791 (Garfinkel, 2010). The book focuses on the description of the stages of Franklin’s self-fulfillment and development as a person. He was one of those gifted natures, who could always benefit from any circumstances. If they contributed to the realization of his goals, Franklin could achieve success in an unusually short time. However, if any obstacles impeded, he could harden his character and temper. Numerous events in his life prove that any activity or any branch of knowledge can be mastered by a man with an inquiring mind and boundless energy. The book describes Franklin’s theoretical approach to the work, philosophical researches, and empirical conclusions that formed the core of the impressive success, as well as a practical side, of his life. This research paper investigates the phenomenon of friendship in the life of Benjamin Franklin in terms of its significance in the acquisition of knowledge about the interaction with the society. Therefore, interesting and helpful people gradually joined Benjamin’s adherents and either became his friends for life or lost in the shadows of history.
System of Values and Moral Principles by Franklin
There is no separate section in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin devoted exclusively to the principles of the origin and development of friendship. Nevertheless, throughout the book, it can be observed that some people stayed with Franklin as his close friends while others vanished away. Occasionally, he makes interesting remarks but, in fact, the researcher should have asked questions about Franklin’s friends on his own and look for the answers in the examples from the everyday life. These observations suggest that Franklin’s concept of friendship can be constructed by associating and joining separate life episodes and moral values of the thinker.
It is fair to assume that the choice of friends depended not only on the circumstances but also on the moral values of Franklin, which he followed and highly appreciated in others. In developing the idea of moral perfection, Franklin defined 13 virtues, after which a person should strive: “temperance, silence, love of order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility” (Franklin, 2006, p. 146).
The description of his life proves the fact that Franklin sought friendship only with the honest and decent people. For this reason, in Chapter VII, the thinker mentioned that he “grew convinc’d that truth, sincerity and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life” (Franklin, 2006). Franklin was impatient of those who were inclined to riotous living. He was convinced that the earnings must exceed the expenses; thus, wasteful people irritated him much. Being an intelligent man with a broad outlook, Benjamin tried to surround himself with the talented individuals, whose minds were full of fresh ideas. He paid particular attention to diligence and had a deep respect for the single-minded individuals. Thanks to such approach, Franklin was able to maintain excellent relationships with the extraordinary people. Moreover, the thinker was highly revered for his distinct moral qualities and social achievements, which were a result of a deep self-control and hard work.
Temporary and Permanent Friends
Franklin was surrounded by more or less worthy people, but few of them were honored his recognition and sincere friendship. However, those who were honest with him could rely on a support and sincere affection from his side. He followed the principle, “Be slow in choosing a friend, slower in changing,” “a true friend is the best possession,” and “a brother may not be a friend, but a friend will always be a brother” (“Benjamin Franklin,” n. d.). The relations that are described in the book reflect his beliefs, which one can research using the following friendship analyzes.
John Collins is the first person honored with the researcher’s attention. He was a childhood friend of Franklin, who was attracted by his way to argue on various public issues. In Chapter II, Franklin stressed, “Besides souring and spoiling the conversation, is productive of disgusts and, perhaps enmities where you may have occasion for friendship” (Franklin, 2006). In this friendship, Franklin perfected his skills in writing the prose. Undoubtedly, he relied on the close cooperation and common cause. When the friends had not seen each other for some time, Collins became alcohol-dependent; this fact was the main reason for the termination of friendship.
It should be noted that the relationships with Collins revealed the genuine character of Franklin, who always fought for his friends, trying to support them as brothers in difficult times. In Chapter IV, Benjamin reminisced, “He had gam’d, too, and lost his money, so that I was oblig’d to discharge his lodgings, and defray his expenses to and at Philadelphia, which prov’d extremely inconvenient to me” (Franklin, 2006). After New York, they both moved to Philadelphia. There, Collins was unable to find a proper job. Moreover, he borrowed money from Franklin, relying on trust, but did not pay back the debt. This event proves one of the Franklin’s beliefs, “Lend money to an enemy and you will gain him, to a friend and you will lose them” (“Benjamin Franklin,” n.d.). The situation was complicated by the fact that Franklin took the mentioned money from Island resident Vernon Rhode and ultimately morally suffered because of the inability to return the debt. Therefore, their friendship had not lasted for a long time; it is considered one of those sad cases of the deepest disappointment. Undoubtedly, the huge debt contributed to such an outcome.
Another character in the book is the first Franklin’s employer, Samuel Keimer. For a long time, he had had good relationships with Franklin, which could have become a lasting friendship. Nevertheless, Keimer was ignored by the influential people who were acquainted with Franklin that made him jealousy and discontent. Moreover, he showed a lack of tact towards Benjamin, which led to a cooling of their partnership. Nevertheless, the temporary friendship with Keimer brought its benefits. In Chapter V, Franklin notes, “I used to work him so with my Socratic method, and had trepann’d him so often by questions apparently so distant from any point we had in hand, and yet by degrees led to the point, and brought him into difficulties and contradictions” (Franklin, 2006). In such a manner, Franklin could improve his skills as the worker and enrich his experience in disputing. His decision to leave Keimer before opening a printing house partly complies with his rule, “Love your neighbor yet to not pull down your hedge” (“Benjamin Franklin,” n. d.).
James Ralph was a man of contradiction. His friendship with Franklin was based on the love for literature. Nevertheless, it ended in London, when the man, just like Collins, borrowed money and pulled away from Franklin him for some personal reasons. Benjamin continued to love him, notwithstanding, because he believed that his friend had some notable traits. However, in Chapter VI, Franklin recognized, “In the loss of his friendship I found myself relieved from a burthen” (Franklin, 2006). The thinker was very attached to people in his young years and supported warm relations despite any inconveniences and excessive costs. Obviously, he highly valued the interpersonal contact and was stable in his relationships with the friends and fellows.
It should be emphasized that not all temporary friendships ended on a bad note. Hugh Meredith was the first true business partner of Franklin. He helped open a printing business and, after a year of work, sold Franklin his share. Their relationship ended with his departure; the last thing was the two letters sent from Carolina describing the state’s climate, soil, animal husbandry, etc. that he perfectly knew. Franklin published both letters in his newspaper, and they had a great success. It was one of the best examples of the impermanent friendship.
Franklin never forgot the signs of attention and support by others. He felt a sense of gratitude to Meredith and his father for helping with the printing business. Franklin mentioned two other friends, Joseph Breintnal and Thomas Godfrey, who offered him the necessary sum of money for maintaining the business at an important time (Franklin, 2006, p. 99). Franklin appreciated such assistance as he was always ready to do the same for the close friends and fellows.
The acquaintances and temporary friends affected Franklin, but there were people, about whom he spoke with particular warmth. During his trip to London, Franklin met two of his real friends – a famous Philadelphian lawyer Andrew Hamilton and a Quaker merchant Mr. Denham. Mr. Denham strongly supported Franklin and gave him smart tips. Later, he made him the manager in the Philadelphian store; unfortunately, the man died shortly afterward. Mr. Denham helped Franklin understand the intrigues of Governor Keith, who pretended to be a person willing to support Franklin financially. In this situation, Franklin’s rule triggered, “An open foe may prove a curse but a pretended friend is worse” (“Benjamin Franklin,” n. d.). Hamilton became a true friend of Benjamin, at the time when he was warned about the intentions of Governor Keith to destroy him. Franklin accidentally uncovered the scheme and reported it to Hamilton, who later joined him in the Assembly. Honesty and openness always helped Franklin attract decent people.
One of the members of the Junto became a key person in the life of Franklin, as well. William Coleman earned Franklin’s loyalty by his cold and clear mind and a warm heart. He “exactest morals of almost any man I ever met with,” as Franklin admitted (Franklin, 2006, p. 99). Subsequently, Coleman became a major merchant and one of the judges of the province. The friendship between the two leaders had lasted for more than forty years until Coleman’s death.
Franklin’s relations with these people are an example of how a common cause can strengthen a friendship. He was always ready to support any interesting ideas and socially useful projects. In such a manner, in 1739, Franklin’s approval was necessary to Mr. Whitefield, an itinerant preacher, who raised funds for the construction of an orphanage. Franklin considered him a perfectly honest person. Being a man of faith, he respected Mr. Whitefield, but there was no religious connection between them. Franklin stated, “Ours was a mere civil friendship, sincere on both sides, and lasted to his death” (Franklin, 2006, p. 188). Later, in 1751, Franklin supported an initiative of his close friend, Thomas Bond, to create a hospital for the poor in Philadelphia; he typed in his favor in the private newspaper (Franklin, 2006, p. 274-289). Numerous people respected Franklin and valued his opinion. For that case, his view on the project was necessary.
Drawing conclusions, it is also necessary to mention Franklin’s wife, Deborah Reed, who was highly respected by Franklin. He considered her a faithful friend and helpmate. Franklin always treated his family with great love. Therefore, it becomes obvious that Franklin was surrounded by people of different sorts. The particularly close friendships were strengthened by the common interests, desire for self-development, and participation in the implementation of the major projects.
Association for the Purpose of Self-Improvement
Franklin’s initiative to create the friendship associations became the best proof that the personal development was a key purpose in his friendship conception. One of them was the Junto in Philadelphia. He founded a discussion club of his fellow craftsmen and wrote its charter, the first item of which was the requirement to show modesty in the conversation during any polemic. Franklin decided that the members of the Junto should present their ideas in the form of suggestions or questions, demonstrating (or at least pretending) the natural curiosity in order to avoid confrontation with an opponent in such a manner that could be perceived by him as an insult (Franklin, 2006, p. 99-126). Any demonstration of self-righteousness or direct contradiction with an opponent was punished by a little comic fine. Franklin sought to pass on to his associates own style of communication, which had been developed in his younger years. He never expressed his confidence in the final point of view, which he gently and consistently defended at the same time.
The club had existed for almost forty years. During those years, it was the best school of philosophy, morality, and politics in the whole province. The discussed reports made Franklin and his friends carefully study various subjects in order to speak knowledgeably. The Junto had incredibly beneficial effect on strengthening the ties of friendship. Later, due to an advent of the newcomers joining the club, each experienced member tried to found a similar organization, and some of them even succeeded.
Special Method of Benjamin Franklin to Gain Friends
In Chapter X, Franklin convinced, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged” (Franklin, 2006). Franklin’s promotion in 1736 led to the emergence of a new antagonist. He was particularly disturbed by a new member of the House. Franklin did not want to be humiliated and came up with an interesting way to settle the matter. He sent that gentleman a note, in which he expressed a desire to read one rare book and asked to lend it for a few days. The book was immediately sent, and Franklin returned it about a week later with another note, in which he warmly thanked for that service. Next time, in the House, the man talked to Franklin, who stressed, “He ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions” (Franklin, 2006). In such a manner, the two members of the House became the life-long friends.
Numerous people believe that they treat well those, whom they like and treat badly those whom they hate. Franklin proved a truth, according to which, a person was loyal to those whom they help, and hate those who were harmed by them. This efficient approach of attracting friends and allies is widely known as the effect of Franklin (Popova, 2014). Franklin used neither dirty methods of influence nor intrigues, preferring to win people with good deeds and sincere attention. One of the golden rules of Franklin was, “Do good to thy friend to hold him, to thy enemy to gain him” (“Benjamin Franklin,” n. d.).
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is an evidence of the friendship’s significance for Benjamin Franklin. The basic principles of his tacit conception are the followings: to enter into friendly relations with the honest and decent people who share the same morals; to establish useful contacts that help in the self-development and bring mutual and social benefits; not to leave the friends in a difficult situation and fight for their well-being; never stop in an attempt to appease an opponent and try to gain him as a friend; not to speak unfair about both the friends and rivals. Numerous examples from the life of Franklin show that the well-designed common projects always strengthen sincere relations. However, he warns that a clear agreement must be concluded in order to avoid the further collapse of friendship. For this reason, Franklin describes his approach of winning the friends and preserving interpersonal relations that remain effective at all times.