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Franklin´s ideal citizen

1. Introduction: The Birth of the U.S.  

Entering the global stage as free and independent (US 1776) states, the thirteen colonies founded the United States of America on July the fourth in 1776 in order to “levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances” and “establish commerce” (US 1776). This resolution was passed after the colonies had gone through some years of a struggling dispute with their Motherland Great Britain, caused by taxation (Boyer et al. 120-149). “Give me liberty or give me death” (Henry), these words by Patrick Henry catches the spirit of the time leading through the War of Revolution 1775-1783. One of the most popular founding fathers is Benjamin Franklin (Wood 1). His motives to write an autobiography are still not satisfactorily solved and “we are still learning how to read the Autobiography” (Arch 159) In context to Franklin, William Kashatus (1992) came up with the term “Ideal Citizen” which is to understand in the way that Franklin portraits the image of an “Ideal Citizen”, by giving his life account (Kashatus 92). Throughout literature this is the common perception of Franklin when speaking of an “Ideal Citizen”. I argue that Franklin actively constructs an ideal citizen in full command of his mental faculties due to his thirteen virtues.

I am going to apply different methodical approaches in order to support my thesis. First of all,  I will try to proof that the concept of an ideal citizen unfolds in the comparison between Franklin´s thirteen virtues and the The Constitution of the Freemasons (1734), published by Franklin. For this matter I am taking research results into account that are dealing with Freemasons´ concepts and their ideas in the 18th century. In the next step I am going to put my focus on the scientist Franklin and his experiments. I am trying to show that part two of Franklin´s Autobiography gives proof of an experimental method which could be located in the field of behavioral psychology. In the last step I will try to briefly examine his ideas about life and its analogy to chess by emphasizing some points from Franklin´s “On the Morals of Chess” (1786), in which human actions should not be left by chance.


3. Freemasonry

Franklin joined the Philadelphia Lodge in 1731 (Stengel and Lacayo 34) and soon became grand master of the lodge (35). Franklin never mentions the freemasons in his Autobiography, only the Junto, a secret club he joined. He describes the hierarchical structure of subordinate clubs in relation to the Junto where the leader of a subordinate club is not known as a member of the Junto to the members of his subordinate club to keep inappropriate people away (Franklin and Chaplin 96). Every attempt to investigate freemasonry as a whole concept leads into logical entanglement, thus, a general posit about freemasonry is not possible (Maurice XXI-XXII). On the other hand, specific posits that relates to single persons or eras are, academically speaking, very possible and well investigated. As a matter of fact, freemasonry in the restriction of Enlightenment as well as their interrelation with civil society is well-known (XXII). Throughout the 18th century one of the major freemasons goal was the concept of human mankind, drawing near the maxim of an ideal, served to represent God´s empire on earth, a concept which was borrowed from the New Testament (366): And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.“(The Bible, Luke. 17,20-21) Also, according to freemasons belief it is only possible to get infinitely close towards this maxim, however, never being able to reach the stage entirely (Maurice 366). Thus, it is only possible trying to imitate this maxim. Franklin´s last virtue begins with the word imitate, before he states who we should imitate: Jesus and Socrates (Franklin and Chaplin 80). Here he chooses persons of highly symbolic reference to Western (American) culture. This indicator is my initial point throughout my argumentation.


3.1 Ideal Citizen

The investigation whether Franklin constructs an ideal citizen in his Autobiography or not is highly inspired by the publication The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, a work written by Gordon S. Wood. His last chapter, entitled “Becoming an American” deals, among other things, with the principles of Franklin, manifested in the first generation of American entrepreneurs after the Revolutionary War. The first generation to come of age in the Early Republic was the one in search of a collective national identity (Hannemann and Eschborn 311), and Franklin was the one who had the answer for them: “. . . the America of enterprising, innovative, and equality – loving people” (Wood 243). Especially northern entrepreneurs went so far to take Franklin not only as a role model in order to increase their income, but also as an idol while imitating his life as if they were Franklin themselves (243). Woods chapter on the Americanization of Franklin suggests that the United States and especially her citizen are drawn by Franklin. Another reason why I have left the traditional perception of Franklin´s Autobiography in which it is for instance serving as a prototype of the first American as H. W. Brands (2002) deals in his work The first American, is the fact that Hannemann and Eschborn posit that the reductive image of the Early Republic is now revised by numerous scholars: “. . . we have now become aware of the intricate and complex social and cultural dynamics(italics mine) that characterized America´s post revolutionary years.” (Hannemann and Eschborn 219). Whereas the traditional conceptions of Franklin´s autobiography, which I do not want to falsify here since they have every legitimization, serve as a narration in which particularly the American dream is attributed to Franklin, I assume that part two of his Autobiography, especially the thirteen virtues have another purpose but inspiring the reader - the made up characteristic traits of an ideal citizen of what a psychologist would call personality traits. Franklin writes that he has the “ . . . intention to acquire all Habitude of these Virtues . . .” (Franklin and Chaplin 80), and narrates about the difficulties he faced (80). The acquisition, therefore, can be seen as a process Franklin did not only undertake, but as a process which became known because of Franklin. Moreover, Franklin tried to acquire them in an experimental manner. His role as a scientist appears when he puts the reader on notice which methods he used in order to achieve this kind of perfection (Franklin and Chaplin 81). Take into consideration that Franklin comes up with an example style sheet of a report in which temperance serves as an exemplary protocol in which the minutes are taken by Franklin (82). A scholar of literature might not forget that Franklin was also a man of science who makes reference of it (113). The artist Benjamin West seems to depict Franklin as a representative of the Enlightenment due to the contrast between angels and science, who is exploring the laws of nature through experiments (App.). We have to be aware of our common image of Franklin which is not necessarily the image he truly was (Stengel and Lacayo 6). Gordon Wood investigated Franklin´s project and came to the result that Franklin might had taken his project more serious than many scholars would admit (205). When one moves on to consider how physicists or experimental psychologists work it takes no further explanation and interpretation what Franklin´s depictions and illustrations served for – A self-experiment, perhaps the very first one on behavioral change in the field of psychology. This experiment plays an important role in order to argue that Franklin actively constructed an ideal citizen. Only a model that stands its ground in reality can be adapted.

            Before I move on I would like to come up with a definition in order to share with my reader the same concept of an ideal citizen in terms of Franklin. We might come across the term once in a while during our daily life but literature has no appropriate definition of this term, if any definition at all. This circumstance is not surprising at all since our individual perception of an ideal citizen changes interindividual. While Abraham Lincoln´s notion of an ideal citizen might had been a person who showed his loyalty towards the Union who in the better stage rejected slavery, other´s ideal might be the concept of a person who embodies the customs and symbols of someone´s Nation. An ideal citizen can only be defined within the context of time and prevalent structures. Therefore, I would like to give a definition of the term ideal first before putting it into the context of Franklin´s autobiography to define the ideal citizen. According to the Webster entry 1122 an ideal is “existing as a perfect exemplar”.  It is also defined as “a conception of something in its highest perfection . . . one regarded as exemplifying an ideal and often taken as a model for imitation”. In the context of Franklin´s Autobiography an ideal citizen can be defined as someone who tries to achieve the standard of arriving at moral perfection, expressed in his thirteen virtues. Moreover, this moral perfection has some entrepreneurial components within it if we take, in particular, Franklin´s virtues resolution, frugality and industry (Franklin and Chaplin 79) into consideration. Franklin´s virtue humility requests someone to intimate Jesus as a religious, and Socrates as an ethic, figure. This I argue has a self-progression component within since no one can be right away as good as Jesus is presented in the Bible, or sophisticated as Socrates, taught in school. Thus, when speaking of an ideal citizen in the following, I refer to the concept of an ideal citizen, made up by the reasons as mentioned above: as a person of a city, state or country who constantly focuses, and reflects, on conscientious performance in private and business life without failing to meet the social grace in order to assure personal and social development infinitely close towards the maxim of perfection.

One could argue that an ideal citizen can be seen at the same time synonymously as a “Franklinian” as defined by the Merriam-Webster. A person who has the characteristics of Franklin (“franklinian”). But the virtues were composed by Franklin and cannot be seen as the very characteristics of Franklin.


3.2 Franklin´s thirteen virtues in comparison to the charges of a mason

In order to capture a deeper dimension of my thesis, some direct quotes are taken from the freemason´s constitution of 1734 where needed. The Constitution was written by Anderson and published by Benjamin Franklin. I will try to proof that each of Franklin´s thirteen virtues (Franklin and Chaplin 79-80) is directly related to the “Charges of a Freemason”. Taken the fact into account than Benjamin Franklin was very well aware of this constitution, not only because he published them, but, moreover, because of his position as the Grand Master of the Lodges of Philadelphia the results could be interesting if we take Florian Maurice as examined above into consideration. The Charges of a Freemason can be found in the Constitution of the Free-Masons and consist of five parts, each one of them dealing with different concerns. The charges can be seen in a way as rules which serves to assure the fraternal coexistence. Transferred to the life outside the Lodge they would set a new conformity of social coexistence. For our matter important are going to be only two parts and their subordinate points. “I. Concerning God and religion”: A freemason “ . . . will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine . . . in ancient Times Masons were charg´d in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation . . . yet ´tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves, that is, to be good Men and true (italics mine) . . .” (Anderson 49) Franklin catches this declaration in his thirteenth virtue humility where he suggests to “imitate Jesus and Socrates”. Franklin was also influenced and motivated by the concept of his Fraternity as I will show in the following: He joined the Philadephia Lodge in 1731 (Stengel and Lacayp 34) and only a few years later he unfolds the concept of being a Good Men and True when he started to encourage in society, for instance when he formed the Union Fire Company in 1736 (34) or by beginning to publish the Poor Richards Almanack in 1732, a humorous guidebook full of Aphorisms (38). These actions are well suitable with the Freemasons “historic-philosophical” goal to emancipate human society as presented by Richard van Dülmen (107) and by Wood (44).

Another interesting aspect is, as examined above, that every freemason should believe in a higher power called God no matter which religious rituals that member might practice. Franklin does not explain his virtue humility as imitate Jesus “or” Socrates, but by the conjunction “and” since Jesus is the representative of Christianity, and Christianity the dominating religion in the Early Republic. Furthermore, the idea of being a “good Men and true” can be transferred to Franklin´s seventh virtue sincerity which requests not to prejudge but to treat each other respectfully (Franklin and Chaplin 80). I now move on to section five of the freemasons constitution “V. Of the management of craft in working” (Anderson 51) in which one can read that the masons demand that “All Masons shall work honestly on working Days, that they may live creditably on holy Days, and the time appointed by the Law of the Land, or confirme´d by Custom, shall be observed (italics mine)” This concept is expressed in Franklins third virtue order. “Let all your things have their Places. Let each Part of your Business have its time (italics mine)” Franklin underlines the structured way of life here. At the same time, the idea of working honestly can be found in Franklin´s fourth virtue resolution, expressed in an anadiplosis: “Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve” (Franklin and Chaplin 79). Most of Franklin´s thirteen values can be found in the fifth section and its subordinate point: “Of Behaviour [Behavior], viz.” The subordinate point of this subordinated section is called “Behaviour [Behavior] after the lodge is over and the brethren not gone.” and states that a mason may enjoy himself “with innocent Mirth, treating one another according to Ability, but avoiding all Excess, or forcing any Brother to eat or drink beyond his Inclination, or hindering him from going when his Occasions call him (italics mine), or doing or saying anything offensive, or that my forbid easy and free Conversation . . . “ This statement can be found in Franklin´s first, second and eleventh virtue: temperance, silence and tranquility.

The fifth subordinate point of the fifth section is called: Behaviour [Behavior] at home, and in your neighbourhood [neighborhood] states that a mason “are to act as becomes a moral and wise Man . . . You must also consult your Health   . . .” Franklin refers to this rule as cleanliness, his tenth virtue. A man with moral principles, therefore, should “Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Clothes or Habitation” (Franklin and Chaplin 79). At the same time it refers to Franklin´s moderation and chasity virtues. The seventh and eight virtues justice and sincerity can be found in the sixth subordinate point Behaviour [Behavior] towards a strange brother which puts the focus on “ . . . Brotherly Love . . . ” (Anderson 53).

The comparison has showed that the thirteen virtues and the charges are highly connected with each other. Indeed, Franklin did not copy them word by word but he writes in his Autobiography that he had met the moral virtues in his readings and just use “rather more Names with fewer Ideas annex´d to each, than a few Names with more Ideas”(Franklin and Chaplin 79) Furthermore, Franklin mentions different writers dealing with virtues that he once came across with, but leaves the reader on a gap to which writers he is referring to, on the other hand he makes no secret out of the values of secret societies since they serve for the good (96) As a result that a further investigation concerning Freemasons´ ritual and lodge service is, as explained already above, not possible, we do not know to which extend Franklin´s fingerprint can be observed within the written charges. This is a field forensic linguistic could deal with. We can assume that Franklin as a skilled writer did not only print the Constitution but had helped Anderson to edit and compose or change parts of it. With regard to Maurice (1997) and Van Dülmen (1975) and their depiction of the Freemason´s perception of the world, an ideal citizen could have been intended to serve in the same function as Winthrop´s (1630) A model of Christian Charity in which Winthrop suggests that “. . . we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us…” (City upon a hill)

4. On the morals of chess

Benjamin Franklin compared life with chess in which: “. . . Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions. For life is a kind of chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effects of prudence or the want of it.” (U.S. chess trust) From my point of view Franklin did not left the “chess board” with the figures positioned by chance. Franklin had always intended “. . . to manipulate world events in the way he manipulated chessmen on a board” (Wood 201) and the construction of an American identity definitely influenced the world. Even if they are not recognized as a concept of personality, most scholars make reference to them. In view of literature it has always been difficult to look in an author´s mind and sure we are not able to read his true intentions. Even if an author is still alive, we cannot be assure of his reliability without taking other aspects into consideration. A literature scholar can investigate the historical context, or taking other writings, published by the author who is investigated, into account. So the scholar can come up with a thesis which accordingly has every legitimization until falsified. Finally, I would like to show how Franklin saw life due to his perception and would like to emphasize some interesting aspects that can be found in Franklin´s moral of chess. Firstly, the habit of foresight as an important tool. Franklin advices to look into the future of actions which transferred to the concept of and an ideal citizen could serve as an assurance for the moral but also the economical progress. Furthermore, Franklin puts an emphasis on the good morals throughout his work. Franklin´s morals of chess can be seen as the morals of an ideal citizen as defined above.


5. Conclusion: The interactional construction of an ideal citizen

Being a Freemason, Benjamin Franklin was highly influenced by the Fraternity´s perception of the world and their concept of their model to be a good Men and True. Due to his position as the Grand Master of Masons of Philadelphia this influence is not unilateral but characterized of a reciprocal influence towards each other. Therefore we can speak of an interactional construction of an ideal citizen. This result is based upon the fact that the fraternity wanted to emancipate human society upon individual change, expressed in virtues (Maurice 366)

I have showed that Franklin wrote his Autobiography at first for his illegitimate son William by taking the current research results by Arch 2008 into account, and that he later composed his other parts for a complete different audience: The first generations of US citizens. As a scientist Franklin was widely inspired by different disciplines. I have tried to show that his thirteen values and his depiction about them can be seen as a self-experiment of behavioral change, and that we can speak of Franklin´s intension to examine his construction of an ideal citizen.

Further research is required on the topic, especially a comparison between Franklin and Crèvecoeur, a deeper focus on the social context, an investigation of the Franklin letters to find traces which could support this theory and last and foremost the scientist Benjamin Franklin himself to develop bit by bit a better picture of him concerning the theory of an ideal citizen but that would have exceeded the scope of my term paper.


Arch, Stephen. “Benjamin Franklin´s Autobiography, then and now”. The Cambridge companion to Benjamin Franklin. Ed. Carla Mulford. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008. 159-171.Print.


Brands, H.W. The first American. New York. Knopf Doubleday Group, 2002. Print.


Boyer, Paul et al. The enduring vision: a history of the American people. 5th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Print.


Franklin, Benjamin, Joyce Chaplin eds. Benjamin Franklin´s Autobiography: an authoritative text, contexts, criticism. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print.


Hannemann, Dennis, Ulrich Eschborn. “The Early Republic and the Rites of Memory” A companion to American cultural history: From the colonial period to the End of the 19th century. Ed. Bernd Engler, Oliver Scheiding. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2009. Print.


“Ideal” Def. 1. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. 1981. Print.


Kashatus, William. Historic Philadelphia: The City, Symbols & Patriots, 1681-180. Lanham:University Press of America,1992. Print.


Maurice, Florian. Freimaurerei um 1800. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1997. Print.


Stengel, Richard, Richard Lacayo. Benjamin Franklin: An illustrated history of his life and times. New York: Times Inc, 2010. Print.


The Bible. King James Version. Print.


Van Dülmen, Richard. Der Geheimbund der Illuminaten: Darstellung, Analyse, Dokumentation. Stuttgart: Bad Canstatt, 1975. Print.


West, Benjamin. Benjamin Franklin drawing electricity from the sky.1816. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia.


Wood, Gordon. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Penguin Group, 2005. Print.


Online Sources:

Anderson, James. The Constitution of the Free-Masons (1734). Philadelphia, 1734. Web. 13. Jan 2013.


“Franklinian” Merriam-Webster, 2013. Web. 13. Jan 2013.


City upon a hill. . Web. 20. Jan 2013.


"U.S. GOVERNMENT Introduction to the U.S. System Patrick Henry: Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death." U.S. GOVERNMENT Introduction to the U.S. System Patrick Henry: Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death. Government, n.d. Web. 19 Feb 2013.



<> Web. 19 Feb 2013.





Common Document and therefore only listed pro forma:

US 1776 = Declaration of Independence