Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography is not only a story of his own relentless attempts at self-improvement, but also designed to be an early advice manual for others who intend to follow in his footsteps. He certainly was one of the most successful men on the 18th Century, rising from poverty and obscurity in Boston to owning a successful printing business, founding the University of Pennsylvania and the American Philosophical Society, and later going on to become leader of the colonial assembly. When the revolution began in 1776, he was the leader of the rebels in overthrowing the Penn family proprietors and writing the first democratic constitution in American history, with Thomas Paine. Later of course, he was one of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the first ambassador to France, as well as the founder of the first anti-slavery society in North America. All of that was in the future, however, when he wrote most of the autobiography.
Certainly Franklin's ethics were entrepreneurial and middle class, reflecting his Puritan background, and he valued thrift, sobriety and diligence in business, and took pleasure in defeating competitors. Much of the autobiography is concerned with his constant efforts to get ahead in the world, make friends, contacts and connections at all levels, and advance his own interests. At the same time, he was sincere in his Deist convictions that the best form of worshipping God was to through acts of charity and benevolence, even to those who have wronged him. Gov. Keith had given him bogus letters of credit and introductions when he went to London in 1724, but Franklin was a mild-mannered and judicious man who avoided quarrels and tried to be conciliatory. He even found something positive and well-balanced to say about the long-dead Keith, in that he was a man who wished "to please everybody; and, having little to give, he gave expectations. He was otherwise an ingenious, sensible man, a pretty good writer, and a good governor for the people"[footnoteRef:1] [1: Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, with Introduction and Notes by Charles W. Eliot (ed). (NY: P.F. Collier & Son Company, 1909), p. 39]
Franklin got a job as a printer in London for a year, and improved his skill in order to return to Philadelphia and start his own business. He also occupied his time by reading books and writing occasional pamphlets, which even then had a distinctly radical theme in both politics and religion. As a young man, he expressed skepticism about the existence of heaven and the afterlife, although he later reaffirmed their existence when he was older. After all, he had a friend who died young, and they had an agreement that the first one who died would try to make contact from beyond the grave, but his friend never did. He later read books written to oppose Deism and was convinced to become a Deist himself, denying the divinity of Christ. Like the Puritan he was, though, he stayed sober, modest, worked diligently at his calling and "drank only water; the other workmen, near fifty in number, were great guzzlers of beer."[footnoteRef:2] He lied to his landlady about having found cheaper lodgings and she reduced his rent because she liked having him as a tenant, and at one time became so well-known for his skills at teaching swimming that he thought "if I were to remain in England and open a swimming-school, I might get a good deal of money."[footnoteRef:3] [2: Franklin, p. 42.] [3: Franklin, p. 47.]
He followed the same principles of efficiency, self-improvement and diligence when he returned to Philadelphia and began his ascent up the ladder there. At first he was employed by a merchant named Denham and "attended the business diligently, studied accounts, and grew in a little time, expert at selling."[footnoteRef:4] Franklin quickly made friends among government officials in New Jersey when he oversaw the printing of paper money for the colony, and reported how they "were afterwards of great use to me, as I occasionally was to some of them."[footnoteRef:5] Many of them were self-made men or rising men, as he was. Franklin was convinced at a young age that revealed religion was false, but also that "truth,…