Benjamin Franklin is most often regarded for his role as a founding father. Franklin drafted and then later signed the Declaration of Independence. While this may have been Franklin's most important act, there are many others he should be remembered for. Franklin was an influential man and responsible for many changes in society, changes that formed the basis for the society we have today, such as starting the first public school. In all of his actions, it was Franklin as a writer that made his achievements possible. He used his writing skills to argue for social change, to express his opinions and to take education to the common people.
Writing for Social Change
Franklin used his writing skills to great effect to create social change. He was an ideas man, with many opinions on society and its direction. The difference between Franklin and other ideas men, is that he knew how to express those ideas.
Franklin describes in his autobiography a "cry among the people for more paper money, only fifteen thousand pounds being extant in the province, and that soon to be sunk." (Franklin, Autobiography VII). This proposal was rejected by the rich men, but Franklin argued for the proposal, believing that it would improve working and living conditions for the people. As Franklin describes, "Our debates possess'd me so fully of the subject, that I wrote and printed an anonymous pamphlet on it" (Franklin, Autobiography VII). As Franklin describes, the rich men had no choice but to agree to creating more money, "they happening to have no writers among them that were able to answer it, their opposition slacken'd, and the point was carried by a majority in the House" (Franklin, Autobiography VII). This is just one example of Franklin using his writing skills to express his opinions and force action to be taken. Franklin was well aware that his writing skills were an effective power, "This was another advantage gain'd by my being able to write" (Franklin, Autobiography VII).
Another example of Franklin allowing for action to be taken for the good of the people is when his friend, Thomas Bond, proposed building a hospital in Philadelphia. Franklin supported the building of the hospital, with the first action taken being to "prepare the minds of the people by writing on the subject in the newspapers, which was my usual custom in such cases" (Franklin, Autobiography XI).
Another example is when Franklin observed that the unpaved road made it difficult for the people, "I had liv'd near what was call'd the Jersey Market, and saw with pain the inhabitants wading in mud while purchasing their provisions" (Franklin, Autobiography XI). Again Franklin forced action on the problem via his writing skills, "By talking and writing on the subject, I was at length instrumental in getting the street pav'd with stone between the market and the brick'd foot-pavement" (Franklin, Autobiography XI).
Franklin was also responsible for establishing a foot patrol by writing about the value of employing people for this task and also reponsible for the establishment of the first fire department. As he describes in his autobiography, "I wrote a paper... On the different accidents and carelessnesses by which houses were set on fire, with cautions against them, and means proposed of avoiding them. This was much spoken of as a useful piece, and gave rise to a project, which soon followed it, of forming a company for the more ready extinguishing of fires" (Franklin, Autobiography XI).
Each of these examples show that Franklin consistently used his writing skills as a means of creating change, each time with the changes standing up for the common man that does not have the power to force changes for themselves. These achievements are important in several ways.
Firstly, they are important for their impact on improving society. From the small changes of improving the roads to the larger changes of allowing a hospital to be built to provide medical care to everyone, these changes are part of the progress that set society on its way to becoming what it is today. Franklin was instrumental in allowing for new projects to be approved and with his work on foot patrols and fire safety, he was responsible for the first forms of the police and fire departments. These projects that Franklin set in motion were the beginnings of the agencies that are an integral part of society today.
Secondly, they are important in showing the common man that they are not helpless to the conditions they live in and that communicating about problems can force action to be taken. Franklin is an example of how action to improve things can be taken in a non-violent positive way. It cannot be estimated how many others were motivated by Franklin's example into taking action of their own.
Finally, Franklin was always focused on the common people of society and on improving things for them. Franklin's achievements made the world a better place for these common people, allowing them better working conditions, medical care and education. These changes that Franklin made were also important in allowing the common man to feel valued in society. Allowing the people better lives impacts on the ability of every person to make something of their lives and make a difference of their own. Franklin standing up for the common person then, is a chain reaction that allows the common person to then do more for themselves. This was one of the common themes in all of Franklin's writing, perhaps best seen in the Poor Richard's Almanac Franklin published for 25 years.
Poor Richard's Almanac
Franklin began printing the Poor Richard's Almanac under the name Richard Saunders in 1732, something he continued until 1757. The publication was a big success, selling around 10,000 copies a year. It combined useful information such as the weather and also advice for living, in the form of maxims. Franklin designed this publication to inform and educate the common person and to offer them guidance for life. As Franklin says in his autobiography, "I consider'd it as a proper vehicle for conveying instruction among the common people, who bought scarcely any other books; I therefore filled all the little spaces that occurr'd between the remarkable days in the calendar with proverbial sentences" (Franklin, Autobiography IX). These 'proverbial sentences' are the maxims that gave the common person guidance on life. These maxims were so influential that they have survived to today as meaningful quotations, with people still finding guidance from them. A list of some of these maxims illustrates how Franklin's saying survived a changing society and continue to be meaningful quotes today (Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac):
God helps them that help themselves.
Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Never leave that till to-morrow which you can do to-day.
He that goes a borrowing goes a sorrowing.
Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.
Franklin also used his newspaper to communicate his views to people, offering essays of his own opinions and of other writers. These were also designed to teach common people, offer them guidance and inspire them to want to read more. Franklin was effectively taking meaningful writing out of the hands only of scholars and distributing to all people. Similar to Franklin's method of creating change by writing about his views, Poor Richard's Almanac was also designed to help the people. In this case, the almanac was a way of teaching the common man and offering him knowledge, effectively empowering the common man to take control of his life.
Poor Richard's Almanac then had three effects on society. Firstly, Franklin's maxims were accepted as guidance, inspiring people to live better lives. Secondly, Franklin closed the gap between the educated and the uneducated. The uneducated reading the almanac were given a thirst for knowledge, a thirst they could pursue. This empowered individuals to take it upon themselves to determine their own lives. No doubt, Franklin inspired many to live good and just lives, and inspired some to make their own contributions to society. Finally, Franklin's maxims survived from the time they were first printed to the present day. How many people these maxims have impacted on during the course of these years is impossible to estimate, but no doubt many have, and continue to have, their lives changed by accepting the wise words of Franklin.
Franklin's Impact on Learning
One of the major themes of all of Franklin's work is on helping the people to help themselves. This relates especially to educating people. Franklin believed that people needed to be educated to make the most of themselves and that not providing this education is a way of holding people back. Like many of his beliefs Franklin took to writing about them to gain support for his ideas, presented his ideas in Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania.
The final result of his efforts was the establishment of an academy where…