Both Benjamin Franklin and John Adams were 18th Century men, but both also stood out in their time and culture. They had different and unique views on many of the subjects of their day, from conflict to intimacy. Since both men focused on what was important to them, they were not as changed by the times as some of the others who worked with and around them would be. They were their own men, and they knew what they wanted and what they valued. That is not to say that there were not others like this, but only to indicate that Franklin and Adams were two of the main pioneers of their day. Their focus was on the valuable things in life, and that did not always mesh with what society believed to be important. When people do not follow everything that society says they are often shunned, but Franklin and Adams became men whose names were known far and wide for who they were and what they stood for.
Adams was a well-educated lawyer and Franklin had working-class roots of which he was very proud. That is indicative of how anyone can change the world or have a significant influence on a large group of people. Individuals who rise to prominence and become important to a country can come from affluence or poverty, because the material possessions they have do not matter. The strength of their heart and the content of their character are much more valuable assets to consider. Both Adams and Franklin possessed these things, which was what allowed them to move into the jobs they held and provided them with the ability to offer so much value to the United States and the people who lived there in the earliest days of a fledgling country. Addressed here are the beliefs and values of both Franklin and Adams.
Benjamin Franklin provided a refreshing and somewhat new view of the Puritans. Unlike the majority of them, he was not stuffy. His modern, contemporary attitude was very different than what was seen in the majority of the people who were alive during his time. He wanted to be effective in this lifetime, and had a very different view than the Puritans when it came to worrying about the soul. Essentially, he did not bother to worry about his soul's condition, and instead focused on worldly effectiveness (Henretta, 2011). That was odd, considering when and where he was raised. It was also strange from the standpoint of the value system of the day. It was no secret that Franklin got things done, but he went about them in a manner that was not the same as those of his fellow men. He was looking for secular perfection, which was much different from the spiritual glory that was a hallmark of the times and the Puritan lifestyle (Henretta, 2011). He was very interested in the Age of Experiments, as he called it, and believed that it would be highly valuable. However, he was not interested in being the one to experiment.
He wanted a competent and willing philosopher to do that, but was interested in the information that would be collected from the philosophizing that would take place (Skemp, 2012). That was true with both political and personal life, as both were significant to Franklin and could affect the well-being of the Puritans and the society as a whole. What Franklin had to say at the time was considered to be radically new and different, and the Puritan society in which he was entrenched was often astonished by how forward and open he was regarding issues which many would never discuss (Isaacson, 2003). Despite his oddness, though, he was a revolutionary thinker and one that was found to be highly important as time went on. As a Founding Father of the country, Franklin also secured his place in history.
Similarities Between Franklin and the Puritans
The Puritan notion of morality was very focused on spiritual (specifically, Christian) beliefs, morals, and ideals. It was not about having pleasure in this life, but about ensuring that entrance to heaven was gained. That could only be done through being pure here on earth, which was a largely impossible task for human beings. However, that did not stop the Puritans from making numerous rules about what was acceptable, and it did not stop them from breaking those rules behind closed doors. Franklin's project of moral perfection is a list of 13 virtues, and he determined to tackle one virtue per week until he became perfect (Henretta, 2011). In his journal, he wrote about the experiment. He did not, of course, become perfect, and he freely acknowledged that (Henretta, 2011). He did become happier, though, and stated that he was better able to see himself and others the right way after working through the virtues he had listed (Skemp, 2012).
The Puritans, by contrast, did not go around using a list of virtues and journaling as to whether they had been successful in attaining those virtues. That is not to say they were not a virtuous people, but only that they went about it in a very different way than Franklin. They saw a number of virtues not as something to list and conquer, one by one, but as something by which a person simply had to live (Henretta, 2011). Franklin and the Puritans had many of the same beliefs, but they were going about them in completely different ways. They also had different reasons for exercising their beliefs in virtue, since Puritans were focused on the spiritual and Franklin was more interested in becoming "perfect" from a secular standpoint. His eventual conclusion was that it was easier to work with and befriend others if one had some flaws, and that perfection was not necessary (Isaacson, 2003).
John Adams was the second president of the United States, but he was also much more than that. He came from a relatively wealthy and strong family, and went on to become a lawyer (Brookhiser, 2002). Taking what he did very seriously, he often worked on valuable, vital projects that were important to society and that could help his fellow man. He also had a wife whom he deeply adored, and it was clear that the feeling was returned. While this was not shocking and many people loved and cared for their spouses, the willingness Adams had to be open about his feelings for his wife and to express those feelings to her freely was not something that was commonly seen in the time period, when those types of feelings were most expected to be kept to oneself or shared only in very private moments with loved ones (Thompson, 2002). However, John and Abigail Adams expressed deep and significant moments of intimacy in their letters, which was something was not so common with respect to correspondence that would have been, in a way, public.
Formal letter writing in the 18th century had a specific presentation and code it was expected to follow, and it was a code from which Adams and his wife would often stray (Peek, 2003). Their letters expressed both political change and personal relationships in different ways, making them a rarity for 18th century writing. The letters transcended the formality that was so prevalent at the time, and became a method of open, honest communication between two people who loved one another and their country (Thompson, 2002). Adams made it clear that caring for someone was not something that had to be hidden away, and that one could be passionate about something (or someone) and still remain dignified, respectful, and engaged in society in a number of different ways.
The 18th Century Men and Culture
Both Franklin's autobiography and Adams' letters reveal the 18th century man. The writing style, along with the worries and beliefs of the day are showcased in those documents in a way in which they would not be if they were written during a different time period. That kind of information can provide a great deal of insight into the past, as biographies written after the fact often fail to capture the true language and spirit of what was really being said and done during the days in which things took place. The men were clearly conflicted by the way they felt and the values that society had placed upon them. This is often how people come to greatness, though, because they do not feel settled with what they have when they look to what society offers them. They see how it could be changed, and how it could be better, and they strive to make those changes and betterments for themselves, but also for the good of the others around them. This feeling came through in the letters Adams wrote, and in the autobiography provided by Franklin.
Adams was very interested in a personal closeness and attentiveness that was generally not seen in the…