Study Guide

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

by Benjamin Franklin

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Franklin’s Autobiography is divided into three parts, with a short addendum added a few months before Franklin’s death in 1790. Each has a distinct thematic purpose and thus serves, in part, to make the work an important philosophical and historical tract. Part 1 is, in essence, an extended letter to Franklin’s son William, written in England in 1771. It recounts Franklin’s ancestry, his early days in Boston and Philadelphia, and his first journey to London in 1724. In fact, Autobiography is by far the best source for information on Franklin’s early life. Part 1 ends with Franklin’s marriage to Deborah and the beginning of his subscription library in late 1730, when he was twenty-four years old. Franklin ends part 1 with this explanatory note:

“Thus far was written with the Intention express’d in the Beginning and therefore contains several little family Anecdotes of no Importance to others. . . . The Affairs of the Revolution occasion’d the Interruption.”

In spite of this rejoinder, there are important ideas developed in part 1. Franklin concludes that, after a youthful prank brought parental admonishment, that, “tho’ I pleaded the Usefulness of the Work, mine convinc’d me that nothing was useful which was not honest.” Part 1 also discusses Franklin’s Deistic inclinations and his predilection for the art of disputation, which is similar to modern-day debate. Franklin thus believed in the mind’s ability to use logic and reason over and above strong emotions. He comments:Therefore I took a Delight in it [disputing], practic’d it continually and grew very artful and expert in drawing People of even superior Knowledge into Concessions the Consequences of which they did not foresee . . . and so obtaining Victories that neither myself nor my Cause always deserved.


(The entire section is 758 words.)