The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

by Benjamin Franklin
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Write a response in which you identify rhetorical strategies used by Benjamin Franklin, along with particularly eloquent points of argument. Identify the problems addressed in his argument. What is the social context of those problems? Provide two examples from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

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A first example of a point of argument Franklin uses in The Autobiography is found in his account of his success in owning a stationer's shop while his former employer, Keimer, failed. Franklin writes:

In order to secure my credit and character as a tradesman, I took care not only to be in reality industrious and frugal, but to avoid all appearances to the contrary. I drest plainly; I was seen at no places of idle diversion. I never went out a fishing or shooting; a book, indeed, sometimes debauch'd me from my work, but that was seldom, snug, and gave no scandal; and, to show that I was not above my business, I sometimes brought home the paper I purchas'd at the stores thro' the streets on a wheelbarrow. Thus being esteem'd an industrious, thriving young man, and paying duly for what I bought, the merchants who imported stationery solicited my custom; others proposed supplying me with books, and I went on swimmingly. In the mean time, Keimer's credit and business declining daily, he was at last forc'd to sell his printing-house to satisfy his creditors. He went to Barbadoes, and there lived some years in very poor circumstances.

Franklin understood that he had to work hard consistently and manage his money carefully. This was not enough; he also had to consider the public's perception of him as a businessman. The problem with Keimer, as Franklin saw it, was that he was not thrifty in his dealings, and he lacked social capital. It was known that Keimer had failed in business in London and left his wife there. His reputation was poor and disadvantageous in his Philadelphia business.

Franklin understood the value in and necessity of "networking" as we know it today. He also knew to not overextend himself with credit. Even when Franklin intends to be didactic, his tone, established through his word choice, is light and humorous. A book "debauched" him, occasionally, and his business "went on swimmingly." His rhetorical choice of using his success to contrast with Keimer's failure gets his point of argument across without hammering Keimer's character.

A second example of a point of argument is found in the section where Franklin discusses his experiment with trying to achieve moral perfection. He comes up with a list of desired virtues, but a friend alerts him to a blind spot:

My list of virtues contain'd at first but twelve; but a Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride show'd itself frequently in conversation; that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing, and rather insolent, of which he convinc'd me by mentioning several instances; I determined endeavouring to cure myself, if I could, of this vice or folly among the rest, and I added Humility to my list, giving an extensive meaning to the word.

Franklin employs the rhetorical technique of concession here. He did not have the self-awareness to fully understand how he came off to others. Once it was explained to him with examples, Franklin conceded that it was a flaw in his behavior and sought to mitigate it. He was a highly successful, self-made man, and valued social connections. In Pennsylvania at this time, there were many Quakers. Though not a member of that faith himself, Franklin was broad-minded enough to know that his friend was making a legitimate point. Again, Franklin's tone enhances the rhetoric; the proud man becomes, for a moment, self-effacing.

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