Benjamin Franklin and the American Character

By Charles L. Sanford | Go to book overview

Suggestions for Additional Reading

A very good early biography of Franklin which aimed at rescuing him from the myth-making processes and idealizations of the nineteenth century is George S. Fisher's The True Franklin ( Philadelphia, 1899, reprinted in 1926). The best recent one-volume studies are Carl Van Doren Benjamin Franklin ( New York, 1938) and Verner W. Crane Benjamin Franklin and a Rising People ( Boston, 1954). Carl Becker wrote a brilliantly concise sketch for the Dictionary of American Biography ( VI, 1931) which was reprinted by the Cornell University Press in 1946. A useful collection of essays by leading Franklin authorities appears in Meet Dr. Franklin ( Philadelphia, 1943).

The ardent seeker for the truth about Franklin and his relationship to American society will not be satisfied with the brief selections from Franklin's own writings included in this volume. A minimal reading assignment in the original sources should be the complete Autobiography, of which there are numerous trustworthy editions in print. The cheapest and most accessible of these are the Rinehart edition edited by Dixon Wecter, the Modern Library edition edited by Henry Steele Commager , and the edition edited by Herbert W. Schneider for the Liberal Arts Press. For the more scholarly student Max Farrand has prepared a corrected, variorum edition ( Berkeley, 1949). Since Franklin does not paint the most flattering picture of himself in the Autobiography, one should also consult his other writings. The standard edition of his collected works remains The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, edited by Albert H. Smyth ( New York, 1905- 1907), 10 volumes. A comprehensive anniversary edition of the Franklin papers is currently being prepared by Yale University and the American Philosophical Society. If his collected works are not available, generous selections from his writing can be found in Carl Van Doren, ed., Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards: Selections from Their Writings ( New York, 1920); Carl Van Doren, ed., Benjamin Franklin's Autobiographical Writings ( New York, 1945); Frank L. Mott and Chester E. Jorgenson, eds., Benjamin Franklin: Representative Selections, with Introduction, Bibliography, and Notes, American Writers Series ( New York, 1936); Nathan C. Goodman, ed., A Benjamin Franklin Reader ( New York, 1945); and I. Bernard Cohen, ed., Benjamin Franklin: His Contribution to the American Tradition, Makers of the American Tradition Series ( New York and Indianapolis, 1953). The last, as its sub-title suggests, is particularly useful in connection with the problem posed in this volume.

In order to be able to define and assess what is original about Franklin's contributions to American life one should also know something about the eighteenth- century environment which produced him. For this purpose the biographies listed above are, of course, helpful. Good general studies of the colonial background are Herbert L. Osgood, The American Colonies in the Eighteenth Century ( New York, 1924), 4 volumes, and Curtis P. Nettels, The Roots of American Civilization ( New York, 1938). A more sharply focused study emphasizing

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