Benjamin Franklin's Printing Network: Disseminating Virtue in Early America

By Ralph Frasca | Go to book overview

6
Network Expansion from New York to the Caribbean

One of Franklin's fond recollections of his early years in Philadelphia was having “form'd most of my ingenious Acquaintance into a Club, for mutual Improvement, which we call'd the Junto,” in the autumn of 1727.1 Like Franklin, its members were young tradesmen who possessed idealism and intellect, but only modest social status. His inspiration for the Junto had been the voluntary organizations proposed by Cotton Mather for propagating morality and Christianity, but Franklin secularized the idea and charged the association to promote virtue and be “serviceable to mankind.” To fulfill that charge himself, Franklin launched such civic projects as fire insurance, a city watch, the Library Company, the American Philosophical Society, the University of Pennsylvania, and even a method to keep sidewalks navigable during inclement weather.2

These acts of public virtue supported Franklin's scientistic belief that evidence and actions, not promises and wishes, were the best measures of character. “I have always set a great value on the character of a doer of good,” he told Mather's son. Part of doing good was maintaining a firm work ethic, one of the dominant themes of Franklin's professional life. He never forgot the lack of this trait in London printing houses, compelling him nearly fifty years later to criticize the indolence and drunkenness of pressmen with whom he worked. Franklin was therefore determined not to employ such workers once he became a master, and he resolved not to offer partnerships to the inept or lackadaisical. Excepting the Meredith partnership, which was formed mostly due to financial exigency, Franklin learned from the success of the South Carolina partnerships that he could select virtuous and conscientious colleagues to extend his mission and message.3

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