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Essay: Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and the Declaration of Independence

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  • Published: January 26, 2020*
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  • Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and the Declaration of Independence
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Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and the Declaration of Independence both share many common Enlightenment ideas that were put into practice and that have become a pillar of American society. In Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, Franklin is seen as a Renaissance man who has mastered many traits and his willingness to learn numerous subjects such as history, philosophy and science have helped him spread Enlightenment ideas to a wide audience. His knowledge helped him establish the Library Company of Philadelphia which helped many Americans become educated. Franklin said, “These Libraries have improv’d the general Conversation of the Americans, made the common Tradesmen and Farmers as intelligent as most Gentlemen from other Countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the Stand so generally made throughout the Colonies in Defense of their Privileges,” (Franklin “From The Autobiography” pg. 292). Franklin describes the “New World” as a place of opportunity to work and grow as an individual. He recalled his early life as “having emerg’d from the Poverty and Obscurity in which I was born and bred, to a State of Affluence and some Degree of Reputation in the World, and having gone so far thro’ Life with a considerable Share of Felicity, the conducting Means I made use of, which, with the Blessing of God,” (Franklin “From The Autobiography” pg. 248). He means that if you work hard, dedicate yourself and trust God you’ll make something out of yourself. Religion was another big factor that inspired Enlightenment thoughts in Franklin’s life. His view on religion was very open-minded as he was a non-believer, but he still believed in wisdom and God, in which he wanted people to have religious freedom as he mentions, “This Respect to all, with an Opinion that the worst had some good Effects, induc’d me to avoid all Discourse that might tend to lessen the good Opinion another might have of his own Religion; […] new Places of worship were continually wanted, and […] my Mite for such purpose, whatever might be the Sect, was never refused,” (Franklin “From The Autobiography” pg. 299). Franklin had a strong belief that all people have natural rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He also sought out the Enlightenment Idea to seek a good, happy and a productive life.
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson mentions the importance of these Enlightenment ideas that the thirteen colonies fought for against England. Written in the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson lays out the most important Enlightenment idea about natural rights in which he comments that “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” (Jefferson “From The Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson” pg. 340). Another Enlightenment idea that Jefferson writes about is the idea that people should have certain unalienable rights that the government should never violate and take away, and that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” (Jefferson “From The Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson” pg. 340). These ideas are still relevant in today’s society because they were made into laws that our government and nation set as a guideline to follow. It made it possible for people to have religious freedom in which the church and government were separated. The government is prohibited from making any laws that interfere with the establishment of any religion, religious beliefs and practices. These laws let people have natural rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which would not exist without the Enlightenment ideals that have been an important part of America’s foundation.

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