AP Lang & Comp
16 April 2007
Benjamin Franklin’s Rhetoric
Ben Franklin is a world-renowned figure in American society that is known for making colossal contributions to not only the United States but also the world. His autobiography certainly proves his superiority as Franklin’s ego takes over. Throughout the course of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Franklin constantly boosts his
personal charm to prove his authority, meanwhile discrediting any figures other than himself. It is true that Franklin deserves much credit where credit is due, but his actions have given him an extremely large ego. The accounts of Ben Franklin’s life are illustrated with personal charm and an authority that is superior to all else.
Franklin’s personal charm is apparent throughout the bulk of the novel, and can be sighted within seconds of beginning his piece. Five sentences in, Franklin immediately boasts to his son, “From the poverty and obscurity from which I was born and in which I passed my earliest years, I have raised myself to a state of affluence and some degree of celebrity in the world” (72). Franklin is anything but humble, realizing that he has accomplished more than most ever will in a lifetime, and constantly feels the need to prove it. This is Franklin’s appeal to pathos, for it is an emotional boost that leads the reader to believe he has a right to demonstrate cockiness. Among the many other contributions he has made to the world, the Philadelphia public library was another establishment that Franklin felt the need to flaunt. Knowing not whether he has given an
account of this accomplishment, Franklin explains “the means [he] used to establish the Philadelphia public library, which from a small beginning is now become so considerable” (141). Once again, he boasts of his accomplishments to gain personal charm from the reader. He then continues to explain about how exclusive his library was, why is was such a good idea, and how it changed the lives of people in the town and influenced people to read. Before his superior library, Franklin believed that “there was not a good bookseller’s shop in any of the Colonies to the southward of Boston,” (141) thus implying that no other booksellers were good enough to meet Franklin’s standards.
His implied authority continues to be apparent throughout the autobiography and leads the reader to develop a condescended feeling. However, this mode of rhetoric enables Franklin to appeal to the reader.
Franklin also uses special pleading, otherwise known as “stacking the deck” when
informing the reader of thirteen important virtues that he strives to live by. This special pleading is used to support Franklin’s position while ignoring or somehow shutting out any arguments against it. His claims are short, sweet, and to the point, and resembled imperatives. “Lose no time”, “Use no hurtful deceit”, and “Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation” (147) are a few examples of what Franklin believes should be followed. These thirteen virtues are supposed to be seen as what life should be lived by, and by continuously stacking the deck, Franklin creates a sense of authority, an overall mindset, that should not be reckoned with. His cockiness also comes into play in the statement “Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation,” inferring that soiled or unkempt people are to be considered subordinate. Franklin’s personal charm and authority make him higher than these types of people, therefore the reader should
realize that Franklin’s virtues are worth what they say. He has successfully used special pleading to coerce the reader that he is the higher being.
Benjamin Franklin’s personal charm, sense of authority, and special pleading enable to prove his ultimate figure among society. Even though he has failed in his attempt at humility, Franklin has not lost his status in society. He remains world-renowned for his accomplishments and establishments. Ben Franklin’s rhetoric and style of writing in his autobiography have proved to be effective. It is a wonder if America or the rest of the world will ever see a utilitarian such as he.