Throughout American history, we can see the way American ideals and dreams have evolved- most significantly throughout the early 1700’s through the early 1800’s. The American identity has included ideas from independence to the pursuit of happiness and has remained open to the many different ideas of authors throughout the centuries. In Benjamin Franklin’s “The Way to Wealth” and Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”, very American ideals and ideas of American identity were represented while guidelines for a better life were also presented.
In Franklin’s 1758 piece, “The Way to Wealth”, guidelines for a better American life are laid out, set, and followed. These guidelines came to be known as the 13 virtues; some of them being Temperance, Silence , Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity and Humility” (thirteenvirtues.com). In a scholastic journal, Patrick Sullivan recalls how Franklin “offer[ed] instruction to the public in the simplest, most accessible and memorable form- the proverbial saying,” (Sullivan 248). Now while Franklin allows his readers a template of a successful life, he also warns readers of the dangers, or complications, which are attached with proverbs. Franklin is quick to address the difficulty of following these proverbs and recognizes man’s ability to improve in his preface.
Franklin writes of the ways he incorporates each virtue into his daily life by working solely on a single virtue a day. Franklin’s first virtue is temperance, which he followed by eating and drinking with moderation and self-restraint. Franklin’s second virtue is silence, which he followed by never speaking if it will offend someone or cause an argument or problem. Franklin’s third virtue is order, which he followed by keeping his belongings and tasks organized and separate. Franklin’s fourth virtue is resolution, which he followed by allowing resolution to be the firm determination to accomplish anything you set out to accomplish. Franklin’s fifth virtue is frugality, which he followed by purchasing nothing except things that he or others may benefit from and wasting nothing. Franklin’s sixth virtue is industry, which he followed by wasting no time as necessary and always staying employed. Franklin’s seventh virtue is sincerity, which he followed by never deceitfully hurting someone, thinking innocently and justly, and when speaking, speaking accordingly. Franklin’s eighth virtue is justice, which he followed by doing no wrong and standing up for what is right and just. Franklin’s ninth virtue is moderation, which he followed by avoiding extremes. Franklin’s tenth virtue is cleanliness, which he follows by never tolerating anything less than clean when it came to his personal hygiene, his clothes, and his living space. Franklin’s eleventh virtue is tranquility, which he followed by never becoming upset or bothered by trifles, or at any common or avoidable accidents. Franklin’s twelfth virtue is chastity, which he follows by not partaking in sexual relations other than for reproduction or health. Franklin’s thirteenth virtue is humility, which he followed by imitating Jesus Christ and Socrates.
With the thirteen virtues, Benjamin Franklin was immediately successful; however, this was thanks to a series of strategies Franklin used while composing these guidelines. Franklin’s success originated from the relaxed and easily understood diction and syntax he used. Patrick Sullivan again expressed how Franklin’s “work is deliberately constructed to and instruct persons of varying degrees of sophistication”(Sullivan 249). Another very interesting and important point of Franklin’s thirteen virtues is that he encourages his readers to independently act on these advices instead of acting “slavishly”.
In Paine’s piece, “Common Sense”, an uprising of ideas were portrayed and encouraged. These ideas were expressed by Paine in a pamphlet he created and published in January of 1776. This pamphlet endorsed an idea of advocating independence from Great Britain to all the inhabitants of the thirteen colonies. By writing in the easiest way to be understood, Paine was able to create a guidebook that anyone could follow and swiftly understand. Paine utilized moral and political arguments and points in order to encourage and rally people to fight for a better government and independence from the tyranny and unjust order of Great Britain.
At the time of publication, there was little to no talk or ideas of independence from Great Britain. Paine was able to portray these new, and often seen as radical, ideas to the American people because of the simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense he all used in his favor. Throughout his pamphlet he also used metaphors, analogies, and hyperboles to better get his point across. His rhetoric was bold, but necessary; shocking, but reasonable.
Not only was Paine’s pamphlet successful because of his rhetoric, but it also rose to fame because of its timing. Before the publication of “Common Sense” in January of 1776, several important things had already happened: The Battles of Lexington and Concord in April of 1775; The creation of the Continental Army and the battle of Bunker Hill in June of 1775; and the Olive Branch Petition that was denied by King George in July of 1775. All of these unfortunate events fortunately helped push for the success of “Common Sense” because of its strategic or just coincidental successful timing.
Paine’s pamphlet was successful because of its message, as well. Paine portrayal of ideas was all new and was looked at as radical; however, they brought ultimatums to the table that were never suggested this way before. Paine forced his readers to face the facts: give up any means of reconciliation with Great Britain immediately, or lose any chance at freedom forever. In the introduction of his pamphlet, he encourages his readers to begin reading his piece with a clear mind and without any pre-notions. He asks his readers to apply common sense and adopt new ideas from his work. In the first section of the pamphlet, Paine introduces and discuses the idea that the British government is nothing but a deceitful sham. In the second section, he introduces ideas that show the British monarchy, that many Americans had a deep respect for, as the enemy and not an ally. In the third section, Paine reveals that the remaining loyal to the tyranny of Britain is absolutely wrong and exposes any reconciliation with them as ruin for our country. In the fourth and last section, Paine finishes strong by introducing the idea of possible victory to the American people.
Paine’s “Common Sense” was a nationwide success with over 200,000 copies being sold and reaching around one-third of the American population by the first month of its publication. In a scholastic journal written by J. Michael Hogan and Glen Williams, Thomas Paine was described as “the charismatic leader of the American Revolution and his Common Sense its most important manifesto,” (page 1).
Now, while these two brilliant pieces of American literature do not seem directly related, they both worked toward a larger political aesthetic that allowed its American readers to directly benefit from putting any advised words into action. They both revealed larger inner workings of the American people and promoted ideas of a better life by following its ideas. Both authors were also thought to be some of the most intellectual minds our country has ever produced. Not only that, but both pieces were thought to have helped hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of American people lead a more successful, safe, productive, American life.
Hogan, J. Michael and Glen Williams. “Republican Charisma and the American Revolution: The Textual Persona of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.” Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 86, no. 1, Feb. 2000, pp. 1-18. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=2787293&site=ehost-live.
Sullivan, Patrick. “Benjamin Franklin, the Inveterate (And Crafty) Public Instructor: Instruction on Two Levels in ‘The Way to Wealth’.” Early American Literature, vol. 21, no. 3, Dec. 1986, p. 248. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=5412058&site=ehost-live
Thirteen Virtues. “’Thirteen Virtues’.” ThirteenVirtues.com