This study investigates the relationship between The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and the 18th-century Masonic fraternity. Franklin enjoyed a 52-year Masonic career and strongly influenced American Freemasonry with the publication of The Constitutions of the Free-Masons (1734). Yet he did not write about or mention the fraternity by name in The Autobiography. Is there a Masonic subtext in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin? Information drawn from The Autobiography and fraternal and historical sources suggests that Franklin’s remembrances are consistent with Masonic teachings, and that he lived his life in a manner consistent with those teachings. The study argues that there are three important parallels between The Autobiography and the fraternity. First, Franklin espoused a nondenominational, humanist moral mindset, which was consistent with Freemasonry’s deistic perspective. Second, Franklin demonstrated the importance of sociability to cultivating leadership skills in a democratic society, mirroring Freemasonry’s approach to grooming its leaders. Lastly, Franklin and Freemasonry shared the then-popular idea that personal virtue was the product of habit, as shown in Franklin’s “Art of Virtue” and Masonic ritual. Despite these important similarities, a historic rift in the 1750s over lower-class Masons being barred from lodges populated by social elites destroyed grand lodges including Pennsylvania’s. This combined with Franklin’s corrosive temper—seen in jibes at his son William in The Autobiography —may have caused him to be silent on Freemasonry in his remembrances.
|Department:||English and American Literature and Language|
|School Location:||United States -- Massachusetts|
|Source:||MAI 48/06M, Masters Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||European history, American history, American literature|
|Keywords:||Deism, Humanism, Masonic, Secret, Societies, Virtue|
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