National Humanities Center Resource ToolboxBecoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763Benjamin FranklinHarvard University Art GalleryOn Wealth, Luxury,and Virtue*Selections, 1727-1784Earliest known portrait of Benjamin Franklin, ca. 1746;oil on canvas, by Robert FekeFranklin commissioned this portrait of himself in hisearly forties as he ended his first career as a printer,from which he had built a small fortune. Wearing a darkgreen velvet coat, a silk shirt with ruffled sleeves, and abrown wig, he dresses in the fashion of a gentleman,understated yet conveying a clear aspiration to join the1political and economic elite of Philadelphia.Benjamin Franklin is well-known for his aphorisms – usually printedin his almanacs and public essays promoting frugality, hard work,and plain living as the road to success. This does not mean thatFranklin was opposed to wealth, nor that his later acquisition ofluxury goods was hypocritical. What mattered to Franklin was howone achieved wealth (honestly) and how one displayed it (unostentatiously). Indeed, the growing personal wealth of American colonistsin the mid 1700s was taken by Franklin as a proud sign of thecolonies’ success within the empire and their future value to theworld. Presented here are selections from his public and personalwritings, spanning six decades, on economic success, wealth, luxury and virtue. When do riches betray a lack of virtue? When doeswealth signify the rewards of virtue?1Letter to His Sister, 1727To Jane Franklin, 6 January 1726-27 [1727]Dear Sister,I am highly pleased with the account captain Freeman gives me of you. I always judged by yourbehaviour when a child that you would make a good, agreeable woman, and you know you were ever mypeculiar favourite. I have been thinking what would be a suitable present for me to make, and for you toreceive, as I hear you are grown a celebrated beauty. I had almost determined on a tea table, but when Iconsidered that the character of a good housewife was far preferable to that of being only a prettygentlewoman, I concluded to send you a spinning wheel, which I hope you will accept as a small token ofmy sincere love and affection.Sister, farewell, and remember that modesty, as it makes the most homely virgin amiable andcharming, so the want of it infallibly renders the most perfect beauty disagreeable and odious. But whenthat brightest of female virtues shines among other perfections of body and mind in the same person, itmakes the woman more lovely than an angel. Excuse this freedom, and use the same with me.I am, dear Jenny, your loving brother,B. Franklin*National Humanities Center, 2009: Selections from The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (Yale University and the Philosophical Society, 1959-); selection online at; permission pending. Some spelling modernized and paragraphing addedby NHC for clarity. Feke portrait reproduced by permission of the Harvard University Art Gallery. Complete image credits agecredits.htm.1Gordon S. Wood, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, (Penguin, 2004), pp. 57-59.

Franklin’s “Thirteen Virtues,” formulated in the late 1720sas described in his autobiography (written 1771, 1784-85, 1788)In the various enumerations of the moral virtues I had met with in my reading, I found the catalogue moreor less numerous, as different writers included more or fewer ideas under the same name. . . I propos’d tomyself, for the sake of clearness, to use rather more names with fewer ideas annex’d to each, than a fewnames with more ideas; and I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurr’d to meas necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully express’d the extent I gave toits meaning.These names of virtues, with their precepts, were:1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation [drunkenness].2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.9. MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery [sexual intercourse] but for health or offspring, never to dullness,weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.On Acquiring a China Bowl & Silver Spoon, ca. 1730as described in his autobiography (written 1771, 1784-85, 1788)We have an English Proverb that says “He that would thrive / Must ask his Wife”; it was lucky for methat I had one as much dispos’d to Industry and Frugality as my self. She assisted me cheerfully in myBusiness, folding and stitching Pamphlets, tending Shop, purchasing old Linen Rags for the Papermakers, &c. &c [etc.]. We kept no idle Servants, our Table was plain and simple, our Furniture of thecheapest. For instance my Breakfast was a long time Bread and Milk (no Tea), and I ate it out of atwopenny earthen Porringer with a Pewter Spoon.But mark how Luxury will enter Families, and make a“But mark how LuxuryProgress in Spite of Principle. Being call’d one Morning towill enter Families”Breakfast, I found it in a China Bowl with a Spoon of Silver.They had been bought for me without my Knowledge by myWife, and had cost her the enormous Sum of three and twentyShillings, for which she had no other Excuse or Apology tomake but that she thought her Husband deserv’d a Silver Spoonand China Bowl as well as any of his Neighbours. This was thefirst Appearance of Plate and China in our House, whichsilver spoon by Paul Revere, ca. 1770safterwards in a Course of Years as our Wealth increas’dMetropolitan Museum of Artaugmented gradually to several Hundred Pounds in Value.National Humanities Center2

On Accumulating Luxuries Too Soon, 1732Franklin, writing as “Anthony Afterwit,” The Pennsylvania Gazette, 10 July 1732 (excerpt). . . I soon saw that with Care and Industry we might live tolerably easy, and in Credit with our Neighbours: But my Wife had a strong Inclination to be a Gentlewoman. 2 In Consequence of this, my oldfashioned Looking-Glass [mirror] was one Day broke, as she said, No Mortal could tell which way.However, since we could not be without a Glass in the Room, My Dear, says she, we may as well buy alarge fashionable One that Mr. Such-a-one has to sell; it will cost but little more than a common Glass,and will be much handsomer and more creditable. Accordingly the Glass was bought, and hung againstthe Wall: But in a Week’s time, I was made sensible by little and little, that the Table was by no Meanssuitable to such a Glass. And a more proper Table being procur’d, my Spouse, who was an excellentContriver, inform’d me where we might have very handsome Chairs in the Way; And thus, by Degrees,I found all my old Furniture stow’d up into the Garret, and every thing below alter’d for the better.Had we stopp’d here, we might have done well enough; but my Wife being entertain’d with Tea bythe Good Women she visited, we could do no less than the like when they visited us; and so we got a TeaTable with all its Appurtenances of China and Silver. Then my Spouse unfortunately overwork’d herselfin washing the House, so that we could do no longer without a Maid. Besides this, it happened frequently,that when I came home at One, the Dinner was but just put in the Pot; for, My Dear thought really it hadbeen but Eleven: At other Times when I came at the same Hour, She wondered I would stay so long, forDinner was ready and had waited for me these two Hours. These Irregularities, occasioned by mistakingthe Time, convinced me, that it was absolutely necessary to buy a Clock; which my Spouse observ’d, wasa great Ornament to the Room! And lastly, to my Grief, she was frequently troubled with some Ailmentor other, and nothing did her so much Good as Riding; And these Hackney Horses were such wretchedugly Creatures, that — I bought a very fine pacing Mare, which cost 20 [English pounds, sterling]. Andhereabouts Affairs have stood for some Months past.Advice to a Young Tradesman, Written by an Old One, 1748pamphlet written and published by Franklin; Philadelphia (excerpt)In short, the Way to Wealth, if you desire it, is as plain as the Way to Market. It depends chiefly on twoWords, Industry and Frugality; i.e. Waste neither Time nor Money, but make the best Use of both. He thatgets all he can honestly, and saves all he gets (necessary Expenses excepted) will certainly become Rich. 3“How to Get Riches,” Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1749written and published by Franklin; Philadelphia (excerpt)The Art of getting Riches consists very much in Thrift. All Men are not equally qualified for gettingMoney, but it is in the Power of everyone alike to practice this Virtue.He that would be beforehand [ahead of time] in the world, must be beforehand with his Business: It isnot only ill Management, but discovers a slothful Disposition, to do that in the Afternoon, whichshould have been done in the Morning.Useful Attainments in your Minority [youth] will procure Riches in Maturity, of whichWriting and Accounts are not the meanest. 4Learning, whether Speculative or Practical, is, in Popular or Mixed Governments, theNatural Source of Wealth and Honour.2Gentleman/woman designating a person of leisure who would not have to work for a living; a person among the social elite. [Wood, p. 55]On “Advice to a Young Tradesman,“ historian Gordon Wood comments that “[o]nly someone who had been as successful as he could write with suchconfidence. Of course, Franklin left out of his advice the most important ingredient involved in his success his genius.” [Wood, p. 57]4I.e., of which writing and accounting (financial recordkeeping) are not the lowliest.3National Humanities Center3

Notice of Items Stolen from Franklin’s House, 17505The Pennsylvania Gazette, 1 November 1750Whereas on Saturday night last, the house of Benjamin Franklin, of this city, printer, was broken open,and the following things feloniously taken away, viz. [which are] a double necklace of gold beads, awoman’s long scarlet cloak, almost new, with a double cape, a woman’s gown, of printed cotton, of thesort called brocade print, very remarkable, the ground dark, with large red roses, and other large red andyellow flowers, with blue in some of the flowers, and smaller blue and white flowers, with many greenleaves; a pair of woman’s stays, covered with white tabby before, and dove-colour’d tabby behind, withtwo large steel hooks, and sundry other goods. Whoever discovers the thief or thieves, either in this or anyof the neighbouring provinces, so that they may be brought to justice, shall receive Ten Pounds reward;and for recovering any of the goods, a reward in proportion to their value, paid byBenjamin FranklinAdvice on Saving Money in Hard Times, 1756Poor Richard Improved: Being an Almanack . . . for the Year of our Lord 1756As I spent some Weeks last Winter in visiting my old Acquaintance in the Jerseys, great Complaints Iheard for Want [lack] of Money, and that Leave to make more Paper Bills [permission to print more papermoney] could not be obtained. Friends and Countrymen, my Advice on this Head shall cost you nothing,and if you will not be angry with me for giving it, I promise you not to be offended if you do not take it.You spend yearly at least Two Hundred Thousand Pounds, ’tis said, in European, East-Indian, andWest-Indian Commodities: Supposing one Half of this Expense to be in Things absolutely necessary, theother Half may be call’d Superfluities, or at best, Conveniences, which however you might live withoutfor one little Year, and not suffer exceedingly. Now to save this Half, observe these few Directions.Harvard University Art Gallery1. When you incline to have new Clothes, look first wellover the old Ones, and see if you cannot shift withthem another Year, either by Scouring, Mending, oreven Patching if necessary. . . .2. When you incline to buy China Ware, Chintzes, IndiaSilks, or any other of their flimsey slight Manufacturers, I would not be so hard with you, as to insist onyour absolutely resolving against it; all I advise, is, toput it off (as you do your Repentance) till anotherYear; and this, in some Respects, may prevent anOccasion of Repentance.3. If you are now a Drinker of Punch, Wine or Tea, twicea Day; for the ensuing Year drink them but once a Day.If you now drink them but once a Day, do it but everyother Day. If you do it now but once a Week, reducethe Practice to once a Fortnight. And if you do notexceed in Quantity as you lessen the Times, half yourExpense in these Articles will be saved.Robert Feke, portrait of Benjamin Franklin, oil oncanvas, ca. 1746, detail54thly and lastly, When you incline to drink Rum, fill theGlass half with Water.Thus at the Year’s End, there will be An HundredThousand Pounds more Money in your Country.By 1750, at age 44, Franklin had acquired an ample fortune, due to his “industry and frugality,” he would say, and was purchasing luxury goods.National Humanities Center4

Listing of Items Shipped Home from England, 1758Letter to his wife, Deborah Franklin, written from London, 19 February 1758 (excerpts). . . In the large Case is another small Box, containing some English China; viz. [specifically] Melons andLeaves for a Desert of Fruit and Cream, or the like; a Bowl remarkable for the Neatness of the Figures,made at Bow, near this City; some Coffee Cups of the same; a Worcester Bowl, ordinary. To show theDifference of Workmanship there is something from all theFrankliniana Collection, The Franklin Institute, Inc.China Works in England; and one old true China Bason mended,of an odd Colour. The same Box contains 4 Silver Salt Ladles,newest, but ugliest, Fashion. . . Also 7 Yards of printed Cotton,blue Ground, to make you a Gown; I bought it by Candlelight,and lik’d it then, but not so well afterwards: if you do not fancyit, send it as a Present from me to Sister Jenny. There is a betterGown for you of flower’d Tissue, 16 Yards, of Mrs. Stevenson’sFancy, cost 9 Guineas; and I think it a great Beauty; there wasno more of the Sort, or you should have had enough for aNegligée or Suit. There is also a Snuffers, Snuff Stand andExtinguisher, of Steel, which I send for the Beauty of the Work . . There are also two Sets of Books a Present from me to Sally[his daughter], the World and the Connoisseur; my Love to her. Iforgot to mention another of my Fancyings, viz. a Pair of SilkBlankets, very fine. They are of a new kind, were just taken in aFrench Prize, and such were never seen in England before: theySilver tankard owned by Benjamin Franklin,are called Blankets; but I think will be very neat to cover ainscribed with his coat of arms,Summer Bed instead of a Quilt or Counterpain. . . I also forgot,made by Elias Boudinot, PhiladelphiaPhoto by Peter Harholdtailamong the China, to mention a large fine Jugg for Beer, to standin the Cooler. I fell in Love with it at first Sight; for I thought itlook’d like a fat jolly Dame, clean and tidy, with a neat blue and white Calico Gown on, good natur’d andlovely, and put me in mind of—Somebody. It has the Coffee Cups in its Belly, pack’d in best Crystal Salt,of a peculiar nice Flavour, for the Table, not to be powder’d. . . . I am about [in the process of ] buying acomplete Set of Table China, 2 Cases of silver handled Knives and Forks, and 2 pair Silver Candlesticks;but these shall keep to use here till my Return, as I am obliged sometimes to entertain polite Company.On Unaffordable Luxuries, 1758“To the Courteous Reader,” Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1758 (excerpts)Many a one, for the Sake of Finery on the Back, have gone with a hungry Belly and half starved theirFamilies; Silks and Satins, Scarlet and Velvets, as Poor Richard says, put out the Kitchen Fire. These arenot the Necessaries of Life; they can scarcely be called the Conveniencies, and yet only because they lookpretty, how many want to have them. The artificial Wants of Mankind thus become more numerous thanthe natural; and, as Poor Dick says, For one poor Person, there are an hundred indigent. 6 By these, andother Extravagancies, the Genteel [well-off, elite] are reduced to Poverty, and forced to borrow of thosewhom they formerly despised, but who through Industry and Frugality have maintained their Standing; inwhich Case it appears plainly that a Ploughman 7 onhis Legs is higher than a Gentleman on his Knees,“a Ploughman on his Legs is higheras Poor Richard says. Perhaps they have had a smallthan a Gentleman on his knees”Estate left them [in a will], which they knew not theGetting of; they think ’tis Day, and will never be67I.e., for each person poor by circumstance, there are a hundred who lack money due to their own actions.Ploughman: farmer, i.e., not a rich man. A person of moderate income who is frugal stands taller (is more virtuous) than a rich man in great debt.National Humanities Center5

Night; that a little to be spent out of so much, is not worth minding; (a Child and a Fool, as Poor Richardsays, imagine Twenty Shillings and Twenty Years can never be spent) but always taking out of the Mealtub, and never putting in, soon comes to the Bottom; then, as Poor Dick says, When the Well’s dry, theyknow the Worth of Water. But this they might have known before, if they had taken his Advice; If youwould know the Value of Money, go and try to borrow some; for, he that goes a borrowing goes asorrowing; and indeed so does he that lends to such People, when he goes to get it in again. Poor Dickfarther advises, and says,Fond Pride of Dress, is sure a very Curse;E’er Fancy you consult, consult your Purse. 8On “the pride of the Americans,” 1766Franklin’s testimony before a committee of the British Parliamentconsidering the repeal of the 1765 Stamp Act (excerpt)Question:Franklin:Question:Franklin:What used to be the pride of the Americans?To indulge in the fashions and manufactures of Great Britain.What is now their pride?To wear their old clothes over again, till they can make new ones.On the Disparity of Rich & Poor, 1768Philadelphia Museum of Art & The Franklin Institute, Inc.“On the Laboring Poor,” Gentleman’s Magazine,London, 1768 (excerpt)Much malignant censure [harsh criticism] have somewriters bestowed upon the rich for their luxury andexpensive living, while the poor are starving, &c., notconsidering that what the rich expend, the labouring poorreceive in payment for their labour. It may seem aparadox if I should assert that our labouring poor do inevery year receive the whole revenue of the nation; Imean not only the public revenue, but also the revenue, orclear income, of all private estates, or a sum equivalent tothe whole. In support of this position I reason thus. Therich do not work for one another. Their habitations,furniture, clothing, carriages, food, ornaments, and everything, in short, that they or their families use andconsume, is the work or produce of the labouring poor,who are, and must be continually, paid for their labour inproducing the same.Mason Chamberlin, portrait of Benjamin Franklin,oil on canvas, 1762; (Franklin, age 56, in London)Photo by Graydon WoodLuxury: A “Spur to Labor and Industry,” 1784Letter to Benjamin Vaughn, from France, 26 July 1784 (excerpts). . . I have not indeed yet thought of a Remedy for Luxury. I am not sure that in a great State [nation] itis capable of a Remedy. Nor that the Evil is in itself always so great as it is represented. Suppose weinclude in the Definition of Luxury all unnecessary Expense, and then let us consider whether Laws toprevent such Expense are possible to be executed in a great Country; and whether if they could be8I.e., for every luxury you consider buying, first determine how much money you have.National Humanities Center6

executed, our People generally would be happier“Is not the Hope of one day being ableor even richer. Is not the Hope of one day beingto purchase and enjoy Luxuries a greatable to purchase and enjoy Luxuries a great Spurto Labour and Industry? May not LuxurySpur to Labour and Industry?”therefore produce more than it consumes, ifwithout such a Spur People would be, as they are naturally enough inclined to be, lazy and indolent?To this purpose I remember a Circumstance. The Skipper of a Shallop employed between Cape Mayand Philadelphia had done us some small Service for which he refused Pay. My Wife, understanding thathe had a Daughter, sent her as a Present a new-fashioned Cap. Three Years After, this Skipper, being atmy House with an old Farmer of Cape May, his Passenger, he mentioned the Cap and how much hisDaughter had been pleased with it; but, says he, it proved a dear Cap to our Congregation — How so?When my Daughter appeared in it at Meeting, it was so much admired that all the Girls resolved to getsuch Caps from Philadelphia; and my Wife and I computed that the whole could not have cost less than ahundred Pound.True, says the Farmer, but you do not tell all the Story; I think the Cap was nevertheless an Advantageto us; for it was the first thing that put our Girls upon Knitting worsted Mittens for Sale at Philadelphia,that they might have wherewithal to buy Caps andRibbons there; and you know that that Industry has“Some of those who grow richcontinued and is likely to continue and increase to awill be prudent, live withinmuch greater Value, and answers better Purposes. UponBounds, and preserve what theythe whole I was more reconciled to this little Piece ofLuxury; since not only the Girls were made happier byhave gained for their Posterity.having fine Caps, but the Philadelphians by the SupplyOthers, fond of showing theirof warm Mittens.Wealth, will be extravagantIn our Commercial Towns upon the Seacoast,and ruin themselves.”Fortunes will occasionally be made. Some of those whogrow rich will be prudent, live within Bounds, andpreserve what they have gained for their Posterity. Others, fond of showing their Wealth, will be extravagant and ruin themselves. Laws cannot prevent this, and perhaps it is not always an Evil to the Publick.A Shilling spent idly by a Fool, may be picked up by a Wiser Person who knows better what to do with it.It is therefore not lost. A vain silly Fellow builds a fine House, furnishes it richly, lives in it expensively,and in a few Years ruins himself, but the Masons, Carpenters, Smiths and other honest Tradesmen havebeen by his Employ assisted in maintaining and raising their Families, the Farmer has been paid for hisLabour and encouraged, and the Estate is now in better Hands. . . .The vast Quantity of Forest Lands we yet have to clear and put in order for Cultivation, will for a longtime keep the Body of our Nation laborious and frugal. Forming an Opinion of our People and theirManners by what is seen among the Inhabitants of the Seaports is judging from an improper Sample. ThePeople of the Trading Towns may be rich and luxurious, while the Country possesses all the Virtues thattend to private Happiness and publick Prosperity. . . It has been computed by some Political Arithmetician that if every Man and Woman would work four Hours each Day on something useful, that Labourwould produce sufficient to procure all the Necessaries and Comforts of Life. Want and Misery would bebanished out of the World, and the rest of the 24 Hours might be Leisure and Pleasure. What occasionsthen so much Want and Misery? It is the Employment of Men and Women in Works that produce neitherthe Necessaries nor Conveniences of Life, who, with those who do nothing, consume the Necessariesraised by the Laborious—To explain this—The first Elements of Wealth are obtained by Labour from the Earth and Waters. I have Land and raiseCorn. With this if I feed a Family that does nothing, my Corn will be consum’d and at the End of the YearI shall be no richer than I was at the Beginning. But if while I feed them I employ them, some in SpinningNational Humanities Center7

others in hewing Timber and sawing Boards, others in making Bricks &c for Building; the Value of myCorn will be arrested, and remain with me, and at the End of the Year we may all be better clothed andbetter lodged. And if instead of employing a Man I feed in making Bricks, I employ him in fiddling forme, the Corn he eats is gone, and no Part of his Manufacture remains to augment the Wealth and theConveniencies of the Family. I shall therefore be the poorer for this fiddling Man, unless the rest of MyFamily work more or eat less to make up for the Deficiency he occasions.Look round the World and see the Millions employ’d in doing nothing, or in something that amountsto nothing when the Necessaries and Conveniencies of Life are in Question. What is the Bulk ofCommerce, for which we fight and destroy each other but the Toil of Millions for Superfluities to thegreat Hazard and Loss of many Lives by the constant Dangers of the Sea. How much Labour Spent inBuilding and Fitting great Ships to go to China and Arabia for Tea and for Coffee, to the West Indies forSugar, to America for Tobacco! TheseThings cannot be called the Necessaries of“ ’Tis however some Comfort to reflect that,Life, for our Ancestors lived veryupon the whole. the Quantity of Industrycomfortably without them.and Prudence among Mankind exceeds the’Tis however some Comfort to reflectQuantity of Idleness and Folly.”that upon the whole the Quantity ofIndustry and Prudence among Mankindexceeds the Quantity of Idleness and Folly. Hence the Increase of good Buildings, Farms cultivated, andpopulous Cities filled with Wealth all over Europe, which a few Ages since were only to be found on theCoasts of the Mediterranean. And this notwithstanding the mad Wars continually raging, by which areoften destroyed in one Year the Works of many Years Peace. So that we may hope the Luxury of a fewMerchants on the Sea Coast will not be the Ruin of America.One Reflection more, and I will end this long rambling Letter. Almost all the Parts of our Bodiesrequire some Expense. The Feet demand Shoes, the Legs Stockings, the rest of the Body Clothing, andthe Belly a good deal of Victuals. Our Eyes, tho’ exceedingly useful, ask when reasonable, only the cheapAssistance of Spectacles, which could not much impair our Finances. But the Eyes of other People are theEyes that ruin us. If all but myself were blind, I should want neither fine Clothes, fine Houses nor FineFurniture.Adieu, my Dear Friend. I am Yours everB Franklin“If all but myself were blind, I should want neitherfine Clothes, fine Houses nor Fine Furniture.”Miniature portrait of Franklin by anunidentified artist, ca. 1780-1805American Philosophical SocietyNational Humanities Center8

Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763 Benjamin Franklin _ On Wealth, Luxury, and Virtue * Selections, 1727-1784 . Benjamin Franklin is well-known for his aphorisms – usually printed in his almanacs and public essays promoting frugality, hard work, and pla