By the time Benjamin Franklin set out to write his Autobiography, he was a renowned scientist, inventor, man of letters, politician, diplomat, and philosopher—the most famous American in the world, by far. But what exactly was an American in 1784? America had only just won its independence from Britain, and the project of building both the nation and its identity was just beginning.

We will examine the Autobiography as the first conscious statement of a distinctly American identity and political philosophy, illustrated through Franklin’s own eventful life, and try to understand the nature of the democratic promise Franklin saw in it. We will pay particular attention to Franklin’s accounts of education, commercial life, civic virtue, and democratic psychology.

Image: Benjamin West, American Commissioners of the Preliminary Peace Agreement with Great Britain, 1783-1784, London, England.


The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin with Rita Koganzon


Rita Koganzon

She is an associate professor at the School of Civil Life and Leadership at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on the themes of education, childhood, authority, and the family in historical and contemporary political thought. In addition to her research, she contributes book reviews and essays to the Hedgehog Review, National Affairs, The Point, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among others.

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