After his return from England, Franklin had organized his ten most intelligent friends into a “Club for mutual Improvement” called the “Junto.” Each member in turn was required to lead a discussion on morals, politics, or natural philosophy, and to write an essay every three months. The club had firm rules against members abrasively contradicting each other, and against anything that might create personal antagonisms.
One benefit of Franklin’s club was that each member helped the new printers to find business. And once he received a commission, Franklin worked so late at night to finish it that his neighbors began to talk of his industry. He was always careful to appear as industrious as he was, dressed plainly, and wheeled his supplies himself through the streets in a wheelbarrow. When a former worker of Keimer’s came asking for a job, Franklin foolishly confided his plans to start a newspaper. The man told Keimer, who immediately began his own newssheet. Franklin so resented this interference that he anonymously wrote several amusing pieces that helped Bradford’s paper and ridiculed Keimer’s. But Keimer published a paper for nine months, after which he sold the enterprise to Franklin for a trifle.
The paper soon proved very profitable to Franklin. He used better type and printed the articles more carefully than Bradford. Moreover, the first edition discussed a current dispute between Governor Burnet and the Massachusetts Assembly that gained subscriptions from everyone mentioned. Franklin furnished examples of his superior workmanship to the Pennsylvania Assembly, too, which voted him Assembly printer for the next year. In this lobbying, a powerful ally was Mr. Hamilton, the lawyer Franklin had warned against Keith’s schemes in London.
About this time, Vernon finally asked for his debt, and after a little longer, Franklin repaid it. So he felt one erratum was partially corrected. Then another financial demand almost ruined him. Meredith’s father had promised to pay not only an initial sum for their equipment, but also a second hundred pounds after a year. When the time for the second payment came, however Mr. Meredith found himself unable to spare the money, and the merchant they owed sued them. Two friends privately offered to advance the amount to Franklin, but advised him to dissolve his partnership with Meredith, who was seldom sober. Meredith agreed to sell Franklin his share, and went to North Carolina.
When Franklin found himself in business alone for the first time, around 1729, the main public issue was a demand for more paper money, a proposal most wealthy men opposed for fear that currency would be devalued and creditors harmed. Franklin wrote an anonymous pamphlet suggesting several ways in which more money would mean more prosperity for the area. The pamphlet marshaled public support, and the bill to print more currency passed the Assembly. Franklin was rewarded by receiving the commission to print the money. This pamphlet, like his newspaper, proved to him the value of knowing how to write well.
As postmaster, the printer Bradford forbade his carriers to transport Franklin’s papers and thus made it necessary to bribe the riders. Most of the public, moreover, assumed that Bradford’s paper circulated further and was a better place to advertise. This assumption hurt Franklin’s business, though he prospered enough to open a stationer’s shop and hire two helpers. But he so resented Bradford’s postal policies, that he carefully avoided duplicating them when he became postmaster of the Colonies.
Soon trouble arose with the Godfreys, the family who rented part of Franklin’s house. Mrs. Godfrey arranged a match between Franklin and a relative, but Franklin asked as the girl’s dowry enough money to pay off his remaining debt. After considering this proposal, her parents forbade Franklin to see their daughter, and he suspected that they were assuming his passion would force him to elope. So he made no more efforts to see her, shunned reconciliation with her family, and thus angered the Godfreys, who moved away.
But Franklin had decided to marry. Upon investigation, he found that he could not expect a desirable wife who would bring a good dowry, because printing was considered a poor business in Philadelphia (Keimer and his successor both having failed). So he finally returned to Miss Read, with whom he set up housekeeping on September 1, 1730, thus correcting another former erratum.
About this time the Junto Club members pooled their books, but then found the arrangement inconvenient. So Franklin set afoot his first proposal to benefit the public — a subscription library, which was established and later imitated in other cities. Franklin concludes, “These Libraries have improv’d the general Conversation of the Americans, made the common Tradesmen and Farmers as intelligent as most Gentlemen from other Countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the Stand so generally made throughout the Colonies in Defense of their Privileges.”
Franklin’s matter-of-fact discussion of his marriage often appears callous to students who do not realize two things. First, it was common in his day for a bride to bring her husband desirable amounts of money or property, and for marriages to be as much business as romantic arrangements. One could hardly expect a man so remarkably shrewd in other matters as Franklin was to be less so in choosing a wife. The second, however, is that his technical relationship to Miss Read was a touchy matter. Deborah Read had good reasons for suspecting that her first husband had already been married in England, but had no way of proving the fact legally and thus no way of obtaining a divorce under Pennsylvania law. She also believed that Rogers had since died but again, could not prove the fact conclusively. Had she and Franklin observed a legal wedding ceremony and then been confronted by a living Rogers, they could both have been convicted of bigamy, whipped with 39 lashes on the bare back, and imprisoned at hard labor for life. The risks of a formal marriage being so great, Deborah Read became Franklin’s common-law wife, though their friends always considered the children legitimate.