Franklin now decided that most strife was caused by self-interested actions, that few acted for the good of their country or mankind, and that a “united Party for Virtue,” formed of the good men of all nations, was needed. He jotted ideas on the project from time to time, in one note proposing a creed for party members to ratify which could fit all religious systems. It affirmed the existence of the soul and of one God who made and governs the world, who rewards virtue and punishes vice, a Divinity who could be served best by serving other men. Franklin thought his sect should be started secretly among young, single men who would submit to a 13-week course in acquiring virtues, as Franklin himself had done. This Society of the Free and Easy should consist of members free from debt as well as vice, and its members should help each other through promoting one another’s interests and businesses. Franklin concludes, “I was not discourag’d by the seeming Magnitude of the Undertaking, as I have always thought that one Man of tolerable Abilities may work great Changes, and accomplish great Affairs among Mankind, if he first forms a good Plan, and, cutting off all Amusements or other Employments that would divert his Attention, makes the Execution of that same Plan his sole Study and Business.”
In 1732 Franklin published his first Almanac under the name of Richard Saunders. He continued this publication for 25 years, selling nearly 10,000 copies a year. Franklin considered it “a proper Vehicle for conveying Instruction among the common People, who bought scarcely any other Books.” Its proverbs mostly “inculcated Industry and Frugality, as the Means of procuring Wealth and thereby securing Virtue.” The Preface for the 1757 edition, combining proverbs of many nations, was reprinted in England, on the Continent, translated twice into French, and widely distributed by American clergymen.
Franklin also considered his newspaper a “Means of Communicating Instruction.” He carefully excluded libelous attacks and personal abuse, answering those angry writers who pleaded for freedom of the press that he would print their comments separately. But he felt he had “contracted with my Subscribers to furnish them with what might be either useful or entertaining” and therefore refused to “fill their Papers with private Altercation. “
In 1733 Franklin helped one of his employees set up a printing business in Charleston, South Carolina, paying a third of the man’s expenses in exchange for a third of his profit. When the man died, his Dutch widow managed the business so efficiently and sent Franklin such exact accounts, that he was convinced American women should be given the same kind of education as men: such skills would be far more useful to them in widowhood than the music and dancing they were presently taught.
A preacher named Hemphill arrived in Philadelphia in 1734 and delivered many excellent sermons which Franklin admired. When orthodox Presbyterians began attacking him, Franklin led his defense. But someone discovered that Hemphill was memorizing and preaching other people’s sermons. While Franklin found this idea sound, feeling it better to deliver a good sermon of another’s than a bad sermon of one’s own, Hemphill was forced to leave town.
About this time Franklin acquired a reading knowledge of French and began studying Italian. He agreed with a chess partner who was also studying Italian that whoever won a game would give the other a grammar assignment. “We thus beat one another into that Language,” Franklin later recalled. After learning to read Spanish too, Franklin found that Latin was easy. He thus concluded that the order in which languages were taught should be reversed; Latin was easy to learn after French, and those who never got to Latin would still have acquired a usable language for their labors.
After ten years’ absence, Franklin returned to Boston and was reconciled with his brother. James felt his death near and asked Benjamin to train his son as a printer. Franklin educated the boy at a school, as well as at a trade, thus amending his early erratum in depriving his brother of several years’ service. One of Franklin’s own sons died of smallpox in 1736, leading the father to urge vaccination for other children.
The Junto proved so genial a club that many members wished to introduce their friends into the group. Because the membership ceiling was set at 12, Franklin proposed that each member form another club, without letting that group know of its relationship to the Junto. By means of these subsidiary clubs, the Junto members not only kept in closer touch with popular sentiment, but also found it possible to promote their businesses more widely and to affect public policy through larger channels of influence.
Franklin’s project to form a party of the world’s virtuous men follows logically from his program to perfect himself. Once he assumed that he could become thoroughly virtuous by an exercise of will, he naturally thought of what could be accomplished by uniting those like himself. And he saw no reason to limit such good by national boundaries. With his boundless confidence in himself, he could place boundless confidence in men generally. Franklin always assumed that what was best for the individual would in the long run be best for the mass. And reflecting the needs of his society, he further assumed that what was good for business was good for the country and finally, for the world. He therefore saw no reason why nations couldn’t cooperate to promote their mutual self-interest, as long as their good-hearted citizens were so organized that they could be shown where that interest lay.