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Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Topic: Predicaments of Early Republican LifeTopic: ReligionTopic: PoliticsTopic: ExpansionTopic: Equality
Topic: Predicaments of Early Republican Life
Overview of Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Resource Menu: Predicaments of Early Republican Life
Text 1. Benjamin Franklin
» Reading Guide
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Text 2. Venture Smith
Text 3. Washington Irving
Text 4. Royall Tyler
Text 5. Benjamin Rush
Text 6. Noah Webster

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Reading Guide
1.  Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, 1771-1788, first two thirds   Benjamin Franklin

An essential text for your seminar. The Autobiography is widely taught. Excerpts appear in many textbooks. Feel free to use what you have on hand in your anthologies in lieu of what we have provided. Today Franklin's Autobiography is usually read as the quintessential American rags-to-riches story. In it we see the shaping of an American archetype—the practical, pragmatic individual who claims to be self-made through planning, persistence, hard work, and a keen eye for the main chance. But readers in the eighteenth century did not know that the Autobiography would become a defining document of the American character. In fact, they were not quite sure what an American was or how to be one. The Revolution had lopped off society's elite. For white males life in the new nation was fluid and open; choices abounded. Consider the tours of potential futures on which Franklin's father led young Benjamin through the streets of Boston: "He . . . sometimes took me to walk with him to see Joiners, Bricklayers, Turners, Braziers, etc. at their work." The freedom to create a life is today a fundamental tenet of the American experience, but in the eighteenth century it was a new idea that bred anxiety as much as exhilaration. In many ways it still does. The Autobiography poses the basic predicaments of life in the early republic: How does one make order in such a fluid, open society? How does one live in the new nation? Franklin sought to answer these questions through the example of his own life. 54 pages.

Discussion questions
  ·  What are Franklin's problems in his march to success, and why does he make it seem that he overcomes them so easily?
  ·  What does Franklin learn, and how does he learn?
  ·  How does Franklin become successful in ways he has not told us?
  ·  Why, given the reality of his life, does Franklin insist that he succeeded through virtue?
  ·  Why does he call his mistakes "erratum"?
  ·  Is Franklin the model republican?

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Topic Framing Questions
  •  What was the nature of the society that formed in the immediate aftermath of the American Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution?
  •  What did the citizens of the early republic hope for?
  •  What did they fear?
  •  How did they seek to balance freedom and order?

Toolbox: Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Predicaments | Religion | Politics | Expansion | Equality

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