American enlightenment can be traced back to the 18 th century as argued by the ‘America a
Concise History’. Among the outstanding colonial Americans who propelled the
enlightenment ideas was Benjamin franklin whose ideas on the various aspects of leadership
shaped the American social development in the century. The facets of his influence are
identifiable in the various categories of the colonial existence that include the rise of the
colonial assemblies, salutary neglect as well as the mercantile system. Stemming from the
perspective of American colonial politics, notable influential factors propelled by franklin
include his favoritism of the voluntary associations over governmental institutions as ways to
channel education to citizens (Cahill, 550). Therein, the understanding of the colonial social
structure can be acknowledged through two broad lines of inquiry. Whereas people in the 18 th
century were confused over who should precisely constitute the categories of gentleman and
ordinary men, a determined Ben Franklin successfully entered the world of being a gentleman
given that he worked strenuously at having social mobility.
First, it shows the slow and difficult progress of Franklin from being British and an
empire supporter to a level where he completely declined to support them. Secondly, Franklin
is described to possess a powerful sensitivity to social satisfaction which is traced from his
impoverished childhood and adolescence. At the time, Franklin was a mere commoner as his
father ventured in candle and soap making. During the 18 th century, there was a social gap
between commoners and gentlemen. Majority of the people who were at the bottom included
the commoners who were at the time dominated by a group of elite gentlemen at the top. The
social gap existed as essence to keep order in the society as well as denote the status of the
privileged. A gentleman was therefore distinguishable from the common people through
wealth, good education, and general air (Cahill, 560). Many people struggled to become
gentlemen, but it was not easy. Franklin was interested in becoming a gentleman because
Initially, Franklin considered himself to be one of them by nature. Also, Franklin was eager
to become a gentleman because they were associated with being rich and he believed that by
achieving wealth he would have the freedom to pursue his interests, especially in scientific
and civic works. To achieve this, he made his first move by relocating to Philadelphia from
Boston. The success of his printing business also brought him to be a gentleman. America a
Concise History, (Dunn, 13) explained the marriage of Franklin to Deborah Read who was
loud and crude contributed to the achievement although he did not seem to love her.
Secondly the perspective of the separation between the commoners and gentlemen
denoted to be among the earliest and universal forms of divisions of people in human
civilization. For instance, In most Southern parts of colonial America, the separation between
gentlemen and commoners was from birth. Birth and Parentage were the major means of
distinguishing between the gentlemen and commoners (Koschnik, 542). Colonialists
believed that men were created unequal. Henry Fielding and Robert Munford were writers
who comforted their genteel audiences in their work. Wealth was important in distinguishing
a gentleman from a commoner. They behaved in different ways as compared to the
commoners. For example, as the commoners ate with their hands, gentlemen ate using silver
knives and forks. Parents urged the young aspiring gentlemen to be major in poetry as well as
learning how to play musical gadgets. Gentlemen dressed distinctively and fashionably and
also wore wigs (Cahill, 546). They also built elaborate houses. Criminal punishments were
not equal for all. While convicted commoners suffered the punishment of chopped or
whipped ears, the convicted gentlemen rarely received such punishments.
Thirdly, “Politeness” in the eighteenth century referred to being genial and sociable. It
was a characteristic of gentlemen. During the eighteenth century, gentlemen aspired to
possess Condescension term as it was a positive and complimentary term. Arthur young
declared that “Everyone but an idiot knows that the lower class must be kept poor or they will
never be industrious” (Wood). The last reason of the importance is that commoners remained
busy working to feed them. In response, Franklin had returned to Philadelphia in 1726; he
expressed his interest in in literary and intellectual activities. Through this, he acquired the
attributes of a gentleman though he remained a commoner. In 1731, he discovered the
Freemasonry Organization. The organization blurred the distinction between gentlemen and
commoners. Masonry was a means by which commoners mingled with the gentlemen.
Masonry emphasized more on sociability as well as benevolence (Reinert and Sophus, 67).
Brotherhood members who constituted mostly of artisans and artisans and merchants
believed that they were participating in the world of genteel politeness. Franklin joined the St.
Johns Lodge of Free Masons which satisfied his growing desire to dominate affairs.
The life of franklin denotes the evolution process of social mobility, from a
commoner to a gentleman. The perspective is reiterated by the activities that propels franklin
from America to England. His progression to the elite circles is denoted by a series of
activities and events such as the 1765 stamp act that he participated in. further, through shear
will and recognizable ability that he immersed from intellectual pursuit, he was sent to France
as part of a three-man commission (Middlekauff, 1526). The vehement believe of his social
status of being a gentleman despite being born a commoner idealized his pursuits of intellect
and social progression in the Americanization process.
Dunn, Elizabeth E. "The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin: Wood, Gordon S.: New
York: Penguin, 299 Pp., Publication Date: May 2005." History: Reviews of
New Books, vol. 34, no. 1, 2005, pp. 13-13.
Henretta, James A., Rebecca Edwards, and Robert O. Self. America: A Concise History,
Volume One: To 1877. Vol. 1. Macmillan, 2012.
Reinert, Sophus A. "The Way to Wealth around the World: Benjamin Franklin and the
Globalization of American Capitalism." The American Historical
Review 120.1 (2015): 61-97.
Wood, Gordon S. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. Penguin, 2005.
Middlekauff, Robert. "The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin." The American Historical
Review, vol. 110, no. 5, 2005, pp. 1526-1527.
Koschnik, Albrecht. "Benjamin Franklin, Associations, and Civil Society." A Companion to
Benjamin Franklin (2011): 335-358.
Cahill, Edward. "The English Origins of American Upward Mobility; Or, the Invention of
Benjamin Franklin." Elh, vol. 83, no. 2, 2016, pp. 543-571.