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29+ quotes from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

Quotes from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

Walter Isaacson ·  586 pages

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“Knowledge, he realized, “was obtained rather by the use of the ear than of the tongue.”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him.”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“Socrates’ method of building an argument through gentle queries, he “dropped my abrupt contradiction” style of argument and “put on the humbler enquirer” of the Socratic method. By asking what seemed to be innocent questions, Franklin would draw people into making concessions that would gradually prove whatever point he was trying to assert.”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“Mr. Franklin kept a horn book always in his pocket in which he minuted all his invitations to dinner, and Mr. Lee said it was the only thing in which he was punctual ”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“1. It is necessary for me to be extremely frugal for some time, till I have paid what I owe. 2. To endeavor to speak truth in every instance; to give nobody expectations that are not likely to be answered, but aim at sincerity in every word and action—the most amiable excellence in a rational being. 3. To apply myself industriously to whatever business I take in hand, and not divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of suddenly growing rich; for industry and patience are the surest means of plenty. 4. I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever.17”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“Franklin and his petition were roundly denounced by the defenders of slavery, most notably Congressman James Jackson of Georgia, who declared on the House floor that the Bible had sanctioned slavery and, without it, there would be no one to do the hard and hot work on plantations.”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“The other sins on his list were, in order: seeming uninterested, speaking too much about your own life, prying for personal secrets (“an unpardonable rudeness”), telling long and pointless stories (“old folks are most subject to this error, which is one chief reason their company is so often shunned”), contradicting or disputing someone directly, ridiculing or railing against things except in small witty doses (“it’s like salt, a little of which in some cases gives relish, but if thrown on by handfuls spoils all”), and spreading scandal (though he would later write lighthearted defenses of gossip).”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“Franklin was worried that his fondness for conversation and eagerness to impress made him prone to “prattling, punning and joking, which only made me acceptable to trifling company.” Knowledge, he realized, “was obtained rather by the use of the ear than of the tongue.” So in the Junto, he began to work on his use of silence and gentle dialogue.”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“He wished to please everybody," Franklin later said of Keith, "and having little to give, he gave expectations.”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“History is a tale, Franklin came to believe, not of immutable forces but of human endeavors.”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“poet convinced both of his own talent and of the need to be self-indulgent in order to be a great artist.”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“the removal of all royal governments in the colonies. Patriotic”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“Franklin asserted his conservatism more forcefully. Most notable was an anonymous piece entitled “On the Laboring Poor,” which he signed “Medius,”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“In fact, these terms devised by Franklin are the ones we still use today, along with other neologisms that he coined to describe his findings: battery, charged, neutral, condense, and conductor.”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“Whoever accustoms himself to pass over in silence the faults of his neighbors shall meet with much better quarter from the world when he happens to fall into a mistake himself.”14”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“he was more comfortable exploring practical thoughts and real-life situations than metaphysical abstractions or deductive proofs. The”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“Another time, he was playing [chess] with his equal, the Duchess of Bourbon, who made a move that inadvertently exposed her king. Ignoring the rules of the game, he promptly captured it. "Ah," said the duchess, "we do not take Kings so." Replied Franklin in a famous quip: "We do in America.”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“The most dangerous hypocrite in a Commonwealth is one who leaves the gospel for the sake of the law. A man compounded of law and gospel is able to cheat a whole country with his religion and then destroy them under color of law.”40”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“Despite the pecuniary spirit of Poor Richard’s sayings and the penny-saving reputation they later earned Franklin, he did not have the soul of an acquisitive capitalist. “I would rather have it said,” he wrote his mother, “ ‘He lived usefully,’ than, ‘He died rich.’ ”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“proposer of any useful project that might be supposed to raise one’s reputation.” So he put himself “as much as I could out of sight” and gave credit for the idea to his friends. This method worked so well that “I ever after practiced it on such occasions.” People will eventually give you the credit, he noted, if you don’t try to claim it at the time. “The present little sacrifice of your vanity will afterwards be amply repaid.”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“Franklin ended his “Apology for Printers” with a fable about a father and son traveling with a donkey. When the father rode and made his son walk, they were criticized by those they met; likewise, they were criticized when the son rode and made the father walk, or when they both rode the donkey, or when neither did. So finally, they decided to throw the donkey off a bridge. The moral, according to Franklin, was that it is foolish to try to avoid all criticism. Despite his “despair of pleasing everybody,” Franklin concluded, “I shall not burn my press or melt my letters.”16”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“The riches of a country are to be valued by the quantity of labor its inhabitants are able to purchase, and not by the quantity of silver and gold they possess.” The”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“There was never a good knife made of bad steel ”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“David Brooks, “Our Founding Yuppie,” Weekly Standard, Oct. 23, 2000, 31. The word “meritocracy” is an argument-starter, and I have employed it sparingly in this book. It is often used loosely to denote a vision of social mobility based on merit and diligence, like Franklin’s. The word was coined by British social thinker Michael Young (later to become, somewhat ironically, Lord Young of Darlington) in his 1958 book The Rise of the Meritocracy (New York: Viking Press) as a dismissive term to satirize a society that misguidedly created a new elite class based on the “narrow band of values” of IQ and educational credentials. The Harvard philosopher John Rawls, in A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), 106, used it more broadly to mean a “social order [that] follows the principle of careers open to talents.” The best description of the idea is in Nicholas Lemann’s The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999), a history of educational aptitude tests and their effect on American society. In Franklin’s time, Enlightenment thinkers (such as Jefferson in his proposals for creating the University of Virginia) advocated replacing the hereditary aristocracy with a “natural aristocracy,” whose members would be plucked from the masses at an early age based on “virtues and talents” and groomed for leadership. Franklin’s idea was more expansive. He believed in encouraging and providing opportunities for all people to succeed as best they could based on their diligence, hard work, virtue, and talent. As we shall see, his proposals for what became the University of Pennsylvania (in contrast to Jefferson’s for the University of Virginia) were aimed not at filtering a new elite but at encouraging and enriching all “aspiring” young men. Franklin was propounding a more egalitarian and democratic approach than Jefferson by proposing a system that would, as Rawls (p. 107) would later prescribe, assure that “resources for education are not to be allotted solely or necessarily mainly according to their return as estimated in productive trained abilities, but also according to their worth in enriching the personal and social life of citizens.” (Translation: He cared not simply about making society as a whole more productive, but also about making each individual more enriched.)”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“Stoop, young man, stoop—as you go through this world—and you’ll miss many hard thumps.”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“Those who met with greater economic success in life were responsible to help those in genuine need; but those who from lack of virtue failed to pull their own weight could expect no help from society.”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“My mind, having been much more improved by reading than Keimer’s, I suppose it was for that reason my conversation seemed more valued. They had me to their houses, introduced me to their friends, and showed me much civility.”3”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


“he was practical about what he wanted in a wife. Deborah was rather plain, but she offered the prospect of comfort and domesticity.”
― Walter Isaacson, quote from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life


About the author

Walter Isaacson
Born place: in New Orleans, Louisiana, The United States
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