Study Guide

James Franklin in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

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James Franklin

Franklin's admittedly biased in this portrait of his brother: he paints James as a cruel, bossy older brother who treats the very young Franklin terribly. But we can't exactly condone the way James treats him either. Today, taking your younger brother as a twelve-year-old apprentice, making him work super long hours, and beating him as punishment wouldn't be standard business practice – that's child abuse. What we think of as criminal, though, is sadly typical of British and American eighteenth-century society. James isn't unusual in how he acts; if anything, Franklin is. James's narrow-minded treatment of his brother, the way he takes him for granted, and the way he's so quick to judge him when Franklin jumps ship, sure indicates that he isn't the greatest guy around, though.

But James isn't entirely bad – he seems hotheaded and quick to judge, and claims he'll never forget injustice, but he doesn't stick to it. Later, he makes up with his younger brother, and even asks Ben to take in his son. He's courageous enough to stand up for what he believes in, like publishing political articles in his newspaper – and doesn't talk when he gets sent to jail. He's resourceful, too, finding ways to keep publishing even when he's prohibited from doing so. That's more like the kind of action we can get behind.

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