Benjamin Franklin Papers
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Observations on Reading History, 9 May 1731

Observations on Reading History8

MS Autobiography: Huntington Library

Observations on my Reading History in Library

May 9. 1731.

That the great Affairs of the World, the Wars, Revolutions, &c. are carried on and effected by Parties.

That the View of these Parties is their present general Interest, or what they take to be such.

That the different Views of these different Parties, occasion all Confusion.

That while a Party is carrying on a general Design, each Man has his particular private Interest in View.

That as soon as a Party has gain’d its general Point, each Member becomes intent upon his particular Interest, which thwarting others, breaks that Party into Divisions, and occasions more Confusion.

That few in Public Affairs act from a meer View of the Good of their Country, whatever they may pretend; and tho’ their Actings bring real Good to their Country, yet Men primarily consider’d that their own and their Country’s Interest was united, and did not act from a Principle of Benevolence.

That fewer still in public Affairs act with a View to the Good of Mankind.

There seems to me at present to be great Occasion for raising an united Party for Virtue, by forming the Virtuous and good Men of all Nations into a regular Body, to be govern’d by suitable good and wise Rules, which good and wise Men may probably be more unanimous in their Obedience to, than common People are to common Laws.9

I at present think, that whoever attempts this aright, and is well qualified, cannot fail of pleasing God, and of meeting with Success.

B. F.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8These Observations, written on a “little Paper, accidentally preserv’d,” and copied by Franklin into his autobiography in August 1788, were the genesis of his “great and extensive Project”—never realized—to establish a party of virtue, under the name of The Society of the Free and Easy. Par. Text edit., pp. 236–42.

9An entry in BF’s Commonplace Book about 1732 (Hist. Soc. Pa.) shows a development of his ideas for the Society of Virtue:

“R, B T A O Gs Gz

“tht wn I hv 200 clr.

“He may travel, every where endeavouring to promote Knowledge and Virtue; by erecting J [unto]s, promoting private Libr[arie]s, establishing a Society of Virtuous Men in all parts, who shall have an universal Correspondence and unite to support and encourage Virtue and Liberty and Knowledge; by all Methods. make m slf wrth 2 b mpld n s grt nd gd a Dsyn.

“O G M M W.”

The shorthand can be expanded to read: “that when I have £200 clear” and “make myself worthy to be employed in so. great and good a Design.” The cipher’s meaning is not known.

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