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Bruce Springsteen sings of the struggles of common folk and the American Dream. June Sawyers traces ...
On the Plains with General Custer
An intimate portrait of George Armstrong Custer by his adoring wife, and a vivid record of ...
Emblems of Woe
The South might have been expected to cheer Lincoln’s death, but the reaction there was more ...
Learning the Great River
Mark Twain recalls his adventures—and misadventures—in learning to be a pilot on the Mississippi.
Putting America on Wheels
Reflecting on his success, the hero of mass production talks about his refusal to conduct business ...
Ashes of Soldiers
Walt Whitman’s record of ministering to young wounded soldiers offers one of the tenderest accounts of ...
The Story of a Photograph
The story behind Walker Evans’s iconic photograph of Ellie Mae ...
The Quintessential American
Selections from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
"Franklin seems to have a unique appeal,” writes the historian Gordon S. Wood. “He seems the most accessible, the most democratic, and the most folksy of the Founders. . . . Indeed, perhaps no person in American history has taken on such emblematic and imaginative significance for Americans as has Franklin.” Yet the man came late to his identity as an American, enjoying a wide circle of European contacts and living abroad more years than any other American leader. In his famous Autobiography he displays the iconic American virtues of thrift, ambition, hard work, self-improvement, and common sense. But the promotion of good morals in his book was, observed the North American Review in 1818, a fraud. “The groundwork of his character, during this period, was bad; and the moral qualities, which contributed to his rise, were of a worldly and very profitable kind.” In other words, like many of the Founders, aspects of Franklin’s character remain something of a puzzle. In these selections from his Autobiography, Franklin reflects upon his rise in the world and the self-taught lessons that brought his success.
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