“God helps them that help themselves” (Poor Richards Almanack, 722), a phrase commonly quoted from “Poor Richard’s Almanacks”, illustrates the types of selfishness often seen during Benjamin Franklin’s time. Or does it? Is wanting and striving for a better self so bad? Would the reader of such phrase think to himself “Wow, the author is really self-absorbed” or “The author must be a hard worker who values self improvement”? Either way, the real question is why doesn’t it say “?.. those that help others” instead “?.. them that help themselves”. You are taught as a young child the importance of thinking of others first and group effort.
It is continuously reinforced throughout all areas of your life, including school and work. Everyone knows that at some time or another in your life you won’t be able to do everything by yourself. In other words, you’ll need others and this is where the democratic community comes in. However during the 18th century, this was not the point. The freedom of self-government we had struggled so hard and long for had become no more than a night’s dream erased by the morning sun. Democracy and self-advancement were in a race for the gold as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne thought.
Benjamin Franklin’s ideas begged to differ. He felt as though the democratic community and growing the ideology of individual advancement (Individualism and/vs. Community, 1306) could coexist together. Franklin, having risen from poverty, felt that he wouldn’t have been able to be a man of such distinction if it had not been for Government that encouraged the advancement of self. He felt that without a Government no one man could be content with themselves or their works. He even goes as far as to promote America to foreigners in one essay.
He says that “Strangers are welcome, because there is room enough for them all, and therefore the old Inhabitants are not jealous of them; the Laws protect them sufficiently, so that they have no need of the Patronage of Great Men; and everyone will enjoy securely the Profits of his Industry” (Information to Those Who Would Remove to America, 751). He then goes on to say “And the Divine Being seems to have manifested his Approbation of the mutual Forbearance and Kindness with which the different Sects treat each other, by the remarkable Prosperity with which He has been pleased to favour the whole Country. (Information to Those Who Would Remove to America, 755) He is saying in these sentences that America offered opportunities for all, being of wealth or not, to profit. He also went as far as to say that all services are valued in the Americas, that basically without the great Government possessed by America none of this would be possible. He even defends the taxes imposed on the people by Government in an essay entitled the “Way to Wealth” written under the false name of Richard Saunders. He once again proves his loyalty to the Americas with the above piece of literature.
He is telling all readers essentially that they shouldn’t question the great land’s Government, which had done so much for them. Even in his narrative about Polly Baker he continues to defend his country’s Government. He talks about how she went to trial for an issue, which wasn’t even a crime and how she in the end was allowed to advance herself. After defending herself regarding a bastard child, she was found free from punishment and the very next day married to one of the judges who had heard her testimony. This was unusual for the time being the fact that women who fornicated were seen as dirty and sinful.
No one would have ever guessed that she would marry a judge probably changing her life forever. Even as you continue to read Franklin’s writings, you see more instances where he is defending the Government. He felt that Government promoted individuality, and that without an orderly Government outlining the rights and liberties of persons contained in it, that no one could move forward. Hawthorne, on the other hand, felt completely different about the coexistence of government and individuality. One of his most persistent themes was that of the antagonism between the individual and society (Nathaniel Hawthorne, 2193).
He also speaks of the dangers of isolation and the importance of self-knowledge. In “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”, the youth is desperately seeking his second cousin who is supposed to be fairly wealthy. During one visit to the young man’s home, the kinsman, Major Molineux, shows interest in having the child come and stay with him where he may help him enter adulthood. As the story progresses, the young guy is sent on his way at 18 in good clothing and with money in his pocket. Nonetheless, while waiting on his cousin he falls to sleep while waiting to see his kinsmen.
He dreams that he sees his kinsman and that he is not at all what he expected and that although his kinsman (society) sees him, he just continues on his way, leaving him behind. When the boy is awakened he decides that he doesn’t need his cousin and that he would rather leave town on the first ferry. What Hawthorne was saying is that society is not there for personal advancement and that to advance you have to sacrifice some part of yourself in a democratic community. In Hawthorne’s description of the kinsman (society), he makes him overpowering and stiff.
He wanted to show the uncaring society when it comes to the lone man. He then goes on to have the character of the young man say that he saw society and it saw him, but it didn’t want to see him again. It was as if to say that because he was not with the parade of people representing the democratic community that he was unwanted and that he would not be able to succeed. He was immediately turned away by the coldness. Although ready to leave the town (society), the gentleman who had took seat with him would not let him until he stayed longer since he felt the young man could make it in the world.
The gentleman even said to him “Or if you prefer to remain with us, perhaps, as you are a shrewd youth, you may rise in the world, without the help of your kinsman, Major Molineux” (My Kinsman, Major Molineux, 2207). The author’s point of individualism and democratic community not being able to exist together is shown throughout characters in the story. Hawthorne makes his point that to be successful in society you must either become part of a community or you must dare to be the one who is different. He also stresses that there is no way you can do both, to move forward yourself you must stop worrying about the other.
Also, he is saying that you must do it for yourself and that no one else can help you. Emerson furthermore supported Hawthorne’s conclusion when he said that “Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of everyone of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the member’s agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self reliance is its diversion?. Whoso would be a man is a nonconformist?.. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.
Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. (Individualism and/vs. Community, 1306-7). He was himself saying that by conforming you lost your sense of self and were no longer a man with his own thoughts and ideas but an number among many with the same. Franklin, Hawthorne, and Emerson all believed their idea was the right one, but the fact is neither were right. The Individualism and/vs. Community can best be summed up by Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” where he said, “Individualism is a novel expression, to which a novel idea has given birth” (Individualism and/vs. Community, 1308).