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Information to Those Who Would Remove to America and Traits of Indian Character by Benjamin Franklin and Washington Irving - Essay Example

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Benjamin Franklin and Washington Irving represent two of the great intellectuals of American history. Separated by a generation, Franklin and Irving both published letters – titled “Information to Those Who Would Remove to America” and “Traits of Indian Character”, respectively – which differently portrayed the American public. …
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Information to Those Who Would Remove to America and Traits of Indian Character by Benjamin Franklin and Washington Irving
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Download file to see previous pages In these letters, Franklin generally spoke to the modest and hard-working nature of Americans, while Irving spoke to the imperialist and naïve nature of Americans toward Native Americans. Their letters contained very different themes and messages, but within these letters can be parsed out fundamentally different views of American culture and heritage. Where Franklin generally praises the American sense of equal opportunity, especially as opposed to the lack of equal opportunity in Europe, Irving rather eloquently criticizes the lack of equality and opportunity afforded to Indians, by Americans. Although these two great Americans views are separated by a generation, their messages are essentially timeless, for the emphasis that they place on certain virtues of character.
Benjamin Franklin’s letter is written expressly to Europeans who are interested in moving to America. He writes to them because he believes that they have a mistaken view of what life in America is truly like. It appears to Franklin that many Europeans believe Americans to be very wealthy and in want of talented businessmen, scientists, artisans, and tradespeople to pay for their work. Europeans also appear to generally believe that, as “Strangers of Birth”, they will be greatly appreciated and respected, upon relocating to America, since they will be considered fellow countrymen. Franklin criticizes the speculation that Americans will reward emigrating Europeans with paid travel, free land, slaves, farm tools, and cattle, calling these notions “wild imaginations”. According to Franklin, America is not a land of great riches, nor is it a land of little wealth; instead, he writes, “a general happy mediocrity … prevails”. This mediocrity prevails, in part, because most people are farmers, craftsmen, or merchants, who cannot neither afford to live idly nor to spend money on luxurious things. The middle-class character of the economy is further increased, because the few geniuses who are born in America usually relocate to Europe where their great talents can gain them greater rewards (greater than Americans can afford). Knowledge of literature or mathematics was, during this time, greatly appreciated and wanted in America. However, Franklin notes that nine universities were already running and staffed by capable professors. Since America will soon be producing its own industry of academics, Franklin argues that even well-respected academics won’t be in such high demand that they are afforded great wealth. Even worse are the prospects for workers trained in civil office or the bureaucracy of government, since America has too little wealth for large or superfluous government. With the wars being at an end, military officers have similarly-bleak prospects of finding good work. Central to Franklin’s characterization of Americans is their attitude toward other people, “[not] what is he? But, what can he do?” Here, Franklin expresses a view of America than diverges significantly from the view of America espoused by Irving; where Franklin portrays the Americans as exceptionally concerned with personal ability over personal heritage, Irving will portray Americans as exceptionally concerned with personal heritage over personal ability (discussed below). It is Franklin’s opinion that, although Europeans place emphasis on the quality of a person’s birth (i.e., his or her national heritage), Americans have little regard for a person’s national roots. In fact, Franklin’s choice of words seem to indicate American disdain for those who do not engage in productive labor, writing that Americans value a family-history of labor, rather than a history of ...Download file to see next pagesRead more
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