American political thought

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Keith E. Whittington

Supplementary Material
Chapter 2: The Colonial Era – Political Economy

Benjamin Franklin, Advice to a Young Tradesman, from an Old One (1748)1

Born in Boston at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Benjamin Franklin moved to Philadelphia and soon became one of its most celebrated citizens. Franklin was at heart a tradesman. He had been apprenticed as a printer, and within a few years of his arrival in Philadelphia was able to establish a printing house of his own. From there, he launched a celebrated career as a printer, writer, inventor, and diplomat.

By the 1740s, Franklin was a successful author and printer, and he was beginning to branch out into the study of science and technology. His Poor Richard’s Almanack, launched in 1733, was a publishing sensation, offering pithy advice to the common man. His essay of “Advice to a Young Tradesman” offered similar commonsense wisdom, emphasizing the virtues of industry and frugality.

Remember that time is money. He that can earn 10s a day by his labors, and goes abroad, or sits idle one half of that day, though he spend but 6d during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, 5s besides.

Remember that credit is money. If a man lets money lie in my hands after it is due, he gives me the interest, or so much as I can make of it during that time. This amounts to a considerable sum, if a man has a good and large credit, and makes good use of it.

Remember that money is of a prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. . . . He that kills a breeding sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation. He that murders a crown, destroys all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds.

. . . .

Remember this saying, That the good paymaster is lord of another man’s purse. He that is known to pay punctually and exactly at the time he promises, may at any time, and on any occasion, raise all the money his friends can spare. . . .

The most trifling actions that affect a man’s credit, are to be regarded. The sound of your hammer at five in the morning, or nine at night, heard by a creditor, makes him easy six months longer. But, if he sees you at a billiard table, or hears your voice at a tavern, when you should be at work, he sends for his money the next day. . . . Creditors are the kind of people that have the sharpest eyes and ears, as well as the best memories of any in the world.

. . . .

Beware of thinking all your own that you possess, and of living accordingly. It is a mistake that many people who have credit fall into. To prevent this, keep an exact account, for some time, of both your expenses and income. If you take the pains at first to mention particulars, it will have this good effect, you will discover how wonderfully small trifling expenses mount up to large sums, and will discern what might have been, and may, for the future, be saved, without occasioning any great inconvenience.

In short, the way to wealth, if you desire it, is as plain as the way to market. It depends chiefly on two words, industry, and frugality; i.e., waste neither your time nor money, but make the best use of both. He that gets all he can, and saves all he gets, (necessary expenses excepted) will certainly become rich; if that Being who governs the world, to whom all should look for a blessing on their honest endeavors, does not, in his wise providence, otherwise determine.

1 Excerpt taken from Benjamin Franklin, Franklin’s Way to Wealth; or, “Poor Richard Improved” (New York: S. Wood and Sons, 1817).

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