The First American, Benjamin Franklin, was a pioneer of accomplishment and self-improvement.
Born in a middle-class family, Franklin was the 15th of 17 children and the youngest son. With only 2 years of formal education, he was quick to rise to the highest levels of society while never forgetting where he started. He always referred to himself as “B.F. of Philadelphia, Printer” as stated in the opening of his will and testament. He had the talent of being at ease with any company, from tradesmen to scholars, merchants, and the European elite.
Unlike the other Founding Fathers, Franklin was very much the creator of his own fortune. He was self-made, representing American social mobility through frugality and industriousness. Being one of the most prominent symbolic figures in American history, he is largely synonymous with the modern perception of the American dream.
By recognizing the value of conversation and the importance of cognitive diversity, he founded the Junto Club (derived from the Spanish word junta, meaning assembly) in 1727, which was initially composed of twelve members who met every Friday night. The Junto combined natural philosophy (or in modern language, science) civic-mindedness, self-help, self-discipline, politics, philosophy, philanthropy, punning, entertainment, exercise, and pleasure with the purpose of improving themselves and the community. By founding the Junto (sometimes referred to as the Leather Apron Club) at the age of 21, Franklin was the second-youngest member.
At each meeting, he put together a set of provocative questions to stimulate conversations on which each discussion was built upon. It’s not a bad thing to guide one’s own behavior and learning based on asking the following questions:
- Have you met with any thing in the author you last read, remarkable, or suitable to be communicated to the Junto? Particularly in history, morality, poetry, physics, travels, mechanic arts, or other parts of knowledge?
- What new story have you lately heard agreeable for telling in conversation?
- Has any citizen in your knowledge failed in his business lately, and what have you heard of the cause?
- Have you lately heard of any citizen’s thriving well, and by what means?
- Have you lately heard how any present rich man, here or elsewhere, got his estate?
- Do you know of any fellow citizen, who has lately done a worthy action, deserving praise and imitation? Or who has committed an error proper for us to be warned against and avoid?
- What unhappy effects of intemperance have you lately observed or heard? Of imprudence? Of passion? Or of any other vice or folly?
- What happy effects of temperance? Of prudence? Of moderation? Or of any other virtue?
- Have you or any of your acquaintance been lately sick or wounded? If so, what remedies were used, and what were their effects?
- Who do you know that are shortly going [on] voyages or journeys, if one should have occasion to send by them?
- Do you think of any thing at present, in which the Junto may be serviceable to mankind? To their country, to their friends, or to themselves?
- Hath any deserving stranger arrived in town since last meeting, that you heard of? And what have you heard or observed of his character or merits? and whether think you, it lies in the power of the Junto to oblige him, or encourage him as he deserves?
- Do you know of any deserving young beginner lately set up, whom it lies in the power of the Junto any way to encourage?
- Have you lately observed any defect in the laws, of which it would be proper to move the legislature an amendment? Or do you know of any beneficial law that is wanting?
- Have you lately observed any encroachment on the just liberties of the people?
- Hath any body attacked your reputation lately? And what can the Junto do towards securing it?
- Is there any man whose friendship you want, and which the Junto, or any of them, can procure for you?
- Have you lately heard any member’s character attacked, and how have you defended it?
- Hath any man injured you, from whom it is in the power of the Junto to procure redress?
- In what manner can the Junto, or any of them, assist you in any of your honourable designs
- Have you any weighty affair in hand, in which you think the advice of the Junto may be of service?
- What benefits have you lately received from any man not present?
- Is there any difficulty in matters of opinion, of justice, and injustice, which you would gladly have discussed at this time?
- Do you see any thing amiss in the present customs or proceedings of the Junto, which might be amended?
When Junto members sought to expand their reading choices, Franklin helped to incorporate America’s first subscription library, the Library Company of Philadelphia, in 1731.
It’s a brave thing to have adopted the name of one of Ben Franklin’s most civilized inventions for our endeavor here. But it’s contributing for us to strive for a higher level of conversation and for worldly wisdom. It was hard to find a more fitting name.