Vivo Considerate Applied Rhetoric Approach Comparison: Living Deliberately Versus Not Getting Involved or Engaged; Benjamin Franklin Versus Henry David Thoreau

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Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE)
Vivo Considerate
Prepared for:
Dr. Jon Borowicz.
HU100-006 Contemporary Issues In Humanities – Fall 2005
Prepared by:
Kenneth Shelton
October 1, 2005

Table of Contents

Table of Contents i
Introduction 1
Franklin Doctrine 1
Thoreau Doctrine 3
Analysis 4
Conclusion 5
Bibliography 7


This paper will discuss some similarities and differences between Benjamin Franklin’s advice and Henry David Thoreau’s advice concerning how to live deliberately. The idea of living deliberately involves understanding personal doctrine and how applied corporately. The Franklin Doctrine section describes his views in his own words. The Thoreau Doctrine section paraphrases his ideas from the Britannica encyclopedia and his essay titled “Civil Disobedience”. The Analysis section is the author’s comparison of the two intended to point out some of their similarities and differences. The Conclusions section will sum up providing an assessment.

Franklin Doctrine

The following three selected quotations establish Benjamin Franklin’s doctrine statements using his own words as follow :

Benjamin Franklin wrote his own version of the Lord’s Prayer :

“Heavenly Father, May all revere Thee, And become Thy dutiful children and faithful subjects. May thy Laws be obeyed on earth as perfectly as they are in Heaven. Provide for us this day as Thou hast hitherto daily done. Forgive us our trespasses, and enable us likewise to forgive those that offend us. Keep us out of temptation and deliver us from Evil <464>.”

Benjamin Franklin listed topics and doctrines, which he considered of vital importance, to be shared and preached :

“That there is one God Father of the Universe.
That He [is] infinitely good, powerful and wise.
That He is omnipresent.
That He ought to be worshipped, by adoration, prayer and thanksgiving both in public and private.
That He loves such of His creatures as love and do good to others: and will reward them either in this world or hereafter.
That men’s minds do not die with their bodies, but are made more happy or miserable after this life according to their actions.
That virtuous men ought to league together to strengthen the interest of virtue, in the world: and so strengthen themselves in virtue.
That knowledge and learning is to be cultivated, and ignorance dissipated. That none but the virtuous are wise.
That man’s perfection is in virtue <465>.”

Benjamin Franklin further stated :

“A Bible and a newspaper in every house, a good school in every district – all studied and appreciated as they merit – are the principal support of virtue, morality, and civil liberty <466>.”

Thoreau Doctrine

The following quotation from the Britannica Encyclopedia establishes an overview of Henry David Thoreau’s doctrine as follow :

“Midway in his Walden sojourn Thoreau had spent a night in jail. On an evening in July 1846 he was accosted by Sam Staples, the constable and tax gatherer. Sam asked him amiably to pay his poll tax, which he had omitted paying for several years. He declined and Sam locked him up. The next morning a still-unidentified lady, perhaps his aunt, Maria, paid the tax. Thoreau reluctantly emerged, did an errand, and then went huckleberrying. A single night, he decided, was enough to make his point. His point was that he could not support a government that endorsed slavery and waged an imperialist war against Mexico. His defense of the private, individual conscience against the expediency of the majority found expression in his most famous essay, “Civil Disobedience,” which was first published in May 1849 under the title “Resistance to Civil Government.” The essay received little attention until the 20th century, when it found an eager audience. To many, its message still sounds timely: there is a higher law than the civil one, and the higher law must be followed even if a penalty ensues. So does its consequence: “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”


As demonstrated by their own similar views both men looked toward a higher authority: the justification of higher laws for Thoreau and the guidance of and intervention in our lives in the revelations from the Bible and providential actions for Franklin.

The Franklin approach understood as the process of continuous lifetime education, commerce, awareness of current affairs via the newspaper politic and continuous improvement or attempted intended improvement. Granted he did not always expect to succeed, however, he found it important to promote good character and to promote the goal of individual virtuous living. Franklin appears to promote working studiously within the system through participation, education and communication (via improvements due to the printing press) efforts. The goal is for all individual citizens to strive for betterment, sound judgment and cooperation on the foundations of “[…] virtue, morality and civil liberty […]”. Franklin believed that participating in the political process through print media particularly would promote the general improvement of the system for everyone. He also tried not to intentionally throw roadblocks and confusion into situations or take on the responsibility of guilt by omission. In addition, he tried to be calmly respectful or tolerant (endurance) of others views.

Thoreau on the other hand not well accepted in his own time, apparently gained favor over the generations from a minority perspective. He held views that government was a problem, because he disagreed with majority rule and considered minority issues of primary importance. The only solution that appeared evident was to work outside the system the bureaucracy by not supporting the perceived bad laws and unjustified force of war against Mexico. He like Franklin promoted communication as an author, however, the focus was to let your personal preference view of the government be publicly known, albeit in the form of promoting non-obedience or guilt by omission. Why bother to pay the poll tax. He held the Navy marines of the day as poor excuses of humanity controlled by worse rulers. This sounds a bit judgmental at best. He promoted taking a stand to abolish slavery and recommended that minority conformity will not improve the situation, but what constructive actions did he take? Thoreau did not consider commerce, the procurement of money, as virtuous. He did not consider government important enough to get involved in the system to effect corrective political actions.


This paper has offered some of the author’s thoughts concerning an understanding of the notion of living deliberately as a comparison between Benjamin Franklin and Henry David Thoreau.

Thoreau obviously considered himself not a just man because he only spent one day in prison as apposed to his claim about “[…] the true place for a just man […]”. He failed to understand that statistically some innocent parties in fact are “jailed” in error under any system. The author wonders if one good man might influence a jailhouse full of bad men and thus justify the good presence in a providential situational sense.

One would think that to be disrespectful to a judge or government would force the judge or government to focus on the disrespect instead of the issue under debate. Perhaps Thoreau would have been more successful had he followed the advice of a more Franklin like approach. Like the actions taken by John Quincy Adams as demonstrated by the following quote . “On December 3, 1844, after years of struggle against the powerful slavery interests, John Quincy Adams’ motion succeeded to rescind the infamous Gag Rule, which had forbidden the discussion of slavery in the Congress. After hearing the progress of his long and lonely anti-slavery crusade, John Quincy Adams wrote in his diary:
Blessed, forever blessed, be the name of God! <1609>.”

What year did the civil war start? (1861). Ah ha, the time of Thoreau (b1817-d1862) was spread between the founding era revolutionary war (1776), the Gag Rule (1844) and the civil war (1861). As an important side note, the author’s own grandfather was born in (1889) shortly after the civil war. We must realize that this country is not ancient and we may be only discussing a six generational span. Perhaps Thoreau could have prevented the civil war with involved participation and authority of applied superior intellect if he had taken Franklins advice and participated in the government decision-making process. Alas Thoreau’s ideas or attitudes may have had unforeseen consequences. The author wonders what happens when individual good people are absent or civilly disobedient (guilty by omission) from the debate and the political decision making process and what is the impact on his-story!


Copyright © 1994-2001 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
Franklin, Benjamin. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library, October 1, 2005, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, <> (2005).

American Quotations © 1997 by William J. Federer AMERICAN QUOTATIONS Version 1.3 A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Quotations Influencing Early and Modern American History Referenced according to their Sources in Literature, Memoirs, Letters, Governmental Documents, Speeches, Charters, Court Decisions & Constitutions WILLIAM J. FEDERER ©1997 by William J. Federer. All rights reserved. Published in the United States of America.

464. Franklin, Benjamin. William B. Wilcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), Vol. 15, p. 301. Tim LaHaye, Faith of Our Founding Fathers (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1987), p. 124. Norman Cousins, In God We Trust – The Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers (NY: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1955), p. 20.

465. Franklin, Benjamin. Leonard Labaree, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), Vol. I, p. 213. Tim LaHaye, Faith of Our Founding Fathers (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1987), p. 120.

466. Franklin, Benjamin. Tryon Edwards, D.D., The New Dictionary of Thoughts – A Cyclopedia of Quotations (Garden City, NY: Hanover House, 1852; revised and enlarged by C.H. Catrevas, Ralph Emerson Browns and Jonathan Edwards [descendent, along with Tryon, of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), president of Princeton], 1891; The Standard Book Company, 1955, 1963), pp. 49, 338.

1609. Adams, John Quincy. December 3, 1844, in a diary entry, after hearing that his efforts to rescind the infamous Gag Rule had finally succeeded. Champ Bennett Clark, John Quincy Adams: “Old Man Eloquent” (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1932), p. 407. Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Glory of America (Bloomington, MN: Garborg’s Heart’N Home, Inc., 1991), 12.3.

Additional Research Investigations

[…] read my paper titled, “Proprie Peregrinus Epistemology Solidarity/Rhetoric Versus Objectivity“, in order to compare declared truth to decerned truth truth based on objective evidence […]

[…] read my paper titled, “Rhetorical Verse Definition “Social Compact” American History“, in order to define the origins of the phrase “social compact“[…]


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