8. The Accumulation of Money Is a Means to an End
Your sentiments of the general Foible of Mankind, in the pursuit of wealth to no end, are expressed in a manner that gave me great pleasure in reading. They are extremely just; at least they are perfectly agreeable to mine. But London citizens, they say, are ambitious of what they call dying worth a great Sum: The very notion seems to me absurd; and just the same as if a man should run in debt for 1000 Superfluities, to the End that when he should be stript of all, and imprisoned by his Creditors, it might be said he broke worth a great Sum. I imagine that what we have above what we can use is not properly ours, tho’ we possess it, and that the rich Man, who must die, was no more worth what he leaves, than the debtor who must pay.” From a letter from BF to William Strahan, 1750
While someone who is only superficially familiar with Franklin’s biography and his famous maxims might come away with the notion that he was merely a prudish, penny-pinching acquisitive capitalist who thought only of money, nothing could be further from the truth. For Franklin the pursuit of wealth was merely a means to an end. And that end was gaining the “leisure to read, study, make experiments, and converse at large with such ingenious and worthy men, as are pleased to honor me with their friendship or acquaintance, on such points as may produce something for the common benefit of mankind, uninterrupted by the little cares and fatigues of business.” Franklin’s early retirement from the printing business did indeed produce numerous benefits for mankind, including the creation of several new inventions (none of which he patented–improving the lives of others was enough reward), and his service in helping to found a new country.
For Franklin the whole point of gaining wealth and developing virtue was not to live a life of luxury (although he did enjoy more creature comforts once he was able to) nor to become a moral prude, but to allow oneself to grow into the kind of man who had the character, wisdom, and time to become an involved and upright citizen, able to serve others and one’s country, which, Franklin also believed, was the best way to serve God.
Benjamin Franklin, who wrote to his mother while he was still in his early forties, that after his death he’d rather have it said of him “he lived useful,” than “he died rich.”
by Brett & Kate McKay – www.artofmanliness.com