Benjamin Franklin And Frederick Douglass: Similarities And Differences In The Early Years

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A significant difference between Frederick Douglass and Benjamin Franklin is one was born a free American and the other was born an American slave. The number one interest that both men share is the fact that they both started out with nothing and became famous figures in American History. The differences in both narrative reading ability are Franklin enhanced his learning ability through reading various books, and Douglass had no previous learning ability, yet he learned to read by giving food to hungry children. Both narratives have numerous similarities and differences as they were both indebted to working for someone.

Frederick Douglass being born into slavery had to work for his master, in contrast, Benjamin Franklin was indebted to working for his father than his brother. Even though Benjamin Franklin was not born into a poor family, he still had a desire to make a better life for himself. Therefore, he was not satisfied working in the candle and soap making business with his father, nor becoming part of the clergy. However, Frederick Douglass was not satisfied with his position in life being a slave, therefore he hungered for freedom from the bondage of the slave masters. Although during the 19th Century slaves were forbidden to learn any type of reading or writing, Douglass knew to learn to read was the key to his future. Therefore, he fully took advantage of every opportunity that he could to secretly learn how to read and write. This required him to educate himself at the risk of brutal punishment and then to take the even greater risk of an escape attempt.

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Although Benjamin Franklin was not able to go far in the field of education, he still developed a passion for books and would do just about anything to obtain books to read. However, buying books, or having to borrow books did not let this stop him from becoming a successful apprentice at his brother printer company. During these years, Mr. Franklin developed a book obsession and would do just about anything to obtain a variety of books to use as reading materials. He would even borrow books from various sources, basically, he used these books as a learning tool. It appears that his brother was somewhat jealous of his printing ability and did not value his work enough to let him print his opinion in the paper. Benjamin Franklin was afraid to even offer his brother any type of advice or opinion because he knew his brother would strongly oppose any suggestion that he would offer. Therefore, he secretly disguised his indemnity and began writing articles that his brother did publish in the daily papers. “In 1722, James unwittingly published one of his younger brother’s first essay, when he printed an editorial left on his desk signed “Silence Dogood,” the first in a series that Franklin produced over several months” (440). However, he decided that his plans for success could not be achieved working for his brother, because he stood in the way of him printing his literature. Therefore, decided to move on to advance his plans in the printing business.

Frederick Douglass like Benjamin Franklin knew that education was the key to fulling their American Dream. Both men basically had to learn on their own without obtaining a college degree. Douglass knew what it felt like to go to bed at night hungry at an early age. He also learned what it was like to be afraid of being punished, and not have the comfort of a mother’s love. During the 19th century, slaves were not able to love and comfort their children when they were sick, or afraid. For instance, many slave children were sold to other slaveholders, and sadly the mothers could not do anything to prevent their masters from taking their children. In this era, all slaves were considered the property of their masters.


  1. Jones, R. V. “Benjamin Franklin.” Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, vol. 31, no. 2, 1977, pp. 201–225. JSTOR,
  2. Levine, Robert. American Literature. W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 2017.
  3. Levine, Robert. American Literature 1820-1865. W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 2017.
  4. Warnick, Brian R. 'Oppression, Freedom, and the Education of Frederick Douglass.' Philosophical Studies in Education 39 (2008): 24-34. ProQuest. Web. 1 Dec. 2019.
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