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13 Virtues of Benjamin Franklin (or why Franklin is a stud)

June 25, 2009

Benjamin Franklin was a stud–successful entrepreneur, brilliant statesman, prolific writer, notable inventor, ladies man.  As Walter Isaacson writes, Washington and Jefferson were monumental, unapproachable.  They were aristocratic.  They were “landed gentry.”    Franklin, on the other hand, was a self-made man.  He earned his achievements through raw ambition, constant self-improvement, and a mixture of frugality and industry. He had maintained a distaste for formality, loved the truth above all else, and avidly supported the common citizen.

Stated differently, this dude kept it real.  If alive today he’d invite you to a house party, smoke hookah, and pepper you with Socratic questions concerning the definition of freedom.  He’d run a digital media empire, advise silicon valley tycoons, negotiate peace between Israel and Palestine, and cavort with underwear models during his extensive global travels.  After embarrassing photos get posted to facebook, he’d write a pithy blog post with subsequent tweets justifying his lifestyle choices.  His argument would overwhelm detractors with reason and hilarity.  He’d be oddly accessible, and he’d definitely carry an iPhone.

The 13 Virtues:

I learned recently that Franklin lived his life by 13 virtues he defined during his 20’s.  Read them slowly and intentionally. Go through your day and measure yourself against them with a pen and paper.  It’s illuminating.

  1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order: Let all things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others; (i.e., waste nothing).
  6. Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  11. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or anther’s peace or reputation.
  13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

You Get What You Measure:

What I find most remarkable is that Franklin methodically measured himself on these 13 virtues throughout his life.  He carried a booklet every day and placed a tick mark whenever he disobeyed a virtue.  Because this task in nearly impossible at the onset, Franklin focused on one virtue per week and attempted to perfect that one for that week.  He rotated each virtue so over the course of a year, he had 4 cycles working on each.  Talk about managing for performance!

Think.  Have you ever committed yourself to such a methodical self improvement exercise with such discipline? It takes tremendous courage, self knowledge, and commitment to improvement.  I think few people could do this.  That’s probably why people like Ben Franklin are so rare.

Join My Experiment

I’m going to run a mini experiment for the month of July, employing Franklin’s 13 virtues to the best of my ability.   Anybody is welcome to join me.  I’ll create a Google spreadsheet and we can track one another.  Let me know. We’ll keep each other honest!  Reply to the thread (or email) if you’re down.

Walter Isaacson on Franklin


1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness and drink not to elevation.

2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.

3. Order: Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.

4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.

5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.

6. Industry: Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.

7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

8. Justice: Wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

9. Moderation: Avoid extremes. Forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation.

11. Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring; Never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2009 5:20 am

    your post was shared w/ us
    great idea – there’s an iphone app to help you experiment in the event you aren’t familiar
    good luck

    http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=312015301&mt=8

  2. elliottgarlock permalink*
    June 25, 2009 1:42 pm

    Wow, this app rocks! I’m actually getting an iPhone next week and will most definitely load this one up.

    Question: Can you share your results with others who have the app?

    Ps. I’m astounded that you found this hours after I posted it. I’m a marketer at P&G, so I’m always interested in how people do blogger outreach as successfully as you just did above.

    How did you do it? What software do you use? Any advice?

  3. July 12, 2009 11:31 pm

    So, I’ve that this is MUCH harder than I thought. I’ve probably actually measured myself against this criteria maybe 5 of the last 12 days. Wow. Franklin really was a stud. Back to the drawing board for me.

  4. Warrior permalink
    July 28, 2009 12:31 pm

    I am going to follow these virtues as well. This week it Temperence and Silence. I bulked them together because I dont really over eat or drink, but I will watch for it.

    I found you on the 2nd page of Google, keywords: ben franklins 13 virtues

  5. elliottgarlock permalink*
    July 28, 2009 2:21 pm

    Hey Warrior, Thanks for joining! It’s a lot tougher to follow these virtues than I ever imagined. I’ll send you a link to the google doc.

  6. November 9, 2009 8:03 pm

    Benjamin Franklin had a remarkable impact in so many ways, particularly in his helpful aphorisms. A Benjamin Franklin article just received the ‘Top 100 Electricity Blogs’ Award http://bit.ly/z8Ckp

  7. Amy Robinson permalink
    February 26, 2010 7:08 pm

    Excellent post. If more people read and lived by
    Franklin’s virtues, the world would be a better place.

  8. April 3, 2011 6:05 pm

    In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin demonstrates throughout the text how he achieved financial independence in his 30s, and wealth in his 40s. In my book ‘Wealth Virtues’, I redefine wealth as simply the goal of ‘acquiring more money than you spend, and to save more money than you owe.’ The path set forth in ‘Wealth Virtues’ towards this goal is the Cycle of Positive Wealth, my own repeatable methodology of eliminating debt and increasing your savings. What keeps you on the path is the practice of Dr. Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues. In essence, “improve yourself to improve your wealth!”

  9. Kaitlin permalink
    November 17, 2012 6:59 pm

    Your website really helped me out. Thank you! And i would love to try to live by Franklin’s 13 vitrues. I am going to start out with Silence, Industry, and sincerity.

  10. January 11, 2013 5:23 pm

    How did u acquire the recommendations to write ““13 Virtues
    of Benjamin Franklin (or why Franklin is a stud) Elliott Garlock”?
    Thank you -Edwin

  11. Resonable permalink
    May 29, 2013 1:08 am

    Thank you for posting this I read about these the other day. However they didnt have all of the virtues… I certainly will push to master these as I go to college next year.

  12. September 21, 2014 12:32 am

    I think this is among the most vital info for me. And i’m glad reading your article.
    But want to remark on few general things, The site style is ideal, the
    articles is really great : D. Good job, cheers

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