Portrait of Benjamin Franklin
JR Jan 15, 2017 Uncategorized 0

The Junto

by Benjamin Franklin (1727)

In 1727 Franklin formed a small club for mutual benefit and improvement, called the Junto (from the Latin “iungere” meaning “to join”). In his Autobiography he described the group as follows.

1728 – I should have mentioned before, that, in the autumn of the preceding year, I had form’d most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the JUNTO; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased. Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute, or desire of victory; and, to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.

The first members were Joseph Breintnal, a copyer of deeds for the scriveners, a good-natur’d, friendly, middle-ag’d man, a great lover of poetry, reading all he could meet with, and writing some that was tolerable; very ingenious in many little Nicknackeries, and of sensible conversation. Thomas Godfrey, a self-taught mathematician, great in his way, and afterward inventor of what is now called Hadley’s Quadrant. But he knew little out of his way, and was not a pleasing companion; as, like most great mathematicians I have met with, he expected universal precision in everything said, or was for ever denying or distinguishing upon trifles, to the disturbance of all conversation. He soon left us. Nicholas Scull, a surveyor, afterwards surveyor-general, who lov’d books, and sometimes made a few verses. William Parsons, bred a shoemaker, but loving reading, had acquir’d a considerable share of mathematics, which he first studied with a view to astrology, that he afterwards laught at it. He also became surveyor-general. William Maugridge, a joiner, a most exquisite mechanic, and a solid, sensible man. Hugh Meredith, Stephen Potts, and George Webb I have characteriz’d before. Robert Grace, a young gentleman of some fortune, generous, lively, and witty; a lover of punning and of his friends. And William Coleman, then a merchant’s clerk, about my age, who had the coolest, dearest head, the best heart, and the exactest morals of almost any man I ever met with. He became afterwards a merchant of great note, and one of our provincial judges. Our friendship continued without interruption to his death, upward of forty years; and the club continued almost as long, and was the best school of philosophy, morality, and politics that then existed in the province; for our queries, which were read the week preceding their discussion, put us upon reading with attention upon the several subjects, that we might speak more to the purpose; and here, too, we acquired better habits of conversation, every thing being studied in our rules which might prevent our disgusting each other. From hence the long continuance of the club, which I shall have frequent occasion to speak further of hereafter.

1736 – Our club, the Junto, was found so useful, and afforded such satisfaction to the members, that several were desirous of introducing their friends, which could not well be done without exceeding what we had settled as a convenient number, viz., twelve. We had from the beginning made it a rule to keep our institution a secret, which was pretty well observ’d; the intention was to avoid applications of improper persons for admittance, some of whom, perhaps, we might find it difficult to refuse. I was one of those who were against any addition to our number, but, instead of it, made in writing a proposal, that every member separately should endeavor to form a subordinate club, with the same rules respecting queries, etc., and without informing them of the connection with the Junto. The advantages proposed were, the improvement of so many more young citizens by the use of our institutions; our better acquaintance with the general sentiments of the inhabitants on any occasion, as the Junto member might propose what queries we should desire, and was to report to the Junto what pass’d in his separate club; the promotion of our particular interests in business by more extensive recommendation, and the increase of our influence in public affairs, and our power of doing good by spreading thro’ the several clubs the sentiments of the Junto.

The project was approv’d, and every member undertook to form his club, but they did not all succeed. Five or six only were compleated, which were called by different names, as the Vine, the Union, the Band, etc. They were useful to themselves, and afforded us a good deal of amusement, information, and instruction, besides answering, in some considerable degree, our views of influencing the public opinion on particular occasions, of which I shall give some instances in course of time as they happened.

1737 – About this time I wrote a paper (first to be read in Junto, but it was afterward publish’d) on the different accidents and carelessnesses by which houses were set on fire, with cautions against them, and means proposed of avoiding them. This was much spoken of as a useful piece, and gave rise to a project, which soon followed it, of forming a company for the more ready extinguishing of fires, and mutual assistance in removing and securing the goods when in danger. Associates in this scheme were presently found, amounting to thirty. Our articles of agreement oblig’d every member to keep always in good order, and fit for use, a certain number of leather buckets, with strong bags and baskets (for packing and transporting of goods), which were to be brought to every fire; and we agreed to meet once a month and spend a social evening together, in discoursing and communicating such ideas as occurred to us upon the subject of fires, as might be useful in our conduct on such occasions.

The utility of this institution soon appeared, and many more desiring to be admitted than we thought convenient for one company, they were advised to form another, which was accordingly done; and this went on, one new company being formed after another, till they became so numerous as to include most of the inhabitants who were men of property; and now, at the time of my writing this, tho’ upward of fifty years since its establishment, that which I first formed, called the Union Fire Company, still subsists and flourishes, tho’ the first members are all deceas’d but myself and one, who is older by a year than I am. The small fines that have been paid by members for absence at the monthly meetings have been apply’d to the purchase of fire-engines, ladders, fire-hooks, and other useful implements for each company, so that I question whether there is a city in the world better provided with the means of putting a stop to beginning conflagrations; and, in fact, since these institutions, the city has never lost by fire more than one or two houses at a time, and the flames have often been extinguished before the house in which they began has been half consumed.

In Franklin’s papers from 1728 can also be found the following questions that Junto members were to ask themselves in preparing for meetings:

  1. 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?
  2. What new story have you lately heard agreeable for telling in conversation?
  3. Hath any citizen in your knowledge failed in his business lately, and what have you heard of the cause?
  4. Have you lately heard of any citizen’s thriving well, and by what means?
  5. Have you lately heard how any present rich man, here or elsewhere, got his estate?
  6. 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?
  7. What unhappy effects of intemperance have you lately observed or heard? of imprudence? of passion? or of any other vice or folly?
  8. What happy effects of temperance? of prudence? of moderation? or of any other virtue?
  9. Have you or any of your acquaintance been lately sick or wounded? If so, what remedies were used, and what were their effects?
  10. Who do you know that are shortly going [on] voyages or journeys, if one should have occasion to send by them?
  11. 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?
  12. 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?
  13. Do you know of any deserving young beginner lately set up, whom it lies in the power of the Junto any way to encourage?
  14. 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?
  15. Have you lately observed any encroachment on the just liberties of the people?
  16. Hath any body attacked your reputation lately? and what can the Junto do towards securing it?
  17. Is there any man whose friendship you want, and which the Junto, or any of them, can procure for you?
  18. Have you lately heard any member’s character attacked, and how have you defended it?
  19. Hath any man injured you, from whom it is in the power of the Junto to procure redress?
  20. In what manner can the Junto, or any of them, assist you in any of your honourable designs?
  21. Have you any weighty affair in hand, in which you think the advice of the Junto may be of service?
  22. What benefits have you lately received from any man not present?
  23. Is there any difficulty in matters of opinion, of justice, and injustice, which you would gladly have discussed at this time?
  24. Do you see any thing amiss in the present customs or proceedings of the Junto, which might be amended?Monadnock Valley Press > Franklin

 

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