Benjamin Franklin’s life story was first published in France under the title “Mémoires de la vie privée de Benjamin Franklin”(The Private Life of the late Benjamin Franklin) in 1791, and it quickly became the target of censors from that first printing up to the present day.
The Autobiography was even censored by Franklin’s own grandson, who changed some of its racy material- such as the story of Franklin\’s sexual advance towards James Ralph\’s girlfriend in London- in favor of the more prim and proper ideals of the 19th Century.
Franklin was “the father of the Post Office,” and even served as the first Postmaster General in 1753, but in an ironic twist of fate Franklin\’s works, if sent through the United States Postal Service, made the sender liable to prosecution under the Comstock Act of 1873. In the book he describes having a child out of wedlock and several affairs with young women, which violated the Act’s prohibiting the transport of “indecent” material across State lines.
Regularly banned for being “socially offensive” in various schools across the country, copies were sanitized of their sexual references by publishers so that schools would buy copies of the book. Eventually, most publishers got tired of whitewashing the book and refused to print it altogether.
Franklin’s troubles with censorship don’t end with his Autobiography. Another work that has been the bane of the moral majority includes “Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of His Mistress,” which was a letter about why young men should desire older women. In the work he states, “Regarding what is below the girdle, it is impossible of two women to tell an old one from a young one; and as in the dark all cats are grey, the pleasure of corporal enjoyment with an old woman is at least equal- and frequently superior- every knack being by practice capable of improvement.\”
His essay, “To the Royal Academy at Brussels”, discusses the social implications of farting during a State dinner; it would call upon the scientific minds of the time to devise a pill that would render the ill effects associated with it neutral.
Franklin began writing his Autobiography in 1771 for his son to have an historical record of the life of their family. He worked on the memoirs occasionally throughout his life, but the book was never finished before his death in 1790. It does, however, provide a detailed-enough account of his civic and voluntary involvement in the early days of the United States.
The Autobiography was the first American book to be taken seriously by Europeans as literature, yet today in America it joins many other classics on the list of the 100 most banned books as catalogued by the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.
For all accounts, Benjamin Franklin was the American version of Leonardo DaVinci- brilliant thinker, persuasive speaker, scientist, inventor, and philosopher, he was a passionate supporter of learning and knowledge, and a vocal defender of democracy in reading- as he is recognized as creating the first public lending library in the United States.
Little did he know that one day his own books wouldn’t be allowed in them.
Sources: Wikipedia, American Library Association, Portland Community College, North Plains Public Library, AARP
© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions