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Finding Benjamin Franklin: A Resource Guide

The Autobiography in Manuscript

Several manuscripts related to the creation of Franklin's Autobiography are held by the Library of Congress's Manuscript Division. These include the Le Veillard Translation of the manuscript into French; copies of Franklin's outline for his memoir in the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson's secretary William Short, and of Franklin's grandson William Temple Franklin; and, printing-related notes and memoranda related to William Temple Franklin's 1818 authorized edition.

Franklin's own manuscript, now held by The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, is discussed in the Autobiography at Other Institutions section of this guide.

Copies and Translations

Le Veillard Translation. On November 13, 1789, Franklin sent a fair copy of his manuscript memoir to his friend Louis Guillaume Le Veillard in Passy, France. As of this time, Franklin had written the first three of four eventual parts of the text. In 1791, when grandson William Temple Franklin traveled to France, he traded Franklin's final manuscript for the one in Le Veillard's possession--apparently unconcerned about final edits, and thinking a clean copy would be easier for typesetters to work with. Meanwhile, Le Veillard translated (or had someone translate) the memoir into French, drawing on both the near-final and final versions. Le Veillard’s manuscript of the French translation was purchased by the Library of Congress in 1908.


Although Franklin never completed the Autobiography, he worked from an outline that indicates what he meant to include in the rest of his memoir. Several of these copies are held in Library of Congress manuscript collections.

William Short Copy. Scholars believe that Franklin composed the outline for his memoir soon after he began his writing in 1771. In 1782, Franklin's Philadelphia friend Abel James sent a copy of that outline to Franklin in Paris, along with a letter urging him to resume the work. This James copy of the outline (now at the Morgan Library and Museum) External became Franklin's working copy as he completed Parts Two, Three and Four of the Autobiography. At some point between 1782 and 1786, Franklin's French friend Louis Guillaume Le Veillard acquired copies of James's letter and Franklin's working outline. And in 1786, Thomas Jefferson borrowed Le Veillard's copies, as well as some additional notes on Franklin's life taken down by Le Veillard in French, to make further copies of his own. Jefferson's copies of the James letter and outline were prepared by his secretary, William Short, and are included in the Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

William Temple Franklin Copies. Two partial copies of Franklin's outline survive in the handwriting of his grandson and literary executor, William Temple Franklin. These outlines begin after the point in Franklin's outline that corresponds to the end of Part Three of the Autobiography, and they expand on and regroup some of Franklin's original headings. In his second copy (based on the first) Temple Franklin also pasted sections of already-printed biographies of Franklin into place according to his revised headings. Based on publication dates of the books he cut from, Temple Franklin's outlines were created after 1806. Although he did not eventually follow these outlines for his 1818 Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin, Temple Franklin was clearly influenced by them as he planned supplementary text for the incomplete Autobiography. Temple Franklin's outlines, along with his holdings of his grandfather's papers and some of his own, were purchased by the U.S. government in 1882 and transferred to the Library of Congress in 1903.

Publishing Records

In addition to content and potential content for Franklin's published memoir, William Temple Franklin's papers include various notes and memoranda related to publication of the work, including projected printing costs and drafts of title pages.