The Junto – Benjamin Franklin’s Intellectual Fight Club.

In the Autumn of 1727 Benjamin Franklin created a club called The Leather Apron Club which was later officially dubbed the Junto.

The Leather Apron Club/Junto was a small collection of like-minded men, tradesmen and artisans, that initially met every Friday evening at a local tavern to discuss philosophy, poetry, politics, self-improvement, and network in order to further their business interests and public endeavors.

Benjamin considered it a club for “mutual improvement”.

They debated philosophy, natural history, brought up moral questions to the group and offered up papers on these and other diverse subjects.

As time went on, the club was able to rent a room for their meetings and debates.

Twelve friends and acquaintances of Franklin’s made up the initial Junto. These men ranged from Scriveners, Surveyors, Joiners, and Poets, to Clerks and Mathematicians.

Although the original rules for the Junto did not survive, the twenty-four “Standing Queries” that were read each meeting, and the four qualifications for new members, have.

Benjamin was quite earnest with the seriousness of the Junto and if you wanted to join you were required to stand with your hand over your heart and answer, honestly and forthrightly, these four questions:

“Do you have disrespect for any current member?”

“Do you love mankind in general regardless of religion or profession?”

“Do you feel people should ever be punished because of their opinions or mode of worship?”

“Do you love and pursue truth for its own sake?”

The “Standing Queries” were as follows:

  1. Have you met with anything 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. Has 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 anything 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 anybody 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 anything amiss in the present customs or proceedings of the Junto, which might be amended?

The ‘Queries’ guided the meetings and kept the members focused.

Now, here’s where the Fight Club reference is perfect – the Junto operated in relative secrecy for over thirty years, with Benjamin at the helm. They didn’t brag and run their mouths. They did the work behind the scenes.

Franklin also encouraged other members to create spin off Juntos and to adopt the same rules and guidelines for them. I think there were four or five Junto offshoots.

Thus, you see, the Junto was a form of Intellectual Fight Club.

And from this Junto, many public works were created and proposed. To start, the members brought their own books to be added to the club’s ‘library’. This library was to later become America’s first subscription library.

Pretty cool, right?

That’s only the start. The Junto proposed a tax for the creation of a volunteer fire force, neighborhood constables, and creating an academy – to what is now known as The University of Pennsylvania.

Personal self-improvement, accountability, and a local civic responsibility.

William James Stillman, in 1858, created a similar group – The Philosopher’s Camp, which was a camping expedition to Follensby Pond in the Adirondacks, comprised of intellectuals and scientists.

I like this idea. I think it’s time for a return and a resurgence of the Junto.

What do you think?

References & Further Reading:

  1. Website – http://www.benjamin-franklin-history.org/junto-club/
  2. “The autobiography of Benjamin Franklin – with a new foreward by Edmund S. Morgan”, Yale University Press, 2003.
  3. “Benjamin Franklin” by Walter Isaacson, 2003.
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