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The Junto was a club for mutual improvement established in 1727 by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia. Also known as the Leather Apron Club, its purpose was to debate questions of morals, politics, and natural philosophy, and to exchange knowledge of business affairs.
Franklin organized a group of friends to provide a structured form of mutual improvement. The group, initially composed of twelve members, called itself the Junto (the word is a mistaken use of the masculine singular Spanish adjective "joined", mistaken for the feminine singular noun "junta", "a meeting". Both derive from Latin "iunct-", past participle of "iungere", "to join"). The members of the Junto were drawn from diverse occupations and backgrounds, but they all shared a spirit of inquiry and a desire to improve themselves, their community, and to help others. Among the original members were printers, surveyors, a cabinetmaker, a clerk, and a bartender. Although most of the members were older than Franklin, he was clearly their leader.
At just 21, he oversaw five men, including Hugh Meredith, Stephen Potts, and George Webb, who were soon to form the core of the Junto. Franklin was an outgoing, social individual and had become acquainted with some of the businessmen at a club called the Every Night Club. This gathering included prominent merchants who met informally to drink and discuss the business of the day. Franklin’s congenial ways attracted many unique and learned individuals, and from these, he selected the members for the Junto.
All members lived in Philadelphia and came from diverse areas of interest and business. Along with Meredith, Potts, and Webb, they included Joseph Breintnall, merchant and scrivener, who also loved poetry and natural history. Thomas Godfrey was a glazier, mathematician, and inventor; and Nicholas Scull and William Parsons were both surveyors. Scull was also a bibliophile and Parsons a cobbler and astrologer. William Maugridge was a cabinetmaker, William Coleman a merchant’s clerk, and Robert Grace a gentleman. Grace’s wealth meant he did not have to work, but apparently he brought an intellectual element to the group and a fine library. The twelfth member of the Junto remained a mystery until 2007, when Professor George Boudreau of Penn State discovered a long-forgotten account of the club's refreshments, and verified that shoemaker John Jones, Jr. was an original member. Jones was a Philadelphia Quaker, a neighbor of Franklin's, and later a founding member of the Library Company of Philadelphia. The club met Friday nights, first in a tavern and later in a house, to discuss moral, political, and scientific topics of the day.
Franklin describes the formation and purpose of the Junto in his autobiography:
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 Junto's Friday evening meetings were organized around a series of questions that Franklin devised, covering a range of intellectual, personal, business, and community topics. These questions were used as a springboard for discussion and community action. In fact, through the Junto, Franklin promoted such concepts as volunteer fire-fighting clubs, improved security (night watchmen), and a public hospital.
This is the list of questions Franklin devised to guide the discussions at Junto meetings (from Franklin's papers, dated 1728, and included in some editions of his autobiography):
Any person to be qualified as a member was to stand up, lay his hand upon his chest, over his heart, and be asked the following questions, viz.
There are several modern-day Juntos modeled on Franklin's original meeting operating today. Hedge fund manager Victor Niederhoffer has been running the New York City Junto since 1985. Meeting monthly, the New York Junto focuses on libertarianism, Objectivism (the philosophy of Ayn Rand), and investing. A Junto meets in Philadelphia and is focussed on the original concept of "for profit, for good" business practices and an interest in civic improvement and investment. There are regular dinners and a yearly retreat. The London Junto meets monthly at the Lansdowne Club, where Franklin signed the Treaty of Paris with Lord Shelburne. Nicholas Vardy has been running the London Junto since 2005.