This article seeks to recover an eighteenth-century understanding of the character and significance of economic life common to both Benjamin Franklin and Adam Smith. This account, which pertained in particular to economic life in North America, placed economic endeavors within a larger account of commercial and political life. Moreover, in the American case in particular, this larger vision understood economic life as a potentially transient chapter of life, one that served the larger and more permanent moral, civic, and political components. This paper concludes by challenging the profound influence of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism on our understanding of Franklin and the economic order he helped shape. In so challenging, it seeks to restore the deliberately incomplete and implicitly teleological economic ethos promoted by both Franklin and Smith.

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