Monday, July 11, 2022

Benjamin Franklin by Ken Burns

Benjamin Franklin is perhaps the most fascinating character in American history.  His accomplishments are overwhelming, but my interest is his thought process.  Ken Burns captures the essence in a four hour presentation which was shown on PBS stations and is available in DVD format.

He was done with school at age ten and had run away from home as a teen.  He became a very heavy reader.  As he matured he became an organizer and became interested in science.  At one point he became a postmaster and traveled to several states including southern ones.  From this experience he developed a feeling that the colonies should work closer with one another.

As a printer he started "Poor Richard's Almanac" which became very popular.  Partly because he included some sayings that became popular.  One example, "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and rise."  He discussed the path to success analyzing the needed virtues and how to attain them.  He also developed a method for making difficult decisions that became known as the Benjamin Franklin method.

He was always a curious man. Electricity was fascinating and after many experiments he developed the concept of a lightning rod, which as saved many lives.  He also came up with the concept for a battery.  Another project for a relative was to invent a catheter improvement.  He also developed an improved wooden stove and would not accept a patent.  Later in life  he was taken with a musical performance with wine glasses and went on to invent the glass armonica which Mozart composed for.  At one time he was asked about the point of a man bearing balloon and replied "What good is a newborn baby?"

Prejudiced?  Like all humans he soaked in the beliefs of his environment--until he observed the unexpected and questioned them.  He owned slaves at one time and  Although he had joined anti slave groups for a long time he took it for granted they were incapable of serious discussion.  However when negro youngsters were sent to Philadelphia to learn to read Franklin appreciated they had thinking ability.  

He also had a low opinion of the indigenous natives, but later was inspired by the Six Nations and their system of government.  He had been involved a little with the French and Indian War that resulted in the French losing territory that included Quebec City and parts of what later became part of the United States.  He also was involved with the negotiations and was very impressed with how the Six Nations handled themselves feeling that the American colonies should unite and have more power.

The War made the colonies were more expensive that earlier thought and the British felt the settlers needed to help pay the extra costs. 

Benjamin Franklin went to London which he found very stimulating socializing with such luminaries as Adam Smith and David Hume.  He admired the British Empire and wanted it to continue.  He campaigned for his son William and he was named to be governor of New Jersey.  After talking to Lord Howe as a Pennsylvania delegate he was offered state taxation but by this time was too late' he notion of taxation without representation had taken hold.

Maybe not surprising Benjamin Franklin was leaning the Loyalist way, but decided to be a "patriot."  He was the oldest at the Congressional meeting. He had tried to convince Canadians to side with American colonies. 

One of Franklin's contributions was to substitute he phrase "self evident" in place of "sacred" as Jefferson had originally written in the Declaration of Independence.  Part of the effort to separate the state from church.

The War of Independence was really a civil war with many families divided (including Franklin).  His son William remained loyalist.  Franklin was chosen to be envoy to France.  Seeking an alliance in France was very sociable, but he secured some treaties.   Also he met Voltaire, one month before his death.

After the American victory negotiations with England saw Franklin involved.  He dealt with tricky point of not including France in negotiations.  The Indigenous were disappointed with many leaving for Canada leaving a mark not far from where I live.  The Six Nations were granted land along the Grand River.  My two youngsters were born in Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington.

At the 1787 Constitution conference Franklin was in committee to decide weight of states with different population.  Recognizing the north needed the south for the union he sought compromise.  Each state have 2 senators selected by state.  The House of Representatives membership was to be calculated with members of by population, but allowing blacks to be counted as 3/5 of non slaves.   He recognized faults and proposed agreement to be ratified by states.  He considered democracy an experiment that needed to be tinkered with.

He repaired relations with British friends, but not with son William.   On his 8th ocean crossing Franklin made scientific observations on trip back noting the influence of the Gulf stream.

He died in 1790, April 17th at age 84.  He attracted the largest Philadelphia crowd for his funeral with every church represented.   

A quote I carry with me "For having lived long, I have experienced many instances being obliged by better information or fuller consideration to change opinions, even on important subjects which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise."  Good advice.

My interest was started as a youngster when I was able to watch "Ben and Me" (1951).

A few years ago I was able to have a short Philadelphia visit and checked out Benjamin Franklin.   Check:

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