Thursday, May 18, 2006

Franklin, Ben, I don't give a damn

Actually I do. :)

A couple of days ago I was in a bargain store and I came across a beautiful hardcover called The First American by H. W. Brands, purporting to be the first substantial biography of Ben Franklin in sixty years. I haven't looked at the list price (it must be at least $30, probably more), but I got it for $5.99. It's as thick as your palm is wide, running over 700 pages before you hit the bibliography. I'm a chapter or two in at this point, and I'm looking forward to savouring it.

I've always had kind of an interest in Franklin. I find him the most interesting of the Founding Fathers of the United States. There's so much to plug into. First of all, he was far older than most of them, born at the very beginning of the 18th century, and spent nearly his entire life in the British Empire, a keen supporter of it. I discovered last year (somewhat to my shock and horror) that he had in his youth not only owned, but even occasionally traded slaves, but he is among the few who, during the course of his life, came to recognize the injustice of the institution and the human suffering it entailed, and turned against it. His views on the education and societal status of women were progressive (one is forced to wonder if he came to this as a result of his renowned lasciviousness, or vice versa). And while a strong believer in democracy and the American character, he was also a proponent of Britishness in the wider sense, and had he been heeded in London, the breech that became the Revolution might have been healed. Instead, the powers in London made of their greatest friend one of their bitterest enemies.

Franklin strikes me, out of all the US Founding Fathers, as the one who would most easily be at home in our own age... ironic since, again, he was the eldest of the well-known ones. Our scientific and social progress would probably surprise him but not distress him, on the whole, I think. My feeling is he'd get up to speed pretty quickly and start offering much-needed advice for the modern age. In the spirit of "Who would Jesus bomb?", I can't help wondering what Franklin would think of the current state and power of his country and its imperial involvements. Would he approve, thinking the subjects of them better off, or would he object, preferring instead that the right of nations to conduct their own affairs in peace be respected?

4 comments:

Masnick96 said...

Franklin has always been one of my favorites when I was in history class, or when a PBS special came on talking about his life. He is also only one of two non-Presidents honored on our currency.

I agree with you that he wuld feel right at home in the 21st Century

Polt said...

I too think he would be at home in ourtime. Although I feel certain he would NOT be comfortable with the infringements on our civil rights here. Other Founding Fathers wouldn't have that much of an issue with it (Hamilton, being one and Adams another, that pops to mind), but Franklin was more of a populist...if I recall my history correctly.

Lone Primate said...

Franklin... is also only one of two non-Presidents honored on our currency.

Really? Wow, we got all kinds of non-presidents on our money. Not a president in sight! :D

L-girl said...

I'm a Franklin fan, too. I went to the university he founded. He was definitely a forward-thinking man for his day.

Another biography of him came out not too long ago. It's supposed to be very good, although I didn't read it. (But would like to.) Ben Franklin, An American Life by Walter Isaacson.