(January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790)
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Founding Father Ben Franklin can honestly say he did it all. From scientist and writer, to printer and inventor, to statesman and patriot, his life truly covered a wide spectrum of experience. Franklin’s multi-faceted resume includes the job titles of publisher, scientist, philosopher and political theorist—just to name a few. He also founded the first library and the first fire station, in addition to inventing the postal system. He managed to accomplish all of this and maintain his sanity because he knew how to avoid taking life too seriously.
Unsurprisingly, history smiles upon Ben Franklin, as does anyone who’s ever read his biography, or his own famous literary efforts including Poor Richard’s Almanac. So rarely are we privy to the humor of historical figures; it’s hard to imagine that a grandfatherly man of such repute as Franklin can also be counted among the ranks of such wry modern-day satirists as John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. In the most telling testament of his caliber, back in colonial days, England deemed him “the most dangerous man in America”, a distinction that’s pretty hard to top.
When he was 14, Ben wrote for his brother’s newspaper, The New England Courant, under the pen name Silence Dogood, a character he created because he doubted his brother would allow him to contribute otherwise. He’d sneak his writings in the darkness of night, where no one would recognize him.
An opinionated, elderly female who fearlessly opined on everything—particularly women’s issues, Silence Dogood was an immediate hit with the locals. Soon, everyone was chomping at the bit to discover her real identity. After 16 letters, Ben finally confessed the truth. While the townspeople perceived him as a genius, James was more than a little jealous.
Eventually, Franklin’s printing career led him from New England to New York, to London to Philadelphia, where he founded Junto, a group of “like minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community.” In colonial times, books were very expensive; therefore the Junto members created a library, which they started with their own books. Ben later got the idea for a subscription library, where the members would pool their resources to buy books to share.
He wrote Poor Richard’s Almanac —a collection of stories that prominently display his wit—under the pseudonym of Richard Saunders.
Ben was a bawdy old fellow. Only fairly recently did his salute to the free press, entitled Fart Proudly, gain newfound popularity. In Franklin’s time, there was no such thing as “political correctness.” Liberals today would probably swoon at his writings, but during his time, it was quite commonplace to express one’s thoughts freely.
Given the stranglehold political correctness has over our current culture, it’s a blessing that Benjamin Franklin lived in a much different society. One cannot help but wonder where the USA and the world would the world be without him and his ideas.
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