Today is Benjamin Franklin’s 300th birthday. I thank him for his Autobiography, for inventing bifocals and the lending library, and for encouraging advocates of all persuasions to lighten up. Poor Richard’s Almanack influenced the course of history and liberty because it was funny and people looked forward to reading it.
Franklin was a Founding Father, but in his own writings, he became America’s first literary character: the self-made, self-taught, ever-evolving and ever-skeptical man of his times, an archetype of the emerging American style of thinking and doing business. The ideological, factional and religious zeal that permeates so much of politics today would seem to Franklin like a dangerous relic, something to move past in the course of building a republic of virtuous citizens. As professor and author H.W. Brands said in an article published today,
I think one of the most important characteristics of Franklin was his ability to keep an open mind until the end of his life. He was a revolutionary at the age of 70. Revolution is usually a young person’s game. He changed his mind completely regarding slavery. He owned slaves as a young man. At the age of 80, he was the president of an abolitionist society.
For one day, in Franklin’s honor, let’s imagine an America no longer riven by the red/blue wars; a country of people who look at each problem objectively and with common sense (another Franklin innovation), and who don’t let anyone on TV, on radio, in a church or on a blog tell them how they should vote — or think. Even more than that, keep this Franklin quote at hand today:
“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.”
“Benjamin Franklin is the only President of the United States never to have been President of the United States.”