Week 7: Benjamin Franklin and the American Enlightenment (1700-1800) Post Due: Wed. Oct. 13

United States one-hundred-dollar bill - Wikipedia

Thanks for last week’s posts, students, on the Declaration of Independence, Venture Smith, and Phyllis Wheatly.

Paulina, Enson and Tenzin make the point that Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration is a crucial cornerstone of American democracy that outlines our freedoms and insists on taking action when one’s “life, liberty, or happiness” is at stake.  At the same time, as Maria and Christin point out, there is enormous “hypocrisy” of Jefferson (and Wheatly’s owners) participating in the enslavement of humans while at the same time encouraging universal equality.

Remarkably, Wheatly, as Nelson and Mehreen point out, was America’s FIRST published poet, showing “that blacks could be both artistic and intellectual” despite their horrific circumstances. She was also quite gifted at her craft. Brianna notes her use of “Biblical language” in her poetry as well as her strong faith in God (and Patriotism).  Mohammed, in turn, quotes the line:  “Some view our sable race with scornful eyes” to point out just how ridiculous racism is. For, as Wheatley argues in her poem, “all Christians” are equal under God.

Brian and Sumayah, in turn, remark on the “greatness” of Venture Smith who bought himself (and his family) out of slavery and purchased valuable land on the Connecticut River.  A giant of a man, he was certainly “a man of remarkable strength and resolution.”  Yet, as Amy points out, Smith must have suffered deeply “a kind of PTSD” having been a slave and “witnessing” the brutal death of his father at such a young age.

This week I want you to examine the life and writings of one of America’s most famous “founding fathers”: Benjamin Franklin.  Franklin was born to a large, relatively poor family in Boston in the year 1706. His father was a candle-stick maker, who had him apprenticed to his brother’s newspaper office. Young Benjamin was trained as a printer but did not like the way his brother treated him, so he famously escaped first to NYC, then landed in Philadelphia. 

In Philadelphia, he became the famed publisher of the Philadelphia Gazette newspaper and printed a best-selling book of moral maxims called “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” From this work, we get famous lines such as “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man, healthy, wealthy, and wise”; “Look before You Leap”; “No pains no gains”; and “The Early Bird Gets the Worm.”

Franklin was a product of the Enlightenment, a period that encouraged intellectual freedom, religious tolerance, and rational thought (versus unthinking dogmatism). Enlightenment thinkers trusted in science and progressive ideals to help humans reach their fullest potential. Franklin’s life exhibits this as this short biography shows (PLEASE WATCH).

The American Enlightenment, of course, has a mixed legacy.  It did produce such celebrated political documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution but it DID NOT eliminate slavery and too many people (women, Native Americans, immigrants, the working-classes) continued to be treated as second-class citizens (or worse). 

We see a horrific example of the failure of “enlightened” men to practice what they preached in the original Constitution itself.  When determining the number of representatives each state could send to Congress, the framers decided to count the number of “free” people living in each state but only “3/5” of “others” (in other words, slaves did not count as whole people in determining representation in Congress).  This is the notorious “3/5 clause” that stayed in the Constitution until slavery was finally ended with the end of the Civil War in 1865.

Please read the full story here.

One of the important framers of the Constitution was Alexander Hamilton, who now has a famed Broadway show based on his life. For all his accomplishments, Hamilton did not share the democratic views of Franklin, who tried to rid America of slavery and tirelessly promoted science and learning for all. 

This is not true of Hamilton, even though his Broadway show celebrates his immigrant upbringing and has a multi-ethnic cast (certainly a far stretch from historical reality). The songs from “Hamilton” ARE great though and try to tell a positive message.  Please watch the trailer here. Also neat is the video below as the cast of “Hamilton” sings to an admiring young fan on Zoom during the pandemic.

For this week, I ask you to consider Benjamin Franklin as a man of the Enlightenment. Please read the following chapters from his Autobiography (written in 1790).  

Chapter II: Beginning Life as a Printer

Chapter III: Arrival in Philadelphia

Chapter IX: Plan for Arriving at Moral Perfection

Chapter XVIII: Scientific Experiments

Please also read Franklin’s Petition to Congress in 1790, requesting an end to Slavery.

Ben Franklin’s Petition to Congress in 1790, requesting an End to Slavery

Here is the actual petition: Petition

POST ASSIGNMENT: In your post, highlight a section from Franklin’s writings that show his “enlightened” qualities OR comment on another reading/video of your choice. Questions to consider: How did Franklin become so successful? What do we learn about his character and views? How is he different from the Puritans? How does his life compare to Venture Smith? What do you think of his plan for perfection? How does it work out for him? Why is he so interested in scientific experiments? Why is his face on the $100 dollar bill? Post Due: Wed. Oct. 14

44 Comments

  1. Mohammed Islam

    In chapter 2 of his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin says “A question was once, somehow or other, started between Collins and me, of the propriety of educating the female sex in learning, and their abilities for study. He was of opinion that it was improper, and that they were naturally unequal to it. I took the contrary side, perhaps a little for dispute’s sake. He was naturally more eloquent, had a ready plenty of words, and sometimes, as I thought, bore me down more by his fluency than by the strength of his reasons.” He would have discussions with Collins about if women sand their ability to learn and study. Although he mentions he partly took the other side to dispute Collins’ argument, he still had the knowledge to have a discussion. He was surrounded by books and loved to read. Working as an apprentice at his Brother’s printing house. After going back and forth with Collins through letters, his dad gave him advice on how to write better. Benjamin Franklin took this advice and began to pay more attention on his writing making improvements. He would borrow books and read them over and over. He would ry to imitate books by writing them on paper and trying to complete them as they were in the books.

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent response Mohammed that gets to the heart of why Franklin was so successful: BOOKS and OPEN DISCUSSION.

  2. Brianna

    The life of Benjamin Franklin is interesting. Franklin has been called “many sided”. He was well known in science and public service, in diplomacy, and literature. Being involved in all these areas made him successful. While reading his biography, I learned about his many accomplishments. He came about the identity of lightening and electricity and set up the lightening rod. He developed journalism, and established the public library in Philadelphia. He organized a postal system for the colonies which was the foundation of the United States Post Office today. He was the only statesman who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance with France, the Treaty of Peace with England, and the Constitution. That tells me that he was a promoter of peace and freedom. He wrote the petition to promote the abolition of slavery in which he wrote that all men deserve equal liberty.

    • sumayah

      Benjamin Franklin has been involved in so many things! it’s so fascinating.

      • Mark Noonan

        Indeed! He really is the epitome of the Renaissance Man. Writer, Philosopher, Wit, Inventor, Diplomat and so much more. Where’s his musical!!!!!!!

        Excellent post Brianna and comment Sumayah.

  3. Brian Chan

    I think section VII in Franklin’s writings shows his “enlightened” qualities in which he mentions, “I thought myself under great obligations to them for what they had done, and would do if they could; but, if they finally fail’d in their performance, and our partnership must be dissolv’d, I should then think myself at liberty to accept the assistance of my friends.” By this, Franklin means that he was offered the help he needed but had to cut ties with another party. He decided that he would turn down the offer as a deal was made, but if things don’t go according to plan, then he would accept the offer. This shows that Franklin was a man who stuck to deals he agreed upon and knew when it was time to take a course of action. I think this is an enlightened quality because often people who go into hardships will accept any agreement quickly as long as it gets them out of their predicament. Knowing your limits is important and its a lot like blowing up a balloon with helium. If you don’t fill it enough then it’ll never fly, but if you fill it too much then it’ll pop.

    • sumayah

      that’s so true, when we are all put in a tough situation, we would do anything to get our hands out of it.

    • Mark Noonan

      Interesting aspect of Franklin’s enlightenment qualities. Brian. Franklin was “so rational” and thoughtful in so many (often surprising) ways.

  4. Karina

    Benjamin Franklin was a very smart and independent person who went along with what he believed to be right. In Ben Franklin’s Petition to Congress in 1790, requesting an End to Slavery, we learn that he was elected president of Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. He negotiated the peace treaty ending the Revolutionary War, he was a world-renowned Enlightenment scientist and statesman, and the remaining years of his life he dedicated to public service to the causes of liberty and civic virtue, and antislavery acts. A line that really stood out to me from the petition was, “The Christian Religion teaches us to believe that mankind are all formed by the same Almighty being, and are all alike objects of his Care, & are equally designed for the Enjoyment of Happiness; Since we believe that these blessings should be given without distinction of Colour to all People, we expect that everything should be done to help all people.” Many people admired Franklin for all he had accomplished despise of his beginnings coming from a poor family. This proves that one is capable of doing whatever they propose themselves to do and continue going for what they believe are correct. Franklin passed away wanting to abolish slavery, however he was the first one to propose abolishing slavery by writing his petition to Congress.

    • Mark Noonan

      Superb discussion Karina, particularly your keen focus on Franklin’s overlooked Anti-Slavery Petition.

  5. Ulises

    In the reading, “Ben Franklin’s Petition to Congress in 1790, requesting an End to Slavery,” I found a quote interesting to write about Franklin’s enlightened. It says: “Franklin had signed a Society statement that declared slavery “an atrocious debasement of human nature.”.” This is important due to the reason that Benjamin is one of the founding fathers of the United States. Franklin lived the last moments of his life to try to end this atrocity called slavery, in which it ended up ending many years later at the end of the Civil War, that is, more than 60 years later after of his death. Benjamin Franklin became a philanthropist, which means giving time and money for the convenience of helping others or improving the lives of other people. Currently, lack of philanthropic is demonstrated in politics, mostly governments carry out actions for their own convenience, quite the opposite of Benjamin, in which the amount of time, money and effort to help end slavery deserves to be respected. He many times declared that we all human being should all be equal, people should not be differentiated by their color or gender, we were all born the same, so we should all be free. Demonstrating once again his contribution to humanity and the beginning of ending erroneous thoughts and ignorant people for that time.

    • Mark Noonan

      Superb analysis of Franklin’s anti-slavery petition, Ulises. You also make a fantastic point that so many politicians today have forgotten how to be philanthropic and truly concerned about their constituents needs. I couldn’t agree more that bad leaderships is fueling the growth of ignorance and anger across the nation. We desperately need the Franklins of today and tomorrow to step up.

  6. sumayah

    Benjamin Franklin was one of the most important people in the nation who participated in creating independence. Benjamin signed many peace treaties, let alone that he was also a very great scientist in the 18th century. Benjamin Franklin was so interested in experiments, he was so fascinated by the connection between lightning and electricity. There are many things that lead Benjamin Franklin to become so successful; he was one the greatest journalist and the scientist of his time, he was a politician who was the first to propose the unification of the colonies for the common defense, he was a public servant who helped in participating in public projects to benefit the society, he was also an entrepreneur. The puritans had different beliefs and values compared to benjamin franklin, the puritans believed that they had to be ethically perfect to please their god in order to get to heaven. On the other hand, Benjamin Franklin believed that one should follow a rule of ethics as a human being, he believed that it should be followed in general, not just for the sake of religion.

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent distinction between the Puritans of the 1600s and Enlightenment figures like Benjamin Franklin. He really was a remarkable man of many achievement who believed in the active pursuit of human ethics over mere faith in God to improve oneself and society. Well said!

  7. Ariel Montesino

    Reading Chapter 9 of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography I quickly noticed why he was so successful. The man is just an intellectual using vocabulary that I would never think to use because I like to keep things simple.  He seems to enjoy studying morals in this chapter and always behaving in a civilized manner. I think what makes him different from the puritans is that his moral views aren’t as strict making them easier to follow.  His plan for perfection is actually well thought out deeply analyzing virtues and correcting them one at a time. Compared to Venture Smith his life is like the exact opposite with family that assisted him since he started as Printer. His life was risk-free, pain-free, and with an actual loving family. I believe his face is on the $100 bill because how successful he was at a time period that was in need of development.

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent focus on Franklin’s keen interest in morality and the quest for human perfection, Ariel.

  8. Christin

    American literature:
    Franklin Benjamin

    Franklin Benjamin, a well known authority figure in the 1700s, is much more than just a face on the hundred dollar bill. Benjamin was a self-made successful individual. In other words, someone who came from nothing and made something out themselves with most of their own resources and perseverance. I believe one of Benjamin’s enlightened qualities was being a man of faith. Benjamins belief in God molded his perspective on life and humanity. I believe it played a big role in his character and success as well. In the text, “Benjamin Franklin and the first abolitionist petitions”, by the bill of rights institute, he states, “Mankind are all formed by the same Almighty Being, alike objects of his care, and equally designed for the enjoyment of happiness.” This conveys the influence God and his beliefs had on his mentality and morals. His righteousness and drive founded his name today. This may seem ironic due to the definition of an enlightened thinker, which refers to individuals who trust in science and progressive ideas. Science and religion can often differ from one another and to be both considered a man of faith and an”enlightened” thinker is someone who is intelligent enough to know the difference between the two. Besides his faith, his determination is what made him successful. Benjamin not settling for what the rest of his family settled for and reaching for more is set him apart from the rest. Aside from being put on the hundred dollar bill, the highest valued bill in the U.S, he also invented the franklin stove. In addition to this, Benjamin did good things and in return, his reward was high. Good things like founding in a hospital, founding a fire company, and improved the cleaning and lighting of streets(Franklin Holt, 1916). Benjamin was genuine and very considerate of other’s well-being. Therefore, he got what he deserved, which was extreme success.

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent discussion, Christin, of Franklin’s many talents and achievements.

  9. Tenzin Tsomo

    Base on the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, one of the main points throughout his autobiography consists of self-efficacy, living to be the best that a person can be. Benjamin Franklin aims to become a better person, morally. He planned to achieve “moral perfection” by breaking bad habits and establishing new ones. Franklin developed a method to maintain moral correctness. He created thirteen virtues he thought were important for moral righteousness and gave them all explained a short sample of the meaning of each of those thirteen virtues. The virtues Franklin established to consist of: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility.
    The virtues were sequenced in a way that the first one was necessary for the preceding ones. For example, Franklin mentions that temperance was needed in order to possess the virtue of silence. Franklin came up with a system to evaluate himself every day to make sure he achieved these virtues. Franklin began with the first virtue, temperance, and marked each day if he was succeeded in it. The next week, Franklin would mark every day if he accomplished both the first virtue and the second. He continued this process for about thirteen weeks until he was able to pass all thirteen virtues. He would restart every thirteen weeks. This was the way to track and reflect on himself each day. His goal was to improve himself with regard to each virtue so that over time he was a better person in that regard, and by being a better overall person, he was more open to life’s opportunities. I believe that it’s good to make changes in life that help you become a better person. Without goals in life, you’re not motivated to do anything and you won’t have anything to look forward to. However, it is imperative to set realistic goals because when you set realistic goals in life, you can improve on getting rid of a bad habit and focus on making an improvement. Making sure those goals are attainable, for example, eating healthy or exercising, staying hydrated often to stay healthy, or achieving little goals that bring you contentment. Making small changes in the daily routine and making that a habit can bring differences in the long run. Thus, making a habit for life.

    • Mark Noonan

      Very thoughtful and thorough discussion of Frankin’s plan for moral perfection and how such habit-making can be beneficial for us all, Tenzin.

  10. Enson Zhou

    Hamilton The Musical was one of the most well known Musicals from around the world. Throughout the Musical, there were numerous musical numbers that defined who Alexander Hamilton was. The songs showed how he was an important figure that helped shaped the United States in the 1700s. In the Musical Number “Alexander Hamilton ” they start off by taking the audience through his childhood and talking about the accomplishments that he has done. As the Song Progresses the cast members start to describe the conditions that slaves went through and how Alexander Hamilton was at the forefront of creating change for those slaves. Later on, In his life, he was given the role of the secretary of treasury due to his overwhelming intelligence. At the end of the song, the cast members praise Alexander Hamilton for this accomplishments. Overall Alexander Hamilton was a very Intelligent person who created change that lead him to be the Secretary Of the Treasury in The 1900s.

    • Mark Noonan

      Great points about Hamilton’s own greatness and how the Musical helps show this to a worldwide audience.

  11. Mehreen Khanom

    According to Benjamin Frankin’s short biography, Franklin was full of ideas. Even though he dropped out of school at the age of 10 he continued to be successful. His talents and experiments led him to a successful life. He was a writer, inventor, politician, and many more you can think of. He was known for his experiments with electricity, mathematics, and mapmaking as states in his short biography. Franklin was a great politician that held power. He helped to bring great change to the nation. His face is on the $100 bill because he was one of the most important founding fathers of the United States. He helped to form this nation and to show appreciation, respect, and significance his face was printed on money.

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent summary of Franklin’s vast achievements, Mehreen, and why he so deserves to be on our $100 bill.

  12. majoguadua

    I can see how Benjamin Franklin was someone enlighten by reading his Petition to Congress in 1790, requesting an End to Slavery.
    He not only mentioned the fact that we all exist because of a bigger force, that sees us all equal but also he mentions how miserable we can be by causing another’s person martyrdom while we are cheering out success, while we are living in the same dimension called earth. He makes me feel that he kept his foot on the ground and in the air at the same time while writing about the emotions, a purpose, and a bigger force in the same text.

    To me, he was successful for many reasons, for many names but one of the things facts I like to highlight while answering this is by saying that he knew how to pay attention to people and things. He knew how to observe, that’s why he saw something in the French people that others did not see, and based on that he acted and convinced them to help the American cause.

    He was a printer, but instead of being just a “printer”, he used to pay attention to what was inside the books. He used the fact that he was being exposed to books and turn it in his favor. That is what an enlightened person is for me. Someone who makes something extraordinary out of something ordinary.

    I find his plan of moral perfection something genius, thirteen words that compile a thousand lives of knowledge:
    Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Chastity, Humility. JUST WOW

    Knowing what I know about him I don’t need to google why his face is in the 100$ bill, I can easily tell why. He was the representation of what the American concept is. Of what the American people are. He was wise, he was compassionate, he was an invertor, he was successful. Of course, they would choose his face to be on the most printed paper that will ever exist.

    • Mark Noonan

      Maria, You deftly capture Franklin’s brilliance and thoroughly enlightened qualities in his highly enlightening post.

  13. Amyl

    Wow, I did not expect to like the Hamilton’ Alexander Hamilton’ by the original cast of the Broadway musical as much as I did. The song was more than a song; it was a story. Although I’ve personally never watched or seen the play, it was interesting to learn about the snippets of his life. For example, he was a bastard son whose mother was a ‘whore’, and how he grew up in the Caribbean despite becoming a scholar and hero. The song touches on him witnessing many that were slaughtered as a slave. This song is about his journey and points out his hardships of losing his mother, the debt left behind by his father, and how his cousin committed suicide. He started working and trading goods such as sugar cane and things he couldn’t afford. He sailed onto a ship to New York to become a new man. Compared to Venture Smith, while one worked hard to purchase his freedom and overcame being a slave, they eventually got that American dream. It’s interesting to see the contrasts to learn how their hardships could push them to be who they are. Alexander Hamilton eventually became the founding father of the United States. He fought in the American Revolutionary War, and eventually, his face was printed as a ten-dollar bill. The song talked about bits of his history, and the vocals left me speechless. It is no wonder why this is one of the most famous musicals of all time. It’s a shame that many of the original actors and actresses stopped performing after 2016, but perhaps I’ll check out the musical one day.

    • Mark Noonan

      Yes, it’s QUITE a sensational musical and I do hope you get to go see it, Amy. Your historical reading of the musical is spot on as this production really opened so many people’s eyes to this period of American history.

  14. Amina Shabbir

    Benjamin Franklin is a “founding father” who played a pivotal role to the cause of independence. He helped draft the Declaration of independence and signed some of the most important documents such as “Treaty of Paris and Treaty of Alliance with France”, both of which led to independence. His contributions to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution have made him a prominent figure in American history, so it is no wonder that his achievements are honored with his face on the $100 bill. Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography informs us about living in the 18th century. In chapter IX “PLAN FOR ATTAINING MORAL PERFECTION”, Franklin writes, “It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.” He came up with a list of 13 virtues which were either essential or desirable, and ordered them in such a way that the first gained might aid in the acquiring of the second. Franklin’s strategy to achieve perfection surprised me because he believed that man is rational, how he can control himself through reason, so that he can resolve at every time to unlearn “bad habits” of thinking and behavior and replace them with good ones. He also believed that choosing what to do in any given situation based on “good habits” would be clear. According to Franklin, each virtue was worth pursuing because of the significant results it gave rather than any abstract value. He had a realistic approach to individual virtues. He allowed himself to say what he needed to hear in order to learn quiet, and to spend money in order to learn economy.

    • Zarif

      I agree Franklin was bold and had many values that were realistic an approachable, and said what needed to be said.

    • Mark Noonan

      Eloquent and thoughtful reading of a key moment in Franklin’s life, Amina.

  15. Zarif Khan

    Benjamin Franklin is a man of many talents and professions, being an author, publisher, scientist, inventor, and diplomat. He did things like invent the lighting rod and help make the Declaration of Independence. He is on the 100 dollar bill because he is important to America’s history, he was also against slavery saying it is going against human nature. In one of the readings, he says “If we cease our cruises against the Christians, how shall we be furnished with the commodities their countries produce, and which are so necessary? . . . . Let us then hear no more of this detestable proposition, the manumission of Christian slaves.” It sounds that Franklin was a very intelligent man with bright ideas, not agreeing with what everyone else around him says.

  16. Zarif

    Benjamin Franklin is a man of many talents and professions, being an author, publisher, scientist, inventor, and diplomat. He did things like invent the lighting rod and help make the Declaration of Independence. He is on the 100 dollar bill because he is important to America’s history, he was also against slavery saying it is going against human nature. In one of the readings, he says “If we cease our cruises against the Christians, how shall we be furnished with the commodities their countries produce, and which are so necessary? . . . . Let us then hear no more of this detestable proposition, the manumission of Christian slaves.” It sounds that Franklin was a very intelligent man with bright ideas, not agreeing with what everyone else around him says.

    • Mark Noonan

      I like how you pick up on Franklin’s trait of sticking to his own opinions and backing them up with thorough learning.

  17. Nelson Estrella II

    While I was reading the petition I was mind boggled that slavery even existed in the past. How were people able to be okay with selling other human beings. This petition was to promote abolishing slavery and its extremely saddening to read. This quote from the petition stand out to me the most it states “we beg you to pay attention to the Subject of Slavery, and to approve the Restoration of liberty to those unhappy Men”. The word beg made me realize how desperate African American men wanted to be treated equally but just simply were not able to because of the laws in the past.

    • Terri.Ann

      Same way billionaires are ok with how they became billionaires- through cheap labor. Slavery isn’t that mind boggling. History wants you to believe that the majority of white people all of a sudden had a moral awakening but that is far from the truth. Yes some were disgusted by the horrors of slavery however slavery became a real issue when it wasn’t profitable anymore for the majority. Don’t let Ben Franklin’s word choice pull on your heart strings- he still believed black people had to be taught how to be part of society and they didn’t have basic emotional needs like love.

      • Mark Noonan

        Very important and insightful commentary Terriann.

    • Mark Noonan

      Provocative post Nelson. The disgrace of slavery is inexcusable always and a difficult topic to comprehend on any level. As Terriann also suggests, it’s impossible not to be cynical about all the “founders” and the amoral capitalistic system they all too often championed.

  18. haroodg

    Benjamin Franklin and the First Abolitionist Petitions

    Reading “Benjamin Franklin and the First Abolitionist Petitions” shows that Benjamin’s views and characters were not exclusive to a set of people but applied to everyone and everything that deserved it. His views were very inclusive making sure it was not biased or skewed in any way. His petitions for the end of slavery reflected his moral compass. “Mankind are all formed by the same Almighty Being, alike objects of his care, and equally designed for the enjoyment of happiness.” Even American views that he believed were not skewed to justify slavery. Benjamin Franklin pointed out the many contradictions in the idea of American freedom and slavery. Many of his opponents would justify their use of slavery by misinterpreting the bible and abusing the constitution/Congress. Bringing up arguments such as ” that African Americans were ill-suited by nature for freedom and citizenship if emancipated.” Benjamin Franklin viewed African Americans as humans and understood the injustices done to them. A man regarded as a “world-renowned Enlightenment scientist and statesman” saw the real issues that plagued American society and did not let the excuses of “economy” or “intermarriage” wave his judgment. His character was strong and unwavering even to the end where he introduced one last petition a few weeks before he died. “His last act on the public stage was to submit a petition for the end of slavery and the slave trade.”

    • Mark Noonan

      Superb and thoughtful reading of Franklin’s petition, Harood.

  19. Terri.Ann

    I really didn’t know or remember much about Benjamin Franklin. I knew he was called a founding father but I really didn’t understand the depth of his involvement in shaping America’s future. However as I was reading all these interesting facts and praises about Mr Franklin, I couldn’t help to think how basically human he still was.
    For one thing if I understood correctly – his son William was born out of wedlock while married to his wife. Never leaving his wife, Ben Franklin was a well known womanizer. He had many relations even writing letters to his friends about his insatiable needs.
    I was really interested in reading in his autobiography chapter 4 and his plans for achieving perfection. I laughed to myself because he discussed temperance and moderation and this man dies of gout- jokingly known as “a rich man’s disease” or “King’s disease.” Of course the “chastity” subsection had no direct plan of action unlike almost every moral characteristic noted except humility.
    I wonder why he is given so much credit for a lot of his quotes because before I even got to a certain point in his biography I said to myself ” this sounds a lot like the bible.” And BOOM he says ” imitate Jesus.” Reading his quotes reminded me of the saying ” nothing is new under the sun.” Yes I agree his quotes are catchy and poetic however all of his life lessons/ standard of morals do come from the bible.
    I believe Benjamin Franklin had many factors that allowed to shape who he was. He was obviously curious who enjoyed learning, motivated to succeed apart from his uncomfortable life growing up. However simply put Benjamin Franklin was a white man who had the autonomy and space to even allow himself to be curious about life , its inner workings and its answers.

    • Mark Noonan

      Very insightful reading of Franklin’s “hidden history,” much of which is left out — as you keenly note, Terriann. There is indeed a ton of hypocrisy in his claims to moral perfection, particularly in “imitating Jesus” (no humility here!) . Your point that Franklin’s story is in many ways a story of “white privilege” is spot on. It also something not talked about in general with the Broadway show “Hamilton” which everyone , so it seems, seems to love. Thanks for your candid comments and sharp reading of Franklin’s admittedly cagey “Autobiography.”

  20. Paulina Vega

    In “Ben Franklin’s Petition to Congress in 1790, requesting an End to Slavery”. A quote that stood out to me was “Franklin died only a few weeks later at the age of 84 years. He had spent a lifetime in service to the republic and to the universal ideal that all humans were created free and equal. His last act on the public stage was to submit a petition for the end of slavery and the slave trade.” This quote stood out to me because Franklin for his entire life tries proving the point that every human being is equal and is worthy of all the same respect. Even before he died he sent off a petition hoping to bring and see a change. Even though he wasn’t there to see it he tried doing everything he could in his power to bring a change.

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent commentary on the timing of this petition, Paulina.

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