Excellent posts last week, students, on Hamilton, Franklin, and the American Enlightenment.
Mohammed, Tenzin, Mehreen, Amina, Zarif, and Brian focused on Franklin’s “secret sauce” behind his far-ranging excellence: reading, debate, understanding human limits and possibilities, and always striving to do and be better. Brianna and Christin rightly took stock of the amazing range of Franklin’s talents and interests, while Ulises and Ariel pointed to his deeply moralistic and philanthropic nature. Of his pursuit of human perfection, Maria aptly writes:
“Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Chastity, Humility. JUST WOW.”
Sumayah, in turn, commented on a crucial distinction between the Puritans of the 1600s and Enlightenment figures like Franklin who believed in the active pursuit of human ethics over mere faith in God to improve oneself and society.
As Harood and Karina point out, Franklin’s morality is best evident perhaps in his overlooked anti-slavery petition, written just before his death. Karina cites this important line that insists on true American equality:
“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.”
What about Alexander Hamilton? Enson pointed to Hamilton’s own enormous achievement as a founder of this nation and how his popular Musical helps show this to a worldwide audience.
As Amy writes, the sensational song in the video by the cast members: “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.”
Hamilton’s story is about a self-made man (like Franklin and Venture Smith) but it’s also an early mythical New York success story (“if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere…).
At the same time, we need to keep a critical eye on the past and how it’s relayed. History (and literature and musicals) are as much about documenting the past as they are about leaving important facts out. Let’s always be wary about who’s telling the story and why (and who’s and what’s not being included in the story), as Nelson and Terriann in their astute posts, remind us.
We are now at the mid-point of the semester. I have provided a mid-term grade based on your posts thus far. Go to the “Check Your Grade” icon (on the right side of the site) to check on this. At this point, I also want you to start thinking about a topic (author or theme) that you would like to write about for your Essay Assignment (I am only requiring one essay for this class). HERE ARE DIRECTIONS FOR THE ESSAY. Please choose a topic by Nov. 2. The essay will be due Dec. 14. Please email me about any questions you may have (firstname.lastname@example.org).
UPCOMING POST AND READING ASSIGNMENTS (DUE WED. OCT. 20)
For this week, I want you to read some of the writings of America’s first renown poet, philosopher, and essayist: Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882).
Please watch this brief documentary on his life, which was filmed in Concord, MA, where he lived for much of his life. Concord was the center of the Transcendentalist movement and remains a great place to visit.
Emerson’s first great essay (“Nature”) focused on the topic of attaining power and connection to God by leaving our desks and computers and taking a walk in the woods. Only in finding solitude (far away from others) can we find our true selves. In “Nature” (1836), we see the core of Transcendental thought, i.e. how to revive our souls and become “part and parcel of God.”
Here is its key passage, illustrating the power of transcendence that Nature allows:
In the woods, is perpetual youth… In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. … I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.
Please read an excerpt from “Nature” HERE.
Another important essay by Emerson was “The American Scholar” (1837), in which he argues that colleges need to train students to think for themselves, not simply repeat ideas that are told to them. We all need to become what he calls, “Man Thinking” — students/scholars who read deeply, question all that they read, and act on this knowledge to improve society and themselves.
His most famous essay — perhaps the most famous essay every written — is “Self-Reliance” (1850), which makes the case for radical individuality. It’s a somewhat long, repetitive essay, in which he essentially reiterates the key idea to “trust thyself” but well worth pondering and returning to as I do every year. The link I provide is a helpful guide to this essay (which it reprints at the bottom of the page). Choose a passage to read that interests you.
For your post, I ask you to choose a favorite line or section from one of these essays (“Nature”; “American Scholar”, or “Self-Reliance”). Discuss what you think Emerson is saying and how it connects in some way to your own life and/or present day society.