Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 17, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN....You can have your Washingtons, your Jeffersons, and your Madisons. All great men, to be sure. But for my money, the greatest of them all was Benjamin Franklin, my favorite founding father and the first great American liberal: an outstanding humanist, brilliant scientist, and incomparable statesman; a man who could run a postal service, a small business, or a legislature with equal ease and who'd be happy to share a friendly beer with you after he was done.

Happy 300th Birthday, Ben! We could use a few more like you these days.

Kevin Drum 2:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (141)

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Comments

My mom and I had an eerily similar discussion this very morning. Happy birthday, Ben. We'd like to keep the republic, honestly we would. We're just feeling a little nervous about our chances right now.

Posted by: shortstop on January 17, 2006 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, the founders. Liberals, all of them.

No conservative ever started a revolution. They are too busy sucking up to authority to think independantly.

Posted by: Silence does good on January 17, 2006 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

P.S. Among your excellent list of Franklin's talents, you left out the not insignificant achievement of being a hit with the ladies.

Posted by: shortstop on January 17, 2006 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks Ben for insisting that our houses of congress open the day with prayer. It has helped us make it this far.

Posted by: Orwell on January 17, 2006 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Ben was all those things; he was also an amateur mathematician, a humor columnist, an inventor, and a hopeless womanizer.

Oh how I wish for another Ben Franklin. Happy birthday!

Posted by: merciless on January 17, 2006 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

you left out the not insignificant achievement of being a hit with the ladies.

A founding father HAS to be a chick magnet, regardless of everything else.

I'm actually partial to Adams, but if we're going to start a Franklin bandwagon, oh well.

There should be a proper memorial for Franklin in our nation's capital.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 17, 2006 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Oh yes, he loved the ladies, and they loved him.

God Bless Ben Franklin

Posted by: Ringo on January 17, 2006 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Franklin would have been appalled by a useless oligarch like little georgie bush. He likely would move to France today, also. Sorry, wingnuts.

Posted by: Pechorin on January 17, 2006 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

palerider: "There should be a proper memorial for Franklin in our nation's capital."

I second that!!!

Posted by: joeiscoffee on January 17, 2006 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

One can just imagine the spittle-flecked rants Franklin would provoke in wingnuts if he were living today.

This occurred to me when, not too long ago, I read H.W. Brands' biography of the man, The First American,. While serving as ambassador to France, Franklin appeared at an event at which Voltaire was also present. The two men embraced on stage. The Great Skeptic and the Great Scientist, warmly recognizing each other.

Imagine this today! - for the reactionaries, it'd be like Howard Dean and Michael Moore embracing at a conference on Darwin.

Posted by: Alek Hidell on January 17, 2006 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

And as Firesign Theater once pointed out, "Benjamin Franklin is the only President of the United States never to have been President of the United States."

Posted by: LowLife on January 17, 2006 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

"Those who would give up liberty for a little bit of security deserve neither."

Too bad our leaders today have no guts and no balls.

Posted by: Gore/Obama '08 on January 17, 2006 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Alek H. Imagine this today! - for the reactionaries, it'd be like Howard Dean and Michael Moore embracing at a conference on Darwin.

Fantastic.

Posted by: shortstop on January 17, 2006 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

H.W. Brands' biography of the man, The First American,

I read that right at the same time as McCulloch's bio of Adams, and I still prefer Adams to Franklin, despite the fact that Franklin was ten times the creative thinker.

At the end of the day, you need a guy like Adams to do the detail work and put things together. That's how it was in Paris when Adams and Franklin were trying to get money out of the French to support the Revoloution.

Curiously, the French looked to Washington as the inspiration for their own Revoloution, especially when Washington refused a crown and went back to his farm.

I'm sure rdw will wander in and lecture us about 'old Europe' and the French before too long.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 17, 2006 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

I recommend "Fart Proudly: Writings of Benjamin Franklin you Never Read in School", Carl Japikse, Enthea Press (dist Publishers Group West)ISBN 158394079, as a antidote to much of the pious nonsense about the Founders, and some good laughs by the non Virgin Ben.
Among the many sins of the Christian Right is the conflation of the mostly Deist/Enlightment Christian/Polite Anglican/Latitudinarians who were the Founders with their own mad brew of religion..

Posted by: Mr. Bill on January 17, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Uhm, Jefferson could be a conservative. Small government, states rights; he did have the whole spreading-democracy-around-the-world rhetorical bit, but I think we know some conservatives who play that game...

Mostly, the founding fathers were moderates and realists, with Washington as the exemplar of the type. Which was all to the good, in my mind--I'm as proud a liberal as anybody, but the most important quality violent revolutionaries is knowing when to stop. See Revolution, French, which is where most of the truly radical and "imaginative" liberals of the day were.

Posted by: Ben on January 17, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

"Benjamin Franklin is the only President of the United States never to have been President of the United States."

I'd say that Hamilton also belongs in that category.
A stellar genius who worked tirelessly, and without nearly enough credit, to establish the foundations of this country. Read Ron Chernow's biography.

Posted by: Ringo on January 17, 2006 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Another good book:

"The Making of the Prefedent 1793"

You'll never hold Washington in such lofty regard again, and you'll finally figure out why they used 'f' instead of 's' all the time.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 17, 2006 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Theodore White got around, man!

Posted by: shortstop on January 17, 2006 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Not to mention he was a pretty good shakedown artist as well.

Posted by: bubba on January 17, 2006 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

At the end of the day, you need a guy like Adams to do the detail work and put things together.

In my opinion, Hamilton actually did much more of that than Adams.

Posted by: Ringo on January 17, 2006 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

I want my Hamilton - the author of the Bill of Rights. Others thought that the Bill of Rights was unnecessary because the Constitution was clear, but Hamilton wanted to be certain that they got the message. Sadly, it appears that he failed.

Posted by: Brenda Helverson on January 17, 2006 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Didn't he say "Give me liberty, or give me federal intrusion into my every affair, as long as it gives me the illusion of safety from the brown hordes"?

Posted by: craigie on January 17, 2006 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

But Ben Franklin does have his picture on the most popular denomination of currency in the world doesn't he? That's not such a bad memorial.

Posted by: Ringo on January 17, 2006 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Franklin was also a swimmer at a time when few people swam. He was later inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Posted by: 2.7182818 on January 17, 2006 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

as Firesign Theater once pointed out, "Benjamin Franklin is the only President of the United States never to have been President of the United States."

Wow, never head that one before. I love it!

Here's to Ben Franklin!

Posted by: Gregory on January 17, 2006 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

craigie,
No, that was Patrick Henry. Franklin is the one who said "Those who refuse to give up essential liberty in exchange for a feeling of false security hate America."

Posted by: MJ Memphis on January 17, 2006 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

In my opinion, Hamilton actually did much more of that than Adams.

While Adams was in Paris and Philadelphia, Hamilton was chasing after Washington as an aide, and Adams' contributions to our government are often overshadowed because the founding fathers often reduced his role in decision making affairs because they couldn't stand how smart-alecky Adams was.

But I would take Adams and Hamilton over Jefferson any day.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 17, 2006 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

He was later inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

I did not know that. Where did he actually swim?

Posted by: Ringo on January 17, 2006 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Here's why he was a liberal:

he looked around him and saw problems with human co-existence that could be most efficiently solved by governmental coordination.

Then he created efficient governmental mechanisms that solved them.

And we got a really good postal system out of it, among many other things

He was not in favor of government because of abstract principles, or opposed to government because of abstract principles. He just saw it as an extremely handy tool in the toolbox for improving human life on earth. And he was a dedicated craftsman who employed it skillfully.

That's a liberal for you: someone who cares about human needs, and knows how to use government efficiently and skillfully as one of the many useful tools for addressing them.

Posted by: Tad Brennan on January 17, 2006 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Mostly, the founding fathers were moderates and realists,

Agreed. When lambasting the founding fathers for being hypocritical on issues of slavery and women's rights - one has to take the context of that day and age into account.

Slavery and women's rights were non-starters at the time. Not even on the radar. The issues of universal human rights, and limited government, however, are timeless, and date back to the Magna Carta, and even to tribal scandanavian culture, pre-BC Greece, etc.

It may not be "time" for America to embrace something like gay marriage as a universal human right. (or it may be). But we can still do more than pay lip service to the idea of Liberty, and not hand over Iraq to the mullahs; the same damn mullahs that are now espousing Holocaust denial, developing nuclear technology, and dealing in petro-blackmail.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on January 17, 2006 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Good call Ringo. I did read the Chernow book. Hamilton was indespensible as Washington's policy wonk. He was, though, somewhat tragically obsessive as his inability to extricate himself from his adulterous affair and his continuous tweaking of Aaron Burr seems to show. Neither did his career much good. He could not have succeeded without Washington providing cover.

Posted by: LowLife on January 17, 2006 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

craigie -- lol

Jefferson, Mr. "Wall between Church and State", Mr. Deist. The model for today's conservatives.

Hamilton and Adams -- good question as to the most important.

Posted by: Gore/Obama '08 on January 17, 2006 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

craigie,

I think it went more like, "Sipping a tincture of fear makes you swallow everything else without question."

Posted by: n.o.l.t.f. on January 17, 2006 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Pale Rider: I still prefer Adams to Franklin, despite the fact that Franklin was ten times the creative thinker.

Franklin and Adams were the original odd couple. From Staten Island to Paris they clashed, even if they were working towards a common goal.

John was too much for the Puritan for me though. I'm sure Ben was a lot more fun (and I still haven't forgiven John for not vetoing the Alien and Sedition Act).

I'm sure rdw will wander in and lecture us about 'old Europe' and the French before too long.

Since the French helped us in the Revolution, and the British are not part of "old" Europe in his world, perhaps he thinks we should retract the Declaration of Independence?

Posted by: alex on January 17, 2006 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Ben Franklin: adulterer, absentee father, sometime political slacker. Forced Adams to do all the grunt work in France.

Doesn't undercut his many gifts, but reminds me again of the hypocrisy of pols in every generation and their stark failures in things that often matter most (i.e. familial relationships).

What price a father's love for his son? It's Adams by two lengths.

Posted by: worshipnot on January 17, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Osama:

Slavery was very much on the radar screen in the 18th Century. Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution almost foundered over the issue. The ultimate acceptance of slavery was a pragmatic decision taken with the knowledge that it was far from a closed issue.

Posted by: Wombat on January 17, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Franklin was also one of our nation's first spies.

More history here, and some comments on the problems with balancing secrecy and accountability.

Posted by: tbrosz on January 17, 2006 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Ringo: I did not know that. Where did he actually swim?

Me, neither. As an official water baby, I'm happy to hear this.

Posted by: shortstop on January 17, 2006 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

While Adams was in Paris and Philadelphia, Hamilton was chasing after Washington as an aide

And while Hamilton was establishing our economy as Treasury Secretary, Adams sat around grumbling as Vice President and smearing Hamilton's lineage.

Posted by: Ringo on January 17, 2006 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Franklin was also one of our nation's first spies.

Ben:
"My name is Franklin. Ben Franklin."

GoldFinger:
"You misunderstand me, Mr. Franklin. I do not expect you to talk. I expect you to die."

Assorted French Lovlies:
"Ohh, Ben!!!"

Posted by: craigie on January 17, 2006 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: Franklin was also one of our nation's first spies.

Good Revolutionary War spies near my neck of the woods. The Culper Spy Ring was very important in helping Washington keep tabs on the British in NYC.

Posted by: alex on January 17, 2006 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

Benjamin Franklin also charted the Gulf Stream. Don't know how one does that from Philadelphia. Perhaps one of the most impressive examples of his genius?

In honor of our favorite Founding Father, we named our second son Ben.

Posted by: The Dad on January 17, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Hamilton hero-worshippers, Adams apologists, Franklin followers...is this thread a metaphor for today's intraparty divisions? Come together, Dems, I beg of you!

Posted by: shortstop on January 17, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

"Benjamin Franklin, my favorite founding father and the first great American liberal"

I think Ben would PUKE if he saw what passes for liberalism today.

Posted by: Lurker42 on January 17, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

"I think Ben would PUKE if he saw what passes for liberalism today."

What, because they're too puritanical?

Posted by: MJ Memphis on January 17, 2006 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Ooops, I goofed on my last.

Correction:

I think Ben would PUKE if he saw what passes for his gov't. today.

Naaa, I still meant what I said in my last also.

Posted by: Lurker42 on January 17, 2006 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

alex: Franklin and Adams were the original odd couple. From Staten Island to Paris they clashed, even if they were working towards a common goal.

Though Benjy adores the minuet, the filles jolies and crepes suzette
Johnny only measures warm when hanging on his Quincy farm
What a crazy set!

Posted by: shortstop on January 17, 2006 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

"Where did he actually swim?"

I understand he used to take dives off the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge on New Year's Day. Did a body good.

Posted by: Matt on January 17, 2006 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Without denigrating the cited reading material, I have to give some love to the musical 1776. Howard Silva's performance as Franklin in the 1972 film version is especially entertaining, plus you have William "St. Elsewhere" Daniels as a cranky John Adams and Ken "The White Shadow" Howard as a lovestruck Jefferson (of course, with Blythe Danner as his wife, who could blame him?).

Posted by: Gregory on January 17, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

"Where did he actually swim?"

According to Brands' book, young Franklin began swimming in the Mill Pond in Boston. He also experimented with kite-powered bodysurfing there!

Posted by: Krowe on January 17, 2006 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

I won't deny Hamilton's obsessive streak, I think it goes back to the questions surrounding his parents and his foreign birth. The only thing he had was his reputation, so he was unable to allow any real or perceived slight go unanswered.
I just think in terms of pure intelligence and brilliance, he surpasses Adams and Jefferson. I also view him as the first "American", in terms of someone who embodies the American dream of coming to this country and earning what he had through his abilities.
Oh, and he also established the Coast Guard!

And Franklin was a better inventor than Jefferson.

Posted by: Ringo on January 17, 2006 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

Without denigrating the cited reading material, I have to give some love to the musical 1776.

"Mr. Adams, dear Mr. Adams, I'm only 41; I still have my virility!"

Posted by: shortstop on January 17, 2006 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Jefferson's Lodgings, Exterior, Day

ADAMS (outraged): In the middle of the afternoon?!

Priceless!

Posted by: Gregory on January 17, 2006 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Ben's house in London will be opening next month for visitors. It looks to be a pretty good museum.

Posted by: KathyF on January 17, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Certainly one of the most interesting. Though Jefferson and Paine (yes, I know he was English) are stiff competition.

Posted by: catherineD on January 17, 2006 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

On the Adams vs. Hamilton side, I have to come down as a Hamilton partisan for two main reasons:

Adams passed the putrid Alien & Sedition Acts, which in my book drops him into the bottom rungs of the presidents.

In the tied 1800 election, Hamilton was instrumental in the selection of Jefferson over Aaron Burr, who would have been an absolute disaster. Of course, Burr shot Hamilton shortly thereafter, so I guess they came out even.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on January 17, 2006 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

The Dad: Benjamin Franklin also charted the Gulf Stream. Don't know how one does that from Philadelphia.

He did it on his first voyage to England.

Was he a liberal? Would he support tax policies that hurt independent entrepreneurs? He founded a "private" university. He organized a militia to drive out Indians. He accepted advertizing that included dubious claims. Do you really think that he would support tax-funded welfare systems? He practiced real-politic and got support from a monarchy (which he never criticised) in a war against a parliamentary democracy. Yours is a very "liberal" use of the word liberal.

In his autobiography he described swimming in the ocean to build up his endurance.

Posted by: contentious on January 17, 2006 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

Contentious,

The question is: Would Ben be impressed with our current President?

Posted by: scarshapedstar on January 17, 2006 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

"No conservative ever started a revolution. They are too busy sucking up to authority to think independantly."

Funny, I seem to remember it was the liberals that wanted to keep the Saddam and Taliban status quo...

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on January 17, 2006 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Freedom Fighter, an invasion is hardly a revolution.

Posted by: Mr. Bill on January 17, 2006 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

"The question is: Would Ben be impressed with our current President?"

Considering the recent elections and drafting of constitutions in Iraq and Afghanistan, where none had ever existed before, I think Ben along with the rest of our founding fathers would be rather proud.

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on January 17, 2006 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Can't join in the big celebration of Franklin. The first thing I always teach my students in U.S. history about Franklin was that he coined the phrase "time is money," a harbinger of the coming bourgeois order.

Posted by: shoebeacon on January 17, 2006 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

And you over generalize. I'm a liberal, no really, Aclu, MoveOn and all that, and I thought we were required to go into Afghanistan.
We seem to be screwing it up, with the return of the Taliban.

Posted by: Mr. Bill on January 17, 2006 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

Freedom Fighter, an invasion is hardly a revolution.

I think FF was referring to the current administration's revolt against the pesky rule of law and that goddamned "piece of paper." Whew! Free at last!

But ignoring the plodding and humorless trolls, who really don't want to spend time thinking about how their boy stacks up to the likes of Ben, and back to the discussion at hand...

Posted by: shortstop on January 17, 2006 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

My favorite Franklin quote:

I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up.

Posted by: desertswine on January 17, 2006 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Mr Bill, I seem to remember reading a Salon article a few years back saying how we are losing in Afghanistan. Myabe I see a trend here. It's this loser attitude that liberals have that's caused them to lose the House, the Senate, the Presidency, and the SCOTUS over the recent years.

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on January 17, 2006 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

"palerider: "There should be a proper memorial for Franklin in our nation's capital."

I second that!!!"

I third it. Too bad that half the posts are snarky comments on present day politics. Franklin was a businessman who died a rich man and used his political activity to increase his business. Probably the father of lobbyists, too.

His science was important and enough to have made him famous without all the other stuff. He established the Post Office and signed all four documents that founded the country; the Declaration of Independence, the treaty with France that brought them in on our side, the treaty with England that ended the war and the Constitution. He was the only one to do that.

He was a major supporter of vaccination in the colonies.

He taught swimming and attracted a benfactor whose name I forget.

He truly was the father of his country.

The Isaacson biography is excellent, by the way.

Posted by: Mike K on January 17, 2006 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

"Freedom Fighter, an invasion is hardly a revolution."

I'd say spreading democracy in the heart of the Middle East is pretty revolutionary.

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on January 17, 2006 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

No conservative ever started a revolution. They are too busy sucking up to authority to think independantly.

Well, that's not quite true. There's Hitler, Mussolini, Marcos, Pinochet, Noriega, Saddam...come to think of it, "coup" might be a better word than "revolution" for what conservatives specialize in.

Posted by: Stefan on January 17, 2006 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

Funny, I seem to remember it was the liberals that wanted to keep the Saddam and Taliban status quo...
Posted by: Freedom Fighter on January 17, 2006 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Ignoring the obvious BS about the Taliban; arguing for inspections, containment, and sanctions is hardly the same as "keeping the Saddam status quo". If I didn't know you better, I'd think you were purposely trying to conflate the two in order to mislead. . . you mendacious fuck.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on January 17, 2006 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

"Mr. Adams, dear Mr. Adams, I'm only 41; I still have my virility!"

Actually, that's Adams to Jefferson, who was amazed Adams still was concerned about such things. What a great play, the 15 minute mini-opretta setting the stage was pure genius.

Wasn't the Bill of Rights more the work of Madison (and Viriginia's George Mason, one of the most unsung FFs) than Hamilton?

Posted by: VAMark on January 17, 2006 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

For a fitting tribute to the man, see here:

http://www.oregonbeer.org/calendar.html

Posted by: jfwells on January 17, 2006 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Osama_Been_Forgotten: mendacious fuck

A small point of style: I think that "mendacious motherfucker" not only rhymes better, but has a more visceral impact.

Posted by: alex on January 17, 2006 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget adulterer (male whore).

Posted by: Bill on January 17, 2006 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, VAMark. It's been, um, 30 years since I've seen it. Amazed that I can remember it at all, given that I was a tot of, um, three months or so. Snerk.

Posted by: shortstop on January 17, 2006 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

And don't forget the lightning rod, which solved what was a surprisingly common cause of disaster and was probably his greatest practical contribution.

John Dickinson, his longtime political opponent in Pennsylvania politics as well as the debate on independence, never would install one on his house.

Posted by: VAMark on January 17, 2006 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

"Adulterer" and "male whore" are synonymous? Who knew?

Posted by: shortstop on January 17, 2006 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

shoebeacon: ...he coined the phrase "time is money," a harbinger of the coming bourgeois order.

I always thought it should more accurately read, "money is time", but then I'm not a Founding Father.

As for "harbinger of the coming bourgeois", I can't objectively say as I'm too bourgeois.

Posted by: The Dad on January 17, 2006 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

My alma mater, Franklin & Marshall College (Lancaster, PA), is hosting a number of events around Ben's 300th birthday. They're sponsoring a full-page ad in the NY Times on Thursday.
http://server1.fandm.edu/ben300/

The obvious question: Will they show similar love for John Marshall the next time a big anniversary comes up for him?

Posted by: Carl on January 17, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

'Scuse me, but contrary to an assertion upthread, Hamilton should not be credited with the Bill of Rights. From "A Reader's Companion to American History", Houghton Mifflin Co.,

http://college.hmco.com/history/readerscomp/rcah/html/ah_009500_billofrights.htm

comes the following discussion:

"Once independence had been declared ... the American states turned immediately to the writing of state constitutions and state bills of rights. In Williamsburg, George Mason was the principal architect of Virginia's Declaration of Rights. That document, which wove Lockean notions of natural rights with concrete protections against specific abuses, was the model for bills of rights in other states and, ultimately, for the federal Bill of Rights ....

"In 1787, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Mason remarked that he "wished the plan had been prefaced by a Bill of Rights." Elbridge Gerry moved for the appointment of a committee to prepare such a bill, but the delegates, without debate, defeated the motion. They did not oppose the principle of a bill of rights; they simply thought it unnecessary, in light of the theory that the new federal government would be one of enumerated powers only. Some of the Framers also were skeptical of the utility of what James Madison called "parchment barriers" against majorities; they looked, for protection, to structural arrangements such as separation of powers and checks and balances.

"Opponents of ratification quickly seized upon the absence of a bill of rights, and Federalists, especially Madison, soon realized that they must offer to add amendments to the Constitution after its ratification. Only by making such a pledge were the Constitution's supporters able to achieve ratification in such closely divided states as New York and Virginia.

"In the First Congress, Madison undertook to fulfill his promise. Carefully sifting amendments from proposals made in the state ratifying conventions, Madison steered his project through the shoals of indifference on the part of some members (who thought the House had more important work to do) and outright hostility on the part of others (Antifederalists who hoped for a second convention to hobble the powers of the federal government). In September 1789 the House and Senate accepted a conference report laying out the language of proposed amendments to the Constitution."

Like Kevin Drum, Ben Franklin is my favorite of the Founding Fathers, followed by Jefferson and then, I think, Madison. Adams (though a good fellow, all in all, and essential to the success of the new nation) was just such a scolding prude ... not to mention, as one above noted, his perverse failure to veto the Alien and Sedition Acts. And Hamilton? Give me a break! Yes, he was brilliant, particularly in the matter of finance (arguing who was smarter -- Franklin, Jefferson or Hamilton -- is like asking whether Feynman or Oppenheimer was the smarter guy. You may have an opinion, but the question itself is rather foolish). However, he ALSO thought the new nation needed a king ... and he was extremely fond of the idea of hereditary aristocracy. THIS is something we ought admire?

Posted by: Roger Keeling on January 17, 2006 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

Well I never gave Hamilton credit for the Bill of Rights, although he certainly deserves part of the credit for the constitution and the three branch form of government--something he was already outlining in his writings during the Revolutionary War.

Of course, he wrote a large part of the Federalist Papers, and was instrumental in convincing New York to ratify the constitution. His oratory skills were also amazing, and he was one of the top lawyers of his time.

Posted by: Ringo on January 17, 2006 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

amen kevin

Posted by: CHB on January 17, 2006 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

In Ben's honor visit your local brewer and hoist a pint of Poor Richard's Ale. 100 Brewers around the country are each producing an ale similar to the style Ben himself would have brewed. I can think of no better tribute.

www.poorrichardsale.com

Posted by: JimBob on January 17, 2006 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

He also invented the Franklin Stove (though it required improvement), and on none of these inventions did he take out a patent, preferring that all men make use of them to better their own lives. If that isn't liberal sentiment, I don't know what is.

Posted by: S Ra on January 17, 2006 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Adams?

There's no question Adams was brilliant, but he had dictatorial tendencies and nearly destroyed the Republic because he couldn't stand to be criticized. The Alien Act and Sedition Act came out on his watch, and his allies sent thugs to beat up opposition newspaper editors.

And don't quote me McCullough's book to argue otherwise; it whitewashes his excesses. It is true that he wasn't as bad as some of the more radical Federalists, but there was a reason that he was a one-term president.

Posted by: Joe Buck on January 17, 2006 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

A nation capable of electing and re-electing George W. Bush is unworthy to be the heirs of prophets like Franklin, Jefferson, Emerson, Whitman, and King.

Posted by: kth on January 17, 2006 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

Edmund Burke, conservative, was a prominent British subject who was sympathetic to the cause of the American colonists seeking seperation from the Crown, which, as you might imagine, was not an entirely safe postion to take. Burke later was one of the most harsh critics of the French Revolution, because, unlike many, he was able to discern the difference between the two. I'm not a conservative, but people too often incorrectly or dishonestly contend that conservatism is the same as reactionary thinking. Also, before somebody serves up the tired, entirely predictable rejoinder that the two are the same today, let it be noted that some of the most reactionary thinkers to be found now are among those who consider themselves "liberal", a once-meaningful term which has become distorted beyond all recognition.

Also, as to Iraq, continuing the sanctions and containment strategy was overwhelmingly likely going to result in the Baathists remaining in power for decades, since they were still receiving well more than enough oil revenue to maintain their position. One can debate the wisdom of this, as opposed to invasion, but it would be preferable if this essential truth were acknowledged.

Posted by: Will Allen on January 17, 2006 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Ben Franklin, champion of the newly emerging middle class. created first subscription library, organized fire fighting in philadelphia, a freemason.

And edited the declaration of independance to "We hold these truths to be self evident" from Jefferson's original "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeinable"

my favorite founding father.

Posted by: amy on January 17, 2006 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

I have to second anyone who mentioned Hamilton. Despite his often elitist tendencies (or alleged tendencies depending on who you ask), he was a pretty strong liberal. A staunch abolitionist and member of anti-slavery groups. Involved in schools for Native Americans. Committed to education and meritocracy--in more than just empty rhetoric.

He was an extremely prolific writer, writing most of the Federalist papers, and countless newspaper articles. He got our banking system started and was by far the most successful cabinet secretary. Was one of Washington's most trusted advisors, during the Revolution and his presidency.

And he accomplished this without having the benefit of a powerful pedigree.

Not that Franklin wasn't good, but I think I'd most like to have worked with Hamilton.

Posted by: gq on January 17, 2006 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

The man knew how to party too.

Posted by: Mike B. on January 17, 2006 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Mostly, the founding fathers were moderates and realists, with Washington as the exemplar of the type.
Posted by: Ben on January 17, 2006 at 2:38 PM

Not really. Re-read Gordon Wood's brilliant The Radicalism of the American Revolution. The revolution itself was by no means moderate, and wasn't often viewed as realistic. As Woods says, 40 years of radical change created a completely different society -- the revolution transformed society so greatly that it differed fundamentally from colonial society... or any other society that had existed. That's radical, not moderate.

It is true that national leaders spent a great deal of the early federal period attempting to step back from the ideology of the revolution, to secure a moderate vision of the new republic. Proposals to disregard the entire body of common law and build an entirely new legal system from scratch were non-starters. But those ideas were out there, and they had some support among the men who were later recognized as "founding fathers".

And, regarding Franklin's business activities as an argument against his liberalism, commerce was part of the radical split from English tradition with its static social system. The fact that neither Jefferson's agrarianism not Hamilton's mercantilism look "liberal" today doesn't make than any less anti-conservative in the context of their times.

Posted by: keith on January 17, 2006 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Jefferson, Mr. "Wall between Church and State", Mr. Deist. The model for today's conservatives.

Are you referring to Thomas "I think what I'm doing is unconstitutional because there's nothing in the text of the Constitution authorizing me to do it, but it's important to the country, so I'm going to purchase Louisiana anyway" Jefferson?

Posted by: Al on January 17, 2006 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

Not to knock Mr. Franklin, but my favorite has to be Thomas Paine. Bertrand Russell wrote an essay expounding his virtues that I enjoyed reading.

Posted by: Philip Brooks on January 17, 2006 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

"I'd say spreading democracy in the heart of the Middle East is pretty revolutionary."

What do you think Ben Franklin would say to that effrontery?

Posted by: Guy Banister on January 17, 2006 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

Franklin does have a wonderful statue payed for by the founder of the Washington Post in front of the Old Post Office in Washington. That confluence of facts makes a perfect memorial to Franklin.

Posted by: DC1974 on January 17, 2006 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

I am greatly interested that no one reacted to the smoke and mirrors comments of tbrosz.It would seem that his comments are so irrelavant that they don't even merit consideration

Posted by: thelight on January 17, 2006 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

I was appalled to see someone upthread who claimed to be a history teacher, and doesn't understand Franklin's contributions.

Subscription libraries and streetlights introduced to Philadelphia. The Franklin stove, to prevent the fires associated with poorly built chimneys, and encourage our iron industry, as well as keeping us warm. The Post Office.

The creation of the United States, over twenty years of lobbying in London before Parliament and working with the state legislatures to encourage acting together. The States, United, did not just pop out like a chicken from an egg- the unity was created by decades of colonial effort to solve common problems and work together in their common defense.

I could go on, about the further years of diplomacy in Europe, during the Revolution and after, or his role in the Constitutional Convention. Suffice it to say you can hardly study any part of his life without touching on some basic aspect of the birth of our nation.

Stuff a teacher of history should know.

Posted by: serial catowner on January 17, 2006 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

Once again, Kevin Drum stakes out a position requiring tremendous courage!

Posted by: Nemo on January 17, 2006 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

And, of course, Ben was one of the first Americans to come up with a "Ten Days to a Better You" program for himself. See his autobiography, a smallish book you'll never regret reading.

Posted by: serial catowner on January 17, 2006 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

Ben Franklin,

The quintessential enlightenment man.

The first American.

Posted by: Vinnie on January 17, 2006 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

Adams, Franklin, and Jay negotiated the greatest diplomatic victory in American history by getting all the signers of the Treaty of Paris, 1783, to recognize the U.S. boundaries west to the Miss, River, north to Canada, and south to Fla. giving the U.S. an empire that dwarfed in size and wealth any European participant to that treaty.

Franklin, the greatest American ever.

Brilliant!

Posted by: Vinnie on January 17, 2006 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

Franklin's best work was obviously in creating the Franklin Mint. Those collectibles are awesome!

Posted by: Al on January 17, 2006 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

My favorite Ben Franklin quote, which I first learned over at MaxSpeak, is from a letter Ben wrote to Robert Morris in 1783:
All the property that is necessary to a man for the conservation of the individual and the propagation of the species is his natural right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all property superfluous to such purposes is the property of the public, who by their laws have created it, and who may therefore by other laws dispose of it, whenever the welfare of the public shall demand such disposition. He that does not like civil society on these terms, let him retire and live among savages.

Posted by: bob on January 17, 2006 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

Wait a minute, I thought Hamilton was the one that offered Washington the crown. Who kept insisting on a monarchy and had a profound distrust of the 'teeming masses' ability to govern themselves.

Or am I thinking of someone else.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 17, 2006 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

The founding fathers were, almost to a man, far from idealists and the only human rights they were interested in protecting were their own. Their mercenary interests were as ravenous as George W.'s. When you read the economic history of the colonies, the revolution becomes a lot more interesting. Nappy Birthday Ben. You were a brilliant mind. I would be fascinated to know what you would have done in this age.

Posted by: murmeister on January 17, 2006 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

As Lord Buckley would say, "I'm a Benny Franklin man."

Posted by: Davei on January 17, 2006 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, the sentiment expressed in bob's quote is just another rationalization for pseudo-slavery, in that it states if an individual exchanges his labor and ingenuity for property which exceeds that which is needed to keep him and his family alive, the part which exceeds that level does not belong to him, but to the collective. Thus, the individual does not own the fruits of his labor and his mind beyond which keeps his cells metabolizing, not because those fruits are required to stave off tyranny or anarchy, and thus serve the essential needs of civilization, but only because the individual will still be left alive if those fruits are taken from him, and those taking the fruit have the will and power to do so. Thus, thugs can form majorities and vote themselves material comfort beyond which is needed to keep them alive, material comfort provided by the labor and ingenuity of others.

If Franklin really wrote this, and the context which is presented is accurate, then it wasn't Franklin's best day, which is hardly harsh criticism. When one writes as much as Franklin did, one is going to write some wrong-headed things.

Posted by: Will Allen on January 17, 2006 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

And also a man of the middle class...

It is a shame both parties have seen fit to abandon them.

Posted by: The Blue Nomad on January 17, 2006 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

Franklin was great, but there is one huge pernicious virus he injected into the American system, although it was surely meant a joke: "God helps those who help themselves."

I can't think of a more perfect subversion of the message of Christ than that. I read a poll in Harpers or something like that that showed a majority of self-identified American Christians thought that phrase was Biblical, which explains a lot of the problems in this country.

Posted by: aplomb on January 17, 2006 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

aplomb,

Really? I could have sworn that came from one of Aesop's Fables (in a slightly different form, naturally).

...not that I am ever surprised about self-identified Christians not knowing much about their religion.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on January 17, 2006 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

I know fuck-all, and I'm happy to tell you about it.

Posted by: Will *erp* Allen on January 17, 2006 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

' Those who would sacrifice essential liberty for fleeting security deserve George W Bush '

Sure Franklin had his moments and science is cool. It tells us that where there are two competing theories the simpler is to be preferred and if there was a god it would be necessary to destroy it. Also that religion and politics must be kept seperate.
Can I just put in a word here for George Mason?

Slavery was very much on the radar screen in the 18th Century. Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution almost foundered over the issue. The ultimate acceptance of slavery was a pragmatic decision taken with the knowledge that it was far from a closed issue...'

Damn straight. George Mason whose Virginia preamble to their constitution is worth a look. would not sign this Federal charter for slavery. This piece of parchment that some fools worship for some fool reason. And William Godwin wrote soon after about free love for women and John Sturt Mill and others followed up early next century on the issue of the subjection of women. These are old battles that are being refought today. With the help of the classic's, the rennaissance, the enlightenment, independent science and the dream of reason we should prevail. ( Please note - ' We' does not including leftist statist losers like DemocRATs )

Posted by: professor-rat on January 17, 2006 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

Hear hear. The founders and folks like my New England family were indeed liberals. This is distressing for wingnuts to consider. It's reality though so we know what they do to avoid that. Anything.

Posted by: Mark A. York on January 17, 2006 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

Hello, all the 'conservatives' from that era relocated to the maritime provinces of Canada and turned their backs on the new country called the USA.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 17, 2006 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

MJ Memphis The constant chanting "You must believe" precludes examining contradictory views.

Posted by: opit on January 17, 2006 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

Good ol' Ben. From him to Mark Twain to Will Rogers to... er... aw heck, I'd have to vote Mel Brooks. Or maybe Johnny Carson.

And as far as exporting revolution, I seem to recall that the bright idea of invading Canada came from, ah yes, Benedict Arnold.

Posted by: Dustbin Of History on January 17, 2006 at 8:51 PM | PERMALINK

Are you referring to Thomas "I think what I'm doing is unconstitutional because there's nothing in the text of the Constitution authorizing me to do it, but it's important to the country, so I'm going to purchase Louisiana anyway" Jefferson?
Posted by: Al on January 17, 2006 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK


I've always felt that was an inspiration to Teddy Roosevelt who set aside a lot of land as a nature preserve, so all future generations could experience what America was like before we came along and terrorized it.

Was it Constitutional? Unlikely. But, I think the founders were much more cognizant of their founder's duties and prerogatives. Later this would've seemed bizarre, as was the case when Seward argued for buying Alaska.

I think Jefferson was Liberal in the sense that he didn't want religion and state comingled and that he very much valued education and science and technologies. He clearly wanted progress on several fronts. Maybe you could have called him a Progressive Conservative or a Rooseveltian Bull Mooser.

Posted by: MarkH on January 17, 2006 at 9:06 PM | PERMALINK

The decision to invade Canada came from mucher higher levels than Benedict Arnold.

It was thought that Quebec's recent past as a French colony could be exploited by the Colonies, using a message of tolerance of Catholicism and liberation from the British. Unfortunately, there were not enough troops to pull it off, and those that were sent were from colonies that had no great love for the French or Catholicism.

Posted by: Wombat on January 17, 2006 at 9:12 PM | PERMALINK

He invented swim fins.

Posted by: lin on January 17, 2006 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

The March to Quebec is my family story. Where the idea came from is unclear but Washington came up with it about the time my great x7 grandfather Reuben Colburn showed up in Cambridge with the St. Francis Abenaki chiefs and made it clear he could guide and supply such a mission. It was a disaster, but one of the greatest adventure stories of all time.

I have a book on it, but it was preempted by one just out "Through a Howling Wilderness." It doesn't tell the entire story, but it's good enough, for now.

March to Quebec

Posted by: Mark A. York on January 17, 2006 at 9:37 PM | PERMALINK

ben franklin would have been happy with this result:

FRESNO, California (AP) -- Under legal pressure, a rural school district agreed Tuesday to stop offering high school students an elective philosophy course on "intelligent design,"

Posted by: Nads on January 17, 2006 at 9:49 PM | PERMALINK

My great great great grandfather was a conservative. He remained loyal to the king, became a lieutenant-governor and was later discovered and hung. In his writings he indicated that all the conservatives were pro-king. He indicated that the ridiculous liberals insisted on an independent democratic nation. Also he thought the French were disgusting for helping the liberals.

Posted by: MRB on January 17, 2006 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

A more realistic view of (at least the Virginia) "founding fathers" is in Woody Holton's "Forced Founders." Its about why Virginia went to war in 1775. Check it out.

Posted by: shoebeacon on January 17, 2006 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

"We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, the labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel."
- Benjamin Franklin

Posted by: The Editors, AFJ on January 17, 2006 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK
I seem to remember it was the liberals that wanted to keep the Saddam and Taliban status quo... Posted by: Freedom Fighter
Actually it was Rumsfeld and Reagan who supported Saddam and the Mujahideen. Posted by: Mike on January 17, 2006 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

Franklin also invented the Boomers' friend: bifocals.

Posted by: Wombat on January 17, 2006 at 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

Does Mike believe favoring Iraq over Iran was wrong? If so, why? Or, is Mike, as suspected, simply regurgitating brainless talking points?

What about FDR's alliance with Stalin? Do modern Democrats condemn that as well? Does context matter? Apparently not. Only juvenile partisan snark matters.

Posted by: wallace on January 17, 2006 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

And he persuaded France to invest in a regime change in America.

So maybe he would understand some of what's going on in the world.

Posted by: McAristotle on January 17, 2006 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking of birthdays, in Washington DC on Monday, President Bush honored the life of Martin Luther King Jr. by calling for the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Too bad his Justice Department and the Republican Party have been undermining it back in Georgia.

For the full story, see:
"Bush and One Man, One Vote in Georgia."

Posted by: AvengingAngel on January 17, 2006 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK

Requiring photo ID does not undermine voting rights.

Posted by: wallace on January 17, 2006 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

Yea, you just charge $20,000 for the ID. And Chalabi would be just like Franklin-except for all the embezzling of banks.

Posted by: MRB on January 17, 2006 at 11:23 PM | PERMALINK

Yea, you just charge $20,000 for the ID.

Or you put the ID centers well out of the way of metropolitan voters.

But, hey, as long as you can keep the veneer of legality and equality, its all good (German).

Posted by: Dustbin Of History on January 17, 2006 at 11:59 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen:


If Franklin really wrote this, and the context which is presented is accurate, then it wasn't Franklin's best day, which is hardly harsh criticism. When one writes as much as Franklin did, one is going to write some wrong-headed things.

I have to disagree with your interpretation. I googled the quote, it is here.

When Franklin says "Savage", he is referring to Rousseau's notion of the noble savage through a unique perspective of his studies of Native American culture that fascinated both Americans and French alike.

If you read the Property chapter introduction to this letter here, the context appears to be how to form a stable Republic and a representative government (it's dated 1783). At the time, there was an anti-English, anti-aristocracy feeling amoung the Colonialists, but some of the framers also felt that a popular representation could be swayed by the propertied classes and would lead to an unstable Republic.

Posted by: chris on January 18, 2006 at 12:11 AM | PERMALINK

"My great great great grandfather"

That's not enough greats to get back there.

Posted by: Mark A. York on January 18, 2006 at 12:14 AM | PERMALINK

B. Franklin and J. Adams
Even in McCullough's biography of Adams it was pretty clear that ol' Ben preferred J.Q. to his humourless father and eventually had them all sent off because the elder Adams offended France's chief negotiator because of his perpetual insistance on 'getting down to business' and impatiance with protocol.

Posted by: joe on January 18, 2006 at 12:17 AM | PERMALINK

I'm paraphrasing here, but here's Ben Franklin being cute:

"Beer is proof that God exists and wants man to be happy."

Happy birthday, Ben.

Posted by: BarrettBrown on January 18, 2006 at 12:36 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting correlation of topics. Benny had some very un-Drumlike things to say about immigration:"Why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion?"

Posted by: Derek Copold on January 18, 2006 at 12:36 AM | PERMALINK

The Wild Turkey would have been a better symbol for America than the scavenger Bald Eagle, also.

Posted by: merlallen on January 18, 2006 at 12:53 AM | PERMALINK

"Franklin was also one of our nation's first spies."

True. To British Naval Intelligence he was known as 'Agent No. 79'; a very valuable asset, according to the historians, even if his information wasn't quite enough to turn the war in Britain's favour.
(No link: but see Donaldson, "History of the British Secret Service".)

Posted by: ajay on January 18, 2006 at 6:23 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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