Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Happy Birthday, Ben

A little break from modern politics today to mark the 300th birthday of one of America's greatest. Benjamin Franklin was born January 17, 1706 in a modest little house on Boston's Milk Street, and of course would go on to become a sort of Founding Renaissance Man: printer, athlete, inventor, comedian, statesman, sometime vegetarian, diplomat, rake, abolitionist, public servant - you name it. He started early and stayed involved with public life until the very last moments of his life, truly going above and beyond the call of duty time and time again.

Franklin's works are too vast to be excerpted here to any great effect (although I am tempted to try), and their impact is even more vast, from the successful invention of bifocal lenses to obtaining French support for the Revolution and far, far beyond.

The AP has issued a nice little writeup for the tricentennial here, which I'd urge a reading of; biographer Stacy Schiff has a nice op/ed in the Times as well. There's also a handy Ben FAQ here via the Franklin Institute. And if you've got enough time on your hands and haven't had the opportunity, I highly recommend Ben's hilarious and marvelous Autobiography, which is available online here or can be had cheaply from most bookstores. I'd also recommend this letter from Franklin to his daughter in 1784, in which he pushes for the wild turkey (rather than the bald eagle) to be named America's national bird, as well as his 1789 "Address to the Republic" regarding the abolition of slavery.

My personal favorite Franklin quote, and one I used before on the occasion of "Constitution Day" back in September, is this one, recorded by James Madison:

"... Whilst the last members were signing [the Constitution], Doct'r Franklin looking toward the Presidents chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have said he, often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicisitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun."

Happy Birthday, Ben.


At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Charles Amico said...

I went to Franklin Institute in Boston when I was jsut out of High School and got to really appreciate Ben and what he said. Thansk ofr posting that this was his birthday. Didn't think anyone had evn remembered him today. He was truly a prolific writer in his time and made some great pronouncements.

Jeremy, you also might look into Zogby poll today. I wrote a piece on the poll that was released today on impeachment of President Bush

At 8:51 PM, Blogger Phil S said...

Thanks for the links, Jeremy--some really good reading.

At 2:38 AM, Blogger Clint Carrens said...

Thank you for calling attention to Ben's birthday. He was truly a great and intelligent man.


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