SAN JOSE, January 17, 2014— Today is the birthday of one of the most important Founding Fathers who possibly could have served as the unofficial president of the United States. Sadly, Americans have never honored this man as they have done for others less remarkable.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote that “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worthy of reading, or do things worth the writing.” Franklin did both, but unfortunately he is not often easily remembered for all of the incredible things he did or for the words of wisdom he left for posterity.
In his time, Benjamin Franklin was recognized as a Renaissance Man. Born into a humble and large family on January 17, 1706, Franklin got his initial start in life as a printer in his brother’s print shop and newspaper in Boston. This foundation served as a basis for his industriousness and provided a livelihood that served him well many times throughout his younger days. But, he eventually outgrew such a beginning as he become a colonial Renaissance Man as he became a an entrepreneur and a businessman, a meteorologist, a scientist and inventor, a musician, a librarian, a humorist, an economist, a philanthropist, a philosopher, and a diplomat and statesman.
To Walter Isaacson, whose exhaustive biography of Benjamin Franklin was published in 2003, Franklin stood out as “the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become.” Amazingly, during the time of such an incredible career, never lost pride in his working class roots, nor his desire for freedom. He served his people and his country as a determined patriot for most of his adult life. Even at 81 years of age, one of his last official duties, and one of the most important, was to give the concluding remarks at the Constitutional Convention to urge the delegates to sign the document giving birth to the new nation.
One of the most important statements he made came at the conclusion of the gathering of delegates as they deliberated on signing the document. Among other words that he shared with his fellow patriots he confessed: “I have often… in the course of the session… looked at that sun (engraved upon Washington’s chair) behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know it is a rising and not a setting sun.”
Franklin was the oldest delagate to the convention, if not the wisest and his words had a great impact upon his colleagues. However, of his many concerns with the document that was hammered out in the summer of 1787, he was especially concerned with a lack of reference to God as the Declaration of Independence had so eloquently linked the quest for freedom to a connectedness to the Creator. Franklin was concerned about the absence of any reference to God and made clear his perspective: “I have lived,Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God Governs the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it possible that an empire can rise without His aid?”
A little known fact about Benjamin Franklin is that of all the Founding Fathers, he was the only person to sign all four of the founding documents that gave birth to the United States of America. In 1776, he was on the committee suggested by John Adams and established by the Continental Congress to write out a declaration of the intent of the colonists with regard to Great Britain. Although Thomas Jefferson wrote the original draft, Franklin added his two cents in the revision of the Declaration of Independence.
He also played a significant role in arranging the Treaty of Alliance with France in 1778 which brought French loans and troops when the struggling colonies were fighting for independence. In addition, he helped negotiate the Treaty of Peace between England, France and the new United States in 1782. And at 81, even though he was carried into the sessions and placed in his chair, and even though he slept through much of the boring bantering, he attended the Constitutional Convention. He could sense the concern over the words and content of the document, but his concluding remarks helped to encourage the other delegates to sign the historic document.
There is a story about Franklin included by Isaacson in his book that after the Constitutional Convention a woman named Mrs. Powel approached him and asked “‘What type of government have you delegates given us?’ To which he replied, ‘A republic, madam, if you can keep it.’”
It is in this day and age that many Americans are concerned whether the nation can stand as a republic. Ironically, in considering the state of the nation, as Americans did last week when we heard the State of the Union message from President Obama, it may help to re-examine the life and legacy of old Ben Franklin. Certainly his wisdom can speak to us from the cornerstones of our past, and if American leaders could heed his words today, it would go a long way towards establishing a healthier republic.
It is important to not forget one of the greatest American patriots – perhaps in our entire history. Belated happy birthday sentiments may be a start for reviving a healthy respect for good old Ben Franklin – a truly great American!