For the past two evenings I have been glued to Ken Burns’ biography of Ben Franklin on PBS. Burns never disappoints … I stand in complete awe of his amazing storytelling gifts to our country… manna for a retired school teacher!
Franklin was known for his quick wit which started his first career as writer and printer… in Poor Richard’s Almanac. But at the young age of 20… he decided he wanted to live a virtuous life and came up with 13 traits to accomplish this… including temperance, silence, order, resolution, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility.
He kept a chart on each virtue and after a week moved onto working on the next one but blew humility while bragging about how he had accomplished humbleness while toasting with a friend ( never really got that temperance down either since he was quite well/known for his beer and ale consumption.)
When his friend called him on the carpet about his boastfulness concerning ” humility ” … even Ben saw the humor in it… and replied” So proud of my humility.” ( A great oxymoron) Besides temperance he also struggled with chastity ( quite a womanizer… and definitely not a Hall of Fame husband or father to his daughter… but he was a self-made man and a successful printer, scientist, philanthropist with his life-altering inventions,, author, and statesman.
In other words he was human… with flaws and all… virtue comes from Latin… virtus or ” vir” … meaning manliness. Aristotle envisioned a virtuous life as a time for men to ” man up” and today ” gal up.” But even Aristotle, like Brene Brown … understood that striving to be the our best is not perfectionism… which is self-destructive because there is no such thing.
On the issue of slavery most people consider Franklin anti-slavery but he had six slaves in his household from 1735 to 1781-( less than a decade before his death in 1790.) ( Slaves-Peter, wife Jemina, and sons-Othello, George, John and King.)
Franklin’s whole outlook on slavery changed when he accompanied Samuel Johnson… to Dr Bray’s school for children of slaves. He realized how quickly they learned and could hold their own in mainstream colonial life. He began donating and supporting the school thenceforth.
In 1787 Franklin became President of the Abolition Society… it became the cornerstone for abolitionist societies in other colonies. It’s mission-abolish slavery, provide free education, moral instruction, and employment.
Franklin’s last act was to petition Congress to provide a way to end slavery through the Constitution. This would finally come to fruition on January 1, 1863 with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that freed 3 million slaves.
So until tomorrow…
” Freedom is not worth having if does not include the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.”
Eva Cate got to enjoy her last 5th grade field day before rising to middle school in the fall.