Ben Franklin’s papers online!

April 17, 2018

Good news for students, probably for teachers — and of course, for careful historians.

The Library of Congress digitized Ben Franklin’s papers. They are online for investigation (and use in student projects, and creation of lesson plans, Document-Based Questions (DBQs), etc.).

Now we can put to bed all those fake quotes attributed to Franklin, and discover again great stuff he said that is too often ignored, right?

Press release offers details.

New on the Web: Papers of Benjamin Franklin Now Online

This print shows Benjamin Franklin seated at a desk, looking to his right at an electrical device. In his left hand are papers upon which he is taking notes, and visible through a window to his left is lightning striking a building. (Edward Fisher, engraver, after a painting by Mason Chamberlin, 1763. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

This print shows Benjamin Franklin seated at a desk, looking to his right at an electrical device. In his left hand are papers upon which he is taking notes, and visible through a window to his left is lightning striking a building. (Edward Fisher, engraver, after a painting by Mason Chamberlin, 1763. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

The papers of American scientist, statesman and diplomat Benjamin Franklin have been digitized and are now available online for the first time from the Library of Congress. The Library announced the digitization today in remembrance of the anniversary of Franklin’s death on April 17, 1790.

The Franklin papers consist of approximately 8,000 items mostly dating from the 1770s and 1780s. These include the petition that the First Continental Congress sent to Franklin, then a colonial diplomat in London, to deliver to King George III; letterbooks Franklin kept as he negotiated the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War; drafts of the treaty; notes documenting his scientific observations, and correspondence with fellow scientists.

The collection is online at: loc.gov/collections/benjamin-franklin-papers/about-this-collection.

“Benjamin Franklin made history and won respect around the world as a diplomat, publisher, scientist and scholar,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “We are thrilled to make this collection of documents by one of the nation’s founding fathers available to highlight his unique role in American history.”

Highlights of the Franklin papers include:

  • Two copies of the petition the First Continental Congress sent to Franklin to present to King George III in 1774 “to lay our grievances before the throne.”
  • Franklin’s scientific speculation on the speed of ships in 1775 while on board a vessel returning from England to America just before the Revolutionary War.
  • Correspondence with John Adams, King George III, Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington, among others.
  • Franklin’s Craven Street letterbook, one of the few pre-Revolutionary letterbooks from Franklin to survive, documenting his life as a colonial diplomat in London.
  • Letters exchanged with his wife, Deborah Read Franklin, and his son, loyalist William Franklin, before their estrangement.
  • Franklin’s drawing of bifocal glasses, which he is credited with inventing.
  • Franklin’s letter explaining the effects of lightning on a church steeple.

The Franklin papers have been at the Library of Congress for more than 100 years but had a turbulent history. Many of Franklin’s early papers were scattered and damaged, though he accumulated many more. When he died in 1790, Franklin left his papers to his grandson, William Temple Franklin, who published some of them as the “Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin” in 1817-1818. Some of the papers Temple Franklin published were later found cut up in a London tailor shop. The papers were eventually returned to the U.S., purchased by the U.S. government and kept at the U.S. State Department until the early 20th century, when they were transferred to the Library of Congress.

Additional Franklin papers are held by the American Philosophical Society and the University of Pennsylvania, both of which Franklin founded in Philadelphia.

The digitization of the Franklin papers is part of a larger effort to make historical materials available online. Other newly digitized collections include the papers of U.S. Presidents James Buchanan, Ulysses S. Grant, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James K. Polk, and the papers of Alexander Hamilton, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov. [end press release]

Had I more to say, I’d say it.

Explore the papers, let us know what you think. Comments are open. 

(Is it odd that we know more about Ben Franklin’s taxes than we know about Donald Trump’s?)


Genesis 51 — Ben Franklin’s favorite part of the Bible

August 11, 2011

There’s a longer explanation, but this needs to be put out where it can be caught by search engines.

Ben Franklin reads to a bird, statue at the University of Pennsylvania - photo via Priyank

Benjamin Franklin reading the Pennsylvania Gazette, or “Ben on the Bench” (with a bird), statue at the University of Pennsylvania – photo via Priyank

This is the 51st chapter of the Book of Genesis, as related by Benjamin Franklin.  This copy of the text comes from a newspaper, The Otago Witness, December 2, 1887, page 35, courtesy of a website called Papers Past, maintained by the National Library of New Zealand.

Paste It in Your Bible.

A Chapter Verily Like the Original— How Benjamin Franklin Surprised Ms Friends.

Over 100 years ago the following so-called “Genesis 51” was used to puzzle Biblical scholars, and today, were it read aloud in any mixed company, it is questionable if its fraudulent nature would be discovered, so beautifully is the spirit and language of the Old Testament imitated : —

1. And it came to pass after these things, that Abraham sat in the door of his tent, about the going down of the sun.

2. And behold a man, bowed with age, came from the way of the wilderness leaning on a staff.

3. And Abraham arose and met him, and said unto him, Turn in, I pray thee, and wash thy feet, and tarry all night, and thou shalt arise early on the morrow, and go thy way.

4. But the man said, Nay, for I will abide under this tree.

5. And Abraham pressed him greatly; so he turned, and they went into the tent, and Abraham baked unleavened bread, and they did eat.

6. And when Abraham saw that the man blessed not God, he said unto him, Wherefore does thou not worship the most high God, Creator of heaven and earth?

7. And the man answered and said, I do not worship the God thou speakest of, neither do I call upon his name; for I have made to myself a God which abideth always in my house and provideth me with all things.

8. And Abraham’s zeal was kindled against the man, and he arose and drove him forth with  blows into the wilderness.

9. And at midnight God called unto Abraham, saying, Abraham, where is the stranger?

10. And Abraham answered and said, Lord, he would not worship Thee, neither would he call upon Thy name, therefore have I driven him out from before my face into the wilderness.

11. And God said, Have I not borne with him these hundred and ninety and eight years, and nourished him, and clothed him notwithstanding his rebellion against me, and couldst not thou, that art thyself a sinner, bear with him one night ?

12. And Abraham said. Let not the anger of my Lord wax against His servant; lo! I have sinned, forgive me, I pray thee.

13. And Abraham arose and went forth into the wilderness, and sought diligently for the man, and found him and returned with him to the tent, and when he had entreated him kindly, he sent him away on the morrow with gifts.

14, And God spake again unto Abraham, saying, For this thy sin shall thy seed be afflicted four hundred years in a strange land.

15. But for thy repentance will I deliver them, and they shall come forth with power, and with gladness of heart, and with much substance.

In 1759, when in England as agent for the colony of Pennsylvania, Benjamin Franklin privately printed this “Chapter,” as he always termed it.  Taking only a sheet of paper, he kept it laid in his Bible at the end of Genesis, and used to amuse himself by reading it aloud to his friends, and hearing them express their surprise that they had never recollected reading it, and their openly expressed admiration of the moral it carried with it. Its origin is unknown.  It has been traced back 700 years to a Persian poet, who simply says “it was so related.” It must be very old.

Ben Franklin’s version of Chapter 51 of the Book of Genesis is a hoax.  There is no such chapter.


Lesson for Congress: Sometimes an eagle has to drift a while just to survive

July 28, 2011

Maybe Ben Franklin got it wrong, and the bald eagle is the best candidate for our national bird.

Cousin Amanda, last year with the condors in California, spends this summer with the bears, salmon, whales and other spectacular wildlife in Alaska.  (Internships are great, for the interns, no?)

Comes this photo of our national symbol, the bald eagle:

Eagle in the water near Hoonah, Alaska; photo by Amanda Holland (rights reserved)

Yeah, it’s a bit of a flyspeck on the horizon photo, but it’s still instructive.  Probably looking for fish, this bird waded too far out into the estuary.  Once it realized it was wet, and in the water, it tried to swim to shore.  Eagle wings are made to soar, however, not swim.  Swimming didn’t work.  At this point, the bird could have continued to struggle to do the impossible, and probably drown; or it could just give up, and drown.

Or, it might sit tight and wait to see if another opportunity presents itself.  After about an hour in the water, the bird drifted into shallow water where it could walk out.

Ms. Holland posted this photo on her Facebook site.  A friend there observed, “The symbol of our nation floating aimlessly with the tide because it is too bogged down to do anything else… How much irony can exist in one single photograph?”

Sometimes we get in “too deep.”  We may want to soar, but that’s not possible.  But if we’re patient, if we don’t do stupid stuff, we might just drift into safer waters, and survive, and thrive.

Yeah, we know, Tea Partiers: You think the nation spends too much money.  That’s a debate worth having.

But that’s not worth failing to raise the debt ceiling.  Failing to raise the debt ceiling will cost the nation, by conservative estimates, a half-trillion dollars in increased interest rates, with no gain of any program or paying of any debt.

It’s time to drift with the flow of events.  Raise the debt ceiling now, and survive without doing something stupid.  We can discuss solutions later, rationally, once we prevent the waste of a half trillion dollars, eh?  Time to stop fighting and stay alive, Congress.

We can learn a lot from the bald eagle.  I think even Ben Franklin would agree.

What’s that, Ben?  Our follies tax us more than taxes?

“Friends,” says he [Father Abraham], “and Neighbours, the Taxes are indeed very heavy, and if those laid on by the Government were the only Ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us. We are taxed twice as much by our Idleness, three times as much by our Pride, and four times as much by our Folly; and from these Taxes the Commissioners cannot ease or deliver us by allowing an Abatement. However let us hearken to good Advice, and something may be done for us; God helps them that help themselves, as Poor Richard says, in his Almanack of 1733.

— Ben Franklin, The Way to Wealth, 1758


Chess games of the rich and famous: Ben Franklin and Lady Howe

November 17, 2009

Ben Franklin plays chess with Lady Howe, 1867 painting by Edward Harrison May

"Lady Howe mates Ben Franklin," 1867 painting by Edward Harrison May - public domain

Resources:


‘We don’t got no stinkin’ education. We don’t need no stinkin’ education!’

October 12, 2008

My family’s heritages are migrant and education. By that I mean that moving someplace else for a better life, and getting the kids into better schools, has been a tradition running back at least 6 generations. My paternal grandfather was a seaman in the British merchant marine. He married a woman in Guyana, then moved the family for a job in the stockyards in Kansas City, a better place to raise kids. His children became nurses, politicians, law enforcement officers, successful trucking magnates; his grandchildren are doctors, lawyers, nurses, business executives, and teachers — one Rhodes Scholar. I am second-generation American on my father’s side.

My maternal grandfather was a farmer of great skill. He moved from Provo, Utah, to the frontier town of Manila, Utah, then to Delta, then to Salt Lake City, in a quest for riches from farming. Deciding that wouldn’t work, he took a job with Utah Oil Co., a company that was eventually merged into Standard of Indiana and now, British Petroleum. His children all graduated from high school, except for the daughter lost in infancy. Several went on to college. They became construction company owners, contractors and engineers, railroad engineers, small company entrepreneurs and retailers. His grandchildren are physicians, lawyers, business executives, successful salesman, investors — and a couple of good old boys who scrape by (every family has some). My grandfather was second-generation from pioneers, people who moved their families west in wagons, or if necessary, on foot and pushcart. They were people who fought Indians sometimes, and died in those fights and in the migrations. They left legacies in the towns named after them, and in their records as educators — both my maternal grandparents were schoolteachers early on, many of their cousins were college professors, one a college president.

Education in our family was always viewed as a ladder to personal success, to a good life, if not always a key to economic well-being. Especially in the case of my maternal grandparents, there was great assistance from the Latter-day Saint emphasis on education.

If I had to typify their version of the American dream, certainly a huge part of that dream involved the kids getting educated well beyond their parents, and getting a better life as a result.

Education was a part of the American dream from pre-Revolution days. Foreign visitors often commented that in America the crudest of men read the newspapers and discussed politics with vigor and earnestness absent in other nations. Education was the cornerstone of freedom, in the view of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and as demonstrated by Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington.

Sometime in the 1980s, I think, the tide changed. Certainly the Reagan Revolution had something to do with it. Cuts in Pell Grants, the grants that got thousands of kids into college, were a signal that education was no longer valued as it once was. One by one the federal government stripped away some of the most important building blocks of our modern society, things like the GI Bill, which had provided America with a highly-trained, highly-skilled corps of engineers in the 1950s. Those engineers invented the infrastructure to our nation that now crumbles, and they invented the industrial processes, and sometimes the industries, that we now use daily. Transistors, which make computers possible on the scale we have today, were invented and developed into powerful “cogs” for machines that do what had not even been dreamed of 40 years earlier.

I can’t tell you exactly when the tide turned, but I can tell you when I first realized it had. After staffing the Senate Labor Committee for most of a decade, I escaped to the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, a good place for a budding environmental lawyer to work, I thought at the time. The chairman of the commission was Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander (now senator from Tennessee). Lamar had two big projects in Tennessee that he pinned his hopes for the state upon. Both were influenced in no small part by his work trying to recruit auto manufacturers to build production facilities in Tennessee.

Nissan and Toyota had levelled with him: Tennessee looked good, but for two things. First, there were few good ways to get products like automobiles out of the state to markets they needed to be sold in. Second, Tennessee’s education system wasn’t providing the highly-educated workers the car makers needed to run highly-sophisticated machinery in a fast-moving, just-in-time inventory system that produced high quality products at lowest cost.

Alexander responded with one initiative to build good roads out of Tennessee to major markets. He called that initiative “Good Roads.” He responded to the education needs with a program designed to plug money and support into Tennessee schools to improve education, bolstered by the report of the Excellence in Education Committee in 1983. He called that initiative “Good Schools.” In retrospect, those were good places to focus development efforts. Tennessee got at least one Japanese company to locate a plant there, and snagged the much-desired Saturn production plant of General Motors.

The Commission had some hearings in Tennessee. I was along on one of those hearings, and I was with Alexander when he was met by a Tennessee constituent who just wanted to talk to the governor. Alexander, being from Tennessee, hoping to keep his election chances good, and being a good governor, agreed to give the man and his wife a few minutes — I watched. The constituent complained about all the changes coming to Tennessee. He complained about the costs of the roads, and the costs of improving the schools. He worried about taxes, because, he said, he didn’t make a lot of money. Alexander assured him that his taxes would not rise much if any at all, and that especially the education part of the program would benefit all Tennesseans. “Do you have children?” Alexander asked the man.

He responded that he had two kids, both in their early teens. And then he said something that just stunned me: “You know, I’ve gotten by pretty good with my 8th grade education all these years, and I don’t see why my kids need to have any more than that. I’m not sure we need Good Schools.”

To Lamar Alexander’s everlasting credit — or shame, if you’re very cynical — he didn’t strike the man down. Alexander spent a few more minutes explaining the benefits the man’s children would have from better education, and he closed off telling about his meetings with car company executives who made it clear that they wanted to hire only good students who had graduated from good high schools, and maybe who had enough college that they could do the complex mathematics to run big machines. Alexander asked the man for his name and address, said his opinion was very important to him, and promised to get back in touch.

I suspect Alexander did contact the man later. His office tended to work very well on such matters as constituent contacts.

But I’ll wager he didn’t change the man’s opinion about education.

Sometime in the mid-1980s many Americans began to look on education as unnecessary, as expensive, and as “elitist” in a new, derogatory sense. Instead of education being something blue-collar workers hoped their children would earn, it became something blue collar workers felt oppressed by, somehow.

From that commission, I moved to the U.S. Department of Education, in Bill Bennett’s regime. Over the next few months I observed the same anti-education phenomenon playing out in debates about school reform in dozens of states. Then I got out of government and into private business, where education was demanded, and I only occasionally worried about the drama I had seen.

The past few weeks, especially since the nomination of Sarah Palin, have heightened my fears about the loss of the shared dream of better education for our children. It was part of the American psyche, woven into the fabric of our government from the “Old Deluder Satan” law in Massachusetts, which required towns of any size to set up some kind of school, through the Northwest Ordinances, which set aside sections of every township to be used for the benefit of public education, through the settlement of the west where nearly every town with a kid in it built a school — schools were built in Utah before many pioneers had houses to get them through the winter — through the dramatic rise of public education that helped knock out child labor, and that provided us with truly American armies and navies to get us out on top of two world wars.

Now comes conservative columnist David Brooks to explain how this process has been aided and abetted, if not intended, by the Republican Party, “The Class War Before Palin.”

In 1976, in a close election, Gerald Ford won the entire West Coast along with northeastern states like New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine. In 1984, Reagan won every state but Minnesota.

But over the past few decades, the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts. This expulsion has had many causes. But the big one is this: Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare. Democrats kept nominating coastal pointy-heads like Michael Dukakis so Republicans attacked coastal pointy-heads.

Over the past 15 years, the same argument has been heard from a thousand politicians and a hundred television and talk-radio jocks. The nation is divided between the wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland and the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts.

What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect.

It’s a sobering piece. Please read it.

We remain a nation of migrants, a nation that migrates. We remain a nation that desires economic success and is willing to move to get it. Have we lost the good sense to remember that education improves our chances at success? Does Brooks explain the entire motivation for the War on Education?

What do you think?


Happy birthday, Ben Franklin!

January 17, 2008

Today is the 302nd anniversary of the birth of Ben Franklin (1706-1790).

At one time, this was the only day of the year on which a tornado had not been recorded in the U.S. Does anyone know: Is that still so?

Happy birthday, Ben. And, happy Ben’s birthday, America. We were lucky to have him.

Ben Franklin quote about history

Image and Quicktime Movie from Franklin Institute


Founders online, great interactive site

December 12, 2007

Our friends and benefactors at the Bill of Rights Institute put up a great branch of their site, Founders Online. A grant from the Shelby Cullom Davis Foundation made the project possible.

Bill of Rights Institute logo

Check it out:

John Adams | Samuel Adams | Alexander Hamilton | Patrick Henry
Thomas Jefferson | James Madison | GeorgeMason | Gouverneur Morris
James Otis | Thomas Paine | George Washington | John Witherspoon

This page should be a first stop for your students doing biographies on any of these people, and it should be a test review feature for your classes that they can do on the internet at home, or in class if you’re lucky enough to have access in your classroom.

Good on-line sources are still too rare. This is stuff you can trust to be accurate and appropriate for your students. Send a note of thanks to the Bill of Rights Institute, and send your students to the site.

Just in time for Bill of Rights Day, December 15 . . .


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