The Wisdom of Benjamin Franklin

BEN FRANKLIN was not only America’s most famous citizen at our country’s birth, but a central part of that birth. Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He signed the Treaty of Alliance with France, bringing the colonies French aid against the British, and The Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War and recognized America’s independence.

He was the only person to sign all those key documents. Franklin’s role in our founding, however, has been eclipsed in modern memory by his many other accomplishments as a prolific inventor, discoverer, publisher, etc. But what has been crowded out—what he said about America and the liberty it was designed to protect—is a vital part of his legacy, as well.

They who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty or safety. Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature. This will be the best security for maintaining our liberties.

A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.

Our cause is the cause of all mankind … we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own. Where liberty is, there is my country. A frequent recurrence to fundamental principles … is absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty and keep a government free.

Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech. Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.

When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic. Sell not … liberty to purchase power.

In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns. I hope … all mankind will at length … have reason and sense enough to settle their differences without cutting throats.

Men will ultimately be governed by God or by tyrants. Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.

The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself. Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in the world nothing can be certain except death and taxes.

History affords us many instances of the ruin of states … the ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy.… An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy.

At the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Franklin reflected the risk and unity of purpose that led to America’s founding when he said, “Gentlemen, we must now hang together, or we shall most assuredly hang separately.” But he also knew how uncertain success was for their vision of liberty.

Benjamin Franklin made clear the intention of America’s experiment in liberty when he said, “God grant that not only the love of liberty but a thorough knowledge of the rights of man may pervade all the nations of the earth, so that a philosopher may set his foot anywhere on its surface and say: This is my country.” It is worth comparing modern America with Franklin’s vision, and asking how we can reclaim his vision.

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