Big Ben

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

Richard Johnstone

As a Virginian and an avid reader of history, it seems self-evident that Thomas Jefferson is THE central, towering figure in any discussion about the Declaration of Independence. This transformational document was a bold, brash, beautifully eloquent statement both of basic human freedoms and of the aspirational political principles that would soon nurture in earliest bud and then forever anchor a democracy unlike any before it or since.

This Declaration was adopted by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia's Independence Hall 233 years ago this July the Fourth. And thus was born the Independence Day that we celebrate today with appropriate fanfare, flair, fireworks and food, but often with too little reverence for the risks to life and safety, and the sacrifices in blood and fortune, made by these new Americans of every background.

We often forget, though, that Benjamin Franklin was also among the five Founding Fathers who together worked on this masterful document formulated under Thomas Jefferson's leadership and articulated through Mr. Jefferson's stirring mastery of thoughts and words. (John Adams, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman were the other three members of the declaration committee.)

So it seems only appropriate during this Independence Day month of July to acknowledge Benjamin Franklins considerable contributions to our founding as a nation as well as to our politics, our culture, and our scientific understanding of the natural world. He also has a distinctive dual connection to the electric cooperatives that would not be created until almost a century and a half after his death in 1790: There's both his famous (or fanciful, according to some historians) kite experiment proving that lightning is a form of electricity, as well as his founding of the first successful cooperative organization in the U.S., a mutual (cooperatively owned and operated) insurance company still in business today.

Ah, and then there are his humorous one-liners, astute predictions, and sage sayings that continue to this day to enrich our language and enliven our national debate on a huge array of issues. A sampling of some of his best, many from Poor Richards Almanack, follows. So here's to Big Ben and all he's meant to these great United States!

  They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

  Eat to live, and not live to eat.

  Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.

  Tis easy to see, hard to foresee.

  Work as if you were to live a hundred years, Pray as if you were to die tomorrow.

  Who has deceived thee so oft as thy self?

  Well done is better than well said.

  Be slow in choosing a friend, slower in changing.

  Who is rich? He that rejoices in his portion.

  People who are wrapped up in themselves make small packages.

  The discontented man finds no easy chair.

  Glass, china, and reputation are easily cracked, and never well mended.

  Silence is not always a sign of wisdom, but babbling is ever a folly.

  A good example is the best sermon.

  Its common for Men to give pretended reasons, instead of one real one.

  A mobs a monster; heads enough but no brains.

  Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor liberty to purchase power.

  He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.

  Sudden power is apt to be insolent, sudden liberty saucy; that behaves best which has grown gradually.


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