Big Ben

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor



Richard Johnstone

Scientist. Inventor. Statesman. Writer. Printer. Postmaster. A Founding Father of our nation, and of its first successful cooperative business. No mere 18th-century fossil, Benjamin Franklin still looms large on the American public stage, where his words still inspire, his ideas still resonate, and the nation he helped found still thrives.

As a Virginian and an avid student of history, a truth I hold as self-evident is that Thomas Jefferson is THE central, towering figure in any discussion about the Declaration of Independence.

This document transformed the relationship between citizens and their government. It boldly, brashly and beautifully articulated basic human freedoms.

And it outlined the principles — soaring in their aspiration, grounded in their application — that would soon nurture in earliest bud, and feed till the present day, a democracy like no other before or since.

This Declaration was adopted by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall 241 years ago this July the Fourth. And thus was born the Independence Day we now celebrate with a sizzle of burgers and brats over open flame, a flourish of fireworks over ball fields, but too often with a lack of reverence for the risks to life and fortune willingly assumed by the new leaders of these “United States of America.”

We often forget that Benjamin Franklin was among the five Founding Fathers who together crafted this masterful document under Mr. Jefferson’s leadership. (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 Franklin’s considerable contributions not only to our nation’s founding, but also to our politics, our culture and our scientific understanding of the natural world.

Mr. Franklin 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 his famous (or fanciful, according to some historians) kite experiment proving that lightning is a form of electricity. And there’s his founding of the first successful cooperative business in the U.S., a mutual (cooperatively owned and operated) insurance company that’s still around 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 follows, many drawn from “Poor Richard’s Almanack.”

So here’s to “Big Ben” and all he’s meant to these great United States! 

power across the land.



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