by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor
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
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
So here’s to “Big Ben” and all he’s meant to these great
power across the land.