The Exaltation of Old Ben Franklin

Benjamin Franklin - né à Boston dans la Nouvelle Angleterre, le 17 Janvier 1706

Benjamin Franklin – né à Boston dans la Nouvelle Angleterre, le 17 Janvier 1706

Of all the men who were the offspring of the mighty events which preceded the Revolution–men who stand out among their compeers of the seventeenth century as do the lofty monuments of Palmyra above the surrounding level–Ben Franklin, save Washington, becomes more and more appreciated by time–more distinctive as the representation of his age–more mighty as the great embodiment of the self-made republican man. The sword has ever been, poetry to the contrary, mightier than the pen. Our race is too evil, too destructive, to love and admire the victor who wins his laurels in the pursuits of peace and not amid the carnage of the battle-field. But old Ben Franklin, whose name we abbreviate when we mention it, from the same gushing affection we do those of our cherished “little ones,” holds his absorbing place in our affections, in spite of the clarion trumpet of war, in spite of the emblazoned glory of the conqueror; and we turn from bloody heroes who have fascinated us, to revel with equal yet more holy delight in the peaceful triumphs of the humble printer’s boy. It is no wonder that Boston, the cradle of liberty and historic revolutionary associations, honors his memory. That the capital of the old commonwealth gave him birth is as proud a heritage as that she encircles within her limits Fanueil Hall and the mighty heart of Bunker Hill.

In the excitement of the present hour, when the pursuit of material wealth, and the commercial prosperity of our people, lead us to forget the throes of the past which preceded our matured birth–when we look coldly upon the sufferings of Valley Forge, and forget the examples of patience and forbearance which characterized our revolutionary fathers–when we become regardless of the sentiments of Jefferson–the benign preaching of Madison, and even often indifferent to the dying words of the great “father of his country”–the power of Franklin loses not its hold upon the popular mind, for, while he is as mighty as the greatest in execution, he is more sympathised with than any of his compeers, because he reached the masses through a sublimer simplicity than any other human being ever possessed, and prepared the way for the affectionate admiration of posterity, by never losing sight of the humbler necessities of life, by never sacrificing realities to the more enchanting and easier gathered fruits of imaginary good.

The Pennsylvania Gazette was one of the United States’ most prominent newspapers from 1728—before the time period of the American Revolution—until 1800. Published in Philadelphia from 1728 through 1800, The Pennsylvania Gazette is considered The New York Times of the 18th century.

Benjamin Franklin Statue - 1927

Benjamin Franklin Statue – 1927

The exaltation of Old Ben Franklin never takes him beyond the social hearth, never elevates him above the sympathies of the family circle–his portrait, in all its paternal beauty, adorns the cotter’s walls, and yet, in majestic grandeur, is fitly associated with kings. The despots of the old world encourage the multiplication of his resemblance upon the rude-crockery ware of the most degraded serf, because his example encourages thrift–they place it upon their goblets carved from precious stones, because his triumphs were those of peace. He is loved by all because he was useful, venerated by all because he was honest, and never creating envy, because he was disinterested and, beyond ameliorating the condition of his race, unambitious as a child. The personal appearance of the old philosopher is as familiar as if he were still among us. Art, however humble, catches his character, his plain coat, his broad-brimmed hat; his smiling face moves about, as if he were still breathing in our thoroughfares, still a visitor in our family circle, still a participant in our most useful triumphs. Whenever he approaches, a universal smile marks the recognition; age and youth sit down together, alike interested, alike the disciples as companions of the “printer’s boy.”

Where stands the committee appointed to draft the Declaration of Independence, is to be seen old Ben Franklin, then in the maturity of his intellect. Comparatively an old man among his immediate compatriots, he presents a guiding council, rich in experience, and capable, by mental superiority, of giving advice. How necessary was his mind, his peculiarities, his very personal appearance, to complete the wonderful Congress that gave to America freedom, and to the world a republic more mighty than Rome.

Franklin's return to Philadelphia, 1785

Franklin’s return to Philadelphia, 1785

No wonder that old Ben Franklin reaches the heart of the people. Transplanted from our primitive forests and small towns to the centre of the most polished and haughty court of Europe, representing a nation of rebels, a people without a name, a country without wealth, he made no sacrifice to an etiquette that demanded a livery in the presence of kings, but retained the garb of his American life, and became conspicuous, among an aristocracy glittering with decorations, for his plainness–towered above the congregated minds with which he was surrounded by the very grandeur of his genius, an acknowledged sovereign; and though possessing no rank, no ancestry, no power, yet, in the very greatness of his original nature, was acknowledged superior to the titled, and treated as an equal by majesty itself.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, published from 1855 to 1922, was an American illustrated news publication started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.

Source: Frank Leslies Weekly – September 27, 1856.

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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