Renting a DVD from the local library afforded me the opportunity to watch a documentary on the life of Benjamin Franklin. Watching him progress from a poor laborer, through a philandering playboy, to a frugal man of enterprise, onto a self-taught experimental scientist and elder statesman was a tremendous odyssey. Not only was his personal journey inspiring and highly informative from a historical perspective, but his musings were genuinely entertaining and the documentary offered little-known perspectives on his personal journey toward leadership in the movement for American independence.
Because he had accumulated sufficient financial resources and had put in place perpetual sources of income, he was able to dedicate himself to improving the quality of life for his fellow man. Through his scientific experimentations he developed the lightning rod that is still in use today. In so doing, he saved homes and people from the ravages of lightning sparked fires. He also designed a safer cooking stove that would be less prone to fire hazards in the kitchen. Both of these inventions were freely distributed without patent protections so that anyone could make use of the designs.
Benjamin Franklin proved that the greatness of American tradition was found in the very essence of freedom. As a self-made man and business owner he developed and capitalized upon the strength of voluntary associations. He worked with other aspiring entrepreneurs in an early version of the “mastermind group” to develop networks of cooperative business activity. He worked with other established businesses to improve the living conditions and sanitation of his hometown. He coordinated the organization of fire brigades. He established a private company to operate a public library. He chaired another private organization to found a university. His accomplishments prove, that voluntary associations, self-help groups, and mutual aid organizations can provide for all the needs and conditions necessary for a prosperous, secure, literate and truly progressive society.
After considerable efforts to salvage the relationship between the colonists and England, he became a staunch advocate of secession from the British Crown and sought to organize collective security arrangements, with adequate forces, to defend against French incursions and Indian attacks on the colonies. When conditions finally appeared irreconcilable he was instrumental in working with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence. He also proposed a framework for political organization that would strengthen the confederation of colonies.
Among his writings, “The Way to Wealth” and his autobiography offer distinctive insights into his modes of thinking. A man with such a distinctive record of accomplishment is one worthy of careful consideration.