Walter Isaacson on Ben Franklin’s America

Ben Franklin has never been my favorite Founding Father (yes, I know that’s a ridiculous statement), but his biographer Walter Isaacson makes a great case today for remembering Franklin’s vision of America.

From The America Ben Franklin saw in today’s Washington Post:

After election seasons such as the one past, and when facing “fiscal cliffs” like the one looming, it’s therapeutic to gaze back through history’s haze and catch the eye of Franklin, the Founding Father who winks at us. The twinkle behind his bifocals reassures us that things will turn out all right. […]

One of the glories of America is that there are two strands in its national character. One is that of the liberty-loving individualist who flies a flag proclaiming, Don’t tread on me. The other is that of the civic-minded citizen who sees our nation’s progress as a common endeavor. Tocqueville wrote that these strands were often in conflict, as they seemed to be in many of this year’s elections. But Franklin realized that these strands were interwoven and related, part of the warp and woof of the tightly knit American fabric.

Franklin was the first great embodiment of that American archetype: the spunky, self-made Horatio Alger who rises from rags to riches by aspiration and grit, and then dedicates himself to creating a society where others can do the same. He believed that the business of America was not merely to celebrate success but also to ensure that each new generation had the opportunity to achieve it.

And later:

Franklin had the vision to see America as made up of rugged individualists who valued their freedom but also cared about the aspirations of others. […]

Franklin also understood the beauty of diversity. During his lifetime, he donated to the building fund of every church constructed in Philadelphia. When a hall was being built to accommodate visiting preachers, Franklin urged his fellow citizens to donate “so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.” On his deathbed, he made one of the largest donations for the first synagogue built in Philadelphia.

The whole op-ed is well worth a read.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.