If Ben Franklin were a politician today he'd be the poster child for the so-called "hatemongering conservatives."
Imagine for a moment what would happen to a politician — especially a conservative one — if they said this:
"I think the best way of doing good to the poor is not making them easy in poverty but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth, I traveled much. I observed different countries that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves and, of course, became poorer. And on the contrary, the less that was done for them, the more they did for themselves and became richer."
Media Matters geeks dream of quotes like this. Today all it takes to be labeled a hatemonger is proposing a smaller budget increase than the other guy!
Yet here's Ben Franklin, advocating that less be done for the poor. Even if you agree, that probably sounds radical because we've been bombarded with the message that generosity is expanding government, extending welfare, raising the minimum wage, giving away free Internet, etc. But Franklin's ideas weren't radical, they were common sense. And they're the cure for us today.
No politician today would dare say something like that. But he's right: Big government never lifts anyone out of poverty. It creates slaves, increasingly dependent on the scraps government hands out. Uncle Sam can't "lift" you out of poverty, it's up to the individual.
I've met a lot of successful people and not one has ever told me: "If it weren't for this government, I'd never be where I am today." Ben Franklin discovered this in his own experience, yet somehow that lesson is never taught.
There's a lot missing in what's taught about our Founders like Franklin.
For example, did you know that Franklin, who so hated the poor, helped create the nation's first hospital? The Pennsylvania Assembly didn't want to do it and the idea was about to die when Franklin issued a challenge. He said if he could raise 2,000 pounds from private citizens (a near-impossible feat at the time) then the Assembly had to match the funds. The Assembly agreed, thinking they'd just hit the lottery by looking charitable, but not actually having to do anything.
Franklin got more than 2,000 pounds and the bill was signed into law May 11, 1751, to create a hospital as Franklin put it, "to care for the sick, poor and insane who were wandering the streets of Philadelphia."
What a hatemonger.
Franklin is also often lumped in with the "Founders were racist" claims. If he was a racist he wasn't really good at it, because he was the head of the Abolition Society, a group demanding an end to slavery. Classrooms don't teach that Franklin was an abolitionist — no, he was a white racist. Yet Woodrow Wilson is revered: 51 public schools are named after him. It should be zero considering as president he brought Jim Crow to Washington. He segregated not only the Army, but bathrooms, cafeterias, work areas. He justified it by saying that white government workers had to be protected from contagious diseases that he believed were being spread by blacks. While president of Princeton, he turned away black applicants because he felt their desire for education was "unwarranted."
We are going to look at the Benjamin Franklin you weren't taught about in school. Was he perfect? No, but Franklin proved that a private citizen could indeed effect change. Besides the hospital, he also started the first lending library and, after a massive fire ravaged the city of Philadelphia in 1730, he helped establish the first volunteer fire company.
When the government refused to act against the threat created from the French and Indian Wars, he printed "The Plain Truth" and went door-to-door organizing the first militia. In short order he had 10,000 in the militia. They nominated him to be colonel, but he declined the honor.
Benjamin Franklin practically defined Americanism: duty, innovation, personal responsibility, self-improvement. He was so rooted in common sense, that if he were alive today he'd probably be the grumpiest of grumpy old men and with good reason. Today we restore the history of one of the greatest Americans ever to live.
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