'Glenn Beck': Founders' Fridays: Benjamin Franklin

This is a rush transcript from "Glenn Beck," June 4, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GLENN BECK, HOST: Benjamin Franklin — he defined Americanism. He did. He was — I don't even know — Bill Gates and Steve Jobs — and who is the really smart guy, black holes and baby universes — Stephen Hawking, all rolled into one. Innovation, personal responsibility, self-improvement, pull yourself up, rooted in common sense.

If this man were alive today, boy, he'd be pissed off at us. He'd be the grumpiest of grumpy old men and with good reason because we're not using common sense.

Today, we restore the history of one of the greatest Americans to live. And I'm joined by Jim Srodes, James Srodes. He's the author of "Franklin: The Essential Founding Father."

How are you? Good to see you.


BECK: Good to see you.

And, of course, Larry Schweikart. He is the author of a brand new book "Seven Events that Made America." And he also the author of the patriots, what is it, "The Patriots' History of America," right? Fantastic book.

OK. Where do we start on Ben Franklin? Where do you want to start? Go ahead, James. Go ahead.

SRODES: Yes, why not? No, this is —

BECK: Live free or die.

SRODES: Well —

BECK: Or join or die.

SRODES: Join or die.

BECK: Yes.

SRODES: This is probably where you start with Franklin. It's one of two major Franklin contributions to who we are. The year 1754. The French are stepping up their operations to drive us into the see. Indian raids on the frontier, French troops coming up to the Ohio, coming across the Great Lakes. And militia system just isn't working.

And Franklin is now publishing the important newspaper, the author of "Poor Richard's Almanacs," the postmaster for the colonies, starts circulating the idea of an American militia. All the colonies are chipping in according to their population and army of its own, of our own, which would work with the British, work under British command and undertake aggressive operations to push the French back down the Ohio.

BECK: OK. Now, wait a minute, these were Americans, he was saying, this wasn't the American Revolution.


BECK: This was to come after the French —

SRODES: This is —

BECK: — as British — as American-British citizens.

SRODES: If you said to him in 1754, what are you? He would say an Englishman —

BECK: Right.

SRODES: — a Philadelphian, and a scientist. Then he would laugh uproariously.

BECK: Would he be wearing clothes?


SRODES: He took air baths, which are nude aerobics, to get his pulse up to 100. And in his —

BECK: And everybody else's pulse up to about 1,000. Jeez!


SRODES: The only house that he lived in still standing is in London. And it's right behind Charing Cross Station. It's a museum now. And next time you're in London, go to Craven Street Franklin House. And there you'll see, because as with most houses in those days, you'd enter from the ground floor, but the real dwelling is up on what we call the second floor, they call it the first floor.

And Franklin's apartment is on the front of the house. And it's a big six-foot tall windows, which in those days would be open. And in the morning, he would stand in these windows.

BECK: I want to get back to the join or die thing.


BECK: I'm fascinated by this. What was he like? Was he — did he — was he an exhibitionist? What the hell was he doing?

SRODES: He was getting his pulse up to 100. He did aerobics. He believed — he's the first aerobicist?

BECK: Is it because — is it because we didn't have spandex, so he didn't wear pants?

SRODES: Well, people swum in the nude.

BECK: Wow! I just don't want to think of Benjamin Franklin naked. Am I alone in that?

SRODES: Oh, contraire.

BECK: Oh, no, please, you might incriminate yourself.

SRODES: This is a guy who could ride horse-back from Williamsburg to Boston. This is a guy, he was printer. This was a strong —

BECK: He looks like a basset hound.

SRODES: He's old in that. But through most of his life, he was a hulk. C'mon Madison —

BECK: No, I don't: Let's go back to the snake. No, seriously.


SRODES: — were 5'4". He's 5'11". He was buff.

BECK: All right. So —

SRODES: If you would have walked by, you'd have stop and said, "wow!"


SRODES: On a number of reasons. OK. Let's go back to 1754.

BECK: Yes.

SRODES: In 1754, he starts circulating this plan. Let's get going. Let's get the discussion going. He created essays in these newspapers. He mailed hundreds of letters all over the colonies. He started debates. He started arguments.

And then in June, there was going to be a meeting in Albany, New York, to re-bribe the Indian allies of our side and make sure that fix was in, and then to have a conference of all the military leaders of the colonies. And the months before, Franklin, scholars believe, did the drawing and did the engraving, the printing block, and then it appeared in his "Pennsylvania Gazette."

And you can't see it from here. Oh, you can see it there. Every piece of the serpent is listed as one of the colonies and it's based on a French myth, but one every American child knew. If you're going to chop a snake up, you'd have to bury the parts separately, because snakes can get back together and live.

Now, it's a myth. But this picture immediately, even people who couldn't read, knew what the message was.

BECK: Let me give you a side-note here before you continue. I just had this because this was never a flag. This was — this was — this was a political cartoon, later used as a banner I think carried by some.


BECK: But it was never a flag. I had this made for my house, because I put old flags and banners in front of my house just to drive my neighbors crazy.

This one, two years ago, we got called — the city called us and said the neighbors complained because they thought this was — I was inciting violence. Really, join or die. They're like, what kind of cult is he running over at his house, join or die? I'm like just the Ben Franklin cult. We just get together and take air baths. Want to come and watch?

SRODES: (INAUDIBLE) must have complained.

BECK: I mean, it was bad. It was bad.

OK. So he — he was saying join or die. But can you give me the significance on the snake? On the rattlesnake was really —
SRODES: Well, that's just rattlesnake.

BECK: Right. And he wanted the rattlesnake to actually be our national symbol.

SRODES: Absolutely.

BECK: Why?

SRODES: Well, he said, look, the rattlesnake doesn't bother anybody, he goes away when you approach him. He does useful work, keeping down the vermin. He's cautious and placid, but he's never afraid. So you don't tread on him.

And in that explanation, came the idea of the coil: "Don't Tread on Me" serpent. And he thought it would be a fitting picture of us in people's minds. You had the British lion, the French rooster, the Spanish dog, in all the cartoons of those days. And the American serpent lasted for about 25 years before again people said, I just don't know, I think maybe we ought to have an eagle.

BECK: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But at one point, he wanted a turkey.

SRODES: Well, that's what he said.

BECK: Yes, but that's ridiculous, really. The snake is — you know, because Franklin wrote about this when — I think it was Washington was going through Philadelphia and they had it on the drums. They have the snakes on the drums, and he wrote it in the paper and said — they said, why the snake? And he explained it. I think it's great.

His eyes are always alert. He is always alert. The rattle always shakes to warn you if you are getting too close, it will never strike out. It will warn you first. And then when — if you push it, it will strike, but only when provoked.

I think it's a fitting — that's right, my neighbors. Oh, yes, it's fitting.


BECK: All right. Hang on just a sec. We'll come right back.




BECK: Welcome back to "Founders' Fridays." There's a — there's a few books, when I started reading about the Founders, I like to read their own words. This is the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. It's excellent. But, I mean, it's just like — but it's excellent.


BECK: This is one of our guests, this is James Srodes. It is "Franklin: The Essential Founding Father." Excellent, excellent book.

Larry doesn't have a book on Benjamin Franklin. I don't know what his deal is. But Larry is a great historian on America. And this is his latest book, "Seven Events that Made America America." You've got to own his stuff.

And this is — oops. And this is also a great place to begin. I love this. It's a series. "The Real Ben Franklin," "The Real George Washington," and "The Real Benjamin Franklin" — Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Ben Franklin." This is a great series. All available online or GlennBeck.com, you can find them all.

OK. Let me — let me just go — let's do some rapid fire on what are essentials that people need to know that you think people need to know about Benjamin Franklin.

LARRY SCHWEIKART, "7 EVENTS THAT MADE AMERICA AMERICA": Well, Benjamin Franklin is one of the richest men in America. And that's amazing because he starts so poor — starts as apprentice, works his way up through the printing business. He gets to be a partner. He gets to be an owner.

At one point, he's estimated to have a worth in 1750s, at 2,000 pounds income a year. Now, put that in the context, the richest Philadelphia lawyer that year had income of 20 pounds.

BECK: Holy cow!

SCHWEIKART: So, he was — he was a landlord, a renter. And yet, he was one of the most popular of all Founders. Some say he was more popular than Washington. And the reason was, he was every man.

BECK: He was gregarious.

SCHWEIKART: He came through the ranks. People liked him. He spoke in homilies that they could understand.

BECK: Right. He doesn't — Washington had a mystique about him, to where you revered him, where — you know, it's the thing we always read in polls now. You know, I — I like to have a beer with the president. He's the guy you'd have a beer with. Not too many or he'd take his clothes off but you would have a beer with Benjamin Franklin.


SCHWEIKART: The famous example of Washington where one of his aides was on a dare asked to go up and slap him on the back, and Washington just turns and gives him such a cold look, no one ever touches Washington again. Franklin would laugh and probably say, come see my kite.


BECK: Right. Hold this key for a second out in the rain.


BECK: Right.

SRODES: And it got worse because after the war, people said Washington won the battles, but Franklin won the war.

BECK: Were their friends?

SRODES: Cool but correct. Washington appreciated what Franklin had done, but he didn't want anybody on the stage.

BECK: Franklin was the guy. They said that he won the war because he put the alliance together.

SCHWEIKART: Absolutely.

BECK: He was — is there anybody that you can think of alive today that is even in his category? Anybody?

SCHWEIKART: No. Nobody close.

BECK: I've thought of this an awful lot. What an amazing — George Washington, the honor that he had.

Samuel Adams and the understanding of the individual, even Thomas Paine on the opposite end of the spectrum, but the understanding of the individual. Thomas Jefferson, so amazing.

Has there ever been a collection of these people? It's not overstating it. You can say that, you know, you don't agree with them, but there's never been that brain trust.

SCHWEIKART: When the constitutional convention gets together, Jefferson called at it gathering of demigods. You've never seen this many

BECK: Right.

SCHWEIKART: — powerful, influential, yet human people together in one place.

BECK: True that in London, when he came back after the kite incident, they wrote in the — I think it was The London Times — don't let him back on shore because — don't let him arrive because he's bottled lightning, he's made some sort of a ray gun. And they were afraid, because he had that kind of mind that you didn't know with Franklin, right?

SRODES: They were terrified of him. Even when he was there, he tried to put lightning rods on all the king's gun powder stores. And they said, draw lightning, no, no. You draw it away. You take a wire and run it. Oh, my gosh, he's trying to blow up — you know, they thought he was sabotaging the place.

BECK: Did he ever have a period where people thought — besides I think the sad ending of his life is he was in so much pain and he was — people tried to discredit him and say that he was insane, that he had gone senile because he was an abolitionist.


BECK: And staunchly against slavery.

SRODES: He nearly unhinged the first Congress.

BECK: How —

SRODES: Because, well, the deal — the deal behind the Constitution and the three-fifths and then — was that there wouldn't anything done about slavery for 20 years.

BECK: Right.

SRODES: And there was a verbal agreement that the southern states would then wean themselves away.

BECK: Right.

SRODES: So, but don't say it, don't say the word "slavery." So, the new Congress convenes. The first petition from the citizenry is from the abolition society, drafted by Benjamin Franklin saying, oh, by the way, why don't we just outlaw slavery in the southern state? That's it. We're out.

BECK: He was — he was also, though — didn't he start the first school, interracial school?

SRODES: He was in London and saw — because children in London were just routinely abandoned and many of them were black because there were slaves who would come with Americans or colonials and been abandoned. And he brought to America and founded a network of interracial training schools for orphans, white, Indian and black, taught them trades, taught them literacy, set them out in life, put them in jobs and got them going.

I mean, this — you were talking about what you do with the poor. You train the poor. You educate them. You set them up. You push them out.

BECK: He was an amazing — an amazing guy. We have more stories on Benjamin Franklin so you can get to know him. And then you ask your school, why aren't you teaching this about Benjamin Franklin? We also go to the audience for their questions — coming up in just a second.




BECK: We are back with our guests James Srodes and Larry Schweikart, both authors of history books and talking about Ben Franklin today. I want to go to the audience. Kevin, you are first. What is your thought on Franklin?

"KEVIN," AUDIENCE MEMBER: It's my understanding that at the end of the revolution, when it was payback time, the lives of people that supported the British were turned upside down and that included, I think, William Franklin, who is Benjamin Franklin's favorite son who was the governor of New Jersey. Can you speak a little bit about that, Jim, and what happened to him?

BECK: A really sad story, isn't it?

SRODES: Yes. It brings out a trait that is often masked by the jolly twinkling Franklin you see in docudramas. Benjamin Franklin was nobody to get crossways with. As a father, he was a very, very supportive and generous father as long as you did exactly what he wanted. William is illegitimate, born to a tavern wench, they think. His arrival prompts —

BECK: Does he get that on the business card? "Tavern Wench"?

SRODES: Yes. It was a union job. And it prompts him to get married. And he — Debra, his wife, got tired of waiting for him while he was away on another trip, got married and that husband ran away. She couldn't get a divorce and couldn't prove her first husband was dead, so they married at common law. But it still got her a pew in the church.

So everybody is happy. He brings William in and she has to raise him. She wasn't pleased at that, but he got him tutored, took him to London, put him in law school, pushed him around. He got him honorary degrees. Married him off to a rich English woman and got him the governorship, as you said, of New Jersey.

And he was actually a pretty good governor. Come the revolution, Ben says, by the way, get over here. William says no, thank you, father, but I'm loyal to the king. It took an oath. Ben said you took a greater oath to me.

BECK: This is a really difficult time in Franklin's —

SRODES: This was going on in every family almost. Franklin's response was —he let the mob arrest William and take him off to prison in Connecticut and ultimately exile him to poverty. He took William's son William, who was also illegitimate, made him his secretary, and took him to Paris. You had a picture up earlier of Franklin in the hat and the little boy alongside, it was William Franklin's son William.

BECK: Is it true that Thomas Payne was kind of a replacement for William, the older one? That Thomas Payne kind of looked at Ben Franklin kind of as a father, kind of like figure, an elder that he could look up to? And Franklin kind of felt that way because he had such a hole in his heart because of his son? Do you know?

SRODES: And Thomas Jefferson, too. They both had close personal relations with Franklin and Franklin was devoted to Jefferson in a way he never was with the other founders.

BECK: Was your question about religion when we were in the break? What was it?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I want to get with this conversation because I know —

BECK: Move the mic up towards yourself. There you go.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: He started out as a Puritan in Boston and yes, with all of this history that you are giving now. I'm sure that they weren't pleased with him, but we don't hear about this religion as he progressed.

SRODES: When he got to Philadelphia and he became Presbyterian. He maintained a pew for Debra in Christ church, which is Church of England, Episcopal Church. He liked to go to church. So he went to everybody's church. He helped raise the money for the first Jewish synagogue in Philadelphia, when the Roman Catholic chapel burned down, he raised money to restore it.

BECK: People will say we only have a minute. People will say that these guys were Diaz, but that's different. These guys had more of a problem with organized region. Franklin. He was a good friend of —

SRODES: He believed in worship.

BECK: He believed in revealed religion.

SCHWEIKART: He believed Providential God. He believed in prayer and that God acted in the affairs of men. Wasn't an iPod maker — was an iPod maker that sent back and programmed the tunes.

BECK: Right, which is not what a Diaz - I mean, the Diaz believes he's a watch-maker. Gods makes the parts, puts it together and walks away. That is not Franklin.

SCHWEIKART: No, no, no.

BECK: He was not an avowed Christian. He respected the principles of Christ, but he said I'm not there yet. I'm not sure whether or not I believe in his divinity. But certainly he was a believer in providential God. He was what we would today call a Unitarian.

BECK: OK, back in just a second.


BECK: Founders' Fridays" as we continue all through the summer because the success has been phenomenal. Thank you for watching. We are expanding into history all through the summer. Make sure you keep it where it is. We are trying to tell the story of America. We can't discover where we want to go until we learn where we've been and put some fundamental truth back in that have been erased from so many schools.

We're back with James Srodes, he's author of "Franklin: The essential Founding Father:" and Larry Schweikart. The author of a brand new book "Seven Events that made America America." And proved that the founding fathers were right all along.

I got to tell you, Larry, I can't tell you how many conversations I've had where you just — people say we should do this and if you are like if you know about the founders, they did that, they took that out. All of the problems are because we're not listening to their common sense. You, sir, what was your question?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Wonderful characteristics that Franklin had, but what are the three absolute essential characteristics that made him who he was?

SRODES: Tough. Cagey. He never led a campaign for civic improvement. He always got behind people because he realized if he kept appearing to be the neighborhood activist, people would resent it. The third characteristic was a profound belief in the community, doing things. Your job was to make your own fortune and make your own way. But why you were doing it, you were supposed to help him and supposed to help him —

BECK: Out of your own sense?

SRODES: Absolutely.

BECK: Can you, Larry, can you tell me a little bit about the, about George Washington and the list that he made for himself, you know, the rules on civility. The things that he believed and then follow it up and pick it up. One thing I learned from reading about the guys, reading their own words is they worked hard at being the guy that deserved to be on the money or in paintings.

SCHWEIKART: Yes. Washington develops this list of self-discipline items and the most important part of that is that he actually kind of rereads it regularly, where am I coming up short on each of these?

I would have added to what Jim said, that Franklin was thrifty and he constantly practiced and talked about, you've got to pay your debts. You've got to live within your means. How far have we fallen short of that one?

BECK: He's the guy who did penny saved, penny earned. What are the phrases that we all know that come from him?

SCHWEIKART: "Early to bed, early to rise."

SRODES: Neither nor a borrower nor a lender be."

BECK: I mean, it's amazing and yet we don't teach it.

SRODES: It's poor Richard all the way.

BECK: Yes, all right. So Washington did this and he made the list of things and he would periodically check it. Was it Franklin that would check it, if I'm not mistaken, he would make a list in the morning and —

SRODES: Franklin devised a 13-step list of virtues. Temperance, don't eat too much, pay your debt, don't lose your temper, blah, blah, blah, blah, 13 of them. And he would practice one every week. He built himself a little cribbage board to he can keep track of it.

So he practiced each of the 13 virtues every week and that got him through a quarter. So at the end of the year, he would have practiced all of those virtues at least four times. It's interesting, he said, he originally only did 12 and he was really proud of them and he showed them to a Quaker elders and he said add another one. He said, what's that? They said, humility.

BECK: So he would take it and he would have to —

SRODES: He would be temperate all that week. He would be frugal all that week. He would be chased all that week.

BECK: And then he would chase the week after?

SRODES: That's right.

BECK: OK, good. Back in just a second.


BECK: Back with our guests James Srodes and Larry Schweikart and talking a little bit about Benjamin Franklin. Jim, I want to go to the moment of happiness, declaration of independence where it originally reads, you have the right to life, liberty, and property, and Franklin changes it.


BECK: Tell us.

SRODES: He is the editor. There was a committee of five. Essentially it turned out Thomas Jefferson did the basic writing. Franklin was there by his side. Editing, tightening, tweaking. You're right. You mentioned it last Friday. What people have asked me is "Pursuit of Happiness"? Are we supposed to be jolly?

No. Happiness had two meanings. It meant to be happy and jolly, but it also goes back to its roots stance, happenstance, chance. So people in those days understood it meaning you had a right to the pursuit of your chance, your fortune, your luck.

And that was so revolutionary and it has never been repeated in any other declaration of independence or any other constitution of any other revolution. The chance to be better than you were born and Franklin knew that. He had grown up in a soap factory. He knew that you had to have that guarantee.

BECK: It's amazing that the right to pursue happiness is chance.


BECK: We're doing now is we're making, we're trying to level the playing field, trying to make everything equal, trying to say well, you can't have too much, or you can't have too little. It was just give me the chance. I think that is all that Americans really humans want. Just give me the chance.

SRODES: He would hate "too big to fail" because he was always prudent. You asked can about another characteristic. Prudent business faces the fact that you may fail. Sometimes you should fail. But you pick yourself up and on you go. And the community should help you. But the idea that you don't get to fail means that you shouldn't take risks that are really insane.

BECK: Again, it goes to what we talked about at the beginning of make people uncomfortable in their poverty. I mean, you push them out, you help them. You help them. It's more of the hand-up, not hand-out and you will help them, if they are sick you help them, et cetera, et cetera. But you got to do it. You got to do it.

SRODES: So when this was published around the world, people are slack-jawed at what it promised.

BECK: When did that go away, Larry? You have written "Patriots' history of America." when did America lose that?

SCHWEIKART: You know, I think you start to see it go away by the '60s.

BECK: 1860s?

SCHWEIKART: No, 1960s. I mean, all the way past, even past the new deal, there is still this view that you should work your way up. Got me choked up.

BECK: That's all right.

SCHWEIKART: So I remember this time. I remember when my dad worked his way up as a farmer. It was common for people to think the government shouldn't help you. They shouldn't come along and give you a hand-out. They shouldn't come along and give you food stamps and I remember when food stamps first came out in the '60s and they were going around trying to give them to people and they'd say, "I don't need that. It's welfare. Get out of here." and they'd say, but "you've got to take it."

BECK: I grew up in a bakery of my father and I remember those exact lessons. We'll be right back. Final thoughts in a minute.


BECK: A couple things I want to read. Larry Schweikart, "Seven Events that made America America." and "Franklin: The Essential Founding Father." Grab them. Read more about them. Fall in love with these guys from New York, good night, America.

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