[In honor of Ben Franklin’s 313th birthday, 17 January 2019]
As the author of a novel featuring Ben Franklin, I am often asked which political party Ben would affiliate with if he were to come back. The answer of course is ‘neither.’ Ben Franklin was a child of the Enlightenment. He was a free thinker. He believed in the primacy of knowledge and reason over dogma and reflex. Hence the public libraries. The Almanacks. The American Philosophical Society. The Pennsylvania Gazette. The bagatelles (‘The Speech of Miss Polly Baker’ et al). Franklin would never have allowed any corpus of belief, from any quarter, to do his thinking for him.
Franklin also believed in the primacy of compromise (the art of giving a little to get a little) over absolutism. He would never have allied himself with any party or group that claimed to know what was best or right on every issue, and that refused to compromise its position in any regard, to any degree. Just how much Franklin believed in compromise, the necessity of it, is demonstrated in the speech he delivered (via James Wilson) just before the vote was to be taken on ratifying the U.S. Constitution. The outcome of this vote was, at the time, very much in doubt:
I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them; for having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects [that] I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others.
Most men indeed as well as most sects in religion think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele[,] a Protestant[,] in a dedication[,] tells the Pope that the only difference between our churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong.
All but shocking here, I think you will agree, is a palpable sense of humility underlying the whole of Franklin’s call for compromise.
In a public figure?
Holy Moly, Batman!