Citizen Ben's 7 Great Virtues

He was the most remarkable of the founding fathers: in his time, he was America's best scientist, inventor, diplomat, humorist and business strategist. In this second annual chapter in TIME's Making o


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    "To determine whether I should publish it or not, I went home in the evening, purchased a twopenny loaf at the baker's, and with the water from the pump made my supper; I then wrapped myself up in my great-coat, and laid down on the floor and slept till morning, when, on another loaf and a mug of water, I made my breakfast. From this regimen I feel no inconvenience whatever. Finding I can live in this manner, I have formed a determination never to prostitute my press to the purposes of corruption and abuse of this kind."

    It is important to remember, when people complain about the irresponsibility of the press today, that back then it was much more raucous. In the Pennsylvania Assembly election of 1764, for example, all sorts of vicious articles and pamphlets were printed attacking Franklin, who was a candidate.

    One such piece, titled "What is Sauce for a Goose is also Sauce for a Gander," raked up every possible allegation against Franklin--including that he had bought his honorary degrees, sought a royal governorship and stolen his electricity experiments from others, all of which were false. It also alleged that his son William was the bastard child of a "kitchen wench," which had some truth to it. Another broadside painted him as an excitable lecher:

    Franklin, though plagued with fumbling age, Needs nothing to excite him, But is too ready to engage, When younger arms invite him.

    Modern election campaigns are often criticized for being negative, and today's press is slammed for being scurrilous. But the most brutal of modern attack ads pale in comparison with the barrage of pamphlets in the 1764 Assembly election. Pennsylvania survived them, as did Franklin, who never considered suing. And America's democracy learned that it could thrive in an atmosphere of unrestrained, even intemperate, free expression. Indeed, its democracy was built on a foundation of unbridled free speech. In the centuries since then, the nations that have thrived, economically and politically, have been those, like America, that are most comfortable with the cacophony, and even occasional messiness, that come from robust discourse.

    3 HUMOR

    By creating Silence Dogood, Franklin invented what became the quintessential genre of American folksy humor: the wry and self-deprecating homespun character whose feigned innocence and naivete are disarming but whose wicked little insights poke through the pretensions of the elite and the follies of everyday life. "I am courteous and affable, good humored (unless I am first provoked) and handsome, and sometimes witty," she declares, flicking in the word "sometimes" with a dexterity uncommon in a 16-year-old. "I have likewise a natural inclination to observe and reprove the faults of others, at which I have an excellent faculty." It was a style adopted by such descendants as Mark Twain and Will Rogers.

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