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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    Or gig its tormentors. When he went to England to lobby for the American cause, he made his point with another widely reprinted hoax, "An Edict by the King of Prussia." In it the King declared that the Germans had colonized Britain years ago, protected it during wars and had now decided they had the right to levy taxes and restrict British trade. The edict added that the felons in German jails "shall be emptied out" and sent to England "for the better peopling of that country." Lest anyone be so thick as to miss the point, it concluded by noting that all of these measures should be considered "just and reasonable" in England because they were "copied" from the rules imposed by the British Parliament on the American colonies.

    When his "Edict" appeared, Franklin had the pleasure of being a guest at the country estate of a friend. Another guest "came running in to us out of breath" with the morning papers, Franklin recounted in a letter to his son. "Here's the King of Prussia claiming a right to this kingdom!" Franklin feigned innocence as the story was read aloud.

    "Damn his impudence," one of those present proclaimed.

    But as the reading neared its end, another guest began to sense the hoax. "I'll be hanged if this is not some of your American jokes upon us," he said to Franklin. The reading, Franklin noted, "ended with abundance of laughing and a general verdict that it was a fair hit."


    When Franklin made his list of personal virtues he was intent on acquiring, he very proudly showed it around to his friends, one of whom, a Quaker, pointed out that he had left one off. Franklin was often guilty of "pride," the friend said, citing many examples. So Franklin added "humility" to his list.

    He never quite perfected the virtue. "There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride; disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive and will every now and then peep out and show itself." This battle against pride would challenge him--and amuse him--for the rest of his life. "Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I would probably be proud of my humility."

    But as he cheerily admitted, he learned how to fake the virtue. "I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it," he wrote. In showing off his feigned humility, Franklin was America's first great imagemaker. Even after he became successful, he made a display of personally carting the rolls of paper he bought in a wheelbarrow down the street to his shop rather than having a hired hand do it.

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