Examples of Benjamin Franklin’s Saucy Humor

Pretty soon I’ll be introducing my high school juniors to Benjamin Franklin, inventor, statesman, and sage.  Of course, there’s so much to his famously irreverent sense of humor that I can’t really get into with them.  Two of my favorites:

1. A list of more than 200 synonyms for “drunk.”

D
He’s Disguiz’d,
He’s got a Dish,
Kill’d his Dog,
Took his Drops,
It is a Dark Day with him,
He’s a Dead Man,
Has Dipp’d his Bill,
He’s Dagg’d,
He’s seen the Devil,

2. This letter, where he lists reasons why it’s better to have an affair with a mature woman than a young one.  Observe:

2. Because when Women cease to be handsome, they study to be good. To maintain their Influence over Men, they supply the Diminution of Beauty by an Augmentation of Utility. They learn to do a 1000 Services small and great, and are the most tender and useful of all Friends when you are sick. Thus they continue amiable. And hence there is hardly such a thing to be found as an old Woman who is not a good Woman.

3. Because there is no hazard of Children, which irregularly produc’d may be attended with much Inconvenience.

….

8thly and Lastly They are so grateful!!

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Rules By Which a Free Republic May Be Reduced To a Socialist One

Despite the scorn leveled at it by the elite mainstream, the Tea Party movement has illustrated something significant about America: we’re fed up with the status quo and its increasing power grabs.  In the last few years, not only have there been Tea Party protests, we’ve also had a popular political tract called Common Sense, and groups calling themselves Sons of Liberty are growing.  The fact that there are so many new things inspired by that volatile time in our history should be sobering for all of us. 

I’d like to offer a humble contribution to this trend. 

On September 11, 1773–the year of the Boston Tea Party–Benjamin Franklin published a satire of England’s poor management of the colonies, presented as twenty pieces of humorous advice for getting rid of them: “Rules By Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced To a Small One.”  Below, I’ve adapted Franklin’s text to include references to current problems.  The scary thing is, I didn’t need to change or add very much at all.  Most of Franklin’s scathing indictment applies just as well to today’s American government as it did to King George’s administration in 1773. 

Make of it what you will, but the fact that Franklin can be so easily adapted to the Tea Party’s concerns should also be very sobering to all of us. 

“Rules By Which a Free Republic May Be Reduced To a Socialist One”

The Founding Fathers accomplished this, that tho’ they were not perfect, they could make a federalist republic out of a chaotic confederacy of former colonies that had been ruled by fascist autocrats. The Science that I, a modern Simpleton, am about to communicate is the very reverse.

I address myself to all Ministers who have the Management of the American Republic, which from its very Freedom is become difficult to govern, because the Degree of its Freedom leaves no Room for Control.

I. In the first Place, Gentlemen, you are to consider, that a free Republic, like a great Cake, is most easily diminished at the Edges. Turn your Attention therefore first to your remotest States (those on your coasts, like New York, California, &c); that as you deprive them of Freedom, the interior Heartland may follow in Order.

II. That the Possibility of this Control may come to pass, take special Care the interior States are never respected in your public discourse, that they do not enjoy the same common Dignity, the same Privileges in Debate, and that they are governed by severer Political Correctness, all of your enacting, without allowing them any Share in the Choice of the Rules. By carefully making and preserving such Distinctions, you will (to keep to my Simile of the Cake) act like a wise Gingerbread Baker, who, to facilitate a Destruction, cuts his Dough half through in those Places, where, when bak’d, he would have it broken to Pieces.

III.These Freedoms have perhaps been acquired at the sole Expence of the our Ancestors and Military, without the Aid of the Mother Government. If this should happen to increase the People’s Strength by their growing Numbers ready to join in her Wars, and her Commerce by their growing Demand for her Manufactures, they may probably suppose some Merit in this, and that it entitles them to some Favour; you are therefore to forget it all, or resent it as if they had done you Injury. If they happen to be zealous Whigs, Friends of Liberty, Conservatives, or (worst of all) Tea Partiers, nurtur’d in Revolution Principles, remember all that to their Prejudice, and contrive to punish it: For such Principles, after a Revolution is thoroughly established, are of no more Use, they are even odious and abominable.

IV. However peaceably your Citizens have submitted to your Government, you are to suppose them always inclined to revolt, and treat them accordingly. Smear and restrict their Second Amendment rights, and be ever Hostile to those who assert these Rights. By this Means, like the Husband who uses his Wife ill from Suspicion, you may in Time convert your Suspicions into Realities.

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(Don’t) Be Yourself

In an episode of The Simpsons, Lisa tries to warn Homer about becoming obsessed with revenge on an animal, citing Moby Dick as an illustration of such a foolish course of action.  “Oh, Lisa,” Homer breezily corrects her.  “The point of Moby Dick was ‘be yourself.'” 

The joke is based on Homer’s character–a lazy, entitled idiot who swallows whole everything Hollywood feeds him (remember his movie-addled mindset in “Homer Goes to College?”) and, therefore, thinks the world revolves around him.  Homer thinks the point of everything is “be yourself.”

Many a Simpsons episode has poked fun at our tendency to accept ourselves as we are, conveniently declaring that our natural state is good enough.  For example:

  • “Bart’s Inner Child”–After being suckered by a self-help guru, Springfield puts on a feel-good festival which nobody prepared properly because they felt their automatic impulses should be validated, i.e. nobody wanted to work and nobody should judge them for it.  The festival is a chaotic disaster.
  • “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious”–After suffering a nervous breakdown from stress, Marge hires a Mary Poppins-like servant to help the family.  Despite her magical powers and inspirational attitude, the Simpsons persist in dysfunction, until the nanny gives up and tells them just to do what’s natural, suggesting (for instance), sweeping garbage around the house under the rug, because, “It’s the American way!”
  • “Homer’s Enemy”–After a life of suffering, sacrifice, and hard work, the new guy at the power plant can’t believe how successful Homer is despite his total incompetence, which nobody else seems to care about.  At the episode’s end, he goes insane and dies; at his funeral, Homer is childish and oblivious, and everybody laughs with him.  My favorite episode. 

These jokes work for the simple, obvious reason that our culture is awash in the message that we’re entitled to high self esteem, that the American Dream now encompasses self-realization and total, universal acceptance.  Continue reading

Reviewed: Glenn Beck’s Common Sense and Jeff Shaara’s Rise To Rebellion

14589344Two chapters near the end of Jeff Shaara’s historical novel Rise To Rebellion focus on Thomas Paine’s incendiary pamphlet Common Sense.  Shaara even includes a handful of choice quotes from Paine, making sure the reader understands that Paine was the common man’s advocate for independence, as opposed to the sincere but often elite (and therefore sometimes out of touch) leaders at the Continental Congress.  It was Paine’s words more than those of Adams or Henry or Hancock or Franklin that won over the Americans to the cause of revolution.

Is it a coincidence that I read Shaara’s novel at the same time that I read Glenn Beck’s attempt to update Paine’s pamphlet?  Either way, the contrast proved useful. 

Shaara’s Rise To Rebellion is the best historical novel I’ve ever read.  He begins with the Boston Massacre and takes us through the lives, hearts, families, struggles, and triumphs of our Founding Fathers over the course of the subsequent six years, ending with the Declaration of Independence.  He makes Franklin and Adams his protagonists, and suavely works in tons of trivia, as well as bringing to vivid, three-dimensional life the human stories that made their achievements even more awesome.

Here we see John and Abigail Adams trying to squeeze out a bare living as they raise a young family and maintain a loving marriage–it doesn’t help matters that John soon finds himself thrust into the middle of controversy, as he grows increasingly strong in his convictions over time. 

Here we see Franklin as he tries to manage the office politics of England, at the cost of his own family relationships.  He has much to regret despite his fame and fortune, and the chapters near the end where the emotional break between he and his loyalist son are laid bare are genuinely heartbreaking. 

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Freedom Is Risky, Essential, and Wonderful

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. 

Benjamin Franklin

Source: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor, November 11, 1755.The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, vol. 6, p. 242 .This quotation, slightly altered, is inscribed on a plaque in the stairwell of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

 

Think intrusive airport security.  Think bailouts.  Think unconstitutional gun control laws.  Think about an awful lot of things.