Lessons on Freedom and Patriotism
Lesson No. Twelve
Benjamin Franklin and the Common Man
Franklin had four critical and unique strengths that made him central to the Founding –
- First, he believed in "do your business by the voice of the people" (Mosiah 29:26). He was more comfortable with democracy than most others of his time. He believed in providing opportunities for all people to succeed as best they could based on their diligence, hard work, virtue, and talent. From this attitude came Franklin's most important vision: an American identity based on the virtues and values of the middle class. He had faith in the wisdom of the common man and felt that the new nation would draw its strength from what he called 'the middling people.
- Second, he was the most traveled of all the Founders. He was familiar with the nations of Europe and all thirteen colonies. He understood what they had in common and how they differed. He could discuss farming in Virginia and trade economics in Massachusetts.
- Third, he understood the importance of pragmatic compromise. Both sides must part with some of their demands. His accommodating nature promoted conciliation.
- Fourth, born in 1706 he was a generation older than Washington. The other Founders respected this. One delegate to the Constitutional Convention wrote: "Dr. Franklin is well known to be the greatest philosopher of the present age; all the operation of nature he seems to understand, the very heavens obey him, and the clouds yield up their lightning to be imprisoned in his rod." He was also the most famous scientist of the time. As ambassador to both England and France his reputation brought many advantages to his new country. (The above is from Walter Isaacson’s biography, Benjamin Franklin)
Franklin was a religious man - Franklin wrote his own epitaph: "The body of B. Franklin, Printer; (Like the cover of an old book, Its contents worn out, And striped of its lettering and gilding) Lies here, food for worms. But the work shall not be lost: For it will, (as he believed) appear once more, In a new and more elegant edition, Revised and corrected By the Author." One month before he died he wrote in response to questions about his beliefs: "I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children."
He was also asked whether he believed in Jesus. He responded that the system of morals Jesus provided was "the best the world ever saw or is likely to see....I have some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble" (p. 446).
Many Founders seemed uncomfortable with religion of their day. This likely resulted from the same confusion Joseph Smith had prior to the First Vision. Franklin has accepted the gospel in the spirit world. His desire to have his temple work performed and being ordained a high priest is outlined in Lesson 8 – Columbus and the Founders in the St George Temple.
Conclusion - Franklin led the way with regard to educational and social opportunity for all Americans. He instinctively understood the problems that result when people are "distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning" (3 Nephi 6:12). He taught the principles of personal virtue, equality, democracy, and civic responsibility. He intuitively knew that these principles would allow the people and their new nation to prosper. Franklin, born a century before Joseph Smith, was an Elias who prepared the way for a greater work to follow.