Memorial Days

More than the inventor of the lightning rod

Released 2006

Three hundred years ago (1706) was the birthday of Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 - April 17, 1790), one of the most famous representatives of the "New America". As a typical representative of the Enlightenment, he was universally interested. His intelligence and his orderly, frugal, success-oriented life in the sense of Puritanism brought him scientific reputation, political influence and an almost magical rise that anticipated the later proverbial “American dream.

Franklin's career began as a printer, writer, newspaper and almanac editor.

His research in the field of electricity (lightning rod, capacitor, theoretical work) made him known far beyond North America. So he did not hesitate to let a kite soar into the thundercloud during a thunderstorm to measure the electrical voltage on the kite line. He survived the risky attempt unscathed, which would have cost the lives of other, less courageous, committed and, above all, happy people.

From 1751 Franklin became politically active. At the tribal union of the Iroquois he learned the basics of the constitution of the later United States (cf. “Briefly, briefly, curiously” page 265 “A prophet in North America”). From 1775 he campaigned for the independence of the North American colonies from the "motherland" England, and he became one of the signatories of the 1776 Declaration of Independence.

As envoy of the (initially only 13) United States in France (1776-85), he gained a lot of sympathy through his distinguished, republican demeanor. He made a major contribution to the fact that the French fleet intervened on the side of the rebels in the American War of Independence. So the small army of the newly founded "United States of America" (USA) was able to achieve a victory over the English troops, which most of them considered impossible.

Benjamin Franklin was one of the most influential representatives of "New America". On the one hand an enlightened scientist, writer and politician; but at the same time a moderate puritan. The exemplary synthesis of a performance committed to science or the philosophy of the Enlightenment and religiously based ethical maxims, which he lived out in an exemplary manner, set a direction in the USA, the influence of which is occasionally still noticeable today, but often seems to have been forgotten. Since the California gold rush (1848), many have believed that above all you have to be lucky, that counts more than constant hard work.

Among other things, Franklin formulated his own most remarkable rules of life, kept in the puritanical spirit, recommending imitating Jesus and Socrates. Its thirteen valid virtues for a puritan businessman are:
"Temperance, avoidance of useless speech, order, determination, thrift, diligence, sincerity, justice, moderation (avoidance of extremes), cleanliness, calmness, chastity and humility ”.[1]

In the spirit of puritanism, Franklin recommended to a young businessman:
“Remember that time is money. Whoever can earn ten shillings a day through his work and sits idle for half of that day, if he consumes only six pence during his distraction or idleness, may not count this as the only expense; he actually used an additional five shillings, or rather thrown it away. "[2]

Today one can only wish that the work would come back to being so accessible to everyone “on the street”, as Franklin took for granted at the time!

Another notable saying by Franklin, which seems to have been written into the family book especially in our time, is as follows:
"Anyone who gives up freedom to gain security will lose both in the end."[3]

[1] Cf.: Jürgen Heideking: Victorious Rebels: The War of Independence. In: DIE ZEIT, Welt- und Kulturgeschichte, Vol. 10: Age of Revolutions, Hamburg 2006, p. 510.
[2] Cf.: Rolf Walter: Falling economic barriers: From compulsory guilds to freedom of trade. In: DIE ZEIT, Welt- und Kulturgeschichte, Vol. 10: Age of Revolutions, Hamburg 2006, p. 182.
[3] See: Jürgen Heideking, loc. Cit., P. 508.