Thursday, November 24, 2005

Ben's Thanksgiving

I received the following message from a friend of mine today, about Thanksgiving, written by Benjamin Franklin. Now, I like old Ben, and it's a great little story (though I do have a bit of a problem regarding the source from which it came). Read on:


"There is a tradition that in the planting of New England, the first settlers met with many difficulties and hardships, as is generally the case when a civiliz'd people attempt to establish themselves in a wilderness country. Being so piously dispos'd, they sought relief from heaven by laying their wants and distresses before the Lord in frequent set days of fasting and prayer. Constant meditation and discourse on these subjects kept their minds gloomy and discontented, and like the children of Israel there were many dispos'd to return to the Egypt which persecution had induc'd them to abandon.

"At length, when it was proposed in the Assembly to proclaim another fast, a farmer of plain sense rose and remark'd that the inconveniences they suffer'd, and concerning which they had so often weary'd heaven with their complaints, were not so great as they might have expected, and were diminishing every day as the colony strengthen'd; that the earth began to reward their labour and furnish liberally for their subsistence; that their seas and rivers were full of fish, the air sweet, the climate healthy, and above all, they were in the full enjoyment of liberty, civil and religious.

"He therefore thought that reflecting and conversing on these subjects would be more comfortable and lead more to make them contented with their situation; and that it would be more becoming the gratitude they ow'd to the divine being, if instead of a fast they should proclaim a thanksgiving. His advice was taken, and from that day to this, they have in every year observ'd circumstances of public felicity sufficient to furnish employment for a Thanksgiving Day, which is therefore constantly ordered and religiously observed."
I thought to myself, wow, no matter how you might think of Thanksgiving (I, in particular, think that it's the best holiday ever... sorry turkeys...), so I went looking for the text on the Internet, the larger Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. If you don't know about Project Gutenberg, I highly recommend the site. It's got a lot of old books that are no longer under copyright, and you can download them onto your various portable devices. Ben's original autobiography can be found here.

But I couldn't find Ben's thoughtful Thanksgiving story in it. Why couldn't I find it in Ben's original autobiography? Well, because the story is written not in the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Franklin, but in a book from right-wing publishing company, Regnery, and their updated version of the Autobiography, compiled by Mark Skousen, entitled The Compleated Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Real cool, spelling "compleated" the old-fashioned way, eh?

Skousen's book blurb is thus:
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was the most famous American of his age -- a world-renowned inventor, essayist, philosopher, diplomat, wit, and the only Founding Father to sign the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris, and the United States Constitution. His Autobiography, though considered the most popular and influential memoir ever written, ends abruptly in 1757, when he was just 51 years old; another 33 years of his life were still to be recorded when he died, including the most eventful years of his illustrious political career. Now, in honor of the 300th anniversary of Franklin's birth, Mark Skousen has accomplished what the old philosopher could not. Drawing from Franklin's own papers, correspondence, and a detailed outline Franklin left behind, Skousen has completed the Autobiography -- using Franklin's own words.
33 more years of Ben! Woohoo!

Well, that's great, helping Ben finish his "Autobiography" (which would then make it a "biography," cause, let's face it, you can only write an "autobiography" if you're alive), and it's great that it is originally posted on the right-wing Adam Smith Institute blog *clears throat of sarcasm*. So what if Skousen finishes Franklin's life for him? Fine, not a problem.

What I do have a problem with is the site where the book is sold (linked on, and the books that are linked to Ben's (buy both books, for $XX.XX dollars, guaranteed delivery by 12/13, just in time for Christmas, not the damned "HOLIDAYS"!) "autobiography," including:

100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (and Al Franken Is #37 by Bernard Goldberg
The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History by Thomas Woods

The Heritage Guide to the Constitution by Edwin Meese, ed.

Do As I Say (Not As I Do) by Peter Schweizer

How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must) by Ann Coulter

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) by Robert Spencer

I'd like to think that ultimately, Ben wouldn't approve. Here's to you, Ben, on this Thanksgiving Day. It was, afterall, Franklin that said this:

QUOTATION:“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

The response is attributed to BENJAMIN FRANKLIN—at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when queried as he left Independence Hall on the final day of deliberation—in the notes of Dr. James McHenry, one of Maryland’s delegates to the Convention.

McHenry’s notes were first published in The American Historical Review, vol. 11, 1906, and the anecdote on p. 618 reads: “A lady asked Dr. Franklin Well Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy. A republic replied the Doctor if you can keep it.” When McHenry’s notes were included in The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, ed. Max Farrand, vol. 3, appendix A, p. 85 (1911, reprinted 1934), a footnote stated that the date this anecdote was written is uncertain.

Indeed. A Republic with Thanksgiving for all. If you can keep it. (Though I will apologize to all turkeys on behalf of Franklin, he wanted the turkey to be our National Bird, not our National Meal...)

Happy Thanksgiving, folks.

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