Benjamin Franklin


Aesthetic Education | John Winthrop | Cotton Mather | Benjamin Franklin | Alexander Hamilton | Roosevelt VS British Colonialism

Benjamin Franklin: The Playfulness of the Beautiful Soul

American System

The disposition of the viewer and hearer must remain completely free and unimpaired, it must go forth from the magic circle of the artist pure and perfect as from the hands of the Creator. The most frivolous subject must be so handled, that we remain disposed, to pass over directly from the same to the most severe earnestness. The most earnest material must be so handled, that we retain the capability, to exchange it immediately for the lightest play. 


--Friedrich Schiller, Aesthetical Letters  


"The Truth is, that tho' there are in that Country [America] few People so miserable as the Poor of Europe, there are also very few that in Europe would be called rich: it is rather a general happy Mediocrity that prevails. There are few great Proprietors of the Soil, and few Tenants; most People cultivate their own Lands, or follow some Handicraft or Merchandise; very few rich enough to live idly upon their Rents or Incomes; or to pay the high Prices given in Europe, for Paintings, Statues, Architecture and the other Works of Art that are more curious than useful. Hence the natural Geniuses that have arisen in America, with such Talents, have uniformly quitted that Country for Europe, where they can be more suitably rewarded." 


--Benjamin Franklin, ``Information to Those Who Would Remove to America,'' 1784  


When the delegates to the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1776, they found a city that in many ways had surpassed all other American cities. Philadelphia had tripled in size over the last three decades. Its population of 40,000 exceeded New York's at 25,000, and Boston's, whose population had remained static at 16,000. 


Philadelphia had taken the lead in many areas, developing a medical school and the leading hospital in the colonies, and taking the lead in science and culture with the American Philosophical Society. Although Philadelphia was still behind Boston in elementary and secondary school education, its literary output greatly exceeded that of Boston. 


The development of Philadelphia during this period is an excellent example of how the creative discoveries of one individual, Benjamin Franklin, dramatically changed the curvature of the economic and cultural processes of the larger society. (Most of the delegates to the Congress were a generation younger than Benjamin Franklin, who was seventy years old at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.) Franklin's efforts were the infinitesimal that dramatically transformed the American Colonies as a whole. 


Did Benjamin Franklin, who reported in his Autobiography that his father's disapproval saved him from being a bad poet, reject art as a useless distraction, of little use to ``practical'' Americans? While Franklin is known as a statesman, a diplomat, and even a scientist, he is rarely considered to be an artist. Here, however, we shall examine Benjamin Franklin's character and work from the standpoint of Schiller's concept of the ``beautiful soul.''  



Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Jan. 17, 1706. His father, Josiah, was a collaborator of Increase and Cotton Mather in the battle to defend the liberty of the colony. His father often hosted republican leaders in his house. 


The history of the fight for the independent charter shaped Franklin's thinking for life. When Franklin launched his {Poor Richard's Almanac} in 1733, with a dedication to ``Poor Richard, an American Prince without subjects,'' he gave Oct. 23, 1684 as Poor Richard's birthday. This was the day that Charles II revoked the Massachusetts charter. 


Clearly a child prodigy, Franklin was enrolled by his father in the Boston Latin School. Although he advanced rapidly, he was able to remain for only a year, because his father could not afford it. After one more year at a school that taught writing and arithmetic, his father apprenticed him to his older brother, to become a printer. 


A lack of formal education did not stop Franklin in the least, however. He devoured books from a very early age. Throughout his life he continued learning, beginning the study of Spanish, Italian, and Latin in 1733. He also learned to read German. 


Benjamin Franklin was always proud of his trade as a printer, proudly describing himself as a ``leather-apron man.'' In the statement quoted above, Franklin was making the same criticism of the miseducated ``barbarian,'' as Schiller levelled in his Aesthetical Letters. 


In his first published writing, ``Silence Dogood,'' Franklin attacked Harvard College, which had been taken over by the opponents of the Mathers, because it denied entrance to the poor. He ridiculed Harvard as dominated by Idleness and Ignorance. The Classical curriculum was being removed, displaced by empiricists Descartes, Newton, and Locke. 


Franklin credits Cotton Mather with determining the direction of his life. In 1784, he wrote to Samuel Mather,  


When I was a boy, I met with a book, entitled "Essays to Do Good," which I think was written by your father. It had been so little regarded by a former possessor, that several leaves of it were torn out; but the remainder gave me such a turn of thinking, as to have an influence on my conduct through life; for I have always set a greater value on the character of a doer of good, than on any other kind of reputation; and if I have been, as you seem to think, a useful citizen, the public owes the advantage of it to that book.  


Franklin moved to Philadelphia in 1723, and soon became a successful printer. By 1748, he put the operation of his printing business into the hands of a partner, so he could devote himself full time to politics and science. 


Soon after his arrival in Philadelphia, Franklin became friends with James Logan, who steered him to a Leibnizian outlook. Franklin often visited Logan's home, where they sat and talked for hours, and he frequently borrowed books from Logan's library. Indeed, a letter from Franklin to Logan reveals that they discussed Logan's rejection of the wretched British philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, whose image of society was as a ``war of each against all.'' Logan gave Franklin his first major printing contract, and, later, Franklin printed Logan's translation of Cicero's essay on old age, which was his typographical masterpiece. 


Schiller ends his Aesthetical Letters by discussing the state of mind of one who has developed within himself the qualities required to transform society by establishing institutions of self-government. Schiller describes this person, whose emotions guide him to act in the interests of humanity naturally, without compulsion, as a beautiful soul:  


But does such a state of beautiful appearance even exist, and where is it to be found? As a Need, it exists in every finely-tuned soul, as a reality, one might indeed only find it, like the pure church and the pure republic, in a few select circles, where not the mindless imitation of foreign manners, but rather one's own beautiful nature guides conduct, where man passes through the most complicated circumstances with bold simplicity and calm innocence and needs neither, to impair others' freedom, in order to maintain his own, nor to cast away his dignity, in order to display grace.  


After crushing the freedom of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the British were determined to keep the colonies under control. How could the American colonists be educated in the principles of self-government, while living under the control of a British monarchy determined to prevent it? Franklin's solution was to demonstrate that self-government was possible, by proving it through his own personal initiatives. He turned himself into a perfect example of republican government in action. As an exemplar of the beautiful soul described by Schiller, Franklin shows in his Autobiography that his life, as a ``doer of good,'' was the most happy and natural existence imaginable. 


Franklin transformed Pennsylvania, and the colonies as a whole, through his initiatives. 


Franklin's efforts improved the literacy level in Philadelphia and throughout the colonies. In 1729, he bought out the failing {Pennsylvania Gazette,} and during the next decade, made it into the most widely read newspaper in the colonies. He set up at least six other printers throughout the colonies, and had a hand in the publication of newspapers in South Carolina, New York, and Rhode Island. 


Printing was a crucial tool in organizing the American Revolution. By the time of the Revolution, there were 38 newspapers published in the colonies, of which almost two-thirds were run by patriots. Their average circulation rose to around 3,500 each in 1775, as the population became highly politicized. Their total circulation reached approximately 100,000, out of a largely rural colonial population of approximately 2.6 million. The newspapers, which were filled with debates on the political themes of the day, were passed from hand to hand, or posted. 


Franklin began publishing {Poor Richard's Almanack} in 1732. Many households in the colonies had no printed matter besides an almanac, but almost every one of them had that. Poor Richard's became an institution, selling 10,000 copies a year. 


In 1731, Franklin set up the first subscription library in the colonies. Fifty people joined initially. James Logan was consulted about the selection of books. Anyone could read the books at the library, but only subscribers could check them out. 


In his Autobiography, Franklin describes how his subscription library served as a model that was copied throughout the colonies, a perfect example of an infinitesimal introducing a crucial change in the curvature of an entire geometry:  


This was the mother of all the North American Subscription Libraries, now so numerous. It is become a great thing itself, & continually increasing. These Libraries have improved the general Conversation of the Americans, made the common Tradesmen and Farmers as intelligent as most Gentlemen from other Countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the Stand so generally made throughout the Colonies in Defense of their Privileges.  


In 1732, Franklin formed the Junto, a club that consisted largely of ``leather-apron men'' like himself, to meet weekly to increase their knowledge and practice self-improvement. This was followed by Franklin's founding of the American Philosophical Society in 1743, as a national organization headquartered in Philadelphia. 


In 1749, Franklin published ``Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania,'' to lobby the citizens of Pennsylvania to establish an educational institution. Franklin argued that education was a proper responsibility of government:  


The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise Men in all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of private Families and of Common-wealths. Almost all Governments have therefore made it a principal Object of their Attention, to establish and endow with proper Revenues, such Seminaries of Learning, as might supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to serve the Publick with Honour to themselves, and to their Country.  


Franklin warned that, although ``many of the first Settlers of these Provinces, were Men who had received a good Education in Europe, and to their Wisdom and good Management we owe much of our present Prosperity,'' American youth had no similar opportunity to develop their capacities. 


The new Academy was to educate boys from eight to sixteen years of age. A board of twenty-four trustees was formed, with Franklin elected president. The Pennsylvania Academy grew, and eventually became the University of Pennsylvania. 


Similarly, after Franklin sought the post and was appointed Deputy Postmaster-General for the colonies in August 1753, he toured post offices throughout the colonies. He streamlined the system, made it safer, and made mail delivery quicker and more regular, and use of the postal system increased as a result. Franklin had dramatically increased communications between the colonies, binding them together by expanding the infastructure needed to disseminate ideas. 


Franklin founded the public library, the fire department, the philosophical society, the militia, the university, the hospital, street lighting and a system of night watchmen, and reorganized the national postal system (see Box to the right). He did all of this as on his own initiative, acting largely as a private citizen, rather than as a government official! Franklin had singlehandedly did more to improve the lives of the citizens of Pennsylvania, than the King and all his ministers combined. What better education in self-government? Franklin became recognized as the leader of the republican forces, and was given the most important positions of responsibility for Pennsylvania and the other colonies, thereby expanding his influence and ability to do good. 

Franklin's Organizing Method

As Schiller has shown, true art is not didactic or moralizing; rather, it is through the development of the creative power of the listener, that moral character is strengthened. It is through the development of the true freedom of being creative, that people come to enjoy doing what is moral:  


No less contradictory is the conception of a beautiful instructing [didactic] or improving [moralizing] art, for nothing disagrees more with the conception of beauty, than to give to the disposition a definite tendency.  


Schiller describes how one who has mastered this state of mind of locating his identity in his creative powers, is a ``noble soul.'' This person is able to take any problem, and transform it through his creative capabilities:  


This intellectually-rich and aesthetically-free treatment of common reality is, where one encounters it, the characteristic of a noble soul. In general a disposition is to be called noble, which possesses the gift, to transform even the most limited business and the most trivial object through the mode of treatment, into an infinite one. (p. 279)  


This was exactly the outlook of Franklin, who spent over {fifty years} transforming and preparing the American people for the momentous events of 1776. Franklin's writings, which spanned 68 years, fill 35 volumes. Many are in the form of dialogues, either between two characters, or between a fictional character and Franklin himself. Ironically, it is often said that Franklin's writings seem to be didactic and moralizing. Anyone who thinks this, however, clearly does not understand Franklin's method, and certainly not his sense of humor. 


It is precisely in examining this question, that we comprehend why Schiller argues that the sensual instinct and the form instinct must be superseded by the play instinct. Schiller asked,  


Is not the beautiful degraded thereby, that one makes it into mere play, and places it on an equal level with frivolous objects, which were all along in possession of this name? Does it not contradict the rational conception and the dignity of beauty, which are yet regarded as an instrument of culture, to limit it to a mere play, and does it not contradict the concept of play from experience, which can exist together with exclusion of all taste, to limit it merely to beauty?  


But Schiller argues that it is precisely in play, that man is able to move beyond fixed modes of thinking, and develop his creative powers: ``with the agreeable, with the good, with the perfect, man is only earnest, but with beauty he plays.'' 


It is this playful quality that one sees in Franklin's homespun humor, such as his {Poor Richard's Almanack.} Following the example of Erasmus, Franklin included aphorisms, for example, ``To err is human, to repent divine, to persist devilish,'' and, ``No gains without pains.'' Many of these expressions entered the common speech. Franklin was using wit to reach the farmers and working people, who were the very people the oligarchy did not think should be educated. Drawing the reader in with humor, Franklin would often present to them the most profound and advanced topics of the day. 


Satire was a well-developed weapon in the republican arsenal, used by writers such as Erasmus and Jonathan Swift. Swift's satires were often aimed at the Aristotelean ideology disseminated by England's Venetian Party. In {Gulliver's Travels,} for example, Swift lampoons the British Royal Society with his description of the ``Grand Academy of Lagado'' on the floating island of Laputo. Franklin, who reported that he had ``an old friend,'' one ``Mr. Gulliver, a great Traveler,'' wrote a similar spoof of the Royal Society, as we will see below. 


Franklin's polemical humor is illustrated in the series of letters he wrote under the pen name, ``The Busy-Body.'' Here, the Busy-Body claims to have been observing the ``Vices and Follies of my country Folk,'' and proposes to address them:  


Sometimes, I propose to deliver Lectures of Morality or Philosophy, and (because I naturally enclin'd to be meddling with Things that don't concern me) perhaps I may sometimes talk Politicks. And if I can by any means furnish out a weekly entertainment for the Publick, that will give a rational Diversion, and at the same time be instructive to the Readers, I shall think my Leisure Hours well employ'd.  


In his final letter, the Busy-Body argues that the economic development of the colony was being hindered by the population's fixation on gold, as typified by a large number of people going out in the middle of the night, digging deep holes in search of buried treasure. The Busy-Body reports that a successful farmer had informed him, that, to find gold in the soil, ``never to dig more than Plow-deep.'' [Emphasis added] 


The Busy-Body then presents a defense of the development of the economy through the issuance of a paper currency. This was an important question for the economic development of the colonies. One week later, Franklin issued his tract, ``A Modest Enquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper-Currency.'' Franklin, with ``The Busy-Body,'' had engaged the common people in studying an important issue in a way they would enjoy.

Franklin's Leibnizian Outlook

A good example of Franklin's ability to, as Schiller says, ``transform even the most limited business and the most trivial object through the mode of treatment into an infinite one,'' is his 1781 paper, ``To the Royal Academy of *****.'' This spoof , similar to that of Swift in {Gulliver's Travels,} was written while Franklin was stationed in Paris as America's most important diplomatic representative to Europe, and the key organizer of European support for the Revolution. 


Franklin's letter, which is addressed to an unnamed Royal Academy, signed by ``FART-HING'' pretends to praise the academy for giving a yearly contest in which ``you esteem Utility as an essential Point in your Enquiries, which has not always been the case with all Academies.'' Franklin purports to propose that the next years topic for the Academy's prize for the research with the most ``UTILITIE,'' be ``To discover some Drug wholesome & not disagreable, to be mix'd with our common Food, or Sauces, that shall render the natural Discharges of Wind from our Bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreable as Perfumes.''


Franklin presents a few arguments, that wind ``so retain'd contrary to nature'' can give Pain, and even cause serious Diseases, that can even be life-threatening. He then drives home the real target of his attack:  


For the Encouragement of this Enquiry, (from the immortal Honour to be reasonable expected by the Inventor) let it be considered of how small Importance to Mankind, or to how small a Part of Mankind have been useful those Discoveries in Science that have heretofore made Philosophers famous. Are there twenty Men in Europe at this Day, the happier, or even the easier, for any Knowledge they have pick'd out of Aristotle? What Comfort can the Vortices of Descartes give to a Man who has Whirlwinds in his Bowels! The Knowledge of Newton's mutual Attraction of the Particles of Matter, can it afford Ease to him who is rack'd by their mutual Repulsion, and the cruel Distensions it occasions?  


And he concludes with,  


In Comparison therewith, for universal and continual Utility, the Science of the Philosophers above-mentioned, even with the Addition, Gentlemen of your ``Figure quelconque'' and the Figures inscrib'd in it, are, all together, scarcely worth a FART-HING.  


Franklin was mocking Newton's Royal Society and the empiricist school that dominated the educated classes of Europe. The utilitarian philosophy, which claimed to place a value on everything according to its utility, had nothing to do with improving the conditions of existence for the population! With all the talk about utility, the followers of this doctrine accomplished very little that was actually useful, because they failed to be ``doers of good.'' Indeed, their ideology assumed that the nature of man is to be motivated by greed, and not by doing the good. 


Franklin approached Lyndon LaRouche's conception, that the validity of a scientific discovery is measured by how it increases the relative potential population-density of man. Franklin's conception of the responsibility of the scientist and the legislator was the same. He developed the responsibilities of the legislator in ``Observations concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc.''


The Legislator that makes effectual Laws for promoting of Trade, increasing Employment, improving Land by more or better Tillage; providing more Food by Fisheries; securing Property, etc., and the Man that invents new Trades, may be properly called Fathers of their Nation, as they are the Cause of the Generation of Multitudes, by the Encouragement they afford to marriage.  


The responsibility of the scientist was also measured by Franklin according to the standard of the ``doer of good.'' In his 1743 document founding the American Philosophical Society, ``A Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge Among the British Plantations in America,'' Franklin argued that the truthfulness of an idea is measured by how it increases man's power over nature and improves human existence. He proposed that the Society pursue ``all philosophical Experiments that let Light into the Nature of Things, tend to increase the Power of Man over matter, and multiply the conveniences or Pleasures of Life.'' He proposed numerous specific projects for research, having thoughts about a wide range of areas. In his own scientific work on electricity, Franklin's hypotheses were a direct attack on the Newtonian doctrines, and an important bridge in the scientific tradition from Kepler to Gauss and Ampere [see box to the right]


Contrary to those who point to a few references to Locke in his writings, as proof that Franklin was part of the empiricist school, Franklin's philosophical outlook was that of Leibniz. In his philosophical writings one finds optimism and humor. God, for Franklin, had that same optimism and humor. He wrote that God wanted man to find happiness, and true happiness is found through virtue:  


Next to the praise due, to his Wisdom I believe he is pleased and delights in the Happiness of those he created; and since without Virtue Man can have no Happiness in this World, I firmly believe he delights to see me Virtuous, because he is pleas'd when he sees me Happy.  


Franklin echoed Leibniz's concept, that God has created the best of all possible worlds:


1. That he must be a Being of great Wisdom; 2. That he must be a Being of great Goodness, and 3. That he must be a Being of great Power. That he must be a Being of infinite Wisdom,


is proved by studying all aspects of the Universe, to see that


the highest and most exquisite human Reason, cannot find a fault and say this would have been better so or in another Manner, which whoever considers attentively and thoroughly will be astonish'd and swallow'd up in Admiration.  


Franklin rejected Newton's universe, arguing that if it were as the Newtonians described it, then it would follow that God were no more a God, for he would have divested himself of all further Power: ``Power, he has done and has no more to do, he has ty'd up his Hands, and has now no greater Power than an Idol of Wood or Stone.'' He similarly rejected the empiricists' argument that man is nothing more than a creature who seeks pleasure and avoids pain, writing in his essay, ``Men are Naturally Benevolent as Well as Selfish''  


It is the Opinion of some People, that Man is a Creature altogether selfish, and that all our Actions have at Bottom a View to private Interest; If we do good to others, it is, say they, because there is a certain Pleasure attending virtuous Actions. But how Pleasure comes to attend a virtuous Action, these Philosophers are puzzled to shew, without contradicting their first Principles, and acknowledging that Men are naturally benevolent as well as selfish. For whence can arise the Pleasure you feel after having done a good-natured Thing, if not hence, that you had before strong humane and kind Inclinations in your Nature, which are by such Actions in some Measure gratified?  


In several writings, Franklin playfully argued that self-denial is not, in itself, a virtue. This is because, if a man does not desire to commit vice, he need not practice self-denial. Franklin states,  


The Truth is that Temperance, Justice, Charity &c are Virtues, whether practis'd with or against our Inclinations; ... He that denies a Vicious Inclination is Virtuous in proportion to his Resolution, but the most perfect Virtue is above all Temptation, such as the Virtue of the Saints in Heaven.  


True happiness is not found by seeking sensual pleasures, which often lead to misery, but rather, by doing the good. ``Did you ever find yourself weary of relieving the miserable, or of raising the distressed into life or happiness?''@s6@s4 


The American Revolution was organized by such a beautiful soul.  


The Road to the American Revolution  


Contrary to the claim of revisionist historians that the American Revolution was a revolt by selfish Americans who wanted to avoid paying taxes, the Revolution was the result of the collision of two completely contrary worldviews, one republican, the other oligarchical. As Benjamin Franklin recognized from his first visit to England during 1724-26, the British population lacked the moral qualities necessary for self-government. The establishment of a republic required America's break with Britian. 


It was understood both by Americans such as Franklin, and by the British, that the rapid development of the American colonies would allow the population of the colonies to surpass Britain economically, in the not-too-distant future. Franklin wrote in 1751 that, ``This Million doubling, suppose but once in 25 Years, will in another Century be more than the People of England, and the greatest Number of Englishmen will be on this Side the water.'' Seen in this light, the demand for ``no taxation without representation,'' was a call for eventual American control over the British Parliament. 


One proponent of the British Empire, after reviewing the speed that the American colonies were outstripping England, asked, ``And how are we to rule them?'' It was for this reason that the British launched a deliberate attempt to crush the colonies. 


Following the failure of the Albany Plan of Union, Franklin wrote a series of letters which contain one of the first statements denouncing the British for non-representational taxation. Franklin identified as a hidden tax, the British measures that blocked the development of American manufactures, and forced the colonies to be dependent on Britain. As a result of these kinds of measures, the colonies had a negative trade imbalance with England--except for the slave economy dominating the Carolinas--throughout the entire Eighteenth century prior to the Revolution. 


In the aftermath of the 1763 defeat of the French in the French and Indian War, which opened up the possibility of the colonies' western expansion, the British intensified economic warfare against the colonies. Settlements beyond the Allegheny Mountains were banned. In 1764, the British Parliament banned the issuance of paper money, of which Virginia had issued L 250,000. This, combined with the imposition of a new series of taxes, threw the colonies into a depression. 


The colonists met this assault by organizing a movement that increasingly united the colonies. The networks that grew up to oppose these measures became the force that organized the American Revolution. 


This political movement was organized, in large part, through the mass distribution of newspapers and pamphlets. The debate that was initiated in response to the repressive measures, was quickly turned into a discussion of fundamental questions about government. The vast majority of the population participated in this debate, which was conducted on a far more profound level than any people have ever done, either before or after, in founding a nation. 


The use of pamphlets as political organizing tools allowed large numbers of people to participate, since pamphlets could be produced cheaply. The circulation of political pamphlets expanded rapidly with thousands of different ones printed. Their content reflected the high educational level of the colonies, often making comparisons to ancient Greece and Rome, and quoting writers such as Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Xenophon, Plutarch, Cicero, Vergil, Shakespeare, Swift, and Vattel. 


The efforts of Massachusetts republicans were extremely effective in reaching the entire population of Massachusetts. In 1772, the Boston Committee of Correspondence distributed a pamphlet denouncing the tyrannical nature of British rule to all of the 260 towns and districts in the colony, requesting that the towns join in resistance. Over the next year, the majority of towns took some form of action, such as issuing pamphlets or proclamations declaring the right and nature of self-government. The people of Lexington, for example, declared that it was ``their unalienable Right, and a Duty they owe to themselves and Posterity, as a Town, as well as Individuals to take these Matters into serious Consideration.'' Not surprisingly, during the Revolution, 60 percent of the soldiers in the Continental Army were from Massachusetts. 


Through the rapidly expanding circulation of political pamphlets, the entire population was brought into the debate about theories of government. The most widely circulated pamphlet was Thomas Paine's {Common Sense,} which was first published in January 1776. Paine had been recruited from England by Benjamin Franklin. Both friend and foe admitted that {Common Sense} worked a powerful effect. An incredible 500,000 copies of Paine's {Common Sense} were circulated in the colonies--literally, one copy for every household in America. 


Benjamin Franklin took the lead in organizing the union of the colonies. Franklin was appointed the representative of Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts to London. This put him at the center of the action in the colonies' battle with the British. Finally, at the Second Continental Congress in 1775, while others were debating the question of separation versus accommodation with England, Franklin presented a proposal for the Union of the Thirteen Colonies. He was preparing the future.

Aesthetic Education Today

The American Revolution was the fruit of a struggle waged in Europe for self-government and the nation-state, which began with the Renaissance that was launched at the Council of Florence. It would not have been possible, without the collaboration of Europe's Leibnizian networks. The support in Europe for the republican cause in America is exemplified by the work of Emmerich de Vattel, whose text, The Law of Nations, presented the justification for a republican overthrow of an oligarchical government, and the Leibnizian conception of ``Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness''; American pamphleteers began using Vattel's work almost immediately after its publication in 1758. One of Benjamin Franklin's main responsibilities as America's chief diplomat in Europe was to coordinate with America's European allies in the republican cause. 


The American victory was obtained through a difficult and risky struggle. During the opening months of the war, the cause of independence looked very bleak. As the Continental Army retreated through New Jersey, Tom Paine wrote the first of his {Crisis} pamphlets, to rally the soldiers and patriots:  


These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.  


American patriots responded to this call to action. 


Equally remarkable, following the Revolution, American patriots had to face the fact that the government that they had created, was failing to meet the requirements for maintaining the nation. Representatives of the thirteen states met in 1787 at a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and drafted a new Constitution, whose Preamble still stands as mankind's most advanced statement of republican self-government. This Constitution was then ratified by the people of the thirteen states. The people were rallied in support of the Constitution by mass-circulated writings, such as {The Federalist,} which, ironically, most Americans today either could not, or would not bother to comprehend. 


In 1789, the year that George Washington became the Republic's first President, French republicans attempted to establish a republic in France. However, the French Revolution failed, for as Friedrich Schiller wrote: ``Vain hope! The moral possibility is wanting; and the generous moment finds an unresponsive people.'' 


You, dear reader, are living at a time, when you are also faced with such great a challenge, whether you desire it or not. It is time to learn to desire more nobly to meet this challenge. 


Lyndon LaRouche has developed the conceptions necessary to overcome the looming crisis of civilization. He has repeatedly challenged the American people to transform themselves, or see this nation's destruction. LaRouche states:  


That, like Hamlet's, is your tragedy. To overcome what menaces you today, it is, above all, yourselves you must change. You must choose to change back into what the founders of our republic intended us to be.  


That is the issue of the Aesthetical Education of America today.

Introduction and first section of the "Aesthetic Education of America"

Aesthetic Education


Part II: John Winthrop and the Founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony

John Winthrop


Part III: Cotton Mather and the Aesthetic Education of the American Colonies

Cotton Mather

Self-Government in Action  


The extent to which Franklin became a personal republican government in action can be seen from the list of major initiatives taken by him while living in Philadelphia:   


1729: Publishes "A Modest Enquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency." 


1731: Founds the Library Company of Philadelphia, the first American subscription library. 


1732: Forms the Junto, to meet weekly to increase their knowledge and practice self-improvement.


1735: Proposes fire protection society in Pennsylvania Gazette. 


1736: Organizes Philadelphia's first Fire Company. 


1743: Publishes ``A Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge,'' the founding document of the American Philosophical Society. 


1744: Drafts presentment of the Grand Jury against public houses and other nuisances. 


1747: Organizes a voluntary militia for the defense of Pennsylvania. 


1748: Refuses position as colonel in militia, avowing military inexperience, serving instead as a common soldier. 


1749: Writes ``Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania,'' resulting in the establishment of Philadelphia Academy, which later becomes the University of Pennsylvania. 


1751: Pennsylvania Assembly passes Franklin's bill, providing public funds to match private contributions, to found the Pennsylvania Hospital. It becomes the leading hospital in the colonies. 


1751: Initiates proposal to merge Philadelphia's fire companies into insurance company. 


1753: Appointed joint Deputy Postmaster-General of North America. 


1754: Prints ``Join or Die'' cartoon in {Gazette,} America's first symbol of united colonies. Proposes Albany Plan of Union to unite the colonies. 


1755: Organizes defense of Pennsylvania. Assembly passes Franklin's militia bill, and approves L 60,000 (pounds) for defense. Franklin travels to frontier to supervise the construction of forts and organize defenses. 


1756: Pennsylvania Assembly passes Franklin's bill providing night watchmen and street lighting.

The Scientist Franklin  


Franklin's research on electricity was based on rejecting the Newtonian worldview, and was coherent with his Leibnizian view of the universe. He began his electrical experiments in 1743, and is best known for demonstrating that lightning was electricity, using the famous kite experiment. His discovery won him immediate acclaim throughout the Colonies and in Europe, and he became known throughout Europe as the ``Modern Prometheus'' and ``the man who tamed the lightning.'' Friedrich Schiller, in the ``Ode to Joy,'' wrote of the Gotterfunker [``God's sparks''], a direct allusion to Franklin's Promethean achievement. 


Franklin's experimental hypotheses followed from his teacher James Logan's refutation of Newtonianism. In considering the phenomenon of light, Logan followed Leibniz in postulating that even in an apparent vacuum, where Newton claimed an empty void, there remains an ``electric or elastic medium.'' 


Franklin argued that, ``Universal Space, as far as we know of it, seems to be filled with a subtile Fluid, whose Motion, or Vibration, is called Light.'' Electricity, he stated, was an ``extream subtile fluid, penetrating other bodies, and subsisting in them, equally diffused.'' 


Franklin's experiments demonstrated that lightning was the same substance as the electrical fluid created by men in an experimental apparatus (Leyden jar). Electrical sparks resulted from the natural tendency of the electrical fluid to spread itself evenly: ``When by any operation of art or nature, there happens to be a greater proportion of this fluid in one body than in another, the body which has most, will communicate to that which has least, till the proportion becomes equal.'' Franklin's invention of the lightning rod to protect buildings was an immediate application of this discovery. 


Franklin delighted in using the properties of electricity to show the flaws of sense certainty. Although electrical shocks are extremely dangerous to man, he stated that ``our Bodies at all times contain enough of it [electrical current] to set a House on Fire.'' And, although water was used to put out fires, electrical current can exist in water, such that ``this Fire will live in Water, a river not being sufficient to quench the smallest Spark of it.''

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