Benjamin Franklin: A Glimpse of Imperfection

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Schojan, Michael W.
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A re-examination of Benjamin Franklin becomes necessary when one considers how his essay Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc. has related to modern society. In his essay Franklin speaks of an English Empire that spans the entire globe and increases the population of its peoples through conquest. He speaks of anti-immigration and he reveals the truth behind his anti-slavery beliefs. Upon critically examining this essay, in conjunction with Franklin’s other writings, a new Franklin with perhaps different motivations materializes; one in stark contrast with the familiar image of Franklin the genius founding father. In his essay Franklin professes his strong desire for a transatlantic English Empire. Franklin reveals this same desire his A Description of Those, Who, at Any Rate Would Have Peace with France and Humorous Reasons for Restoring Canada. In these writings Franklin criticizes those who threaten his dream of a growing English Empire. In response to the Stamp Act Franklin created an engraving he titled MAGNA Britannia: her Colonies REDUC’D that embodied his belief not that the Stamp Act should inspire revolution but that without each other neither the colonies nor Great Britain could survive. In the same essay Franklin reveals a strong ethnocentric and anti-immigration belief. He reiterates these beliefs in letters to friends and in a petition to parliament titled On a Proposed Act to Prevent Emigration. Franklin states his befuddlement with regard to England letting non English immigrants flood the otherwise perfectly English colonies and worse still its attempt to limit the emigration of English peoples from the British island to the North American colonies. Franklin would fight for his ideals whether right or wrong and he will take on all those who oppose him. Lastly in the essay Franklin reveals the true nature of his beliefs with regard to slavery and Africans in general. In this light Franklin becomes a man who perceives all slaves as natural born thieves. Franklin was of course an abolitionist but he did not want to rub elbows with free Africans in the colonies. In fact Franklin wanted to make North America a shining white star to the heavens. Benjamin Franklin provides a human persona, an embodiment of race relations in modern society. Historians who wrote on Franklin emphasized his good works and ignored his bad, politically incorrect beliefs that impact modern society. To understand the real Franklin he must be treated as a human being capable of error. Only once his fallibility is acknowledged can his work be critically examined in a way that reveals his true beliefs and needs no excuses. In this same way modern society wants to ignore racism and racial tension instead of focusing on these issues to overcome them. Historians observe problems or issues in the present and then use the past as a means to solve them. Therefore what can Dr. Benjamin Franklin tell modern society about ethnocentric prejudice and racial tensions?
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