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The Message of Benjamin Franklin

by : Daveparts
Friday July 3, 2009 - 16:49

By David Glenn Cox

JPEG - 47.3 kb

I was asked: what are you proud of this Fourth? Currently? Very little, but I see the future because the past is the future. These people that we were, are unusual in their patience and uncommon in their valor.

When the rupture with the British Parliament first occurred, the Continental Congress selected Benjamin Franklin to go to London as the voice of reason. Franklin was considered the foremost American in the world. A man of science and of letters, he was respected around the world. Franklin’s mission was one of conciliation; to take the middle path and to quell the hot, angry voices on both sides of the Atlantic.

When Franklin arrived in London, he was made to wait. He carried no office, no orders of the Crown. He was instead treated as an interloper. They whispered about his clothes and made fun of his funny Colonial accent. This man of science was treated instead as a buffoon from the backwoods. Franklin then did something very un-Franklin; he became angry. He wrote to his son, "I arrived here as an Englishman but I return to you as an American." He continued that revolution was a job for young men, but that he was about to be the exception.

Franklin is a perfect example of an American; it had to proven to him in person that his government had no interest in his wishes or in his ideas. But once that had been proven to him, Franklin turned in the opposite direction. He left America as the voice of conciliation, and returned home the voice of revolution.

He was a wise and thoughtful man; he had no doubts about what revolution meant. It meant death and mayhem. It meant a long, bitter struggle where those such as Franklin would or could lose everything they had taken a lifetime to earn. If he had any doubts, his son, the Governor of New Jersey, made it clear. He would lose his job as governor if his father became a leading revolutionary. But Franklin continued and never turned back, and his son never forgave him.

Franklin understood something few others understood, that the British Parliament didn’t think of Americans as political equals. They thought of them as chattel and as children unworthy of the respect due free men and women. This is what turned Franklin; political equals can solve anything through discussion, but when they don’t respect you as equals, then that equality must be demonstrated through conflict.

It was so then as it is so now. Our history is resplendent with rebellion, The Whiskey Rebellion, the Grange, the labor movement, the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement. Between 1929 and 1932, American cities erupted in food riots and job riots. The American Communist party was the fastest growing political party in the country, and in the cities the Communists were feeding more people than the Red Cross. This should be remembered when we look at Roosevelt’s New Deal. The American power structure feared losing it all to the Communists.

The entrenched right began the Liberty League and used their media outlets to defame anyone on the left. They attempted a coup d’etat that would have forced Roosevelt to accept the cabinet members that they chose. The coup collapsed and Roosevelt’s New Deal averted a revolution that was coming as sure as the dawn. There were millions of hungry and unemployed, exploited by employers and manipulated by bankers. Millions thrown from their homes out into the road, living like pigs and treated worse than cattle. But like Franklin they had received the message. The President and Congress didn’t think of the people as political equals; they thought of them as chattel and children unworthy of the respect due free men and women.

The Bonus Army was made up of veterans demanding that a bonus due in 1945 for their service in World War One be paid instead in 1932 because they were hungry, and in some cases they were starving. They marched from all corners of America. They carried American flags by their corners and as they marched through towns during the depths of the Depression and the townspeople threw them quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies. They were marching for all the people; they were marching to confront the government which was ignoring them. On the last day of the Senate calendar, the Senate voted down assisting the Bonus marchers.

In fear and panic the Hoover administration ordered US Army tanks to guard the bridges into Washington and the White House. The Bonus marchers remained orderly but the Army used Hoover’s orders to rout their camp. On election night Hoover received a telegram that said simply, “Vote Roosevelt, make it unanimous.”

Roosevelt understood the seriousness of the situation, comparing it to the seriousness of war. He condemned the bankers and captains of industry and promised assistance for the common man. Food for the hungry, jobs for the unemployed, even the term “New Deal” was designed to show a complete break from the past. The American public had received the message of unfettered capitalism and if Roosevelt had failed they were prepared to deliver their own message to Washington. The same message Benjamin Franklin delivered on his return from Britain.

Today government figures listed another 600,000 forced into the ranks of the unemployed. Americans are being thrown from their homes at the rate of 300,000 every thirty days. General Motors has now dumped toxic sites on the American public under the terms of its bankruptcy while it plans its return to the market with Chinese-built autos.

Cities across the country have cancelled fireworks displays for the Fourth of July. The mayor of Cleveland explained that he just couldn’t justify shooting $38,000 into the air when there are a thousand in line at the local food bank. He is a patriot, he understands. He gets it, but he is in the political minority. The Parliament and the King in the Capitol bow politely in their ruffled shirts and tip their three-cornered hats and dream the dreams of the disconnected aristocracy.

They treat us as chattel and as children who just don’t understand the ways of the world. But I understand this, from this July the Fourth to the next the world will turn over in ways unimagined. We will warm ourselves from the embers of burning bank buildings and feed ourselves from the shelves of looted stores. This is the message of Benjamin Franklin: if you don’t or won’t treat us with respect and as political equals, then we have nothing to talk about.

It might sound absurd but I am proud of that. We are a very docile and patient people, but pushed too far we will punch the shit out of the power elite. Or as one of the Dearborn marchers put it, “If Roosevelt hadn’t been elected there was going to be a revolution in this country, and I would have been god damned proud to have been a part of it!”



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