A native Bostonian, Benjamin Franklin now spends most of his time in his adopted city, Philadelphia, where he made his name and his fortune as an entrepreneur, inventor, raconteur and, more recently, as an old lecher.
But Franklin thought of himself primarily as a printer and journalist. Though not the first American journalist, he is the first American ever to use journalism to become filthy rich -- only one of many great American traditions he originated.
He also invented the Franklin stove, bifocals, and, while standing in a thunderstorm holding a kite that was struck by lightning, became the first man to understand the meaning of electricity. Also pain.
Franklin boasts among his accomplishment the founding of the University of Pennsylvania, the first public library, an insurance company, which is still thriving today, and a magazine — the Saturday Evening Post — which isn’t. These days he runs a Philadelphia-based fast food chain, Poor Richard’s Automats.
Children adore him. He was the darling of the French court. And despite his lechery, he always held his late wife, Debby, in great affection. (Indeed, he never failed to address his letters to her, “Dear Debby.”) Some of the aphorisms and homilies he wrote are still in common usage. Lines like “Haste makes waste,” “Early to bed, early to rise,” and “Hunger is the best pickle.”
We caught up with Ben just as he was departing Boston on the ways to Philly to take part in the Bicentennial festivities. In the following Phoenix interview (in which, coincidentally, all Ben’s answers bear remarkable, yes, precise, resemblance to his colonial writings), he waxes eloquent on America 200 years later.
Glad you could stop by the office for this brief interview, Ben. It looked like rain out there anyway.
At this season tis no wonder if we have clouds, hail, rain and thunder.
I suppose. Still, I’m sorry your stay in Boston couldn’t have been longer this time. Why are you leaving so soon?
Visitors, like fish, stink after three days.
I suppose. I’m interested in getting your impressions of some of the issues and personalities of our time. What, for example, did you think about the Nixon pardon?
Pardoning the bad is injuring the good.
By that, do you suggest in any way that our system, which you helped create, provides unequal justice?
Laws like to cobwebs catch small flies/Rich ones break thro’ before your eyes.
That’s very true. But why then, do you think, Nixon got caught?
One man may be more cunning than another but not more cunning than everybody else.
That’s really very wise. What would you say to Richard Nixon if he were here?
Who has deceived thee so often as thyself?
Sure, Nixon was a crook. But don’t we all do the sorts of things he did even if on a smaller scale. Doesn’t everyone cheat, for example on his income taxes?
There is no kind of dishonesty into which otherwise good people more easily and frequently fall than that of defrauding the government.
I understand that you had some advice for Elizabeth Ray and Judith Campbell Exner — advice they didn’t take. What was that?
When man and woman in bed lie/Then, maids, whate’er is asked of you deny.