Benjamin Franklin on indebtedness

“The second vice is lying, the first is running into debt, Photo: Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

SAN JOSE, January 15, 2013 – Today, there are a great many Americans who honor the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the third Monday of January. An irony of such birthday sentiments for such a great man is that they overshadow the January birthday of another great man, Benjamin Franklin, who was born on January 17, 1706.

Franklin once wrote that “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worthy of reading, or do things worth the writing.” In reality, Franklin accomplished both.  Unfortunately he is not often easily remembered by the present generation as the Renaissance Man that he was when he lived. In Walter Isaacson’s exhaustive biography of Benjamin Franklin, which was published in 2003, he admires Franklin as “the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become.”

When he was 81 years of age, Benjamin Franklin continued his service to America as a delegate to the United States Constitutional Convention in his home city of Philadelphia.  There is a story about the moment of the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention which raises a question that can also be asked today.  The story explains that a woman named Mrs. Powel approached the elderly statesman and asked: “What type of government have you delegates given us?”

Franklin replied, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

The question that many Americans may be asking today is whether or not the Republic can be retained. Is it possible that this generation will keep it, or will the government that the founding fathers forged by their sweat, tears, and blood morph into something that bears little resemblance to what they created?  When Americans forget about the founding fathers and the founding principles upon which they built the Republic, there is a real danger of losing the Republic.

Coupled with the tragedy of forgetting America’s heritage is the present irony of the United States of America struggling with its financial stability due in large part to the spending addiction of politicians who recklessly spend the citizen’s money.  With little regard toward responsible spending, it is not hard to understand why the nation is teetering on the fiscal cliff.  In light of this, considering that old Benjamin Franklin made his distaste for indebtedness quite apparent when he once stated: “The second vice is lying, the first is running into debt.”  This statement is quite revealing toward Franklin’s attitude regarding private as well as public indebtedness.   

What is most troubling about the sense of reckless spending rampant within all levels of government today is that many Americans are not even clear about the danger, and sadly, many politicians seem to think that it is part of their job description as legislators.  Even President Barack Obama is not clear about the spending problem that he and the Democratic Party seem to be addicted to.  In a recent Washington Times article, it was revealed that during the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, during a private meeting between Boehner and President Obama, the president stated that the country doesn’t have a spending problem.

It is usually like that with addicts who are hooked on one thing or another.  It is easy to blame others and not face the true nature of the problem and remain in denial.  Those most affected adversely will be the common men and women of this country as the country continues in a slow process of economic decline. Benjamin Franklin, along with others in the group of founding fathers would likely be appalled at the Republic as it exists today.  Leaders from both political parties have abused the public faith in the system of government that the founders left for us.

Unfortunately, the ones who will suffer the most in America’s economic descent are the U.S. citizens.  Now more than ever in our country’s history, American citizens need to feel that they can trust their leaders to act responsibly and to act for the good of the entire country, not th3e good of their party or their own benefit.  In reality the public approval rating of members of Congress is at a ridiculous low.  The public trust has been violated time and time again in most recent years. On the other end of the spectrum Benjamin Franklin served as a prime role model   

A few wise words from Franklin on indebtedness:

Rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt.  – ponder that for a moment

Pay who you owe, and you’ll know what is your own.

When the well’s dry, they know the worth of water.

Too bad Benjamin Franklin is not around today.  He did incredible things during his life and the investment of hard work and the effect of his words of wisdom he left for posterity should not be forgotten. Sadly, if he were alive today, he may be overwhelmed in despair by what the Republic has grown up to be.  Undoubtedly though, he would probably roll up his sleeves and begin sticking his nose into what matters and begin the work on repairing what is wrong. He would caution us to remember:  “Industry pays debts, while despair increaseth them.”

Happy Birthday Ben Franklin!

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Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison reinvented his life after working for a multi-billion dollar division of Johnson & Johnson for several years. Now semi-retired, he is an adjunct faculty member  at West Valley College in California.  He also currently writes a column on history and one on American freedom for the Communities at the Washington Times.


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