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Our Founding Fathers speak. March 27, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to share some wisdom from our Founding Fathers. Normally we quote our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. But the other Founders had a lot to say for themselves, too. So today we’re featuring quotes from George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Note especially the last three quotes by Madison; maybe he had a crystal ball and could see into our times.

From George Washington:

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”

“If freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

“Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.”

“It is better to be alone than in bad company.”

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

From Alexander Hamilton:

“Those who stand for nothing will fall for anything.”

“A well adjusted person is one who makes the same mistake twice without getting nervous.”

“Nobody expects to trust his body overmuch after the age of fifty.”

“Man is a reasoning rather than a reasonable animal.”

From James Madison:

“Philosophy is common sense with big words.”

“It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.”

“I believe that there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

“It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.”


The art of the blog. June 6, 2013

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Our friend Ben read an op-ed piece yesterday by Jules Witcover in our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, titled “Journalism’s golden age is far behind us.” (Check it out in its entirety at http://www.themorningcall.com.)

Mr. Witcover’s point is that, nowadays, anybody can set themselves up as an instant expert, whether they know what they’re talking about or not, and air their views online, in print, or on the air. He also points out that in the past, reporters were supposed to at least try to be impartial and unbiased, to the extent that it’s possible for anyone to set aside his or her own beliefs. But now they blatantly shill for their own political parties and stands, and some of them are even professional campaign managers.

Admittedly, long before Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, there was William F. Buckley. But unlike today’s hate-mongers, Buckley didn’t pursue an agenda of hate. He was brilliant and well-educated, and he knew whereof he spoke. He didn’t claim to be always right; rather, he simply offered to pit his mind and morals against those who held different views, and let the audience decide. My passionately Democratic mother adored the conservative Mr. Buckley and enjoyed watching his iconic show.

But I digress. As a blogger, what captured my attention was Mr. Witcover’s description of blogging: “With the advent of the Internet, the art of the blog has flourished. A blogger has an unlicensed license to offer all manner of views, speculations, rumors or just plain fantasies to a receptive audience, with or without forethought.”

This is, of course, true. But it has always been true in America, where free speech is a right, even if “free” isn’t “true.” Back in the day, George Washington was so incensed by the libelous, scandalous reporting of such newspaper journalists as James Callender that he referred to them as “infamous scribblers.” Many were no better than today’s paparazzi, chasing down scandals to titillate their readers: Alexander Hamilton’s adulterous affair, Thomas Jefferson’s long-standing relationship with his slave Sally Hemings.

Even Ben Franklin, our hero and blog mentor here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, didn’t bat an eye at making up humorous or salacious “news” to spice up his paper. Mind you, Ben didn’t libel real people; his were all fictitious, and often served up a lesson in common sense along with their misdeeds.

Which brings me back to Mr. Witcover and his despair over the state of today’s “reporting,” be it in blogs, on Twitter, or in so-called news panels populated by political hacks. Ultimately, as was the case back in President Washington’s day, it is up to us to be informed readers, viewers, and listeners. It is up to us to filter out what is true from what is biased reporting, reporting that favors an agenda over the truth. It is up to us to understand when a report presents a partial truth, because the whole truth isn’t known or a study is premature or flawed. We are ultimately responsible for what we believe, and why.

We’re also responsible for what we read, see, and hear, and why. If we’re addicted to Stephen Colbert or The Pioneer Woman or Dr. Phil, that doesn’t mean we’re watching them to learn more about life. There’s a difference between entertainment and information. Let’s bear it in mind.

Choose your President. February 17, 2013

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Our friend Ben was extremely interested to see a post in today’s local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, that summarized readers’ responses to the question, “Which President would you bring back to solve today’s problems?”

Reader responses ranged from George Washington, John Admas, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison through Abraham Lincoln to Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan.

I myself would love to see a coalition, a “greatest hits” lineup of those who actually were President and those who should have been. My group would include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Colin Powell. Like the Supreme Court, this group would combine extreme intelligence, individuality, and opposing views under the overarching tent of love of country and love of honor. I’d love to see the solution they proposed for our country’s current woes.

Who would you choose?

Do you have George Washington’s wine cooler? November 27, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to talk about a good old-fashioned Early American mystery. I first became aware of it in a Wall Street Journal article, “Washington Chilled Here: A Wine Cooler’s Tale” (check it out at www.wsj.com).

The article tells a very sad tale, involving three of our favorite Founding Fathers, Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Gouverneur Morris. Apparently Washington commissioned Morris in 1789 to have four wine coolers made by a British silversmith to his exacting specifications. To quote the article:

“Specifying the design of a wine cooler for his claret and port, the founding father [Washington] said the bottles had to sit upright rather than at angles, the neck of the decanters had to rise above the cooler rim and there had to be room at the bottom of the bowl so the bottles would sit above the ice.”

Iced port. Now there’s a thought. But I digress.

The point is that Washington had one cooler lengthily engraved to present to his favorite co-Founder, Alexander Hamilton. Unlike most men of his time, including many of the Founders, who were strong States’ Rights men and had joined together merely to throw off the yoke of Britain, Hamilton was a visionary genius. He envisioned the America of today, with a strong central government, a sound treasury, and a standing army, a country that would become a force to be reckoned with on the world stage. And his vision fired Washington’s imagination.

The Father of our Country embraced the Federal view with a passion, and did everything in his power to help Hamilton make it a reality, defying other Founders like Jefferson, Adams and Madison, and outraging States-Righters like Patrick Henry and Sam Adams. If justice were served, the real Father of our Country would be recognized as Hamilton, its creator and architect, not Washington, its figurehead.

The two men shared a warm personal relationship as well. Hamilton, 20 years younger and an orphan, looked to Washington as a father figure, and Washington returned his affection. He recognized Hamilton’s brilliance when Hamilton was one of his aides-de-camp in the Revolution, and the two remained fast friends for the rest of their lives.

I realize that this hardly sounds like a sad story. But it is. First, both men died prematurely, Washington most likely from the bleeding and purging inflicted by his doctors after he caught a bad cold at Mount Vernon, and Hamilton at the business end of Aaron Burr’s dueling pistol. But what makes this story particularly sad is that Washington’s gift, which has remained and been cherished in the Hamilton family ever since, has now been consigned to the auction block by the ironically named Alexander Hamilton Spaulding.

“Once Mr. Spaulding’s mother moved to a retirement community, the item became too difficult to keep,” the article explains. So, now that mom’s no longer there to safeguard the family treasure, “Sandy” is looking to strike it rich by auctioning it off. Shame on him, unworthy of his ancestry, unworthy of his name! 

If Mr. Spaulding and his family no longer want the Washington/Hamilton wine cooler, surely it belongs to the nation, and should be donated to a museum where all Americans could see this treasure of American history. He could donate it to Mount Vernon, Washington’s home, or to the Smithsonian or Colonial Williamsburg or the Library of Congress or the National Archives or Winterthur or any museum that showcased early American history. He could make it a national treasure rather than selling it to the highest bidder. It’s a slap in the face to both Washington and Hamilton that he isn’t doing it. How sad that things have come to this!

Okay, we’ve covered the sad part. Let’s move on to the mystery. As noted, Washington commissioned four of these wine coolers. The Hamilton family has theirs, and two are at Mount Vernon. Apparently no one knows what became of the fourth wine cooler, and there lies the mystery. Washington must have also commissioned it as a presentation gift to someone, since he didn’t keep it. Perhaps he presented it to Gouverneur Morris, who, after all, had been put to the trouble of having the coolers made. Perhaps he’d had it made for our favorite Founding Father, the great Benjamin Franklin. Or for Thomas Jefferson or Lafayette or heaven knows who.

Whatever the case, Washington was so revered, not just in his lifetime but through the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, that it’s improbable in the extreme that someone would have simply taken a personal, engraved gift from him and melted it down for scrap. (Especially since it was plate rather than sterling silver, so its value melted down would have been nil.)

But it is possible that someone inherited the wine cooler along with numerous items from a great-aunt’s estate and had no idea what it was. It is possible that someone was facing financial problems and decided to sell it off. It is possible that, as I write, it is sitting in an attic somewhere with a bunch of other family mementoes, or sitting in some flea market or antiques shop waiting to be rediscovered.

Is it in your attic? Will you, perhaps, stumble upon it at your local antiques mall? I suggest that you keep your eyes peeled. And, if you do happen to have it or find it, that you do the noble thing and donate it to our nation. George Washington and Alexander Hamilton would be proud.


                               Richard Saunders