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Another great quote (from the days when people believed them). January 15, 2015

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Which Founding Father said:

“I would rather die standing than live on my knees!”

Was it the fiery Sam Adams or speech-making genius Patrick Henry? The visionary Ben Franklin, or Thomas Paine, whose power with the pen kept the troops from deserting Washington? The brilliant Alexander Hamilton, boy genius from the tropics? Or perhaps Washington, Jefferson, or Madison themselves?

It certainly sounds like a Founding Father quote: big, noble, and brief (thus, memorable). But it isn’t. The man who said those words was Emiliano Zapata.

What a quote, so stirring! We’ve now heard it attributed to the owner of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo before the magazine was attacked by extremists. Maybe it was simply one of his favorites. Whatever the case, it would be nice to take the time to think about how you could stand for your principles without having to die for them.


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.”

What would the Founders do? And what should we do? July 4, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Does this sound like any form of government you know?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Our friend Ben, a lifelong United States citizen, has never known a form of government that actually worked to safeguard the happiness and liberty of its citizens, as laid out in the Declaration of Independence, from which the passage just quoted is taken. Instead, our government is a huge, bloated, impersonal entity, peopled by career politicians who are bought and paid for by special-interest groups and the corporations that can, thanks to our Supreme Court, have the rights of individuals and “contribute” to campaigns accordingly. I’m not even allowed to decide whether or not to wear a seatbelt in my own car.

I’m sure the Founders, from George Washington down, are spinning in their collective graves. This was not the government or so-called “republic” that they envisioned. I wish with all my heart that our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, were here to lend his perspective, and possible solutions, to the parody of democracy America has become.

Just this morning, I read an op-ed piece advocating the use of the internet to level the political playing field. The article suggested doing away with the Electoral College and instead allowing the President and VP to be elected directly by popular vote, which I entirely approve. It’s an outrage that our leaders are still chosen by a clunky, archaic proxy system when the people themselves should cast the deciding votes, and we finally have the technology needed to tally them accurately.

The author of the op-ed piece went on to suggest that people should be allowed to vote on legislation themselves via the internet as well, which is an intriguing thought. That would certainly be true democracy in action, if anyone could tear themselves away from texting and Facebook long enough to actually read the proposed legislation.

Our friend Ben was on board so far, but the writer’s third suggestion threw me: That citizens be allowed to nominate candidates themselves online, and that those who garnered the most votes would run. In our celebrity-driven culture, this brought an immediate “American Idol”-like vision to my mind: “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you our new Chief Executive, Justin Bieber, and VP, Lady Gaga!” (Oh, wait: Justin Bieber’s Canadian, isn’t he? But my point still stands.) I think those who believe themselves prepared to lead our country should stand and declare their willingness to serve, and then people should decide who among them is most fit to do so.

In the absence of Ben Franklin’s wise guidance, our friend Ben would like to propose three additional ideas for returning power to the people, in addition to doing away with the Electoral College and electing the President and VP by actual popular vote (as in the vote of the populace, as opposed to a popularity contest). They are:

* Limit terms of office. Like the President, no member of the House or Senate should be allowed to serve more than two terms. Not a single Founder envisioned a political position as a career. It was, instead, a duty, a time to step up and serve your country, after which you returned to your plantation like George Washington or your lawyer’s practice like John Adams. This was an excellent counter to corruption, and should certainly be applied to the Supreme Court as well.

* Mandate free campaigns. Having to raise money—lots of money—for a campaign guarantees that even the most idealistic candidate will be beholden to—bought by—his or her contributors long before the election results are tallied. If you win, you owe us. Instead, I think we should implement a system where every candidate is given the same amount of free air time to present themselves and their platforms, leveling the field and freeing politicians from the Godfather grip of “the offer they can’t refuse.” 

* Do away with political parties. George Washington himself strenuously opposed the formation of political parties, presciently seeing how damaging they could be to the idea of a “united” States. Our current poisonous political separation and the rise of hate politics proves our greatest President right. Forget parties, and let every candidate stand on his or her own convictions and plans for governing the country. In the age of the internet, the concept of parties is outdated and not just divisive but destructive. Let each speak for him- or herself!

On this July Fourth, let’s set down the picnic fare long enough to contemplate what a government “by the people, for the people, of the people” might actually be.

Forget about the cherry tree. February 22, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame. Today, February 22, is George Washington’s birthday, and I’m here to help you celebrate with a little quiz. What do you really know about the Father of Our Country?

If you find you could use a little help with these answers, I highly recommend a little book I found a few years ago called Don’t Know Much About George Washington by Kenneth C. Davis. This little $4.99 paperback packs a lot of information about our first president into a fun-to-read format that the whole family will enjoy. (The cartoon illustrations reinforce the publisher’s intentions of directing the book to 8- to 12-year-old kids. But like so many references aimed at kids, it’s a lot more entertaining way to get top-notch historical information than plowing through a long, serious tome, even for history buffs like me.)

Back to the quiz: As always, you’ll find the answers at the end. But no cheating, now!

1. George Washington was:

a. a surveyor

b. a Freemason

c. a general

d. a president

e. a farmer

f. all of the above

2. George Washington visited which of the following countries?

a. England

b. France

c. Barbados

d. Canada

e. none of the above

f. all of the above

3. Where did George Washington go to college?

a. Harvard

b. Yale

c. William and Mary

d. Princeton (then known as the College of New Jersey)

e. Washington and Lee

f. The University of Virginia

4. George Washington’s true love was:

a. Martha Custis

b. Dolley Madison

c. Sally Fairfax

d. Betsy Ross

e. Molly Pitcher

5. George Washington’s false teeth were made of:

a. wood

b. cow’s teeth

c. ivory

d. glass

e. gold

f. porcelain

6. Which of the following are true:

a. As a boy, George Washington chopped down his father’s cherry tree.

b. To show his immense strength, as a young man, Washington tossed a coin clear across the Rappahannock River.

c. Despite seeing military action hundreds of times and having several horses shot out from under him, Washington was never even wounded.

d. Washington signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

e. Washington’s children were named Martha (known as Patsy) and George Jr. 

f. Washington chose to be buried in his Masonic regalia.

7. George Washington was born and lived in:

a. Washington, D.C.

b. Philadelphia

c. New York

d. Virginia

e. Maryland

f. Boston

8. True or false? George Washington:

a. Said “I cannot tell a lie.”

b. Never smiled.

c. Owned slaves.

d. Powdered his hair.

e. Designed his own uniforms.

f. Died from politeness.

9. George Washington was happiest:

a. At his plantation, Mount Vernon.

b. With his family.

c. Experimenting with the latest horticultural and agricultural advances.

d. On horseback.

e. Entertaining guests at home.

f. In the company of his military attaches.

10. George Washington’s greatest achievement was:

a. Marrying the wealthiest widow in Virginia.

b. Winning the Revolutionary War.

c. Becoming our first president.

d. Freeing his slaves.

e. Walking away from a lifetime presidency.

f. Dying a wealthy man.

And now, the answers:

1. F, all of the above. Like many men of his day, George Washington did many things, and did many things well. The concept of specializing, becoming, say, a computer technician or an MBA and never doing anything else, was virtually unknown in Colonial times. The sparse population meant that almost everyone had to be something of a jack of all trades.

2.  C, Barbados. As a young man, Washington accompanied his older brother and mentor, Lawrence Washington, to Barbados, hoping the balmy climate would cure Lawrence’s consumption (tuberculosis). Sadly, the cure didn’t work. After Lawrence’s death, George ultimately inherited his brother’s plantation, Mount Vernon. Unlike Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and many of the other Founding Fathers, Washington never went to England or France. And though he made a name for himself in the French and Indian Wars, he never made it as far north as Canada.   

3. This is a trick question. The answer is “none of the above.” Like Bill Gates, George Washington never went to college. But there’s no question that he regretted it all his life. His pet project was to have a university established in the capital that would be open to all American citizens, so that none would be denied a college education as he had been. Though Washington himself didn’t live to see his dream realized, eventually American University was established in Washington, D.C. as a direct result of his efforts.

4. The correct answer is C, Sally Fairfax. The young George Washington had the misfortune to fall passionately in love with his best friend’s wife. Though nothing ever came of his infatuation, it lasted through his entire life. Washington eventually married Martha Custis, the extremely wealthy widow of another Virginia planter, Daniel Parke Custis, in what would today be called “the marriage of the century.” Martha’s vast wealth enabled George to set himself up in style. And she and George enjoyed a happy, devoted marriage, despite its essential nature as a marriage of convenience. But it was never the passionate attachment that George fantasized about with Sally, with whom he remained in touch until his death. However, if I had to try my hand at matchmaking, I’d have hooked George up with the tall, attractive, dynamic Dolley Madison. I think they’d have been an amazing pair! 

5. Lack of understanding of dental hygeine caused plenty of upper-class people throughout Europe and the Colonies to lose their teeth at an early age. Unlike the lower classes, who ate whole-grain bread and never got a taste of sugar, the wealthy classes enjoyed the novelties of white bread and sugar without understanding the need to brush their tooth-rotting residue off after eating them. Additionally, the complete oblivion to the concept of nutrition meant that many people of the time were vitamin- and mineral-deficient, which contributed to gum disease and loosening of teeth. By the time he was president, poor George had exactly one tooth left in his head. Over his lifetime, he had many sets of dentures made, including sets from cow’s teeth and hippopotamus ivory. (Yikes! No wonder he never smiled.) But he never had a set made from wood, despite legends to the contrary.

6. The correct answers are  C and F. Washington’s ability to emerge unscathed time and again from a hail of bullets conferred invulnerable status on him and made him an icon to his men. He was never so much as scratched, despite putting himself in the forefront of the action and having several horses shot out from under him. And like many surveyors (and, for that matter, Colonial and European intellectuals of the day), Washington was a devout Freemason, who chose to be buried in the attire of his Masonic rank.  But even the wrong answers have some basis in truth. Though the stories about the cherry tree and the coin toss were invented by a man called Parson Weems in an early biography of Washington, in an attempt to fill in the blanks of his early life, there is no question that he was both incredibly honorable and incredibly strong. He spent his whole life trying to do what was noble and right, and even as an old man, he could defeat any younger opponent in feats of strength and skill. But what about  D and E? Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention, but was unable to be present to sign the Declaration of Independence because he was already in the field engaging the British. And though Washington was a devoted family man, he had no children of his own. Instead, he became a father to the widowed Martha Washington’s two children by her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, Martha (known as Patsy) and John Parke (known as Jack).

7. Though the adult Washington spent time in New York, Philadelphia, and the new capital city (then known as the Federal City, only later as Washington, D.C.), he was born and raised in Virginia, and his home, Mount Vernon, as well as his heart, were there. The correct answer is D.

8. The correct answers are C through F, though the others have merit even though they’re not literally true. Washington is not actually recorded by any contemporary as saying “I cannot tell a lie,” and, as we’ve seen, the whole cherry-tree incident was invented by an early biographer. But Washington held himself to such a high standard that he in fact probably never did tell a lie. He wore painful and unsightly dentures that, with his inherent formality, caused him to appear reserved and unsmiling in public. But the private Washington—when alone with his family or his trusted aides—was a different person, laughing, joking, even telling bawdy jokes to his friends and laughing uproariously. Though not exactly a dandy, the tall, admired Washington was always conscious of the need to appear at his best. He did design his own (and his regiments’) uniforms, and he wore his thick, abundant hair long and powdered it rather than resorting to a wig like most of his contemporaries. (We’ll talk about why people felt the need to powder their wigs—or hair—another time.) Okay, you may be wondering about the plausibility of F: How could someone die from politeness? Well, here’s how: Washington loved to entertain guests at Mount Vernon. One day, he’d been riding over the plantation as he loved to do and had gotten soaked in a cold rain. Arriving home to find guests for dinner, rather than changing into dry clothes and making them wait on him, George insisted on sitting down to supper in his cold, wet clothes. He came down with pneumonia and died as a result.

9. This too is a trick question, because the correct answer is “all of the above.” Washington loved his family and his plantation, and was never happier than when puttering around the place, trying out the latest agricultural and horticultural developments, and spending time with his beloved family and close friends. He loved entertaining guests, even if they were what we’d call hangers-on or groupies, folks who showed up unannounced at Mount Vernon just to see the great Washington with their own eyes. As noted, his feelings for his guests ultimately led to his untimely death. And Washington, who grew up on horseback, loved nothing better than to spend a day riding over his land.

10. The correct answer is really “all of the above.” Though his contemporaries—including King George III of England—and historians would tell you the answer was E, giving America an unprecedented example by walking away from a crown and/or a president-for-life appointment, every answer has merit. Martha’s wealth enabled George to set himself up among Virginia’s first families, which helped him achieve prominence.  Winning the Revolutionary War and becoming the young America’s first president need no additional commentary from me. But freeing his slaves and dying out of debt do. Pretty much all the Founders realized that slavery was insupportable, an abomination, and a gross hypocrisy as they ranted on about freedom. But only two of them did anything about it: Old Ben Franklin and George Washington. Ben freed his few slaves during his lifetime, and founded the first abolitionist society in the Colonies. But Washington had a more complex situation. Not only did he, like all Southern planters of his day, own many slaves, but they actually belonged to his wife, Martha. So in a sense, his achievement was greater. He spent many years weaning Mount Vernon off  labor-intensive crops like tobacco so it wouldn’t be reliant on slave labor to produce income. And he made it an article of his will that all the Mount Vernon slaves would be freed (and educated, so they could establish themselves in the trade of their choice) upon Martha’s death. (Rising to the occasion, she actually freed them immediately after his death.) By comparison, that so-called beacon of freedom Thomas Jefferson not only fathered innumerable children on one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, but left them all, including his own children (one was lucky enough to secure his freedom during Jefferson’s life), to be sold into perpetual slavery to strangers after his death. Which brings me to the last point: Jefferson died in massive debt, which he dumped on his heirs, who actually had to sell his beloved Monticello as well as his slaves. This was not at all unusual in an age when it was important to live expensively while completely ignoring the sources of one’s income, such as a tobacco-depleted land. George Washington, by contrast, worked hard to diversify agriculture at Mount Vernon, reduce the need for labor, and get rid of greedy, soil-depleting crops like tobacco. He was also a shrewd speculator, and bought properties with potential as they came on the market. As a result, he left his widow and heirs with a comfortable fortune as opposed to a pile of debt.

So happy birthday, George! There was only one George Washington. But we can all be inspired by his example to make both the most and the best of who we are.

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

Good news for history-loving gardeners. March 29, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, gardening, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to talk about a real treat for gardeners who also happen to be fans of Early American history, such as yours truly, our friend Ben, and Silence Dogood. A new book, Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation (Andrea Wulf, Knopf, $30) was released just today, March 29. I was happy to see that Amazon already has it in stock, and you can buy it there for $17.64 (with free shipping, if you add a second item to your order to bring it to at least $25). It’s also available on the Barnes & Noble website (www.barnesandnoble.com).

This is far from the first book about America’s Founders and their passion for agriculture and gardening, as we’ll soon see. But Ms. Wulf, a British garden design historian, has done us all a service by bringing all the “Founding Gardeners”—Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, even our own hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin—together in a single volume. And she adds a new spin by focusing on how their travels abroad and exchanges with fellow plant-lovers across Europe enriched their own views of America’s gardening and agricultural potential. (Of the Founders, only the frail, sickly Madison never traveled abroad; Washington didn’t get as far as Europe, but did venture off to Jamaica with his brother Lawrence as a young man.)

We think of today’s internet access, services like Skype, and the Global economy as making today’s world a lot smaller and more accessible than the world of the Founders. But in some ways, this is a fallacy. In their day, everyone who was anyone knew everyone, or at least everyone who shared their interests and passions. True, it may have taken longer to get a letter or package, or to get from place to place. But if you were a well-connected plant enthusiast, you’d be in constant correspondence with everyone from John Bartram, America’s first nurseryman, to the great botanists, plant explorers, nurserymen, and garden enthusiasts across Europe, exchanging plants, seeds, techniques, successes and failures, plant gossip, and, of course, the latest styles.

Let’s say you’d barely made it through elementary school when your father, who’d planned to send you to college but was furious at your refusal to become a minister, instead forces you to go to work as a gopher at the local newspaper. Fed up, at 17 you move to a distant state and end up running a paper of your own, along with creating a number of useful societies and institutions and displaying a passion for experiment and invention that causes you to create a lifesaving device used by everyone, which you decline to patent or trademark and allow to pass into the public domain, profiting not a cent or a sou from your work.

Now, imagine that, your eighth-grade education and lack of social standing—not to mention your irregular domestic situation and acknowledged illegitimate child—notwithstanding, you regularly corresponded with Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, President Obama, the Dalai Lama, and pretty much every major figure in science, medicine, technology, literature, music, and philosophy around the world. Possible? Maybe. Likely? Not very. Yet that was Benjamin Franklin, and his contemporaries also had access to the global network of fellow enthusiasts, generalists, and specialists.

I can’t quite see myself—or, say, our friend Ben, with his advanced education, eager mind, and broad-ranging interests—engaging the attention of a Bill Gates, Michelle Obama, or Ekhart Tolle to discuss ideas. Despite our “small world,” there are simply too many of us, and specialization is the order of our day, preventing those who are interested in everything (or even many things) from even finding each other. In today’s world, generalists like Dr. Franklin who were good at many things would be ridiculed rather than revered like folks who kept their interests confined not merely to, say, medicine, but to the most specialized forms of same, such as bariatric surgery.

But I’m straying from the point here. Fortunately, back in the Founders’ day, it was viewed as perfectly reasonable to be, say, a surveyor, soldier, Freemason, landowner, politician, avid plantsman and agricultural innovator, and Father of Our Country, like our first and greatest President, George Washington. Nobody thought it peculiar that someone with Ben Franklin’s stature would take the time to introduce plants like rhubarb to America while off on diplomatic missions.

Anyway, we here at Poor Richard’s Almanac have added Founding Gardeners to our must-have lists. If you’re a gardener who’s also a follower of the Founders, we suggest that you do likewise, or that you suggest that your local library purchase a copy for its collection.  But let’s get back to the other books on the topic. A quick scan of our collective libraries produced some other books you might be interested in checking out*:

Early American Gardens “For Meate or Medicine” (Ann Leighton, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1970, $10)

American Gardens in the Eighteenth Century “For Use or For Delight” (Ann Leighton, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976, $17.50)

Thomas Jefferson: The Garden and Farm Books (Robert C. Baron, ed., Fulcrum, 1987, $20)

Everyday Life in Early America (David Freeman Hawke, Harper & Rowe, 1989, $9.95)

Colonial Gardens (Rudy F. Favretti and Gordon P. DeWolf, Barre Publishers, 1972, no price)

For Every House a Garden: A guide for reproducing period gardens (Rudy and Joy Favretti, The Pequot Press, 1977, $4.95)

Eighteenth Century Life: British and American Gardens (Robert P. Maccubbin and Peter Martin, eds., Special Issue, College of William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Volume VIII, n.s., 2, January 1983, $10)

Herbs and Herb Lore of Colonial America (Colonial Dames of America, Dover Publications Inc., 1995, $3.95)

Gentle Conquest: The Botanical Discovery of North America (James L Reveal, Starwood Publishing, Inc., 1992, no price)

The Art of Colonial Flower Arranging (Jean C. Clark, The Pyne Press, 1974, $8.95)

Farmer George Plants a Nation (Peggy Thomas, Calkins Creek, 2008, $17.95, a wonderful children’s book about, who else, George Washington)

We know we have others, too, but—how embarrassing!—all of us have so many books, we’re just not putting our hands on them right now.

Here are other books I found on Amazon that we need to add to our collections*:

Washington’s Gardens at Mount Vernon: Landscape of the Inner Man (Mac Griswold, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999, $40)

Colonial Gardens: The Landscape Architecture of George Washington’s Time (American Society of Landscape Architects, United States Bicentennial Commission, 1932, from $52)

Thomas Jefferson’s Flower Gardens at Monticello (Peter J. Hatch, Edwin Morris Betts, and Hazelhurst Bolton Perkins, University of Virginia Press, 3rd ed., 1971, $12.95)

Jefferson’s Garden (Peter Loewer, Stackpole Books, 2004, $21.95)

Thomas Jefferson: Landscape Architect (Frederick Doveton Nichols and Frank E. Griswold, Univeristy of Virginia Press, 2003, $14.95)

Plants of Colonial Days (Raymond L. Taylor, Dover Publications Inc., 2nd. ed., 1996, $5.95) 

Flowers and Herbs of Early America (Lawrence D. Griffith, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Yale University Press, 2010, $24)

Plants of Colonial Williamsburg: How to Identify 200 of Colonial America’s Flowers, Herbs, and Trees (Joan Parry Dutton, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1979, $12.95)

The Gardens of Colonial Williamsburg (M. Kent Brinkley and Gordon W. Chappell, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1995, $29.95)

Williamsburg’s Glorious Gardens (Roger Foley, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1996, $19,95)

From a Colonial Garden: Ideas, Decorations, Recipes (Susan Hight Rountree, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2004, $19.95)

Whew, that’s quite a wish list. And we’re sure we’re still missing plenty! Please let us know if you have favorite books on Colonial, Revolutionary, and Federal gardening in our Colonies/States that I’ve overlooked!


                             Richard Saunders

* Note that prices are list prices, not Amazon prices, typically considerably lower, unless noted.

Pennies from heaven. August 8, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, our friend and fellow blog contributor Richard Saunders, and his girlfriend, Bridget, decided to soak up a little history yesterday. So we headed to Philadelphia for a tour of Independence Hall and the surrounding historic district.

Independence Hall was the original home of the Liberty Bell and the seat of the Continental Congress, as well as the place where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed into law. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and the other Founding Fathers, including, of course, Philadelphia’s own Benjamin Franklin, shaped our country here. In other words, for Americans, it’s History Central.

Why Philadelphia? Because, at the time, it was the largest city in America (with a population in 1776 of 25-30,000, compared to New York and Boston’s 5,000 each), and it became the nation’s capital from 1790 to 1800 while Washington, D.C. was built.

Philadelphia is just an hour and a half south of us. Or, I should say, it should be an hour and a half south of us. But yesterday, it was more like 3 hours, thanks to massive traffic congestion. As we crawled along or were forced to come to a full stop, feelings of frustration and disappointment built. We were wasting a gorgeous day sitting in traffic.

Silence pointed out that it hadn’t helped that some of us, who are catatonic in the morning, couldn’t be dragged from the house until 11 a.m., then demanded that we have an early lunch before heading down to Philly. (But, hey, we hadn’t even had breakfast!) In our friend Ben’s defense, I thought we could eat a lot more quickly in the small but scenic town of Topton than in the Big City, where I wanted us to spend all our time seeing the sights. At least the endless traffic and travel delays made us all appreciate living in a beautiful place where we never have to deal with either.

Then, of course, we got lost. By the time we finally arrived at Independence Hall around 3 p.m., we were hot and aggravated, and to make things worse, the tour tickets for the day, which were supposed to be available until 4:30, had all been given out. The tickets are free, but you can’t get into Independence Hall without them. Our hopes of standing in the place where America was born were dashed.

Fortunately, there’s plenty to see in this historic district, and that’s where the pennies come in. First, we went to see the Liberty Bell, which none of us had actually seen before. Our friend Ben was happy to see it but not especially excited at the prospect—it’s a bell, for mercy’s sake—but it was really a pretty awesome experience. The bell itself is quite impressive, and then there’s the rather mysterious inscription: PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL INHABITANTS THEREOF LEV XXV X [inspired by Leviticus 25:10 in the Old Testament] BY ORDER OF THE ASSEMBLY OF THE PROVINCE OF PENSYLVANIA [sic] FOR THE STATE HOUSE OF PHILADA PASS AND STOW MDCCLIII [1753, the year the bell was recast, having cracked on first use in 1752]

PASS AND STOW. Our friend Ben took this to be some sort of arcane directive; maybe it meant that those who saw the bell should pass the concept of liberty on to all they met and stow it in their hearts. Or maybe it was a prophetic statement about the need to hide the bell from enemy hands (as actually happened in 1777, when the British captured Philadelphia and the Liberty Bell was hidden in Bethlehem, PA, just a half-hour from our friend Ben and Silence’s home, Hawk’s Haven, for safekeeping). But our blog historian Richard Saunders quickly quashed my theorizing by pointing out that the comment that had gotten me so excited was actually nothing more than the surnames of John Pass and John Stow, the men who’d recast the bell after it cracked. Well, rats. I liked my version better.

But let’s get back to those pennies. And a number of coincidences surrounding them. First, when Pass and Stow recast the cracked Liberty Bell, they added copper—from which pennies were made—to the mix of metal alloy that had been used for the original bell. But when the new bell was tested, though the sides were strengthened, the sound was off. So Pass and Stow cast the bell for a third time without the copper. This time, the sound was restored. But eventually, the bell cracked again and was permanently retired from use.

Next, near Independence Hall is Christ Church graveyard, where, among many other notables, our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, is buried. So of course we went to pay our respects. Ben’s gravestone is a simple flat rectangle, with his choice of plain inscription, “Benjamin and Deborah Franklin 1790” inscribed on the covering slab. Family relatives, including his daughter Sally Bache and her husband Richard, are buried around Ben and his wife, with equally restrained inscriptions. The sole exception is the stone of Ben’s beloved son, Frankie, who died of smallpox at age 4 1/2. For his gravestone, the heartbroken Ben had “Beloved of all who knew him” inscribed along with the basic information.

This all sounds very somber and sad, hardly a fitting tribute to the lively, laughing, larger-than-life Ben Franklin we all know and love. But of course you can’t keep a good man down. From Ben’s death in 1790, people have been leaving pennies on the grave of the man who famously wrote “A penny saved is a penny earned” to bring themselves good luck. The tradition continues to this day, with allowances, as our friend Ben discovered, for inflation.

Our friend Ben left the traditional penny, but noted that, among the sea of change scattered across the grave, plenty of nickels, dimes, and quarters also figured prominently. (You’d have thought people would have saved the nickels for Jefferson’s grave and the quarters for Washington’s.) Our friend Ben assumes the curators of the graveyard collect the change each night and contribute it to the site’s upkeep or donate it to the homeless.

Continuing the penny theme, our friend Ben and Richard Saunders are both avid coin collectors, aka numismatists, and when we saw that the Philadelphia Mint—America’s first—was just a block away, we dragged the reluctant and complaining (“That building is hideous!”) Silence and Bridget along in hope of a tour.

Turns out, the ladies had it right. Far from the guided tour, the trip into a museum of priceless historical coins, the endless opportunities to buy vintage proof and circulation sets of coins that OFB and Richard envisioned (we’d actually both been waiting for the 2010 silver proof coinage set to become available and were hoping to get a jump on them at the Mint so we didn’t have to pay for postage), it was basically a self-guided rush through a factory operation.

You looked down through glass windows at machines moving blanks (the circular blank disks from which coins are made) and coins along to be bagged and shipped. Wall displays showed plaster replicas of coins and medals rather than the real things. Our friend Ben thought Silence summed it up best when she said, “They didn’t even give out free samples!”  But the coins being made and moved along the conveyor belts when we happened to be there were shiny copper-clad pennies, continuing our penny theme.

Finally, the four of us left the Mint and took a stroll around Independence Hall and the buildings surrounding it, soaking up the history along with the heat and humidity. Along with the priceless view of a statue of old Ben Franlin, clad in a toga with a chubby calf bare for the world’s inspection, on the library building (Ben founded America’s first lending library), we saw the First  and Second Bank of America.

The First Bank was notable because it was founded by one of our other favorite Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton. The Second Bank was notable for its elegant Classical Greek Doric architecture. It was a gorgeous building, designed, it turned out, by William Strickland, who also designed the Tennessee State Capitol in our friend Ben’s and Silence’s hometown, Nashville.

So, you have pennies on Ben Franklin’s grave, pennies being made in the Philadelphia Mint, the copper used in pennies being added to the Liberty Bell, and the bank, the ultimate repository for pennies, being founded by Alexander Hamilton. In a final and fitting link, the Liberty Bell was rung on Hamilton’s death (after an ill-fated duel with the notorious Aaron Burr) in 1804. It was only rung seven times in the 19th century—including on the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on July 4, 1826, on George Washington’s 100th birthday celebration in 1832, and on the Marquis de Lafayette’s death in 1834—before being retired.

What goes around comes around. Our friend Ben encourages you to visit the historic Independence Hall area if you find yourself in Philadelphia. We hope to return and tour Independence Hall and some of the other historic buildings this fall, when there will be less traffic and fewer crowds. If you’re American and love early American history, it’s a must-see.

Know your (Bill of) Rights. July 4, 2010

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 with a short refresher course on the Bill of Rights and some fun facts about the Constitution. Brushing up on our basic rights as Americans seems fitting on Independence Day, and of course, I can never resist some good history trivia!

Let’s start with the Bill of Rights, which is comprised of the first ten Amendments to the Constitution. How many of them do you remember? If your record isn’t too good, it may be because you’re trying to recall the actual wording of each Amendment or all the component parts. They’re a lot easier when you use Poor Richard’s E-Z Version instead! Hopefully, you’ll never have any of these rights infringed. But it’s useful to know them just in case. Let’s take a look:

Amendment I. Prohibits establishment of a state religion, and assures Americans of five fundamental freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of (peaceable) assembly, and freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Whew! That one’s the biggie.

Amendment II. The right to keep and bear arms. 

Despite all the hoopla over the Second Amendment, as the Supreme Court recently confirmed, there’s really no ambiguity on this one at all. That’s because, when the Amendment was written, most families needed firearms to survive: to hunt for meat; to protect yourself, your family, and your property from wild animals, thieves and desperadoes, and various warring factions; to slaughter your livestock. Unless you lived in a city, life without a gun was a death sentence, and the Founders—as well as everyone alive at the time—knew that. This Amendment reassured the citizenry that a tyrannical government was not about to deprive them of their means of livelihood and defense.

Having said that, just because that situation existed back in the day doesn’t mean it exists now, or justifies the sale of semiautomatic weapons or other weapons of war to those outside the military and police force. It’s always an option for Congress to propose and pass another Amendment restricting the sale of ouzis, machine guns and the like!

Amendment III. No turning of private homes into free bed and board for soldiers without the homeowner’s consent, unless in time of war, and then only as prescribed by law.

This one probably seems far-fetched, but remember, the newborn America had just endured just that at the hands of the British.

Amendment IV. Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. 

As timely now as when it was written.

Amendment V. Right to trial by Grand Jury for capital offenses; right not to witness against one’s self; right not to be put at jeopardy of life or limb twice for the same offense; right to due process; right to just compensation for property taken for public use.

It’s that right not to have to witness against one’s self part that people mean when they talk about “taking the Fifth.” Thing is, we seem to have come to believe that a person can’t be tried twice for the same offense, when the Amendment clearly states that the only limitation is that a person can’t be “put at jeopardy of life or limb” twice for the same offense. Seems to me that leaves the door open to throw the bastards into jail if evidence comes to light later that proves they’re guilty.

Amendment VI. Right to a fast, fair, public trial by jury.

‘Nuff said.

Amendment VII. Right of suits over $20 to be tried by jury and not subsequently reexamined by a different court.

Twenty dollars was probably close to a year’s wages for an unskilled laborer in 1791, the time this Amendment was set into law. Thank goodness today’s legal fees prevent most people from taking their $20 grievances to court!

Amendment VIII. Freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, including excessive bail and fines.

Clearly the excesses of the Inquisition and the persecution and torture of Protestants, Catholics, Freemasons, Jews, and pretty much any powerless group by Henry VIII, his daughter, Bloody Mary, Oliver Cromwell and his Roundheads, not to mention the torment of Protestant sects in much of Europe at the time of the Reformation, weighed heavily on the Founding Fathers. Many of the Colonies had been founded as refuges from religious persecution, though some notoriously imposed it themselves, as in the case of the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Nonetheless, in this case, the Founders wisely kept the good and forbade the bad. Every American has the right to live free of the fear of government-imposed torture.

Amendment IX. Just because a right isn’t mentioned in the Constitution or Bill of Rights doesn’t mean it isn’t a right.

To me, this is THE most important of all the rights in the Bill of Rights. The Founders never intended the Constitution and Bill of Rights to define the rights of the people, to say that anything not specifically mentioned wasn’t a right. Instead, they wanted to spell out a group of basic rights they felt were threatened in their time (by the British or for whatever reason), and to guarantee those rights in writing. But they had no intention of limiting Americans’ rights to a few set out in a document, and they made that very clear in the Ninth Amendment. The exact wording is: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Keep it in mind.

Amendment X. Any rights not specifically granted to the central government by the Constitution shall be retained by the respective States and/or by the people.

This one was intended to limit the power of “big government.” The battle over strong central government versus States’ Rights is as old as America. It pitted the likes of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and John Jay (big government guys) against James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry (States’ Righters). The debate sparked the Civil War and continues to this day. Too bad our hero and blog mentor, the great Ben Franklin, wasn’t able to contribute his words of wisdom to this issue! But, though he was around to sign the Constitution itself, he died in 1790, a year before the Bill of Rights was added.

Okay, everybody got their rights down now? Then let’s move on to some Constitutional trivia.

* At the time the Constitution was written the U.S. population was 4 million. Philadelphia, the Nation’s capital, was its largest city, with a population of 40,000.

* Constitution Day commemorates the signing of the Constitution into law on September 17, 1787.

* It took exactly 100 days to write the Constitution.

* James Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution, but it was that marvelous but overlooked Founding Father, Gouverneur Morris, who actually wrote it. Madison would be more fairly credited as the Founder who gave us the Bill of Rights, which is arguably the more important of the two documents.

* The word “democracy” never appears in the Constitution. The Founders considered themselves to be founding a Republic such as the Romans had before the Caesars and the Roman Empire.

* The Constitutional Convention, where the Constitution was developed, written, and signed, took place at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia. This was also the site where the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776.

* One now-humorous issue that arose during the Constitutional Convention was how to address the President. John Adams proposed “His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of Their Liberties.” The outraged Congress and appalled George Washington insisted on a simple “President of the United States” instead. But political foes of the short, fat Adams referred to him from that day forward as “His Rotundity.”

Finally, in honor of this day that commemorates the cry for freedom that created America, let me quote the portion of the Declaration of Independence that explains the Founders’ vision of the purpose of government. It is as far removed from today’s massive, impersonal government, with its professional politicians and complete disregard for citizens’ input and approval, as it is possible to be.

Most of us know the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What you may not know is that the Founders envisioned government as being established for the sole reason of establishing these three essentials for its citizens.

Today, when we look at a cancerous, massive body of indebted and thus inherently (even if unintentionally) corrupt professional politicians who serve the interests of corporations at the cost of our health, our planet, and our freedoms, folks who could not give less of a damn about anyone’s individual freedom save their own, it is virtually impossible to believe that the Founders could really have held this vision for us all. Yet they did. Let us read again the moving words through which they conveyed their vision for America the Free:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Oh, wow. A government designed solely to ensure the life (safety), liberty, and happiness of its citizens, and otherwise to get out of people’s way? Surely that is, indeed, the American Dream.

Have a wonderful Fourth!



The greatest of them all. August 27, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to ask who was the greatest Founding Father of them all. I was thinking about this in the wake of Senator Ted Kennedy’s death, contemplating the Kennedy dynasty in all their idealistic greatness and with all their human failings. This led me to wonder which of the Founding Fathers was the most moral of them all?

Sadly, my good friend Google couldn’t give me an answer to this question, but it did give me a list of the seven Founders who were considered greatest of all: Benjamin Franklin (our hero and blog mentor here at Poor Richard’s Almanac), George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Adams, and John Jay.

Ahem. I myself believe the triumvirate of Founders who actually effected the Revolution were George Washington, who led the fight and whose towering, regal figure became a rallying point; Ben Franklin, who negotiated support from the French at the critical moment and despite overwhelming odds against his success, and whose wit and wisdom were ever at the service of his country and helped to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution pass into law; and Thomas Paine, the disreputable Brit who had the common touch and won the common people in the Colonies to the cause of Revolution through his inspired writings, which explained the point of rebelling in terms any blacksmith or shoemaker could understand and support. (“These are the times that try men’s souls… “)

The absence of the disreputable Paine from that list of seven disturbs me. The absence of the early firebrands, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, and Paul Revere, those men who touched off the Revolution but never served in the federal government they brought into being, disturbs me. The absence of great patriots like George Mason and Gouverneur Morris disturbs me.

But one thing encourages me. The historian who compiled that list gave Benjamin Franklin pride of place. Not George Washington, the acknowledged first among equals, the universally recognized peerless one, the uncrowned king, in his day. He comes second on the list. Ben comes first.

Getting back to my original question, which Founding Father was the most moral, Washington certainly deserves a top two vote. Though he married for convenience rather than love and spent his entire life passionately pining for his best friend’s wife, he enjoyed a faithful and happy marriage to Martha, his partner in all things. But what gives him the high vote as far as morality is concerned was not just his lifelong attempts to live up to the highest possible moral standards, which he set for himself at an early age and strived to measure up to all his life, but what many consider his crowning achievement: walking away from an American kingship or, at the very least, an appointment as President-for-Life. By doing so, by retiring to Mount Vernon after two terms as President, Washington not only stunned his contemporaries and won the amazed admiration of monarchs and statesmen across the globe, including King George III; he set a precedent for politics in America that has endured to this day.

Okay, what of Ben? Much as I admire General Washington, I actually think that Benjamin Franklin deserves the title of most moral Founder. Why? Contemporaries like John Adams loved to portray Ben as a wastrel and womanizer, revelling in costly luxuries (this last was actually true of Thomas Jefferson, not Ben). Old Ben certainly knew how to flirt with the ladies, but there is not one shred of evidence that he carried his witticisms into the bedroom. And his good sense and love of frugality and good old American ingenuity have been preserved for all times in Poor Richard’s Almanack, his autobiography, and other writings. While Thomas Jefferson drove his family into poverty and debt through his extravagance—they were forced to sell Monticello and everything in it in an attempt to pay off his debts—Ben Franklin (and George Washington, for that matter) quietly established comfortable, sustainable fortunes for their own families, not to mention freeing their slaves, unlike Jefferson, whose slaves were ruthlessly sold off during his life and after his death.

But Ben went further, laying the groundwork for what we have come to know as American democracy. It was Ben who established communal societies that would benefit all citizens, from the lending library to the hospital, university, and firehouse. It was Ben who truly understood the saying “one for all, and all for one.” It was Ben who uttered the indelible, defining comment on independence, “Gentlemen, we must all hang together in this, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” It was Ben who founded the first Abolitionist society. It was Ben who stressed religious tolerance and respect for all religions to the extent that leaders of every faith in Philadelphia, including a rabbi, marched in his funeral procession. It was Ben who, finally, understood that there could be no independence without interdependence, that we were all in this together. It was he who recognized the need for a “Band of Brothers,” a band that stretched from sea to shining sea. It was he who first defined the concept that the more one had, the more one owed one’s fellow man.

Who was the most moral of the Founding Fathers? For my money, it was Benjamin Franklin. Who was the greatest of the Founding Fathers? Without question, it was Benjamin Franklin. Scientist, statesman, genius, writer, adventurer, wise man, composer, prophet, inventor, friend, fellow man: Ben was all that, and so much more. His entire life was one long effort to better society for everyone who would come after, and thanks to his efforts, he succeeded in establishing a foundation, in the truest sense, “of liberty and justice for all.” Second without question is George Washington, revered above all in his day and for a century thereafter, and justifiably so. Without Washington, there would be no America. But without Ben Franklin, there would be no reason for America. No wonder he ranked first in the list.

In the spirit of frugality. July 5, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, homesteading, pets, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I decided to spend the Fourth of July doing something that definitely doesn’t come naturally to me: I challenged myself to get through the entire day (and night) without spending any money. I felt that this would be a good way to honor the spirit of such great Founding Fathers as Ben Franklin, the champion of frugality, and George Washington, who eliminated wasteful practices at Mount Vernon so that he could free his slaves at his death, knowing that his family was well provided for and his beloved Mount Vernon could thrive without slave labor. Not to mention all the Founding Mothers for whom frugality was a way of life: Abigail Adams especially springs to mind, as of course does Sally Hemings.

Not spending money is pretty easy if you stay at home and don’t go on tempting sites like Amazon. Not so much if, like us, you have out-of-town relatives staying with you and are determined to show them the sights. First, we went to the Kutztown Farmers’ Market. You know how much I love fresh produce, and there were homegrown sweet cherries and black raspberries—my two favorite fruits—plus peaches, plums, and cantaloupes (all close seconds) screaming “take me, take me!” Thank God I’d already bought blueberries at a farm stand on Friday. There were also gorgeous summer squash, green and yellow wax beans, plump mushrooms, vine-ripened tomatoes, ears of corn, and pickling cukes, all screaming my name. But I’d either bought most of the above at a farm stand or picked it up at my CSA yesterday, so I figured I could eat what I had at home and buy what I was craving the following week.

Rule #1: Delayed gratification really can work wonders: Don’t tell yourself you can’t have [fill-in-the-blank], tell yourself you’ll get it later.

The artisanal breads and homemade Middle Eastern treats like baba ghannouj and hummus were more challenging to resist, but I reminded myself that there’s another farmers’ market in another nearby town tomorrow, and if I really can’t stand it, I can always go over there. Hopefully, come tomorrow, I’ll remember that any bread, no matter how fabulous, supplies calories I don’t need, and there are no Middle Eastern food stands at this particular market. (And hey, didn’t I just read a great recipe for homemade white-bean hummus on Delish.com yesterday morning? I just happen to have a can of cannelini beans in the pantry.)

Rule #2: When it’s something you love, don’t usually make, and that sells for premium prices, check the calorie count, then get on the scale. Maybe you can get some when you’ve lost 5 (or 500) pounds.

It was also hard to resist some handmade  sweet potato-blueberry-apple treats for our puppy Shiloh, but I firmly told the dog-stand owner that Shiloh still had other treats and I wanted to make sure her treats were fresh, so I’d keep these in mind when the others ran out. Whew.

Rule #3: Encouraging local business is important. Never say never. Say soon, and mean it.

Sadly, my non-spending ordeal was far from over, since we then took our guest to Cabela’s in nearby Hamburg, PA, knowing he would love it. While our friend Ben and Dick bought shorts on sale, I was checking out my favorite sections of the store: What I call the “survivalist section,” full of ingenious camping and wilderness survival stuff and packable emergency first-aid supplies, and the cooking section, with so many incredible barbecue sauces, spice mixes, rubs, marinades, and the like, not to mention all kinds of fabulous cooking supplies and cast-iron pots and pans, that it’s enough to make a good cook cry. At least, it’s enough to make you cry if you walk out without so much as a bottle of Jim Beam bourbon whiskey barbecue sauce.

In both these cases, I had to take a very hard stand. I reminded myself that OFB and I were already branded as survivalists as well as Luddites by several of our friends because of my pack-rat tendencies to stock up on emergency supplies. All of which is a hifalutin way of saying that, since I already have all this stuff, can’t I at least refrain from buying even more of it?!! Not to mention that I, Silence Dogood, personally own the largest collection of spices, condiments, and sauces on the East Coast  (professional restaurants excepted). Maybe I can’t buy that Jim Beam barbecue sauce. But I can certainly make a darn good approximation from what I already have on hand!

Rule #4: Repeat after me: If you have it or can make it, you don’t need it.

But what about sparklers? Our friend Ben and I sometimes think that our particular part of Pennsylvania is the sparkler and fireworks capital of the U.S. We could have picked up three packs of sparklers from bazillion local stands for $6, or bought one and gotten one free. We love sparklers and fireworks. But we didn’t buy any, because we already have free sparklers in our backyard in the form of fireflies/lightning bugs, and because we know we’ll be treated to free fireworks tonight when our down-the-road neighbor hosts a professional-quality show that we can see from the comfort of our own lawn chairs.

Rule #5: Borrowed is best, if it’s good and free.   

Did I make it through the day without spending any money? Unfortunately, no. Our friend Ben insisted that I get a second gel pack to stash in the freezer and alternate with our original at night around my foot and ankle, still an appalling two times their normal size almost two weeks after they first puffed up and became excruciatingly painful. By now I’m concerned enough to spring for a $5.99 gel pack. But on the plus side, I found a dime in the parking lot on my way back to the car. A penny saved is a penny earned and all that, right?

Hey. I’m working on it!

Rule #6: When you’re doing the best you can, it’s good enough. End of story.

          ‘Til next time,