When will ignorant Americans tear down statues of Ben Franklin? When will they finally take to the streets and burn their $100 bills just to erase his picture from the history books?
And when will emotion-fueled zealots stand up and call the man a hypocrite?
We ask these questions not to stir a fight (well, maybe a small one) but to open the door to a much more worthy and useful discussion.
You see, as we continue on our journey to explore all 13 of Franklin’s famed virtues, we can’t help but stir a bit of controversy as we explore the eighth virtue… justice.
This one gets a bit crazy.
Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
When most folks these days think of justice, they immediately think of a courtroom or the act of hanging some barbarous murderer in the town’s square.
While that’s part of what Franklin meant here, pushing men to take the law into their own hands is hardly the Founding Father’s intent.
No. To get to that, we have to know the man a bit deeper. We have to get back to those oh-so-jagged questions from the top.
The Truth Comes Out
It’s no secret that Ben Franklin was a slave owner. We even know the names of the folks he owned: Peter, Jemima, Othello, George, John and King.
They were part of his net worth for more than 45 years.
Franklin also participated in the slave trade by publishing advertisements for slaves in his prized Pennsylvania Gazette. And when one would escape, he’d print a notice of that, too.
But even during the prime of last year’s statue-removal boom (by the way, where’d all those so-called activists get to?), nobody was calling for Franklin’s head.
We blame ignorance. But we also say Franklin’s love of justice had something to do with it.
After all, Franklin didn’t die a slave owner.
In fact, in 1787 the man became the president of the Abolition Society. And less than 90 days before his death, he took to Congress to bring a nationwide end to slavery.
He was passionate about the idea.
For him, it was all about justice.
Righting the Wrong
You see, Franklin’s definition of justice had very little to do with the law. As he says in the line quoted above, “Wrong none by doing injuries.”
Clearly… slavery injured a whole lot of folks.
The man spent his final days working to right his wrongs. And that’s what we believe is the real lesson here.
Franklin could have quietly freed his slaves and moved on. It certainly would have been easier and far less controversial.
We reckon that’s the path that most folks took. And we reckon, too, that they would have thought justice was served. The injured, they’d say, had been set free.
But not Franklin.
His virtue continues “… or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
A man has a duty, he believed, to not only do what’s right… but to make what’s right known to the world.
Given the context of the man’s career, it makes sense. As a newspaper publisher, he made choices every day about what to leave in and what to leave out. It would have been easy to omit a line or two of praise… especially about the opposing side.
Just pick up a rag of record today or turn on the TV to see what we mean.
But justice requires a different tactic.
Justice in Action
Our research makes it clear that Franklin feared apathy just as much as we hate it. And justice is the moral opposite of apathy.
We beg readers to look around.
Stick your hand over your brow and search for the many, many ways our culture has grown apathetic. Oh sure, folks take to Facebook to gripe about the social injustice of the day… but do they really expect change?
We certainly haven’t seen it.
No, the sort of action we’re talking about requires true motion, not just some feel-good tripe tapped out on a keyboard.
We moan about politicians. But who among us has put their name on the ballot?
We moan about our schools. But who among us has saddled up beside our kids to teach them a lesson or two?
And we moan about the death of the great American culture. But who among us has dared to do anything about it?
Going back to Franklin’s words, we may be causing no injury… but we sure aren’t doing our duty to stand up for what’s right.
It’s what led Franklin to work in hospitals… to start volunteer firefighting units… and to refuse to patent his inventions (it wouldn’t do justice to others who could use them).
He took action.
Justice, we’ve long found, is a complex recipe.
It’s not for a small subset of our population to maintain, as is the modern belief. Oh no… that’d be trouble.
If we want true justice, all of us must work to bring it to life.
Aim for it and we guarantee you’ll live a better, happier and more successful life.