This post is the fourth in a series of five posts that presents Benjamin Franklin as a person who epitomizes the power of the Philosophy for LYF and the LRN LAF LUV LIV deeds of goodness. The previous posts introduced Benjamin Franklin and his pursuit of goodness and provided examples of Franklin and LRN and Franklin and LAF.
This post shares illustrations of Benjamin Franklin living the LUV deed of goodness by valuing the goodness in himself and nurturing the goodness in others.
Healthy eating and drinking to value himself
The first virtue and associated precept in Franklin's "plan for attaining moral perfection" is:
Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
In London he was nicknamed "Water-American" because he did not drink beer at work. He did not like the negative effects of this drink on the mind and body (and pocketbook). He wrote in his autobiography:
My companion at the press drank every day a pint before breakfast, a pint at breakfast with his bread and cheese, a pint between breakfast and dinner, a pint at dinner, a pint in the afternoon about six o'clock, and another when he had done his day's work. I thought it a detestable custom; but it was necessary, he suppos'd, to drink strong beer, that he might be strong to labour. I endeavoured to convince him that the bodily strength afforded by beer could only be in proportion to the grain or flour of the barley dissolved in the water of which it was made; that there was more flour in a pennyworth of bread; and therefore, if he would eat that with a pint of water, it would give him more strength than a quart of beer. He drank on, however, and had four or five shillings to pay out of his wages every Saturday night for that muddling liquor; an expense I was free from. And thus these poor devils keep themselves always under.
Franklin also noted in his autobiography that around age 16 he tried a vegetable-only diet advocated in a book by Thomas Tryon. He later reverted to eating meat, but in moderation.
As an aside, Franklin wrote in witty way how he returned to eating meat:
I believe I have omitted mentioning that, in my first voyage from Boston, being becalm'd off Block Island, our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food, and on this occasion I consider'd, with my master Tryon, the taking every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had, or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and, when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanc'd some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, "If you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you." So I din'd upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.
Physical exercise to value himself
The drawings we see of Benjamin Franklin, including his portrait on the one hundred dollar bill, were from his later years, and they do not show the athletic build that he likely had. He believed physical exercise was important to a healthy body, and he was physically active most of his life.
He enjoyed swimming from a young age. He looked at it as exercise and studied Melchisédech Thévenot's The Art of Swimming.
He looked at presswork in a printer shop as a form of exercise. He took a press job at a printing house in London because "I felt a want of the bodily exercise I had been us'd to in America, where presswork is mix'd with composing. I drank only water; the other workmen, near fifty in number, were great guzzlers of beer. On occasion, I carried up and down stairs a large form of types in each hand, when others carried but one in both hands. They wondered to see, from this and several instances, that the Water-American, as they called me, was stronger than themselves, who drank strong beer!"
His letters indicate that he enjoyed walking and being outdoors, whether in the countryside, in city streets, or on the deck of ships.
Franklin wrote a letter to his son William in 1772 about the importance of exercise.
The resolution you have taken to use more exercise is extremely proper, and I hope you will steadily perform it. It is of the greatest importance to prevent diseases; since the cure of them by physic is so very precarious. In considering the different kinds of exercise, I have thought that the quantum of each is to be judged of, not by time or by distance, but by the degree of warmth it produces in the body...there is more exercise in one mile’s riding on horseback, than in five in a coach; and more in one mile’s walking on foot, than in five on horseback; to which I may add, that there is more in walking one mile up and down stairs, than in five on a level floor. The two latter exercises may be had within doors, when the weather discourages going abroad; and the last may be had when one is pinched for time, as containing a great quantity of exercise in a handful of minutes. The dumb bell is another exercise of the latter compendious kind; by the use of it I have in forty swings quickened my pulse from 60 to 100 beats in a minute, counted by a second watch: And I suppose the warmth generally increases with quickness of pulse.
Even in his last years, Franklin exercised daily. In a 1787 letter to a friend he wrote, "I live temperately, drink no Wine, and use daily the Exercise of the Dumb Bell."
In addition to his physical exercise and temperate eating and drinking, he was never known to snuff, chew, or smoke tobacco.
Fiscal responsibility to value himself
Franklin wrote of his frugality in his autobiography multiple times. It was the fifth of his thirteen virtues:
Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
As a teenager Franklin asked his brother for half of the food money paid to a landlord and found he could feed himself with half of that and pocket the rest. His wife was similar to him in this regard, and he noted "it was lucky for me that I had one as much dispos'd to industry and frugality as myself. She assisted me chearfully in my business, folding and stitching pamphlets, tending shop, purchasing old linen rags for the paper-makers, etc., etc. We kept no idle servants, our table was plain and simple, our furniture of the cheapest."
Franklin detailed some reasons for his frugality in his early married years:
Reading was the only amusement I allow'd myself. I spent no time in taverns, games, or frolicks of any kind; and my industry in my business continu'd as indefatigable as it was necessary. I was indebted for my printing-house; I had a young family coming on to be educated, and I had to contend with for business two printers, who were established in the place before me. My circumstances, however, grew daily easier. My original habits of frugality continuing, and my father having, among his instructions to me when a boy, frequently repeated a proverb of Solomon, "Seest thou a man diligent in his calling, he shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men," I from thence considered industry as a means of obtaining wealth and distinction, which encourag'd me, tho' I did not think that I should ever literally stand before kings, which, however, has since happened; for I have stood before five, and even had the honor of sitting down with one, the King of Denmark, to dinner.
He lived this way for much of his life, reducing the burden and stress that are caused by debt and poor spending habits. In fact, he mentioned one of the first great errors of his life was spending money he had been asked to hold for one of his brother's friends. It caused him daily apprehension, waiting for the friend to ask for the money back when he did not have it to give.
Franklin's editions of Poor Richard's Almanack are filled with sayings related to frugality and saving money, such as these:
Beware of little expenses, a small leak will sink a great ship.
For Age and Want save while you may; No morning Sun lasts a whole day.
If you know how to spend less than you get, you have the philosopher's stone.
Spare and have is better than spend and crave.
It should be noted that Franklin himself was not devoted to amassing huge wealth and being greedy. As biographer Gordon Wood noted, Benjamin Franklin "was in fact the most benevolent and philanthropic of the Founders and in some respects the least concerned with the getting of money." Franklin wrote to his mother in 1750 that of himself "I would rather have it said, He lived usefully, than, He died rich."
Purpose to value himself
Franklin believed in being "industrious", the sixth on his list of virtues:
Industry. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
Being industrious gave him a purpose and a way to make a positive difference in this world. For the first third of his adult life, it was his trade as a printer that gave him purpose. When he retired at age 42, he spent the next 42 years of his life with purpose as he focused on public service, scientific experimentation, and inventions.
Self-improvement to value himself
The many examples provided in Benjamin Franklin and LRN show Franklin believed he was capable of improving himself and that it was worth doing. He believed he mattered, he had value, and that he could make a positive difference in this world. The more he improved the goodness in himself, the more he was able to value the goodness in himself.
Creating institutions to nurture others
As also noted in Benjamin Franklin and LRN, Franklin did many deeds to empower others, including starting a school, library, and clubs. His actions increased the knowledge, wisdom, and skills of the public so that they could improve themselves. These empowerments taught people how to fish.
He also gave fish when support and safety were of most importance. While he clearly was a believer in an individual's responsibility to work hard and be frugal, he knew that people needed support at times. And he felt it was a civic responsibility.
He, along with Dr. Thomas Bond, founded the Pennsylvania Hospital in 1751, the first public hospital in the colonies. The hospital seal was inscribed with the words "Take care of him and I will repay thee." It was conceived by Dr. Bond to take care of the sick poor free of charge. Benjamin Franklin provided half of the original capital to fund the hospital. Franklin also successfully proposed the first time a matching grant was used combining public money and private donations.
Franklin also co-founded the Union Fire Company, the first formally organized all volunteer fire company in the colonies. Unlike the Mutual Fire Societies in Boston which only protected its members, the Union Fire Company protected the entire community.
Giving funds to nurture others
Franklin also gave money to various individuals and institutions that nurtured others. He provided funds to help John Bartram as a botanist. Although he was not a churchgoer and did not belong to any religious sect, he gave money to any denomination that sought his aid, including Christ Church and Congregation Mikveh Israel: "my mite for such purpose, whatever might be the sect, was never refused." He contributed funds toward a home for orphans in Georgia and the relief of the sufferers in a large fire in Boston.
In his will Franklin left money to the city of Boston (where he was born and raised) and the city of Philadelphia (where he lived most of his adult life and died). Both bequests were held in trust to be used as loans for young apprentices.
Promoting abolition of slavery to nurture others
Respectfulness is the supporting core value for LUV. In order to fully nurture others and love others, you must be respectful to others.
Having slaves or condoning slavery do not support the core value of respectfulness. And Benjamin Franklin did own slaves between 1735 until 1781. His newspaper advertised the sale of slaves and frequently published notices of runaways.
His views on slavery and blacks began to change after 1758. After visiting a school for black children in Philadelphia in 1763, he wrote in a letter that he had changed his opinion and saw blacks "in every Respect equal to that of white Children." He slowly began to address his prejudice and work toward abolishing slavery.
In 1787 Franklin became President of the Philadelphia Society for the Relief of Free Negros Unlawfully Held in Bondage, an abolition society that had started in 1774. It was the first abolition society in America, inspiring the formation of abolitionist societies in other American colonies, and was also concerned with education, moral instruction, and employment of blacks. He served as president until the end of his life in 1790.
In 1789 Franklin wrote, "Slavery is such an atrocious debasement of human nature, that its very extirpation, if not performed with solicitous care, may sometimes open a source of serious evils...Attention to emancipated black people, it is therefore to be hoped, will become a branch of our national policy."
Less than three months before his death, Franklin petitioned both houses of the United States Congress to end slavery.
That mankind are all formed by the same Almighty Being, alike objects of his Care, and equally designed for the Enjoyment of Happiness the Christian Religion teaches us to believe, and the Political Creed of America fully coincides with the Position...many important and salutary Powers are vested in you for “promoting the Welfare and securing the blessings of liberty to the People of the United States”, and as they conceive, that these blessings ought rightfully to be administered, without distinction of Color, to all descriptions of People, so they indulge themselves in the pleasing expectation that nothing which can be done for the relief of the unhappy objects of their care will be either omitted or delayed.
From a persuasion that equal liberty was originally the Portion, and is still the Birthright of all Men...they earnestly entreat your serious attention to the subject of Slavery; that you will be pleased to countenance the Restoration of liberty to those unhappy Men, who alone in this land of Freedom are degraded into perpetual Bondage, and who amidst the general Joy of Surrounding Free men are groaning in servile Subjection, that you will devise means for removing this Inconsistency from the Character of the American People, that you will promote Mercy and Justice towards the distressed Race, and that you will step to the very verge of the Powers vested in you, for discouraging every Species of Traffick in the Persons of our fellow Men.
Benjamin Franklin showed LUV in many ways, both inward toward self and outward toward others.
Next: Benjamin Franklin and LIV.