On the freedom of the press

On the Freedom of the Press
Benjamin Franklin 

While free from Force the Press remains,
Virtue and Freedom chear our Plains,
And Learning Largesses bestows,
And keeps unlicens’d open House.
We to the Nation’s publick Mart
Our Works of Wit, and Schemes of Art,
And philosophic Goods, this Way,
Like Water carriage, cheap convey.
This Tree which Knowledge so affords,
Inquisitors with flaming Swords
From Lay-Approach with Zeal defend,
Lest their own Paradise should end.

The Press from her fecundous Womb
Brought forth the Arts of Greece and Rome;
Her Offspring, skill’d in Logic War,
Truth’s Banner wav’d in open Air;
The Monster Superstition fled,
And hid in Shades her Gorgon Head;
And lawless Pow’r, the long kept Field,
By Reason quell’d, was forc’d to yield.

This Nurse of Arts, and Freedom’s Fence,
To chain, is Treason against Sense:
And Liberty, thy thousand Tongues
None silence who design no Wrongs;
For those that use the Gag’s Restraint,
First rob, before they stop Complaint.

About the author

Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston on January 17, 1706. He is best known for his scientific and political efforts, but he was also an accomplished writer and poet. His literary reputation began with articles he published in the New England Courant under the pseudonym “Silence Dogood.” He created the Philadelphia Gazette in 1730 as a place to share for his writing.

In 1732 Franklin began publishing Poor Richard’s Almanac, an annual pamphlet offering advice, information, and occasional poetry. He went on to write several books and pamphlets, including Experiments and Observations on Electricity (Philadelphia, 1751). He was a pioneering scientist and an accomplished inventor. His inventions included swim fins, musical instruments, the Franklin stove, lightning rods, modern street lamps, bifocal eyeglasses, odometers design for the Postal Service, and medical devices such as the flexible catheter.

Franklin was a pivotal figure in securing American independence. He was critically important in obtaining support for the American side of the war from King Louis XVI of France, and was largely responsible for his signing the important military alliance of 1778.   Franklin also negotiated the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War (1775-83). When war began and the Declaration of Independence was signed, it was important to create good relationships with European powers. After Benjamin Franklin was appointed minister to France in 1778, John Jay was appointed minister to Spain in 1779 and John Adams to Holland in 1780.

Admired by the French for his experiments with electricity, inventions and for his charming personality, Franklin was a natural choice as ambassador, even though he was not fluent in French.  He was the first official diplomat and ambassador to the 13 colonies. His presence in Paris annoyed the British government. Between 1778 and 1782, France kept providing the Continental Army with arms, ammunition, troops, uniforms and naval support. His goal was to maintain good relationship with the French government to keep their support in the war against Britain. There is no doubt that without French financial and military aid, America could not have succeeded in its war for independence. Franklin lived in the suburb of Passy, just outside Paris, and frequented the rich and the politically connected who bankrolled the revolution. I have read that he got 70% of the troops, 85% of the money, 95% of the gunpowder, 95% of the naval power and, of course, full recognition of the US as a sovereign nation from France. While Franklin was there, France, Spain and Portugal declared war on Britain and started engaging in hostilities.

During the American Revolution, Franklin served in the Second Continental Congress and helped draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776. In 1787, in his final big act of public service, he was a delegate to the convention that produced the U.S. Constitution.

Ben Franklin does not appear in Hamilton – The Musical. Supposedly, he was in an early draft of the show. The action cut to a scene in France where Franklin and Adams worked their different styles of diplomacy. When asked why he cut the scene, here’s what Lin-Manuel Miranda said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine:

“I just felt like, we can jump across the ocean once, for King George. I think if you jump across the ocean twice, it feels like you’re losing focus. The show is Hamilton. And I couldn’t really justify it, because Franklin and Hamilton, other than at the Constitutional Convention, didn’t really intersect that much.”

Franklin died on April 17, 1790.


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