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In This Together: Ben Franklin, youth, and the power of work
Nov 12, 2013 | 3757 views | 0 0 comments | 70 70 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Clipper Staff Writer

Perhaps if I hadn’t chanced to read them both in the same week, it wouldn’t have been so obvious.

My knowledge of 18th century America is somewhat limited to the efforts of the Founding Fathers, not the working class.

My knowledge of today’s youth is limited to those I happen to know personally, not the millions of other young Americans that fit the category.

But between a book and an article I read recently, I’m thinking there may be something of interest that needs a closer look.

First, the book:

In “The First American,” H.W. Brands outlines the story of Benjamin Franklin’s life and works.

Franklin’s discoveries, contributions, travels, friendships and opinions are touched on in the 700-plus-page tome.

The passage of interest in this case came from something he published when living abroad. 

Apparently in France after the Revolutionary War, there was considerable interest in moving to America and a considerable number of rumors as to what life would be like in the fledgling country.

Word spread that foreigners possessing talents and ingenuity could easily become rich because few in America had them, and that those outsiders who arrived with pedigrees would win the best offices because no Americans were “persons of family” either. They also seemed to think that someone would pay their transportation and give them land and the means to work it.

Franklin called these views “wild imaginations,” and warned those who traveled to America thinking the same would “surely find themselves disappointed.”

Here is how Franklin described America in “Information to those who would remove to America”:

“People do not inquire concerning a stranger, What is he? but, What can he do? If he has any useful art, he is welcome; and if he exercises it, and behaves well, he will be respected by all that know him; but a mere man of quality, who, on that account, wants to live upon the public, by some office or salary, will be despis’d and disregarded.” (Capitalizations edited for style).

“The husbandman is in honor here, and even the mechanic, because their employments are useful ...,” Franklin explained. “Most people cultivate their own lands, or follow some handicraft or merchandise; very few rich enough to live idly upon their rents or incomes ... 

“It is a rule establish’d in some of the states, that no office should be so profitable as to make it desirable ...

“Opinions of the Americans, one of them would think himself more oblig’d to a genealogist, who could prove for him that his ancestors and relations for ten generations had been ploughmen, smiths, carpenters, turners, weavers, tanners, or even shoemakers, and consequently that they were useful members of society; than if he could only prove that they were gentlemen, doing nothing of value, but living idly on the labour of others ...” 

Second, the article:

Associated Press writer Philip Elliot wrote of a recent study that found that 15 percent of youth in the 16- to 24-age range are neither employed nor attending school. That, he said, is 6 million young adults.

“Without those experiences,” he wrote, “they are less likely to command higher salaries and more likely to be an economic drain on their communities.”

What would Benjamin Franklin say?

Some say we need more government programs to get kids reinvested. Some say they’re not invested because of government programs.

But it may be closer to home.

Maybe it’s those allowances, those cars with gas, those phones, those revolving doors.  

Kudos to the 85 percent who do seek employment and education. Currently, there are 34 million of them.

They’re Americans and they are going to make America work.

I’ve met a few of them and I think Franklin would be impressed.

And to the others, I leave more of his words, written in 1782:

“If they are poor, they begin first as servants or journeymen; and if they are sober, industrious, and frugal, they soon become masters, establish themselves in business ...

“Industry and constant employment are great preservatives of the morals and virtue of a nation.”

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