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There is no reason to doubt Franklin's earnestness in the anti-slavery petition (he was much on record already opposing slavery)—in fact, in the very last month of his life, he wrote for a Pennsylvania newspaper a lively, slashing hoax ridiculing a speech by the very Southern congressman who had opposed the petition Franklin had signed.Ralph Ketcham Syracuse University Syracuse, NY Behind Benjamin Franklin's carefully wrought graven image there lurks, according to Jerry Weinberger, "a serious thinker who, though he wore a leather apron, philosophized not with a hammer but a joke." Weinberger's Franklin observes the world with disenchanted eyes, but with this difference: each man's closet nihilism is draped to suit his distinct private purposes.Nor was Franklin anything like the "political elitist and fixer" that Weinberger makes him out to be.
Turning to his sundry projects, this savvy man of affairs was well served by his clarity of mind.
In confronting any particular situation, condition, or impasse, he steered clear of the commonplaces and certitudes that were the stuff of ordinary discourse.
Ralph Lerner The University of Chicago Chicago, IL Jerry Weinberger has worked hard to pull off Franklin's mask, but in the process he has distorted Franklin's face almost beyond recognition.
Weinberger rightly finds Franklin full of sly, playful irony, but he erroneously imagines that behind the charming persona stands nothing but a coldly detached thinker and "above all else a political elitist and fixer and something of a cool opportunist," devoid of any belief in justice, convinced that the very distinction between virtue and vice is chimerical.
With their feet more solidly planted on earth, they might engage fruitfully with one another and with the world as it is.
He counseled that we ought neither to accept passively the cards we are dealt by accident or Providence, nor curse them, nor ignore them.These, he thought, were less shortcuts to truth than barriers to understanding and peaceful resolution.Just about any ringing abstract claim invites its equally assertive counterclaim.The colonists' claim of rights elicited the Parliament's claim of its rights; the arguments used by Britain could as well—and as absurdly—be used (in Franklin's famous hoax) by the "King of Prussia" in reasserting his rights against the English descendants of his Saxon subjects.Franklin's famous "strategy of humility" aimed at getting people off their doctrinal high horses.In short, "the Hero of Public Service is a myth." What evidence does Weinberger adduce for such astonishing charges?He cites only the ubiquity of Franklin's unsparing humor and an adolescent essay that denies the existence of free will.is not the devious and "conscious manipulation of his own persona" that Jerry Weinberger claims it is in his essay "American Idol" (Winter 2005/06).Tailoring his memoirs to provide a good model for his intended audience—his own progeny and, by inference, other young people in America—he put some things in, left some out, and gave slanted accounts of others.The result, though, is not basically false or misguided.I served as co-editor of the Yale edition of "absurdly bombastic" and "hilariously hyperbolic." In truth, the missives are entirely in the conventional style of letters of the time written to an older and distinguished person.