November 27, 2008

Giving Us the Electrocuted Bird

“[Benjamin Franklin is] a crafty and lecherous old hypocrite whose very statue seems to gloat on the wenches as they walk the States House yard.” —William Cobbett
Statesman. Scientist. Revolutionary. Writer of bad jokes. The United States was founded by a score of brilliant human beings, and Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) may have been the brilliant-est of all. But so many watts have been added to his legend over the years, it’s possible he’s also the most overrated of the Founding Fathers.

For example, much is made of the Franklin’s wisdom and wit, but today, many of his one-liners have lost their zip. “He that lives on hope, dies farting”? How crude! (Of course, there’s also “Men and melons are hard to know.” So true!)

Further tarnishing Franklin's luster is the fact that he tried to give us the bird! As is tiresomely reported every Thanksgiving, Franklin wanted the U.S. to adopt the turkey for its national emblem. He claimed it was a “bird of courage.” While it’s hard to argue with that (a turkey is not a chicken), Franklin then stooped to dirty politics, charging that the bald eagle was a bird of “bad moral character”! Despite this slander, Congress adopted the bald eagle as our national emblem in 1782.

As for Franklin's professed love for the turkey, in 1750, Franklin tried to electrocute one of the fowls to death as part of an experiment. (Really!) But instead, Franklin accidentally electrocuted himself. The great man then suffered short-term memory loss for a... short term.
My sources are here.

No comments: