Johnson-Civil Rights Act

The Woke Surgeon: Benjamin Franklin and Lyndon Baines Johnson on the True Meaning of Civil Rights

With great thanks to Ruth and Alfred Blumrosen (the authors of Slave Nation, Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2005) for this juxtaposition of quotes 176 years apart, from the unlikely sources of Franklin and Johnson, pursuing the same dream for America, that of colorblind freedom and equality for every American under the rule of law. We recall that Franklin during his long life ran the gamut from slave owner and occasional slave trader (through his printshop in Philadelphia) to ardent abolitionist (fulfilling the promise he made before the Revolution to John Fothergill, his personal physician, and David Barclay, one of the most heavily invested private sources for funding the Revolution) in the five final years of his life.

Independence Hall

The Woke Surgeon: Benjamin Franklin’s Speech to Closing the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, September 17, 1787

Rather than verbiage from a mortal blogger, it is worthwhile to hear the entire closing speech of Franklin to the Constitutional Convention, calling for a unanimous signing of the document by all the delegates in attendance that morning (he wouldn’t get it, but he would get unanimous states’ approval, with various individual delegates deferring their imprimaturs on the document). The words were all Franklin, but James Wilson would read it in Franklin’s stead, Franklin claiming generalized exhaustion and hesitancy of speech. During the Convention, Franklin had been present non-stop for the four summer months, serving as the voice of gravitas, enlightenment (courtesy of Hume, Smith, and Lord Kames of Scotland), and compromise, and at least twice saving us from having two United States, north and south.

Declaration of Independence

The Woke Surgeon: Dr. Franklin in the wake of the Scottish Enlightenment

Dr. Franklin would be back in London at the outset of 1772, with a renewed zeal for the American colonies and their future, and a far greater clarity of purpose. He turned 67 on January 17, but now seemed twenty years younger, rejuvenated in his interest in the Club of Honest Whigs, and particularly in his relationship with Fothergill, Pownall, and Barclay. If a Revolution is what it would take to free Pennsylvania from the proprietors, then a Revolution it would be. Now able to articulate to the two Quakers, Fothergill and Barclay, the economic ruin that the British ministry under Hillsborough was wreaking on both Great Britain and her American colonies, Franklin made revolution appear more abstract and more appropriate. Franklin now spoke not of Locke’s “life, liberty, and property”, but rather Adam Smith’s “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Ultimately and improbably, Smith would find himself quoted for eternity in the Declaration of Independence four years later.

Scottish Enlightenment

The Woke Surgeon: Benjamin Franklin returns to Scotland in 1771

By the time Dr. Benjamin Franklin (now twice “doctored” with a bookend honorary degree from Oxford in 1762 to go with his honorary degree from St. Andrews in 1759, as we learned) returned to Scotland in 1771, much had changed. Franklin, in frequent discussion with Thomas Pownall and other Whigs in London, had come to realize that his concept of Pennsylvania as an independent nation was fraught, and with Pownall’s encouragement he had broadened his outlook to include all the colonies from Georgia to Massachusetts.

St. Andrews

The Woke Surgeon: Franklin visits Scotland and returns home with a new name

Benjamin Franklin traveled to Great Britain on three separate occasions prior to the American Revolution, for varying reasons and with varying successes. His first trip was at the encouragement of the blowhard Royal Governor Sir William Keith in 1725 and the promise of development of key contacts and capital support for Franklin’s endeavors in Philadelphia. This all proved ephemeral, but one enduring coincidence of the 18-month sojourn in London was the employment of Franklin at the printing houses of Samuel Palmer and John Watts. Presumably it was the Watts contact that led him into contact with William Strahan, a young master printer from Edinburgh working in London in the 1730’s. The two would develop a correspondence which culminated in Strahan sending David Hall to Philadelphia in 1744. Franklin and Hall entered a partnership and by 1748, Franklin was able to withdraw from the shop as a silent partner.

Adam Smith - David Hume Young

The Woke Surgeon: The Scottish Enlightenment, Two Cities, Two Stars

The Woke Surgeon: The Scottish Enlightenment, Two Cities, Two Stars, Part II:

We heard in the previous essay that Francis Hutcheson in Glasgow and Henry Home in Edinburgh would usher the Scottish Enlightenment into the world of education, offering an inseparable combination of theory and practical application that would literally produce modern civilization in Europe, and subsequently throughout the world. It is not an overstatement.

Lord Kames

The Woke Surgeon: The Scottish Enlightenment and the American Revolution, Part I

The Scottish Enlightenment – Part One:

On May 1, 1707, England and Scotland formally introduced a new concept to the world: Great Britain. The two nations who had fought for centuries in senseless wars along the “Borderlands” finally came together in uneasy truce to become a single nation, facilitated by the elimination of the old Scottish Parliament while retaining their courts, their church, their universities, and their nobility/landholders. Scotland, which had faltered into chronic economic depression over the previous forty years after the English Civil War and the subsequent downfall of their beloved House of Stuart, feared that this would further destroy their economy to the point of total absorption into England. They needn’t have worried so: the Union, feted to this day with the official flag, the “Union Jack” (“jack” being a nautical term for a flag) would prove an economic boon to Glasgow and to a lesser extent, Edinburgh, that was unprecedented.

Frederick North 2nd Early of Guilford

The Woke Surgeon: The Close of the Pownall Brothers’ Reign in the American Department

When we last left the Pownall brothers, Thomas had secured the Hutchinson letters and passed them on to Benjamin Franklin, who passed them on to Thomas Cushing in Boston, who passed them on to Samuel Adams, who leaked them to the Boston press generally. Chaos and a tea party ensued. And in turn this was followed by the Coercive Acts from London, known in the United States forever as the “Intolerable Acts.”