There’s been a lot of scuttlebutt over the past years over our favorite founding fathers, not least because of a little musical you probably haven’t heard of called Hamilton.
But that underground musical misses out on one of my childhood favorites: good ole Benjamin Franklin.
Contrary to his startling resemblance to the bald eagle, this turkey-loving man made his own richer, more privileged patriotic story in our little baby nation with a thirst for freedom. So today, I’m going to walk you though my earliest cultural memories of Benny Frank, matched with what else we know about him today.
As a child who had never seen a $100 bill except in movies, my first introduction to our friend Franklin was through a book: Ben and Me by Robert Lawson.
The story itself is nothing special. I think the writer just one day said to himself, “What if you could be a fly-on-the-wall in the life of someone important, like Benjamin Franklin? But let’s make it cuter: a mouse in the pocket or something.”
Boom. Payday. Disney even ended up making an animated short based on the concept. Now that’s a job well done!
Next up, we have another blast from the past: a little television show called Liberty’s Kids.
I loved this show. In fact, I still love this show, and not just because Aaron Carter makes an appearance to rap part of the theme song.
In fact, prior to Hamilton, I based the majority of my knowledge of early American history off of this show I watched when I was nine, including my knowledge of Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin is the linchpin of the television show. The main characters all work at his printing press in Philadelphia, acting as reporters while he’s off gallivanting in France. We still check in with him from time to time to see how negotiations are going, but mostly he acts as a friendly father figure to his young charges.
Through a few mini-games, we also learn some of his famous aphorisms: an apple a day keeps the doctor away, and so on and so forth.
And the final piece of the pop culture puzzle: National Treasure.
Remember: this is not a “good” movie. It’s a fun movie, to be sure, sort of an American History knock-off of The Da Vinci Code, sans John Cusack. Pop in for Nicolas Cage, stay for Sean Bean and cross your fingers that he survives past the end of the movie.
In this movie(and eventual series of movies) filled to the brim with historical references, where does our good friend Ben pop in?
In arguably one of the best sequences of scenes of the entire movie, Nick Cage and his crew go to Philadelphia(remember, that’s Frankietown) to read the Silence Dogood letters. Franklin, of course, wrote these letter, under a false name, to put in his brother’s newspaper after his brother wouldn’t publish anything he wrote.
No matter which century you’re from, siblings are always the same.
The letters lead Cage and friend to the tower of the Liberty Bell, though at first, the group thinks they may be too late to discover the all-important clue.
And then comes one of my favorite Franklin facts: Benjamin Franklin was one of the first people to propose a sort of Daylight Savings Time.
Technically, he didn’t really come up with it, despite how it works into the plot of this movie, but it’s close enough for me to bless his name every fall and curse it every spring.
In fact, poor old Ben is quite often an easy victim of misattribution. As much as the internet loves quoting people, it loves misquoting them even more.
In the end, Nick Cage gets his clue and we as the audience are rewarded with these stellar sorts of screen caps as he uses Franklin’s magic glasses to solve the rest of the puzzle.
In general, it can be strange to look back later on the figures of your childhood and match them with the Wikipedia entries of what people know about him today.
George Washington never chopped down that cherry tree. Thomas Jefferson cut up his Bible and slept with his slaves. And Benjamin Franklin advised us all on how to fart proudly.
And there are a lot of other things to admire about Franklin that most Americans today fail to acknowledge. For example, he was an extremely outspoken abolitionist, who wrote pamphlet after pamphlet about this mistreatment of African slaves and their rights as human beings to live freely.
But we remember him most for his clever sayings and key on a kite string.
So this Independence Day, spend some time getting to know the historical figures we claim to know. Some of them might even surprise you!