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Ben Franklin

Franklin — One in a 1000 Years, says The Independent

By Claude-Anne Lopez

According to many people, The Independent is the best newspaper published in England. In its issue of December 30, 1998, kindly sent to me by my friend Suzy Bittker, there appears an unsigned editorial entitled "A Search for a hero who helps us to define ourselves."

Benjamin Franklin, scientist

A poll, it seems, has been conducted by the program TODAY of Radio 4 for the nomination of such a person, man or woman, native of the British Isles or not. Many votes, of course, were cast for Winston Churchill. The first of the few women on the list is Queen Elizabeth I who defied imperial Spain with Britain's scanty resources. Gandhi and Mandela gathered a number of voices, as did Gutenberg, Galileo, Luther, Shakespeare, Mozart, Chekhov, Darwin, Adam Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft and many others.

"But," says the writer of the editorial, "the man who combines all that we are looking for is often overlooked. His name is Benjamin Franklin. As a scientist, he tamed lightning: the lightning conductor was his brainchild, allowing man to build unafraid of the elements. Thunder and lightning had belonged to God: now they belonged to man. Technological advance since Franklin's time, from computers to space travel, has relied on the electricity he harnessed.

"His confidence was remarkable. He became on of the most fervent of the Americans once the British connection was irretrievable. As a letter-writer, his erudition is legendary. The first of the "natural men" whose bourgeois mores were to come to dominate the globe, he declined to wear a wig while ambassador in Paris. He was self-made, a printer and publisher, the first of a new breed.

"He was a master of the modern political art of compromise, striving to avoid the breach with the mother country. He conceived the compromise between the rights of states and the popular vote, and the two-chamber Congress containing both a Senate and House of Representatives, that made the U.S. possible.

"Franklin replaced religious absolutes with what was practical, an American injunction that has since become world orthodoxy. And by happy coincidence, he was born a loyal colonist — a Briton through and through. The next millennium will probably uncover as its hero a woman born in Lagos, Sao Paulo, or Nanking. But it is Franklin we humbly submit as person of this millennium."

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