Liberty is one of the most fundamental principles by which we live, one that our Nation was founded on, and is that greatest gift which we dream of bringing to the world at large. When people are asked to name the man who has done the most for liberty in this country, they often answer Benjamin Franklin.
Ben Franklin was a man of unparalleled achievements. He life began as an indentured servant in his brother’s print shop in Boston, where he was born in 1706, and he ended it a world-renowned scientist and statesman in Philadelphia, in 1790. He envisioned himself foremost as a printer, but that only skims the surface of his genius. It was as if he could not hold back the force of his own inspiration. He was a god among men, and his ways are our ways, as you shall soon see.
Among his numerous accomplishments, Franklin invented the home-heating stove, the glass armonica (for which Mozart composed a piece), the lightning rod, bifocal spectacles, the rocking chair, the flexible urinary catheter, swim fins, the odometer, watertight bulkheads for ships, daylight savings time, and the first artificial fertilizer. He introduced the concept of neighborhood watches, subscription and public library systems, the fire brigade, the insurance company, and hospitals to North America. He published the first American magazine, the first lottery tickets, and Poor Richard’s Almanac (the prototype of the self help book). He was the first to write his memoirs, creating a new genre that was eventually to be called autobiography, and which has been continuously in print for 217 years and counting (although his original manuscript was not printed in full until 1951).
Franklin founded the American Philosophical Society, the Leather Apron Club (to discuss politics, morals, and natural philosophy), Franklin and Marshall College, the Academy of Pennsylvania (now the University of Pennsylvania), and one of the first abolitionist movements in the colonies. He conducted world changing experiments in electricity, identified lead poisoning, discovered and charted oceanic currents, and noted the principle of refrigeration (which is cooling by evaporation).
“Practically, Franklin’s method of obtaining fire from heaven is better than that of Prometheus or Elijah. I am now writing by the light that Franklin’s discovery enabled men to use.”—Aleister Crowley, “The soldier and the hunchback”
He helped to draft and signed both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. He also negotiated and signed the Treaty of Alliance with France bringing France into the war with England, and signed the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War and recognized the Independence we so brazenly declared to the world two hundred and thirty-one years ago.
He was such an important figure to the Revolution that John Adams feared that history would show that “[t]he essence of the whole [would] be that Dr. Franklin’s electrical rod smote the earth and out sprung General Washington. Then Franklin electrified him with his rod—and thence forward these two [Franklin and Washington] conducted all the policy, negotiation, legislatures, and war” (Schiff, 4).
Franklin was not born a revolutionary, however. He was a loyal subject of England most of his life, not deviating from such until England itself turned its back on the rights of the colonies, establishing itself as a Tyranny. Even then, he traveled to England to petition the Court and the House of Commons to argue against mismanagement and to call for repeal of its unfair policies, such as the Stamp Act. He returned from England thoughtful. At this point, he had already devised a plan for the union of the colonies for their mutual defense and security (prompted by the French Indian War), but had not yet left the Crown behind.
Though he had no formal schooling, he was a well-educated self-taught man. He attended lectures and read voraciously, seeking always to learn. Except when he was in France, he lived by a very structured and moralistic method, though this code of conduct was of his own devising, his having left the church early in life and ‘damn the neighbors’ if they didn’t like it. Franklin was above all else, his own man.
As does any Magician, Franklin believed in the perfection of self and he devised his way of life to enable this goal.
”I wish’d to live without committing any Fault at any time; I would conquer all that either Natural Inclination, Custom, or Company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a Task of more Difficulty that I had imagined. While my attention was taken up in guarding against one Fault, I was often supriz’d by another. Habit took the Advantage of Inattention. Inclination was sometimes too strong for Reason. I concluded at length, that the mere speculative Conviction that it was our Interest to be completely virtuous, was not sufficient to prevent our Slipping, and that the contrary Habits must be broken and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any Dependence on a steady uniform Rectitude of Conduct.”
His method began with twelve virtues chosen and defined by him (the thirteenth, humility, was suggested by a Quaker friend). These virtues were as follows:
- Temperance — “Eat not to Dulness; Drink not to Elevation”
- Silence — “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling Conversation.”
- Order — “Let all your Things have their Places. Let each Part of your Business have its Time.”
- Resolution — “Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.”
- Frugality — “Make no Expence but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.”
- Industry — “Lose no Time. Be always employ'd in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary Actions.”
- Sincerity — “Use no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
- Justice — “Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.”
- Moderation — “Avoid Extreams. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
- Cleanliness — “Tolerate no Uncleaness in body, Cloaths or Habitation.”
- Tranquility — “Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.”
- Chastity — “Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dulness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another's Peace or Reputation.”
- Humility — “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”
Each week he focused on one of these virtues while tracking the progress of all of them on a pad which he carried with him always. He would mark transgressions in the column of the day and the row of the virtue at the end of each day. He would examine this at the end of each week and resolve to continue to improve, switching his focus to the next virtue. The pad became so illegible from reuse that he began using small ivory notebooks that could be written on with pencil and erased with water. He did not stop there, however.
He created what we would call the daily planner by making a schedule for each day, beginning with his morning prayer and meditation on how he could do ‘good’ that day. The schedule was broken down into the hours of the day, beginning at 5am. Each day had his most valued tasks, virtues, or missions, as well as time to relax with his family or friends. Each day ended with a review of the day and update of his virtues table and a meditation on the question of what good he had accomplished that day.
His daily prayer went as follows:
“O Powerful Goodness! beautiful Father! merciful Guide! Increase in me that Wisdom which discovers my truest Interests; Strengthen my Resolutions to perform what that Wisdom dictates. Accept my kind Offices to thy other Children, as the only Return in my Power for thy continual Favours to me.”
What can this be but a daily invocation; an invocation of the One, to be with him that day, as every day.
Franklin followed this system for years with some brief intermissions, including a period of total inactivity when he began traveling more frequently, though he still carried his little book with him always. This time lacking in progress or nearing outright relapse almost moved him to give up more than once, being content with a faulty character.
“But on the whole, tho’ I never arrived at the Perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it. Yet I was by the Endeavour a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been, if I had not attempted it. As those who aim at perfect Writing by imitating the engraved copies, tho’ they never reach their wish’d for Excellence of those copies, their Hand is mended by the Endeavour, and is tolerable while it continues fair and legible.”
Though he was a spiritual man in his own right, Franklin had intentionally left the tenets of religion from his method that it might be of use to people of all religions. He never mastered ‘humility’ by his own estimation.
“I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the Reality of this Virtue; but I had a good deal with regard to the Appearance of it.”
To this end, he made a rule not to directly contradict the sentiments of others and to forbear all positive assertion of his own and forbade himself the use of words or expressions that imparted a fixed opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc, instead adopting terms such as I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine. Finally, he denied himself the pleasure (as he labeled it) of abruptly contradicting those in error, instead answering “that in certain cases that would be right, but in the present case there appear’d or seem’d tome some Difference, etc”. He felt this greatly improved his conversations and believed it to be the reason he carried so much weight when making propositions.
All of this work, or self training, would culminate in the Magician who brought us Liberty, allowing him to float through the societies of France and England with minor offenses only and gaining him admirers and supporters the world over.
In the 1750s, he went to England not to seek war or secession, but instead “a union of American States allied with the British Empire in the form of a Commonwealth”, primarily in response to the threat brought by the French and Indian War. Many Englishmen, including his Lordship, Sir Francis Dashwood appealed to Parliament on behalf of Franklin and the Colonies, but to no avail. On came the Stamp Act and the Boston Tea party, thanks to the Lord of the Treasury’s and King George’s inability to see the American point of view. He returned home and ultimately became a revolutionary, not out of a desire for chaos or rebellion, but to secure Liberty for the citizens of a brave new land.
When members of the Continental Congress still sought reconciliation with our tyrannical overlords a full year after the Revolutionary War began at Concord and Lexington, Franklin was said to have made the following statement which defined an age and still resonates in the hearts and minds of our People, and is so completely applicable today:
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
Benjamin Franklin was what one might call a precursor to Thelema. Not only did he do all these amazing things, but he also declared the Word LIBERTY and worked toward its manifestation into his final years.
O.T.O. is dedicated to the high purpose of securing the Liberty of the Individual and his or her advancement in Light, Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, and Power through Beauty, Courage, and Wit, on the Foundation of Universal Brotherhood.
Franklin was also what I think of as a Magician, defining his own code of ethics and morals to live by and tracking his successes and missteps in them, publishing Poor Richard’s Almanac in attempt to lift up the common man from his rough lot in life, developing the first daily planner to make the most effective use of his time — allowing him to follow his Great Work, and putting his life on the line multiple times in the pursuit of its fulfillment, having the courage of his convictions.
He worked tirelessly during his time in France to find the common ground between a naïve French Monarchy and a Rebellious American People. Once again proving his cunning, and with no evidence to the fact, he convinced the French Foreign Ministry that the Colonies would reconcile with England were they unable to find a powerful Ally to stand with them, all the while playing England the fool, having firmly resolved never to reconcile should it mean anything less than total liberty for all Americans, but keeping them from realizing his ploy which would have freed them to take up the aggressive suppression of our people while they were struggling to survive.
Playing alternatively diplomat, dilettante, and country bumpkin as the situation required, he single-handedly won over the French People, their Ministers, and finally the King Himself. Through the assumption of roles or forms appropriate to the desired outcome, the single-minded dedication to his Beliefs and Will, and sheer earthy determination which kept him going when hope seemed lost, a Country was born. Only when recognized by the French State as a sovereign nation, did the United States of America actually exist on the world stage, and only through Franklin’s Work was it made manifest.
Benjamin Franklin is a perfect example of a Man doing his Will. His legacy is truly the footprints of a god transmigrating through history, and it can even be said that Liberty would not have come as quickly as it did to America or France or any nation that has embraced this ideal since our Great Experiment began, were it not for this one man who saw himself as nothing more than a simple printer.