Guest column: For all his genius, Ben Franklin left a different kind of legacy

Benjamin Franklin is depicted conducting his lightning experiment.
Benjamin Franklin is depicted conducting his lightning experiment.

I’m spoiled. Gerry reads aloud to me every day, a shared time with stimulating topics we can think about and discuss together. He just finished reading “The American Story” by David M. Rubenstein, which is about interviews with authors who wrote biographies about 16 of our forefathers.

I noted that many of our early forefathers had slaves but didn’t really feel good about it, thus having them freed in their wills. Benjamin Franklin’s story especially touched me.

Most stories about Franklin tell about his inventions and diplomatic service. He invented the Franklin stove, bifocals, and also the lightning rod after conducting his famous kite-to-key experiment to show that lightning was electricity. He got support from France that helped us win the Revolutionary War. He reformed the postal system and had input in drafting the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

Franklin loved our country and truly was a great Founding Father, and he served till life’s end at age 84 in 1790. Most of us didn’t hear about his mission during his last years when he served on a committee to make amends for acts in his earlier years that he was sorry for.

He was sorry he had slaves, two household slaves. Not only did he have slaves, but he allowed advertising for slave sales and runaway slave alerts in his newspaper. Later, he recognized he’d done a great wrong and wanted to rectify the moral error he had made. At age 81, he became president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.

The organization still exists and is dedicated to combating racism. It’s the oldest abolitionist organization in the country. Shortly before his death, he petitioned Congress to abolish slavery. He did not live to see the Constitution amended and would have been saddened to see that it took 75 years to do it.

Benjamin Franklin on a $100 bill.
Benjamin Franklin on a $100 bill.

Slavery has been around for a long time. There are even references to it in the Bible. In Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, he writes to the slaves, “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good He does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him.”

I like that passage “no favoritism.” No one is better than anyone else. The Declaration of Independence says all are created equal. And finally equal rights have been made the law.

I admire Ben Franklin that he repented for his wrongdoing and did all he could to make things right. He had humility, the best quality anyone could have. In my eyes, that attribute makes a great man even greater.

Service is a good thing and we all should be doing something good, doing something to make the place where we live better, whether it’s helping a person, our community or saying a kind word — there are so many ways to do service and we feel good when we do good.

None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, but like Ben Franklin, we can change our attitudes, make amends and make tomorrow a better day.

Gerry is serving me when he reads to me, and he enjoys it, too. When you serve others, you also serve yourself.

“When you’re good to others, you’re best to yourself.” — Benjamin Franklin

Carole Gariepy is a Phillipston resident and author of “In Isolation.”

This article originally appeared on Gardner News: Gariepy guest column: Ben Franklin left legacy of fixing mistakes