“I am a mortal enemy to arbitrary government and unlimited power. I am naturally very jealous for the rights and liberties of my country, and the least encroachment of those invaluable privileges is apt to make my blood boil.” — Benjamin Franklin
This week, award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns released his new biopic, “Benjamin Franklin.”
Ken Burns’ two-part, four-hour documentary, “Benjamin Franklin,” explores the revolutionary life of one of the 18th century’s most consequential and compelling personalities, whose work and words unlocked the mystery of electricity and helped create the United States. Franklin’s life of 84 years (1706 – 1790) spanned an epoch of momentous change in science, technology, literature, politics and government — fields he himself advanced through a lifelong commitment to societal and self-improvement.
As a sixth-generation grandson of this Founding Father, I was invited to be one of the commentators on the two-part, four-hour series. I highly recommend it. You can watch it here.
Ken Burns considers Ben Franklin to be the greatest American in history, and with good reason. He was the first scientific American, the father of American capitalism, America’s first ambassador, a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution and the author of the most successful autobiography in history.
George Washington won the war at home, but Franklin won the war abroad by singlehandedly convincing the French to support the Americans.
If George Washington is the father of our country, Franklin is the grandfather.
Also, it would no doubt please his vanity to see his image on the $100 bill.
An Optimist about the Future
The sage from Philadelphia was optimistic about the future of his new country. He told his friends, “America will, with God’s blessing, become a great and happy country.”
He was convinced that Providence had hand in the American Revolution. He told the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, “The manner in which the whole of this business had been conducted was such a miracle in human affairs, that if I had not been in the midst of it, and seen all the movements, I could not have comprehended how it was effected. I had no doubt of our finally succeeding in this war by the blessing of God. This is the greatest revolution the world has ever seen.”
He predicted our standard of living, especially the advances in technology and our standard of living, when he said, “I have sometimes almost wished it had been my destiny to have been born two or three centuries hence, for inventions of improvement are prolific, and beget more of their kind. The present progress is rapid.”
Franklin’s Warning to America
Franklin helped create a democratic republic where the government would be strictly limited by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
“A virtuous and industrious people may be cheaply governed,” he wrote.
Do we have cheap government today, and if not, what does that say about us as a virtuous and industrious people?
In one sentence, he summarized what George Washington said in his Farewell Address: “The system of America is commerce with all and war with none.”
How often has war and protectionism interrupted the American Dream?
There is no doubt in my mind that Franklin would be appalled by the size and power of the state, with government spending now 50% of the economy, and our $30 trillion national debt.
In fact, his greatest fear regarding what would derail America’s greatness was an excessive public debt.
Another one of Franklin’s biggest concerns was the excessive power in the hands of authoritarian leaders. He explained, “As all history informs, there has been in every state and kingdom a constant kind of warfare between the governing and the governed; the one striving to obtain more for its support, and the other to pay less. This has alone occasioned great convulsions, actually civil wars, ending either in dethroning of the princes or enslaving of the people.”
He concluded, “I am apprehensive that the government of these states may in future times end in a monarchy, and a King will be set over us.”
With presidents signing executive orders right and left that restrict our liberties, Franklin’s prophecy is spot on. Today, more than ever, everything is either mandated or prohibited. Our freedoms are being squeezed on both sides.
Ken Burns wisely began his Franklin documentary with the quotation at the beginning of this column.
Completing Franklin’s Famous Autobiography
In 2006, the 300th anniversary of Franklin’s birth, my wife, Jo Ann, and I had the honor of completing Franklin’s autobiography, which was published as “The Completed Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin” by Regnery Publishing.
As you may know, Franklin never did finish this book. It ends in 1757 and says nothing about the American Revolution, his role as ambassador to France or the Constitutional Convention.
But by compiling and editing his papers, letters, journal entries and essays, we were able to finish his last 30 exciting years. The noted historian Thomas Fleming called it “a remarkable authenticity.” And David McCullough called it “ingenious and inspired.”
– His dramatic one-word change in the Declaration of Independence.
– His behind-the-scenes herculean efforts to finance the Revolutionary War and negotiate treaties with France and England, as well as why the United States could not have won the war without Franklin’s diplomatic skills.
– His candid assessments of the “raving” John Adams, the “brilliant” George Washington and the “monstrous” British generals.
– His surprisingly frank views on sex and adultery, including his tete-a-tetes and private letters with a married woman, Madame Brillon, in France.
– His shifting views on religion from a free-thinking heretic to an active theist — and his surprisingly modern views on racism and feminism.
The hardback and paperback editions of “The Compleated Autobiography” are available on Amazon by going here.
The work is also available as an audiobook on Audible.
Special Limited Offer: The Original and Completed Autobiography Together with a Rare Franklin Stamp!
In 2006, in honor of the 300th anniversary of Franklin’s birth, Regnery published a two-volume set of Franklin’s memoirs in his own words.
This two-volume set is now out of print, but I have 10 copies of the two-volume set that I will send to the first 10 people who order them. I autograph each copy, and each one includes a rare Franklin stamp inside.
They are bound to be collector items someday.
The price is $60 for the two volumes, and I pay the postage if mailed in the United States. Go to www.skousenbooks.com to order. Once the 10 copies are gone, they’re gone.
Good investing, AEIOU,
A Dangerous Precedent with Biden’s ‘Billionaires Minimum Tax’
Many economists have criticized President Biden’s proposed “Billionaires 20% Minimum Tax” bill.
It should be pointed out that the Biden tax bill actually applies to 30,000 families with assets of more than $100 million. In other words, the tax isn’t solely targeting billionaires, of which there are about 700 in the United States.
There are lots of problems with this bill. First, it will make the U.S. Tax Code even more complex, and it will make our tax code the laughingstock of the world. Anyone who has looked at the tax plan has been shocked by the incredible complexity of this bill. The tax forms will require taxpayers to figure out the unrealized capital gains on assets and properties. The tax can also be spread out over a five-year period, further complicating the annual filing.
Second, it is not a 20% income tax. In reality, it is a wealth tax on the unrealized appreciation of real estate, stocks and bonds, as well as collectibles. Imagine the nightmare trying to estimate or assess the value of these illiquid assets.
Third, and most importantly, it violates one of the most fundamental principles of liberty — financial privacy. If your net worth is anywhere close to $100 million, you will be required to list all your assets, including real estate, stocks and bonds, collectibles, gold and silver coins and valuables in your safe deposit box. Privacy is gone!
If that wasn’t bad enough, President Biden also wants to eliminate the tax break for long-term capital gains and the traditional stepped-up basis in estates.
Worse, Biden wants to double the number of IRS agents to harass successful entrepreneurs.
Fortunately, it will likely be dead on arrival thanks to Senator Joe Manchin’s opposition.