I came back a day early from my 2-week China trip (see www.markskousen.com) to speak at the First Day Issue Ceremony for the four new Ben Franklin commemorative stamps in Philadelphia on April 7. The ceremony was sponsored by the U. S. Postal Office at the National Constitution Center, and was quite an event, attracting hundreds of collectors and spectators. I helped “Ben Franklin” (Ralph Archibald) officially unveil the stamps.
Afterwards, my wife Jo Ann and I participated in the first ever Franklin Family Reunion that weekend. It was a grand affair with over 220 Franklin descendants from all over the country, including quite a few of my relatives. (I’m a 6th generation grandson of Franklin.) I was the after-dinner speaker at the Saturday night banquet, overlooking Independence Hall.
Here are my remarks at the First Day Issue Ceremony, which created a stir among postal officials.
BEN FRANKLIN ON STAMPS
My remarks at the First-Day-of-Issue Ceremony for the Benjamin Franklin Commemorative Stamps, Friday, April 7, 2006, National Constitutional Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
By Mark Skousen
After Benjamin Franklin died in 1790, John Adams wrote Benjamin Rush a letter in which he described his worst nightmare: “The history of our revolution will be one continued lie from one end to the other. The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin’s electric rod smote the earth and out sprang General Washington. Then Franklin electrified him, and thence forward those two conducted the policy, negotiations, legislations, and war.”
If we can measure the influence of Franklin and Washington by the number of postage stamps issued with their image, John Adams greatest fear has come true. Since July 1847, when the United States issued its first postage stamp (with Franklin on it), Franklin and Washington have appeared on more stamps than any other Americans. And in a recent poll sponsored by AOL and the Discovery Channel, Washington (#4) and Franklin (#5) were ranked among the five greatest Americans.
Even more disconcerting, there may be more truth than lie to Adams’ bad dream. Recent histories, and my own work in completing Franklin’s Autobiography, reveal that Franklin, like Washington, was indispensable in achieving American independence and Constitutional government, and some have contended that Franklin should be added as a “co father” of the nation. Washington indeed was instrumental in winning the war at home, but Franklin played an essential role in winning the war abroad. Without massive military and financial aid from France, it is clear that Washington and the American Army could not have defeated the British at Yorktown, and the war might have dragged on indefinitely. And there is little doubt that Franklin almost singlehandedly engineered the fundraising efforts in France. He accomplished this mighty achievement while in his seventies, a tribute to senior citizens everywhere.
The U. S. Postal Service has rightly highlighted Franklin for his numerous contributions to his country. Lately I’ve enjoyed collecting rare Franklin stamps, and I am especially impressed with the 1947 commemorative stamp, featuring Franklin and Washington together on the 100th anniversary of the first postage stamp. The year 1947 happens to be the year I was born.
If Franklin were here today, he would no doubt say that it pleases his vanity that he appears on the largest denominated banknote, the $100 bill, and that the banknote is a fiat paper currency. For Franklin here in Philadelphia was an early advocate of paper money inflation beyond specie to stimulate trade and employment, though he learned during the American revolution that “there are limits beyond which the quantity [of paper money] may be hurtful.” But Franklin was also an advocate of frugality and economy in government (“a virtuous and industrious people may be cheaply governed”). He would no doubt be concerned about today’s high cost of living, and note with interest how the fae value of the Franklin series has increased gradually from the half-cent stamp in the late 19th century to today’s 39 cent first class stamp. My only suggestion to the U. S. Postal Service is that in the next Franklin issue, you consider reducing the face value by a penny. For a penny earned by the Post Office could be a penny saved by the taxpayer.
Fifty years ago, on the 250th anniversary of Franklin’s birth, the Post Office issued a striking stamp — a 3 cent issue — depicting an elder Franklin, assisted by youth, in his famous kite and key experiment. It reminded me of Turgot’s quote, “He stole the Lightning from the Heavens and the Sceptre from Tyrants.”
As a representative of the Franklin descendants, I’d like to thank the U. S. Postal Service for its latest honor, four remarkable Franklin commemorative stamps honoring him as a printer, scientist, statesman, and postmaster. In the book, The 100: The 100 Most Influential Persons in the World, Franklin is identified as “the most versatile genius of all ages,” and one could add a hundred more accomplishments and interests of Franklin. For one thing, he was founder of American business.
And so I end my remarks with one of Franklin’s most notable quotes, “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.” Naturally, Franklin did both.
Mark Skousen is the compiler and editor of The Compleated Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin (Regnery, 2006).