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Editor's Corner: Benjamin Franklin, Industry and America: Lessons for the ISHLT

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Vincent Valentine, MD
University of Texas Medical Branch
Galveston, TX, USA

Benjamin Franklin burst on the American scene right around the time when American thinking was dominated by the influence of Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards, a great Puritan Theologian, was famous for his sermon on "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Edwards, with a traditional view focused on the Puritan past and promulgated the sense of human and guilt with repressive theology. Franklin on the other hand, looked ahead into the future. He was the antithesis of Edwards, the pioneer who was a journalist, scientist, naturalist, businessman and most of all, a diplomat which fed his progressivism and optimism. Franklin had his critics, he was considered - "an inventor of the lightning rod, the republic, the hoax" and "the wise prophet of chicanery." In any event, he was the first American writer, yet he was really an English Colonial born in 1706, who considered himself a British subject. But it is Franklin's achievements that defined him as a self-made man and as the great American Voltaire.

He started his own newspaper after working for his brother and writing in The New England Courant under the pseudonym, Silence Dogood. http://hoaxes.org/Hoaxipedia/Silence_Dogood/

He publishes Poor Richard's Almanac under the pseudonym, Richard Saunders, which becomes America's first bestseller. He organized the Union Fire Company, became Postmaster for Philadelphia, Official printer for New Jersey, designed the Franklin fireplace and stove. He proposed the idea for the American Philosophical Society in 1743, experimented with electricity, organized the Pennsylvania Militia, founded the University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Hospital. He performed his famous kite experiments proving lightning is electrical and designed a flexible catheter for his brother John who had bladder stones. He received honorary degrees from Harvard and Yale and was appointed Postmaster General of North America. He was elected to the Royal Society of London, became acquainted with major intellectuals, scientists and politicians, and received an honorary doctorate from St Andrews in Scotland and Oxford University.

Interestingly, he was an abolitionist and tried to prevent the war in 1776 because he thought of himself as a colonial. He later became a signer of the Declaration of Independence and it has been stated that the only reason Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration with its list of grievances instead of Franklin was because Franklin would have put jokes in it. One of many examples of his wit can be seen from his response to the question, "What use is that," while witnessing two of the first manned balloon flights in 1783. His answer, "What use is a newborn baby?" He was considered the most famous private citizen in the 1780's and was the chief designer of the different forms of representation of the House by population and Senate with two elected from each state.

Franklin remains with us today, he is part of all American's DNA. Many quotations from Poor Richard's Almanac remain with us: "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise," "God helps them who help themselves," "Don't throw stones at your neighbors if your own windows are glass," "Creditors have better memories than debtors," and "He who lives upon hope, dies farting."

He wrote his Autobiography and left us many lessons that were mostly for his son. In it, he emphasized the importance of being indirect and not to always put yourself forward when tasks require completion. He stated that in order to have crucial ideas approved, make it appear that these ideas came from others working on the projects as well. He learned not to say, "I believe," but rather "It's possible to see it this way." He frequently agreed with others first even when he thought they were fools to later get his ideas across. He submerged his eqo, especially when he wanted to have a major point made into law. He intuitively knew that everyone is ruled by their own visions. Many of these lessons can prove useful for us today, especially within the ISHLT.

Although there are critics who casted shadows about Franklin; there are others who have casted light about him. It was Prometheus who stole fire from the gods for men, Franklin harnessed lightning from the heavens and gave us electricity. ■

Disclosure Statement: the author has no conflicts of interest to report.

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