Today marks Benjamin Franklin’s three hundred and eleventh birthday! I could, as I am sure others will, honor his birthday by highlighting his many accomplishments or wax eloquently about his being our first diplomat. On the other hand, I could take the time to remind folks that he was a human being and, as such, indulged in some very human, very irreverent activities. And, yep, he could be a real asshole.
Benjamin Franklin isn’t mad; he’s just disappointed.
Yes, he was one of our “Founding Fathers,” but that didn’t preclude him from having all sorts of human flaws. It means that, in spite of all of his jerkishness, he was a super influential human being. Apart from being a know-it-all and that guy—you know, the one that has to interrupt and correct you about the most pedantic things—, he could be really shady. Seriously, the dude “pranked” a competitor by publishing a prediction of the competitor’s impending death and, then, an obituary in order to drive up his own circulation; he also created a “hoax” news item intended to shame Britain, but very likely had the consequence of fanning the flames of prejudice against Native Americans. That’s just two of a buttload of examples.
Ichabod Crane complaining about Franklin
Though some of his “jokes” were pretty awful, he was often legitimately funny. As the pseudonymous Silence Dogood, he wove humor rather effectively through his letters. And Poor Richard’s Almanack, though you have to put up with some Judgy McJudgerson kind of stuff to get to it, was by no means short of witticisms. Often in private correspondence and public papers, he would weave puns and jokes in so cleverly that it would take years for people to find them. Reportedly, it is this proclivity that discouraged the Continental Congress from asking him to write the Declaration of Independence; I can only imagine their fear of finding some joke or another imbedded in this seminal document, but only after having sent it to King George.
HAHAHA—jerk. Though, this really might have been just a joke too.
That’s a nice sense of gallows humor you got there. …puuunnnsss!
But it wasn’t all jokes about their declaring themselves traitors to the Crown. Franklin was all about maintaining that oldest of comedy traditions: fart jokes. I mean, who doesn’t like a good fart joke? For the sake of decorum, I’m sure a lot of folks pretend to be disgusted, but, really, farts are just fundamentally funny. Mr. Franklin thought so too. So, in response to a scientific society issuing a call for papers, Franklin took time away from his diplomatic duties in the French royal court and penned a proposal to research how to make flatulence not stink. Seriously. While it was intended only as a joke—a way for him to blow off some steam about his frustration with science societies moving away from what he thought should be practical science for the betterment of everyday people—and it was never sent to the Royal Academy, he did send it to a friend who likely got as hearty a laugh out of it as I did.
Just look at that knowing stare, at that cheeky upward curl of the lip. He knows. He knows it was you. He just won’t say anything. He’s abiding by that ancient code: “The one who speaks is the one who reeks.”
Because nothing goes quite so well with bawdy, potty humor than a few tasty adult beverages, it makes sense that Franklin had a fondness for booze—though, not nearly as intense as John Hancock’s love affair with drink, it was a strong affinity nevertheless. In fact, he had his own homebrew recipe and, though his vino of choice was Madeira, he did not shy away from other wines at all. Mr. “the first American” himself even sat down and penned The Drinker’s Dictionary, containing over two hundred synonyms for being drunk.
So, we can honor his achievements and praise his diplomacy (I mean, he did secure France’s support in the Revolutionary War, after all). We can admire and be grateful for his inventions. Those are all pretty respectable ways to celebrate the man who was our very first Postmaster General. But I plan on tapping into a bit of his irreverence and honoring him with jokes about “warm scent-iments” and making my way toward being “Wamble Crop’d.”