Out and About (Sort of) Fractious Fourth Howard Freedlander

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Tomorrow is viewed as our nation’s official birthday, its 232nd. Not very old in a world filled with thousands-old countries.

For some reason, I always think fondly about Ben Franklin at this time. Friends wouldn’t be surprised. After all, this renowned and respected founder and Declaration of Independence signer founded my alma mater. I’m clearly biased about his stature in our short history.

Ben Franklin

 

I just finished reading a book, The Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin’s House, about Ben’s tortuous relationship with his son, William. The latter, the British governor of New Jersey, decided to retain his allegiance to the Crown during the Revolutionary War. This decision ruined his relationship with his father, naturally enough. The elder father could not persuade his son to side with the patriots.

Due to his resolute devotion to King George III, William was removed from the governor’s house and imprisoned in a Connecticut prison. He suffered dearly in solitary confinement. When released, he continued to sabotage the patriots’ cause by directing guerilla raids against the Continental Army.

This horrible rift between a father and a son interested me. While I knew our American Civil War in the mid-19th century irreparably split families and friends, I never thought about equally damaging fissures during the war between the Colonies and its British overlords. The Franklin imbroglio illustrated the divided loyalties as the patriots sought control of their own destiny. Those loyal to the Mother Country felt passionate too about their emotional, political and commercial ties to the United Kingdom.

William Franklin

Ben Franklin was a great man. His achievements in the civic, academic, scientific and political worlds are legendary. His brain was first-class. His writing was shrewd and coy. His diplomatic skills in the last part of his life were critical to our nation before and during the Revolutionary War. He had many friends and admirers in England and France—and his share of enemies in the former.

When William sought reconciliation with his father after the war, the elder rebuffed him. He could not accept what he perceived as his son’s disloyalty to him.

Many families split over money and perceived slights. Gentle Ben could not forgive his son for what he considered misplaced fealty.

When this giant of a statesman died, he left nothing to William, except his wrath. While understanding that political passions run deep, particularly when the Colonies so strongly resented British repression, I thought that Ben Franklin could have opted for compassion for his son.

It was not to be. The familial ties had frayed beyond repair.

As we well know, our national leaders are flawed human beings. Sometimes their families suffer from their overriding ambition and vanity. They bear grudges that they are hard-pressed to toss away.

July Fourth still thrills me. Due in no part to the fireworks, I cherish our time to celebrate the birth of a young, vibrant and resilient nation whose current leadership is abysmal but changeable, hopefully, in two years. Though I’m not sure we’ve endured a more amoral White House occupant, our founders created a country that can withstand seriously defective leaders.

Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington set a standard for excellence and selfless service.

The contrast is never greater than today.

I love this country. We will celebrate a glorious occasion tomorrow. We are a better, more humane country than represented so poorly by Mr. Trump.

I continue to be an optimist. Our fractious country, led by a divider, not a unifier, is better and more decent than what emanates from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We respect human dignity.

As a sad postscript to this column, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of the five journalists killed last Thursday at the office of the Annapolis Capital newspaper. My youngest daughter knew one of the five. The crazed gunman continues to live. He caused irreparable personal damage and community hurt.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

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