Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
Defence of the Character of Franklin
By John Bigelow (1817–1911)
 
[From a Letter to the New-York Observer, 10 July, 1879.]

I THINK that, with this testimony from the lips of Dr. Smith himself, it is rather late for any of his descendants to pretend to any authority whatever for uttering a word in disparagement of Dr. Franklin, whether as a man, a Christian, or a philosopher.
  1
  I have said nothing of the general tenor of Franklin’s long life devoted to the promotion of the interests of his fellow-creatures in a degree almost without a parallel in history.  2
  I have said nothing of his incalculably valuable discoveries in science, from which he never received nor sought any pecuniary returns.  3
  I have said nothing of his consecrating more than half of his life to the public service without ever permitting himself to treat office-holding as a profession or to be for one moment a dependent upon government.  4
  I have said nothing of the industry, frugality, and foresight which enabled him to provide every suitable luxury and comfort for himself and family; generously to assist dependent relatives, and to leave to his descendants an estate neither too small nor too large for his fame.  5
  I have said nothing of his marvellous self-control; of his abiding faith in the ultimate supremacy of the right; of his aversion to and successful avoidance of all contention for personal ends; of the respect of the best men of his generation which he uniformly inspired; nor of the continued increase of his fame as the proportions of his genius and character have been more thoroughly studied and widely known.  6
  I have said nothing of the fact that, though from the nature of his employments an obvious target for malevolence and detraction, his word was never impeached nor his good faith and fairness, even towards his own or his country’s enemies, successfully questioned.  7
  I have not specially called your attention to these features of Franklin’s life, because they are known and read of all men. They are the staple and charm of every one of the innumerable biographies, in every tongue, which have been consecrated to his memory. But they are none the less the tokens by which the Christian is known and a truly religious life made manifest to men.  8
  It is possible that Franklin never dwelt upon any of the higher planes of spiritual life; and yet who shall say that he did not? And if not, where did he get the secret of that supernatural wisdom which always led him to seek the good of each in the advantage of all? What gave him in such extraordinary measure the confidence of men and of nations? Whence the mysterious vigor which crowned with uniform success all the great enterprises of his long life, and made him, on the whole, one of the most useful and illustrious of men?  9
  A considerable familiarity with all the authentic literary remains of Franklin has led me to the following conclusions about his religious opinions:  10
  1. His highest standard of duty was to do unto others as he would have them do to him.  11
  2. He was rather more of a Unitarian than a Trinitarian, in this respect doubtless sympathizing more completely with Dr. Priestley than with the “good bishop” of St. Asaph’s.  12
  3. He accepted the Bible as the safest guide to conduct ever written, but, like many others in our own time, forbore to proclaim his unlimited faith in its entire inspiration, rather from an unwillingness to assert what he had not the learning or ability to prove, than from any conviction that it was not inspired, or that a belief in its inspiration could possibly work any harm.  13
  He believed in all the virtues which were sanctified by the life and death of Christ. If he did not practise them all at all times, he simply failed in what no child of Adam has succeeded in doing; to what extent, I leave those to determine who have led less selfish lives; who have done more for their fellow-creatures; who have more conscientiously expiated their errors; who have been less frequently a stumbling-block to weaker brethren; who in their lives have more successfully illustrated the fidelity with which prosperity and happiness wait on good works, and on that faith in the right of which good works are begotten.  14
 
 
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