Last week a committee appointed by DC Mayor Muriel Bowser reported back that the city should remove a long list of monuments and change the names of dozens of schools and other city buildings. The list of names includes the usual suspects, like John Tyler, Woodrow Wilson, and Thomas Jefferson. But they also recommended renaming the Franklin School, a landmark institution founded just after the Civil War.
Against that I must protest. There are no better Americans than Benjamin Franklin. None. As exhibit A I offer this, the first petition presented to the US Congress on the subject of slavery:
Of course that is just the beginning of Franklin's contributions. He was his age's most vocal defender of American Indian rights to their land and the sacred nature of treaties made with Indian nations. He was almost the last prominent man working for peace as his American and British compatriots drifted toward war; but once war was joined he threw himself in to the cause of his nation. He helped write both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He was a steady advocate for democracy and against any sort of American aristocracy, unmovable in his advocacy for freedom of speech and religion. Plus his invention of the lightning rod saved untold thousands of lives. He was even funny.
To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:
The Memorial of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, and the Improvement of the Condition of the African Race.
That from a regard for the happiness of mankind an association was formed several years since in this state by a number of the citizens of various religious denominations for promoting the abolition of slavery and for the relief of those unlawfully held in bondage. A just and accurate conception of the true principles of liberty, as it spreads through the land, produced accessions to their numbers, many friends to their cause and legislative cooperation with their views, which by the blessing of Divine Providence, have been successfully directed to the relieving from bondage a large number of their fellow creatures of the African Race. They have also the satisfaction to observe, that in consequence of that spirit of philanthropy and genuine liberty which is generally diffusing its beneficial influence, similar institutions are gradually forming at home and abroad.
That mankind are all formed by the same almighty being, alike objects of his care and equally designed for the enjoyment of happiness, the Christian Religion teaches us to believe, and the political creed of America fully coincides with the position. Your memorialists, particularly engaged in attending to the distresses arising from slavery, believe it their indispensable duty to present this subject to your notice. They have observed with great satisfaction that many important and salutary powers are vested in you for “promoting the welfare and securing the blessings of liberty to the people of the United States”. And as they conceive, that these blessings ought rightfully to be administered, without distinction of colour, to all descriptions of people, so they indulge themselves in the pleasing expectation, that nothing, which can be done for the relief of the unhappy objects of their care, will be either omitted or delayed.
From a persuasion that equal liberty was originally the portion, and is still the birthright of all men, influenced by the strong ties of humanity and the principles of their institution, your memorialists conceive themselves bound to use all justifiable endeavours to loosen the bonds of slavery and promote a general enjoyment of the blessings of freedom. Under these impressions they earnestly entreat your serious attention to the subject of slavery that you will be pleased to countenance the restoration of liberty to those unhappy men, who alone in this land of freedom, are degraded into perpetual bondage, and who, amidst the general joy of surrounding freemen, are groaning in servile subjection, that you will devise means for removing this inconsistency from the character of the American people, that you will promote mercy and justice towards this distressed race, and that you will step to the very verge of the powers vested in your for discouraging every species of traffick in the persons of our fellow men.
President of the Society
Philadelphia, Feb. 13, 1790