Tag Archives: Benjamin Franklin

Is 77 too old for the job?

… it is objected indeed in the remonstrance, that he is 77. years of age: but, at a much more advanced age, our Franklin was the ornament of human nature. He may not be able to perform in person all the details of his office: but if he gives us the benefit of his understanding, his integrity, his watchfulness, and takes care that all the details are well performed by himself, or his necessary assistants…
To the New Haven Merchants, July 12, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Inclusive leaders don’t rule anyone out.
The merchants in New Haven, CT, wrote a remonstrance, a letter of complaint, to the new President about his appointment of Samuel Bishop to be federal tax collector for their city. A previous office-holder died in early February. John Adams, defeated for reelection, appointed Federalist Congressman Elizur Goodrich to the post, two weeks before Jefferson was inaugurated. The new President routinely made it clear that he considered such lame-duck appointments by Adams as nullities. Jefferson removed Gingrich and appointed the Republican Blair in his place.

The merchants raised a number of objections, in particular, Blair’s age (77) and ability to do the job. Jefferson countered with the example of Benjamin Franklin, a major contributor to the American cause until his death at age 84. Second, the qualities that Blair had demonstrated in his long life (wisdom, character and caution) would be assets in this position. Finally, even if Blair could not perform all of the duties personally, they could be done by others who worked under his supervision.

Jefferson could have ignored the complaint, written from strictly partisan motivation. Instead, he wrote a long, reasoned and respectful reply.

“We will have to work very hard
to top such a wonderful program next year.”
Executive Vice-President, North Carolina Agribusiness Council
Mr. Jefferson will set a high bar for subsequent presenters!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Great leaders stick to the great issues.

I served with General Washington in the legislature of Virginia before the revolution, and, during it, with Dr. Franklin in Congress. I never heard either of them speak ten minutes at a time, nor to any but the main point which was to decide the question. They laid their shoulders to the great points, knowing that the little ones would follow of themselves.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders deal in great things, not little ones.
Note the two characteristics Thomas Jefferson ascribed to both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin when they spoke to persuade others:
– They always spoke for less than 10 minutes.
– They devoted themselves only to the main point, the deciding point of an issue.

Jefferson seldom spoke in public debate, and he was impressed by those who could do so effectively. While legislators ranged from people like him, who spoke rarely, to ones like Patrick Henry, who spoke movingly and at length, Jefferson reserved his praise for those who spoke briefly and directly.

And what about the side issues, “the little ones,” Jefferson called them, the ones that distracted lesser men? Those would fall in line by themselves when great men focused on the great issues.

“… our sincere appreciation for your magnificent portrayal of Thomas Jefferson
to our worldwide guests during the Caterpillar ThinkBIG Global Conference.”
President, Linn State Technical College
Mr. Jefferson will be magnificent for your audience, too!
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Heard the one about two men in a lighthouse?

 
… speaking with Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin of this singular disposition of men to quarrel and divide into parties, he gave his sentiments, as usual, by way of apologue [a story with a moral]. He mentioned the Eddystone lighthouse in the British channel, as being built on a rock in the mid-channel, totally inaccessible in winter from the boisterous character of that sea, in that season; that, therefore, for the two keepers, employed to keep up the lights, all provisions for the winter were necessarily carried to them in autumn, as they could never be visited again till the return of the milder season; that, on the first practicable day in the spring a boat put off to them with fresh supplies. The boatmen met at the door one of the keepers and accosted him with a “How goes it, friend”? “Very well”. “How is your companion”? “I do not know”. “Don’t know? Is he not here”? “I can’t tell”. “Have not you seen him to-day”? “No”. “When did you see him”? “Not since last fall”. “You have killed him”? “Not I, indeed”. They were about to lay hold of him, as having certainly murdered his companion: but he desired them to go upstairs and examine for themselves. They went up, and there found the other keeper. They had quarreled, it seems, soon after being left there, had divided into two parties, assigned the cares below to one, and those above to the other, and had never spoken to, or seen one another since.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders recognize factions are just a way of life.
Since I’m excerpting Jefferson’s autobiography, this is the next noteworthy passage, even though it was a post more than three years ago.
The Continental Congress was having difficulty governing. Men divided into factions and refused to cooperate. As minister to France, Jefferson witnessed the same problem there. He used Franklin’s story to illustrate “this singular disposition of men to quarrel and divide into parties.”
If we bemoan how our political leaders now seem to divide into separate camps and refuse to talk with one another, this story reminds us it was that way in the late 1700s, too. The light keepers in Franklin’s story had an advantage, though. They didn’t have to cooperate to get the job done.
Benjamin Franklin often told a story to make a point, the meaning of “apologue,” the word Jefferson used in the first sentence above.

“The Missouri Bar will undoubtedly invite Mr. Lee to future functions
and we highly recommend him.”
Director of Law-Related Education, The Missouri Bar
No one tell stories like Benjamin Franklin,
but Thomas Jefferson will inspire and entertain your audience!

Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Keep your name out of the debate!

When the Declaration of Independence was under the consideration of Congress, there were two or three unlucky expressions [condemning slavery] in it which gave offense to some members … Although the offensive expressions were immediately yielded these gentlemen continued their depredations on other parts of the instrument. I was sitting by Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin, who perceived that I was not insensible to these mutilations.
“I have made it a rule,” said he, “to avoid becoming the draughtsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an incident I will relate to you. When I was …
Biographical Sketch of Benjamin Franklin, Dec. 4, 1818
Koch & Peden’s The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, P. 167-8

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Too-sensitive leaders should keep as low a public profile as possible.
In the day or two prior to July 4, 1776, the young Thomas Jefferson (age 33) sat in the Continental Congress and fumed in silence as the delegates made changes to his draft of the Declaration of Independence. They began by deleting Jefferson’s condemnation of the slave trade and went on to find fault and make changes in other areas, too. The wise and aged Ben Franklin sat next to Jefferson and smoothed his ruffled feathers, with a principle and a story to illustrate it.
The principle was to avoid being the author of anything subject to public debate. In that manner, the focus could remain on the issues at hand. It was a principle Jefferson adopted. Many times in the years to come, he would write positions on issues and offer them to others to put forth publicly, with the condition that his authorship remain private. He did this for two reasons: 1. So the debate would be confined to the issue, that he not be a distraction to the debate, and 2. Jefferson was thin-skinned. Keeping himself out of the public debate helped deflect some of the personal attacks he found so wounding.
Jefferson is often criticized for this approach, as being scheming, manipulative or even deceptive. Perhaps. More likely, he really did prefer to keep the debate on the issues themselves while protecting his own thin skin. At least he didn’t stoop to publishing his positions under pseudonyms, as certain others were fond of doing.
Nevertheless, young Jefferson learned from his old mentor to avoid becoming a lightning rod unnecessarily.
I try to keep the Jefferson-excerpt portion of these posts short, so as not to scare readers off. The story that Franklin went on to tell, however, is a delightful one. Every writer and every student of marketing should consider it. There could be a life-lesson for others, as well. For those reasons, I reproduce that story below. It can be found on page 168 of the citation above.

“I personally want to thank you.
It is a delight to have speakers like you who make me look good.”
Meetings Administrator, IA State Association of Counties
Let Thomas Jefferson make you look good to your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739

“I was sitting by Dr. Franklin, who perceived that I was not insensible to these mutilations.’I have made it a rule,’ said he, ‘whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the draftsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an incident, which I will relate to you. When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an apprentice hatter, having served out his time, was about to open shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome sign-board, with a proper inscription. He composed it in these words, John Thompson, Hatter, makes and sells Hats for ready Money, with a figure of a hat subjoined. But he thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments. The first he showed it to, thought the word hatter tautologous [obvious], because followed by the words makes hats, which showed he was a hatter. It was struck out. The next observed, that the word makes might as well be omitted, because his customers would not care who made the hats; if good and to their mind, they would buy, by whomsoever made. He struck it out. A third said he thought the words for ready money were useless, as it was not the custom of the place to sell on credit. Every one, who purchased, expected to pay. They were parted with; and the inscription now stood, “John Thompson sells hats” “Sells hats?” says his next friend; “why, nobody will expect you to give them away. What then is the use of that word?” It was stricken out, and hats followed, the rather, as there was one painted on the board. So his inscription was reduced ultimately to John Thompson, with the figure of a hat subjoined.”

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