Benjamin Franklin, blogging role model?

A personal friend has lately been expressing concern that I have been descendinginto sarcasm too frequently on this blog of late.

He suggests that I study Benjamin Franklin as a role model for how to write in a way that amuses and persuades, rather than startles and offends.

So, to that end, I am reading Walter Isaacson’s outstanding Franklin biography:

[Writing anonymously as “Pacificus Secundus” in a British newspaper, Franklin] resorted to his old tactic of scathing satire by pretending to support the idea that [British] military rule be imposed in the [American] colonies…

“It may be objected that by ruining our colonies, killing one half the people, and driving the rest over the mountains, we may deprive ourselves of their custom for our [manufactured goods]; but a moment’s consideration will satisfy us that since we have lost so much of our European trade, it can be only the demand in America that keeps up and has of late so greatly enhanced the price of those [goods], and therefore a stop put to that demand will be an advantage to all of us, as we may thereafter buy our own goods cheaper.”

The only downside for England, [Franklin] noted, was that “multitudes of our own poor may starve for want of employment.”…


Franklin also produced a politican cartoon… that showed a bloody and dismembered British Empire, its limbs labeled with the names of colonies. The motto underneath, “Give a Penny to Belisarius,” referred to the Roman general who oppressed his provinces and died in poverty.

He had the cartoon printed on notecards [and] hired a man to hand them out in front of [the British] Parliament…


[Concerned that the British did not fully understand the potential consequences of further alienating the American colonies, Franklin] published a parable in January 1770 about a young lion cub and a large English dog traveling together on a ship.

The dog picked on the lion cub and “frequently took its food by force.”

But the lion grew and eventually became stronger than the dog.

One day, in response to all the insults, it smashed the dog with “a stunning blow,” leaving the dog “regretting that he had not rather secured its friendship than provoked its enmity.”

The parable was “humbly inscribed” to Lord Hillsborough [a senior British official in charge of colonial affairs]…


[Franklin later] reverted to his youthful love of satire in two anonymous propaganda pieces he wrote for the English papers in September 1773. The first one was entitled “Rules by Which a Great Empire May be Reduced to a Small One.”

Noting that “an ancient sage”… had once boasted that he knew how to turn a little city into a great one, the essay listed twenty ways to do the reverse to an empire. Among them:

“In the first place, gentlemen, you are to consider that a great empire, like a great cake, is most easily diminished at the edges.”

“Take special care the provinces are never incorporated with the Mother Country, that they do not enjoy the same common rights, the same privileges in commerce, and that they are governed by severer laws, all of your enacting, without allowing them any share in the choice of legislators.”

“However peaceably your colonies have submitted to your government, shown their affection to your interest, and patiently borne their grievances, you are to suppose them always inclined to revolt, and treat them accordingly. Quarter troops among them, who by their insolence may provoke the rising of mobs… you may in time convert your suspicions into realities.”

“Whenever the injured come to the capital with complaints… punish such suitors with long delay, enormous expense, and a final judgment in favor of the oppressor.”

“Resolve to harass them with novel taxes. They will probably complain to your Parliament that they are taxed by a body in which they have no representative, and that this is contrary to common right… Let the Parliament flout their claims… and treat the petitioners with utmost contempt.”

The list, reflecting the indignities that had been perpetrated on America, went on at length: send them… “petty-fogging lawyers” to govern them, “perplex their commerce with infinite regulations”, appoint “insolent” tax collectors, and garrison your troops in their homes rather than on the frontier where they can be of use.

If you follow these rules for diminishing your colonies, the essay concluded, you will “get rid of the trouble of governing them.”

It was signed “Q.E.D.”…


Two weeks later, Franklin published an even broader parody of Britain’s treatment of America, “An Edict by the Kind of Prussia.” A thinly disguised hoax, it purported to be a declaration issued [about England] by King Frederick II [of Prussia].

Whereas the Germans had long ago created the first settlements in England and had lately protected it in the war against France, they had decided “that a revenue should be raised from said colonies in Britain”.

So Prussia was levying 4.5 percent [taxes] on all English imports and exports, and it was prohibiting the creation of any further manufacturing plants in England [as England did in the American colonies].

The edict added that the felons in German jails “shall be emptied out” and sent to England “for the better peopling of that country” [again, as England did in the American colonies].

Lest anyone be so thick as to miss the point, it concluded by noting that all of these measures should be considered “just and reasonable” in England because they were “copied” from the rules imposed by the British Parliament on the American colonies.

I do indeed have a new blogging role model: Benjamin Franklin!