Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Paper: Black and White

Publishing these papers online because I lost my flash drive and wish to do my part to help protect academic integrity.

This one I wrote for a class on critical theory, as a student of Fordham U.

Black and White
            James McBrides’ The Color of Water explores the white-black dichotomy that is so central to Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks. This dichotomy can also be seen as a two-way mirror that separates and shapes the lived experiences of the black man and the white man. The black man is in a veritable dark room whereby he can not see himself, only the white man. Conversely, the white man is in the light room but does not see the black man, only his own reflection. Both are aware of the other’s existence on the other side of the mirror and have some means of communication (say, telephone) – a micro society. However, the black man, as Fanon argues, can only identify himself via the Other, the white man. At the same time, the white man sees only himself since, in society, he has no intimate knowledge of the black man and, therefore, creates this conception of “black man” from his own mind. That is, as exemplified in The Color of Water, Fanon’s description of the lived experience of the black man is a two-way mirror.
            First let us look as the black man in the dark room. The room is dark much like the history of the black man. His history is dark in two senses of the word: 1) it is filled with tragedy, such as slavery and murder, and 2) it is obscure because little is known about Africa or its inhabitants prior to its European colonization. This darkness makes the black man susceptible to the white man, who, knowing this, uses it for manipulation; he tells the black man, essentially, that he is inferior. However, the issue is further complicated by the fact that this view is wrong; African culture has been shown to be much more advanced than what historically it has been depicted as; the black man is “not a potentiality of something” but is fully what he is (Fanon 114).
Then there is the fact that the black man can not see himself in the two-way mirror. Instead, he sees the white man – what he is not. It is this opposition that shapes his perceived identity; without the white man’s presence, there would be no such false identity. Fanon writes, “As long as the black man remains on his home territory . . . he will not have to experience his being for others” (89). The black man in the dark room regards the visible presence of the white man and must exist while being exposed to the persistent presence of the white gaze; he feels the white man all around him (Fanon 94). He must, therefore, not only be black but black in relation to white, giving him a confusing two systems of reference (Fanon 90). Because his own history is dark, the black man has no choice but to assume the identity that comes with the latter system of reference. This identity is conveyed to the black man via his interactions with the white man, specifically, by the white man’s “gestures and attitude” (Fanon 89) Further, this forced identity and subordination causes the black man to feel angry whereby the only solutions are that he either accepts his subordinate social position or he completely denies the its vraisemblance. As Fanon notes, the white man will reject the black man as an equal, so the black man is lead into either pride of some newly discovered blackness or shame and self contempt.
            James McBride’s descriptions of his own experiences as a black man in The Color of Water exemplifies this being in the third person that Fanon describes (90). Much of McBride’s early childhood, following the death of his father, was spent going to the cinema and watching blaxploitation films, such as Superfly and Shaft; smoking reefer; snatching purses; and shoplifting (McBride 6). This acceptance of “blackness” was an act of confirmation to the identity that the Other gave him; the world demanded of him to act like a black man (Fanon 94). Further, McBride falls in love with the black power movement and the Black Panthers (McBride 25). Also, his older sister, Helen, drops out of school, stating: “The white man’s education is not for me” (McBride 73). These acts are confirmations of the stage of acceptance and assertion of blackness by the black man in response to and rejection of the white man’s oppression.
            Now we turn to the white man in the light room on the other side of the two-way mirror. He is in the light room because his history is: 1) filled with many achievements, such as the conquering of foreign lands and the creation of many invaluable technologies, and 2) is well known and documented. Therefore, the white man has a relationship with the world that “is one of appropriation” (Fanon 107).
In the light room, the white man is only able to see his own reflection. He is aware that the black man is on the other side but can not see him directly. Therefore, he must create the black man from his own mind. What basis does the white man have to create such a conception? For this task, he looks toward history, his only useful resource. As we all know, the black man was brought into the white world from Africa in chains. He was made a slave and treated as an animal, all based on the belief that blacks were not fully human and were inherently inferior mentally. That is not all. The black man is something to be feared; he has a violent and aggressive nature. It is this conception that the white man adopts, and the black man, unable to change the obvious epidermal difference, can not escape this color prejudice; the black man is a slave to his appearance (Fanon 95). Anthony Appiah emphasis this point in Critical Terms for Literary Study, naming appearance as the defining characteristic of the Other (274). He calls this belief in fundamental inheritable traits in “races” racialist (Appiah 176). Racialists believe that a Negro’s black skin, for instance, “goes along with other important inherited characteristics” (Appiah 276). The term Karim Murji in New Keywords uses  to call the act is racial essentialism which arises from racialization, “various processes by which real or imagined characteristics are used to identify a group as ‘racial’ collectivity, and cultural, political, or ideological situations where race thinking is invoked” (291).
Nothing the black man does or is can find him favor in the eyes of the white man: refined manners, literary knowledge or understanding of esoteric subjects (Fanon 97). Moreover, there is no rationality, such as the genealogical identicalness between the two races, that can save the black man. Rationalizing the world will ultimately lead to its rejecting of the black man (Fanon 102). Thus, the black man is objectified indefinitely.
What is more, this conception forces the black man to be responsible not only himself but for his entire race and ancestors (Fanon 92); he is the black slave as well as the African native. This causes a persistent self awareness and anxiety.
In The Color of Water, Ruth McBride, James’ mother, denies her whiteness to her children when asked, stating that she is simply “light-skinned.” She denies it because she does not want her children to question their own identities and focus on this black-white dichotomy which has become a societal obsession, which, in turn, is a defining and definitive attribute of this type of separated society. However, it proves to be impossible not to discriminate; James knew that his mother was different from the other kids’ mothers, that she was not black (McBride 23). He feared that the Black Panthers would kill his mother, a fear, that blacks were hostile toward whites, instilled in him from the white man (McBride 26-7). In fact, he recounts: “Most white folks I knew seemed to have a great fear of blacks. Even as a young child, I was aware of that.” (McBride 31). In turn, whites are “implicitly evil towards blacks” (McBride 29).
A counterargument can be raised against my claim that the two-way mirror analogy which summarizes Fanon’s argument is exemplified in McBride’s The Color of Water. Namely, it is this: Does not the exposure to the black man, through daily interactions with him, serve to change the perception of him, and thus serve to erode the mirror over time? This is an issue that Fanon does not address. However, what we know is that, in general, we see that real life exposure to people of different racial groups helps to break stereotypes. Does this fact, then, lead to the erosion of the two-way mirror? Yes. However, in society, true and honest communication between the races, though increasing more common, still remains relatively low. Therefore, the mirror is still in place today – as it was in Fanon’s time.
The black-white dichotomy is a two-way mirror, the black man on one side, the white man on the other. One’s point of view makes all the difference. History shapes our view points and we can either accept it with pride or accept it shamefully. The mirror can erode but only through communication.

Works Cited
Appiah, Anthony. Critical Terms for Literary Study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Print.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press, 1994. Print.
McBride, James. The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother. Riverhead Books, New York: 1996. Print.

Murji, Karim. New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary and Society. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Print.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Paper: Metacomet's Kampf

Flash drive: Still lost. Me: Still publishing my papers online for the sake of academic integrity. (I'm presupposing that professors will Google papers to ensure they're not copied.)

This one was written while at Fordham U (undergrad). For a class called Dissent and Disinformation, about King Philip, AKA Metacomet.

Metacom’s Kampf: A Native American King’s Stand Against an American Empire
            When Plymouth colony was founded in 1607, the prospects for the settlers looked bleak. The pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower in 1620 could have easily perished had it not been for the help of Native Americans such as Squanto who taught the Pilgrims how and what to cultivate in the New World. How quickly things change. As the colonist population grew, their settlements expanded, encroaching on more and more Native American land. Both parties needed land to live on; war, it seems, was inevitable. One man who rose against what would become the American Empire in defense of his people and his culture is Metacom, or “King Philip of the Wampanoags,” as the English colonists called him.
            Metacom was the sachem (or war chief) of the Wampanoags, a Native American tribe of southern New England. Metacom’s father, Massasoit (whose name means great sachem), is famous for having met and established an alliance with the Pilgrims. Massasoit, however, resisted the advancement of Christianity on his people by missionaries. This holding on to of his people’s beliefs and identity is something that he passed on to his sons. His eldest son was Wamsutta, also known as King Alexander by the English. Wamsutta became sachem of the Wampanoags after Massasoit’s death around 1661. As sachem he sold land to the colonies in an attempt to increase Wampanoag power and gained the distrust of the English as a result. In 1662, he is forced at gun point to Plymouth to stand trial for allegedly conspiring to attack English settlements. He becomes ill and dies shortly after leaving said court. His brother, Metacom, then, becomes sachem. Metacom believed, and almost certainly so, that his brother was killed by the English, which is sure to have fueled his animosity toward the English.
            The animosity between the Wampanoags and the English, however, was many years in the making. Things were already bleak; as Howard Zinn quotes from Wilcomb Washburn in A People’s History of the United States, “There was a genuine distress, genuine poverty. . . . All contemporary sources speak of the great mass of people as living in severe economic straits [in the New World]” (40). As mentioned, the growth of Plymouth colony was a serious problem, its population doubling every 25 years. Indeed, these people had to go somewhere, but the Native Americans were here first and they were now being forced out of the lands their ancestors have held for thousands of years. Their appeals went largely unheard.
            The colonists were not simply satisfied by taking Native American land, many also felt it necessary to replace the beliefs of the Native Americans with their own – i.e., Christianity. Missionaries such as John Elliot penetrated Native American villages with the sole object of conversion. There was some success along these lines as some Native Americans did convert, dubbed “praying Indians.” This was not enough either; the English set up “praying towns,” towns built for Native Americans to be taught Christianity and English. There was surely a sect of Native Americans that did not mind this at all. However, many tribes saw this as an English attempt to erase Native American culture altogether, which overtly implies a supposed inferiority of who they are. Needless to say, many felt the need to preserve what they had and resist the English.
            Disease also paid a major factor. Much of the Wampanoag (and by greater extent Native American) population was destroyed by diseases brought forth by the English (and other Europeans), namely small pox and measles. European populations had gone through several periods of pandemics, which have served over time as a catalyst for tougher genes to fight off diseases. On the other hand, the Native Americans had no such exposure. Therefore, they had not built up immunity to European diseases, nor had they modern medicine to deal with such outbreaks.
            All things, therefore, seemed destined for war. The spark that ignited the war was a praying Indian by the name of John Sassomon (converted by John Elliot). He was a key figure to this whole thing. Sassomon was raised as a servant in an English household. As is stated in History of King Philip, “he and his family were on the most intimate and friendly relations with the colonists” (188). He was taught English and Christianity. Sassomon was fluent in the English and Massachusetts languages. He, therefore, became vital to both the Plymouth colonists and the Native Americans in their quest to cross enemy lines, so to speak. As such, he became a confidant of Metacom.
            In December of 1674, Sassomon told Plymouth governor Josiah Winslow of an impending Native American attack Metacom was allegedly planning. “According to Indian code, the offender was deemed a traitor and a renegade, and was doomed to death; and it was the duty of every subject of King Philip to kill him whenever and wherever he could be found” (Abbott, 189). Before any investigation was had, Sassomon’s body was found in Assawompset Pond (January, 1675). A Native American told Governor Josiah Winslow that he saw three Pokanoket men (one of whom was a counselor to Metacom) murder Sassomon and throw his body into the pond. The three men were arrested and put on trial in Plymouth. They were found guilty and hanged in June of 1675. This implication that Metacom was involved infuriated many Native Americans.
            On June 20, the English settlement at Swansea was attacked by vengeful Pokanoket for five days, settlers were killed and Swansea was completely destroyed. Boston and Plymouth officials responded by calling on the local militia to take on this indigenous threat. The native village of Mount Hope, a retreat of Metacom, was subsequently destroyed – men, women and children slaughtered indiscriminately. This attack, however, only served to strengthen Native American unity as the Nipmuck and the Podunk, for instance, join Metacom’s forces. From July to September, this unified Native American force attacks several English settlements: Middleborough, Dartmouth, Mendon, Brookfield, Lancaster, Deerfield, Northfield.
            War is officially declared by the Plymouth Colony Confederation on September 9, 1675. King Philip’s War, or Metacom’s Rebellion, as it has come to be called, was fought between Metacom’s unified forces and the colonists and militia of New England (Plymouth, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut) and their Native American allies (Mohegan, Mohawks, and Pequot). From the outset, Metacom and his men seemed doomed; their opponents were more numerous and technologically advanced. This is one of the best testaments to the heart, courage, and conviction of Metacom and the Native Americans who faced such persecution and injustice.
            The Battle of Bloody Brook was the biggest defeat for the English in this war. It began as 100 or so Englishmen were collecting crops in an abandoned field to stock up for the coming winter. They were ambushed, and over 60 of them were killed.
            The Great Swamp Fight was another key battle. It began as an expeditionary force of over a thousand men from the Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Connecticut colonies (150 of who were Pequot and Mohegan) attack a Narragansett fort on December 19, 1675. Although the Narragansett were neutral in the war, the English distrusted and disliked them because they had been known to provide shelter and food to the Wampanoags. A large battled ensued, and when the English gained the upper hand, they burned down the fort, a huge structure (being several acres in size) housing not only vital food supplies but also some 300 women, children, and elderly (those who could not fight), who subsequently burned to death. In all, some 70 Englishman died. The Narragansett were now forced into the war.
            Metacom’s forces, despite their disadvantages, provide a serious threat to the colonists and make some key achievements in their war cause. On March 12, 1676, they manage to attack Plymouth Plantation, proving that they could penetrate deep into enemy lines and bring the fight home to the English. Also, on March 29, 1676, they burn Providence (Rhode Island’s capital) into the ground.
            The tide begins to shift, however, in favor of the English following the killing of Canonchet, the chief of the Narragansett in April of 1676. The Narragansett are completely defeated soon after.
            Metacom now became a fugitive as almost all his allies deserted him, losing the will to fight; he remained indomitable – even after his son and wife were sold off as slaves in Bermuda (Abbott, 356).  Finally, on August 12, 1676 Metacom himself was killed by a praying Indian called John Alderman via shot to the head. He was subsequently beheaded, drawn and quartered. His head was displayed on a pole in Plymouth for over 20 years. The fight was essentially over. Some minor fighting continues until April 12, 1678 when a treaty at Casco Bay was signed.
So what? Why should we care? Well, first, unbeknownst to many, this war is one of the bloodiest and costliest of American history. Only 400 Wampanoags survive the war. 5,000 Native Americans died (40 percent of their population). Two and a half thousand Englishmen die (about five percent of the total population). In fact, percentage-wise, this is the bloodiest war ever for the English in the Americas. Moreover, as is stated on The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Connecticut, after the war, Edmund Randolph, sent to assess the damage, reported to England that “twelve hundred homes were burned, eight thousand head of cattle lost, and vast stores of foodstuffs destroyed” (“1675-King Philip's War”).
The war was also foretelling of future Native American conflicts, such as the French and Indian Wars and Wounded Knee.
This war was particularly important because it allowed the English to expand their boundaries without restriction, which later became American expansionism; a precedent to follow was set, if you will. For Native Americans, this struggle serves as something to look back on and claim as their own, an instance where Native Americans fought back instead of conceded.
Lastly, Metacom’s struggle is important because it symbolizes what I like to call the “Spirit of Dissent.” He lost in his struggle but that is not what is important. He fought to end injustice and preserve his people’s identity and culture, their way of life, despite the almost certainty of defeat. He fought because he knew that some things are worth fighting for.

Works Cited
Abbot, John. History of King Philip, sovereign chief of the Wampanoags Digital Scanning Inc. 2001. Fordham University Library Catalog. Ebrary. Fordham U Lib. April 27, 2010. <http://site.ebrary.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/lib/fordham/docDetail.action?docID=5000335>.
Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States of America. New York: Harper, 1999.

1675-King Philip's War.” The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Connecticut. 2007. April 27, 2010. <http://www.colonialwarsct.org/1675.htm >.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Paper: Thomas Alva Edition: A Great American

My flash drive's still lost. I'm still publishing my papers online for the sake of academic integrity. (Luckily, I had backed up these papers on another flash drive.)

This one's also for a history class, written several years ago while I was a student at Bronx Community College.

Thomas Alva Edison: A Great American
The individual with the most patents in history goes to one Thomas Edison with 1,093 US patents and many others worldwide. Edison is also the only inventor “to earn U.S. patents every year for 65 straight years,” according to a Cobblestone article entitled “A lifetime of Invention” by Karen Bradley Cain. Edison’s greatest contributions were his many practical inventions that improved many lives across the globe and his establishment of new intuitions that benefited humankind.
            In 1874, Edison improved the typewriter, the first working one invented by Christopher Sholes in 1868, by changing the metal parts for wood, and corrected the alignment of the letters and distribution of the ink. Until Edison’s improvement, it was faster to write by hand.
            In 1876, Edison improved the telephone by adding a carbon transmitter, an important step in making the telephone practical. Before the improvement, people had to shout on the telephone.
            Edison broke ground in the field of electric powered trains. According to a Cobblestone article, “A Lifetime of Invention,” “Exploring new uses for his electric motor, Edison started a small passenger railway near Menlo Pak, New Jersey, 1880. His electric locomotive was the first of its kind in this country, and it became the foundation for streetcar and subway systems.”
            Edison began working on the improvement of motion pictures in the late-1880s. Based on the inventions of George Eastman, he developed a camera. In 1914, he connected the phonograph and camera to make talking pictures. Edison put it aside after it showed some faults. Others later corrected the faults. Edison used them as a means of education. He predicted that some day they would replace others methods of teaching.
            In 1891, Edison built the Kinetoscope, an “early film projector based largely on other inventor’s designs. Although the device could show only short, primitive films, Edison experimented with synchronizing audio with film in 1894,” says Bob Crepeau in Thomas Edison: The Wizard of Menlo Park.
            In 1768, an electric vote-recorder machine was young Edison’s first invention that he tried to sell. It was a “machine that allowed lawmakers to press a “yes” or “no” button from their seats, saving the time of individual voice voting and tallying” (“Lifetime of Invention”). It recorded the votes of legislatures on a big board. He took his invention to Washington, D.C. and tried to sell it to Congress. A committee gave him a hearing but the chairman explained that the invention was unwanted. “It takes 45 minutes to call the roll,” he said to Edison. “In that time, we can trade votes. You machine would make that impossible.” That is when Edison is said to have famously stated, “I will never again invent anything which nobody wants.”
            Edison did a lot of work with telegraph systems. Edison received over 100 patents for his work on the telegraph during the 1870s, including “improving the speed and increasing the number of telegrams that could be sent over one wire at the same time” (“Lifetime of Invention”).
            Edison aided in the development of the mimeograph, a “duplicating machine used by schools and businesses” (“Lifetime of Invention”). He patented his first copying system in 1876: “He invented and then used an eclectic pen to make tiny holes in wax-coated paper. . . . His invention led to the development of the mimeograph (“Lifetime of Invention”).
            Edison’s favorite invention, created in 1877, is the phonograph (or, record player), which was also his most original invention. The idea came to him as he was trying to find a way to record telegraph messages automatically. This would be onto a paper disk set on a revolving plate, like today’s record players. From his telegraph experiments, Edison had learned how to make a diaphragm (or vibrating disk) that responds to the vibrations of sounds. He made a sketch and gave it to John Kruesi, his shop foreman. Kruesi was confused for it called for something neither chemical nor electrical, but mechanical. Nonetheless, he built the cylinder gadget and brought it to Edison. He wrapped tin foil around it and recited “Mary had a little lamb” into the mouthpiece of the device. After a false start, it repeated Edison’s words. It is said that Edison himself was surprised.
            The invention of the electric light was not as original. Many had been working on the idea for years. Paul Jablochkov, a Russian electrical engineer, had lighted up Paris in 1867 with arc lights. Edison, however, sought to light up homes and offices and to create an alternative to gas, the chief means of lighting at that time. He spent two years searching for the proper filament (or wire) that would light well. In his search for a perfect filament material, he sent to an agent into the jungles of the Amazon, and another the deep forests of Japan. The story of his discovery is interesting, to say the least. Edison was playing with a mixture of lampblack and tar. When it was rolled, it resembled a wire. Edison put this into a bulb and drew out the air. Edison next ran a current through it. It glowed for a short while and then burned out. He concluded to try a carbonized thread after he believed that burned out because the bulb contained air. He succeeded in 1879; it lasted from October 19 to the 21, after Edison increased the voltage. Edison soon became known as “The Wizard of Menlo Park.”
            Edison took this invention and capitalized on it. His intention was to replace gas and arc lights, the older method of lighting cities. Edward Robb Ellis in The Epic of New York states that “In the early part of the 1880’s New York streets flickered under the glow of gaslights more picturesque than efficient” (363). Later a scientist named Charles Francis Brush invented the arc light, which illuminated Cleveland’s Public Square by 1879; in the first ones were installed in New York in December of that same year (363). Edison also wanted to light up homes and offices and proliferate his invention for the good of man. He light up New York City on September 4, 1882, after the Edison Electric Illuminating Company was incorporated. It was adopted slowly in the coming decades (368).
            After x-rays had been discovered in 1895 b German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen, Edison invented the fluoroscope, “whereby doctors using x-rays could see internal body structures on a fluorescent, or glowing, screen” (“Lifetime of Invention”).
             Edison also helped in the establishment of many key American institutions. The first commercial research laboratory was created when Edison hired a dozen men with specialized knowledge and skills and gave them materials and equipment to work on. This scientific contribution is the backbone of modern science.
            In 1915, during World War I, Edison became chairman of the U.S. Navy Consulting Board. He “worked on many projects. . . . Edison became discouraged, though, when the Navy failed to follow up on his ideas (“Lifetime of Invention”). Edison urged Congress to create Washington, D. C.’s Naval Research Laboratory, the first institution for military research (“Lifetime of Invention”).  
            Edison received many honors in his lifetime for his contributions to society, both before and after his death. At the time of his death, “his many inventions had spawned business interests worth more than $25,000,000,000 (Ellis 365). He was even appointed to the Legion of Honor by the French. In 1920, also, the U.S. gave him the Distinguished Service Medal for his work with World War I. Congress awarded Edison a gold medal in 1928 for the development and application of inventions that have revolutionized civilization in the last century.  In 1960, Edison was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, a national landmark on the Bronx Community College campus. It is a colonnaded promenade featuring the busts of many famous Americans with inscribed quotes, dedicated for their greatness. Edison’s inscription reads “I trust you for progress . . . Be as brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward.”

Works Cited

Cain, Karen Bradley. “A Lifetime of Invention.” Cobblestone Dec, 2005; 2-5
Ellis, Edward Robb. The Epic of New York City: A Narrative History. New York: Kodansha International, 1997.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Paper: Benjamin Franklin: A Great American

Recently, I lost my flash drive, or, rather, forgot about it and it was apparently stolen. This happened at Bronx Community College (BCC), where I work. There is a lot on the flash drive, such as my diary, my creative writings, my resume, and my academic papers. Because I'm such a strong believer in academic integrity, I've decided to post my papers online over the course of the next several days. I hope people find them interesting - I always try to find something interesting about every topic I'm given, which isn't always an easy task.

I'm starting with my BCC papers. This one I wrote (several years ago) for a history class, qualifying a great American. (The campus is home to The Hall of Fame for Great Americans, a national landmark.)

Benjamin Franklin: A Great American
We use the term often, but what is it that makes a great American? Courage? Patriotism? Impact? Intelligence? Ingenuity? Humility? Honesty? Kindness? No, it is not any one of these things but rather an amalgam of them that makes a great American. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) embodied all these traits. He was a statesman, diplomat, inventor, scientist, philosopher, publisher, and Founding Father. He did many things to shape the modern world during his time. He is probably best remembered as a key figure in the American Revolution. That is why, above all, he is a great American.
                  Some of Franklin’s most important work was in convincing the American colonies to unite. He proliferated some of these ideas in The Pennsylvania Gazette (1729-1766), writing much of the material himself. It was in this paper that Franklin published what is often regarded as the first political cartoon. The illustration depicted a snake made up of 13 segments, one for each colony, warning that the colonies should “JOIN, or DIE.” This was especially important because war had just broken out between the British and French, what is often referred to as the French and Indian War. Both forces had Native American allies, which made war especially dangerous for the colonists.
                  In 1754, during the War, Franklin was sent to Albany, New York to represent Pennsylvania at a colonial conference to discuss defense against the Indians. At the conference, he suggested the first real plan for the union of the colonies. The goal was to bring together the 13 colonies into “one general government.” It was approved by the delegates at the Albany Congress, but the colonies never ratified it. It was later the basis for the Articles of Confederation.
                  Franklin was very influential in shaping attitudes against the British Crown, as well as exposing its injustices. He was the key American figure against the Stamp Act, issued in 1765 by British Parliament, taxing the colonies in the form of a stamp required to make documents legit. At first, Franklin did not oppose the Act, believing the principle more important: whether or not British Parliament had a right to tax its colonies. Then, when he learned of how strongly opposed the colonies were to the Act, he went before British Parliament to testify against it. For two hours, he answered a series of 174 questions dealing with “taxation without representation,” answering concisely for each question. It was repealed a short time later. This strengthened American resolve to not be subordinated by the Crown.
                  Nevertheless, other instances arose that would eventually drive the British and its colonies to war, such as the Boston Tea Party, Boston Massacre, Townshend Acts, and so on. Franklin made sure to continue to expose such occurrences through his publications and meetings with other influential men. Franklin lost his son, who supported the Crown, to his determination in the American cause and independence; his resolve was amazing.
                  War broke out in 1775, the American Revolution. The following year, Franklin was part of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, along with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. It is said that Franklin could not be trusted not to put a joke in the Declaration, and that is why Jefferson was chosen to write it. It was ratified by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.
                  One of Franklin’s key contributions during the War was in influencing France to join on the side of the colonies. Franklin was appointed foreign minister to France shortly after the adoption of the Declaration. In 1777, after news of the American victory at Saratoga reached Parish, Franklin rushed to the French foreign minister with a copy of a proposed treaty. King Louis XVI had agreed to sign it but only if Spain would. Fearing it would take too long, Franklin devised a trick. Franklin knew that a British secret agent, Paul Wentworth, was in Paris sent for him. Franklin spoke with him but said nothing. The agent reported that Franklin spoke in circles. Franklin knew word would reach King Louis XVI about his talk with the British secret agent; it did. Fearing the Americans and British were talking peace, the King signed the treaty, not waiting for Spain, which entered the war later. According to The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and Other Writings, Franklin “combined his popularity with his diplomatic skill to achieve America’s first great diplomatic victory, the French Allegiance” (271). Soon after France and Spain joined, the War ended.
                  Franklin was also instrumental in the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1783), which officially ended the Revolutionary War. John Jay and John Adams came to France to work on the treaty with Franklin although it was nearly the same as Franklin’s original. Spain, France, and Great Britain all had interests in the colonies. Thus, satisfying them all proved difficult for Franklin. It gave the new nation everything it could reasonably expect.
                  Franklin’s influence is just as great with regards to the American way of life. One way in which he did this was through helping found many new instrumental institutions. His Junto members, for instance, members of Franklin’s self-improvement organization, started America’s first circulatory library in 1731 by collecting their books together and sending to England for more. They pooled their money together to buy books and then used them for free. The library still exists today as The Library Company of Philadelphia. It still has the original collection.
                  Fire loss was a heavy and frequent burden that threatened the economic welfare and safety of Philadelphia residents at the time, of which Franklin was one. He was, therefore, very concerned with fire safety and prevention. Thus, he used his newspaper to help establish the city’s first fire department in 1736 as well as to organize American’s first fire insurance company in 1752.
                  Franklin always had a deep love and interest in education. One endeavor to that end was his “Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania [sic],” which outlined a college that would not focus on education from the clergy but would prepare students for live of business and public service.  The Pennsylvania Academy was established soon after the publication of the paper in 1749 (Franklin 207). It opened its doors for the first time in 1751. Today, it is known as the University of Pennsylvania.
                  Franklin also contributed to society through his important discoveries. He is most famous to us today as being the man who discovered that static electricity an lightning are essentially the same thing. He devised the now famous kite experiment to prove this theory of his, being one of the first men in the world to experiment with electricity. The experiment took place in 1752, during a thunderstorm. Franklin flew a kite high into the clouds, being careful to insulate the part of the kite wire he held. A bolt of lightning struck the kite wire, traveling down to a metal key tied at the end, causing a spark. A month earlier electricians in France had verified the same theory. This was before Franklin got an opportunity to hear about it (Franklin 233). The successful experiment proved Franklin’s hypothesis and propelled advancement in the taming of electricity from something not well understood and deep in mystery and superstition to an important resource.
                  To this day, few people know about Franklin’s other big discovery: the Gulf Stream, a large water ocean current that brings warm water from the Gulf to Western Europe thereby making the climate there hotter than it would otherwise be. Franklin was the first scientist to study its movement in the Atlantic Ocean. He began a chart of it at the age of 18 during his first Atlantic voyage, spending much time studying its course, as well as recording its temperature, speed, and depth. His chart of the Gulf Stream was finally completed in 1785 when Franklin was on his way home from England.
                  Franklin is also remembered for his many inventions. Franklin likened a new invention to a newborn baby (Franklin 226). His first true invention was the Franklin stove. He learned that by he could make his own stove twice as warm and work with one fourth as much fuel when he arranged the flues in an efficient way. His stove was created in 1742, an iron furnace stove that used less wood, was safer, and provided more heat for less fuel.
                  Franklin was both nearsighted and farsighted; he had glasses for reading and for everyday nearsightedness. Tired of having to constantly switch from his reading glasses to his distant lenses, Franklin had two pairs of spectacles cut in half and put two of each in one frame, known as bifocals today. Bifocals are something enjoyed by many people today that enable them to simply move their eyes up or down to see far or near.
                  Shortly after Franklin’s famous kite experiment, he invented the Franklin Rod. This invention protected many people’s homes from being burned down after being hit by lighting. It does this by first attracting the lighting to the point of the rod, developed from Franklin’s “ theory of points” where he found that a spark was attracted more readily by a pointed object than by a blunt one, and then safely channeling the electricity to the ground. When lightning struck Franklin’s home and the home suffered no damage, he had proven the effectiveness of his invention. Franklin was proclaimed the tamer of lightning. It is called the lightning rod today and is employed widely to attract and neutralize lightning from causing damage to tall buildings and structures. A Franklin saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
                  Franklin made other important contributions to society. His Poor Richard’s Almanac (1733-1758), for instance, proliferated helpful information and advice. Almanacs were important in Franklin’s day. Many families only had two print materials, a Bible and an almanac. Also, almanacs contained many different kinds of information, such as holidays, the tides, the quarters of the moon, and the dates of fairs and law court sessions, as well as general information. Franklin took on the persona of one Richard Saunders, a poor man who needed money to take care of his carping wife. Franklin’s witty proverbial sayings were the main reason for its success. Here are some The Sayings of Poor Richard:
                  Well done is better than well said.
                  Fish and visitors stink after three days.
                  Those who in quarrels interpose, must often wipe a bloody nose.
                  There are lazy minds as well as lazy bodies.
                  Who is strong? He that can conquer his bad habits.
Franklin did not create all his sayings; he got them from other languages, which he taught himself and partially mastered, such as French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Latin.
                  Franklin’s political contributions are perhaps the most important. In 1787, Franklin was sent as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. However, because of age (he was 81) and illness, he could not take a very active part. Nevertheless, his key contribution here is being one of the principle authors of the Great Compromise, which helped small states and large states get together and choose a plan to follow to solve the dispute between the two over representation in Congress. They set up a two-house Congress. His presence as well as Washington’s helped the Constitution get ratified.
                  Franklin also sought the abolition of slavery in America. In 1788, he wa elected president of the first antislavery society in America, the Pennsylvania Society for the Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. Franklin’s last public act was to sign an appeal to Congress calling for the speedy abolition of slavery. Although the abolition of slavery would not occur for some time after his death, Franklin made his opinion known about the immorality, setting a precedent for others to follow.
                  Franklin had accomplished many good deeds throughout his life for the betterment of America. We, the American people, therefore, remember him as a great American who lived for self-improvement, civic-improvement, equality, and justice. In Philadelphia, Ben’s memory is honored with the Benjamin Franklin Institute that contains the Benjamin Franklin Memorial Chamber, which houses a great statue of Franklin by James Earle Fraser.

Works Cited

Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and Other Writings. 300th Anniversary Edition. Ed. L. Jesse Lemisch. New York: Signet Classics, 1961.