Today we heard an amazing lecture by Dr. Waldstreicher regarding the inner struggles of one of our most revered forefathers, Ben Franklin. He opened his lecture with a note on our current times suggesting that there has been a revival of the intents of American forefathers. He questioned why, maybe a revival of patriotism, or an increasing interest in American History has sparred the popularity, but nonetheless, it is happening and I am sure history professors everywhere are dancing with joy, or maybe just smiling a little…you don’t often see history professors dancing (which is certainly an issue for another blog…get on that one Hutch).
He begins his lecture explaining that Ben Franklin is construed as having opposed slavery along with John Adams, George Washington (who freed is slaves in his will), and Alexander Hamilton. Franklin wrote just before his death a paper in opposition to slavery supporters in the South. In 1787 he became a member of the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society. It would soon become clear through Dr. Waldstreicher’s lecture that Ben Franklin’s stance on slavery was not quite so black and white. As a matter of fact, the gray area covers most of this issue and Franklin’s stance on it.
He discussed Franklin as an American leader, an artist, scientist, and lastly, a politician. He was described as a renaissance man, statesman, and revered leader. He also discussed the conflict in these different roles. The anti-slavery was the last chapter in the story that actually began with Franklin as an indentured servant himself. His brother was literally his keeper. Franklin would spend a lifetime involved in the struggle over whether slavery was acceptable, financially, obviously, but morally seemed to prove to be bothersome to Franklin. Just prior to his death he would take a strong stance and history would remember him well for it, but I don’t think Franklin would be so secure in his own belief.
This is going to be an excellent argument to pose to my students. Was it OK for our forefathers to hold slaves because the economy and social nature of the day necessitated it?
Professor Robert Engs discussed slavery from the political point of view later on in the morning. He explained that in 1861 four questions needed to be answered regarding slavery, to be specific, questions dealing with the slave rebellion that history books seem to overlook. Those questions were: 1. Would the slaves rebel? 2. Did they really want their freedom? 3. Would they fight for their freedom? 4. Would they know what to do with their freedom?
Dr. Engs would explain each of the points and emphasize the fact that indeed a slave rebellion took place. Thanks to the efforts of many of those in bondage, our Civil War would be won (if winning and war can even be placed in the same sentence) by the North and our country would remained united.
He provided some amazing information via electronic archive. We now have access to over 270 documents about the Civil War era. These articles will be of great help in the classroom and provide some excellent primary source information that both my students and I can use.
The day would come to a close after visiting some of the historical sites in downtown Philadelphia. We started our self-guided tour at the City Tavern. Unfortunately, the actual tavern was torn down and reconstructed. Next, I went to visit the historic post office where Ben Franklin was the Postmaster General. That was actually pretty neat. I mailed home a postcard for the postmark! We then went through the underground museum on Franklin. I loved the phones where you could call various former presidents, politic ans, and famous individuals who each spoke of Franklin. That was really cute for kids (who am I kidding – and adults). Maybe I can take my kids on a field trip? Not likely, but it would be fun.