A legacy worth leaving – Punch Newspapers
How about this question: what legacy has had and continues to have the greatest impact on humanity? If you are a Christian, you will probably choose Jesus and if you are a Muslim, you will choose the Prophet Muhammad in the same way. Great choices, sure, but let’s try the secular realm.
And the duo Copernicus and Galileo? Their postulates and discoveries about the universe have radically altered humanity’s understanding of our place in it. We learned that our Earth is not the center of the universe but just another planet revolving around the Sun. They also demonstrated that the Earth is round and not flat, thus removing the fear of falling from edges.
Their discoveries gave a boost to astronomy, physics and especially to the exploration of the world. With that in mind, groundbreaking scientists such as Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Michael Faraday might be the most impactful candidates. Einstein’s theories of relativity and optics and Newton’s laws of motion spurred dramatic developments in aviation and electronics, among others. As for Faraday, what would life be like without his discovery of electricity?
It’s quite possible that you chose early explorers such as Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama, and Christopher Columbus. It was their explorations that accelerated contact between the peoples of different continents, for better and for worse.
If you’re a millennial — or close enough in age — you’d probably pick Mark Zuckerberg as the most influential person in history. Even the elderly will be excused for choosing it. After all, life today virtually revolves around Facebook and related social media that Zuckerberg has brought together.
And speaking of Zuckerberg, his 15th century equivalent, Johannes Gutenberg, has been considered the most important inventor of all time. Gutenberg’s movable type gave rise to the printing revolution, which paved the way for the development of computers.
They are all great contributors to life as we know it. And we haven’t even listed the great emperors who accelerated human civilization by bringing together vast territories under one administrative umbrella. It may be a mistake to ask for the most significant person in history. There are too many criteria and too many deserving people.
Yet, if Benjamin Franklin hasn’t crossed your mind, you forgot one. This month happens to mark the 252nd anniversary of his death in April 1790. In his 84 years of life, he had no equal – and still has none – in the number of arrears affected by its innovations.
Above all, he had a vision to uplift the American underclass, not just in the 18th century, but centuries later. And, in his will, he allocated a significant portion of his fortune to achieve this goal. As they say, he didn’t just talk, he walked. More on that later.
First, the career, inventions and innovations that earned him the terms genius and polymath. Franklin began his career as a printer. From there he became, among other things, a publisher, journalist, inventor, scientist, philosopher, diplomat, and one of America’s Founding Fathers. He is best known for his invention of the lightning rod, but he also invented many other gadgets and instruments, including bifocal glasses and a flexible catheter (the instrument inserted into the mouth or anus to remove fluids).
For a long time there have been worldwide mythologies about thunder and lightning. For many people they were manifestations of the wrath of God or of the fight between the gods. It was Franklin who discovered that clouds contain electricity and that it is the collision of negatively and positively charged particles that causes lightning and apparent explosions. In fact, the concepts of negative and positive charges were coined by Franklin, along with the name battery.
Franklin is also widely known as the founder of one of the most prestigious universities in the world, the University of Pennsylvania. What is not as well known is that he also established America’s first public hospital, a lending library, a life insurance mutual, a learned society, among many other institutions and services.
In most of his accomplishments, Franklin had his eye on the welfare of the masses. His best-known publication was aptly called Poor Richard’s Almanack. It was a popular magazine that departed from the heavy prose and intellectualization of other publications of the time. Among other things, Franklin included treats, weather information, folk wisdom, and more.
You’ve probably used or heard the saying, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” It first appeared in the Almanac. It was the same: “He who sleeps with dogs will rise with fleas.” These are sayings that are as relevant today as they apparently were when Franklin coined them.
On this 232nd anniversary of his death, what is especially commemorated is Franklin’s bequest of two thousand pounds to be used to help working-class men on their feet. That was a lot of money at the end of the 18th century.
In the will, Franklin directed that one thousand pounds go to Boston, his hometown, and the other thousand pounds to Philadelphia, the city where he lived much of his life and made his fortune. Each municipal government had to loan small sums to recently married men who had completed their apprenticeship. They were to use the money to establish their trades and then repay at generous interest rates over a 10-year period.
Franklin looked 200 years down the road. In 100 years, he said in the will, the bequest would have grown enormously. He asked cities to use some of the money to build anything they think would improve the lives of ordinary people.
“I think our founders all wrestled with the question, what does America mean? But only Franklin seemed to continue that conversation after his death,” said Michael Meyer, professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet “And I think if Franklin came back today, he’d probably be very happy to see that his money is still surviving.”
For Nigerians, this must be the most amazing point in this story. For starters, how many public figures think of their legacy in Franklin’s terms? How many of the herd of politicians vying for the presidency next year will be inspired by his story? And what are the chances that a bequest made 232 years ago to help the working class climb the economic ladder still does exactly that today?
All rights reserved. This material and any other digital content on this website may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without the prior express written permission of PUNCH.
Contact: [email protected]