4/18/2014 7:43:00 PM

Understanding Benjamin Franklin's Dream

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

By Shannon Delaney '13
Author, University of Mississippi American History Professor and renowned Benjamin Franklin historian Sheila Skemp, Ph.D. visited Siena College this week to discuss the life of one of America’s revolutionary era leaders.
Skemp’s speech, “A World We Have Lost: Benjamin Franklin and the American Dream,” discussed how Franklin’s idea of the “American Dream” is vastly different from ours today.
“Every student of history should take this to heart. We always have to remind ourselves that stepping into the past, is stepping into a different country,” Skemp said.
During her lecture, Skemp explained that Benjamin Franklin began his public life with service to the King of England. During the time of the Boston Massacre, Franklin told the colonists that King George III had their best interest in mind. Franklin’s goal was to strengthen the relationship between England and its colonies. He left England for Philadelphia where he brought British fashion, architecture and customs to America. Still, Skemp said that Benjamin Franklin’s dream was more of a British dream than an American one.
“It was interesting to hear that Ben Franklin was the most un-American founding father,” said Amanda Ferro’13.  “I would have not thought that any of the founding fathers were Un-American.”
Skemp also explained that Franklin’s dream was based on three ideas: independence, competence and morality. 
Franklin believed that an independent man could think for himself. Skemp said Franklin reasoned that “Ordinary people worked with their hands, independent people worked with their heads.” Franklin also thought that self-government reflected competence. He thought people should govern their passions and desires and learn to be reasonable instead of emotional. He also thought that morality should guide the way people earn money. Franklin didn’t trust competition. Skemp explained that in the 18th century, people condemned competition, even in government.   “Back then people used to stand for office,” Skemp said. “Now, we run for office.”
“I was interested in how Franklin opposed competition, yet he put himself over other people to look better,” said Michael Battaglia’13. “I think having a speech like this about people in our past is a must. I would have never known all of those things about Benjamin Franklin if it wasn’t for Shelia Skemp’s lecture.”

“A lecture about the American Dream is always pertinent for college students,” said Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center for Revolutionary Era Studies Jennifer Dorsey, Ph.D.   “Students are able to think broadly and creatively about what they want to achieve for themselves after they graduate from Siena.” 

Contact: Ken Jubie
Contact E-mail: communications@siena.edu

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