Ben Franklin’s Timely Thoughts on Freedom of Speech and the Source of Government Power

7 Apr
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Ben Franklin at the age of 16 was an apprentice at his stepbrother Jamer’s Boston print shop, which published the New-England Courant the second regularly printed newspaper in the American colony. He wanted to try his talent as a writer for the paper. His brother would not have approved of his writing venture. Therefore, he had to write under a pseudonym, Silence Dogwood, a fictional widow who shared her humorous observations of the times. His secret articles were the rave, and everyone tried to guess who this unknown Mrs. Dogood was.

However, he did compose the more serious articles that attained much acclaim, illustrating his early political convictions on freedom of speech and the real source of government. He wrote this article when only 16 years old, over 50 years before Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. These snippets of his articles shows he had political conviction at the age of 16!

 

 

“Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom, and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech, which is the right of every man as far as by it he does not hurt or control the right of another; and this is the only check it ought to suffer, and the only bounds it ought to know.

“The sacred privilege is so essential to free governments that the security of property  and the freedom of speech always go together; and in those wretched countries where a man cannot call his tongue his own, he can scare call anything  else his own.

“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech. . . .

“The administration of governments is nothing else but the attendance of the trustees of the people upon the interest and affairs of the people; and as it is the part and business of the people, for whose sake alone all public matters are, or ought to be, transacted, to se whether they be well or ill transacted, so it is the interest and ought to be the ambition of all honest magistrates to have their deeds openly examined and publicly scanned. Only the wicked governors of men dread what is said of them.”[1]

“I am . . .  a mortal enemy to arbitrary government and unlimited power. I am naturally very jealous for the rights and liberties of my country, and the least the least appearance of an encroachment on those invaluable privileges is apt to make my blood boil exceedingly. . . .

I now take up a resolution to do for the future all that lies in my way for the service of my countryman.”[2]

Mrs Silence Dogood

 


[1] New England Courant, Boston, 9 July 1722

[2] New England Courant, Boston, 16 and 30 April 1723

 

 

 

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