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Mailbag: Franklin’s Shades of Gray

August 6, 2018


Mailbag: Franklin’s Shades of Gray

If we’ve learned anything with this little project of ours (okay, it’s not so little these days), it’s that few things are black and white.

The idea was quite prominent last week when we covered what is certainly the most squirmy of Ben Franklin’s 13 virtues… chastity.

Readers were quick to point out the shades of gray – perhaps 50 of them? – in the founding father’s life. They were quick to remind us that Franklin didn’t live up to his own words.

We agree. No man is perfect. We’d be out of a job if they were.

But as we’ll cover in our final essay about Franklin’s virtues tomorrow, it’s not always about doing. It’s about trying.

Failure is to be expected.

We’re gathering our careful thoughts on what will surely be an essay that floods our mailbag (it involves Jesus). So let’s make room in our inbox and see what readers had to say last week.

Love Connection

We’ll start with the rumors of Franklin’s lustful ways.

From all that is known, it does appear that Franklin did take his own advice on taking a mistress who was an older (mature) woman. This is not to say, though, that he neglected the younger women of the day. He had several dalliances – although, quite probably, not sexual – with quite young women. These often resulted in long-term friendships lasting many years. Reader A.S.

We include this note because, as we said, it’s like so many others we received. Franklin appeared to enjoy the ladies.

But there’s plenty of evidence he knew the errors of his ways.

Taking advantage of some Connections, we uncovered a letter penned by Franklin that showed he was aware of the constant fight between virtue and reality. He wrote it to a potential mistress. It described his deep feelings… and how if it weren’t one lady, it’d be another.

In fact, the idea is at the very core of why we’re covering Franklin’s virtues.


If living up to these lofty ideas were easy… if all we had to do was commit to them… we wouldn’t have much to say. But living a virtuous, good life is not easy. It takes constant effort and comes with constant failures.

Franklin knew it. But he never let setbacks keep him from striving for what’s better.

May I suggest that you read The Hellfire Club in which Franklin was a regular participant. Kind of puts the man in rather a different light than many see him today. Reader J.S.

We’ve dug into the club a fair amount. And we’ll admit we still don’t know where the truth lies. From what we can tell, Franklin visited the club on several occasions, but it’s not clear if he ever joined or took part in any activities.

Above that, thanks to the secretive nature of the club, we have no reliable source on exactly what it was about.

But we do know that when folks don’t know something, they tend to assume the worst. That’s certainly the case for many of the rumor-filled “secret” societies that still exist today. Most are entirely harmless, and yet the rumors swirl.

Our best and final advice on the subject… focus on Franklin’s words and what they mean to you. Don’t focus on what the man did or how or where he messed up. If you do, all you’re looking for is an excuse for your own failures.

That’s no good.

Open Mind, Guarded Thoughts

Thank you for reading my comment and actually responding – I was pleasantly surprised. Even though your essays and writings are slanted toward the male population, I do enjoy reading them – many I agree with, and some I don’t – after all, I am female.

Your choice of habitat – Alaska – intrigues me considering your mindset is still embedded so much in the fabricated world of finance. But nature does have a way of soothing the Spirit – does it not? Much more so than the concrete and steel jungles of the city. Now if only you would expand your mind a little more!!! Keep up the writings. Reader R.L.

We’ve had a bit of back and forth with R.L. over the last week. But we’ll continue to remind her and all readers that “opening” our mind doesn’t necessarily mean changing our opinion.

We’ll listen to many voices, but it doesn’t mean ours must change.

On the topic of money and finance… she homes in on something we’ve only hinted at previously.

Money gets a bad rap. Our culture paints the rich as the greedy, the selfish and the lucky… not the smart, the hardworking and the tenacious.

That’s wrong.

Wealth leads to Liberty. And Liberty isn’t Lamborghinis and posh pads.

Nope. It’s the freedom to think what you want… and never having to care who agrees with you.

Finally, lots of folks have written us with their book suggestions.

Now Read This

Here’s one more…

I’ve been enjoying the works of Mark Kurlansky. I was introduced to The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell and then read Salt: A World History and The Basque History of the World. Next up are Paper: Paging Through History and Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World.

Mr. Kurlansky is an engaging writer, and the lenses he uses to view the world are refreshing and rewarding. Now and again (even without traveling) we need to step back and allow ourselves to appreciate the world we are privileged to inhabit. – Reader C.H.

Good stuff. We’ve read several of Kurlansky’s books and would recommend them all. They’re a solid reminder of how big the small things often are.

Fix the small things, we say, and the big things will take care of themselves.


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