A while back, in another forum, I debunked a number of the rotating quotations to be found at the bottom of the Loudoun County Republican Committee’s Web site. About half of them were easy to show as, at the least, inaccurate. A couple were outright fiction. Here’s one of those, still visible there as of this writing:
That one rankles me the most, but it took me a while to realize why that is. The reason is actually two-fold: First, it misquotes one of the founding fathers of our nation. Franklin was one member of The Committee of Five who wrote the American Declaration of Independence. He helped write the Constitution in 1787. He is one of only five people who personally signed both documents. Republicans are unsurpassed (if not unequaled) in their protestations of respect for the men who created The United States. Yet, here, they don’t even do the one history calls, “the first american” the simple courtesy of finding out if he said this or not. My second reason is that, of all the things they could have done to insult Franklin and his legacy, the one they’ve chosen is to steal his name to support their boundless love of guns. (For those insisting on proof that Franklin didn’t say the words above, avoid the Tea Party Web sites–as they all seem to have bought into the same lie–and check any reputable independent source; it’ll take you under five minutes, if you know how to “Google and mouse.”)
But… The fact that Franklin never talked any trash about guns, animals voting, or lunch (a word not used until decades after he died) notwithstanding, maybe Franklin did have a view on the right to bear arms. Not surprisingly, a lot of Web sites offer quotations from quite a few of the founders about guns. Some, are pretty direct, like this one from Jefferson:
No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms.
(But check my link to find out what Jefferson is often misquoted as saying he had in mind.)
Then there’s this one, from Mason:
…to disarm the people. That it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them.
Mason was talking about the militia, which he felt was necessary to national defense, not personal rights, but he did still say that one.
As for Franklin, the sites devoted to the founders’ views on guns offer this familiar gem:
They that give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Fine words indeed, and there’s no dispute that they are Franklin’s. But, it is begging the question to presume he included gun rights as an, “essential liberty.” To find out what he meant, we have to know the context in which he said it. Here’s one claim to be doing just that:
Today, few remember that the context for Benjamin Franklin’s famous words condemning those who ‘can give up essential liberty’ was his discussion of the refusal of Virginia’s colonial assembly to adopt Jefferson’s 1759 proposal on colonials’ inalienable right to bear arms: ‘The thoughtful reader may wonder,’ Franklin wrote, ‘why wasn’t Jefferson’s proposal of “No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms” adopted by the Virginia legislature? They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.’
Wow! Now that is pretty much dead on target. It even incorporates the already proven words of Jefferson, about “the use of arms.” Hard to argue that Franklin wasn’t in the same stance as Jefferson, when you have that context. And that context is everywhere, on the Web. Impossible to see it any other way than that Franklin did support the right to arms, like Jefferson, like Mason, if you know he said what is quoted above.
Except that Franklin never said that, either.
It takes a little more Googling, but one can, if one wishes, discover that Franklin’s warning about liberty comes from the record of the proceedings of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, dated November 11, 1755. Here‘s what the record actually says (and here):
We have taken every Step in our Power, consistent with the just Rights of the Freemen of Pennsylvania, for their Relief, and we have Reason to believe, that in the Midst of their Distresses they themselves do not wish us to go farther. Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
Jefferson’s name isn’t mentioned anywhere in that record. And, no, it’s not because that’s not the record Franklin’s ghost-writers were relying on. Some explicitly refer to that particular record, by name and by date, so you can check for yourself and confirm that those are not Benjamin Franklin’s words. (Or just take note of the fact that even Franklin could not, in 1755, be quoting something Jefferson wouldn’t say until 1759.)
In short, all of that stuff about well-armed lambs and thoughtful readers is a pack of lies. Given that fact, it would perhaps be germane to close with one other thing Franklin really did say:
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Something to think about, next time you’re reading the Web site of the Loudoun County Republican Committee.