“I have sometimes wish’d it had been my destiny to have been born two or three centuries hence,” wrote Benjamin Franklin at the close of his life, near 1790, “for inventions of improvement are prolific, and beget more of their kind. The present progress is rapid. Many of great importance, now unthought of, will before that period be procured.”
On this wintry day, the three hundredth anniversary of Ben Franklin’s Boston birth, January 17, 1706, it is dry irony to repeat his wish, that we all could be born two or three centuries hence to see the wonders of invention in this great land of Franklin’s greatest invention, liberty in men’s souls absent idle entails, arbitrary government, suicidal priestcraft, hereditary piracy. It is fun to imagine that if Franklin had been born in 1806, he would have marveled by 1890 at chemistry, railroading, telephones and the screw propeller steamship. Born in 1906, he would have marveled by 1990 at quantum mechanics, aircraft, spacecraft, computer technology and pharmaceuticals. Born in 2006, he would have marveled by 2090 at a return to the beginnings, the great invention of liberty in men’s souls, this time the Republic of the United States of America writ large, sea to sea to sea to sea, absent the Mandarin bullies of the Forbidden City, the hallucinatory priestcraft of Persia, the paranoid pirates of the Kremlin, the entailed sheiks of Arabia. Or not yet, not yet.