On the day after the nation’s birthday, when the smoke from the fireworks has cleared, and we’ve cleaned up after guests, America will return to its job of building a nation. Rarely has that job seemed harder. National security, two wars, social unrest, and an economy that can’t seem to find its feet—Americans are supposed to be optimistic, but the current challenges would discourage anyone.
Ben Franklin was an optimist, but he never lost his ability to judge the odds. He knew that establishing the government was just the beginning of much work, and that the outcome was never certain. He knew the risks of rebellion; if England triumphed, he would die disgraced at the end of a rope.
He never assumed that the struggle for independence and security would end.
So, on a Fourth of July as troubled as any we’ve faced, we might appreciate Ben Franklin’s assessment of America beyond his own days. Writing to George Washington from Paris, in 1780, he said: “I must soon quit the Scene, but you may live to see our Country flourish, as it will amazingly and rapidly after the War is over. Like a Field of young Indian Corn, which long Fair weather and Sunshine has enfeebled and discolored, and which in that weak State, by a Thunder Gust, of violent Wind, Hail, and Rain, seem’d to be threaten’d with absolute Destruction; yet the Storm being past, it recovers fresh Verdure, shoots up with double Vigour, and delights the Eye, not of its Owner only, but of every observing Traveller.”