Unpacking "Ben Franklin's Song"

Benjamin Franklin National Memorial

On December 15, 2017, The Decemberists released “Ben Franklin’s Song,” the lyrics of which were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and originally intended to be used in the hit musical Hamilton. While our namesake and favorite founding father eventually found himself cut from the stage, this song provides some insights on the legacy of Benjamin Franklin, whose national memorial is housed within our museum in Philadelphia.

This song provides some great insights on Franklin’s accomplishments, so, here are 3 things that are correct about “Ben Franklin’s Song,” one thing that is probably correct and one thing that is decidedly incorrect.

NOTE: You can listen to “Ben Franklin’s Song” here, but it does include language that is definitely not suitable for work or around children.

RIGHT: YOU CAN THANK BENJAMIN FRANKLIN FOR ELECTRICITY

“Electricity! Yeah, you can all thank me.”

Benjamin Franklin was one of the earliests scientists to experiment with electricity, and while he did not discover electricity, he did a lot to harness its power becoming the first person to find that lightning was a form of electricity. Over his career, his experiments in electricity led to a variety of technological advancements that have made modern life possible.

RIGHT: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN WROTE POOR RICHARD’S ALMANACK

“I am Poor-Richard’s-Almanack-writing Benjamin @!#$&+% Franklin”

At several times in Franklin’s life, he wrote under pseudonyms. The most well known are Silence Dogood, a middle-age woman whose letters were published in Franklin’s own brother’s newspaper, and Richard Saunders, a wise old man whose name graced the title of Franklin’s annual Poor Richard’s Almanack from 1732 to 1758 and houses of many of Franklin’s most famous quotations and is one of the most important pieces of literature to arise from Colonial America.

RIGHT: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN WAS A PROLIFIC INVENTOR

“I am... Polymath, bifocal-wearing, Hardened glass-harmonica-playing Benjamin @!#$&+% Franklin”

Benjamin Franklin was one of history’s most important inventors and one of the most influential engineers of the 18th century. In addition to his inventions that are mentioned in “Ben Franklin’s Song” (Bifocal Glasses and The Glass Armonica), Franklin was behind the Lightning Rod, Swim Fins and the Franklin Stove among others.

PROBABLY RIGHT: IF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN WAS A MODERN MUSICIAN, HIS MUSIC WOULD HAVE SOUNDED LIKE THAT OF THE DECEMBERISTS

“I’m the only American the French wanna see. They call me a genius, I can’t disagree”

The genesis of “Ben Franklin’s Song,” according to The Decemberists’ frontman Colin Meloy, “[Miranda] had songs for Ben Franklin in Hamilton, but didn't end up using them. He'd said he imagined Ben's songs being Decemberist-y so he gave them to me and I wrote music for it!”

In our opinion, Benjamin Franklin’s wide variety of interests are not unlike today’s Austinites, Portlanders and Brooklynites. In his career, he was a writer, printer, diplomat, scientist and inventor. While we can’t say for sure that he would have appreciated The Decemberists’ and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s take on his persona, we can certainly say that the inventor of the Glass Armonica had a bit of that 1760s indie sound and that Miranda’s belief that this was Franklin’s ‘sound’ (in a modern context) is potentially accurate.

WRONG: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN DIDN’T TALK LIKE THAT

“I am 76-and-I’ll-Still-Kick-Your-%$& @!#$&+% Franklin”

Benjamin Franklin has been credited for saying several things of which there is no historical record for him actually saying. “Ben Franklin’s Song” takes this to the next level by imagining Franklin as being a bit (or a lot) more vulgar than any historical documentation would suggest. But, in addition to not generally needing to have a bar of soap available to clean his dirty mouth, did you know that your “God made beer because he loves us and wants us to be happy” t-shirt is not historically accurate?

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