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Voiceover: So we're pretty familiar with the things Benjamin Franklin did later in his life, but let's just start with the beginning. Where was he born, what was his childhood like? Voiceover: He was born in Boston in 1706, he was the tenth son of a Puritan immigrant, and as the tenth son of a Puritan, if you've studied the Puritans or your Bible, you know your supposed to be your father's tithe to the Lord. His father was gonna send him to Harvard, in order to study for the ministry. This was way back when... Voiceover: And so when people tithed, I've always imagined tithe is you give ten percent of your income, you always give ten percent away of your, I guess they consider that part of your wealth. Voiceover: Right, well it was indeed, tithing means giving away ten percent of your wealth, but if you were the tenth son of a Puritan, one of the kids was supposed to be a minister, and in this case it was old Ben Franklin, young Ben Franklin, was supposed to be the minister, but he was not exactly cut for the cloth. You know one day they were salting away the provisions for the winter, and he said to his father, "Why don't I say grace "over 'em now, we get it done with for the "entire year, we can bless the entire food!" Yeah, instead of every day. (laughing) Voiceover: And so I think his father realized that it would be a waste of money to send him to Harvard to study for the ministry, so instead he apprentices him, makes him become an apprentice to his brother James, who was a printer. He was apprenticed at age 12 to this older brother who was a printer. Voiceover: I see, at age 12, and that's essentially, you go do what your brother's doing, this is your education, I mean, back then... Voiceover: That was the way you got educated, but in return, you were bonded, you were bound to work from age 12 and, usually for, I don't know, seven, eight years at least, for an older brother. And if you've ever had an older brother, this was not something Benjamin Franklin liked after a few years. He rankled over authority. That was one of the ways he was very American. And so he has to decide to teach himself, because he's not going to Harvard, he's not in school. His father decided instead to make him an apprentice to the older brother, and so he teaches himself how to be a good writer by pulling down the books from his brother's print shop and publishing house's bookshelf. He started off with like, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and you know, the essays by Plutarch, and Swift, and Defoe, all these things you and I were reading at age 12... Voiceover: Absolutely! (chuckling) Voiceover: And then he taught himself how to write. He would take the Spectator magazine, which was a great magazine in London at the time written by Addison and Steele, and it would arrive by the post to his brother's print shop, and Franklin would grab it and he would write down the arguments that Addison and Steele did in their essays, and then he would chop 'em up with scissors, he would cut them up, and put it in a different order, and then try to rewrite the essays in a better order than Addison and Steele had done. This is like a, he's by then 14 or 15 years old! (chuckling) This is really cool, it's like using Khan Academy to teach yourself, but your using the Spectator from England instead. Voiceover: And so he becomes, he actually does start writing then, i guess he, but his brother didn't really wanna... Voiceover: Right, his brother wouldn't publish him, as I said, he was an older brother, even though he became a tolerable writer, he can't get his stuff printed in the New England Courant, which is his brother's newspaper, so he has a little trick. He disguises his handwriting, and he makes up a pseudonym, and he writes under a fake name. These wonderful essays, he's 16... Voiceover: What's the name that he uses? Voiceover: Silence Dogood. (chuckling) These are the Silence Dogood essays, and you're talking about a kid who is aged 15 or so, making up this character. Now Silence Dogood was a woman. Now here as I say, this is a boy who's a pretty troublesome kid, Ben Franklin, he hangs around the docks in Boston and gets himself in trouble all the time, and he's always cutting work at his brothers print shop, but he invents a character who's a widowed, older woman, who is dating a minister, and living out in the countryside. Voiceover: So pretty much the exact opposite of himself. Voiceover: Right, (laughing) and it shows something so important in education, which is how do you let the imagination triumph? And here's a kid, 15 years old, who invents this character, Silence Dogood, and just does a pure thing of the imagination. She was, indeed, the opposite of Ben Franklin, but there are lots of traits that Ben Franklin gave her, and every week she would write about them, that sort of made you realize okay, it's a bit like Ben Franklin, because she had this, she wrote once, "I am a mortal "enemy to arbitrary government and unlimited power. "I'm very jealous for my rights and my liberties." In other words, she's a very spunky woman who has an aversion to tyranny. And it was a great description not only of Ben Franklin, but of the country that Ben Franklin was helping to invent. Voiceover: And this is, just to give people a historical context, this is well before the American Revolution and independence from Great Britain, I mean we're talking about the early 1700s, we're talking about the period around 1720... Voiceover: Yeah, we're talking about 50, 60 years before we really are gonna have a revolution and break away from England, but already, he believes in liberty, he believes in an aversion to tyranny, and fighting these things. And you see it in the way that Silence Dogood, every week, she would write an essay until he finally got (chucking) found out by his brother. He makes fun of the connection between church and state in Massachusetts, because the governor, [Dunstrin], Dudley, all these people, they are Puritan ministers who are also the governor, and the heads of the legislature in Massachusetts, and he says of Governor Dudley, he said, "anybody who "goes from the clergy into government will "take your money in two different ways, "they'll do it under the guise of taxes, "and then they'll do it under the guise of God, "asking you for a donation." (chuckling) And so, this little kid pretending to be an elderly woman is making fun of the connection between church and state in Massachusetts. It's the beginning of a free press in America. Voiceover: And that's a big deal, the church was fairly powerful. Voiceover: In Boston in particular, as you know, it was settled by the Puritans, and it is a theocratic colony, in other words, Harvard University, the colony of Massachusetts, and the Puritan heirarchy were all the same. I mean it was all the same people, Cotton Mather and Increase Mather, and Governor Dudley, they were the ministers, they were the people who ran the state, they were the people who ran Harvard. Voiceover: So Silence Dogood, I guess we said that she's the opposite, she was maybe demographically the opposite of him, but philosophically... Voiceover: Right, he's using somebody who's totally a different type, an elderly woman, to express his own philosophical ideas so he doesn't get caught by his brother.