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Benjamin Franklin and the "savages" - a striking similarity to freedom and immigration

"Franklin could not help but admire the proud, simple life of America's native inhabitants," wrote Conner in Poor Richard's Politicks (1965). "There was a noble quality in the stories . . . which he told of their hospitality and tolerance, of their oratory and pride." Franklin, said Conner, saw in Indians' conduct "a living symbol of simplicity and 'happy mediocrity . . .' exemplifying essential aspects of the Virtuous Order." Depiction of this "healthful, primitive morality could be instructive for transplanted Englishmen, still doting on 'foreign Geegaws'; 'happiness,' Franklin wrote, 'is more generally and equally diffused among savages than in our civilized societies.'"

Savages we call them, because their manners differ from ours, which we think the Perfection of Civility; they think the same of theirs. . . . Perhaps, if we could examine the Manners of different Nations with Impartiality, we should find no People so rude, as to be without any Rules of Politeness; nor any so polite, as not to have some Remains of Rudeness.

Franklin followed with an example. He had heard of a person who had been "reclaimed" from the Indians and returned to a sizable estate. Tired of the care needed to maintain such a style of life, he had turned it over to his younger brother and, taking only a rifle and a matchcoat, "took his way again to the Wilderness." Franklin used this story to illustrate his point that "No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies." Such societies, wrote Franklin, provided their members with greater opportunities for happiness than European cultures. Continuing, he said:

The Care and Labour of providing for Artificial and fashionable Wants, the sight of so many Rich wallowing in superfluous plenty, whereby so many are kept poor and distress'd for Want, the Insolence of Office . . . the restraints of Custom, all contrive to disgust them with what we call civil Society.

"Europeans were always trying to stop the outflow. Hernando De Soto had to post guards to keep his men and women from defecting to Native societies."

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