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Ben Franklin: Chess Can Make You A Better Person?

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
August 29, 2023 3:02 am

Ben Franklin: Chess Can Make You A Better Person?

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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August 29, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Ben Franklin has the distinction of many "firsts":  He invented the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, bifocals, the catheter, swim fins and the odometer. He started the first public library, the first volunteer fire company,  the first American fire insurance company, the first hospital and was the first postmaster general. Chess.com also reminds us that Franklin was also the first known chess player as well as the first chess author in America. Here again to tell us the story is the Jack Miller Center's Editorial Officer and historian, Elliott Drago. 

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Living Land on Roblox. Loves it. This is Lee Habib and this is our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. Our next story is about one remarkable American. Born the son of a Boston candle maker, Benjamin Franklin grew into the symbolic role of the archetypal American.

He was indeed a blend of poor Richard and Leonardo da Vinci. Franklin has the distinction of many firsts. He invented the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, bifocals, the catheter. Chess.com also reminds us that Franklin was also the first known chess player as well as the first chess author in America. Here again to tell us a story is the Jack Miller Center's editorial officer and historian, Elliot Trago.

Let's take a listen. Entrepreneur, philosopher, scientist, inventor, and writer, we ought to add chess master to the list of Benjamin Franklin's accomplishments. His essay, Morals of Chess, combines his timeless wit, inherent competitiveness, and shrewd strategy that also speaks to the fragile yet boundless potential of America's founding principles. Originally written and presented to Franklin's small cadre of fellow intellectuals in the 1730s, Morals of Chess would not be released for public consumption until 1786.

Much had occurred over the course of that half century. In 1732, Franklin released the first poor Richard's almanac, an immensely successful guide full of practical advice and witticisms for American colonists. In 1751, he helped found the educational institution that became the University of Pennsylvania. And throughout the 1750s and 1760s, he served as the postmaster general for the crown, and eventually an agent for the colonies representing American interest in Great Britain. And of course, by 1776, Franklin and his fellow colonists began, and would eventually win, a war of liberation from Great Britain. As the colony's most recognizable figure, Franklin's influence became essential to the American cause, especially when he was sent to France as America's first ambassador in 1776. Franklin's convivial nature combined with his diplomatic acumen made him the toast of Paris, as he regaled salons with the French and the French, as he regaled salons with tales, practical wisdom, and Americanisms.

And while battlefield realities back in America certainly compelled France to support the American cause, Franklin's soft diplomacy and charismatic force of personality helped cement the Franco-American alliance. Besides power politics and being playful with his French admirers, Franklin spent much of years in France playing chess. While reviewing his personal papers for potential publication in 1779, Franklin came across morals of chess, which at this point was now over 40 years old. Scholars believe that aside from retrieving the material for publication, Franklin was motivated to find this essay due to his indulgence, possibly overindulgence, in playing chess with the Parisian elite.

These games became epic battles that lasted four hours or more, limited solely by the number of candles available to the combatants. Franklin's monomaniacal focus made him oblivious to anything outside the checkered board. Franklin established edifying purposes of the essay, and one could argue the game itself, by writing in the first sentence, the game of chess is not merely an idle amusement. To Franklin, chess instructed individual conduct and, if played in the proper manner, would teach players four key virtues, foresight, circumspection, caution, and, quote, the habit of not being discouraged by present bad appearances in the state of our affairs, the habit of hoping for a favorable change, and that of persevering in the search of resources.

Calling chess a beneficial amusement, he outlined eight tips so players could pass the time agreeably, including observing the rules of the game with fidelity, remaining patient while your opponents plot their next move, and, for spectators, observing the most perfect silence to allow for concentration. However, Franklin's four key lessons, foresight, circumspection, caution, and perseverance, speak as much to the game of chess as to the political and moral responsibilities of the players on and off the chessboard. In a larger sense, Franklin's lessons speak to Americans across time and space. Living in what Americans then and now described as a revolutionary era required foresight. The Republican spirit and experiment can only be sustained by those who consider the consequences that may attend in action. Franklin's lessons speak as much to the case that may attend in action. Circumspection necessitated a keen observance of the scene of action, those relations between chess pieces akin to the various social factions of the American body politic. Yet Americans must move with caution, for if you touch a piece, you must move it somewhere.

If you set it down, you must let it stand. In other words, Americans must avoid haste mistakes and steal their resolve once they have made a fateful decision. Finally, Franklin reminds players that supposed insurmountable difficulties ought not exhaust the player nor precipitate in attention or despair. This powerful idea of a perseverance seeded with hope reflects striving to form a more perfect union. Franklin urges us to remember that momentary setbacks are precisely that, momentary, and therefore liable to change if Americans are empowered to cherish those founding principles that inspired the creation of the Republic. On the last day of the Constitutional Convention in 1789, American socialite and political commentator Elizabeth Willing Powell approached Franklin as he left the hall. She asked him, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?

As always, Franklin gave her a memorable reply, a republic if you can keep it. Through their foresight, circumspection, caution, and perseverance, Americans attuned to their nation's civic needs perpetuated this republic, the United States of America, by emulating the virtues of Franklin's morals of chess. And a terrific job on the production, editing, and storytelling by our own Greg Hengler, and a terrific job on the storytelling by Elia Trego. And he is the editorial officer at the Jack Miller Center. And they're a nationwide network of scholars and teachers dedicated to educating the next generation about America's founding principles and history, something we care about on this show a lot.

To learn more, visit JackMillerCenter.org. The story of Ben Franklin's morals of chess here on Our American Stories. Lee Habib here, the host of Our American Stories. Every day on this show, we're bringing inspiring stories from across this great country, stories from our big cities and small towns.

But we truly can't do the show without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love what you hear, go to OurAmericanStories.com and click the donate button. Give a little, give a lot.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-29 04:29:52 / 2023-08-29 04:34:10 / 4

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