Ben and Borat

August 22, 2006 at 10:20 pm 1 comment

This weekend I read an interesting article in American Legacy.  It was called “The Evolution of Benjamin Franklin” and it was about how through his life Franklin migrated from slave owner to dedicated abolitionist.  He so much adopted the cause, in fact, that his last public writing was on the subject.  He published a letter in the Federal Gazette on March 23, 1790, 25 days before he died.  Basically the letter was responding to congressional debate on a recent petition to free the slaves.

Now here is the part I found especially interesting.  Franklin did not write the letter as himself.  He wrote it as a fictitious guy name Historicus.  And this Historicus did not shoot down the rationale and arguments of the southern congressmen– he agreed with them!  This character enthusiastically started to quote a speech that was supposedly given in Algiers 100 years earlier  (It wasn’t– the speech was made up).  In this speech a man named Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim was defending the need to keep their slaves and in this case the enslaved were white Christians!  Some quick excerpts:

If we forbear to make Slaves of their People, who in this hot Climate are to cultivate our Lands?  Who are to perform the common Labours of our City, and in our Families?  Must we not then be our own Slaves?

I also like the rationalization that the slaves’ lives were enriched and better in captivity:

Here [the slaves’] lives are in safety. They are not liable to be impressed for soldiers, and forced to cut one another’s Christian throats, as in the wars of their own countries.

And in case the thought of enslaving white Christians was offensive to the Federal Gazette readers, Historicus made sure to revel in the fact that “great” minds think alike:

Mr. Jackson [the Congressman from Georgia] does not quote [Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim’s speech]: perhaps he has not seen it. If, therefore, some of its reasonings are to be found in his eloquent speech, it may only show that men’s interests and intellects operate, and are operated on, with surprising similarity in all countries and climates, whenever they are under similar circumstances.

You know who Franklin’s Historicus reminded me of?  Borat!

Both fictitious characters came from a culture the average American of the day would know very little about.  As a result, both characters were able to use an innocent, naive perspective of our culture to expose its silly and prejudiced thinking.  

If only all those outraged people at the Salem Rodeo knew… Sasha Baron Cohen was merely following in one of our founding father’s footsteps.

Nice.  I Like.

Related Links
Ben Franklin’s Full Letter to the Federal Gazette

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Entry filed under: Ali G, American Legacy, Ben Franklin, Borat.

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