Sometimes it is interesting to think like a socialist liberal. Let me join in the fun Jill Lepore had with her nonsensical op-ed in the New York Times,. She had her fun setting fire to a field full of strawmen. It’s time to join in, and add a modest proposal of my own.
Poor Jane Mecom. Too bad that half of her big brother Ben Franklin’s brains and drive and profits couldn’t have been redistributed to his sister so she wouldn’t have lived in such misery. Of course, Ben would have suffered and never been able to become the father of the Revolution. Hi wouldn’t have thought of the kite-flying experiment. Nor would Poor Richard’s Almanac have survived to a second printing after the profits from the first were seized and given to his sister, instead of being invested in a larger second run. Maybe the US would still be a province of England to this day, and we’d all play cricket and throw darts in the pub, after having tea and crumpets at half three. And we would have a king. Maybe even a prince born in the English colony of Kenya. But if the US had remained a provincial backwater and the internal combustion engine never became a commercial product, well all those advances in human prosperity would be worth losing if only Jane Mecom hadn’t been subject to such suffering.
As for those other people whose lives were saved by American advances in science, prosperity and wealth… Screw em.
In fact screw every energetic person who wants to be free and pursue happiness instead of having their earnings and abilities leveled with those who are lazy, stupid, and/or unlucky.
Poor Jane’s Almanac
Franklin, who’s on the $100 bill, was the youngest of 10 sons. Nowhere on any legal tender is his sister Jane, the youngest of seven daughters; she never traveled the way to wealth. He was born in 1706, she in 1712. Their father was a Boston candle-maker, scraping by. Massachusetts’ Poor Law required teaching boys to write; the mandate for girls ended at reading. Benny went to school for just two years; Jenny never went at all.
Their lives tell an 18th-century tale of two Americas. Against poverty and ignorance, Franklin prevailed; his sister did not.
At 17, he ran away from home. At 15, she married: she was probably pregnant, as were, at the time, a third of all brides. She and her brother wrote to each other all their lives: they were each other’s dearest friends. (He wrote more letters to her than to anyone.) His letters are learned, warm, funny, delightful; hers are misspelled, fretful and full of sorrow. “Nothing but troble can you her from me,” she warned. It’s extraordinary that she could write at all.
“I have such a Poor Fackulty at making Leters,” she confessed.
He would have none of it. “Is there not a little Affectation in your Apology for the Incorrectness of your Writing?” he teased. “Perhaps it is rather fishing for commendation. You write better, in my Opinion, than most American Women.” He was, sadly, right.
She had one child after another; her husband, a saddler named Edward Mecom, grew ill, and may have lost his mind, as, most certainly, did two of her sons. She struggled, and failed, to keep them out of debtors’ prison, the almshouse, asylums. She took in boarders; she sewed bonnets. She had not a moment’s rest.
And still, she thirsted for knowledge. “I Read as much as I Dare,” she confided to her brother. She once asked him for a copy of “all the Political pieces” he had ever written. “I could as easily make a collection for you of all the past parings of my nails,” he joked. He sent her what he could; she read it all. But there was no way out.
They left very different paper trails. He wrote the story of his life, stirring and wry — the most important autobiography ever written. She wrote 14 pages of what she called her “Book of Ages.” It isn’t an autobiography; it is, instead, a litany of grief, a history, in brief, of a life lived rags to rags.
It begins: “Josiah Mecom their first Born on Wednesday June the 4: 1729 and Died May the 18-1730.” Each page records another heartbreak. “Died my Dear & Beloved Daughter Polly Mecom,” she wrote one dreadful day, adding, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away oh may I never be so Rebelious as to Refuse Acquesing & saying from my hart Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”
Jane Mecom had 12 children; she buried 11. And then, she put down her pen.