Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Franklin’s moderation is more inclusive than what we consider it to be today. Today, we tend to apply moderation to pleasurable actions. One shouldn’t drink to much, shouldn’t sleep too much, shouldn’t do any one thing to the exclusion of another. Franklin thought more broadly.
In a time of political tumult, Franklin would call for moderation in political extremes. In numerous letters between friends and political allies over the course of his life, Franklin calls for “moderation” in political influence. To Samuel Cooper (1) in 1770:
…Perhaps by this means some of that Influence with Governors might be retained, which induces them to treat the People with Equity and Moderation. But if our People will, by consuming such Commodities, purchase and pay for their Fetters, who that sees them so shackled will think they deserve either Redress or Pity?
Here, moderation is both a reduction in excess - a culling of power to avoid generating ill political will- and an approaching to governance. Moderation in state affairs can help maintain power, influence, and happiness. Similar mentions of moderation as a political stance appear in correspondence from Franklin to various US governing bodies regarding Britain’s excessive taxation leading up to the revolution. In a letter to the Massachusetts House of Representatives (2) regarding the US’s relationship with Britain, Franklin calls for moderation in asserting the rights of both parties,
By the Exercise of prudent Moderation on her part, mix’d with a little Kindness; and by a decent Behaviour on ours, excusing where we can excuse from a Consideration of Circumstances, and bearing a little, with the Infirmities of her Government as we would with those of an aged Parent, tho’ firmly asserting our Privileges, and declaring that we mean at a proper time to vindicate them, this advantageous Union may still be long continued.
This letter in particular is interesting because it outlines numerous grievances that both the US and Britain having in their dealings with each other. Many of them involve an excess of power in any of the proposed settlements between them. If either maintains too extreme a position, it becomes so much less likely any sort of accord may be reached which then ruins any mutual benefit otherwise available. This is especially the case where holding on to a grudge can forestall reconciliation.
In essence any extreme affect, be it in political beliefs to holding grudges to personal passions (3), leads to less worthy outcomes for an individual. It is only in setting aside the strength of our beliefs that we can come to mutual understanding and beneficial arrangements.
So, with that in mind, I think the following edicts make sense for the week:
- Avoid excess in thought and deed (4).
- Do not hold grudges or belief of malign intent.
Moderation is a soft open-mindedness. Do not assume others are ill intended and compromise. The truth in a matter, and the most beneficial circumstance, lies between extremes in belief. Holding no inviolable beliefs helps us find the best compromise.
1. I’m not sure who this Samuel Cooper was but it is not the Cooper who served in the Civil war. The letter in question was sent on December 30th, 1770.↩︎
2. Sent on July 7th, 1773. During this period, Franklin is acting as political ambassador for the colonies as they attempt to negotiate further rights from Britain, including the right to vote on proposed taxation from Britain.↩︎
3. Arguably, Franklin’s entire Moral Perfection project is about moderating extremes in thought and deed. Many of his virtues take a restrictive bent designed to keep one working and engaged in more directly beneficial actions.↩︎
4. I believe Franklin meant this but I like the clarity.↩︎