The Perception of Age in History (Or History is Full of Lies)

My brother sent me an article yesterday to which he expressed blew his mind.  The moment I saw the title, I had to laugh to myself.

The article Ages of Revolution: How old were they on July 4, 1776? addresses the idea that the majority perceive the Founding Fathers to be…well, that.  Fathers.  Older, wise, patriarchal, philosophical, experienced men.  However, the “united States of America” was actually founded by fairly young men, by today’s standards.  Taking into account the life expectancy of the time, most of them were middle-aged – barring Ben Franklin.  Dude lived forever.

Speaking of good ol’ Ben Franklin, during one of my American Revolution classes in college, my professor did her own mind blowing along the same lines of this article.  Take a look a the picture above.  Chances are you’re familiar with it.  It can be found in almost every American History textbook on the planet.  This is the moment when Ben Franklin, with his son William, took a kite out in a storm and discovered electricity.  So nice to see a younger Ben performing cool science experiments with his young son in tow.  Right?

Wrong.

Before I blow your mind, take a moment to look at that picture again.  Look closely.

Franklin’s kite flying experiment occurred in 1752.
Ben was born in 1706.
William was born in 1731.
That would make them 46 and 21 respectively.

William was 21 at the time of that image.

I’ll be honest… I thought he was about 12 years old.  Nope.  William was legally allowed to drink in today’s world and was a mere 11 years away from being the Governor of New Jersey.

*Additional fun fact, William was a Loyalist and openly opposed his father during the American Revolution, which they did not recover from until a few years before Ben’s death in 1790.

So what’s the point?  History lies.  Men are glorified and vilified based on who owns the story.  Age, maturity and courage are all projections of our own perception.  The next time you read a story about one of the Founding Fathers, examine them as just men, not demi-gods, and it may reshape the way you see history.

I mean really, aside from not being old, they also were not altruistic and revolting for the “all men’s rights”.  They were selfish, self-serving, young men, but that’s a rant for another day…

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