• Steve Martin

Two-Hundred Year Thinking - Part 2 - Benjamin Franklin

Updated: Aug 24, 2020


Yesterday, I introduced the topic of "Two-Hundred Year Thinking" ® by talking about Native American Philosophy. Many Native American tribes follow the practice of thinking about ancestors seven generations in the past and descendants seven generation in the future when making decisions.


Benjamin Franklin was also a strong proponent of 200 year thinking (which is about 7 generations).


In yesterday's blog I talked about some of my ancestors, Joseph and Henrietta Anthony, who lived in Philadelphia about the same time as Franklin.


Here is Benjamin Franklin's 200 year story:


"Benjamin Franklin’s will and codicil are unusual documents, especially in the history of endowments. Ben Franklin did not invent the concept of the endowment, but with his creativity Franklin could not resist changing an idea in order to improve it. In the 1789 version of his will, Franklin donated 1,000 pounds each to the inhabitants of his native Boston and to his adopted city of Philadelphia. He put a condition on the gifts to each city that it be placed in a fund that would gather interest and serve a designated purpose for a period of 200 years.


The purpose of his gift, as with many such gifts, related to his own personal experiences. As a young man, Franklin received his professional training as a printer’s apprentice and entered into business with a loan from two friends. In the will he noted, “That loan was the foundation of my fortune and all the utility in life that may be ascribed to me.” It is not a surprise that the purpose of his endowment was to help young apprentices.


His instructions were laid out as follows:

“The Trustees shall…let out the sum upon interest, at five percent, per annum, to such young married artificers, under the age of twenty-five years, as have served an apprenticeship in the said town, and faithfully fulfilled the duties required in their indentures, so as to obtain a good moral character from at least two respectable citizens, who are willing to become their sureties, for the repayment of the moneys so lent, with interest, according to the terms hereinafter prescribed…”

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED

In 1894, at the end of the first 100 years, the Boston fund had been used as instructed and had grown to 131,000 pounds ($391,000). In the following century, the bulk of the proceeds were used to fund public works in Boston. In 1905, $322,490 was used to establish the Franklin Union, a technical school. The remainder of the funds continued to be loaned out for apprentice programs and scholarships. In 1990, at the end of the second 100 years, the Boston endowment was worth more than $5,000,000 and the Philadelphia endowment, about half that. In both cities Franklin’s endowment has been used to help thousands of young people and has served as an enduring testament to philanthropy and community service."


Thinking 200 years into the future has a lot of benefits, including encouraging you to take a broader perspective as you look at the purpose of your life.


SUGGESTED ACTION:


Take some time to think through the purpose of your life – in terms of the impact you want to have on the world 200 years from now. Determine what impact that vision will have on your giving during your lifetime.

Tomorrow, in part three of this series, I will talk about the idea of the"Two-Hundred Year Letter".

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