Who do you think were the three most intelligent Americans of all time?
No! Please don’t mention me! I’m trying to keep it a secret!
A little levity to start a column that’s partly very serious. Anyway, there were three men in our history who wrote many, many observations on life, America, our government, and numerous other things. And they are my choice for the smartest three. Ready?
Benjamin Franklin was one of our most important Founding Fathers, a brilliant writer, inventor, statesman, member of the Constitutional Convention — well, I could go on and on, but I’d probably start to bore you. Anyway, Franklin was born in 1706, died in 1790, lived an amazing life, and was the first and oldest of the Brilliant Three.
Second was a rancher’s son from Oklahoma, born there in 1879, grew up learning to ride horses and spin ropes, became an unusual vaudeville entertainer, then reached out to become a widely-read newspaper columnist, widely known for his good-sense but often hilariously funny posts; and wound up his career by acting in several movies. Unfortunately, in 1935, when Will Rogers was only 56 years old, he was killed in a plane crash in Alaska.
And the most recent American brilliant was Harry Truman, born in 1884 in Missouri, the son of a farm couple. His career led him to be a full-time farmer into his early 30s, then a sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War I (he served in combat, too), then half-owner of a clothing store which went broke during the depression of the early 1920s.
This would have crushed many men in their 40s from his generation, but Truman then got into politics, and in 1934, to the surprise of many, was elected U.S. senator from Missouri. In 1940 he was re-elected — again to the surprise of many — and four years after that was recipient of the biggest surprise most Americans could receive: President Franklin D. Roosevelt chose him to be his vice presidential candidate. A few months later, Roosevelt’s sudden death made Truman president. And the superior quality of his mind began to become obvious to the public through a number of books he wrote, after his presidency was over, and numerous public statements he had made.
And what were some of the famous statements these men made in their long professional periods?
Franklin said: “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”
Rogers’ version — sort of — of that statement was: “Always drink upstream from the herd.”
And Truman interpreted it this way: “The most peaceful thing in the world is plowing a field. Chances are you’ll do your best thinking that way.”
Franklin voiced support for enthusiasm and optimism: “Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.”
Or, in Rogers’ words: “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.”
And as the former farmer Harry Truman said: “My favorite animal is the mule. He has more horse sense than a horse. He knows when to stop eating — and he knows when to stop working.”
Franklin got a little more personal when he said: “To find out a girl’s faults, praise her to her girlfriends.”
And, in a more practical way, Will Rogers offered this advice: “The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your back pocket.”
And Truman offered this: “Term limits would cure both senility and seniority — both terrible legislative diseases.”
And to show that each of these great men had a delightful sense of humor, let’s end with these:
Franklin: “In wine, there is wisdom; in beer, there is freedom; in water, there is bacteria.”
Truman: “If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.”
And last but not least, this one from Rogers: “When I die, I want to die like my grandfather, who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming, like all the passengers in his car!”
Sure wish I’d have thought of THAT one!