OKAY, SO ANYONE with half a brain knows the political situation sucks. But life is not without its bright spots: You're a self- educated, well-off businessman who does get to indulge his strong creative streak - to your financial and social benefit. You travel quite a bit, you're a famous inventor, your writings are popular here and abroad, women love you. All in all, you're enjoying yourself.
But there's something rising in your gorge. Really, it's the simple inability to swallow the establishment pressure to shut up and sit down. It's pissing you off in the worst way because you just know society is supposed to be something more than this. Yeah, you're known for your wit and your sometimes-misleading cynicism, but really, you're an idealist. Yes, you're a practical man. But you want a world that speaks to those ideals.
The thought nags at you. You know what raising your voice will cost you. Even if you still manage to keep your business afloat, your opposition to your country's leaders will brand you a traitor and might split your family apart.
Still, you can't quite shake these unpopular revolutionary ideas. So what do you do about it?
I've always wondered what drove the Founding Fathers to do it, to break off with England. Society tends toward the status quo; it seems rather improbable that all of these powerful visionaries even met, let alone agreed. Who would believe a group of well-to-do businessmen, civic leaders and farmers would begin a movement that would eventually change the entire world?
I have a special fondness for Benjamin Franklin, who played such a pivotal role in the American Revolution. (Okay, he was born in Boston, but he chose Philadelphia, as I once pointed out to a Boston friend.) Like me, he had little formal education and was self-taught. It was only a few years ago I found out he, too, looked to the stars for guidance. His insights led him to the forefront of the movement for independence.
As a child, I'd wander the city streets with a historical map in hand. I always lingered at Franklin's burial site where, following tradition, children threw pennies on the grave. ("A penny saved is a penny earned.") A few blocks away is Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776.
I'm a real history geek. So perhaps you can imagine how I felt when, several years ago, an asbestos removal project called for the removal of all the furniture from the hall where the Continental Congress was held, and our tour guide allowed us to walk through the normally off-limits area. I stood there on the platform where the Declaration was signed; I could actually feel the presence of those daredevil souls.
How did they take that final leap of faith?
Philadelphia, then the nation's capital, was a hotbed of revolutionary fervor. (Elizabeth Griscom Ross, the feisty upholsterer credited with sewing the first American flag, was also a founding member of the Free Quaker Meeting -- dissident Quakers who supported the Revolution.)
The city was bitterly split by the debate over whether to break with England. (Many of the town's leading Quakers were prosperous merchants who weren't eager to trade the British pound for worthless scrip issued by the Continental Congress.) Like the Vietnam war, the arguments split many families at the seams: Franklin's son William, royal governor of New Jersey, actively supported the British and his father never forgave him for it.
But here's the interesting part, ignored by mainstream historians: The adopted Philadelphian, the man responsible for so many modern innovations, was also a dedicated astrologer. In the context of the time, it wasn't even surprising.
In 1690, the Chapter of Perfection, an esoteric astrological community in Germantown, Pennsylvania (now part of northwest Philadelphia) was founded by John Kelpius.
Grounded in the work of European Rosicrucians and Freemasons, the group was an offshoot of a secret order in London called the Masonic Rite of Perfection, which involved John Jacob Zimmerman and Jane (Ward) Lead, former members of the original Philadelphians, a mystic cult inspired by Jakob Boehme in Germany.
Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were all influenced by those same esoteric astrologers.
"Much of their work centered on selecting the 'best times, ideas, designs of seals and monuments, to initiate activities that would lead to the creation of a nation powerful enough to withstand the attempts of Britain, the world superpower, to regain its prized colonies'. Egyptian magic is evident." ("Washington D.C.'s Astrological Secrets").
David Ovason, author of The Secret Architecture of Our Nation's Capital (Harper Collins), says Washington D.C. is unique; much of the city's original design is firmly grounded in astrology. The planners followed ancient Greek and Egyptian mysteries by aligning the city with a constellation's fixed stars, he says. His book focuses on the 1791 planning of the city's Federal Triangle (the Washington Monument, White House and Capitol building) and the alignment with the three main stars of the constellation Virgo.
In Dell Horoscopes' "Ben Franklin: America's Astrologer-General," Lina Accurso writes:
"Only in books on astrology and its history are you apt to discover Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (another all-around philosophical and scientific genius) conspired to have the Declaration of Independence adopted on July 4, 1776, rather than on July 2, the date urged by in-a-hurry John Adams. July 2, the Moon was in one of its weakest signs, Capricorn, where it would oppose the Cancer Sun, Mercury, Venus and Jupiter. By July 4, the full Moon was safely into Aquarius and well out of opposition to the Sun. Coincidence, historians would scoff. Smart logical planning...
"One of the few 'civilian' books to mention Franklin and astrology on the same page is an old one, Franklin, The Apostle of Modern Times, by Bernard Fay (Little Brown, 1929) To quote him at some length: "Astrology was very much in vogue...It occupied an important place in business, agriculture and private life. Astrology was employed in determining the future of newly born children. The date to choose for a hunt, the propitious period for sowing seed and gathering grapes, the opportune moment for the departure of boats...Wise, serious, and pious people also believed in astrology, for as late as 1728 candidates for Harvard discussed such topics as these: 'Do medical herbs operate by planetary power?' or 'That the heavenly bodies produce changes in the bodies of animals.' And on the eve of the Revolution in 1777, the faculty proposed such subjects as these: 'Is a comet which only appears after many years a foreshadowing of divine wrath rather than a planet that appears daily?'
"Everybody turned to the astrologers, and the publishers of almanacs had an immense public. These little books were the faithful mirrors of the preoccupations of the times."
I'm still starry-eyed when I visit Independence Hall, but the older I get, the more I see the complexities of what once seemed so simple. "History" is only a script rewritten to suit the purposes of those trying to prevail. Now we have a revolution of another kind brewing, and once again, each side paints itself on the side of the angels.
The ideals of freedom held so dear by the Founders are under attack by the same people who claim to protect them. The cynics whom mouth solemn platitudes while trampling on the Constitution are the real enemies of our nation.
Our country has never been perfect, which isn't surprising: Neither were the men who founded it. The United States has often fallen far short of our ideals, but what ideals! At least the Founders were humble enough to look to the stars for guidance.
We could use some of that vision now. ++