MarketInsight: Hundred dollar bills
One of my favorite investment stories is that of Ben Franklin’s will. Franklin was the first American hero. He was as much loved in his own time as he is today and his exploits are still known by most.
Franklin passed in 1790 and left an intricate will that has fascinated historians ever since. At the time, Franklin was at odds with his son, William. William Franklin had served King George as the Tory Governor of New Jersey. So, Ben basically wrote him out of the will stating “[t]he part he acted against me in the late war, which is of public notoriety, will account for my leaving him no more of an estate [than] he endeavoured to deprive me of.”
He made a large number of specific bequests. He left his walking stick “with a gold head curiously wrought in the form of the cap of liberty” to George Washington. He left a portrait of the King of France surrounded by 408 diamonds to his daughter with the proviso that none of the gems be turned into jewelry “either for herself or daughters, and thereby introduce or countenance the expensive, vain, and useless fashion of wearing jewels in this country.”
Stating that “it having long been a fixed political opinion of mine, that in a democratical state there ought to be no offices of profit,” he left the money he had been paid as Governor of Pennsylvania to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, 1000 pounds each. He directed that those monies be held in trust for 200 years and lent at 5 percent interest to young, single artisans of each city on the grounds that “good apprentices are most likely to make good citizens.”
At the end of the first 100 years, each city would be entitled to spend two-thirds of the monies accumulated. Boston used their money to construct the Franklin Union and Philadelphia built the Franklin Institute. I took my kids there last summer. It is worth the trip. At the end of the second 100 years, Franklin left the balance to the citizens to do with as they wished “not presuming to carry my views farther.”
Franklin was brilliant, but he did not foresee the dissolution of the apprentice system in this country. Well before the first 100 years were up, there were no apprentices to borrow the money. Both cities went to court to amend the trusts. Philadelphia used its money to provide mortgages to low-income workers. Boston invested in stocks. At the end of the 200 years, Philadelphia had around $2,000,000. But Boston did much better. Their trust ended up being worth more than $4.5 million.
Scott A. Grant is President of Standfast Asset Management in Ponte Vedra Beach. He welcomes your comments or questions at email@example.com.