January 18, 2013

"Did the Framers have batteries, or did they have to plug everything in?"

A wisecrack question of mine, just now, in the middle of a long conversation about the theory of original intent. Meade — who is not a lawyer — was engaging me — a law professor —  on the topic because he's off somewhere in the forum section of the local alternative newspaper website arguing with people about the 2d Amendment and so forth and we got to talking about how much of the modern world the Framers could have envisioned.

"Or did they get their electricity from lightning?" I quipped before looking up the history of batteries and seeing:
The usage of "battery" to describe electrical devices dates to Benjamin Franklin, who in 1748 described multiple Leyden jars (early electrical capacitors) by analogy to a battery of cannons.
Footnote 6 at the link quotes "Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin," Volume 2:
"Upon this we made what we called an electrical battery, consisting of eleven panes of large sash-glass, armed with thin leaden plates, pasted on each side, placed vertically, and supported at two inches distance on silk cords, with black hooks of leaden wire, one from each side, standing upright, distant from each other..."

33 comments:

Surfed said...

If weapons that fire more than one round at a time are illegal because they came after the writing of the 2nd Amendment then NBC, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, et al are illegal because they came after the writing of the 1st Amendment. Flip and unserious, but still....

Erika said...

Does Meade enjoy dispelling false notions about the second amendment, or does he find it tiring and discouraging like I do? One of my FB friends posted about how she had just discovered that the only reason we have a SA in the Bill of Rights was to protect slavery. Also, that the framers' understanding of a militia was that they would be called from the states in times of emergency and after the emergency would lay down their weapons and go back to being peaceful weaponless farmers. She was not very open to considering alternative interpretations and historical context, and while I could ignore such claims, I feel a bit of an obligation to fight back against the tide of bad information that is going around without resistance.

Bob R said...

Franklin's one fluid theory is usually considered the first major theoretical scientific advance to be made on this continent. I find Franklin easily the most interesting of the framers.

Bob R said...

Well NBC, ABC, CBS, MSNBC (like WaPo and NYT) are all corporations, and there are lots of people who believe that you magically loose your right to free speech when you sign incorporation papers.

sinz52 said...

Benjamin Franklin was not just one of the Founding Fathers. He was also a scientist and prolific inventor.

From that same article:

Franklin discovered the principle of evaporative cooling--that the evaporation of water from an object or a person's skin cooled it. He speculated that someday, it might be possible to use this principle to stay cool even on a hot summer day. And of course, now we do, with air conditioning.

Truly a great man.

YoungHegelian said...

Do you know how many Leyden jars the Founders had to line up to charge their cell phones?

Sheeeesh! Thank God for the Energizer Bunny!

@BobR

Agree with you that Franklin is much more interesting than he's ordinarily thought to be.

Surfed said...

The Framers never envisioned written/spoken opinion and journalism that moved at an instants notice denying thoughtful contemplation. Broadcast News over the airwaves should be illegal because the Framers never envisioned it ever moving faster han a horse and rider.. Or so the argument would go...

Paul Zrimsek said...

i do hope Franklin used ye Althoufe portal when ordering all those Leyden jars.

traditionalguy said...

No electrical batteries would have defeated the British Empire's Army and Navy.

But a determination to oppose the King was born after trying to appease him.

This became true after gentle Ben's experience of being verbally horsewhipped in the Starr Chamber for 6 hours being given no chance to reply.

The next day our Wise Philadelphian Framer exchanged his interest in electrical power from Leyden jars in a row for fire power from shot and black powder cannons in a row.

We now see the same British arrogance nightly on Piers Morgan's CNN Starr Chamber tongue lashing American Colonials who still want to keep fire power.

Hopefully with the same results will happen.

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AllenS said...

They had lamps powered by the blubber from whales.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Right on. If we use the logic that that we should only have the weapons technology available in the 1700's....envisioned by the "Framers"... then we must get rid of our dishwashers, washing machines, electric lights, televisions, computers.

We MUST go back to cutting wood for heat and cooking over open fireplaces, wood stoves, heat water to bathe once a week (if you are lucky). Don't even mention doing laundry. Also....no refrigerators. OMG the feminists are going to love all the housework that has to be done.....either that or they get out and hand hoe the fields and pull the plows when the horse keels over.

Thank GOD...by this logic, we can still drink beer!!

Chip S. said...

Not only did they have batteries, but Abigail Adams had a whalebone vibrator.

edutcher said...

In other words, the Bill of Rights applies only if we're Amish.

Actually, there were no plugs or batteries, but people haven't really changed.

PS There was only one plug in device in use IYKWIM.

chickelit said...

While Franklin's and his contemporary's devices were clearly electromechanical devices, the Baghdad jars described at the Wiki link are more interesting forerunners of electrochemical cells.

On the other hand, electromechanical cells are enjoying a comeback. I bought my son a crank-powered radio with a USB port. I told him these devices would have been useful for New Yorkers during the Sandy Hurricane and its aftermath for charging cell phones.

Imagine if bloggers and blog readers could power their habits with simple crank or pedal-powered devices? Win-win

Dust Bunny Queen said...

The Franklin Stove was a great innovative leap forward in heating and cooking.
Franklin also didn't have to get approval from the EPA, do an environmental quality assessment and pass through a myriad of other regulatory agencies whose sole purpose is to stop progress.

If we must go back to what the "Framers" envisioned, I suggest we also go back to the level of governmental intrusion and oversight that existed then too. I'm down with that.

Lucien said...

It's probably better doctrinal hygiene to speak of "Contemporaneous Public Meaning" rather than "Originalism" -- but so many words!

chickelit said...

Ben Franklin famously donated all his inventions to the Public Domain and would have been a hero to the likes of Aaron Swartz. They all still cared about sacred Priority.

Bob Boyd said...

In those days they had to run a cord out into the woods and plug it in to a current bush or some similar power plant.

Original Mike said...

Meade — who is not a lawyer

John Kerry - who served in Vietnam

Dominique de Villepin - who is a man

edutcher said...

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Right on. If we use the logic that that we should only have the weapons technology available in the 1700's....envisioned by the "Framers"... then we must get rid of our dishwashers, washing machines, electric lights, televisions, computers.

Don't forget antibiotics and painkillers, and all those diagnostic machines.

Hey, at least we wouldn't need ObamaTax.

We'd all die at 40.

Larry J said...

We'd all die at 40.

A high percentage would die before age 5 and a lot of women would die in childbirth.

Michael McNeil said...

No electrical batteries would have defeated the British Empire's Army and Navy.

Maybe not, given what we know now. But the potentiality of science vis-a-vis war was there even then, thoughtful people recognized it, and feared the new electrical lightning science — and Franklin — as a result.

One might note in this regard, as Isaac Asimov pointed out (and hasn't been mentioned hitherto here), Benjamin Franklin was the first scientific conqueror of a destructive force of nature — that of lightning (which historically has destroyed many, many buildings and killed many people) — via his seemingly simple lightning rod.

Franklin, indeed, was regarded by many of the British public as nearly superhuman in his cunning and scientific acumen, and thus a mortal danger to Britain's Empire (a perception which history ajudges correct, though not because of superweapons, but rather as a result of where he positioned himself, in the midst of their enemies, in France).

Of British fears, here's what Horace Walpole had to say, writing in 1778 (a little tongue in cheek no doubt), about Franklin's perceived threat to Britain and the Empire (in a story that surely made its way back to him):

“The natural philosophers in power believe that Dr. Franklin has invented a machine of the size of a toothpick case and materials that would reduce St. Paul's to a handful of ashes.”

Franklin himself, of course, recognized the power of science in this regard, as he wrote:

“The rapid progress true science now makes occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the power of man over matter….”

Thus, I daydream of an alternate “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in which at the end of the Revolutionary War a matchbox-sized box is wheeled into a warehouse full of secret weapons of unimagined horror….

Tyrone Slothrop said...

What we casually call "batteries",AA, C,D, etc., are actually cells, that is, they comprise one anode and one cathode. The word "battery" actually means a number of cells linked in series. The thing that stores electricity in your car is a battery, since it is made up of six cells in series. This follows the analogy of a battery of cannons being more than a couple.

Sam L. said...

And the Greenies will HATE having to heat and cook with wood, or (OMG!) coal! Whale oil? Forgive me PETA!

Larry J said...

Franklin was a dirty old man, but a great dirty old man!

He witnessed one of the first public demonstrations of a hot air balloon while in France. Someone asked him, "What good is it?" He replied, "What good is a new born baby?"

He was also the first to comprehend the potential of airborne military forces as all us old paratroopers can attest. He wrote, "Where is the prince who can afford so to cover his country with troops for its defense, so that ten thousand men descending from the clouds might not, in many places, do an infinite deal of mischief before a force could be brought together to repel them?" —Benjamin Franklin, 1784

traditionalguy said...

Thanks for that beautiful comment, Michael McNeil.

It is amazing how much more we know now than we did 20 years ago...like a whole new world in Medical Science, Physics and Biology and digital controls.

The Professor put me onto Bill Bryson's audible books including "A Short History of Nearly Everything." She loves his voice, and I love hearing about the scope of knowledge come available since Ben Franklin time 230 years ago.

As Glenn Reynolds is always saying, "faster, faster."

Paddy O said...

Every since Meade married the hostess hereabouts, he spends most of his time hanging out in different forums. Very rarely makes an appearance in these comment sections.

It's like it really never was about having intelligent conversation with all of us peasants...

Paddy O said...

By the by, the Framers' love of country charged their batteries and kept them full.

Methadras said...

Well, there is a theory that ancient Egyptians may have been the first users of electricity. There is a relief in the Temple of Dendera that shows what appears to be a light bulb. Another aspect of ancient Egyptian construction also appears to be the lack of soot at many of these underground tombs with the kind of artwork that they put on the walls.

RonF said...

A common argument against the 1st Amendment is that the Founders could not have envisioned automatic and semi-automatic weapons when they wrote it.

But in Wikipedia we seethis, which claims that one Joseph Belton offered to sell the Continental Congress a gun that would fire 16 bullets in 5 seconds, in 1777.

Astro said...

Gravity - they had gravity-driven devices, like the weights in clocks and waterwheels in mills that turned gears to mark time or do work.

whswhs said...

Technically, of course, that was a battery of capacitors, not a battery of what we now call "batteries." (A capacitor, such as a Leyden jar, stores electricity in electric fields and can release it in one sudden zap; a battery contains chemicals that react to produce electricity and does so gradually over time.) The word obviously underwent evolution, first by being applied to a battery of Voltaic cells, and then by coming to refer to a single cell.