Benjamin Franklin

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He that would live in peace and at ease, Must not speak all he knows, nor judge all he sees.
I think opinions should be judged of by their influences and effects; and if a man holds none that tend to make him less virtuous or more vicious, it may be concluded that he holds none that are dangerous, which I hope is the case with me.

Benjamin Franklin (17 January 170617 April 1790) was an American inventor, journalist, printer, diplomat, and statesman.

See also: Poor Richard's Almanack (1733–1758).

Quotes[edit]

Remember that time is money.
Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.
Every Body cries, a Union is absolutely necessary, but when they come to the Manner and Form of the Union, their weak Noddles are perfectly distracted.
Idleness and pride tax with a heavier hand than kings and parliaments. If we can get rid of the former, we may easily bear the latter.
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.
As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and His Religion, as He left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupt changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to His divinity; tho' it is a question I do not dogmatize upon...
  • Mankind naturally and generally love to be flatter'd: Whatever sooths our Pride, and tends to exalt our Species above the rest of the Creation, we are pleas'd with and easily believe, when ungrateful Truths shall be with the utmost Indignation rejected. "What! bring ourselves down to an Equality with the Beasts of the Field! with the meanest part of the Creation! 'Tis insufferable!" But, (to use a Piece of common Sense) our Geese are but Geese tho' we may think 'em Swans; and Truth will be Truth tho' it sometimes prove mortifying and distasteful.
  • I believe there is one Supreme most perfect being. … I believe He is pleased and delights in the happiness of those He has created; and since without virtue man can have no happiness in this world, I firmly believe He delights to see me virtuous.
    • "Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion" (1728).
  • Ambition has its disappointments to sour us, but never the good fortune to satisfy us.
    • "On True Happiness", Pennsylvania Gazette, 20 November 1735.
  • History will also afford frequent Opportunities of showing the Necessity of a Publick Religion, from its Usefulness to the Publick; the Advantage of a Religious Character among private Persons; the Mischiefs of Superstition, &c. and the Excellency of the Christian Religion above all others antient or modern.
    History will also give Occasion to expatiate on the advantage of Civil Orders and Constitutions, how men and their properties are protected by joining in Societies and establishing Government; their Industry encouraged and rewarded, Arts invented, and Life made more comfortable: the Advantages of Liberty, Mischiefs of Licentiousness, Benefits arising from good Laws and a due Execution of Justice &c. Thus may the first Principles of sound Politics be fixed in the minds of youth.
    On Historical occasions, Questions of Right and Wrong, Justice and Injustice, will naturally arise, and may be put to Youth, which they may debate in Conversation and in Writing. When they ardently desire of Victory, for the Sake of the Praise attending it, they will begin to feel the want, and be sensible of the use of the Use of Logic, or the Art of Reasoning to discover Truth, and of Arguing to defend it, and convince adversaries.
  • Much less is it adviseable for a Person to go thither [to America], who has no other Quality to recommend him but his Birth. In Europe it has indeed its Value; but it is a Commodity that cannot be carried to a worse Market than that of America, where people do not inquire concerning a Stranger, What is he? but, What can he do?
    • Information to Those Who Would Remove to America.
  • The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions; for life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence, or the want of it. By playing at Chess then, we may learn: 1st, Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action … 2nd, Circumspection, which surveys the whole Chess-board, or scene of action: — the relation of the several Pieces, and their situations; … 3rd, Caution, not to make our moves too hastily...
    • "The Morals of Chess" (article) (1750).
  • They appeared all to have made considerable progress in reading for the time they had respectively been in the school, and most of them answered readily and well the questions of the catechism. They behaved very orderly, and showed a proper respect and ready obedience to the mistress, and seemed very attentive to, and a good deal affected by, a serious exhoration with which Mister Sturgeon concluded our visit. I was on the whole much pleased, and from what I then saw, have conceived a higher opinion of the natural capacities of the black race, than I had ever before entertained. Their apprehension seems as quick, their memory as strong, and their docility in every respect equal to that of white children.
  • I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.
  • The good particular men may do separately, in relieving the sick, is small, compared with what they may do collectively.
    • Appeal for the Hospital The Pennsylvania Gazette (8 August 1751).
  • [Referring to private hospital funding alone:] That won't work, it will never be enough, good health care costs a lot of money, remembering 'the distant parts of this province' in which 'assistance cannot be procured, but at an expense that neither [the sick-poor] nor their townships can afford.' … '[This] seems essential to the true spirit of Christianity, and should be extended to all in general, whether deserving or undeserving, as far as our power reaches.'
    • In 1751, Franklin's friend, Dr. Thomas Bond, convinced him to champion the building of a public hospital. Through his hard work and political ingenuity, Franklin brought the skeptical legislature to the table, bargaining his way to use public money to build what would become Pennsylvania Hospital. Franklin proposed an institution that would provide — 'free of charge' —the finest health care to everybody, 'whether inhabitants of the province or strangers,' even to the 'poor diseased foreigners"' (referring to the immigrants of German stock that the colonials tended to disparage and discriminate). Countering the Assembly's insistence that the hospital be built only with private donations, Franklin made the above statement. Various articles by Franklin supporting his Appeal for the Hospital in The Pennsylvania Gazette (1751) as quoted in Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan.
  • That the vegetable creation should restore the air which is spoiled by the animal part of it, looks like a rational system, and seems to be of a piece with the rest. Thus fire purifies water all the world over. It purifies it by distillation, when it raises it in vapours, and lets it fall in rain; and farther still by filtration, when keeping it fluid, it suffers that rain to percolate the earth. We knew before that putrid animal substances were converted into sweet vegetables when mixed with the earth and applied as manure; and now, it seems, that the same putrid substances, mixed with the air, have a similar effect. The strong, thriving state of your mint, in putrid air, seems to show that the air is mended by taking something from it, and not by adding to it. I hope this will give some check to the rage of destroying trees that grow near houses, which has accompanied our late improvements in gardening, from an opinion of their being unwholesome. I am certain, from long observation, that there is nothing unhealthy in the air of woods; for we Americans have everywhere our country habitations in the midst of woods, and no people on earth enjoy better health or are more prolific.
  • Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
    • This was first written by Franklin for the Pennsylvania Assembly in its Reply to the Governor (11 Nov. 1755)
    • This quote was used as a motto on the title page of An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania (1759); the book was published by Franklin; its author was Richard Jackson, but Franklin did claim responsibility for some small excerpts that were used in it.
    • An earlier variant by Franklin in Poor Richard's Almanack (1738): "Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power."
    • Many paraphrased derivatives of this have often become attributed to Franklin:
      • They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
        They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
        Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither.
        He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.
        He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.
        People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.
        If we restrict liberty to attain security we will lose them both.
        Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
        He who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither.
        Those who would trade in their freedom for their protection deserve neither.
        Those who give up their liberty for more security neither deserve liberty nor security.
  • But our great security lies, I think, in our growing strength, both in numbers and wealth; … unless, by a neglect of military discipline, we should lose all martial spirit …; for there is much truth in the Italian saying, Make yourselves sheep, and the wolves will eat you.
  • He has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle.
    • The Whistle (November, 1779); reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Has not the famous political Fable of the Snake, with two Heads and one Body, some useful Instruction contained in it? She was going to a Brook to drink, and in her Way was to pass thro’ a Hedge, a Twig of which opposed her direct Course; one Head chose to go on the right side of the Twig, the other on the left, so that time was spent in the Contest, and, before the Decision was completed, the poor Snake died with thirst.
    • Queries and Remarks Respecting Alterations in the Constitution of Pennsylvania reported in Albert H. Smyth, ed., The Writings of Benjamin Franklin (1907), vol. 10, pp. 57–58.
  • Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.
    • As quoted in Dictionary of Thoughts (1908) by Tryon Edwards, p. 22.
  • The art of concluding from experience and observation consists in evaluating probabilities, in estimating if they are high or numerous enough to constitute proof. This type of calculation is more complicated and more difficult than one might think. It demands a great sagacity generally above the power of common people. The success of charlatans, sorcerors, and alchemists — and all those who abuse public credulity — is founded on errors in this type of calculation.
    • Benjamin Franklin and Antoine Lavoisier, Rapport des commissaires chargés par le roi de l'examen du magnétisme animal (1784), as translated in "The Chain of Reason versus the Chain of Thumbs", Bully for Brontosaurus (1991) by Stephen Jay Gould, p. 195.
  • Slavery is such an atrocious debasement of human nature, that its very extirpation, if not performed with solicitious care, may sometimes open a source of serious evils. The unhappy man who has been treated as a brute animal, too frequently sinks beneath the common standard of the human species. The galling chains, that bind his body, do also fetter his intellectual faculties, and impair the social affections of his heart… To instruct, to advise, to qualify those, who have been restored to freedom, for the exercise and enjoyment of civil liberty… and to procure for their children an education calculated for their future situation in life; these are the great outlines of the annexed plan, which we have adopted.
    • For the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery (1789). As quoted in Writings (1987), p. 1154-1155.
  • God grant, that not only the Love of Liberty, but a thorough Knowledge of the Rights of Man, may pervade all the Nations of the Earth, so that a Philosopher may set his Foot anywhere on its Surface, and say, 'This is my Country.'
    • Letter to David Hartley (December 4, 1789); reported in Albert H. Smyth, ed., The Writings of Benjamin Franklin (1907), Volume 10, p. 72.
  • As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupt changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his divinity; tho' it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and I think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble.
    • As quoted in Benjamin Franklin: An Exploration of a Life of Science and Service (1938) by Carl Van Doren, p. 777.
    • Variation: "The moral and religious system which Jesus Christ transmitted to us is the best the world has ever seen, or can see.", as quoted in John Wallis (1856), The British Millennial Harbinger, p. 428.
  • Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.
    • Benjamin Franklin proposed this as the motto on the Great Seal of the United States. It is often falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson because he endorsed the motto. It may have been inspired by a similar quote made by Simon Bradstreet after the 1688 overthrow of Edmund Andros. Bradstreet's quote is found in two sources: Official Report of the Debates and Proceedings in the State Convention: assembled May 4th, 1853 (1853) by the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention, p. 502 and A Book of New England Legends and Folk Lore (1883) by Samuel Adams Drake. p. 426.

Poor Richard's Almanack[edit]

  • The Way to ſee by Faith is to ſhut the Eye of Reaſon: The Morning Daylight appears plainer when you put out your Candle.

The Autobiography (1817)[edit]

Various incomplete editions of this work were published from 1791 onwards; Franklin is known to have worked on it intermittently from 1771 to 1789. The work is traditionally divided into four parts, based on the time of writing. The page references given below are taken from J. A. Leo Lemay and P. M. Zall, Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography (W. W. Norton and Company, 1986).
Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.
So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.
  • Indeed I scarce ever heard or saw the introductory Words, Without Vanity I may say, etc. but some vain thing immediately follow'd. Most People dislike Vanity in others whatever Share they have of it themselves, but I give it fair Quarter wherever I meet with it, being persuaded that it is often productive of Good to the Possessor and to others that are within his Sphere of Action: And therefore in many Cases it would not be quite absurd if a Man were to thank God for his Vanity among the other Comforts of Life. [Part I, p. 2]
  • From a Child I was fond of Reading, and all the little Money that came into my Hands was ever laid out in Books. [Part I, p. 9]
  • I believe I have omitted mentioning that in my first Voyage from Boston, being becalm'd off Block Island, our People set about catching Cod and haul'd up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my Resolution of not eating animal Food and on this Occasion, I consider'd with my Master Tryon, the taking every Fish as a kind of unprovok'd Murder, since none of them had or ever could do us any Injury that might justify the Slaughter. All this seem'd very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great Lover of Fish, and when this came hot out of the Frying Pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanc'd some time between Principle and Inclination: till I recollected, that when the Fish were opened, I saw smaller Fish taken out of their Stomachs: Then, thought I, if you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you. So I din'd upon Cod very heartily and continu'd to eat with other People, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable Diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do. [Part I, p. 28]
  • My Parents had early given me religious Impressions, and brought me through my Childhood piously in the Dissenting Way. But I was scarce 15 when, after doubting by turns of several Points as I found them disputed in the different Books I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself. Some Books against Deism fell into my Hands; they were said to be the Substance of Sermons preached at Boyle's Lectures. It happened that they wrought an Effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them: For the Arguments of the Deists which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much Stronger than the Refutations. In short I soon became a thorough Deist. [Part I, p. 45]
  • This Library afforded me the Means of Improvement by constant Study, for which I set apart an Hour or two each Day; and thus repair'd in some Degree the Loss of the Learned Education my Father once intended for me. Reading was the only Amusement I allow'd myself. I spent no time in Taverns, Games, or Frolics of any kind. And my Industry in my Business continu'd as indefatigable as it was necessary. [Part II, p. 64]
  • These Names of Virtues with their Precepts were
    • 1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to Dulness. Drink not to Elevation.
    • 2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or your self. Avoid trifling Conversation.
    • 3. ORDER. Let all your Things have their Places. Let each part of your Business have its Time.
    • 4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.
    • 5. FRUGALITY. Make no Expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. Waste nothing.
    • 6. INDUSTRY. Lose no Time. Be always employ'd in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.
    • 7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
    • 8. JUSTICE. Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.
    • 9. MODERATION. Avoid Extremes. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.
    • 10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no Uncleanliness in Body, Clothes, or Habitation.
    • 11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.
    • 12. CHASTITY. Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dulness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another's Peace or Reputation.
    • 13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates. [Part II, pp. 67-68]
      • The last of Franklin's chart of 13 virtues: "My List of Virtues contain'd at first but twelve; but a Quaker Friend having kindly inform'd me that I was generally thought proud; … I determined endeavouring to cure myself if I could of this Vice or Folly among the rest, and I added Humility to my List..." [Part II, p. 75]
  • In reality there is perhaps no one of our natural Passions so hard to subdue as Pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself. You will see it perhaps often in this History. For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my Humility. [Part II, p. 76]
    • Written in Passy, 1784, Ch. VI.
  • In 1736 I lost one of my Sons, a fine Boy of 4 Years old, by the Smallpox taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly and still regret that I had not given it to him by Inoculation. This I mention for the Sake of Parents who omit that Operation on the Supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a Child died under it; my Example showing that the Regret may be the same either way, and that therefore the safer should be chosen. [Part III, p. 83]
  • Upon one of his [George Whitefield's] Arrivals from England at Boston, he wrote to me that he should come soon to Philadelphia, but knew not where he could lodge when there .... My Answer was; You know my House, if you can make shift with its scanty Accommodations you will be most heartily welcome. He replied, that if I made that kind of Offer for Christ's sake, I should not miss of a Reward. And I return'd, Don't let me be mistaken; it was not for Christ's sake, but for your sake. One of our common Acquaintance jocosely remark'd, that knowing it to be the Custom of the Saints, when they receiv'd any favor, to shift the Burden of the Obligation from off their own Shoulders, and place it in Heaven, I had contriv'd to fix it on Earth. [Part III, p. 89]
  • Governor Thomas was so pleas'd with the Construction of this Stove, as describ'd in it, that he offer'd to give me a Patent for the sole Vending of them for a Term of Years; but I declin'd it from a Principle which has ever weigh'd with me on such Occasions, viz. That as we enjoy great Advantages from the Inventions of Others, we should be glad of an Opportunity to serve others by any Invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously. [Part III, p. 98]

Constitutional Convention[edit]

  • I've lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing Proofs I see of this Truth — That God governs in the Affairs of Men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that except the Lord build the House they labor in vain who build it. I firmly believe this, — and I also believe that without his concurring Aid, we shall succeed in this political Building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our Projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a Reproach and Bye word down to future Ages.
  • I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.
    • Speech in the Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (September 17, 1787); reported in James Madison, Journal of the Federal Convention, ed. E. H. Scott (1893), p. 741.
  • In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, — if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.
    • Speech to the Constitutional Convention (September 17, 1787); reported in James Madison, Journal of the Federal Convention, ed. E. H. Scott (1893), p. 742.
  • Whilst the last members were signing it Doctor Franklin looking towards the President's Chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. “I have,” said he, “often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.”
    • At the signing of the United States Constitution, Journal of the Constitutional Convention (17 September 1787).
  • A lady asked Dr. Franklin Well Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy. A republic replied the Doctor if you can keep it.

Epistles[edit]

It is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer
  • I think opinions should be judged of by their influences and effects; and if a man holds none that tend to make him less virtuous or more vicious, it may be concluded that he holds none that are dangerous, which I hope is the case with me.
    • Letter to his father, 13 April 1738, printed in Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin (Philadelphia, 1834), volume 1, p. 233. Also quoted in Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003) by Walter Isaacson
  • We are a kind of posterity in respect to them.
    • Letter to William Strahan (1745); reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • But I must own that I am much in the Dark about Light. I am not satisfy'd with the doctrine that supposes particles of matter call'd light continually driven off from the Sun's Surface, with a Swiftness so prodigious!
    • Letter to Cadwallader Colden (April 23, 1752).
  • When an Indian Child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our Customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return, and that this is not natural to them merely as Indians, but as men, is plain from this, that when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.
    • Letter to London merchant Peter Collinson (9 May 1753); reported in Labaree: "Papers of Benjamin Franklin", vol 4, pp 481-482.
  • For my own Part, when I am employed in serving others, I do not look upon myself as conferring Favours, but as paying Debts. In my Travels, and since my Settlement, I have received much Kindness from Men, to whom I shall never have any Opportunity of making the least direct Return. And numberless Mercies from God, who is infinitely above being benefited by our Services. Those Kindnesses from Men, I can therefore only Return on their Fellow Men; and I can only shew my Gratitude for these mercies from God, by a readiness to help his other Children and my Brethren. For I do not think that Thanks and Compliments, tho’ repeated weekly, can discharge our real Obligations to each other, and much less those to our Creator.
    • Letter to Joseph Huey (6 June 1753); published in Albert Henry Smyth, The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, volume 3, p. 144.
  • The Faith you mention has doubtless its use in the World. I do not desire to see it diminished, nor would I endeavour to lessen it in any Man. But I wish it were more productive of good Works, than I have generally seen it: I mean real good Works, Works of Kindness, Charity, Mercy, and Publick Spirit; not Holiday-keeping, Sermon-Reading or Hearing; performing Church Ceremonies, or making long Prayers, filled with Flatteries and Compliments, despis’d even by wise Men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity. The worship of God is a Duty; the hearing and reading of Sermons may be useful; but, if Men rest in Hearing and Praying, as too many do, it is as if a Tree should Value itself on being water’d and putting forth Leaves, tho’ it never produc’d any Fruit.
    • Letter to Joseph Huey (6 June 1753); published in Albert Henry Smyth, The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, volume 3, p. 145.
  • Every Body cries, a Union is absolutely necessary, but when they come to the Manner and Form of the Union, their weak Noddles are perfectly distracted.
    • Letter to Peter Collinson (29 December 1754); published in The Writings of Benjamin Franklin (1905), edited by Albert Henry Smyth, Vol. III, p. 242; also misquoted using "Noodles" for "Noddles".
  • I have read your Manuscript with some Attention. By the Arguments it contains against the Doctrine of a particular Providence, tho’ you allow a general Providence, you strike at the Foundation of all Religion: For without the Belief of a Providence that takes Cognizance of, guards and guides and may favour particular Persons, there is no Motive to Worship a Deity, to fear its Displeasure, or to pray for its Protection. I will not enter into any Discussion of your Principles, tho’ you seem to desire it; At present I shall only give you my Opinion that tho’ your Reasonings are subtle, and may prevail with some Readers, you will not succeed so as to change the general Sentiments of Mankind on that Subject, and the Consequence of printing this Piece will be a great deal of Odium drawn upon your self, Mischief to you and no Benefit to others. He that spits against the Wind, spits in his own Face. But were you to succeed, do you imagine any Good would be done by it? You yourself may find it easy to live a virtuous Life without the Assistance afforded by Religion; you having a clear Perception of the Advantages of Virtue and the Disadvantages of Vice, and possessing a Strength of Resolution sufficient to enable you to resist common Temptations. But think how great a Proportion of Mankind consists of weak and ignorant Men and Women, and of inexperienc’d and inconsiderate Youth of both Sexes, who have need of the Motives of Religion to restrain them from Vice, to support their Virtue, and retain them in the Practice of it till it becomes habitual, which is the great Point for its Security; And perhaps you are indebted to her originally that is to your Religious Education, for the Habits of Virtue upon which you now justly value yourself. You might easily display your excellent Talents of reasoning on a less hazardous Subject, and thereby obtain Rank with our most distinguish’d Authors. For among us, it is not necessary, as among the Hottentots that a Youth to be receiv’d into the Company of Men, should prove his Manhood by beating his Mother. I would advise you therefore not to attempt unchaining the Tyger, but to burn this Piece before it is seen by any other Person, whereby you will save yourself a great deal of Mortification from the Enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a good deal of Regret and Repentance. If Men are so wicked as we now see them with Religion what would they be if without it?
  • That Being, who gave me existence, and through almost threescore years has been continually showering his favors upon me, whose very chastisements have been blessings to me ; can I doubt that he loves me? And, if he loves me, can I doubt that he will go on to take care of me, not only here but hereafter? This to some may seem presumption ; to me it appears the best grounded hope ; hope of the future built on experience of the past.
    • Letter to George Whitefield (19 June 1764), published in The Works of Benjamin Franklin (1856).
  • Idleness and Pride Tax with a heavier Hand than Kings and Parliaments; If we can get rid of the former we may easily bear the Latter.
    • Letter to Charles Thomson, 11 July 1765; also quoted in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919). The last sentence is sometimes misquoted as "If we can get rid of the former, we can get rid of the latter".
  • But your Squabbles about a Bishop I wish to see speedily ended. … Each Party abuses the other, the Profane and the Infidel believe both sides, and enjoy the Fray; the Reputation of Religion in general suffers, and its enemies are ready to say, not what was said in the primitive Times, Behold how these Christians love one another, but, Mark how these Christians hate one another! Indeed when religious People quarrel about Religion, or hungry People about their Victuals, it looks as if they had not much of either among them.
  • Here Skugg lies snug
    As a bug in a rug.
    • Letter to Miss Georgiana Shipley (September, 1772); reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • In 200 years will people remember us as traitors or heros? That is the question we must ask.
    • Letter to Thomas Jefferson (March 16th, 1775).
  • You and I were long friends: you are now my enemy, and I am yours.
    • Letter to William Strahan (July 5, 1775); reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy. The miracle in question was only performed to hasten the operation, under circumstances of present necessity, which required it.
  • Here you would know and enjoy what posterity will say of Washington. For a thousand leagues have nearly the same effect with a thousand years.
    • Letter to Washington (March 5, 1780); reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • All Wars are Follies, very expensive, and very mischievous ones. When will Mankind be convinced of this, and agree to settle their Differences by Arbitration? Were they to do it, even by the Cast of a Dye, it would be better than by Fighting and destroying each other.
    • Letter to Mary Hewson[4], Jan. 27. 1783.
  • There never was a good war or a bad peace.
    • Letter to Josiah Quincy (11 September 1783).
  • All Property indeed, except the Savage’s temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of publick Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents & all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity & the Uses of it. All the Property that is necessary to a Man for the Conservation of the Individual & the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property of the Publick, who by their Laws have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire & live among Savages.—He can have no right to the Benefits of Society who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it.
    • Letter to Robert Morris (December 25, 1783).
  • I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy. The turkey is a much more respectable bird.
    • letter to Sarah Bache (January 26, 1784).
  • Let me add, that only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.
    • letter to the Abbés Chalut and Arnaud (April 17, 1787).
  • Remember me affectionately to good Dr. Price and to the honest heretic Dr. Priestly. I do not call him honest by way of distinction; for I think all the heretics I have known have been virtuous men. They have the virtue of fortitude or they would not venture to own their heresy; and they cannot afford to be deficient in any of the other virtues, as that would give advantage to their many enemies; and they have not like orthodox sinners, such a number of friends to excuse or justify them. Do not, however mistake me. It is not to my good friend's heresy that I impute his honesty. On the contrary, 'tis his honesty that has brought upon him the character of heretic.
  • That it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer, is a maxim that has been long and generally approved; never, that I know of, controverted.
  • Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
    • Letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy (13 November 1789); reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).

Attributed[edit]

We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.
  • We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.
    • Statement at the signing of the Declaration of Independence (1776-07-04), quoted as an anecdote in The Works of Benjamin Franklin by Jared Sparks (1840). However, this had earlier been attributed to Richard Penn in Memoirs of a Life, Chiefly Passed in Pennsylvania, Within the Last Sixty Years (1811, p. 116). In 1801, "If we don't hang together, by Heavens we shall hang separately" appears in the English play Life by Frederick Reynolds (Life, Frederick Reynolds, in a collection by Mrs Inchbald, 1811, Google Books first published in 1801 [5]), and the remark was later attributed to 'An American General' by Reynolds in his 1826 memoir [6]. A comparable pun on "hang alone … hang together" appears in Dryden's 1717 The Spanish Fryar Google Books. The pun also appears in an April 14, 1776 letter [7] from Carter Braxton, attributed to 'A Wit'.
  • What is the good of a newborn baby?
    • Widely attributed response to a questioner doubting the usefulness of hot air balloons. See Seymor L. Chapin, "A Legendary Bon Mot?: Franklin's 'What is the Good of a Newborn Baby?'", Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 129:3 (September 1985), pp. 278–290. Chapin argues (pp. 286–287) that the "evidence overwhelmingly suggests that he said something rather different" and that the attributed quotation is "a probably much older adage."


Misattributed[edit]

  • When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.
  • Libraries … will be the best security for maintaining our liberties. A nation of well-informed men, who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them, cannot be enslaved. It is in the regions of ignorance that tyranny reigns.
    • Written by Henry Stuber as part of a biographical sketch of Franklin appended to a 1793 edition of Franklin's autobiography and sometimes reprinted with it in the 19th century. It is frequently misattributed to Franklin himself.
  • Treason is a charge invented by winners as an excuse for hanging the losers.
  • [Freedom is] not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.
    • This is actually from an essay "On Government No. I" that appeared in Franklin's paper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, on 1 April 1736. The author was John Webbe. He wrote about the privileges enjoyed under British rule,
Thank God! we are in the full enjoyment of all these privileges. But can we be taught to prize them too much? or how can we prize them equal to their value, if we do not know their intrinsic worth, and that they are not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature?
  • Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.
    • Widely attributed to Franklin on the Internet, sometimes without the second sentence. It is not found in any of his known writings, and the word "lunch" is not known to have appeared anywhere in English literature until the 1820s, decades after his death. The phrasing itself has a very modern tone and the second sentence especially might not even be as old as the internet. Some of these observations are made in response to a query at Google Answers.[8]
      The earliest known similar statements are:
      • A democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.
        • Gary Strand, Usenet group sci.environment, 23 April 1990. [9]
      • Democracy is not freedom. Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch. Freedom comes from the recognition of certain rights which may not be taken, not even by a 99% vote.
        • Marvin Simkin, "Individual Rights", Los Angeles Times, 12 January 1992:[10]
      • Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
  • Lighthouses are more useful than churches.
    • Also quoted as “Lighthouses are more helpful than churches” or “A lighthouse is more useful than a church.” Although not by Franklin in this form, it may be intended as a paraphrase of something he wrote to his wife on 17 July 1757, given in a footnote on page 133 of Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin (1818). After describing a narrow escape from shipwreck he added:
      • The bell ringing for church, we went thither immediately, and with hearts full of gratitude, returned sincere thanks to God for the mercies we had received: were I a Roman Catholic, perhaps I should on this occasion vow to build a chapel to some saint, but as I am not, if I were to vow at all, it should be to build a light-house.
  • God made beer because he loves us and wants us to be happy.
    • The quote, and its many variants, has been widely attributed to Franklin; however, there has never been an authoritative source for the quote, and research indicates that it is very likely a misquotation of Franklin's words regarding wine: "Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy." (see sourced section above for a more extensive quotation of this passage from a letter to André Morellet), written in 1779.
  • The colonies would gladly have borne the little tax on tea and other matters had it not been that England took away from the colonies their money, which created unemployment and dissatisfaction. The inability of colonists to get power to issue their own money permanently out of the hands of George the III and the international bankers was the PRIME reason for the Revolutionary War.
    • Widely quoted statement on the reasons for the American War of Independence sometimes cited as being from Franklin's autobiography, but this statement was never in any edition.
    • Variant: The colonies would gladly have borne the little tax on tea and other matters had it not been that England and the Rothschild's Bank took away from the colonies their money which created unemployment, dissatisfaction and debt.
    • Variants from various small publications from the 1940s:
      • The refusal of King George to allow the colonies to operate an honest money system, which freed the ordinary man from clutches of the money manipulators was probably the prime cause of the revolution.
      • The refusal of King George to allow the Colonies to operate on an honest Colonial system, which freed the ordinary man from the clutches of the money manipulators, was probably the prime cause of the revolution.
      • The refusal of King George to allow the colonies to operate on an honest, colonial money system, which freed the ordinary man from the clutches of the money manipulators, was probably the prime cause of the revolution.
    • Some of the statement might be derived from those made during his examination by the British Parliament in February 1766, published in "The Examination of Benjamin Franklin" in The Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803‎ (1813); when questioned why Parliament had lost respect among the people of the Colonies, he answered: "To a concurrence of causes: the restraints lately laid on their trade, by which the bringing of foreign gold and silver into the Colonies was prevented; the prohibition of making paper money among themselves, and then demanding a new and heavy tax by stamps; taking away, at the same time, trials by juries, and refusing to receive and hear their humble petitions".
  • I would advise you not to attempt Unchaining The Tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person. … If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be Without it? Think how many inconsiderate and inexperienced youth of both sexes there are, who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue, and retain them in the practice of it till it becomes habitual.
    • Claimed by the American Tract Society, in a mid-19th century pamphlet titled "Don't Unchain the Tiger", to have been conveyed by Franklin in a letter to Thomas Paine, regarding The Age of Reason, Paine's deistic work which criticized orthodox Christianity. Identified as a misattribution in Calvin Blanchard, The Life of Thomas Paine (1860), p. 73, noting that Franklin died in 1790, while Paine did not begin writing The Age of Reason until 1793. Reported as "Don't unchain the tiger!" in Paul F. Boller, Jr., and John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, & Misleading Attributions (1989), p. 28.
  • In the Colonies we issue our own money. It is called Colonial Scrip. We issue it in proper proportion to the demands of trade and industry to make the products pass easily from the producers to the consumers. In this manner, creating for ourselves our own paper money, we control its purchasing power, and we have no interest to pay no one.
    • Quoted in Money and Men by Robert McCann Rice (1941) but no prior source is extant.
  • A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.
    • This seems to have been first attributed to Franklin in The New Age Magazine Vol. 66 (1958), and the earliest appearance of it yet located is in Coronet magazine, Vol. 34 (1953), p. 27, where it was attributed to a Louise Stein; it thus seems likely to have been derived from an earlier statement of Harry Emerson Fosdick, On Being a Real Person (1943) : "At very best, a person wrapped up in himself makes a small package".
  • The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
    • Misattributed to various people, including Albert Einstein and Mark Twain. An early occurrence was used as a teaching reference at University of California, Irvine in social science lectures in the later 1960s. Also found in a 1981 text from Narcotics Anonymous.
  • Each man has two countries, I think: His own, and France.
  • Your argument is sound, nothing but sound.
    • Anonymous quip quoted in an essay in Logic, an Introduction (1950) by Lionel Ruby. A Benjamin Franklin quote immediately follows, so this statement was misattributed to Franklin.
  • To find out a girl's faults, praise her to her girl friends.
    • This has been widely attributed to Franklin since the 1940s, but is not found in any of his works. The language is not Franklin's, nor that of his time. It does paraphrase a portion of something he wrote in 1732 under the name Alice Addertongue:
      • If I have never heard Ill of some Person, I always impute it to defective Intelligence; for there are none without their Faults, no, not one. If she be a Woman, I take the first Opportunity to let all her Acquaintance know I have heard that one of the handsomest or best Men in Town has said something in Praise either of her Beauty, her Wit, her Virtue, or her good Management. If you know any thing of Humane Nature, you perceive that this naturally introduces a Conversation turning upon all her Failings, past, present, and to come.
  • We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing.
  • I fully agreed with Gen. Washington that we must safeguard this young nation, as yet in its swaddling clothes, from the insidious influence and impenetration of the Roman Catholic Church which pauperizes and degrades all countries and people over whom it holds sway.
    • Claimed by American Nazi William Dudley Pelley in Liberation (February 3, 1934) to have appeared in notes taken at the Constitutional Convention by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney; reported as debunked in Paul F. Boller, Jr., and John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, & Misleading Attributions (1989), p. 28, noting that historian Charles A. Beard conducted a thorough investigation of the attribution and found it to be false.
  • There is a great danger for the United States of America. This great danger is the Jew. Gentlemen, in whatever country Jews have settled in any great number, they have lowered its moral tone; depreciated its commercial integrity; have segregated themselves and have not been assimilated; have sneered at and tried to undermine the Christian religion, have built up a state within a state; and when opposed have tried to strangle that country to death financially.
    If you do not exclude them from the United States in the Constitution, in less than 200 years they will have swarmed here in such great numbers that they will dominate and devour the land, and change our form of government.
    If you do not exclude them, in less than 200 years our descendants will be working in the fields to furnish them substance, while they will be in the counting houses rubbing their hands. I warn you, gentlemen, if you do not exclude the Jews for all time, your children will curse you in your graves. Jews, gentlemen, are Asiatics, let them be born where they will or how many generations they are away from Asia, they will never be otherwise.
    • Claimed by American Nazi William Dudley Pelley in Liberation (February 3, 1934) to have appeared in notes taken at the Constitutional Convention by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney; reported as debunked in Paul F. Boller, Jr., and John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, & Misleading Attributions (1989), p. 26-27, noting that historian Charles A. Beard conducted a thorough investigation of the attribution and found it to be false. The quote appears in no source prior to Pelley's publication, contains anachronisms, and contradicts Franklin's own financial support of the construction of a synagogue in Philadelphia. Many variations of the above have been made, including adding to "the Christian religion" the phrase "upon which this nation was founded, by objecting to its restrictions"; adding to "strangle that country to death financially" the phrase "as in the case of Spain and Portugal". See Michael Feldberg, "The Myth of Ben Franklin's Anti-Semitism, in Blessings of Freedom: Chapters in American Jewish History (2003), p. 134.
  • Our limited perspective, our hopes and fears become our measure of life, and when circumstances don't fit our ideas, they become our difficulties.
    • Attributed in Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart (1993) and popularized in Richard Carlson's bestselling Don't sweat the Small Stuff (1997). The phrasing is anachronistic and no earlier connection to Franklin is known.
  • Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain — and most fools do.

Quotes about Franklin[edit]

He seized the lightning from Heaven and the scepter from the Tyrants. ~ Turgot
  • Eripuit Coelo fulmen, mox Sceptra Tyrannis.
    • He seized the lightning from Heaven and the scepter from the Tyrants.
    • Variants:
    • Eripuit fulmen coelo, mox sceptra tyrannis.
    • Eripuit coelo fulmen sceptrumque tyrannis.
    • He snatched lightning from the sky and scepters from tyrants.
  • Francklin repéta plus d’une fois à ses éleves de Paris, que celui qui transporterait dans l’état politique les principes du christianismê primitif, changerait la face de la société. Egalité absolue des conditions, communauté des biens, République de pauvres et de frères, association sans Gouvernement, enthousiasme pour les dogmes et soumission à des chefs électifs, choisis entre des Pairs; voilà sans doute à quoi le presbytérien de Philadelphie réduisait la religion chrétienne…
    • Franklin often told his disciples in Paris, that whoever would introduce the principles of primitive Christianity, into the political state, would change the whole order of society. An absolute equality of condition; a community of goods; a Republic of the poor and of brethren; associations without a Government; enthusiasm for dogmas, and submission to chiefs to be elected from their equals,—this is the state to which the Presbyterian of Philadelphia reduced the Christian Religion.
      • Jacques François Mallet du Pan (born 1749) in Considérations sur la nature de la Révolution de France (1793 edition at Google Books), p. 22.
      • French historian Henri Martin first turned part of this into a direct quotation of Franklin’s, at the same time changing “la face de la société” (the face of society) into “la face du monde” (the face of the world) in Histoire de France depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu'en 1789, volume 16 (1862), p. 489. A contemporary English translation of the passage reads, “A royalist publicist, Mallet-Dupan, has preserved for us a great saying, which Franklin, he says, repeated more than once to his pupils at Paris: ‘He who shall carry into politics the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.’” George Bancroft (History of the United States, 1866) translated the saying as Henri Martin gave it in the form “He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world,” likewise attributing it to Franklin. In this wording it has often been quoted as Franklin’s since. The date of March 1778 sometimes given with it appears to have been taken from Bancroft’s margin.
  • The prime exponent of paper money in those years was Benjamin Franklin. He thought it a good and useful thing, and his advocacy had an intensely practical touch. He printed money for the colonial governments on his own printing press.
  • America has sent us many good things, gold, silver, sugar, tobacco; but you are the first philosopher for whom we are beholden to her. It is our own fault that we have not kept him; whence it appears that we do not agree with Solomon, that wisdom is above gold; for we take good care never to send back an ounce of the latter, which we once lay our fingers upon.
  • Benjamin Franklin did a great many notable things for his country, and made her young name to be honored in many lands as the mother of such a son. It is not the idea of this memoir to ignore that or cover it up. No; the simple idea of it is to snub those pretentious maxims of his, which he worked up with a great show of originality out of truisms that had become wearisome platitudes as early as the dispersion from Babel.
    • Mark Twain, "The Late Benjamin Franklin", The Galaxy, July 1870, as reprinted in Essays and Sketches of Mark Twain (1995), ed. Stuart Miller, ISBN 1566198798
  • Scientists have long suspected that volcanoes can affect the global climate. The first to make the connection between a major eruption and the weather was... Benjamin Franklin. Franklin's efforts to negotiate a peace treaty to end the Revolutionary War took him to Europe during the year 1783. ...he was among many to notice the peculiar blue haze or "dry fog" that cloaked the land that summer and fall. The following winter turned out to be unusually harsh. Soon afterwards Franklin published an article that attributed these events to the eruption of Iceland's Laki Fissure.

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