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.

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

See also

Sourced

  • 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 think opinions should be judged 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 parents (c. 1728) as quoted in Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003) by Walter Isaacson
  • Remember that time is money.
    • Advice to a Young Tradesman (1748)
  • 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 who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
  • Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
    • The first variant was written by Franklin, with quotation marks but almost certainly his original thought, sometime shortly before February 17, 1775 as part of his notes for a proposition at the Pennsylvania Assembly. See Memoirs of the life and writings of Benjamin Franklin. [1]
    • The second variant was used as a motto on the title page of An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania. (1759) This book was published by Franklin; its author was Richard Jackson, but Franklin did claim responsibility for some small excerpts.[2]
    • A variant by Franklin: "Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power." (Poor Richard's Almanack, 1738)
    • This saying has appeared in many paraphrases:
      • "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."
  • 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.
  • There never was a good war or a bad peace.
  • Everyone 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, 1754.
  • 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 (1787-06-28)
  • 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.
  • 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 on the Stamp Act, July 1, 1765, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • 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.
    • On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor (1766-11-29)
  • 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

The Autobiography (1817)

Various incomplete editions of this work were published from 1791 onwards; Franklin is known to have worked on it intermittently from 1771 to 1789.

  • I scarce ever heard or saw the introductory words, "Without vanity I may say," &c., but some vain thing immediately followed. 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 altogether absurd if a man were to thank God for his vanity among the other comforts of life.
  • From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in books.
  • This library afforded me the means of improvement by constant study, for which I set apart an hour or two each day, and thus repaired in some degree the loss of the learned education my father once intended for me. Reading was the only amusement I allowed myself. I spent no time in taverns, games, or frolics of any kind; and my industry in my business continued as indefatigable as it was necessary.
  • Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.
  • My parents had early given me religious impressions, and brought me through my childhood piously in the Dissenting way. But I was scarce fifteen, 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.
  • 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 hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food, and on this occasion consider'd, with my master Tryon, the taking every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had, or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed 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 balanced 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 continued 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.
  • 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.

On religion

  • 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)
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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. As quoted in The Works of Benjamin Franklin (1856).
  • 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.

Attributed

  • We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.
  • "Humility: imitate Jesus and Socrates"

Misattributed

  • Treason is a charge invented by winners as an excuse for hanging the losers.
  • 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.
      A far rarer but somewhat more credible variation also occurs: "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner." Web searches on these lines uncovers the earliest definite citations for such a statement credit libertarian author James Bovard with a similar one in the Sacramento Bee (1994):
"Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner."
This statement also definitely occurs in the "Conclusion" (p. 333) of his book Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty (1994) ISBN 0312123337
  • 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.
  • There is a great danger for the United States of America. This great danger is the Jew.
    • Part of a longer quotation attributed to Franklin during the Constitutional Convention, supposedly recorded by Charles Pinckney in a journal that no longer exists. The quotation, first appearing in print in the 1930s, uses English idioms that were unknown in Franklin's time.
  • The Way to see by Faith, is to shut the Eye of Reason.
    • This incomplete quote has the opposite meaning of the original which reads:
"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 definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
  • Each man has two countries, I think: His own, and France.
    • Henri de Bornier, La Fille de Roland, act III, scene ii, p. 65 (1875) "Tout homme a deux pays, le sien et puis la France!"
    • Also misattributed to Thomas Jefferson in 1880 [3]
  • 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.

Unsourced

Franklin is one of those classic American "wise men" (ie: Jefferson, Lincoln, Twain) to whom many "pithy" statements often get attributed; attributions without a verifiable source should be treated with some skepticism.

  • Our critics are our friends, they show us our faults.
    • Quoted by Bill Clinton but no source can be found.
  • We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing.
    • Much more commonly attributed to "Oliver Wendell Holmes" (but also without citation, or even whether it is "Jr." or "Sr."), but perhaps most credibly to the modern journalist Mort Crim.
  • A scoundrel's worst fear is a society without money: for in such a society he would get only the respect he deserves.

Disputed

  • ...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.

About Franklin

  • Eripuit caelo fulmen sceptrumque tyrannis. (He seized the lightning from Heaven and the scepter from the Tyrants.)—Turgot

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