Benjamin Franklin * * * * * * * (1706-90)

New-England Courant * * (1721-6)

"Cl[ergyman:] ... all the Rakes in Town are against [smallpox] Inoculation, and that induces me to believe it is a right Way.
Laym[an:]. Most of the Ministers [* * *] are for it, and that induces me to think it is from the D---l [Devil]; for he often makes use of good Men as Instruments to obtrude his Delusions on the World." --satire by Nathaniel Gardner in New-England Courant on 8 January 1722 * *

"It has been for some Time a Question with me, Whether a Commonwealth suffers more by hypocritical Pretenders to Religion, or by the openly profane? But some late Thoughts of this Nature, have inclined me to think, that the Hypocrite is the most dangerous Person of the Two, especially if he sustains a Post in the Government..." --Benjamin Franklin, writing under the pseudonym Silence DoGood, in New-England Courant on 23 July 1722 * (Silence DoGood refers to Essays to Do Good; see 12 May 1784 quote.)

"... Religion, is indeed the principal Thing; but too much of it, is worse than none at all. The World abounds with Knaves and Villains, but of all Knaves, the Religious Knave is the worst; and Villainies acted under the Cloak of Religion are the most Execrable. Moral Honesty, tho' it will not of it self carry a Man to Heaven, yet, I am sure there is no going thither without it... But, are there such Men as these in THEE O New-England? Heaven forbid there should be any: But alas! it is to be fear'd the Number is not small. A Few such Men have given Cause to Strangers, (who have been bit by them) to complain of us Greatly; Give me an honest Man (say some) for all a religious Man: A Distinction which, I confess, I never heard of before. The whole Country suffers for the Villanies of a few such Wolves in Sheeps Cloathing, and we are all represented as a pack of Knaves and Hypocrites for their Sakes.
  Moreover, Religion it self, suffers extreamly by the dishonest Practices of those who profess it: Their cheating Tricks, have a Tendency to harden such as are disaffected to Religion, in their infidelity, and strengthen their Prejudices against it. Why, say they, such and such zealous religious Men, they will lie, cheat and defraud, for all their high profession; and so they presently conclude, that Religion itself is nothing but a cunningly devised Fable, a Trick of State, Invented to keep Mankind in awe..." --Nathaniel Gardner in New-England Courant on 14 January 1723 * *

"The Committee appointed to Consider of the Paper called, The New-England Courant, published Monday the Fourteenth Current, are humbly of Opinion that the Tendency of the said Paper is to mock Religion, and bring it into Contempt, that the Holy Scriptures are therein profanely abused, that the Reverend and faithful Ministers of the Gospel are injuriously reflected on, His Majesty's Government affronted, and the Peace and good Order of his Majesty's Subjects of this Province disturbed by the said Courant; and for Prevention of the like Offence for the Future, the Committee humbly propose, That James Franklin, the Printer and Publisher thereof, be strictly forbidden by this Court to Print or Publish the New England Courant, or any other Pamphlet or Paper of the like Nature, except it be first supervised by the Secretary of this Province..." --Massachusetts Representative William Tailer on 15 January 1723 * * * * * *

"My Lord Coke observes, That to punish first and then enquire, the Law abhors; but here Mr. [James] Franklin has a severe Sentence pass'd upon him, even to the taking away Part of his Livelihood, without being call'd to make Answer. An indifferent Person would judge by this Vote against Couranto, That the Assembly of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay are made up of Oppressors and Bigots, who make Religion the only Engine of Destruction to the People; and the rather, because the first Letter in the Courant of the 14th of January (which the Assembly censures) so naturally represents and exposes the Hypocritical Pretenders to Religion. Indeed, the most famous Politicians in that Government (as the infamous Gov. D----y [Dudley] and his Family) have ever been remarkable for Hypocrisy: And it is the general Opinion, that some of their Rulers are rais'd up and continued as a Scourge in the Hands of the Almighty for the Sins of the People.
  Thus much we could not forbear saying, out of Compassion to the distressed People of the Province, who must now resign all Pretences to Sense and Reason, and submit to the Tyranny of Priestcraft, and Hypocrisy." --Philadelphia American Weekly Mercury on 26 February 1723 * * *

"Bad Commentators spoil the best of books,
So God sends meat (they say) the devil Cooks." --Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard (Almanack) 1735 *

"Here comes the Orator! with his Flood of Words, and his Drop of Reason." --Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard (Almanack) 1735 *

"When Knaves fall out, honest Men get their goods: When Priests dispute, we come at the Truth." --Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard (Almanack) 1742 *

Franklin's Lightning Rod * * * * * * (1752)

"... I [Thoth] remove the thunder-cloud from the sky when there is a storm with thunder and lightning therein... This storm was the raging of Ra at the thunder-cloud which [Set] sent forth against the Right Eye of Ra (the Sun). Thoth removed the thunder- cloud from the Eye of Ra, and brought back the Eye living, healthy, sound, and with no defect in it to its owner. Others, however, say that the thunder-cloud is caused by sickness in the Eye of Ra, which weepeth for its companion Eye (the Moon); at this time Thoth cleanseth the Right Eye of Ra..." --Papyrus Ani * * (Egyptian) in ~1275? BC

"They say that lightning is Brahman. It is called lightning (vidyut) because it scatters (vidanat) darkness. Whosoever knows this-- that lightning is Brahman-- scatters the evils that are ranged against him; for lightning is indeed Brahman." --Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 5:7 * * (Hindu) in ~1000? BC

"We worship thee, the Fire, O Ahura Mazda's son! We worship the fire Berezi-savangha (of the lofty use), and the fire Vohu-fryana (the good and friendly), and the fire Urvazishta (the most beneficial and most helpful), and the fire Vazishta [lightning *] (the most supporting), and the fire Spenishta (the most bountiful), and Nairya-sangha the Yazad of the royal lineage, and that fire which is the house-lord of all houses and Mazda-made, even the son of Ahura Mazda, the holy lord of the ritual order, with all the fires." --Avesta:Yasna 17:11 * (Zoroastrian) in ~1000? BC

"... Offer up the sacrifice to the Vazishta [lightning] fire, which smites the fiend Spenjaghra: bring unto it the cooked meat and full overflowing libations..." --Avesta:Vendidad:Fargard 19:40 (Zoroastrian) in ~1000? BC

"And in the midst of the half of the firmament, He [Ohrmaz=Ahura Mazda=God] appointed the Wind, the Cloud and the Fire Vazisht, so that, when the Adversary would arrive, they might seize the water of Sirius and produce rain; with the Spirit of the Water; He formed their connection, too, also with the Sun; the Moon, and the Stars; His valiant Sirius, who is the Chieftain of the East, is co-worker and associate of the Fire Vazisht, the Wind and the Cloud." --Zand-Akasih (Greater Bundahishn) 2:15 (Zoroastrian)

"... Spenjagra, and Apaosh fought, and the Fire Vazisht turned up its mace [and caused the water to run in the clouds]; owing to the blow of that mace, Spenjagra. roared and shouted, as even now, roaring and lightning are manifest in that conflict during the production of rain." --Zand-Akasih (Greater Bundahishn) 6B:14 (Zoroastrian)

"Elijah said... 'you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.' [story omitted] ... Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench..." --1 Kings 18:19-40 in ~900 BC

"... Elijah replied to them, 'If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.' Then the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty..." --2 Kings 1:12 in ~900 BC

"... [Cronos] gave him [Zeus] thunder and the glowing thunderbolt and lightening: for before that, huge Earth had hidden these. In them he trusts and rules over mortals and immortals..." --Hesiod in his Theogony * * * in ~700 BC

"He who inflicts pain on innocent and harmless persons, will soon come to one of these ten states: He will have cruel suffering, loss, injury of the body, heavy affliction, or loss of mind, Or a misfortune coming from the king, or a fearful accusation, or loss of relations, or destruction of treasures, Or lightning-fire will burn his houses; and when his body is destroyed, the fool will go to hell..." --Dhammapada 140 * * * in ~500? BC (Buddhist)

"... Whilst human kind Throughout the lands lay miserably crushed Before all eyes beneath Religion- who Would show her head along the region skies, Glowering on mortals with her hideous face- A Greek [Epicurus * * * *] it was who first opposing dared Raise mortal eyes that terror to withstand, Whom nor the fame of Gods nor lightning's stroke Nor threatening thunder of the ominous sky Abashed... Wherefore Religion now is under foot, And us his victory now exalts to heaven... This terror, then, this darkness of the mind, Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light, Nor glittering arrows of morning can disperse, But only Nature's aspect and her law, Which, teaching us, hath this exordium: Nothing from nothing ever yet was born. Fear holds dominion over mortality Only because, seeing in land and sky So much the cause whereof no wise they know, Men think Divinities are working there... O humankind unhappy!- when it ascribed Unto divinities such awesome deeds, And coupled thereto rigours of fierce wrath! What groans did men on that sad day beget Even for themselves, and O what wounds for us, What tears for our children's children! ... But if Jupiter And other gods shake those refulgent vaults With dread reverberations and hurl fire Whither it pleases each, why smite they not Mortals of reckless and revolting crimes... why, then, aim they at eternal wastes, And spend themselves in vain?- perchance, even so To exercise their arms and strengthen shoulders? ... O why most oft Aims he at lofty places? Why behold we Marks of his lightnings most on mountain tops? Then for what reason shoots he at the sea? What sacrilege have waves and bulk of brine And floating fields of foam been guilty of? ..." --Titus Lucretius Carus * * in De Rerum Natura (On The Nature Of Things) * * * * * in ~50 BC

"... At last he himself [Tullus Hostilius (~650? BC)] was seized with a lingering illness, and that fierce and restless spirit became so broken through bodily weakness, that he who had once thought nothing less fitting for a king than devotion to sacred things, now suddenly became a prey to every sort of religious terror, and filled the City with religious observances. There was a general desire to recall the condition of things which existed under Numa, for men felt that the only help that was left against sickness was to obtain the forgiveness of the gods and be at peace with heaven. Tradition records that the king, whilst examining the commentaries of Numa, found there a description of certain secret sacrificial rites paid to Jupiter Elicius: he withdrew into privacy whilst occupied with these rites, but their performance was marred by omissions or mistakes. Not only was no sign from heaven vouchsafed to him, but the anger of Jupiter was roused by the false worship rendered to him, and he burnt up the king and his house by a stroke of lightning." --Titus Livius (Livy) in his Ab Urbe Condita (History of the City [Rome]) 1:31 * * * in ~10 AD

"I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning..." --attributed to Jesus in Luke 10:18

"... even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light." --Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:14

"He shall cast lightnings, and who shall not fear? he shall thunder, and who shall not be afraid?" --2 Esdras 16:10 * * * * in ~70 AD

"... there is none like Him among the gods of the nations: for they are idols of demons." --Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho in 155 * * *

"Omnes enim dii populorum sculptilia..." --Jerome's Vulgate (vulgar Latin) translation in ~400 of Psalms 95:5 (96:5 * in most English Protestant versions *), meaning approximately "For all the gods of the peoples are idols ['devils' in the 1609 Douay-Rheims * * (Roman Catholic) and 1851 Brenton (Eastern Orthodox) versions]."

"It is not that the demons sojourn in the heavens but that the air above us has received this name. It is for the same reason that birds which fly through the air are said to be birds of the heaven. For in another passage the apostle says of demons which rove about in that air... It is, moreover, the view of all teachers that that air which divides between heaven and earth and is called empty space is full of contrary powers." --Jerome in his commentary * * * on Ephesians 6:12 in ~400

"... perhaps, as learned men have thought, the devils have a kind of body made of that dense and humid air which we feel strikes us when the wind is blowing..." --Augustine * in his City of God 21:10 * in ~426

"Many thunders have I created in the clouds, and for each thunder there is a separate track; for if two should go along the same track, they would destroy the world. The tracks were not changed to me; and from Iyabh to Oyabh, should it be?" --Rabha in Gemara in Babylonian Talmud 7:1:1 * (Judaism) in ~550

"When thunder-clouds burst with flashes of lightning, a storm of hailstones or pouring rain in torrents, thought dwell on the power of Kwannon and the storm will in no time clear away." -- Kwannon (Kuan Yin) sutra * in ~600? (Japanese Zen Buddhist)

"... He sends the thunderbolts and smites with them whom He pleases, yet they dispute concerning Allah..." --Quran (Koran) 13:13 * * in ~700

"Do you not see that Allah drives along the clouds, then gathers them together, then piles them up, so that you see the rain coming forth from their midst? And He sends down of the clouds that are (like) mountains wherein is hail, afflicting therewith whom He pleases and turning it away from whom He pleases; the flash of His lightning almost takes away the sight." --Quran (Koran) 24:43 * in ~700

"... He [Muhammad] then raised his hands, and kept raising them till the whiteness under his armpits was visible. He then turned his back to the people and inverted or turned round his cloak while keeping his hands aloft. He then faced the people, descended and prayed two rak'ahs.
  Allah then produced a cloud, and the storm of thunder and lightning came on..." --Sunan Abu-Dawud 3:1169 * in ~880

"Thor, they say, rules in the air, governing the thunder and lightning, the winds and rains, fair weather and crops." * --Adam of Bremen * in his Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum (History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen) in ~1070 (The English word Thursday derives * * from the Old Norse word Thorsdagr (Thor's day), which is an astrological translation of the Latin 'dies Jovis' (Jove/Jupiter's day).)

"... a twofold place of punishment is due to the demons: one, by reason of their sin, and this is hell; and another, in order that they may tempt men, and thus the darksome atmosphere is their due place of punishment." --Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica 1:64:4 * in ~1270

"That devils and their disciples can by witchcraft cause lightnings and hailstorms and tempests, and that the devils have power from God to do this, and their disciples do so with God's permission, is proved by Holy Scripture in Job i and ii..." --Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer in their Malleus Maleficarum (Witch Hammer) 2:1:15 * * * in 1486

"The greatest punishment God can afflict on the wicked, is when the church, to chastise them, delivers them over to Satan, who, with Godís permission, kills them, or makes them undergo great calamities. Many devils are in woods, in waters, in wildernesses, and in dark pooly places, ready to hurt and prejudice people; some are also in the thick black clouds, which cause hail, lightnings, and thunderings, and poison the air, the pastures and grounds..." --Martin Luther, as quoted by Johann Goldschmid in Tischreden (Table Talk) 570 * * in ~1500

"Whatever the Witch-advocates may make of it, it Is a Scriptural and a Rational Assertion, that in the Thunder there is oftentimes, by the permission of God, the Agency of the Devil. The Devil is the Prince of the power of the Air [Ephesians 2:2 mentions 'prince of the power of the air'], and when God gives him leave, he has vast power in the Air, and Armies that can make thunders in the Air... A great Man has therefore noted it, that Thunders break oftener on Churches than any other Houses, because the Daemons have a peculiar spite at houses that are set apart for the peculiar Service of God..." --Cotton Mather in his sermon Brontologia Sacra: The Voice of the Glorious God in the Thunder * in 1694

"There are some who would be estemed the Wits of the world, that Ridicule those as Superstitious and Weak persons, which look upon Dreadful Tempests as Prodromous of other Judgments. Nevertheless, The most Learned and Judicious Writers, not only of the Gentiles, but amongst Christians have Embraced such a Perswasion; their Sentiments therein being Confirmed by the Experience of many Ages... When there are great Tempests, the Angels oftentimes have an hand therein. The Angels are the Instruments of Divine Providence. [Bible citations omitted] ... No man shall ever receive any hurt by Lightning, Except the Word of the Lord say it shall be so. And no man can Escape that Arrow, if the Lord of Hosts say it shall strike him..." --Increase Mather in his sermon Voice of God in Stormy Winds * * * on 9 April 1704

"... I erected an Iron Rod to draw the Lightning down into my House, in order to make some Experiments on it, with two Bells to give Notice when the Rod should be electrified. A contrivance obvious to every Electrician... I found the Bells rang sometimes when there was no Lightning or Thunder, but only a dark Cloud over the Rod; that sometimes after a Flash of Lightning they would suddenly stop; and at other times, when they had not rang before, they would, after a Flash, suddenly begin to ring; that the Electricity was sometimes very faint, so that when a small Spark was obtained, another could not be got for sometime after; at other times the Sparks would follow extremely quick, and once I had a continual Stream from Bell to Bell, the size of a Crow-Quill. Even during the same Gust there were considerable variations." --Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Peter Collinson in September 1753 *

"What quantity of lightning a high, pointed rod, well communicating with the earth, may be expected to discharge from the clouds silently in a short time, is yet unknown; but I reason from a particular fact to think it may at some times be very great. In Philadelphia I had such a rod fixed to the top of my chimney, and extending about nine feet above it. From the foot of this rod, a wire (the thickness of a goose-quill) came through a covered glass tube in the roof, and down through the well of the staircase; the lower end connected with the iron spear of a pump. On the staircase opposite too my chamber door, the wire was divided; the ends separated about six inches, a little bell on each end; and between the bells a little brass ball, suspended by a silk thread, to play between and strike the bells when clouds passed with electricity in them. After having frequently drawn sparks and charged [Leyden] bottles from the bell of the upper wire, I was one night awaked by loud cracks on the staircase. Starting up and opening the door, I perceived that the brass ball, instead of vibrating as usual between the bells, was repelled and kept at a distance from both; while the fire passed, sometimes in very large, quick cracks from bell to bell, and sometimes in a continued, dense, white stream, seemingly as large as my finger, whereby the whole staircase was inlightened as with sunshine, so that one might see to pick up a pin. And from the apparent quantity thus discharged, I cannot but conceive that a number of such conductors must considerably lessen that of any approaching cloud, before it comes so near as to deliver its contents in a general stroke..." --Benjamin Franklin in his paper Experiments, observations, and facts tending to support the opinion of the utility of long, pointed rods, for securing buildings from damage by strokes of lightning

"The more [Benjamin Franklin's] Points of Iron are erected round the Earth, to draw the Electrical Substance out of the Air; the more the Earth must needs be charged with it. And therefore it seems worthy of Consideration, Whether any Part of the Earth, being fuller of this terrible Substance, may not be exposed to more shocking Earthquakes. In Boston are more erected than anywhere else in New England; and Boston seems to be more dreadfully Shaken. O! there is no getting out of the mighty Hand of GOD! If we think to avoid it in the Air we cannot in the Earth; yea, it may grow more fatal..." --Thomas Prince in his 5 December 1755 Appendix Concerning the Operation of GOD in Earthquakes to his 1727 sermon Earthquakes the Works of GOD * * *

"Dr. Arbuthnot was as great a Wit and Humourist, yet he was tender, and prudent... He began to prate upon the Presumption of Philosophers in erecting Iron Rods to draw the Lightning from the Clouds. [illegible] His Brains were in a ferment with strong Liquor and he [illegible] railed, and foamed against those Points and the Presumption that erected them, in Language taken partly from Scripture and partly from the drunken Disputes of Tavern Philosophy, in as wild mad a manner as King Lear raves, against his Daughters Disobedience and Ingratitude, and against the meaness of the Storm in joining with his Daughter against him in Shakespears Lear. He talked of presuming upon God as Peter attempted to walk upon the Water, attempting to controul the Artilry of Heaven, an Execution that Mortal man cant Stay -- the Elements of Heaven, fire, Heat, Rain, Wind, &c." --John Adams in his diary on 3/4 December 1758 *

"The Way to see by Faith, is to shut the Eye of Reason: The Morning Daylight [reality] appears plainer when you put out your Candle [faith]." --Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard Improved (Almanack) 1758 *

Excerpts from The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin (Autobiography) * (1771-89)

... My time for these [poetic] exercises and for reading was at night, after work or before it began in the morning, or on Sundays, when I contrived to be in the printing-house alone, evading as much as I could the common attendance on public worship which my father used to exact on me when I was under his care, and which indeed I still thought a duty, though I could not, as it seemed to me, afford time to practise it.
... I procur'd Xenophon's Memorable Things of Socrates, wherein there are many instances of the same method. I was charm'd with it, adopted it, dropt my abrupt contradiction and positive argumentation, and put on the humble inquirer and doubter. And being then, from reading Shaftesbury [(Anthony Cooper)] and [Anthony] Collins, become a real doubter in many points of our religious doctrine, I found this method safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it; therefore I took a delight in it, practis'd it continually, and grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions, the consequences of which they did not foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always deserved. I continu'd this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced any thing that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engag'd in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure. For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix'd in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error. And by such a manner, you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire. Pope says, judiciously:
Men should be taught as if you taught them not,
And things unknown propos'd as things forgot;
farther recommending to us
To speak, tho' sure, with seeming diffidence.
And he might have coupled with this line that which he has coupled with another, I think, less properly,
For want of modesty is want of sense.
If you ask, Why less properly? I must repeat the lines,
Immodest words admit of no defense,
For want of modesty is want of sense.
Now, is not want of sense (where a man is so unfortunate as to want it) some apology for his want of modesty? and would not the lines stand more justly thus?
Immodest words admit but this defense,
That want of modesty is want of sense.
This, however, I should submit to better judgments.
... my indiscrete disputations about religion began to make me pointed at with horror by good people as an infidel or atheist...
... I had been religiously educated as a Presbyterian; and tho' some of the dogmas of that persuasion, such as the eternal decrees of God, election, reprobation, etc., appeared to me unintelligible, others doubtful, and I early absented myself from the public assemblies of the sect, Sunday being my studying day, I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world, and govern'd it by his Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter. These I esteem'd the essentials of every religion; and, being to be found in all the religions we had in our country, I respected them all, tho' with different degrees of respect, as I found them more or less mix'd with other articles, which, without any tendency to inspire, promote, or confirm morality, serv'd principally to divide us, and make us unfriendly to one another. This respect to all, with an opinion that the worst had some good effects, induc'd me to avoid all discourse that might tend to lessen the good opinion another might have of his own religion...

['I early absented myself from the public assemblies of the sect' is sometimes MISquoted as 'I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life I absented myself from Christian assemblies.']


My parents had early given me religious impressions, and brought me through my childhood piously in the Dissenting [Quaker] 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. My arguments perverted some others, particularly Collins and Ralph; but, each of them having afterwards wrong'd me greatly without the least compunction, and recollecting Keith's conduct towards me (who was another freethinker), and my own towards Vernon and Miss Read, which at times gave me great trouble, I began to suspect that this doctrine, tho' it might be true, was not very useful. My London pamphlet, which had for its motto these lines of Dryden:
"Whatever is, is right. Though purblind man
Sees but a part o' the chain, the nearest link:
His eyes not carrying to the equal beam,
That poises all above;"
and from the attributes of God, his infinite wisdom, goodness and power, concluded that nothing could possibly be wrong in the world, and that vice and virtue were empty distinctions, no such things existing, appear'd now not so clever a performance as I once thought it; and I doubted whether some error had not insinuated itself unperceiv'd into my argument, so as to infect all that follow'd, as is common in metaphysical reasonings.

I grew convinc'd that truth, sincerity and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life; and I form'd written resolutions, which still remain in my journal book, to practice them ever while I lived. Revelation had indeed no weight with me, as such; but I entertain'd an opinion that, though certain actions might not be bad because they were forbidden by it, or good because it commanded them, yet probably these actions might be forbidden because they were bad for us, or commanded because they were beneficial to us, in their own natures, all the circumstances of things considered. And this persuasion, with the kind hand of Providence, or some guardian angel, or accidental favorable circumstances and situations, or all together, preserved me, thro' this dangerous time of youth, and the hazardous situations I was sometimes in among strangers, remote from the eye and advice of my father, without any willful gross immorality or injustice, that might have been expected from my want of religion. I say willful, because the instances I have mentioned had something of necessity in them, from my youth, inexperience, and the knavery of others. I had therefore a tolerable character to begin the world with; I valued it properly, and determin'd to preserve it.

['Revelation had indeed no weight with me' is sometimes MISquoted as 'Revealed religion has no weight with me.']

Benjamin Franklin's Request for Prayer at the Constitutional Convention (1787) * * * *

[Franklin:] The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other--our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of Government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection.--Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have 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 labour in vain that 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. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move--that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service--

Mr. Sharman seconded the motion.

Mr. Hamilton & several others expressed their apprehensions that however proper such a resolution might have been at the beginning of the convention, it might at this late day, 1. bring on it some disagreeable animadversions. & 2. lead the public to believe that the embarrassments and dissentions within the convention, had suggested this measure. It was answered by Docr. F. Mr. Sherman & others, that the past omission of a duty could not justify a further omission--that the rejection of such a proposition would expose the Convention to more unpleasant animadversions than the adoption of it: and that the alarm out of doors that might be excited for the state of things within. would at least be as likely to do good as ill.

Mr. Williamson, observed that the true cause of the omission could not be mistaken. The Convention had no funds.

Mr. Randolph proposed in order to give a favorable aspect to ye. measure, that a sermon be preached at the request of the convention on 4th of July, the anniversary of Independence,--& thenceforward prayers be used in ye Convention every morning. Dr. Frankn. 2ded. this motion After several unsuccessful attempts for silently postponing the matter by adjourng. the adjournment was at length carried, without any vote on the motion.

[Franklin's original manuscript notes that] The Convention, except three or four persons, thought Prayers unnecessary.

"... Atheism is unknown there; Infidelity rare and secret; so that persons may live to a great Age in that Country, without having their Piety shocked by meeting with either an Atheist or an Infidel..." --Benjamin Franklin in Information to Those who would Remove to America (September 1782)

"When I was a boy, I met with a book, entitled '[Bonifacius:] Essays to Do Good,' [which says 'a workless faith is a worthless faith'; perhaps origin of 'do-gooder'?] which I think was written by your father [Cotton Mather]. It had been so little regarded by a former possessor, that several leaves of it were torn out; but the remainder gave me such a turn of thinking, as to have an influence on my conduct through life; for I have always set a greater value on the character of a doer of good, than on any other kind of reputation; and if I have been, as you seem to think, a useful citizen, the public owes the advantage of it to that book." --Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Samuel Mather on 12 May 1784 *

"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." --Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Benjamin Vaughan on 24 October 1788

"Here is my creed. I believe in one God, creator of the universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshiped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental principles of all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them.
  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 corrupting 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 think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. [Franklin died five weeks after writing this.] I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as it probably has, of making his doctrines more respected and better observed; especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any particular marks of his displeasure." --Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Ezra Stiles on 9 March 1790 * * (This is sometimes quoted out of context to include 'I think the system of morals, and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw' without 'it has received various corrupting changes' or the joke 'I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble'.)

"It is much to be lamented, that a man of Dr. Franklin's general good character, and great influence, should have been an unbeliever in Christianity, and also have done as much as he did to make others unbelievers. To me, however, he acknowledged that he had not given so much attention as he ought to have done, to the evidences of Christianity, and desired me to recommend to him a few treatises on the subject, such as I thought most deserving of his motive, but not of great length, promising to read them, and give me his sentiments on them. Accordingly, I recommended to him [David] Hartley's evidence of Christianity in his observations on man, and what I had then written on the subject in my 'Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion'. But the American war breaking out soon after, I do not believe that he ever found himself sufficiently at leisure for the discussion..." --Joseph Priestley in his Memoirs *, apparently in 1787 * *

Questionable 'Quotes'

Letter to Joseph Huey 1753 "numberless Mercies from God." * *

"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, fill'd with Flatteries and Compliments, [and not so] capable of pleasing the Deity. The Worship of God is a Duty, the hearing and reading of Sermons may be useful; but if Men [do also no good deeds], 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 Jane Mecom 1743

"A virtuous Heretick shall be saved before a wicked Christian." --'Dialogue Between Two Presbyterians' in Pennsylvania Gazette on April 1735* (appeared in Franklin's paper in a dialogue between two fictitous characters)

"[New-England Courant is] full-freighted with nonsense, unmanliness, raillery, profaneness, immorality, arrogance, calumnies, lies, contradictions, and what not, all tending to quarrels and division and to debauch and corrupt the minds and manners of New England." --attributed to Cotton Mather (no date cited, no other web pages confirm this)

"Lighthouses are more helpful than churches." --attributed to Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richardís Almanack 1758 (I found this quote on partisan web sites, but not in Poor Richard Improved (Almanack) 1758.)

"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 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 quarrel about victuals, it looks as if they had not much of either among them." --attributed to Benjamin Franklin (no source cited)

"If I were a Catholic, on my arrival home I would ask subscriptions to build a church, but being an unbeliever, will raise the money to build a lighthouse instead." --attributed to Benjamin Franklin, after narrowly avoiding a shipwreck (No citations found)

"The nearest I can make it out, 'Love your Enemies' means, 'Hate your Friends'." --attributed to Benjamin Franklin (I found this 'quote' only on a few partisan web sites, and "The nearest I can make it out" does not sound like Franklin.)

"It is the duty of mankind on all suitable occasions to acknowledge their dependence on the Divine Being... [that] Almighty God would mercifully interpose and still the rage of war among the nations...[and that] He would take this province under his protection, confound the designs and defeat the attempts of its enemies, and unite our hearts and strengthen our hands in every undertaking that may be for the public good, and for our defense and security in this time of danger." --attributed to Benjamin Franklin "as Pennsylvania's Governor" (but Franklin was never Governor of Pennsylvania *) proposing Pennsylvania's first fast day in 1748, apparently by Van Doren's 1938 book "Benjamin Franklin". (I found this 'quote' only on partisan web sites. Pennsylvania did have some fast days.)

"A Bible and a newspaper in every house, a good school in every district-- all studied and appreciated as they merit-- are the principal support of virtue, morality, and civil liberty." --Benjamin Franklin in March 1778 (but I did not find any citations *)

"... In whatever country Jews have settled in any great numbers, they have lowered the moral tone, depreciated the 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 have, when opposed, tried to strangle that country to death financially..." --sometimes attributed to Benjamin Franklin, supposedly by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (They Never Said It * says * * * "... apparently first turned up on February 3, 1934, in William Dudley Pelley's pro-Nazi sheet, Liberation... historian Charles Beard, after a thorough investigation... concluded: 'This alleged 'Prophecy' ascribed to Franklin is a crude forgery...'")

"I have read your manuscript [Age of Reason] with some attention. By the argument it contains against a particular Providence, though you allow a general Providence, you strike at the foundations of all religion. For, without the belief of a Providence that takes cognisance of, guards, and guides, and may favor particular persons, there is no motive to worship a Deity, to fear his displeasure, or to pray for his protection. I will not enter into any discussion of your principles, though you seem to desire it. At present I shall only give you my opinion that, though your reasons 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 yourself, 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 advantage 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 portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced, 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 upon a less hazardous subject, and thereby obtain a rank with our most distinguished authors. For among us it is not necessary, as among the Hottentots, that a youth, to be raised into the company of men, should prove his manhood by beating his mother.
  I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person, whereby you will save yourself a great deal of mortification by the enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a great deal of regret and repentance. If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it?" --sometimes attributed * to Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Thomas Paine (but Franklin died in 1790 and Paine did not start writing Age of Reason until "the latter end of the year 1793" * *)

"He replied that, if I made that offer for Christ's sake I should not miss of a reward. And I returned, 'Don't let me be mistaken; it was not for Christ's sake, but for your sake.' One of our common acquaintances jocosely remarked that, knowing it to be the custom of the saints, when they received any favor, to shift the burden of obligation from off their own shoulders and place it in heaven, I had contrived to fix it on earth." --attributed to Benjamin Franklin, regarding Rev. George Whitefield, when Franklin offered to let Whitefield stay overnight in Franklin's house (no citations found)

"My nephew, Mr. Williams, will have the honor of delivering you this line. It is to request from you a list of books, to the value of twenty-five pounds, such as are most proper to inculcate sound religion and good government. A town in the State of Massachusetts having done me the honor of naming itself after me, and proposing to build a steeple to their meeting house if I would give them a bell, I have advised the sparing themselves the expense of a steeple, for the present, and that they would accept the books instead of a bell, sense being preferred to sound." --attributed to Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Richard Price (Works, Vol. x., p. 158). (quoted by Remsburg *, 'quote' does not sound like Franklin)

"The things of this world take up too much of my time, of which indeed I have too little left, to undertake anything like a reformation in religion." --attributed to Benjamin Franklin (Works, Vol. X, page 323) by John Remsburg in Six Historic Americans (1906), but but no source is cited (I only found this 'quote' on a few partisan web sites.)

"Original sin is as ridiculous as imputed righteousness." --attributed to Benjamin Franklin (but no source cited)

"Whosoever shall introduce into the public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world." -- Benjamin Franklin ('questionable', according to David Barton)