Ben Franklin’s Faith

American Minute with Bill Federer

On APRIL 17, 1790, the son of a poor candle-maker died.

The 15th of 17 children, he apprenticed as a printer and published a popular almanac.

He retired at age 42, then taught himself five languages, invented the rocking chair, a stove, bifocal glasses, and the lighting rod, which earned him degrees from Harvard and Yale.

He helped found the University of Pennsylvania, a hospital, America’s first postal system and fire department.

His name was Ben Franklin.

Franklin wrote May 9, 1731:

“There seems to me…to be great occasion for raising a United Party for Virtue, by forming the virtuous and good men of all nations into a regular body…Whoever attempts this aright, and is well qualified, cannot fail of pleasing God and of meeting with success.”

When France and Spain were raiding the American colonies, Ben Franklin raised Pennsylvania’s first volunteer militia and proposed a General Fast, which was published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, December 12, 1747:

“We have…thought fit…to appoint…a Day of Fasting & Prayer, exhorting all, both Ministers & People…to join with one accord in the most humble & fervent supplications

that Almighty God would mercifully interpose and still the rage of war among the nations & put a stop to the effusion of Christian blood.”

Franklin printed evangelist George Whitefield’s sermons and attended his meetings at Philadelphia’s Courthouse steps, estimating 25,000 in attendance.

Franklin wrote in his Autobiography:

“It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”

In 1749, Benjamin Franklin stated in his Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania:

“History will also afford the frequent opportunities of showing the necessity of a public religion, from its usefulness to the public; the advantage of a religious character among private persons… and the excellency of the Christian religion above all others, ancient or modern.”

On June 6, 1753, Benjamin Franklin wrote to Joseph Huey:

“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 watered and putting forth leaves, though it never produce any fruit.”

Franklin composed the text for the cornerstone of the Pennsylvania Hospital, which was the first hospital in the United States:

“In the year of Christ, 1755…This building, by the bounty of the Government and of many private persons, was piously founded, for the relief of the sick and miserable. May the God of mercies bless the undertaking!”

In a pamphlet for Europeans titled Information to Those Who Would Remove to America, 1754, Benjamin Franklin wrote:

“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.

And the Divine Being seems…pleased to favor the whole country.”

Benjamin Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence.

On September 28, 1776, as President (Governor) of Pennsylvania, Benjamin Franklin signed the State’s first Constitution, which stated in Frame of Government, Section 10:

“And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz:

‘I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Universe, the Rewarder of the good and the Punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration.

And no further or other religious test shall ever hereafter be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this State.'”

Franklin called for prayer at the Constitutional Convention.

When Congress was debating slavery, Ben Franklin became President of Pennsylvania’s Society for the Abolition of Slavery, America’s first anti-slavery society.

On March 23, 1790, in his last published letter (Federal Gazette), Franklin condemned the Southern State’s economic argument for continuing slavery by satirically comparing them to the Muslim pirates who enslaved Christians:

“If we cease our cruises against Christians, how shall we…make slaves of their people…to cultivate our land…to perform common labors… Must we be our own slaves: And is there not more compassion due to us as Mussulmen than to these Christian dogs.

We have now about 50,000 slaves in and near Algiers…If we then cease taking and plundering the infidel ships and making slaves of the seamen and passengers, our lands will become of no value for want of cultivation.”

In his Poor Richard’s Almanac, May 1757, Ben Franklin wrote:

“Work as if you were to live 100 years; pray as if you were to die tomorrow.”

Benjamin Franklin cited the Spanish Empire’s downfall in The Way to Wealth, 1758:

“If you would be wealthy, says he…think of saving as well as of getting: the Indies have not made Spain rich, because her outgoes are greater than her incomes.”

Franklin expounded the dangers of debt in The Way to Wealth, 1758:

“God gives all things to industry. Then plough deep, while sluggards sleep, and you shall have corn to sell and to keep, says Poor Dick.

Work while it is called today, for you know not how much you may be hindered tomorrow, which makes Poor Richard say, one today is worth two tomorrows; and farther, have you somewhat to do tomorrow, do it today…

And in another place, pride breakfasted with plenty, dined with poverty, and supped with infamy…

What madness must it be to run in debt for these superfluities! We are offered, by the terms of this vendue (public auction), six months’ credit; and that perhaps has induced some of us to attend it, because we cannot spare the ready money, and hope now to be fine without it…”

Franklin continued in The Way to Wealth, 1758

“When you run in debt; you give to another power over your liberty…

If you cannot pay at the time, you will be ashamed to see your creditor; you will be in fear when you speak to him, you will make poor pitiful sneaking excuses, and by degrees come to lose you veracity, and sink into base downright lying;

for, as Poor Richard says, the second vice is lying, the first is running in debt…”

Franklin added:

“And again to the same purpose, lying rides upon debt’s back…

Poverty often deprives a man of all spirit and virtue: ’tis hard for an empty bag to stand upright, as Poor Richard truly says…

And yet you are about to put yourself under that tyranny when you run in debt for such dress!

Your creditor has authority at his pleasure to deprive you of your liberty, by confining you in gaol (jail) for life, or to sell you for a servant, if you should not be able to pay him!

When you have got your bargain, you may, perhaps, think little of payment; but creditors, Poor Richard tells us, have better memories than debtors…

The day comes round before you are aware, and the demand is made before you are prepared to satisfy it…

Time will seem to have added wings to his heels as well as shoulders…”

Franklin continued:

“Those have a short Lent, saith Poor Richard, who owe money to be paid at Easter.

Then since, as he says, the borrower is a slave to the lender, and the debtor to the creditor, disdain the chain, preserve your freedom; and maintain your independency: be industrious and free; be frugal and free.

At present, perhaps, you may think yourself in thriving circumstances, and that you can bear a little extravagance without injury; but, For age and want, save while you may; No morning sun lasts a whole day, as Poor Richard says.

Gain may be temporary and uncertain, but ever while you live, expense is constant and certain…as Poor Richard says. So rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt.”


bill-federer-2Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.