We have discussed several of the Founders most of which you may not have ever heard about them. I did that because the one’s that you do hear about were the least religious, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. I do not disagree that they may have been the least religious, however when we take a closer look at them, they will actually be more religious than most people in the church today, pastors included. One thing they had that most pastors today don’t have and that is tenacity. Most pastors today won’t preach anything that might offend anyone. They preach what people want to hear instead of what they need to hear. We will get into pastors in a later chapter, but the next two chapters I want to discuss Jefferson and Franklin. This chapter will be dedicated to Benjamin Franklin as there is so much evidence, by his own had, that proves that what most of the revisionist historians have stated about the Founders, him specifically, are outright lies.
Benjamin Franklin was the elder statesman of the Founders. He was 81 at the Continental Convention. During his life he was a printer, author (Poor Richard’s Almanac), he was a diplomat to France and England, the Governor of Pennsylvania, founded the University of Pennsylvania, he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States. He was the 15th of 17 children and had no formal education. He began an apprenticeship as a printer at age 12.
Though he had no formal education he taught himself five different languages and was considered the “Newton of his age”. He discovered electricity and coined the terms ‘battery’, ‘conductor’, ‘condenser’, ‘electric shock’, and ‘positive and negative charges’. He also invented the lightning rod which earned him honorary degrees from Harvard and Yale in 1753. He invented the Franklin stove, the rocking chair, bi-focal glasses and many other scientific discoveries. He organized the first police force, volunteer fire department and postal system in America. He also organized the first circulating library and the lighting of streets.
It was Franklin’s influence that brought France into the Revolutionary War on the side of the Colonies. In 1781 he went to Paris to negotiate the Treaty of Paris ending the War with Britain. The terms for America in that treaty were so favorable to America that the treaty was described as “so advantageous to the Colonies that it has been called the greatest achievement in the history of American diplomacy.”1
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One thing that is said about Franklin is that he was a deist. It is recorded that he even called himself a deist. There are some conflicting things about this as the meaning today of a deist is one that does not deny a higher being, but that being does not interfere in the affairs of man. We will see some of Franklin’s own writings which will put in question his being a deist, at least as we know a deist to be today.
In 1748, as the Governor of Pennsylvania, Franklin called for a fast concerning the rising tensions between America and Great Britain. In that declaration he stated:
It is the duty of mankind on all suitable occasions to acknowledge their dependence on the Divine Being . . . [that] Almighty God would mercifully interpose2 and still the rage of war among 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.3
Note that in this statement Franklin contends that Almighty God does interfere in the affairs on man stating that we should ask God to interpose, offer aid, to man in their efforts to quell the rumors of war by undermining the schemes designed to instigate war. If you do not believe that God interferes in the affairs of man, why would you ask him to?
In 1755 a new building was erected for the Pennsylvania Hospital that Franklin founded and on the Cornerstone he has this inscribed:
In the year of Christ:. . . 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.4 (emphasis added)
We will see time after time Franklin would be stating or call on others to seek the wisdom of God, usually on a continual basis. In Franklin’s Autobiography he states that this is the prayer that he prayed everyday:
O powerful goodness! Bountiful Father! Merciful Guide! Increase in me the wisdom which discovers my truest interest. Strengthen my response to perform what that wisdom dictates. Accept my kind offices to thy other children as the only return in my power for thy continual favors to me.5
If Franklin was a deist, this prayer would be foolishness to him. It is obvious that the definition of a deist was different in the 1700’s than it is today. However in the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary the deism is defined as: The doctrine or creed of a deist; the belief or system of religious opinions of those who acknowledge the existence of one God, but deny revelation: or deism is the belief in natural religion only, or those truths, in doctrine and practice, which man is to discover by the light of reason, independent and exclusive of any revelation from God. Hence deism implies infidelity or a disbelief in the divine origin of the scriptures.6
According to this definition, Franklin was not a deist. Franklin wrote a book called Maxims and Morals which consisted of many lessons about established principles and moral understandings. I will list several but please note the first one:
I never doubted the existence of the Deity, that he made the world, and governed it by His Providence.
Virtue is not secure until its practice has become habitual.
Without virtue man can have no happiness.
Virtue alone is sufficient to make a man great, glorious and happy.
Search others for their virtues, they self for vices.
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.7
In March of 1778 Franklin wrote a letter to the French ministry stating:
Whosoever shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.8
Again we see the importance that Franklin put on the principles of Christianity. He very rarely spoke about the virtues of any other philosophy. He continuously espoused Christianity as the basis for virtue and good character which he valued above anything else.
Franklin wrote a pamphlet in 1754 addressed to Europeans who were considering moving to America seeking their fortune in the land of opportunity stating:
Hence bad examples to youth are rare in America, which must be comfortable consideration to parents. To this may be truly added, that serious religion, under its various denominations, is not only tolerated, but respected and practiced.
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 Infidel.
And the Divine Being seems to have manifested his approbation of the mutual forbearance and kindness with which the different sects treat each other; by the remarkable prosperity with which he has been pleased to favor the whole country.9 (Emphasis added) Again we see Franklin stating that God has positively interfered in the Affairs of the American people as well as debunking the claims of the modern revisionist historians that the Founders were atheist and agnostics. He specifically states that atheism is virtually non-existent in America.
I brought this quote forth in Chapter 14 but I feel that it should be repeated in this chapter as we are looking at the faith of Benjamin Franklin and what it is grounded in. It is obvious that Christianity was the major influence on him and that he practiced its principles as well as taught them and believed that they should be taught at the earliest of age to American youth. This statement is from the Continental Congress on June 28, 1787 after weeks of making no progress in compiling an acceptable outline for a constitution Franklin explained what he believed was the problem and what he believed was the solution to that problem. Here is a portion of that comment as recorded by James Madison:
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 understanding?
In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for 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 now have we 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 that 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 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 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 blessing 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.10
One cannot read this comment alone and believe that Benjamin Franklin was a deist. He may not have been one of the best Christians out of all the Founders, but he did know where wisdom came from and how valuable that wisdom was. We must return to seeking that same wisdom to return our nation to the greatness it once enjoyed.
- Benjamin Franklin. September 3, 1783, signed the Treaty of Paris, officially ending the Revolutionary War with Great Britain: ratified by Congress January 14, 1784, under the Articles of Confederation. William M. Malloy, compiler, Treaties, Conventions, International Acts, Protocols and Agreements Between the United States and Other Powers, 1776-1909, 4 vols. (New York: Greenwood Press, 1919, 1968), 2:1786.
- Interpose, To offer, as aid or services, for relief or the adjustment of differences. The emperor interposed his aid or services to reconcile the contending parties.
Webster, Noah: Noah Webster’s First Edition of An American Dictionary of the English Language. Anaheim, CA : Foundation for American Christian Education, 2006.
- Benjamin Franklin. Carl Van Dorn, Benjamin Franklin (New York Viking Press, 1938), p. 188.
- Benjamin Franklin. 1755, inscription he composed for the cornerstone of Pennsylvania Hospital. Catherine Millard, The Rewriting of America’s History, (Camp Hill, PA: Horizon House Publishers, 1991), p. 117.
- Benjamin Franklin. Personal Prayer. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Norman Cousins, In God We Trust – The Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers, (NY: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1955), p. 30.
- Webster, Noah: Noah Webster’s First Edition of An American Dictionary of the English Language. Anaheim, CA : Foundation for American Christian Education, 2006
- Benjamin Franklin. William S. Pfaff, Maxims and Morals of Benjamin Franklin, (New Orleans: Searcy and Pfaff, Ltd. Inc., 1927).
- Benjamin Franklin. Attributed, 1778, in a letter to the French ministry. Charles E. Kistler, This Nation Under God (Boston: Richard G. Badger, The Gorham Press, 1924), p. 83.
- Benjamin Franklin. 1754, Information on Those Who Would Remove To America, (London: M. Gurney, 1754), pp.22-23.
- Constitutional Convention. June 28, 1787, in an address by Benjamin Franklin. James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 (1787: Athens, OH: Ohio University press, 1966, 1985; NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 1987), pp. 209-210.