Category: Benjamin Franklin

“There are two Passions which have a powerful Influence in the Affairs of Men. These are Ambition and Avarice; the Love of Power and the Love of Money. Separately, each of these has great Force in prompting Men to Action; but when united in View of the same Object, they have in many Minds the most violent Effects. Place before the Eyes of such Men a post of Honour, that shall be at the same time a Place of Profit, and they will move Heaven and Earth to obtain it.” – Benjamin Franklin, “Speech in the Convention on the Subject of Salaries”, June 2, 1787 (emphases in original)

“In the various Enumerations of the moral Virtues I had met with in my Reading, I found the Catalogue more or less numerous, as different Writers included more or fewer Ideas under the same Name. Temperance, for Example, was by some confin’d to Eating & Drinking, while by others it was extended to mean the moderating every other Pleasure, Appetite, Inclination, or Passion, bodily or mental, even to our Avarice & Ambition. I propos’d to myself, for the sake of Clearness, to use rather more Names with fewer Ideas; and I included under Thirteen Names of Virtues all that at that time occurr’d to me as necessary or desirable, and annex’d to each a short Precept, which fully express’d the Extent I gave to its Meaning.—
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 Expence 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 unecessary 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 Extreams. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS.
Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Cloaths, or Habitation.—
11. TRANQUILITY
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.—
– Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography

“Let us preserve our reputation by performing our engagements; our credit by fulfilling our contracts; and friends by gratitude and kindness; for we know not how soon we may again have occasion for all of them.” – Benjamin Franklin, “Letter to Samuel Mather”, May 12, 1784

“Ambition and avarice are each of them strong Passions, and when they are united in the same Persons, and have the same Objects in view for their Gratification, they are too strong for Public Spirit and Love of Country, and are apt to produce the most violent Factions and Contentions.” – Benjamin Franklin, “Letter to William Strahan”, February 16, 1784

“A Suedish Minister having assembled the Chiefs of the Sasquehanah Indians, made a Sermon to them, acquainting them with the principal historical Facts on which our Religion is founded, such as the Fall of our first Parents by Eating an Apple, the Coming of Christ to repair the Mischief, his Miracles and Suffering, &c. When he had finished, an Indian Orator stood up to thank him. What you have told us, says he, is all very good. It is indeed bad to eat Apples. It is better to make them all into Cyder. We are much obliged by your Kindness in coming so far to tell us those things which you have heard from your Mothers. In Return I will tell you some of those we have heard from ours. In the Beginning our Fathers had only the Flesh of Animals to subsist on, and if their Hunting was unsuccessful, they were starving. Two of our young Hunters having killed a Deer, made a Fire in the Woods to broil some Parts of it. When they were about to satisfy their Hunger, they beheld a beautiful young Woman descend from the Clouds, and seat herself on that Hill which you see yonder among the blue Mountains. They said to each other, it is a Spirit which perhaps has smelt our broiling Venison, & wishes to eat of it: let us offer some to her. They presented her with the Tongue: She was pleased with the Taste of it, & said, your Kindness shall be rewarded. Come to this Place after thirteen Moons, and you shall find something that will be of great Benefit in nourishing you and your Children to the latest Generations. They did so, and to their Surprise found Plants they had never seen before, but which from that ancient time have been constantly cultivated among us to our great Advantage. Where her right Hand had touched the Ground, they found Maize; where her left hand had touch’d it, they found Kidney-beans; and where her Backside had sat on it, they found Tobacco. The good Missionary disgusted with this idle Tale, said, what I delivered to you were sacred Truths; but what you tell me is mere Fable, Fiction & Falsehood. The Indian offended, reply’d, my Brother, it seems your Friends have not done you Justice in your Education; they have not well instructed you in the Rules of common Civility. You saw that we who understand and practice those Rules, believed all your Stories; why do you refuse to believe ours?” – Benjamin Franklin, “Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America”

“Savages we call them, because their manners differ from ours, which we think the Perfection of Civility; they think the same of theirs. Perhaps if we could examine the manners of different Nations with Impartiality, we should find no People so rude as to be without any Rules of Politeness; nor any so polite as not to have some remains of Rudeness. The Indian Men, when young, are Hunters and Warriors; when old, Counsellors; for all their Government is by the Counsel or Advice of the Sages; there is no Force, there are no Prisons, no Officers to compel Obedience, or inflict Punishment. Hence they generally study Oratory; the best Speaker having the most Influence. The Indian Women till the Ground, dress the Food, nurse and bring up the Children, and preserve and hand down to Posterity the Memory of Public Transactions. These Employments of Men and Women are accounted natural and honorable. Having few Artificial Wants, they have abundance of Leisure for Improvement by Conversation. Our laborious manner of Life compared with theirs, they esteem slavish and base; and the Learning on which we value ourselves; they regard as frivolous and useless.” – Benjamin Franklin, “Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America”

“Men I find to be a Sort of Beings very badly constructed, as they are generally more easily provok’d than reconcil’d, more disposed to do Mischief to each other than to make Reparation, much more easily deceiv’d than undeceiv’d, and having more Pride and even Pleasure in killing than in begetting one another; for without a Blush they assemble in great armies at NoonDay to destroy, and when they have kill’d as many as they can, they exaggerate the Number to augment the fancied Glory; but they creep into Corners, or cover themselves with the Darkness of night, when they mean to beget, as being asham’d of a virtuous Action. A virtuous Action it would be, and a vicious one the killing of them, if the Species were really worth producing or preserving; but of this I begin to doubt.” – Benjamin Franklin, “Letter to Joseph Priestley”, June 7, 1782

“If Five Louis-d’ors may be of present Service to you, please draw on me for that Sum, and your Bill shall be paid on Sight. Some time or other you may have an Opportunity of assisting with an equal Sum a stranger who has equal need of it. Do so. By that means you will discharge any Obligation you may suppose yourself under to me. Enjoin him to do the same on Occasion. By pursuing such a Practice, much Good may be done with little money. Let kind Offices go round. Mankind are all of a Family.” — Benjamin Franklin, “Letter to William Nixon”, September 5, 1781

“The rapid Progress true Science now makes, occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the Height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the Power of Man over Matter. We may perhaps learn to deprive large Masses of their Gravity, and give them absolute Levity, for the sake of easy Transport. Agriculture may diminish its Labour and double its Produce; all Diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, not excepting even that of Old Age, and our Lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian Standard. O that moral Science were in as fair a way of Improvement, that Men would cease to be Wolves to one another, and that human Beings would at length learn what they now improperly call Humanity!” – Benjamin Franklin, “Letter to Joseph Priestley” (February 8, 1780) (emphasis in original)

“At my first Admission into this Printing House, I took to working at the Press, imagining I felt a Want of the Bodily Exercise, I had been us’d to in America, where Presswork is mix’d with Composing. I drank only Water; the other Workmen, near 50 in Number, were great Guzzlers of Beer. On occasion I carried up & down Stairs a large Form of Types in each hand, when others carried but one in both Hands. They wonder’d to see from this & several Instances that the Water-American as they call’d me was stronger than themselves who drank strong Beer. We had an Alehouse Boy who attended always on the House to supply the Workmen. My Companion at the Press, drank every day a Pint before Breakfast, a Pint at Breakfast with his Bread and Cheese; a Pint between Breakfast and Dinner; a Pint at Dinner; a Pint in the Afternoon about Six o’clock, and another when he had done his Day’s-Work. I thought it a detestable Custom.—But it was necessary, he suppos’d, to drink strong Beer that he might be strong to labour. I endeavour’d to convince him that the Bodily Strength afforded by Beer could only be in proportion to the Grain or Flour of the Barley dissolved in the Water of which it was made; that there was more Flour in a Penny-worth of Bread, and therefore if he would eat that with a Pint of Water, it would give him more Strength than a Quart of Beer.—He drank on however, & had 4 or 5 Shillings to pay out of his Wages every Saturday Night for that muddling Liquor; an Expence I was free from.—And thus these poor Devils keep themselves always under.” – Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography (emphases in original)

“This obscure Family of ours was early in the Reformation, and contain’d Protestants thro’ the Reign of Queen Mary, when they were sometimes in Danger of Trouble on Account of their Zeal against Popery. They had got an English Bible, & to conceal & secure it, it was fastened open with Tapes under & within the Frame of a Joint Stool. When my Great Great Grandfather read in it to his Family, he turn’d up the Joint Stool upon his Knees, turning over the Leaves then under the Tapes. One of the Children stood at the Door to give Notice if he saw the Apparitor coming, who was an Officer of the Spiritual Court. In the Case the Stool was turn’d down upon its feet, when the Bible remain’d conceal’d under it as before.” – Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography

“I have lately made a Tour thro’ Ireland and Scotland. In these Countries a small Part of the Society are Landlords, great Noblemen and Gentlemen, extreamly opulent, living in the highest Affluence and Magnificence: The Bulk of the People Tenants, extreamly poor, living in the most sordid Wretchedness in dirty Hovels of Mud and Straw, and cloathed only in Rags. I thought often of the Happiness of New England, where every Man is a Freeholder, has a Vote in publick Affairs, lives in a tidy warm House, has plenty of good Food and Fewel, with whole Cloaths from Head to Foot, the Manufactury perhaps of his own Family. Long may they continue in this Situation! But if they should ever envy the Trade of these Countries, I can put them in a Way to obtain a Share of it. Let them with three fourths of the People of Ireland, live the Year round on Potatoes and Butter milk, without Shirts, then may their Merchants export Beef, Butter and Linnen. Let them with the Generality of the Common People of Scotland go Barefoot, then may they make large Exports in Shoes and Stockings: And if they will be content to wear Rags like the Spinners and Weavers of England, they may make Cloths and Stuffs for all Parts of the World. Father, if my Countrymen should ever wish for the Honour of having among them a Gentry enormously wealthy, let them sell their Farms and pay rack’d Rents; the Scale of the Landlords will rise as that of the Tenants is depress’d who will soon become poor, tattered, dirty, and abject in Spirit.” – Benjamin Franklin, “Letter to Joshua Babcock” (January 13, 1772) (emphasis in original)

“I rather suspect, from certain circumstances, that though the general government of the universe is well administered, our particular little affairs are perhaps below notice, and left to take the chance of human prudence or imprudence, as either may happen to be uppermost.” – Benjamin Franklin, “Letter to George Whitefield” (1769)

“Providence will bring about its own ends by its own means; and if it intends the downfall of a nation, that nation will be so blinded by its pride, and other passions, as not to see its danger, or how its fall may be prevented.” – Benjamin Franklin, “Letter to _” (November 28, 1768)

“Treat your Wife always with Respect. It will procure Respect to you, not from her only, but from all that observe it. Never use a slighting Expression to her even in jest; for Slights in Jest after frequent bandyings, are apt to end in angry earnest. Be studious in your Profession, and you will be learned. Be industrious and frugal, and you will be rich. Be sober and temperate and you will be healthy. Be in general virtuous, and you will be happy. At least you will by such Conduct stand the best Chance for such Consequences.” – Benjamin Franklin, “Letter to John Alleyne” (August 9, 1768)

“We embarked for Calais with a Number of Passengers who had never been before at Sea. They would previously make a hearty Breakfast, because if the Wind should fail, we might not get over till Supper-time. Doubtless they though that when they had paid for their Breakfast they should have a Right to it, and that when they had swallowed it they were sure of it. But they had scarce been out half an Hour before the Sea laid Claim to it, and they were oblig’d to deliver it up.” – Benjamin Franklin, “Letter to Mary Stevenson” (September 14, 1767)

“It sometimes is cloudy, it rains, it hails; again ‘tis clear and pleasant, and the Sun shines on us. Take one thing with another, and the World is a pretty good sort of a World; and ‘tis our Duty to make the best of it and be thankful. One’s true Happiness depends more upon one’s own Judgement of one’s self, on a Consciousness of Rectitude in Action and Intention, and in the Approbation of those few who judge impartially, than upon the Applause of the unthinking undiscerning Multitude, who are apt to cry Hosanna today, and tomorrow, Crucify him.” Benjamin Franklin, “Letter to Jane Mecom” (March 1, 1766)

“In time perhaps Mankind may be wise enough to let Trade take its own Course, find its own Channels, and regulate its own Proportions, &c. At present, most of the Edicts of Princes, Placaerts, Laws and Ordinances of Kingdoms and States, for that purpose, prove political Blunders. The Advantages they produce not being general for the Commonwealth, but particular, to private Persons or Bodies in the State who procur’d them, and at the expense of the rest of the People.” – Benjamin Franklin, “Letter to Peter Collinson” (April 30, 1764) (emphases in original)

“The Church People and the Puritans in a Country Town, had once a bitter Contention concerning the Erecting of a Maypole, which the former desir’d and the latter oppos’d. Each Party endeavour’d to strengthen itself by obtaining the Authority of the Mayor, directing or forbidding a Maypole. He heard their Altercation with great Patience, and then gravely determin’d thus; You that are for having no Maypole shall have no Maypole; and you that are for having a Maypole shall have a Maypole. Get about your Business and let me hear no more of this Quarrel.” – Benjamin Franklin, “Letter to David Hume” (May 19, 1762)