Benjamin Franklin: The Rest of the Story.

Benjamin Franklin (Jean-Antoine Houdon)
I REALLY do admire Benjamin Franklin. I admire his life, his beliefs, his accomplishments, and his genius. He was the father of his country before George Washington became that. He has also been called the father of American humor with “Poor Richards Almanac” being America’s first joke book. He was loved by his countrymen and was the only man other than Washington who could have been our first President. Were it not for Franklin’s advanced age, George Washington would gladly have had Franklin be President instead. He was the premier scientist of his day: inventing many things including the lightening rod, bi-focal glasses, and the free standing (Franklin) stove.  He founded the first public library, fire department, police department and helped found the first Masonic lodge in America. He also started the American Philosophical Society, what we would call a scientific organization. He discovered the gulf stream in the Atlantic. He made many discoveries about electricity including the concept of positive and negative polarity. By his adroit diplomacy he brought about the treaty with France and the military aid which made Washington’s victory over Cornwallis at Yorktown possible. He made significant contributions to the content of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. He had a love of freedom and as a articulate writer and publisher made popular the concepts of liberty and freedom. He wrote the following at the age of only 16:

Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech; which is the Right of every Man, as far as by it, he does not hurt or controul the Right of another: And this is the only Check it ought to suffer, and the only Bounds it ought to know.

This sacred Privilege is so essential to free Goverments, that the Security of Property, and the Freedom of Speech always go together; and in those wretched Countries where a Man cannot call his Tongue his own, he can scarce call any Thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation, must begin by subduing the Freeness of Speech ... [1722, Silence DoGood letter #8]

Benjamin Franklin was a religious man, although he had issues with the churches of his day and rarely attended Sunday meetings. In his own words:

I had been religiously educated as a Presbyterian; and though 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 was never without religious principles.

I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world, and governed 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 esteemed the essentials of every religion; and, being to be found in all the religions we had in our country, I respected them all, though with different degrees of respect, as I found them more or less mixed with other articles, which without any tendency to inspire, promote, or confirm morality, served principally to divide us, and make us unfriendly to one another.

This respect of all… induced me to avoid all discourse that might tend to lessen the good opinion another might have of his own religion; and as our province increased in people, and new places of worship were continually wanted, and generally erected by voluntary contribution, my mite for such purpose, whatever might bane the sect, was never refused.

Though I seldom attended any public worship, I had still an opinion of its propriety, and of its utility when rightly conducted, and I regularly paid my annual subscription for the support of the only Presbyterian minister or meeting we had in Philadelphia.

Benjamin Franklin signs the Constitution (by Del Parson)
Because of serious quarreling during the constitutional convention regarding the manner of state representation in the Senate and House, Franklin made his famous motion for daily prayers:

In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers 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 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 labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in the 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 a byword down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom and leave it to chance, war, or conquest. I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business.

[Abbot, John S.C. Benjamin Franklin. A picture of the struggles of our infant nation, one hundred years ago. New York:  Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1876, pp. 368-373.]

As to Franklin’s belief in Jesus, this narrative says it all.
Dr. Ezra Stiles, President of Yale College, was a friend of Franklin’s of many years standing. When the revered patriot had reached his eighty-fifth year, Dr. Stiles wrote, soliciting his portrait for the college library. In this letter, he says,

“I wish to know the opinion of my venerable friend, concerning Jesus of Nazareth. He will not impute this to impertinence; or improper curiosity in one, who, for so many years, has continued to love, esteem and reverence his abilities and literary character, with an ardor and affection bordering on adoration.”

What Dr. Stiles, and the community in general, wished to know was, whether Dr. Franklin recognized the Divine, supernatural origin of Christianity. Franklin evaded the question. This evasion of course indicates that he did not recognize, in the religion of Jesus, the authority of, “Thus saith the Lord.” But he wished to avoid wounding the feelings of his Christian friends by this avowal. He wrote,

“This is my creed. I believe in God, the 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 fundamental points in 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 his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw, or is like to see. But I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the Dissenters in England, some doubts as to his Divinity; though 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.

I see however no harm in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as probably it has, of making his doctrines more respected and observed; especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of this world, with any peculiar marks of his displeasure. I shall only add respecting myself, that, having experienced the goodness of that Being, in conducting me prosperously through a long life, I have no doubt of its continuance in the next, though without the smallest conceit of meriting such goodness.”

He then adds the following suggestive postscript.

“I confide that you will not expose me to criticism and censures, by publishing any part of this communication to you. I have ever let others enjoy their religious sentiments, without reflecting on them, for those that appeared to me unsupportable, or even absurd. All sects here, and we have a great variety, have experienced my good will, in assisting them with subscriptions for the building their new places of worship. And, as I have never opposed any of their doctrines, I hope to go out of the world in peace with them all.”

Much of his time, in these hours of sickness, he employed in writing his Autobiography. The sufferings he endured were at times very severe. But when he spoke of his approaching departure, it was with composure. At one time, when his daughter expressed the wish that he might yet live many years, he replied “I hope not.” A clerical friend visited him, just as one of his paroxysms of pain came on. As his friend in consequence was about to retire, he said,

“Oh no; don’t go away. These pains will soon be over. They are for my good. And besides, what are the pains of a moment in comparison with the pleasures of eternity.”

There was, in one of the chambers of his house, a very beautiful painting of Christ on the Cross. He requested his nurse, a very worthy woman, of the Friends’ persuasion, to bring it down, and place it directly before him. The Rev. David Ritter, a great admirer of Franklin, called to see him. He had, however, but a few moments before, breathed his last. Sarah Humphries, the nurse, invited David into the chamber, to view the remains. Mr. Ritter expressed surprise in seeing the picture of the Saviour on the cross occupying so conspicuous a position, saying, “You know, Sarah, that many people think that Dr. Franklin was not after this sort.” “Yes,” she replied, “but thee knows, David, that many make a great fuss about religion, who have very little. And many, who say but little, have a good deal. He was never satisfied, if a day passed away unless he had done some one a service. Benjamin Franklin was one of that sort. I will tell thee how the picture came here. Many weeks ago, as he lay, he beckoned me to him, and told me of this picture, up stairs, and begged I would bring it to him. I brought it. His face brightened up, as he looked at it, and he said,

“‘Ay Sarah; there is a picture worth looking at. That is the picture of him who came into the world to teach men to love one another.’”

After looking at it wistfully for some time, he said, “Sarah, set this picture up over the mantel-piece, right before me as I lie. I like to look at it.”

“When I fixed it up he looked at it very much; and indeed died with his eyes fixed upon it.”

However deeply Franklin, in these dying hours may have pondered the sublimities of Immortality—the Resurrection—the Judgment Throne—the Final Verdict—Heaven—Hell,—he was very reticent respecting those themes. … A few hours before his death, as some one urged him to change his position, that he might breathe easier he replied, “a dying man can do nothing easy.” These were his last words. He then sank into a lethargy, from which he passed into that sleep which has no earthly waking. It was eleven o’clock at night, April 17, 1790. He had lived eighty-four years, three months and eleven days. But no candid and charitable reader can peruse this narrative, without the admission that Benjamin Franklin, notwithstanding his imperfections, was one of the wisest and best of all the fallen children of Adam. From his dying hour to the present day his memory has been justly cherished with reverence and affection, throughout the civilized world. And there is no fear that this verdict will ever be reversed.
Founding Fathers appear to Wilford Woodruff (by Harold I. Hopkinson)

From an LDS perspective Franklin was correct is keeping aloof from many of the non-sensical religious creeds, for it wasn’t until the restoration of the original Gospel of Christ that an organization with divine authority and revelation, was available. No religious denomination could claim him for he made no unique affiliation while living. However in the post mortal world of spirits, in paradise, he found the full truth as he expected he would – because the knowledge of the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (not available on earth before 1830) has always been available there. And because he was willing, ready and worthy, Benjamin Franklin accepted those truths and officially became a Latter-day Saint on August 21, 1877. Ordinances in the Holy Temple are performed in hope and expectation of the person being ready and willing to accept and once in a while that acceptance or desire to accept is communicated back to mortals in some divine way. Almost always, such experiences are not shared publicly but Wilford Woodruff (eventually 4th President of the Church but President of the St George Temple at the time) participated in an event so profoundly important that he was allowed to share it with the Latter-day Saints in General Conference:

I will here say, before closing, that two weeks before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them….  These were the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and they waited on me for two days and two nights….

…I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon brother McCallister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others; I then baptized him for every President of the United States, except three; and when their cause is just, somebody will do the work for them.  (Woodruff, Wilford, Journal of Discourses, 19:228–29)

I am going to bear my testimony to this assembly, if I never do it again in my life, that those men who laid the foundation of this American government and signed the Declaration of Independence were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits, not wicked men. General Washington and all the men that labored for the purpose were inspired of the Lord.

Another thing I am going to say here, because I have a right to say it. Every one of those men that signed the Declaration of Independence, with General Washington, called upon me, as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Temple at St. George, two consecutive nights, and demanded at my hands that I should go forth and attend to the ordinances of the House of God for them. Men are here, I believe, that know of this, Brothers J. D. T. McAllister, David H. Cannon and James G. Bleak. Brother McAllister baptized me for all those men, and then I told these brethren that it was their duty to go into the Temple and labor until they had got endowments for all of them. They did it. (Woodruff, Wilford, Conference Report, April 1898, Afternoon Session)

At this event, four of the men were also ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood and ordained to the office of High Priest (a leadership assignment). These four were: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Christopher Columbus, and John Wesley. So these four were baptized, received their temple endowment, and ordination to the Holy Priesthood of God. None however, at this time, had any Temple sealings performed, either for children or spouses, which brings us to the closing episode of this saga:

Much of President Woodruff’s meditations, as well as his hopes and ambitions, were associated with the world beyond the veil, and yet was not in the least sense a fanatically visionary man. When he had important dreams they were in harmony with his religious conceptions and a part of his duty, both to man and God. On the night of March 19th, 1894, he had a dream which followed his meditations upon the future life and the work that he had done for the dead. In his dream there appeared to him Benjamin Franklin for whom he had performed important ceremonies in the House of God. This distinguished patriot, according to his dream, sought further blessings in the Temple of God at the hands of his benefactor. President Woodruff wrote:

I spent some time with him and we talked over our Temple ordinances which had been administered for Franklin and others. He wanted more work done for him than had already been done. I promised him it should be done. I awoke and then made up my mind to receive further blessings for Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.

It may be well here to record the fact that President Woodruff and D.T. McAllister, at the early opening of the St. George Temple were baptized for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and for nearly all the Presidents of the United States. The appearance, therefore, in his dream, of Franklin, was to him a satisfying conclusion that he had at least received joyfully the blessings that came to him from the ordinances of the Lord’s House. (Matthias E Cowley, Wilford Woodruff–His Life and Labors, p. 585-589.)

I hope those not of the Latter-day Saint faith will not be put off by this account. Suffice it to say, that the LDS are not astonished at contemplating that such miracles occur in modern times.

Prior to this event the Saints had been busy with Temple ordinances for their own ancestors only, and in fact this is what Latter-day Saints are still asked to limit themselves to in their own personal Temple activity. One may well wonder why God allowed only the “famous” people to request their Temple work to be done by direct solicitation since there are many good people, not famous, who are just as worthy. Well, think of it: the work of preaching the Gospel is being done among those in the Spirit World. Those that were worthy and well known in mortality are still well known on the other side, and it’s easier to spread the word when it can be done by the testimony and example of those already widely known.

For Benjamin Franklin, all of this is consistent with his desire to achieve moral perfection. He said:

I conceiv’d the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined.  (Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin)

To help accomplish his goal, Franklin created and committed himself to a personal improvement program that consisted of living 13 virtues. The 13 virtues were:

    • TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
    • SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
    • ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
    • RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
    • FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
    • INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
    • SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
    • JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
    • MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
    • CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
    • TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
    • CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
    • HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

My intention being to acquire the habitude of all these virtues, I judged it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time, and, when I should be master of that, then to proceed to another, and so on, till I should have gone thro’ the thirteen; and, as the previous acquisition of some might facilitate the acquisition of certain others, I arranged them with that view, as they stand above. (Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin)

In conclusion, my favorite sayings of Benjamin Franklin:

    • A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.
    • A penny saved is a penny earned.
    • A place for everything, everything in its place.
    • Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
    • By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
    • God helps those who help themselves.
    • Remember that time is money.
    • He that won’t be counseled can’t be helped.
    • Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.
    • Eat to please thyself, but dress to please others.
    • An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.
    • He who falls in love with himself will have no rivals.
    • Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one.
    • Glass, china, and reputation are easily cracked, and never well mended.
    • Honesty is the best policy.
    • The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.
    • A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.
    • Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.
    • Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.
    • Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.
    • Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.
    • Diligence is the mother of good luck.
    • Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.
    • A good conscience is a continual Christmas.
    • A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.
    • Energy and persistence conquer all things.
    • Experience is a dear teacher, but fools will learn at no other.
    • If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do things worth writing.
    • Games lubricate the body and the mind.
    • God works wonders now and then; Behold a lawyer, an honest man.
    • He that can have patience can have what he will.
    • He that composes himself is wiser than he that composes a book.
    • He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.
    • He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.
    • You can bear your own faults, and why not a fault in your wife?
    • How few there are who have courage enough to own their faults, or resolution enough to mend them.
    • If a man could have half of his wishes, he would double his troubles.
    • If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.
    • If you know how to spend less than you get, you have the philosopher’s stone.
    • It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them.
    • Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards.
    • A slip of the foot you may soon recover, but a slip of the tongue you may never get over.
    • Lost time is never found again.
    • Wise men don’t need advice. Fools won’t take it.
    • Many a man thinks he is buying pleasure, when he is really selling himself to it.
    • Many people die at twenty five and aren’t buried until they are seventy five.
    • Marriage is the most natural state of man, and… the state in which you will find solid happiness.
    • Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.
    • Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.
    • The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance.
    • There never was a truly great man that was not at the same time truly virtuous.
    • They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
    • Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
    • To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.
    • Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools, that don’t have brains enough to be honest.
    • [To the Continental Congress] We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.
    • Well done is better than well said.
    • When befriended, remember it; when you befriend, forget it.
    • When in doubt, don’t.
    • Whoever shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive [original] Christianity will change the face of the world.
    • When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.
    • Where sense is wanting, everything is wanting.
    • You may delay, but time will not.
    • Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.
    • I look upon death to be as necessary to our constitution as sleep. We shall rise refreshed in the morning.
    • For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right but found to be otherwise.
    • [Epitaph written for himself when young, although not actually used] The body of BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, Printer, Like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out, and stript of its lettering and gilding, lies here food for worms; Yet the work itself shall not be lost, For it will (as he believed) appear once more in a new and more beautiful edition Corrected and amended by the Author.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *