Benjamin Franklin – select quotes



In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, — if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.
~ in a speech to the Constitutional Convention, 28 June 1787

I’ve 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 who 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.
~ in a speech to the Constitutional Convention, 28 June 1787

I believe there is one Supreme most perfect being. … I believe He is pleased and delights in the happiness of those He has created; and since without virtue man can have no happiness in this world, I firmly believe He delights to see me virtuous.
~ in Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion

That Being, who gave me existence, and through almost threescore years has been continually showering his favors upon me, whose very chastisements have been blessings to me ; can I doubt that he loves me? And, if he loves me, can I doubt that he will go on to take care of me, not only here but hereafter? This to some may seem presumption ; to me it appears the best grounded hope ; hope of the future built on experience of the past.
~ in a letter to George Whitefield 19 June 1764, published in The Works of Benjamin Franklin

We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy. The miracle in question was only performed to hasten the operation, under circumstances of present necessity, which required it.
~ in a letter to Abbé Morellet in 1779

I have read your Manuscript with some Attention. By the Arguments it contains against the Doctrine of a particular Providence, tho’ you allow a general Providence, you strike at the Foundation of all Religion: For without the Belief of a Providence that takes Cognizance of, guards and guides and may favour particular Persons, there is no Motive to Worship a Deity, to fear its Displeasure, or to pray for its Protection. I will not enter into any Discussion of your Principles, tho’ you seem to desire it; At present I shall only give you my Opinion that tho’ your Reasonings 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 your self, 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 Advantages 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 Proportion of Mankind consists of weak and ignorant Men and Women, and of inexperienc’d and 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 on a less hazardous Subject, and thereby obtain Rank with our most distinguish’d Authors. For among us, it is not necessary, as among the Hottentots that a Youth to be receiv’d into the Company of Men, should prove his Manhood by beating his Mother. I would advise you therefore not to attempt unchaining the Tyger, but to burn this Piece before it is seen by any other Person, whereby you will save yourself a great deal of Mortification from the Enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a good deal of Regret and Repentance. If Men are so wicked as we now see them with Religion what would they be if without it?
~ in a letter to unknown recipient on 13 December 1757

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 corrupt 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 I think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble.
~ in a letter to Ezra Styles, 9 March 1790, quoted in Benjamin Franklin: An Exploration of a Life of Science and Service (1938) by Carl Van Doren, p. 777

My parents had early given me religious impressions, and brought me through my childhood piously in the Dissenting 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.
~ in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

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.
~ in a letter to Benjamin Vaughan, 24 October 1788

After three days men grow weary of a wench, a guest, and rainy weather.
~ in Poor Richard’s Almanac

He that lies down with Dogs, shall rise up with fleas.
~ in Poor Richard’s Almanac

Dost thou love Life? Then do not squander Time; for that’s the stuff Life is made of.
~ in Poor Richard’s Almanac

Let thy Child’s first lesson be Obedience, and the second may be what thou wilt.
~ in Poor Richard’s Almanac

Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power.
~ in Poor Richard’s Almanac

From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in books….This library afforded me the means of improvement by constant study, for which I set apart an hour or two each day, and thus repaired in some degree the loss of the learned education my father once intended for me. Reading was the only amusement I allowed myself. I spent no time in taverns, games, or frolics of any kind; and my industry in my business continued as indefatigable as it was necessary.
~ in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

I believe I have omitted mentioning that, in my first voyage from Boston, being becalm’d off Block Island, our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food, and on this occasion consider’d, with my master Tryon, the taking every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had, or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and, when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanced some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, “If you eat one another, I don’t see why we mayn’t eat you.” So I din’d upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.
~ in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
~ in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 13 November 1789

Geese are but Geese tho’ we may think ‘em Swans; and Truth will be Truth tho’ it sometimes prove mortifying and distasteful.
~ in A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
~ in Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin

There never was a good war or a bad peace.
~ in a letter to Josiah Quincy, 11 September 1783

Idleness and pride tax with a heavier hand than kings and parliaments. If we can get rid of the former, we may easily bear the latter.
~ in Letter on the Stamp Act 1 July 1765

The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions; for life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence, or the want of it. By playing at Chess then, we may learn: 1st, Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action … 2nd, Circumspection, which surveys the whole Chess-board, or scene of action: — the relation of the several Pieces, and their situations; … 3rd, Caution, not to make our moves too hastily…
~ in The Morals of Chess

I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.
~ in On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor

There was never a good war, or a bad peace.
~ in a letter to Josiah Quincy, September 11, 1783

Young man, my advice to you is that you cultivate an acquaintance with and firm belief in the Holy Scriptures, for this is your certain interest.
~ quoted by A.W. Pink in What Follows From Divine Inspiration

A good example is the best sermon.

A good lawyer, a bad neighbour.

A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.

A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.

A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things. There will be sleeping enough in the grave.

A little neglect may breed great mischief…for want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for want of a horse the rider was lost.

A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.

A mob’s a monster; heads enough but no brains.

A penny saved is a penny earned.

A place for everything, everything in its place.

A small leak can sink a great ship.

Absence sharpens love, presence strengthens it.

All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.

All wars are follies, very expensive and very mischievous ones.

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

And whether you’re an honest man, or whether you’re a thief, depends on whose solicitor has given me my brief.

Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one.

Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.

As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.

At twenty years of age the will reigns; at thirty, the wit; and at forty, the judgment.

Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.

Be slow in choosing a friend, slower in changing.

Be temperate in wine, in eating, girls, and cloth, or the Gout will seize you and plague you both.

Beauty and folly are old companions.

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.

Beware the hobby that eats.

Buy what thou hast no need of and ere long thou shalt sell thy necessities.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.

Creditors have better memories than debtors.

Diligence is the mother of good luck.

Do good to your friends to keep them, to your enemies to win them.

Doing an injury puts you below your enemy; revenging one makes you even with him; forgiving sets you above him.

Drink does not drown Care, but waters it, and makes it grow faster.

Each year one vicious habit discarded, in time might make the worst of us good.

Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

Eat to live, and not live to eat.

Eat to please thyself, but dress to please others.

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.

Employ thy time well, if thou meanest to gain leisure.

Energy and persistence conquer all things.

Even peace may be purchased at too high a price.

Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.

Fatigue is the best pillow.

Fear not death; for the sooner we die, the longer shall we be immortal.

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.

Games lubricate the body and the mind.

Genius without education is like silver in the mine.

Glass, China, and Reputation, are easily crack’d, and never well mended.

God helps those who help themselves.

God works wonders now and then; Behold a lawyer, an honest man.

Great hopes make everything great possible.

Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.

Half a truth is often a great lie.

Having been poor is no shame, but being ashamed of it, is.

He that can have patience can have what he will.

He that composes himself is wiser than he that composes a book.

He that displays too often his wife and his wallet is in danger of having both of them borrowed.

He that has done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.

He that hath a Trade, hath an Estate.

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.

He that lives upon hope will die fasting.

He that raises a large family does, indeed, while he lives to observe them, stand a broader mark for sorrow; but then he stands a broader mark for pleasure too.

He that rises late must trot all day.

He that speaks ill of the Mare, will buy her.

He that speaks much, is much mistaken.

He that won’t be counseled can’t be helped.

He that would Fish, must venture his bait.

He who falls in love with himself will have no rivals.

Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade?

Honesty is the best policy.

How few there are who have courage enough to own their faults, or resolution enough to mend them.

I conceive that the great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by false estimates they have made of the value of things.

I guess I don’t so much mind being old, as I mind being fat and old.

I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand.

I should have no objection to go over the same life from its beginning to the end: requesting only the advantage authors have, of correcting in a second edition the faults of the first.

I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up.

If a man could have half of his wishes, he would double his troubles.

If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it from him.

If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.

If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.

If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be the greatest prodigality.

If you know how to spend less than you get, you have the philosopher’s stone.

If you would be loved, love, and be loveable.

If you would have a faithful servant, and one that you like, serve yourself.

If you would know the value of money, go and try to borrow some.

If you would not be forgotten
As soon as you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worthy reading,
Or do things worth the writing.

It is a grand mistake to think of being great without goodness and I pronounce it as certain that there was never a truly great man that was not at the same time truly virtuous.

It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them.

It is much easier to suppress a first desire than to satisfy those that follow.

It is only when the rich are sick that they fully feel the impotence of wealth.

It is the eye of other people that ruin us. If I were blind I would want, neither fine clothes, fine houses or fine furniture.

It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is the miserable man.

It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.

Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards.

Laws too gentle are seldom obeyed; too severe, seldom executed.

Leisure is the time for doing something useful. This leisure the diligent person will obtain the lazy one never.

Life’s Tragedy is that we get old to soon and wise too late.

Little strokes,
Fell great oaks.

Lost time is never found again.

Love your Neighbour; yet don’t pull down your Hedge.

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.

Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.

Most people return small favors, acknowledge medium ones and repay greater ones – with ingratitude.

Necessity never made a good bargain.

Never confuse motion with action.

Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.

No nation was ever ruined by trade.

Observe all men, thyself most.

One good Husband is worth two good Wives; for the scarcer things are, the more they’re valued.

One today is worth two tomorrows.

Our necessities never equal our wants.

Rather go to bed with out dinner than to rise in debt.

Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.

Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.

Remember that credit is money.

Savages we call them because their manners differ from ours.

She laughs at everything you say. Why? Because she has fine teeth.

Silence is not always a Sign of Wisdom, but Babbling is ever a folly.

Since thou are not sure of a minute, throw not away an hour.

Speak ill of no man, but speak all the good you know of everybody.

Take time for all things: great haste makes great waste.

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

The absent are never without fault, nor the present without excuse.

The discontented man finds no easy chair.

The doors of wisdom are never shut.

The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance.

The end of Passion is the beginning of Repentance.

The eye of the master will do more work than both his hands.

The first mistake in public business is the going into it.

The poor have little,
Beggars none;
The rich too much
Enough not one.

The strictest law sometimes becomes the severest injustice.

The use of money is all the advantage there is in having it.

The way to see by Faith is to shut the Eye of Reason.

The worst wheel of the cart makes the most noise.

There are three faithful friends – an old wife, an old dog, and ready money.

There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.

There are two ways of being happy: We must either diminish our wants or augment our means – either may do – the result is the same and it is for each man to decide for himself and to do that which happens to be easier.

There is no kind of dishonesty into which otherwise good people more easily and frequently fall than that of defrauding the government.

There never was a truly great man that was not at the same time truly virtuous.

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Those disputing, contradicting, and confuting people are generally unfortunate in their affairs. They get victory, sometimes, but they never get good will, which would be of more use to them.

Those who govern, having much business on their hands, do not generally like to take the trouble of considering and carrying into execution new projects. The best public measures are therefore seldom adopted from previous wisdom, but forced by the occasion.

Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.

Those who in quarrels interpose, must often wipe a bloody nose.

Tim was so learned, that he could name a horse in nine Languages.
So ignorant, that he bought a cow to ride on.

Time is money.

To be proud of virtue, is to poison yourself with the Antidote.

To err is human, to repent divine; to persist devilish.

To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.

To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.

To try and fail is at least to learn. To fail to try is to suffer the loss of what might have been.

Tomorrow, every Fault is to be amended; but that Tomorrow never comes.

Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools, that don’t have brains enough to be honest.

Trouble springs from idleness, and grievous toil from needless ease.

Wars are not paid for in wartime, the bill comes later.

We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.

Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it.

Well done is better than well said.

Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.

When befriended, remember it; when you befriend, forget it.

When in doubt, don’t.

When men and woman die, as poets sung, his heart’s the last part moves, her last, the tongue.

When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.

When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.

Where liberty is, there is my country.

Where sense is wanting, everything is wanting.

Where there’s marriage without love there will be love without marriage.

Who has deceived thee so often as thyself?

Who is wise? He that learns from everyone. Who is powerful? He that governs his passions. Who is rich? He that is content. Who is that? Nobody.

Wise men don’t need advice. Fools won’t take it.

Words may show a man’s wit but actions his meaning.

Work as if you were to live a hundred years. Pray as if you were to die tomorrow.

Write injuries in dust, benefits in marble.

You can bear your own faults, and why not a fault in your wife?

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.


Book Cover