[Square & Compasses]

Ben Franklin on tolerance

From: "beth kennedy" <bethannkennedy@msn.com>
To: <masonry-ask@mit.edumasonry-ask@mit.edu>
Subject: Submit your Masonic news
Date: Wed, 24 Apr 2002 09:27:51 -0400
Message-ID: <DAV9Ae4BH9ztFd6BVgG0001c68f@hotmail.com>

This Op-Ed piece was written in response to the international rumor going around that Benjamin Franklin gave a speech to the Continental Congress in which he advocated expelling the Jews from this country and prohibiting their further immigration here. Would you please consider carrying it in your next issue? Kate Ohno, Assistant Editor, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, and Frances Cresswell, Dorchester County Library, provided information and suggestions.


Hear ye! Hear ye! We Yankees do not take Kindly to the Casting of the basest Sort of Aspersion against one of our very Decent and very Munificent Founding Fathers, the Honorable Mr. Benjamin Franklin. It has come to our Attention that there are those misguided Souls who walk this Planet and dare to twist History to their Wicked Rhetoric: putting forth the ignoble Propaganda of that fine Individual being an anti-Semite, of all preposterous Notions! We would not allow such Calumny to pilfer an Honorable Gentle Man's fine Reputation, but will, ourselves, Stand and Deliver in his Stead, in True American Fashion and Spirit, so engendered by the Likes of Mr. Franklin.

Would such an illustrious Scientist, Musician, Philosopher, Inventor, Writer, and Statesman dare to defy his Ethical and Theological Root by espousing the odious Libel of anti-Semitism in any least Wise? Nay! merely reflect upon his Query: "What is Serving God? 'Tis doing Good to Man." ("Poor Richard on Words and Speaking") It is certainly not Man's uttering Slander to unjustly malign his Fellow Man.

Dost thou not knowest that the Young Benjamin grew to follow in the Footsteps of his maternal Grand Father, who regularly rebuked the Magistrates and Clergy of his Day "with manly freedom for their religious persecutions" as He so aptly identified Them? (Benjamin Franklin and a Rising People, Verner W. Crane, Little Brown, and Company, 1954, p. 3) Indeed, "Many have quarrel'd about Religion, that never practised it." ( "Poor Richard on Philosophy and Religion")

Dost thou not knowest that the Good Mr. Franklin was a confirmed Tolerationist who believed that Everyman had Need of Religious Creeds to help inform his Behaviour? (Benjamin Franklin and a Rising People, pp. 21-22) Take heed: "Talking against Religion is unchaining a Tyger; the Beast let loose may worry his Deliverer." ("Poor Richard on Philosophy and Religion")

Dost thou not knowest, in the Year of 1779, Mr. Franklin's very Actions proved to be as Good as Poor Richard's Word? When American Vessels were confiscated, Mr. Franklin drafted a Formal Protest to the Danish Foreign Minister. When quoting a Passage of a Treatise by de Vattel on International Law to support his Argument, most telling, he chose to make Use of only the First and Third Sentences, and omitted the Second One. Why, pray tell, would he have omitted the Second Sentence? Was it a Momentary Lapse? As the Fine Statesman is no longer among Us to give Answer, we surmise just This: That Mr. Franklin, an Accomplished Printer, deliberately omitted Sentence No. 2 because It spoke Ill of the Jews. It certainly would not have, otherwise, hurt his Argument. ("Franklin Gazette," Volume 4, Number 4, Winter 1993)

Dost thou knowest that, in the Year of 1788, the Excellent Mr. Fanklin donated 5 pounds, a rather Inordinate Sum for the Day, to the Hebrew Society of Philadelphia for the express Purpose of Building a Synagogue? (www.mikvehisrael.org/archives.html) He himself wrote, "Different Sects like different Clocks may all be near the matter, ' tho they don't quite agree." ("Poor Richard on Philosophy and Religion")

Dost thou not knowest that the Colony of Pennsylvania, which formed Mr. Franklin's very Being and Thought, was Created by its Founders as an Holy Experiment in Religious Freedom and Tolerance? The Quakers, who dared to exchange the Persecution and Tyranny of the Old World for Freedom in the New, had greatly mistrusted earthly Authority. (Benjamin Franklin and his Enemies, Robert Middlekauf, University of California Press, 1996, p. 31) Mr. Franklin, as their Elected Representative, most assuredly did not advocate Intolerance against any Group of People, whether by Law or by Cabal...

Thus, in the Year 1763, when some Frontier Settlers murdered a Band of Indians that was peaceably living in Lancaster County, Mr. Franklin reckoned the Perpetrators to be Rioters and Murderers in a Pamphlet that he printed and distributed, "A Narrative of the Late Massacres." (Ibid., pp. 79-81) He ventured so far as to petition the Royal Government for Stronger Authority in Enforcing the Law. Even though this Stance would place him at Odds with the Penn Family, and cost him politically, he felt it was the Righteous Position to Hold; so Held It he did.

Furthermore, dost thou not knowest that the Right Mr. Franklin was an Active Member of the Masons, occupying sundry Good Offices? For many Centuries, even prior to Mr. Franklin's Time, the Society of Masons had stressed basic Truths upon which Men of diverse Religions and Philosophies have agreed in the Interest of bettering Mankind. Many Improvements to Society developed under the Mason's fine Auspices.

The Good Mr. Franklin founded his Famous Junto for the Promotion of Civic and Cultural Institutions in the Philadelphia Province. He proudly proclaimed it to be "the best school of philosophy, morals, and politics that then existed" in the Land. In order to Join, each aspiring Candidate put forth the Declaration that he loved "mankind in general, of what profession or religion soever." (Benjamin Franklin and a Rising People, p. 22) After all, "Reading makes a full man -- meditation a profound man -- discourse a clear man." ("Quotations, Anecdotes, and Observations" Virtually Boston)

Now, as for the Pernicious Matter of a certain Scurrilous Speech purportedly delivered by Mr. Franklin during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, we wish to set the Record Straight: It is a Hogshead of Perfidy and Prevarication. ("The Franklin Prophecy"Anti-Defamation League ) Please duly note:

  • Namely, that N'one has ever found any Journal in which the said Speech has been recorded;
  • Namely, that No printed Copy of the alleged Journal likewise exists;
  • Namely, that the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia does not now possess, nor has ever had in its Possession, any Manuscript, original or copied, of said insidious Speech;
  • Namely, that the Franklin Institute has thoroughly researched the libelous Rumor, and has found No Basis for it;
  • Namely, that Mr. Franklin, who was renown for his Religious Tolerance and Liberal Theology, would not have advocated that the Jews be expelled from this Country, or that their Rights be abrogated by an emerging Constitution of a new Nation that was dedicated to Freedom and Democracy, a Nation whose Government, he, himself, was helping Frame;
  • Namely, that Mr. Franklin would no more have delivered such an intemperate Speech than he would have claimed that Hot Air Balloons could not fly -- or that Pigs could!

As Poor Richard well knew, "Strive to be the greatest Man in your Country, and you may be disappointed; Strive to be the best, and you may Succeed..." ( "Poor Richard on Virtue and Vice" ) We Yankees wish an Ignorant World to know that Mr. Franklin was a Most Successful Man.

Beth Kennedy

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