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public utility! What an extension of agriculture, even to the tops of our mountains; what rivers rendered navigable, or joined by canals: what bridges, aqueducts, new roads, and other public works, edifices, and improvements, rendering England a complete paradise, might have been obtained by spending those millions in doing good, which in the last war have been spent in doing mischief; in bringing misery into thousands of families, and destroying the lives of so many thousands of working people, who might have performed the useful labour!
I am pleased with the late astronomical discoveries made by our society. Furnished as all Europe now is with academies of science, with nice instruments and the spirit of experiment, the progress of human knowledge will be rapid, and discoveries made, of which we have at present no conception. I begin to be almost sorry I was born so soon, since I cannot have the happiness of knowing what will be known 100 years hence. I wish continued success to the labours of the royal society, and
you may long adorn their chair; being, with the highest esteem, dear Sir, &c.,
B. FRANKLIN. P.S. Dr. Blagden will acquaint you with the experiment of a vast globe sent up into the air, much talked of here, and which, if prosecuted, may furnish means of new knowledge. 9
Letter to [Thomas Paine?]"
[Reason and Religion]
Phila. July 3, 1786[?]. DEAR SIR,
I have read your manuscript with some attention. By the argument it contains against the doctrines of a particular providence, though 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, though you seem to desire it. At present I shall only give you my opinion, that, though your reasonings are subtile, 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 yourself, mischief to you, and no benefit to others. He that spits against the wind, spits in his own face.
9. The first balloon to rise successfully
early editors of Franklin's works to have
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 inexperienced 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 upon a less hazardous subject, and thereby obtain a rank with our most distinguished authors. For among us it is not necessary, as among the hottentots, that a youth, to be received into the company of men, should prove his manhood by beating his mother.
I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, 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. I intend this letter itself as a proof of my friendship, and therefore add no professions to it; but subscribe simply yours,
Letter to Ezra Stilesa
Philadelphia, March 9, 1790. REVEREND AND DEAR SIR:
I received your kind letter of January 28, and am glad you have at length received the portrait of Governor Yale from his family, and deposited it in the College Library. He was a great and good man, and had the merit of doing infinite service to your country by his munificence to that institution. The honour you propose doing 2. This letter, one of Franklin's most Philosophical Society, a grandson of famous, illustrates the mellowed hu- Edward Taylor, was a learned clergymanitarian deism of his old age, and his man in Newport for twenty-three years; unflagging wit, activity, and benevo- he was president of Yale College, where lence. Ezra Stiles (1727-1795), Frank- he taught church history and science, lin's fellow member in the American from 1778 to 1795.
Benjamin Franklin me by placing mine in the same room with his, is much too great for my deserts; but you always had a partiality for me, and to that it must be ascribed. I am, however, too much obliged to Yale College, the first learned society that took notice of me and adorned me with its honors,3 to refuse a request that comes from it thro' so esteemed a friend. But I do not think any one of the portraits you mention, as in my possession, worthy of the place and company you propose to place it in. You have an excellent artist lately arrived. If he will undertake to make one for you, I shall cheerfully pay the expence, but he must not delay setting about it, or I may slip thro' his fingers,4 for I am now in my eighty-fifth year, and very infirm.
I send with this a very learned work, as it seems to me, on the antient Samaritan coins, lately printed in Spain, and at least curious for the beauty of the impression. Please to accept it for your College Library. I have subscribed for the Encyclopædia now printing here, with the intention of presenting it to the College. I shall probably depart before the work is finished, but shall leave directions for its continuance to the end. With this you will receive some of the first numbers.5
You desire to know something of my religion. It is the first time I have been questioned upon it. But I cannot take your curiosity amiss, and shall endeavor in a few words to gratify it. Here is my creed.
I believe in one God, creator of the universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. 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 the fundamental principles of 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 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 corrupting 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 think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as it probably has, of making his doctrines more respected and better observed; especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any peculiar marks of his displeasure.
3. Franklin was awarded the degree of
I shall only add, respecting mysclf, that, having experienced the goodness of that being in conducting me prosperously thro' a long life, I have no doubt of its continuance in the next, though without the smallest conceit of meriting such goodness. My sentiments on this head you will see in the copy of an old letter enclosed, which I wrote in answer to one from a zealous religionist, whom I had relieved in a paralytic case by electricity, and who, being afraid I should grow proud upon it, sent me his serious though rather impertinent caution. I send you also the copy of another letter, which will shew something of my disposition relating to religion. With great and sincere esteem and affection, I am, Your obliged old friend and most obedient humble servant,
B. FRANKLIN. P. S. Had not your college some present of books from the King of France? Please to let me know, if vou had an expectation given vou of 'more, and the nature of that expectation. I have a reason for the enquiry.
I confide that you will not expose me to criticism and censure 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 and even absurd. All sects here, and we have a great variety, have experienced my good will in assisting them with subscriptions for 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.
Thomas Paine, with his natural This “Great Commoner of gift for pamphleteering and re- Mankind,” son of a nominal bellion, was appropriately born Quaker of Thetford, England, into an age of revolution. “My was early apprenticed to his facountry is the world, and my ther, a staymaker. At nineteen, rcligion is to do good,” he once he went to sea for perhaps two declared; and he served the reb- years, then followed his father's cls of three countries.
trade again as master staymaker
in several English communities. In Philadelphia, Paine edited For nearly twelve years, begin the Pennsylvania Magazine, and ning in 1762, he was employed contributed to the Pennsylvania as an excise officer. His leisure Journal. As the relations of was devoted to the eager pur
the colonies with England apsuit of books and ideas, particu- proached a crisis, readers of the larly the study of social philoso- two Philadelphia papers recogphy and the new science. After nized a political satirist of genius. three
years in the excise service, On January 10, 1776, his fahe was dismissed for a neglect mous pamphlet Common Sense of duty, but he was reinstated appeared. It boldly advocated following a year spent as a “Declaration for Independteacher near London.
ence,” and brought the separatist The young excise collector agitation to a crisis. This was a learned social science at first courageous act of high treason hand, seeing the hardships of the against England; Paine knew tax-burdened masses and the quite well that publication of the hopelessness of humble workers pamphlet could cost him his life, of his own class. His first wife even though it was signed simhaving died, he acquired, in his ply “By an Englishman.” In second marriage, a small tobac- three months it sold probably conist's shop in Lewes, where a hundred thousand copies; they he was stationed; but he still circulated from hand to hand. It lived constantly on the edge of was also reprinted abroad. Paine privation. In 1772 he wrote his became forthwith the most arfirst pamphlet, The Case of the ticulate spokesman of the AmerOfficers of the Excise, and he ican Revolution. He enlisted, spent the next winter in Lon- was appointed aide-de-camp to don, representing his fellow General Greene, and served workers in a petition to Parlia- through the engagements of ment for a living wage. Sudden- 1776 in New York, New Jersey, ly he was dismissed, possibly for and Pennsylvania; but his chief his agency
in this civil revolt, al contribution was a series of sixthough the official charge was teen pamphlets (1776–1783) that he had neglected his duties entitled The American Crisis at Lewes. Within two months and signed “Common Sense.” of losing his position, he lost his The first of these, with its blast shop through bankruptcy and at the “summer soldier and the his wife by separation. This was sunshine patriot,” appeared in his unhappy situation at thirty- the black month of December, seven, when Franklin met him 1776, just after Washington's rein London and recognized his treat across New Jersey. It was peculiar talents in their Ameri- read at once to all regiments, can perspective. In 1774 Paine and like the twelve later Crisis made his way to Philadelphia, pamphlets that dealt directly bearing a cautious letter from with the military engagements, Franklin recommending him as it restored the morale and in“an ingenious worthy young spired the success of that citi”
zens' army. The last of the Crisis