Yale Closure Visit 2018

The Closure Committee of the Friends of Franklin gathered in New Haven in November 2018 to donate the remaining funds of the Friends to the Papers of Benjamin Franklin in honor of Claude-Anne Lopez. Claude-Anne worked at the Papers for many years and started the Friends of Franklin as her “gift to the Papers.”

Claude-Anne Lopez
Claude-Anne Lopez in the offices of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin in 2000.
Michael Marlsand photograph courtesy Yale University.

We gathered the evening before:

Closure Committee at Dinner
Our research included New Haven Style Pizza. From left, Roy Goodman, E. Cutter Hughes, Jackson Boswell, Martin Mangold, Lee Knepp.

The next morning, we were greeted in the lobby of the Sterling Memorial Lobby by Editor Ellen Cohn. She showed us the stunning architecture, the printing press, and the cathedral-esque reading room.

Hallway at Sterling Memorial Library, Yale.
A hallway.
Reading Room, Sterling Memorial Library
The Reading Room

One highlight was the piece of sculpture Claude-Anne mentions in her preface to The Private Franklin:

Every morning on my way to work at Yale’s Sterling Library, I walk by his bust standing guard near the entrance. I look at that very English face, eyes serene, skin flabby, thin and determined mouth, ironic smile. And I wonder what it was like to be his wife….

The Private Franklin: The Man and His Family, Claude-Anne Lopez and Eugenia W. Herbert; New York, 1975, W.W. Norton & Co: A Subjective Preface, p. xiii
Franklin Bust in Sterling Memorial Library Reading Room.
The bust of Franklin that was at the staff entrance to Sterling Library in the 1970s, now in the main Reading Room.
Ellen Cohn with Claude-Anne Lopez card file.
Claude-Anne’s card file is still on hand, including her tracking of “undated devils.”

Ellen hosted all of us, visitors and staff, to lunch at Mory’s. Time grew wings as we explored some of the treasures in the collection.

Our organization concluded “with a bright point” as the Friends of Franklin’s President Lee Knepp spoke and made the presentation.

Friends of Franklin Closure Ceremony, 2018
Jackson Boswell, Roy Goodman, Lee Knepp, Ellen Cohn, E. Cutter Hughes, Martin Mangold, Phliipp Ziesche, Robert Frankel, Jr., Kate Ohno, Ellen Pawelczak, John Huffman.
Jackson, Ellen and a bust of Franklin.
Jackson and Ellen discovered that a bust of Franklin looks oddly correct with spectacles added.

It was an honor to participate.

See Also:

Franklin’s Fortune Released

A deck-building game named Franklin’s Fortune has recently been released, and we thank Shane Newell reaching out to tell us about it. Based on Franklin’s economic ideas and lessons on life, the players strategize how best to get on in the world. The graphics are of a very high level, and the website has an introductory video sufficient to get a games night underway.

Filed under Fun

BF Transatlantic Fellows Institute

Purdue University and the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs have a program that looks wonderful. The Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute (BFTF) is designed “to introduce Fellows to Benjamin Franklin’s ideas and legacy” and further the contributions of Dr. Franklin to foster relations between Americans and Europeans. What’s not to like?


Franklin and Criminal Justice

This month’s Franklin Celebration in Philadelphia will be held Friday, January 18, 2019 (apologies for this late posting), and is entitled Liberty and Justice for All? Reforming America’s Criminal Justice System.

The Inquirer published an excellent Opinion piece by Bill Keller, What would Benjamin Franklin think of today’s criminal justice? on January 4, 2019.

UPenn’s Papers of the Prison Society have an online presence are introduced with this:

After the peace of 1783, a group of prominent Philadelphia citizens led by Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, and others organized a movement to reform the harsh penal code of 1718. The new law substituted public labor for the previous severe punishments. Reaction, however, against the public display of convicts on the streets of the city and the disgraceful conditions in the Walnut Street jail led to the formation of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons (a name it retained for 100 years, at which time it became the Pennsylvania Prison Society) in 1787, the first of such societies in the world.

See Also:

National Archives Rotunda Exhibit

I visited the National Archives this week, and made some notes about the Charters of Freedom display in the Rotunda.

The Rotunda contains 17 display cases. Aside from the three major documents in cases 8-10, each case contains facsimile documents and supporting information on modern placards. Franklin is featured in the display case on the far right, but all 17 display cases are interesting. I’m numbering them as you look into the Rotunda (as in the picture above), from left to right.

The quotes and sources are presented as provided to me by the curator.

(1) George Washington

Featured Founder: George Washington.
Document: Senate Journal

Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.—George Washington

GW to James Madison, 2 March 1788 (Founders Online)

(2) Declaration of Independence – How?

Featured Founder: John Adams.

We are in the very midst of a revolution the most complete, unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of nations. —John Adams

JA to William Cushing, 9 June 1776 (Founders Online)

I see here that spelling and capitalization is modernized. The Founders Online publication reads “We are in the very midst of a Revolution, the most compleat, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the History of Nations.”
___ I hope the comma after “revolution” actually made it into the display case.

(3) Thomas Jefferson

Featured Founder: Thomas Jefferson
Abraham Lincoln’s Fiery Trial speech.
1918 Poster

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. . . . They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.—Thomas Jefferson

TJ to Uriah Forrest, 31 December 1787 (Founders Online)

(4) Where has the Declaration Been?

Featured Founder: none noted.
It came here in 1952.

Photo from June 28, 2017: the placards have a red background for the Declaration (cases 1-4), blue for the Constitution (cases 5 and 6), and the Declaration is in Case #7.

(5) The Constitution: How?

Featured Founder: James Wilson
1768 East Prospect of Philadelphia by Thomas Jeffrys

. . . all lawful government is founded on the consent of those who are subject to it. —James Wilson

James Wilson 1774 pamphlet, (John Adams, by David McCullough, page 121 Simon and Schuster, 2008)

(6) Constitution: Why Important?

Featured Founder: Gouvernuer Morris.
Design of the Great Seal.
George Washington’s draft (working copy of the Constitution, I believe).

A firm government alone can protect our liberties. —Gouverneur Morris

Elliot’s Debates, Volume 5: Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787  by Jonathan Elliot: July 2, 1787. (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)

(7) Constitution – How Adopted?

Featured Founder: Alexander Hamilton
Federal Pillars
Massachusetts Ratification

Here sir, the people govern. —Alexander Hamilton

New York Ratifying Convention. Remarks (Francis Childs’s Version, 27 June 1788 (Founders Online)

A slight liberty is taken in punctuation here. The full sentence in the source is “Here, sir, the people govern: Here they act by their immediate representatives.”

NARA photo from June 2017: Cases 8-10 stand separate from the others, and Case #9 has four windows for the Constitution.

(8) The Declaration of Independence

This poor thing is very tired. I cannot see Franklin’s signature, even a little. 
Let’s all keep documents out of the sun (see FAQs).

(9) The Constitution (4 Windows)

Very clear signatures, Franklin is on page 4.

The Bill of Rights is in case #10, then 11-13 have blue, and 14-17 have reddish backgrounds. NARA Photograph by Brogan Jackson, June 28, 2017

(10) The Bill of Rights, 1789

We are now on the right side of the room (that’s not a political statement).

(11) Bill of Rights: How Did It Happen?

Featured Founder: James Madison
Revisions to Proposed Amendments

I think we should obtain the confidence of our fellow citizens in proportion as we fortify the rights of the people against the encroachments of the government. —James Madison

Madison Papers, Amendments to the Constitution, [8 June] 1789 (Founders Online)

This is from JM’s last sentence in this document. The comma after citizens is removed here.

(12) Bill of Rights: Why Important?

Featured Founder: George Mason
September 1789 [my note is illegible]
Virginia’s Ratification, 12/15/1791.

There never was a government over a very extensive country without destroying the liberties of the people. —George Mason

GM Speech, Virginia Ratifying Convention, 4 June 1788 (TeachingAmericanHistory.org

MM Comment: George Mason was objecting to “converting what was formerly confederation, to a consolidated Government.” To see his use of was as an active verb, I see the full sentence, which seems to ramble a bit:

“It is ascertained by history, that there never was a Government, over a very extensive country, without destroying the liberties of the people: History also, supported by the opinions of the best writers, shew us, that monarchy may suit a large territory, and despotic Governments ever so extensive a country; but that popular Governments can only exist in small territories —Is there a single example, on the face of the earth, to support a contrary opinion? Where is there one exception to this general rule? Was there ever an instance of a general National Government extending over so extensive a country, abounding in such a variety of climates, where the people retained their liberty? ”

Fuller content of Mr. Mason’s speech. op. cit.

(13) Women & The Revolution

Featured Founder: Abigail Adams
Elizabeth Burgin letter, 11/19/1779
George Washington, 12/25/1779

“If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.” —Abigail Adams (original spelling)

AA to John Adams, 31 March – 5 April 1776 (Massachusetts Historical Society)

Abigail Adams may be my second favorite writer of the 18th Century. I am also pleased to see “original spelling” embraced, as the Franklin quote I recommend is not exactly punctuated as we might like. It does beg the question, however, why this writer’s spelling is left alone, but the other writer’s spelling is silently updated?

(14) Slavery & The Revolution

Did Slaves Fight?
Featured Founder: Richard Allen (once a slave)
Statement of John Grant, denied his pension.

If you love your children, if you love your country, if you love the God of love, clear your hands from slaves, burden not your children or country with them. —Richard Allen

Richard Allen, 1794 (UShistory.org)

Allen wrote “burthen not your children or your country” – updated silently.

Ending the sentence here is a good thing. Allen’s full sentence goes much longer: “If you love your children, if you love your country, if you love the God of love, clear your hands from slaves, burthen not your children or your country with them, my heart has been sorry for the blood shed of the oppressors, as well as the oppressed, both appear guilty of each others blood, in the sight of him who hath said, he that sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.”

(15) Parchment, Quill & Ink

Featured Penman: Timothy Matlack, who probably inscribed the Declaration of Independence, using English Roundhand Script.
Order to engrave the Declaration of Independence.

(16) The Faulkner Murals

Featured Artist: Barry Faulkner
Document: a letter from Charles Moore to Mr. Gugler [?], 4/11/1935: “Must [Benjamin Franklin] wear a belt under his protuberant stomach?” — I think the belt was removed, I don’t see it.

Franklin close-up
Franklin in the Declaration mural – I don’t see a belt, but
once you see Lincoln’s beard (upper left), it jumps right out. 

Mr. Moore also mocked the Alexander Hamilton cape in the Constitution as showing off the draping more than honoring the wearer.

Alexander Hamilton’s draping cape is on the right (New England Historical Society)

As I read Lester Gorelick’s article (now in PDF), this letter is dated after the final approval, but I don’t see a belt on either Franklin image today. The Gorelick article is terrific: I never noticed Abraham Lincoln’s face in the storm clouds in the Declaration mural.

Lincoln in the clouds

See also:  Identifications and Blog update, 6/30/2017.
Lester Gorelick’s article in Prologue,

(17) Conservation and Access

Featured Founder: Benjamin Franklin

Why is it so dark and cold in here? (see FAQs)

A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins. — Benjamin Franklin

Quote as displayed, 12/12/2018. From 1793 Works.

This Religion of Ignorance quote is problematic, as discussed elsewhere on the Friends of Franklin site. See also:


Thanks to the Archives staff for much of this information, and especially volunteer Lester Gorelick for his article cited under case #16.

Where The Religion of Ignorance Begins

A sentence mentioning the Religion of Ignorance is often preceded by another sentence that starts A nation of well-informed men. Both sentences are attributed to Franklin, but he didn’t write them. The second one is even less correct: in a way, it was never written by anybody.

The quote we typically see looks like this:

A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins. —Benjamin Franklin

Quote as provided, 12/12/2018

Franklin died in April 1790. One month later, Dr. Henry Stuber started writing Franklin’s life in a series of issues of The Columbian magazine. In 1793, after Dr. Stuber died, that series (and a fragment of Franklin’s drafted Memoirs) was incorporated into a one-volume Works of Dr. Benjamin Franklin printed in Dublin as well as a two-volume second edition from London. In 1800, Henry Laurens repeated this, publishing The Life and Works of Dr. Benjamin Franklin. The entire 1800 book is beautifully presented online by Google Books (the image above is from its title page).

On page 87 of the 1800 version, Stuber’s text includes the two sentences, circled here:

Page 87 of Stuber and Vaughans 1800 Life of Dr. Franklin, from Google Books
Henry Stuber’s Comments

A few things to notice:

  • This speaks of the regions and not the religion of ignorance – it is mis-quoted with the buzz word religion.
  • This describes where tyranny reigns, not where it begins: another mis-quote to over-generalize and simplify.
  • Franklin did not write these words: starting two pages earlier, the editors interject that “the following … was written by Dr. Henry Stuber of Philadelphia.” This is mis-attributed to Franklin.

Sometimes bogus Franklin quotes say nice things, but this one gets ugly if you reverse it: when a nation does become enslaved, it must be because they were ignorant or didn’t sufficiently value their natural rights. This leaves out being surprised, out-gunned, overpowered, or overcome by disease as factors in one nation’s enslavement by another.  

This ugly and mis-attributed double mis-quote has been published in at least a few books and countless websites, from the sacred to the absurd and in between.

From the Sacred…

National Archives – Rotunda Entrance

As I write this, in our national repository, the National Archives, in its main building on our National Mall, in the most sacred Rotunda, in the 17th display cabinet on the far right, under glass, is the mis-attributed double mis-quote: “A nation of well-informed men, who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them, cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins. – Benjamin Franklin”

Archives Rotunda
Archives Rotunda – Franklin’s Case is on the Far Right

The reported source for their quote is the 1793 Works of Dr. Franklin, published in Dublin, where page 97 contains the two sentences circled above from the 1800 book.

Tangent alert: The 1793 volume that Google scanned, from the New York Public Library, was presented by Paul Leicester Ford from his father’s library. PLF wrote The Many-Sided Franklin, an 1899 classic, and is the great-grandson of Franklin Friend Noah Webster.  Back to our topic…

In my own library, I find the two-volume 1793 “Second Edition” with the same title published in London, “printed for G.G.J. and J. Robinson” with the same quote circled above on page 195. In all cases, it is clearly stated that we are no longer reading Franklin’s words.

To the Absurd

You Can Buy This For Free

QuoteFancy.com allows a variety of wallpaper settings with pretty pictures behind a mis-attributed triple misquote, with “It is the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins – Benjamin Franklin” — what does that even mean?

And More In Between

What’s that non-Franklin line about a lie can circle the globe twice before the truth can get its pants on? This mis-attributed non-quote has appeared in Bar Association newsletters, in editorials complaining of bogus quotes, and was exported to Austria in 2003. The Franklin Institute considers the first sentence one of the 7 Things Benjamin Franklin Never Said, with a clue to Stuber as the author.

Writers, avoid embarrassment: I will be happy to check the accuracy of any Benjamin Franklin attribution quickly, confidentially and at no charge. My contact information is on the About Us page.



I’d like to thank the sources above, and

  • Prof. Michael Lang for pointing out this quote in the Rotunda and reminding me of my 2015 posting.
  • the staff of the National Archives for rapidly providing the sourcing of their current Rotunda exhibit.
  • David Hudson for discussing the source used for his editorial.


Most recent update: December 15, 2018, 12:12pm

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Religion of Ignorance Again

In my posting of August 23, 2015, I mentioned this quote:

“This will be the best security for maintaining our liberties. A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins. ”

I wrote then that I emailed the American History Channel, who had in published on their site. I’ve never heard back from them, but noticed today that the source link in my 2015 posting now forwards to the Franklin quotes page on that same site, with a slightly different URL. The quote in question, this religion of ignorance statement, no longer appears there as a Franklin quote.

I’m looking at this quote again, as it has been appearing elsewhere. Feedback is welcome: my contact information is on the About Us page.


  • December 13, 2018 post: mis-quote found at the National Archives, original source identified.