Contrary to popular opinion, Benjamin Franklin was a Christian who thought that the Bible was "the most faithful of all Histories." In fact, Franklin thought so highly of the Bible that he argued in the Constitutional Convention that "We should remember the character which the Scripture requires in rulers, that they should be men hating covetousness." In 1788, Franklin wrote a letter to the Federal Gazette in which he used the example of the government of ancient Israel to defend the newly written Constitution of the United States. Franklin makes several observations in this piece which serve as unquestionable evidence of the fact that he was a sincere Christian. Here is the text of Franklin's letter:
A zealous Advocate for the propos’d federal Constitution, in a certain public Assembly, said, that the Repugnance of a great part of Mankind to good Government, was such, that he believ’d if an Angel from Heaven were to bring down a Constitution, form’d there for our Use, it would nevertheless meet with violent Opposition. He was reprov’d for the suppos’d Extravagance of the Sentiments; and he did not justify it. Probably it might have not immediately occur’d to him, that the Experiment had actually been try’d, and that the Event was rewarded in the most faithful of all Histories, the Holy Bible; otherwise he might, as it seems to me, have supported his Opinion by that unexceptionable Authority.
The Supreme Being had been pleased to nourish up a single Family, by continu’d Acts of his attentive Providence, ’till it became a great People; and having rescued them from Bondage by many Miracles perform’d by his Servant Moses, he personally deliver’d to that chosen Servant, in the Presence of the whole Nation, a Constitution, and Code of Laws for their Observance, accompained and sanction’d with Promises of great Rewards, and Threats of severe Punishments, as the Consequence of their Obedience or Disobedience.
This Constitution, tho’ the Deity himself was to be at its Head, and it is therefore call’d by Political Writers a Theocracy, could not be carried into Execution but by the Means of his Ministers, Aaron and his Sons were therefore commission’d to be,with Moses, the first establish’d Ministry of the new Government.
One would have thought that this Appointment of Men, who had distinguish’d themselves in procuring the Liberty of their Nation, and had hazarded their Lives in openly opposing the Will of a powerful Monarch, who would have retain’d that Nation in Slavery, might have been an Appointment acceptable to a grateful People; and that a Constitution fram’d for them by the Deity himself, might on that Account have been secure of an universal welcome Reception: yet there were, in every one of the thirteen Tribes, some discontented restless Spirits, who were continually exciting them to reject the propos’d new Government; and this from various Motives. Many still retain’d an Affection for Egypt, the Land of their Nativity; and these whenever they felt any Inconvenience or Hardship, tho’ the natural and unavoidable Effect of their Change of Situation, exclaim’d against their Leaders as the Authors of their Trouble, and were not only for returning into Egypt, but for Stoning their Deliverers.
Numbers, ch. XI [torn]
Those inclin’d to Idolatry, were displeas’d that their Golden Calf was destroy’d. Many of the Chiefs thought the new Constitution might be injurious to their particular Interests, that the profitable Places would be engross’d by the Families and Friends of Moses and Aaron, and others equally well-born excluded.
Numbers, ch. XVI, 1.3.
And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the Congregation are holy, every one of them, wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the Congregation? In Josephus, and the Talmud, we learn some Particulars, not so fully narrated in the Scripture. We are there told that Corah was ambitious of the Priesthood, and offended that it was conferred on Aaron, and this as he said, by the Authority of Moses only, without the Consent of the People. He accus’d Moses of having by various Artifices fraudulently obtain’d the Government, and depriv’d the People of their Liberties; and of Conspiring with Aaron to perpetuate the Tyranny in their Family. Thus tho’ Corah’s real Motive was the supplanting of Aaron, he persuaded the People that he meant only the Public Good; and they mov’d by his Insinuations, began to cry out, “Let us maintain the common Liberty of our respective Tribes; we have freed ourselves from the Slavery impos’d on us by the Egyptians, and shall we now suffer ourselves to be made Slaves by Moses? If we must have a Master, it were better to return to Pharaoh, who at least fed us with Bread and Onions, than to serve this new Tyrant, who by his Operations has often brought us into Danger of Famine.” Then they call’d in question the Reality of his Conferences with God, and objected the Privacy of the Meetings, and the preventing any of the People from being present at the Colloquies, or even approaching the Place, as Grounds of great Suspicion. They accused Moses also of Peculation, as embezzeling Part of the Golden Spoons and the Silves Chargers that the Princes had offer’d at the Dedication of the Altar,
Numb. ch. VII.
and the Offerings of Gold by the common People,
Exod. ch. XXXV. 22.
as well as most of the Poll-Tax;
Numb. ch. III. and Exod. ch. XXX.
and Aaron they accus’d of pocketing much of the Gold of which he pretended to have made a molten Calf. Besides Peculation, they charg’d Moses with Ambition; to gratify which Passion, he had, they said, deceiv’d the People, by promising to bring them to a Land flowing with Milk and Honey, instead of doing which, he had brought them from such a Land; and that he though light of all this Mischief provided he could make himself an absolute Prince.
Numb. ch. XVI. v. 13. Is it a [torn] that thou had brought us up out of a Land flowing with Milk and Honey [torn] Wilderness thyself altogether a Prince over us?
That to support the new Dignity with Splendor in his Family, the partial Poll-Tax already levied and given to Aaron,
Numb. ch. III.
was to be follow’d by a general one,
Exod. ch. XXX.
which would probably be augmented from time to time, if he were suffered to go on promulgating new Laws on pretence of new occasional Revelations of the divine Will, ’till their whole Fortunes were devour’d by that Aristocracy.
Moses deny’d the Charge of Peculation; and his Accusers were destitute of Proofs to support it; tho’ Facts, if real, are in their Nature capable of Proof. “I have not, said he (with holy Confidence in the Presence of his God) I have not taken from this People the Value of an Ass, nor done them any other Injury. But his Enemies had made the Charge, and with some Success among the Populace, for no kind of Accusation is so readily made, or easily believ’d, by Knaves, as the Accusation of Knavery.
In fine, no less than two hundred and fifty of the principal Men, “famous in the Congregation, Men of Renown,
Numb. ch. XVI
heading and exciting the Mob, work’d them up to such a Pitch of Frenzy, that they called out Stone ’em, Stone ’em, and thereby secure our Liberties; and let us chuse other Captains that may lead us back into Egypt in case we do not succeed in reducing the Canaanites.
On the whole it appear, that the Israelites were a People jealous of their newly-acquired Liberty, which Jealousy was in itself no Fault; but, that when they suffer’d it to be work’d upon by artful Men, pretending Public Good, with nothing really in view but private Interest, they were led to oppose the Establishment of the New Constitution, whereby they brought upon themselves much Inconvenience and Misfortune. It appears farther from the same inestimable History, that when, after many Ages, that Constitution was become old and much abus’d, and an Amendment of it was propos’d, the Populace, as they had accus’d Moses of the Ambition of making himself a Prince, and cry’d out Stone him, stone him, so, excited by their High Priests and Scribes, they exclaim’d against the Messiah, that he aim’d at becoming King of the Jews, and cry’d out Crucify him, Crucify him, From all which we may gather, that popular Opposition to a public Measure is no Proof of its Impropriety, even tho’ the Opposition be excited and headed by Men of Distinction.
To conclude, I beg I may not be understood to infer, that our general Convention was divinely inspired when it form’d the new federal Constitution, merely because that Constitution has been unreasonably and vehemently opposed; yet I must own I have so much Faith in the general Government of the World by Providence, that I can hardly conceive a Trasaction of such momentous Importance to the Welfare of Millions now existing, and to exist in the Posterity of a great Nation, should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenc’d, guided and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent and beneficent Ruler, in whom all inferior Spirits live and move and have their Being.
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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