What Ben Franklin Didn't Say About Beer
The Myth of Ben Franklin and His Love of Beer
While closing up the last edits of Beer & Food: An American History, I started to read Walter Isaacson's Benjamin
Franklin, An American Life. Knowing me to be the history buff that I am, my wife picked up a trade paperback of the 2004
printing on one of her business trips.
I saw this as a possible answer to something that puzzled me throughout the research and writing of Beer & Food; no matter
where I looked to source Franklin's supposed famous quote "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy," I
came up empty-handed. To make matters more confusing, I knew that Franklin was very big on wine, not beer. Anyone who lived
in France for nine years as the U.S. Ambassador to France, surely had partaken more of the noble grape in lieu of French beer
(wouldn't you, beer drinker or not?)
Nonetheless, scores of websites, writers and organization use this quote, typically without attribution or as an element of
Franklin's Poor Richards Almanack from 1733 to 1758. I, however, couldn't find the quote, nor anything remotely like it.
What I did find were Franklin witticisms that mentioned wine;
* "Never spare the Parson's wine, nor the Baker's pudding."
* "Take counsel in wine, but resolve afterwards in water."
* "Women and wine, game and deceit, make the wealth small and the wants great."
* "Be temperate in Wine, in eating, Girls, and Sloth, or the Gout will seize you and plague you both."
Even rum gets a mention:
* "He that spills the Rum, loses that only; He that drinks it, often loses both that and himself."
In all of the issues of Poor Richard's, no mention is made of God and beer.
Next, I tried searching through some of Franklin's writings, including his autobiography and letters to various friends and
associates during his lifetime. Reading from his autobiography from 1706-1757, I came across this passage which might give
readers and idea of what he really thought of beer, or at least, the over indulgence of it;
"At my first admission into this printing-house I took to working at press, imagining I felt a want of the bodily exercise I had
been us'd to in America, where presswork is mix'd with composing. I drank only water; the other workmen, near fifty in number,
were great guzzlers of beer. On occasion, I carried up and down stairs a large form of types in each hand, when others carried but
one in both hands. They wondered to see, from this and several instances, that the Water-American, as they called me, was
stronger than themselves, who drank strong beer! We had an alehouse boy who attended always in the house to supply the
workmen. My companion at the press drank every day a pint before breakfast, a pint at breakfast with his bread and cheese, a
pint between breakfast and dinner, a pint at dinner, a pint in the afternoon about six o'clock, and another when he had done his
day's work. I thought it a detestable custom; but it was necessary, he suppos'd, to drink strong beer, that he might be strong to
labor. I endeavored to convince him that the bodily strength afforded by beer could only be in proportion to the grain or flour of
the barley dissolved in the water of which it was made; that there was more flour in a pennyworth of bread; and therefore, if he
would eat that with a pint of water, it would give him more strength than a quart of beer. He drank on, however, and had four or
five shillings to pay out of his wages every Saturday night for that muddling liquor; an expense I was free from. And thus these
poor devils keep themselves always under…
From my example, a great part of them left their muddling breakfast of beer, and bread, and cheese, finding they could with me
be suppli'd from a neighboring house with a large porringer of hot water-gruel, sprinkled with pepper, crumbl'd with bread, and
a bit of butter in it, for the price of a pint of beer, viz., three half-pence. This was a more comfortable as well as cheaper
breakfast, and kept their heads clearer. Those who continued sotting with beer all day, were often, by not paying, out of credit at
the alehouse, and us'd to make interest with me to get beer; their light, as they phrased it, being out. I watch'd the pay-table on
Saturday night, and collected what I stood engag'd for them, having to pay sometimes near thirty shillings a week on their
account. This, and my being esteem'd a pretty good riggite, that is, a jocular verbal satirist, supported my consequence in the
society. My constant attendance (I never making a St. Monday) recommended me to the master; and my uncommon quickness at
composing occasioned my being put upon all work of dispatch, which was generally better paid. So I went on now very agreeably."
Ben's disdain for too much drink brought about one of his least famous publications, Drinker's Dictionary, that listed 250 or so
synonyms for being drunk, including..."boozy, buzzey, craked," and my personal favorite, "halfway to Concord."
Franklin didn't seem to be much of a beer drinker or a boozer in general, I concluded, at least in his early years. The Benjamin
Franklin Tercentenary does note, however, Franklin's first recorded purchase of an alcoholic beverage, a modest 1s, 6d, worth of
beer, on December 31, 1739.
Ready to give up on my quest to find the actual attribution to Franklin's supposed God and beer quote, I finally came across a
letter from him to André Morellet, a French economist, written about 1779. READ THIS LETTER CAREFULLY;
FROM THE ABBE FRANKLIN TO THE ABBE MORELLET
You have often enlivened me, my dear friend, by your excellent
drinking-songs; in return, I beg to edify you by some Christian,
moral, and philosophical reflections upon the same subject.
In vino veritas_, says the wise man, -- _Truth is in wine._
Before the days of Noah, then, men, having nothing but water to
drink, could not discover the truth. Thus they went astray, became
abominably wicked, and were justly exterminated by _water_, which
they loved to drink.
The good man Noah, seeing that through this pernicious beverage
all his contemporaries had perished, took it in aversion; and to
quench his thirst God created the vine, and revealed to him the means
of converting its fruit into wine. By means of this liquor he
discovered numberless important truths; so that ever since his time
the word to _divine_ has been in common use, signifying originally,
_to discover by means of_ WINE. (VIN) Thus the patriarch Joseph took
upon himself to _divine_ by means of a cup or glass of wine, a liquor
which obtained this name to show that it was not of human but
_divine_ invention (another proof of the _antiquity_ of the French
language, in opposition to M. Geebelin); nay, since that time, all
things of peculiar excellence, even the Deities themselves, have been
called _Divine_ or Di_vin_ities.
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.
It is true that God has also instructed man to reduce wine into
water. But into what sort of water? -- _Water of Life._ (_Eaude
Vie._) And this, that man may be able upon occasion to perform the
miracle of Cana, and convert common water into that excellent species
of wine which we call _punch._ My Christian brother, be kind and
benevolent like God, and do not spoil his good drink.
He made wine to gladden the heart of man; do not, therefore
when at table you see your neighbor pour wine into his glass, be
eager to mingle water with it. Why would you drown _truth_? It is
probable that your neighbor knows better than you what suits him.
Perhaps he does not like water; perhaps he would only put in a few
drops for fashion's sake; perhaps he does not wish any one to observe
how little he puts in his glass. Do not, then, offer water, except
to children; 't is a mistaken piece of politeness, and often very
inconvenient. I give you this hint as a man of the world; and I will
finish as I began, like a good Christian, in making a religious
observation of high importance, taken from the Holy Scriptures. I
mean that the apostle Paul counselled Timothy very seriously to put
wine into his water for the sake of his health; but that not one of
the apostles or holy fathers ever recommended _putting water to
P.S. To confirm still more your piety and gratitude to Divine
Providence, reflect upon the situation which it has given to the
_elbow._ You see (Figures 1 and 2) in animals, who are intended to
drink the waters that flow upon the earth, that if they have long
legs, they have also a long neck, so that they can get at their drink
without kneeling down. But man, who was destined to drink wine, must
be able to raise the glass to his mouth. If the elbow had been
placed nearer the hand (as in Figure 3), the part in advance would
have been too short to bring the glass up to the mouth; and if it had
been placed nearer the shoulder, (as in Figure 4) that part would
have been so long that it would have carried the wine far beyond the
mouth. But by the actual situation, (represented in Figure 5), we
are enabled to drink at our ease, the glass going exactly to the
mouth. Let us, then, with glass in hand, adore this benevolent
wisdom; -- let us adore and drink!
Okay, so Benjamin Franklin was a wine drinker, and from the letter above, I suspect he was almost orgasmic about grape
runnings. As a matter of fact, I've got a feeling that he fell into bottle of Lafitte '70 (that's 1770) while he wrote this flowery prose
to his friend Morellet.
Others have come to the same conclusion. After doing a computer search of Franklin's written words, the Benjamin Franklin
Tercentenary also questions the God and beer quote; a search for "beer" in all his writings yielded nothing even close to his
supposed pronouncement about God and beer. The Belleville News-Democrat (IL) actually reported on the BFT's findings in a
June, 19, 2006 article. The newspaper notes that "Anyone who attributes that quote to Franklin is full of hops."
So now the question remains. Where did the fallacy of Franklin and the idea that he loved beer come from? Who very
conveniently borrowed from this attributed quote from Franklin about wine, and substituted beer instead?
COMING SOON: Read More About Who Started The Fallacy Of Franklin's God And Beer Quote