Letter from Benjamin Franklin to Richard Price, October 9, 1780

Letter from Benjamin Franklin to Richard Price, October 9, 1780

Benjamin Franklin
October 9, 1780

Franklin criticizes the Massachusetts Constitution for allowing religious tests for public office but points out that the state is at least more liberal than it used to be. He also utters the memorable sentiment (shared by Madison, Jefferson and others) that if there is no government support for religion, good faiths will thrive while ineffective ones will decline.

I am fully of your Opinion respecting religious Tests; but, tho’ the People of Massachusetts have not in their new Constitution kept quite clear of them, yet, if we consider what that People were 100 Years ago, we must allow they have gone great Lengths in Liberality of Sentiment on religious Subjects; and we may hope for greater Degrees of Perfection, when their Constitution, some years hence, shall be revised. If Christian Preachers had continued to teach as Christ and his Apostles did, without Salaries, and as the Quakers now do, I imagine Tests would never have existed; for I think they were invented, not so much to secure Religion itself, as the Emoluments of it.

When a Religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and, when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support, so that its Professors are oblig’d to call for the help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one. But I shall be out of my Depth, if I wade any deeper in Theology, and I will not trouble you with Politicks, nor with News which are almost as uncertain; but conclude with a heartfelt Wish to embrace you once more, and enjoy your sweet Society in Peace, among our honest, worthy, ingenious Friends at the London.

The Founders’ Constitution, Volume 4, Article 6, Clause 3, Document 5, The University of Chicago Press, 1987.

The Writings of Benjamin Franklin. Edited by Albert Henry Smyth. 10 vols. New York: Macmillan Co., 1905–7.