Photo Credit: Saul Jay Singer

As the oldest of the American Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) signed the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution and served as the first Postmaster General of the United States. A noted polymath, Renaissance man, and among the leading intellectuals of his time, he was also a political philosopher, diplomat, scientist, inventor, writer, printer and publisher.

National Portrait Gallery portrait of Benjamin Franklin. This served as the basis for Franklin’s depiction on the $100 bill.

Franklin was a major figure in the American Enlightenment who, as a scientist, became renowned in the history of physics for his studies of electricity and for charting and naming the Gulf Stream current. As an inventor, he created the lightning rod (the famous “kite and key” experiment), bifocals, and the Franklin stove, among other things. As a diplomat, he served as the American minister to Paris, becoming a major figure in the development of positive relations with France and playing a leading role in securing crucial French aid, financial and otherwise, for America during the Revolutionary War. As a newspaper editor and printer, he published the Pennsylvania Gazette at age 23; became wealthy publishing Poor Richard’s Almanack; and was associated with the Pennsylvania Chronicle, a leading publication known for its revolutionary sentiments and opposition to the British. He founded many civic organizations, including the Library Company, the University of Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia’s first fire department.


The “Franklin Prophecy,” more accurately known as the “Franklin Forgery,” is an antisemitic speech fraudulently attributed to Franklin in which he allegedly warned of the dangers of admitting Jews to the nascent United States. As the fabricated story goes, the speech was transcribed by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney as South Carolina’s delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as follows:

There is a great danger for the United State of America. This great danger is the Jew. Gentlemen, in every land the Jews have settled, they have depressed the moral level and lowered the degree of commercial honesty. They have remained apart and unassimilated; oppressed, they attempt to strangle the nation financially, as in the case of Portugal and Spain.

For more than seventeen hundred years they have lamented their sorrowful fate – namely, that they have been driven out of their mother land; but, gentlemen, if the civilized world today should give them back Palestine and their property, they would immediately find pressing reason for not returning there. Why? Because they are vampires and vampires cannot live on other vampires – they cannot live among themselves. They must live among Christians and others who do not belong to their race.

If they are not expelled from the United States by the Constitution within less than one hundred years, they will stream into this country in such numbers that they will rule and destroy us and change our form of Government for which we Americans shed our blood and sacrificed our life, property, and personal freedom. If the Jews are not excluded within two hundred years, our children will be working in the field to feed Jews while they remain in the counting houses, gleefully rubbing their hands.

I warn you, gentlemen, if you do not exclude the Jews forever, your children and your children’s children will curse you in their graves. Their ideas are not those of Americans, even when they lived among us for ten generations. The leopard cannot change his spots. The Jews are a danger to this land, and if they are allowed to enter, they will imperil our institutions. They should be excluded by the Constitution.

Antisemitic German poster featuring Franklin and disseminating the fraudulent “Franklin Prophecy.”

The “Prophecy” was wholly unknown before the 1934 publication of “Did Benjamin Franklin Say this about the Hebrews?” in the pages of Liberation, a pro-Nazi magazine published and edited by William Dudley Pelley (1890-1965), a journalist and Hollywood screenwriter who, as a dedicated anticommunist and antisemitic cultist wacko, built the pro-Nazi Silver Legion of America into an antisemitic 15,000-man force, which he hoped to use to seize power in the United States and to establish a “Christian commonwealth” that excluded Jews. His ignoble resume includes convictions for fraud and sedition, incarceration in a federal penitentiary for eight years, and the failure of almost every project he touched, including Liberation, which quickly went defunct.

The Jewish press took note of the Franklin Prophecy only after Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher quoted it in an attack on American Jews in Der Stürmer. By August 1934, Pelley’s fairy tale had been republished throughout Nazi Germany, and Nazi leaders and sympathizers disseminated the fraud in German, French and English, and in Germany, Switzerland, and the United States.

Issue of Liberation with Pelley on the cover: “A Million Silvershirts by 1939.”

Pelly claimed that copies of the journal had been destroyed by Union troops during General William T. Sherman’s march to the sea in 1864, but that a copy that Pinckney had entrusted to his daughter’s care had survived the Civil War. However, no journal or copy thereof has ever been found, nor is there any evidence to support Pelley’s claim that it was printed privately.

Moreover, the phraseology of the Franklin Prophecy is anachronistic in that, as Franklin expert Professor Charles A. Beard concluded, its language “is not that of the eighteenth century, nor is the language that of Franklin. It contains certain words that belong to contemporary Germany rather than America of Franklin’s time.” Beard further noted that a section of the speech referring to a Jewish return to Eretz Yisrael used the word “homeland,” which Jews had not employed in that context until decades after Franklin’s time; moreover, not only did the writing not sound like anyone living during the colonial era, it did not sound at all like Franklin. After completing a thorough review of Franklin’s writings, including the vast collection of Frankliniana in Philadelphia, Beard concluded that he had found no single instance of Franklin expressing anti-Jewish sentiments and that, in fact, there is positive evidence that Franklin held Jews in high esteem.”

Perhaps most tellingly, in 1789, Pinckney was not a member of the Constitutional Convention, nor even a member of Congress. He was first elected to Congress in 1816, 26 years after Franklin died.

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has rejected all claims regarding Franklin’s speech; and, in any event, his well-known liberality in matters of religious opinions in general, and his positive views about Jews and Judaism in particular, logically preclude the possibility that he uttered such hateful words. Finally, in its 2004 report, Anti-Semitism in Europe: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on European Affairs of the Committee on Foreign Relations (2004), the U.S. Congress concluded that:

The Franklin “Prophecy” is a classic anti-Semitic canard that falsely claims that American statesman Benjamin Franklin made anti-Jewish statements during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. It has found widening acceptance in Muslim and Arab media, where it has been used to criticize Israel and Jews.

In the years since, Franklin has remained the hero of antisemitic imams, sheikhs, Nazis, and Jew-hating leftists. As most notorious antisemitic canards, including particularly the infamous and definitively disproven Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Franklin Prophecy has proven to be remarkably durable. Bin Laden referenced this myth in his October 2002 Letter to the American People; on February 18, 1998, a member of the Fatah Central Committee revived this fairytale – while, exhibiting the usual comical ignorance, referring to Franklin as an American president; and, as even a cursory review of the internet on the subject will show, the fairy tale persists in the minds of demented haters.

Franklin had a positive view of Jews and Judaism and he was a good friend to the Jews of 18th-century America. He admired their resilience and perseverance in the face of historical persecution, and he recognized their contributions in commerce, science, and literature; in one of his correspondence, he observed that “The Jews were acquainted with the several Arts and Sciences long e’re the Romans became a People, or the Greeks were known among the Nations,” and in a letter to his friend in 1783, he wrote that he had “long been of the opinion that the Jews in general have shown themselves very friendly to the American cause.”

Franklin praised the Jewish community in Philadelphia for its important contributions to the city. In 1788, after synagogue construction and difficult economic conditions plunged the city’s Congregation Mikveh Israel into debt, its members turned to their neighbors, “worthy fellow Citizens of every religious Denomination,” for assistance. Franklin set an important example by not only signing on to the appeal, but also through his five-pound donation to help ensure the continued existence of Philadelphia’s oldest Jewish congregation.

Although there were only about 2,000 Jews in America at the time of the American Revolution, Franklin maintained relationships with several Jews, but the Jew with the most extensive contact with him was arguably Colonel David Salisbury Franks, an American Army officer. Ironically, Franks had served as an aide-de-camp to traitor General Benedict Arnold, but after being cleared of taking any part in Arnold’s betrayal, he was assigned to various diplomatic missions in Europe between 1781 and 1787 and came into frequent contact with Franklin while serving in France.

After Franklin purchased The Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729, he did not shy away from reporting on items of Jewish interest. For example, when a wave of Jewish settlers, mostly German Ashkenazim, began arriving in large numbers, Franklin reported on their plight in the Gazette throughout the 1730s. More than that, he argued in a pamphlet that American labor costs were unduly high because of the small population in North America and the lack of a large labor supply and, contending that unlimited land benefited migrants and that their economic activities would expand American wealth, he urged his Jewish friends, the scions of the renowned Levy and Franks families, to contract with indentured servants for passage from Europe to the United States. Ads in the Gazette and other newspapers announced the services of such “likely servants, chiefly tradesman; such as ship carpenters,” “joiners,” “barbers,” “bakers,” “coopers,” “painters,” and other “labourers.”

As another example, he took on the traditional image of Jewish traders and brokers as sly and corrupt Shylocks when he published a December 1753 eulogy for Nathan Levy, a Jewish Pennsylvania merchant, in which he praised Levy for “the fair Character he maintain’d in all his Transactions” and for “the fair character he maintained in all his transactions.” When Franklin established the oldest learned society in America, the American Philosophical Society (1743), Joseph Ottolenghe, a Jewish scientist and expert on Georgia’s silk culture, became the first Jew elected to the APS. Franklin’s College of Philadelphia was one of only three institutions that admitted Jews during the colonial period.

All applicants to “Junto,” Franklin’s private social club where members shared their books with each other and discussed the issues of the day, had to respond to Franklin’s satisfaction to the question “Do you think any person ought to be harmed in his body, name, or goods, for mere speculative opinions or his way of worship?” This was but one way in which he facilitated the ability of Jews to publicly express their identity as Jews and their Jewish beliefs. Another was his leading a group of the directors of the Library Company of Philadelphia to admit David Franks as a member.

Seeking state-sponsored protection of their vessels on the high seas, Jews turned to Franklin, their great patron, who lobbied for a voluntary force of privateers, which Quaker leaders formed to protect merchant vessels. Moreover, Jews received compensation for ships they lost in the American Revolution when Franklin successfully lobbied Quaker leaders to allow them to seize goods aboard captured French ships.

Franklin’s Judeophilia was such that while serving on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence and on a subcommittee to draft the Great Seal of the United States, he suggested biblical symbolism for the new nation’s official seal, specifically an image of Pharaoh’s army engulfed by the Red Sea, an allusion that tied the new nation’s providential destiny to ancient Judaism.

Any document from the Revolutionary War period relating to Jewish soldiers, particularly those killed or wounded for the cause, is truly extraordinary and monumentally rare, let alone one originally signed by Franklin. In the document exhibited here to David Rittenhouse, Esquire, Treasurer, and countersigned by John Nicholson, Franklin, as president of Pennsylvania (a position similar to a modern-day governor) approves financial support for a Jewish war widow and her children after the death of her husband in the Revolutionary War:

Franklin approves financial support for the family of a Jewish American soldier killed in the American Revolution.


Philadelphia, December 3, 1785

The Widow and Children of Moses Hamer [sic] late private of the 2nd Regiment of the Pennsylvania Line, or his order, the sum of Nineteen Shillings and ten pence being one year’s interest on his deprecation certificate due the tenth day of April 1783 agreeably to an act of the General Assembly, entitled “an act to appropriate certain monies arising from the excise, or the payment of the annual interest due on unalienated certificates therein mentioned” passed the twenty-fifth day of March 1783, and out of the fund appropriated by the said act, for the purpose therein mentioned.

(signed) Benjamin Franklin, Presid.

To David Rittenhouse, Esquire,


Having recently returned to Philadelphia after serving the last eight years as minister to France – and one year as minister to Sweden, although he never visited that country – Franklin was unanimously elected president of Pennsylvania on October 18, 1785, less than two months before this document was written, making it one of his first orders of business in that office. He would serve Pennsylvania as its president for three years.

Polymath Rittenhouse (1732-1796) was an American astronomer, inventor, innovative clockmaker, mathematician, surveyor, scientific instrument craftsman and public official who was also a member of the American Philosophical Society and the first director of the United States Mint.

Among his other accomplishments, Rittenhouse’s 1763 survey of the Delaware-Pennsylvania border was so precise and well-documented that it was incorporated without modification in Charles Mason’s and Jeremiah Dixon’s survey, which established the famous (or infamous) Mason-Dixon Line. He used his observations of the movement of Venus across the sun on June 3, 1769, to calculate the distance from Earth to the sun at 93 million miles, a number still in use today, and he became the first American to sight Uranus. When Congregation Mikveh Israel encountered great financial difficulties, he joined Franklin as a contributor to the synagogue.

John Nicholson (1757-1800) was an early Pennsylvania land speculator – upon his death, he owned more than five million acres, with four million in Pennsylvania alone (which translated to over one-seventh of the very large Keystone State). He was also a financier and entrepreneur in the export trade, iron and textile manufacturing and steamboat promotion, among other enterprises. While serving as comptroller-general of the state, which position he was accused of using for his own speculative purposes, he played a major role in helping Pennsylvania achieve financial solvency after the Revolutionary War. He was the prime mover in the Federal City Project, which planned and developed Washington, D.C., and he created political alliances with those who elevated state interests over national sovereignty, and he was instrumental in helping to form the national Democratic – party in the 1790s. Notwithstanding his incredible financial dealings, he died in creditors’ prison at age 43, leaving a wife and eight children and over $12 million (about $290 million in today’s dollars) in debts.

In June 1775, at the order of the Continental Congress, George Washington assumed command of the fledgling American army, which was circling British forces in Boston. The troops that poured into his camp were initially from New England, but soon their number swelled with men from Virginia, Maryland and other American colonies. Although the primary military focus was on the front in Boston, neither the Congress nor the individual colonies expected that the war would be confined to New England, and recruiting commenced for troops that would be deployed wherever needed. Congress was also active in recruiting, and in November 1775, it authorized the formation of battalions in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

According to The Jews of Philadelphia, Their History from the Earliest Settlements to the Present Time; a Record of Events and Institutions, and of Leading Members of the Jewish Community in Every Sphere of Activity (1894); The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen (1895, Simon Wolf); and Continental Hospital Returns, 1777-1780, Moses Hammer, who is listed in several publications of early Jewish settlers in the United States, enlisted as a private in the Continental Army in November 1775 and served in the 1st Pennsylvania regiment. He later was assigned to the 2nd Regiment, in which capacity he participated in numerous engagements, including the battles of Long Island, Trenton and the Brandywine battle and retreat.

Hammer was wounded at the Battle of Paoli, aka “the Paoli Massacre,” on September 20, 1977. Following the Continental Army’s retreat in the Battle of Brandywine, General Washington left behind a force under the command of Brigadier General Anthony Wayne to monitor and resist the British as they prepared to attack and occupy Philadelphia. On the evening of September 20, the British launched a surprise attack on Wayne’s encampment near the Paoli Tavern and routed an entire American division. The battle gained notoriety not only because of great American losses, but also because of eyewitness reports that the British had bayonetted and mutilated Americans as they were attempting to surrender.

Hammer is listed as hospitalized after the massacre. Although his unit went on to fight at Germantown, Monmouth, Stony Point, Springfield and Yorktown, it is almost certain that he was too ill to participate in these battles, and by war’s end he had died.

Finally, it is fascinating to note Franklin’s great influence on contemporary Jewish thought and practice when his autobiography came to the attention of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Lefin, one of the greatest maskilim (supporters of the Jewish Enlightenment) of his time. In 1808, Rabbi Lefin adopted wholesale Franklin’s “Rules of Conduct” in his Sefer Cheshbon Hanefesh (The “Book of Spiritual Accounting”), which introduced Franklin’s method for character improvement to Hebrew-reading Jewish audiences. Franklin’s method involved thirteen behavioral traits – temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity and humility – each of which, in succession, was allotted a week of close attention and reflection.

Some Orthodox Jews, uncomfortable with the very idea that a sefer written by a maskil could receive broad rabbinic approval and become a part of the Jewish canon, have sought to write both Franklin and R. Lefin out of history. For example, a well-known poster issued by Torah Umesorah ascribes the “Thirteen Midot” (character traits) to Rav Yisrael Salanter, the great father of the mussar movement, with nary a mention of R. Lefin or Franklin.

In stark and notable contrast, Jewish institutions and publishers that uphold truth as a key Torah value reject such revisionist Jewish history; for example, in its 2015 edition of the sefer, Jerusalem’s Mossad Harav Kook acknowledges that R. Lefin’s text promoted Franklin’s methods in advancing the mussar (Jewish ethics) movement.

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Saul Jay Singer serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar and is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters. He welcomes comments at at [email protected].