27 Jan 2010 @ 3:04 PM 

Benjamin Franklin and what he didn’t say about beer.


The sentiment is right, but the quote is wrong. I know it’s popular, and I’m really trying to inform rather than criticize, but:

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. — Ben Franklin

He never said it. I’m sorry. I know that this flies in the face of half of the t-shirts you’re going to walk by at the next beer festival you’re at, and even disagrees with the myriad of posters, signs, banners, inscriptions, murals, and frescoes you’ll see at breweries across the country, but it’s just not right.

What he said is basically the same sentiment, but Ben Franklin, as near as I can tell, wasn’t much of a beer drinker (not that I’m much of a historian). You can go read it for yourself, if you need to, but here’s the correct quote, in full:

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, and which incorporates itself with the grapes 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.

See? No beer. I mean, sure.. you can put “grain” in there instead of “grapes”, “fields” instead of “vineyards” and change “wine” to “beer”, but if you’re really looking for heavenly beer miracles, the wedding at Cana ain’t it. Instead, look for St. Brigid of Ireland who turned her bathwater into beer to nourish a leper colony. Fun, if disgusting.

Here’s another interesting excerpt from Ben Franklin’s autobiography (in fact, one of the only spots in his autobiography that mentions beer at all, thank you Google Books), in which he’s discussing working at a printing house in London:

At my first Admission into this Printing House, I took to working at the Press, imagining I felt a Want of 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 50 in number, were great Guzzlers of Beer. On occasion I carried up & down Stairs a large Form of Types in each hand, when others carried but one in both Hands. They wonder’d to see from this & several Instances that the water-American as they call’d me was stronger than themsleves 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.

Not to say that ol’ Ben was a teetotaler by any stretch of the imagination, but I don’t get the impression that he was necessarily waxing eloquent about beer in any great length. Given the time that he spent in France, wine certainly seems much more his speed.

So, there. Now you can live in the joy of the sentiment (God provides rain which naturally turns into wonderful fermented beverages for us), without living in ignorance (Ben was a CHUGGAH! It’s all about the Benjamin’s bayy-beeeee!). You’re welcome.

Tags Tags: , ,
Categories: history, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 27 Jan 2010 @ 04 04 PM


Responses to this post » (17 Total)

  1. christopher says:

    Its interesting that Mr Franklin found overindulgence in beer detestable but overindulgence in myriad women as the other proof god loves us and wants us to be happy.

  2. erik says:

    One has to have their standards, after all.

  3. Scott says:

    Thanks for ruining the sign hanging in my kitchen, you killjoy!

  4. Zythophile says:

    The story about St Brigid and the bathwater may not be all it seems, either, as I suggested

    • erik says:

      Yeah – agreed. I mean, not only is there a ton of variations on it, there’s also the fact that she wasn’t originally a “saint” but a re-write into Christianity when they came through Ireland.

      Still – most of the stories you hear at least tend to involve beer. Personally I like the lake of beer over the bathtub, but the bathtub was the easiest reference for this column.

  5. Nate says:

    Yeah, Mike burst my bubble a long time ago on this one. When people say it, I just grin and keep quiet…opening their eyes to the historical truth just feels too much like telling my kids Santa was a bishop who died in the 4th century.

  6. erik says:

    To be fair, the idea of an undead bishop delivering presents once a year is pretty awesome. Very Jack Skellington.

  7. Jane says:

    I prefer “Malt does more than Milton can/ To justify God’s ways to man”.

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  8. Big Tex says:

    I am saddened. 😉 Nevertheless, it’s a quote that henceforth should be attributed to me. 😉

  9. I told a guy that he didn’t say it. Still, the spirit of it is spot on. It’s a bit like George Washington and the Cherry tree. It didn’t happen but it served to stress his honesty. So, I think we agree there. It’s funny to see his Deistic leanings on miracles as a subtext to his attributed statement. Just thought I’d point that out, too.

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