hailed as an outstanding contributor in the fields of science,
politics, and literature, was also renowned for his witty tongue
and humorous perspective on life. Here are some situations
portraying the statesman's wit and humor:
- Benjamin Franklin's experiments with
electricity brought him fame both in Philadelphia and around the
world. A crowd of gawkers once gathered outside his home, hoping to
catch a glimpse of the scientist's miraculous discoveries. The
shrewd Philadelphian decided to rid himself of the distraction by
sending a jolting, but harmless, electrical charge through the
iron-wrought fence surrounding his house. The curiosity seekers
vanished quickly, shaking their heads in disbelief.
- One time, a neighbor came to Franklin
seeking advice. The neighbor wondered how thieves could be
prevented from swiping beer contained in a keg he kept in his
backyard. The innovative inventor had a simple solution: "Put a
cask of Madeira [expensive, highly fortified wine]
beside it, " was his witty reply.
- In the Pennsylvania Gazette, a
citizen asked editor Franklin the following question: "If A
found out that his neighbor B was sleeping with his wife, was he
justified in telling B's wife, and persuading her to seek a little
revenge with A?". The editor's response: "If an kicks me,
should I kick him again?"
- While conversing with some friends at a
local Philadelphia tavern, Franklin was accosted by a drunken man
who had overheard him discussing the Declaration of Independence.
Slandering the document, the young fellow shouted at Franklin: "Aw,
them words don't mean nothing at all. Where's all the happiness the
document says it guarantees us." The quick-witted statesman
sympathetically replied, "My friend, the Declaration of
Independence only guarantees the American people the right to
pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself!"
- In 1723, Cotton Mather, Boston's most
influential minister, was entertaining the young Franklin in his
study. Mather admired Franklin's voracious appetite for knowledge.
One night, as Benjamin was taking his leave, Mather accompanied the youth through a narrow
corridor of his house. In the midst of conversation with the
minister, Benjamin suddenly heard Cotton Mather yell " Stoop!
Stoop!." However, it was too late: Benjamin slammed his head
against a beam straddling the cramped hallway. The pious Mather
never refused an opportunity to expound some good advice. He told
the young Franklin: "Let this be a Caution to you not
always to hold your head so high; Stoop, young Man, stoop-as you go
through the World-and you'll miss many hard Thumps."
Benjamin would heed this advice until the day he died.
- Edward Gibbon, the British historian and
myopic author of The
History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, refused
to have dinner with Franklin in France on account of the colonial
rebellion. In retaliation, Benjamin retorted that he would be happy
to provide "ample materials" on the decline of the British
- While living in Paris, Franklin was
enchanted by his neighbor, the widow Anne-Catherine de Ligniville,
Madame Helvetius. Franklin was attracted to her charming
personality and, in 1779 at the age of 73, he asked the
aristocratic lady to marry him. She refused, as she had other men,
due to her overwhelming devotion to her late husband, the
philosopher Monsieur Helvetius. In an attempt to have Madame
reconsider, Benjamin Franklin claimed he visited Heaven in a dream
and found Monsieur Helvetius married to his own deceased wife,
Deborah. "Come, let
ourselves," he said.
- Leaving Independence Hall in Philadelphia
after signing the United States Constitution, a young citizen
inquired: "Dr. Franklin, what kind of government did you give us? A
monarchy or a republic?" Franklin's keen response was: "A
republic, if you can keep it!" For Benjamin Franklin
understood that the responsibility of a successful republican
government belongs inherently to the people.
- Thomas Coombe, Jr., an old friend of Dr.
Franklin, visited the Franklin residence in Philadelphia
frequently. Arriving one day, Thomas discovered Benjamin wearing
only a single cap, rather than his usual double one that he wore to
keep his head warm. When Thomas inquired why, Franklin responded
that his "Head grew warm." In jest, Thomas replied, "Dr. Franklin
was never accounted hot-headed." Franklin, with his sharp wit,
insisted on having the last word and said, "Aye but nature
seems to think so, for she is taking all the Hair off my
- While serving as an American
representative in France during the American Revolution, Franklin
was told that General Howe, the British commanding officer, had
captured Philadelphia. However, Franklin, aware that maintaining
control of the city would be a great burden, replied, "I
beg your pardon, Sir, Philadelphia has taken
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