Benjamin Franklin? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The renowned statesman and scientist Benjamin Franklin has been credited with two variant statements about alcohol:
1) Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
2) Wine is constant proof that God loves us and likes to see us happy.
Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: Benjamin Franklin sent a letter written in French to his friend Monsieur L’Abbé Morellet (André Morellet) that discussed wine and God. In 1818 William Temple Franklin who was the grandson of Benjamin published a posthumous collection of the statesman’s letters based on the originals. The volume included the French text together with an English translation for the missive, but it did not specify the date. The “marriage in Cana” in the following referred to an event described in the Gospel of John. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2
On parle de la conversion de l’eau en vin, à la nôce de Cana comme d’un miracle. Mais cette conversion est faite tous les jours par la bonté de Dieu, sous nos yeux. Voilà l’eau qui tombe des cieux sur nos vignobles, et alors elle entre dans les racines des vignes pour-être changée en vin. Preuve constante que Dieu nous aime, et qu’il aime à nous voir heureux.
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 comment on wine was remembered and reprinted repeatedly. The phrasing evolved and was streamlined over the period of nearly two centuries since the above publication.
The variant mentioning beer appeared relatively recently circa 1996, and it was constructed by simply replacing “wine” with “beer”; hence, it was not supported by Franklin’s primordial remark.
Thanks to a forum participant at Snopes and to a volunteer editor at Wikiquote who mentioned the letter above. Also, thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who explored this topic.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1854 “Bizarre: An Original, Literary Gazette” of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania printed a different translation of the letter sent from Franklin to Morellet: 3
Behold the water which falls from the skies upon our vineyards ; there it enters into the roots of the vines to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and that he loves to see us happy.
In 1963 two Minnesotans published “Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices”. A section titled “Famous Men Had This To Say About Wine” contained a shortened and simplified version of the expression credited to Franklin: 4
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, discoverer of electricity quote, “Wine is a constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.”
In 1964 “The Cincinnati Enquirer” of Cincinnati, Ohio printed the saying as a filler item. This instance was very similar to the version in 1963, but the second “loves” was replaced by “likes”: 5
Wine is constant proof that God loves us and likes to see us happy. (Benjamin Franklin.)
In October 1986 the “Chicago Sun-Times” of Chicago, Illinois published a review of Jeff Smith’s book “The Frugal Gourmet Cooks with Wine” which included an instance that used the phrase “sure proof” instead of “constant proof”. Also, the phrase “wants us to be happy” replaced “loves to see us happy” and “likes to see us happy”: 6
Besides more than 300 recipes, Smith’s new book has several essays about wine (in history, in theology, as a medicine, and as an ingredient). It’s also peppered with quotations about wine. Ben Franklin’s indicates he not only knew how to fly a kite, but also was a bon vivant: “Wine is sure proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy!”
In 1990 “The Buffalo News” of Buffalo, New York printed an instance with “wants”: 7
In wine, said Benjamin Franklin, there is “proof that God loves us and wants to see us happy.”
In January 1996 a newspaper in Doylestown, Pennsylvania published a story about a historically significant location called Tun Tavern. The article credited Franklin with an instance of the saying containing “beer” instead of “wine”: 8
It became the first Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in North America in 1732 and more than 2 million Masons regard it as the birthplace of their organization in America as well.
Benjamin Franklin was a grand master of that lodge, and it is in Tun Tavern that he is reported to have said, “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”
In 1998 “USA Today” printed a very short instance with “beer”: 9
“Beer is proof that God loves us.” — Benjamin Franklin
In 1999 “The Cincinnati Enquirer” printed a polytheistic version of the saying within an advertisement: 10
“Wine is constant proof that the Gods love us and want to see us happy.”
– Benjamin Franklin
In conclusion, Benjamin Franklin can be credited with the passage he wrote in his letter to André Morellet as published in 1818. The popular concise modern statements evolved from Franklin’s words, but were imprecise. Franklin was writing about wine, and QI has been unable to locate substantive support for instances referring to beer.
(Great thanks to pegobry, ChrisBowen25, robbbbbb, ronanhand, BoakandBailey, and thebeernut whose inquiries and comments led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks to the volunteer Wikiquote editors and Barry Popik for their efforts. Also, thanks to Fred Shapiro who discussed this topic on March 24, 2011 at the Freakonomics website.)
- 1818, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin, Published by His Grandson, William Temple Franklin, (From the Originals), Letter from Benjamin Franklin to the Monsieur L’Abbé Morellet (no date given in text), (French with translation into English), Start Page 347, Quote Page 348 and 349, Printed for Henry Colburn, Conduit Street, London. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1819, The Posthumous and Other Writings of Benjamin Franklin: Published from the Originals by His Grandson, William Temple Franklin, Volume 1 of 2, Third Edition, Letter from Benjamin Franklin to the Monsieur L’Abbe Morellet (no date given in text), (French with translation into English), Start Page 286, Quote Page 287 and 290, Printed for Henry Colburn, Conduit Street, London. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1854 September 16, Bizarre: An Original , Literary Gazette, Volume 5, Letter from Franklin to the Abbé Morellet, Quote Page 318, Publication Office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1963, Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices by George Leonard Herter and Berthe E. Herter, Seventh Edition, Section: Wine, Beer and Liquor: Famous Men Had This To Say About Wine, Quote Page 223, Published by Herter’s Inc., Waseca, Minnesota. (HathiTrust Full View) link ↩
- 1964 May 22, The Cincinnati Enquirer, (Filler item), Quote Page 14, Column 6, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com) link ↩
- 1986 October 30, Chicago Sun-Times, Edition: Five Star Sports Final, Section: Food, Article: Jeff Smith likes to wine and dine – ‘Frugal Gourmet’ uncorks benefits of wine with food, Byline: Anne Taubeneck, Quote Page 8, Chicago, Illinois. (NewsBank Access World News) ↩
- 1990 September 24, The Buffalo News, Edition: City, Section: Lifestyles, Article: Suggestions for the Novice Wine Drinker, Byline: William Murray (News Wine Writer), Quote Page C3, Buffalo, New York. (NewsBank Access World News) ↩
- 1996 January 29, The Record (East Montgomery County Edition of The Intelligencer), Resurrecting Tun Tavern by John Corcoran (Staff Writer), Quote Page A3, Column 3, Doylestown, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1998 March 31, USA Today, Edition: Final, Article: Beer Keeper: Can you name the Sumarian goddess of beer?, Byline: Ken Stroebel, Page: ARC, Publisher: Gannett News Service, Arlington, Virginia (NewsBank Access World News) ↩
- 1999 March 7, The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Wine Lovers’ Paradise, (Quotation displayed on a drawing of a sign in an advertisement for Jungle Jim’s International Farmers Market), Quote Page 69, Column 1, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com) ↩