Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God

“Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God” is an aphorism and proposed motto for the Seal of the United States attributed to Benjamin Franklin. It wasn’t used for its intended purpose and was appropriated by Thomas Jefferson for use on his personal seal.

Some contend that the motto comes from an epitaph written in The Pennsylvania Evening Post, December 14, 1775. However, Jefferson, who was aware of this epitaph, believed that he had first seen the motto in Franklin’s hands. The provenance of the epitaph seems somewhat shaky. It is possible that it was a hoax perpetrated by Franklin who had a long history of writing letters and articles using pseudonyms. He was capable of all sorts of mischief.

Another variation of this motto is “Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.”

References 2020. Founders Online: “Bradshaw’s Epitaph”: A Hoax Attributed To Franklin, 14 December 1775 [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 13 August 2020].

Mini-bio: Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was born on 17th January 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts Bay. He was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, and the most important revolutionary figure not to serve as president. Franklin co-signed ‘The Declaration of Independence’ and the ‘Constitution of the United States’.

It was obvious since his youth that Franklin was a highly gifted polymath. He became a renowned writer, printer, postmaster, humorist, political philosopher, politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and the first United States Ambassador to France.

Along with many of the Founding Fathers, Franklin was a Freemason, and masonic symbology can be seen across US culture – most noticeably on seals, landmarks, architecture, and currency.

Franklin’s early involvement in the campaign for colonial unity, enhanced by his roles as a diplomat, author, and spokesman, earned him the title of ‘The First American’.

He was inspired by the ‘Age of Enlightenment’, and his tireless commitment to US interests abroad contributed significantly to America’s emergence as a nation, and the respect it enjoyed in Europe.

As US Ambassador, he was a skilled diplomat admired and respected in France where he championed the development of Franco-American relations.

Franklin was a slave owner. His household had six slaves. Yet, presumably under the influence of his friend, Samuel Johnson, he had a change of heart, and in 1787 he became president of the Abolition Society. Shortly before his death, he petitioned Congress to abolish slavery. The petition was defeated in both houses of the legislature.

Franklin was one of the most famous scientists of his era. He is remembered as a pioneer in the field of physics and for his groundbreaking work in electricity. His research into the Gulf Stream altered the pattern of Atlantic navigation, reducing travel time and risk.  

Additionally, Franklin was a prolific inventor: his inventions include the Franklin Stove, lightning rod, and bifocal spectacles.

At home, Franklin was loved for his civic activism. He founded such institutions as the Union Fire Department, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the University of Pennsylvania. In his later years, Franklin also served as the 6th President (Governor) of Pennsylvania.

Benjamin Franklin died on 17th April 1790 at home in Philadelphia. He was eighty-four. 

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