Surely America’s most fascinating Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790 at the age of 84. Shortly before his death, he wrote a letter to Rev. Ezra Stiles, the President of Yale, summarizing his religious beliefs.
Here is my creed. I believe in one God, creator of the universe.
That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render him is doing good to his other children . . . That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. . . . As to Jesus of Nazareth. I think the system of morals and his religion . . . the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have . . . some doubts as to his divinity though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon. having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. ” He added, “I have ever let others enjoy their religious sentiments.
He was, as biographer Walter Isaacson wrote, “an apostle of tolerance.” (Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, page 468)
By most estimates, some 20,000 people attended his funeral in Philadelphia on April 21 –about half of the city’s population at the time, and the largest public gathering in America to that date.
The Library of Congress offers an extensive selection of resources on Franklin’s life and impact.