FACT CHECK: Did Benjamin Franklin Say, ‘We Are All Born Ignorant, But One Must Work Hard To Remain Stupid’?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

A viral image posted on Facebook alleges that founding father Benjamin Franklin once said, “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”

Verdict: False

There is no evidence that Franklin ever made this statement.

Fact Check:

This meme uses the quote to insult Donald Trump’s intelligence, pairing it with a photo of the president and a caption that reads, “The hardest working man in America.”

The alleged quote has been attributed to Franklin, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and one of the nation’s most prominent founders, countless times online. However, there is no evidence that he ever made this statement. A search of Franklin’s collected works turned up nothing similar.

“I’ve never run across it. Doesn’t sound like Franklin to me,” H.W. Brands, historian and author of “The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin,” told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email. (RELATED: Did Benjamin Franklin Say This Quote About Avoiding Tyranny?)

In its current form, the expression has only been circulating in print since 1999, according to etymologist Barry Popik.

Variations of the quote, however, date back much further. The saying resembles the words of 18th century French philosopher Claude Adrien Helvétius, for example. In his “A Treatise on Man,” Helvetius writes, “Man is born ignorant; he is not born a fool; and it is not even without labour that he is made one.”

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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