This article, which thoroughly documents the history of the transparent fraud known as the Franklin "Prophecy", appeared almost forty-five years ago in the April-May 1954 issue of Facts, a publication of the Anti-Defamation League. At the time, the authors wrote "This 20-year-old anti-Semitic hoax is circulating again." Today, more than sixty-five years after it was manufactured, the "Prophecy" it is still circulating, a staple of anti-Semitic propaganda. It can be found on a number of web sites maintained by haters and hate-groups. The article is, therefore, still timely and instructive
Another anti-Semitic hoax on history, of a piece with that incredible forgery, The Protocols of The Learned Elders of Zion, but not as widely distributed nor as successful in creating the pogrom atmospheres that were the achievements of the Protocols, is a speech attributed to Benjamin Franklin during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The anti-Semitic movement, which founded the hoax, calls it the Franklin Prophecy — ascribing to Franklin a dire warning that unless Jews were expelled from the new nation by Constitutional decree they would ultimately immigrate in great numbers to the detriment of the Christian population.
Of course, no such speech was ever made. But the hoaxers sought to impart an aura of historical credibility to the fake by claiming that the speech is quoted in a "private diary" of Charles Pinckney, Revolutionary leader who was delegate from South Carolina to the Constitutional Convention. They also maintain that the diary is now in the possession of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, a bald lie which Henry Butler Allen, director of the Institute, has often refuted. Allen says that "historians and librarians have not been able to find [the diary] or any record of it having existed."
A copy of the forgery was anonymously circulated through the mails this month [May 1954] on stationery captioned WAR DEPARTMENT, OFFICE OF THE CHIEF OF STAFF. The envelope bore a May 3 postmark from Atlanta, Ga. This is the latest in a series of recent incidents that suggest another revival of the Prophecy. A copy was picked up earlier this year at a Tampa, Fla., bus stop, and there have been recent distributions of it in Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Alabama.
The Franklin Prophecy was first published in February, 1934, in William Dudley Pelley’s publication, Liberation. (In 1942 Pelley was convicted of sedition and given a 15-year sentence.) The following is the most common version of the faked speech:
The Uses of the "Prophecy"
For more than two decades the Prophecy has been circulated throughout the United States. In the 1930's it was disseminated by chain letters. Printed copies of the spurious speech were placed in trains, buses, railway stations and similar public places. It appeared in the propaganda press and broadcasts of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, and a version was included in the 1935 edition of Handbucb der Judenfrage (Handbook On The Jewish Question), a political tome by Theodor Fritsch, first written several decades earlier, that became a Nazi bible.
Such anti-Semitic groups as Chicago’s We The Mothers Mobilize For America exploit the Prophecy as part of their stock-in-trade. Gerald L. K. Smith and other anti-Semitic propagandists continue to argue its authenticity [The Cross and The Flag, Dec., 1952]. In recent years reprints of it have appeared in Mrs. Lyrl Van Hyning’s Women’s Voice [July 31, 1952] and Harry William Pyle’s Political Reporter [July, 1953]. This month [May,1954] it was a feature of an anti-Semitic publication, The Point, put out by Father Leonard Feeney, the excommunicated priest, and his group at St Benedict’s Center in Cambridge, Mass.
Documenting a Fraud
The fraudulent nature of the Prophecy -- and the fact that anti-Semitism was foreign to Franklin’s behavior — has been substantially documented by eminent historians. The late Charles A. Beard reported, "I cannot find a single original source that gives the slightest justification for believing that the Prophecy is anything more than a barefaced forgery. Not a word have I discovered in Franklin’s letters and papers expressing any such sentiments against the Jews as are ascribed to him by the Nazis — American and German. His well-known liberality in matters of religious opinion would, in fact, have precluded the kind of utterances put in his mouth by this palpable forgery . . . In his writings on immigration, Franklin made no mention of discrimination against Jews."
Beard also noted that "the phraseology of the alleged Prophecy is not that of the 18th century; nor is the language that of Franklin. It contains certain words that belong to contemporary (Nazi) Germany rather than America of Franklin’s period. For example, the word ‘homeland’ was not employed by Jews in Franklin’s time. It was created in connection with the Palestine mandate." Beard also showed "positive evidence" that Franklin held Jews in high regard, citing the instance when the Hebrew Society of Philadelphia sought to raise money for a synagogue in Philadelphia. Franklin signed the petition of appeal for contributions to "citizens of every religious denomination" and gave 5 pounds himself to the fund.
J. Henry Smythe, Jr., compiler of The Amazing Benjamin Franklin, has characterized the Prophecy as "a counterfeit," adding it was a "libel of the Jewish race, unjust both to Jews and to the name and fame of Benjamin Franklin. I have investigated this calumny and find no historical basis." Julian P. Boyd, librarian of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, made the same evaluation, and John Clyde Oswald of the International Benjamin Franklin Society noted that "the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were secret. No official record was kept but a great deal of information has been accumulated and pieced together, giving a fairly good picture of what transpired. Franklin was then 81 years of age and in poor health. He took an active part in the proceedings but made his contributions to the deliberations not orally, but in written memoranda, which he handed to this friend, James Wilson, another member of the Philadelphia delegation, who sat by him and who read them to the Convention. They have been preserved and the collection is believed to be complete..."
The late Carl Van Doren, a biographer of Benjamin Franklin made this report:
This report originally appeared in the April-May 1954 issue of Facts, a publication of the Anti-Defamation League
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