November 13, 1789 — Today, Ben Franklin penned his famous quote: “… Nothing is certain but death and taxes” in a letter to French scientist Jean-Baptiste Le Roy.
At the time, the French Revolution had been underway in earnest for several months. Franklin had not heard from Le Roy for more than a year and was concerned that he may have been killed or executed.
Written in French, Franklin’s famous maxim was used in reference to the Constitution of the United States of America, which had been adopted by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia two years earlier on September 17, 1787.
In the next to last paragraph of the letter, he noted: “My health continues much as it has been for some time, except that I grow thinner and weaker, so that I cannot expect to hold out much longer.” Five months later, on April 17, 1790, Benjamin Franklin died.
Words of Wisdom
Are you still living? Or has the mob of Paris mistaken the head of a monopolizer of knowledge for a monopolizer of corn, and paraded it about the streets upon a pole. Great part of the news we have had from Paris, for near a year past, has been very afflicting.
I sincerely wish and pray it may all end well and happy, both for the King and the nation. The voice of Philosophy I apprehend can hardly be heard among those tumults. If any thing material in that way had occurred, I am persuaded you would have acquainted me with it. However, pray let me hear from you … a year’s silence between friends must needs give uneasiness.
Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.