6. Ben Franklin’s grave: A Memorial to an Unlikely Friendship
Benjamin Franklin’s grave gets more visitors than any other in Philadelphia. It is a fitting testimony to someone who clearly valued friendship – even friendship with a Methodist evangelist with whom he strongly disagreed on religion.
For those familiar with Ben Franklin’s colorful life it may come as a surprise that he and George Whitefield were friends. Franklin got to know Whitefield when Franklin began publishing reports about Whitefield’s large evangelistic rallies in Britain. These reports helped him sell newspapers, and Franklin soon learned that publishing Whitefield’s sermons and journal would be even more lucrative. In 1740 half of the book and pamphlet titles Franklin sold were books or pamphlets by or about Whitefield! This helped Franklin make money, and it helped Whitefield expand his evangelistic reach beyond the spoken word.
The friendship between Franklin and Whitefield, however, was bound together by more than just the desire for profit or publicity. They genuinely liked each other and became quite close over their nearly thirty-year friendship. Whitefield never saw Franklin embrace Methodism or any other form of heart-warming evangelical faith; earlier in their friendship Franklin seems to have been occasionally annoyed by Whitefield’s appeals that he follow in the Methodist way. Franklin had a more rationalistic religious understanding, but he still regularly attended Christ Church with his wife, Deborah. At the end of his life, Franklin expressed a wish to Whitefield that they could together go on an adventure to settle on the Ohio River. Without even a hint of haranguing his friend, Whitefield too expressed an eternal hope that the two of them would “be in that happy number of those who in the midst of the tremendous final blaze shall cry Amen.”