The sun of liberty is set; you must light up the candle of industry and economy.

I've seen this quote in various places, cited simply as "a correspondence". Looking for more context, I only find:

In a letter on the Stamp Act, written from London, July 11, 1765, Franklin said, “Idleness and pride tax with a heavier hand than kings and parliaments: if we can get rid of the former, we may easily bear the latter.” He also wrote on the same subject: “The sun of liberty is set: you must light up the candle of industry and economy.”

What did Ben Franklin mean by this? Context or justified interpretation is appreciated. I'm mainly interested in his thoughts on liberty in this regard.


2 Answers 2


Part of the problem here is that you have a garbled quote. This is from Botta's book on the Revolution which, believe it or not, was the primary source for many histories on the Revolution for over a hundred years, even though Botta was an Italian, it was written in Italian and the author had never even been to America. The book is actually pretty good, but is filled with fractured quotes and apocryphal information. Here is the real letter that Franklin wrote:

....Depend upon it, my good friend, that every possible step was taken to prevent the passage of the Stamp Act. But the tide was too strong against us. The nation was provoked by American claims of Independence, and all parties joined in resolving by this act to settle the point. We might as well have hindered the sun's setting. But since it is down, my friend, and it may be long ere it rises again, let us make as good a night of it as ve can. We may still light candles. Frugality and industry will go a great way towards indemnifying us. Idleness and pride tax with a heavier hand than kings and parliaments. If we can get rid of the former, we may easily bear the latter. Our country produces, or is capable of producing, all the necessaries of life; the wasting superfluities come from hence. Let us have but the wisdom. 'to be content for a while with our own, and this country will soon feel, that its loss, in point of commerce, is infinitely more than its gain in taxes.

Extract of a letter from a North American (Dr. Franklin) to his friend in America (Charles Thomson,) dated July 11, 1765

As you can see Botta botched the quote and took it out of context. The metaphor is that stopping the Stamp Act was as impossible as stopping the sun from setting. This then becomes an ongoing metaphor for inevitable British policy.

Franklin was not shy about chiding native Americans for being punch-swilling layabouts and prancing posers. The British made the same sorts of criticisms. For example, take the song Yankee Doodle:

Yankee Doodle went to town a-riding on a pony, Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni!

The British taxes in many cases were pretty small taxes and it was more pride that made the Americans get angry about them the monetary effect.

Franklin felt that the Revolution was brewing because Americans were scape-goating Britain, when in fact it was their own laziness that was the reason for their economic problems.

  • 2
    Interesting, thanks for clarifying the quote. So to reiterate: Franklin was suggesting that liberty is out of the question the way American's sought it as they scape-goated Britain, and really the useful next step to get some light was to become more self-sufficient in industry and economy.
    – cr0
    Apr 18, 2016 at 13:27
  • Also not sure why someone gave this a downvote - what's wrong with the answer?
    – cr0
    Apr 18, 2016 at 13:28

Franklin meant that the Stamp Tax had eroded part of Americans' economic "liberty." But they could make up for it through the "candles" of "industry" (hard work), and "economy" (savings).

This is explained by the letter you cited: "if we get rid of the former [idleness and pride], we my easily bear the latter [taxes]."

  • Sources would improve this answer.
    – MCW
    Jun 9, 2017 at 13:34
  • @MarkC.Wallace: I treated it like an etymology question, and defined the key terms in present-day English. I did add another line to refer back to the OP's own source. The OP did refer to "justified interpretation" which is what I provided. To paraphrase you from another question " To put my comment another way, I think that OP is really asking who are Whigs and Tories? – Mark C. Wallace," I think the OP was asking what are the former and the latter.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 9, 2017 at 14:28

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