The Printer and the Preacher by Randy Petersen
In the middle of the 18th century, Ben and George were the two most famous men in the colonies.
Many volumes have been written about both of them individually. This book, “The Printer and the Preacher,” is the particular story, with some educated speculation, about their personal relationship. Dozens of historical sources are cited in the piecing together of this narrative.
Franklin was a printer with a lifelong purpose to improve himself and society. His clever and insightful writing in newspapers, pamphlets, and Poor Richard’s Almanac brought him great fortune and fame.
Whitefield was an itinerant preacher of the Biblical born-again message, traveling throughout the colonies, mainly preaching outdoors to crowds, often numbered in the thousands. He is the prime “mover” in the historic Christian revival known as “The Great Awakening.” It is estimated that he personally preached to well over half of the residents of the 13 Colonies. As a result, hundreds of thousands of conversions shaped American society in its founding years.
Franklin personally resisted Whitefield’s attempts to “convert him,” but he was a champion of the beneficial effects of the preacher’s message and the improvements it rendered in society. Franklin had been raised in a Puritan family, knew the Bible well, and was an admirer of the principles of hard work and honesty of the Puritan ethic. He did believe in God and the afterlife.
Whitefield’s preaching to large crowds in many places was big news, so many of his events and sermons were covered extensively in most or all newspapers and none more than those of Franklin’s multi-city syndicate.
Whitefield had supporters and critics. Franklin was a savvy businessman, so printing both sides produced great wealth for both men. Whitefield’s goal was not personal wealth, but that is what happened. Whitefield founded an orphanage in Georgia and used much of his money to support that endeavor.
Over the years of their personal and business interactions, their friendship deepened, and both men wrote of their love and great respect for each other. With good reason, many regard them as the two most significant Founding Fathers of these United States.
This book is not written as a scholarly thesis but rather as a story-style synthesis and evaluation of their mutually beneficial relationship. The author makes no attempt to hide his support for the born-again message, applauds Franklin’s discipline and integrity, and is supportive and critical of both men as he sees it.
The basis of their different viewpoints, the exercise of personal ethics from personal strength, vs. a surrender to God “from whence cometh my help,” is still, 270 years later, ever-present and central to the ongoing American experiment.