A Non-Recommendation Letter of Recommendation from Benjamin Franklin

Have you ever been asked to give a recommendation for a person who had little to recommend about himself? Have you found yourself in a situation where you are called upon to give a character reference for a former employee or colleague who didn’t exactly merit the highest of praise?

That is precisely the type of situation in which Benjamin Franklin found himself multiple times during his tenure as U.S. Ambassador to France (1776-1785). On one such occasion, he used his brilliant mind and unparalleled turn of a phrase to draft a (non)recommendation letter of recommendation.


The bearer of this, who is going to America, presses me to give him a letter of recommendation, though I know nothing of him, not even his name.

This may seem extraordinary, but I assure you it is not uncommon here. Sometimes, indeed, one unknown person brings another equally unknown, to recommend him; and sometimes they recommend one another!

As to this gentleman, I must refer you to himself for his character and merits, with which he is certainly better acquainted than I can possibly be. I recommend him, however, to those civilities, which every stranger, of whom one knows no harm, has a right to; and I request you will do him all the good offices, and show him all the favor, that, on further acquaintance, you shall find him to deserve.

I have the honor to be, etc.

Benjamin Franklin

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