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Dr Franklin chosen member of supreme council at Philadelphia; and pre,
sident of the state. Assists in the convention for the revision of the federal constitution--His opinions respecting the apportionments of taxes; divesting high officers of salaries, &c.-First speech in the convention --Resigns the presidency, and retires from public business.-Feels himself ungratefully treated by the United States' government.--Sketch of his services.President of various societies for the diffusion of political and scientific knowledge.-Opposes the slave-trade. Attacked by his final illness. Dies.-Honourable funeral.--His epitaph.-Will.-Eulogium on bis character.-His writings.-His claim to the parable on persecution discussed. -Summary of his character.
Dr FRANKLIN was now chosen member of the supreme executive council at Philadelphia, and a little afterwards president of the state of Pennsylvania. The latter honourable office he held for three years, the full period to which he could hold it by the constitution of the state.
While he filled the Pennsylvanian chair of government, the whole of the constitution of the United States came under revision, and Dr Franklin had the honour and happiness to shed the ripened fruits of his long experience upon the early institutions of his country. A general convention of the States of the Union were summoned to meet in Philadelphia, in the Autumn of 1787, no one taking a more active part in its debates than our enlightened sage, who was perhaps, at this time, one of the most confirmed and truly philosophical republicans in the world. He saw and admitted the natural inclination of mankind to monarchical institutions, yet avowed his preference in the choice of evils to “ one tyrant rather than five hundred,” and no man was more averse from the the domination of an ignorant populace. * He ar
In confirmation of this he expressed in February, 1788, after the close of these debates, bis decided conviction that while America was at that time much afraid of giving her governors too much authority, she was much more in danger from the little obedience of the governed.
gued that the wisest individual at the head of a government may be physically incapable of exercising it. “Who then,” said he, "are to supply his place ? If a council, why might they not be permanent ? That one individual's government may be excellent; his successor's, even in an elective government, the reverse. Dne studies the arts of peace, another is ambitious of making some alterations internal or external, or of distinguishing himself in war.” He seems to have seen, however, that hereditary monarchy had been historically a good practical refuge from bloody civil wars, and actually predicted in this year (1787), that the dissensions then agitating in the states of Holland would terminate, as we have seen it, in this form of government. The first of his suppositions has also since his time, we know, been singularly realized in the history of the British monarchy.
With Dr Franklin seems to have originated the idea of apportioning the direct taxes according to the population of each of the states of the union. He also suggested, that in fixing the salaries of the civil officers of the general government, and in the passing of all laws for supplying and disposing of the funds of the general treasury, each state should have suffrage in proportion to the sum it contributed to the treasury.
But Dr Franklin made one of his best public speeches in the convention, on the subject of with'holding all salaries from places of high honour and trust under the executive government. He contended that the happiness of doing good, and serving a good country, would be sufficient motives for undertaking these offices with good and proper men; that the high sheriff in England, and the counsellor, a member of the judiciary parliament in France, as well as several other most honourable offices of the magistracy, were without emolument in both countries; and that the Quakers of the union settled all the pecuniary disputes of their people without fee or reward. Amongst wise and honourable men, indeed, he apprehended that
the less the profit of such noble occupations, the greater the honour.
We cannot wonder that his motion was negatived. It was the least practical, in our judgment, of any of his public propositions. Affording no salary to any of the higher offices of state, would have rendered it a duty of many able professional men of small fortunes to refuse them. If such offices, besides, are to exist at all, they cannot be divested of the temptations of which our legislator was jealous. All high offices will command large sums of money, and large numbers of monied men. If the high sheriff of England obtain personally no emolument, the office of undersheriff, who, in fact, performs all the efficient duties of his superior, is eagerly sought after upon this very principle. Franklin's own plan, therefore, would have contained the evils he opposed, with the additional one of supplying a strong temptation to hypocrisy amongst all his honest servants of the people.
After deliberation and discussion, however, had been fairly applied to this and other subjects of their meeting, noble efforts for unanimity appear to have been made by the assembled deputies. The following was the speech of the truly great man of whom we are writing, at the close of its deliberations. “ Mr. PresidENT,
“I CONFESS that I do not entirely approve of this constitution* at present; but, Sir, I am not sure I shall never approve it: for, having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is, therefore, that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men, indeed, as well as most sects in religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that whenever others differ from them, it is so far error.—Steel, a protestant, in a dedication, tells the pope, that “the only difference between our two churches, in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines, is, the Romish church is infallible, aud vky vhowwal D- - -though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as that of their sect, few expstw it we maturally as a certain French lady, who, in a little dispute with her sister, said, "I dont know how it happens, sister, but I meet with nobody but myself that is always in the right." Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison. In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this constitution, with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing, if well administered ; and I believe, further, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other. I doubt, too, whether any other convention we can obtain may be able to make a better constitution: for when you assemble a number of men, to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected ? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection'as it does ; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded, like those of the builders of Babylon, and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting each other's throats.
• In our appendix No.7 will be found the seven important Articles which formed the first constitution of the United States of America, and the amend
ments which have been since added.
“ Thus I consent, Sir, to this constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that this is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors
I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us, in returning to our constituents, were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavour to gain
c.1-, v egla puuveiit ius being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects and great advantages resulting naturally in our favour among foreign nations, as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. Much of the strength and efficiency of any government, in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends on opinion; on the general opinion of the goodness of that government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its governors.
“I hope, therefore, that for our own sakes, as a part of the people, and for the sake of our posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this constitution, wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts and endeavours to the means of having it well administered.
“On the whole, Sir, I cannot help expressing a wish, that every member of the convention, who may still have objections, would with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility, and, to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.” · [The motion was then made for adding the last formula, viz.“ Done in Convention, by the unanimous consent,” &c. which was agreed to, and added accordingly.]
In October, 1788, Dr Franklin having completed the full term of his presidency, vacated with the Pennsylvanian government, all further share in the public business of his country, and he tells his friend, the duke de la Rochefoucault, that it is now his purpose to complete his personal history. This, however, was never brought down by himself beyond his fiftieth year. It will be seen that we have availed ourselves