Page images

your business done, go; if not, send.' Under the inspiration of that advice, Jones went directly to headquarters at Versailles, and purchased the vessel originally built in Holland for the United States, to which he gave the name of his best friend.

The alliance between France and America was scarcely announced, when, as Franklin, had anticipated, the British ministry made the inost anxious efforts for its dissolution. They directed their attention at once to their old antagonist, as to the sentinel of the American interests, and the arbiter of any plans of reconciliation which they might propose. Their secret dread and dislike of him could be only equaled by their opinions of his stern honesty and his matchless ability. These impressions are distinguishable, in curious association, in all their proceedings. They aimed primarily at obtaining his assent to a separate peace, upon terms which should include every concession except that of independence. Some of his old friends in England, in whose integrity and moderation he was presumed to have confidence, were employed to sound and incline him; and it is not a little amusing to consider the result of this stratagem. To Mr. Hutton, the benevolent secretary of the Moravians, who went over to Paris, in the commencement of 1778, as herald and pioneer, he wrote, on the 12th of February of that year, in answer to his importunities — I never think of your ministry and abettors, but with the image strongly painted in my view, of their hands, red, wet, and dropping with the blood of my country men, friends, and relatives. No peace can be signed by those hands.'

To Mr. David Hartley, Mr. William Pulteney, Mr. Chapman, members of parliament, who were commissioned in like manner to explore and mollify his opinions, and who visited him, about this time, for the purpose, the tenor of his communications was uniformly the same :-'Get first an honest ministry; drop all your pretensions to govern us; think no more of separating us from our allies, and you will find little difficulty of making peace upon equal terms.'

When Hartley gave him a caution about his personal safety,which was really threatened, -his tone was such as might have been expected :-* I thank you for your kind caution; having nearly finished a long life, I set but little value on what remains of it. Perhaps the best use such an old fellow can be put to is to make a martyr of him.' Among the number of the emissaries that were employed to compass their projects, was Sir William Jones, who, finding all his efforts of no avail, avowed his conviction that the sturdy transatlantic yeomanry were neither to be dragooned or bamboozled out of their liberty.'


At the conclusion of the great work of peace, in November, 1782, the veteran statesman, who could then plead more than fifty years of arduous and glorious public service, earnestly requested to be released. But the Congress remained deaf to his solicitations, until the year 1785, when Mr. Jefferson was appointed to succeed him. In the interval, he negotiated and signed two treaties of amity and commerce-one with Sweden, and the other with Prussia. In the latter he introduced a provision (Article 23) that on the breaking out of a war, merchants of either country then residing in the other, shall be allowed time to collect their debts and wind up their affairs; that all women and children, scholars of every faculty, cultivators of the earth, and in general all workers for the common subsistence and benefit of mankind' shall be unmolested ;* that private property or land shall not be destroyed or seized for the use of any armed force, except for compensation; and that peaceful commerce shall continue.' This treaty, remarks Washington in a letter to Count de Rochambeau in 1786, 'marks a new era in negotiation. It is the most liberal treaty which has ever been entered into between independent powers. It is perfectly original in many of its articles, and, should its principles be considered hereafter as the basis of connection between nations, it will operate more fully to produce a general pacification than any measure hitherto attempted amongst mankind.'

His social life, during his residence in France, corresponded in brilliancy with his public career. At the village of Passy, where he had fixed his domicil, be rendered himself the idol of an elegant neighborhood; and attracted to his saloon the most distinguished members of the political and literary circles of Paris. The capital was lavish of the most refined homage to his genius and virtues; the court delighted in his presence, and may even be said to have found support, under its reverses and embarrassments, in his sanguine, facetious spirit. The king evidenced his appreciation by providing him with the Queen's litter and mules, for his journey, his malady of the stone being so severe as to disable him from bearing the motion of a carriage. “I can testify in general,' has his successor written, that there appeared to me more respect and veneration attached to the character of Dr. Franklin in France, than to that of any other person in the same country, foreigner or native.'

He passed over to Southampton in England, where he was met by a number of his English friends, embarked at the end of July,

• In this spirit he addressed his letterTo all Captains and Commanders in the Commission of the United States, to treat Capt. Cook and his people with all civility and kindness, as common friends to mankind,' &c. For this recognition of Science the Royal Society voted him a medal.

1785, for America, and entered, on the 14th of September, the harbor of Philadelphia, 'dear Philadelphia,' as he affectionately styles it in the journal of his voyage. On this passage, he made daily observations on the temperature of the sea air: he wrote, moreover, three philosophical dissertations; one on Improvements in Navigation ;' another on The Cause and Cure of Smoky Chimneys,' and a third relating to A Stove for consuming all its Smoke.' These performances, at the age of eighty, in such a situation, and under two of the severest diseases to which the human frame is liable, denote a prodigious vigor of intellect and activity of benevolence.

His fellow citizens were resolved, that he should still have, as he expresses it, “business enough to preserve him from ennui.' They made him President of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and afterward delegate to the Federal Convention of 1787. He filled the office of President for three years, the constitutional limit, and attended punctually in the Convention during the whole session.

Labors in the Federal Convention of 1787. Of the part taken by Franklin in solving several disturbing question in the Convention of 1787, Madison has presented the opinions of Franklin from notes written out by himself. He thought that the Chief Magistrate should have no pecuniary compensation—the concentration of two such motives as ambition and avarice in the struggles for that place, would in time draw into the canvass only bold and violent men, who would thus possess and pervert the government, and convert it into a monarchy.' In answer to the objection, that fit men would not be found to fill this high position without an adequate compensation—' Have we not seen the greatest and most important of our offices, that of General of our armies, executed for eight years together, without the sinallest salary, by a patriot whom I will not now offend by any other praise; and this, through fatigues and distresses, in common with the other brave men, his military friends and companions, and the constant anxieties peculiar to his station? And shall we doubt finding three or four men in all the United States, with public spirit enough to bear sitting in peaceful council, for perhaps an equal term, merely to preside over our civil concerns, and see that our laws are duly executed! Sir, I have a better opinion of our country. I think we shall never be without a sufficient number of wise and good men to undertake, and execute well and faithfully, the office in question.'

In the midst of the debates, on the relative weight to be given to the small and larger states in the constitution of government, which had occupied most of the time for two months, and had become hot and acrimonious, Franklin interposed, with some remarks, too characteristic to be omitted here, introducing a motion that thereafter their deliberations should be opened by morning prayer:

Mr. President: The small progress we have made, after four or five weeks' close attendance and continual reasonings with each other, our different senti. ments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many Noes as Ayes, is, methinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding. We, indeed, seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running all about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those republics which, having been originally formed with the seeds of their own dissolution, now no longer exist; and we have viewed modern states all round Europe, but find none of their constitutions suitable to our circumstances. In this situation this Assembly, groping, as it were, in the dark, to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for the Divine protection! Our prayers, sir, were heard; and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle, must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace, on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend ? or do we imagine we no longer need its assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proof I see of this truth: That God governs in the affairs of men! And if a sparrow can not fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, sir, in the Sacred Writings, that 'except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.' I firmly believe this; and I also believe, that without his concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the building of Babel; we shall be divided by our little partial local interests, our projects shall be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a by-word down to future ages. And, what is worse, mankind may, hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

The suggestion was not received with favor. The debates on the vexed topic continued more excited and more bitter—the representative of Delaware (Mr. Dickenson) went so far as to express a preference for a union with a foreign power, than to be deprived of an equality of representation in a national union like the one proposed. Another member exclaimed—'We have now come to a full stop.' In this emergency Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut and Dr. Franklin insisted on a compromise of an equality of votes in one house, and votes by population in the other. "The diversity of opinion,' said the latter, in his homely, familiar manner, “turns on two points. If a proportional representation takes place, the small States contend that their liberties will be in danger. If an equality of votes is to be put into its place, the large States say, their money will be in danger. When a broad table is to be made, and the edges of the planks do not it, the artist takes a little from both, and makes a good joint.' He proceeded to propose: 1, that all the States should send an equal number of delegates ; 2, that on all questions affecting the authority or sovereignty of a State, every State should have an equal vote; 3, that in acting upon appointments and confirmations, every State should have an equal vote; but, 4, on all bills to raise or expend money, every State should have a vote proportioned to its population.' The antagonism continued when the plan was referred to a committee of which Franklin was a member. Here he again distinctly proposed, 'that in the Senate, every State should have an equal representation; but in the other House, every State should have a representation proportioned to its population; and in that House all bills to raise or expend money should originate.' This suggestion, it is said by men conversant with the state of feeling in the Convention, saved the Constitution; and to it we owe the wonderful fact, that no ill feeling has ever existed in a State growing out of its superiority or inferiority in population and importance. Rhode Island and Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania, were thus made equal members of the same confederacy, without peril to the smaller, and without injustice to the larger. Of political expedients this was, perhaps, the happiest ever devised. Its success in gaining the objects aimed at has been simply perfect-so perfect that scarcely any one has remarked it. Thanks to Ellsworth and Franklin !

Franklin favored the proposition, since much discussed, fixing the Presidential term at seven years, and declaring a President ineligible for a second term. 'It seems to have been imagined,' said he, 'that returning to the mass of the people was degrading to the magistrate. This, he thought, was contrary to Republican principles. In free governments, the rulers are the servants, and the people their superiors and sovereigns. For the former, therefore, to return among the latter was not to degrade but to promote them. And it would be imposing an unreasonable burden on them to keep them always in a state of servitude, and not allow them to become again one of the masters.'

He opposed the limitations on the right of suffrage, and making distinctions between the possessors of wealth and the common people. “If honesty was often the companion of wealth, and if poverty was exposed to peculiar temptation, it was not less true that the possession of property increased the desire of more property.' 'Some of the greatest rogues he was ever acquainted with were the richest rogues. We should remember the character which the Scripture requires in rulers, that they should be men hating covetousness. This Constitution will be much read and attended to in Europe ; and if it should betray a great partiality to the rich, it will not only hurt us in the esteem of the most liberal and enlightened men there, but discourage the common people from removing to this country.'

He opposed giving the President an unqualified veto, and favored impeachment. “Where the head of the government can not be lawfully called to account for his conduct, the people have no resource against oppression but revolution and assassination.' He strongly opposed investing the President with an absolute veto, citing the conduct of the Penn governors of Pennsylvania, whose assent to the most unobjectionable bills had to be bought. He opposed the requirement of a fourteen years' residence before admitting foreigners to citizenship. He thought four years sufficient. The article upon treason, defining it to be an 'overt act,' and requiring the evidence of two witnesses to the overt act, had his emphatic approval. He took a leading and laborious part in the long debates upon the powers of the two houses of Congress; and his ideas on this difficult subject were substantially embodied in the Constitution. And when the final vote was to be cast, he said with great solemnity:

'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, baving 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

« PreviousContinue »