Page images

right, but found to be otherwise. . . . 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 to the people, 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 counsels are confounded like those of the builders of Babel, and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus I consent, sir, to this constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it 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. . . . I hope, therefore, for our own sakes, as part of the people, and for the sake of our posterity, that we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution, wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts and endeavors to the means of having it well administered.'

The speech had its effect, and all the members signed. Mr. Madison records, that while the last members were signing, Dr. Franklin, looking toward the President's chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few meinbers near him, that painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art, a rising from a setting sun. “I have,” said he,“ often and often in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: but now, at length, I have the happiness to know, that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”

Toward the end of the year 1788, he withdrew wholly from public life. His dreadful maladies had then reached almost the highest point of exacerbation. We may conjecture with what exemplary temper they were borne, from the following passage of one of his letters of this date to a favorite niece. You kindly inquire after my health. I have not of late much reason to boast of it. People that will live a long life, and drink to the bottom of the cup, must expect to meet with some of the dregs. However, when I consider how many terrible diseases the human body is liable to, I think myself well off that I have only three incurable ones—the gout, the stone, and old age. But, notwithstanding these, I enjoy many comfortable intervals, in which I forget all my ills, and amuse myself in reading or writing, or in conversation with friends, joking, laughing, and telling merry stories, as when you first knew me, a young man about fifty.'

DEATH, PUBLIC RECOGNITION OF SERVICES, AND CHARACTER. Franklin died on the 17th of April, 1790, about eleven o'clock at night— closing quietly,' remarks his physician, Dr. Jones, 'a long and useful life of 84 years, 3 months, and 11 days.' Dr. Rush, in communicating the events to Dr. Price, writes:— The papers will inform you of the death of our late illustrious friend, Dr. Franklin. The evening of his life was marked by the same activity of his moral and intellectual powers, which distinguished its meridian. His conversation with his family, upon the subject of dissolution, was free and cheerful. A few days before he died, he rose from his bed, and begged that it might be made up for him, so that he might die in a decent manner. His daughter told him, that she hoped he would recover, and live many years longer. He calmly replied, “ I hope not." Upon being advised to change his position in bed, that he might breathe easy, he said, “A dying man can do nothing easy.".

When the news of his death reached Congress, then sitting in New York, Mr. Madison moved a resolution which was unanimously adopted—that the members should wear the customary badge of mourning, “as a mark of veneration due to the memory of a citizen, whose native genius was not more an ornament of human nature, than his various exertions of it have been precious to science, to freedom, and to his country. The many literary and scientific societies of which he was a member recognized his decease by the most emphatic expressions of their appreciation of his genias and the value of his discoveries to mankind. The National Assembly of France, on motion of Mirabeau, seconded by Lafayette, decreed the wearing of mourning by its members, and a letter of condolence to be addressed by its President to Congress; while the civic authorities of Paris ordered a public celebration which was attended by a crowded concourse of public officers and citizens, and a eulogy was pronounced by the Abbé Fauchet.

Franklin is described, on all hands, as having been a perfectly CONSISTENT REPUBLICAN.; endowed with an extraordinary degree of civil courage ; simple in his tastes and habits; unmoved by the pomps and punctilios of society; free of all affectation and arrogance; self-possessed and confident on every occasion ; a firm believer in the power of reason, the reality of virtue, and the policy of rectitude. Tradition represents him, moreover, as warm and steady in his attachments; candid and placable in his resentments; invariably polite in his manners, and cheerful in his temper; tender in all his domestic relations; alert in discovering and patronizing merit in whatever sphere ; fond of convivial meetings, which he could enliven with an excellent song, as well as with a sprightly anecdote and a pungent apologue ; in general, rather disposed to listen than to talk, but communicative and explicit where this seemed to be wished; always intent upon some public good, and little ambitious of renown, except inasmuch as it might increase his ability of being useful to his country or to mankind. We may

add to these traits, on the same testimony, that he was never known to forget an obligation received, however small, at any distance of time, nor to overlook an opportunity of requital; that, if he practiced and inculcated, in every situation, the strictest frugality, it was not from any narrowness of spirit, but evidently from a conviction, early imbibed, of the perniciousness of the opposite vice; that he met readily all proper expenses, and bestowed his money freely and largely, as he did his time, on public institutions, and in private charities; so as fully to confirm the declaration which we read in one of his first letters to his mother— I would rather have it said of your son that he lived usefully, than that he died rich.' We have heard no voice which did not sanction the passage of his letter of January 6th, 1784, to Mr. Jay, expressed with such engaging naivetė, and evident sincerity of belief— I have, as you observe, some enemies in England; but they are my enemies as an American. I have also two or three in America, who are my enemies as a minister ; but I thank God, there are not in the whole world


who are my enemies as a man; for, by His grace, through a long life I have been enabled so to conduct myself that there does not exist a human being who can justly say, Ben Franklin has wronged me.'

Mr. Parton in his Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin thus summarizes the principal events in Franklin's career :

He established and inspired the Junto, the most sensible, useful, and pleasant club of which we have any knowledge.

He founded the Philadelphia Library, parent of a thousand libraries, an immense and endless good to the whole of the civilized portion of the United States, the States not barbarized by slavery.

He edited the best newspaper in the Colonies, one which published no libels and fomented no quarrels, which quickened the intelligence of Pennsylvania, and gave the onward impulse to the press of America.

He was the first who turned to great account the engine of advertising, an indispensable element in modern business.

He published Poor Richard, by means of which so much of the wit and wisdom of all ages as its readers could appropriate and enjoy, was brought home to their minds, in such words as they could understand and remember for ever.

He created the post-office system of America; and forbore to avail himself, as Postmaster, of privileges of which he had formerly suffered.

It was he who caused Philadelphia to be paved, lighted, and cleaned.

As fuel became scarce in the vicinity of the colonial towns, he invented the Franklin Stove, which economized it, and suggested the subsequent warming inventions, in which America beats the world. Besides making a free gift of this invention to the public, he generously wrote an extensive pamphlet explaining its construction and utility.

He delivered civilized mankind from the nuisance, once universal, of smoky chimneys.

He was the first effective preacher of the blessed gospel of ventilation.

He devoted the leisure of seven years, and all the energy of his genius, to the science of electricity, which gave a stronger impulse to scientific inquiry than any other event of that century.

He was chiefly instrumental in founding the first High School of Pennsylvania, and died protesting agaiust •the abuse of the funds of that institution in teaching American youth the languages of Greece and Rome, while French, Spanish, and German were spoken in the streets, and were required in commerce.

He founded the American Philosophical Society, the first organization in America of the friends of science.

He suggested the use of mineral manures, introduced the basket willow, and promoted the early culture of silk.

He lent the indispensable assistance of his name and tact to the founding of the Philadelphia Hospital.

Entering into politics, he broke the spell of Quakerism, and woke Pennsyl. vania from the dream of unarmed safety.

He led Pennsylvania in its thirty years' struggle with the mean tyranny of the Penns, a rehearsal of the subsequent contest with the King of Great Britain.

When the Indians were ravaging and scalping within eighty miles of Philadelphia, General Benjamin Franklin led the troops of the city against them.

He was the author of the first scheme of uniting the colonies, a scheme so suitable that it was adopted, in its essential features, in the Union of the States.

He assisted England to keep Canada, when there was danger of its falling back into the hands of a reactionary race.

More than any other man, he was instrumental in causing the repeal of the Stamp Act, and educating the Colonies up to independence, and in securing the French Alliance, by which the military power of England in America was broken.

He discovered the temperature of the Gulf stream. He discovered that North-east storms begin in the South-west. He invented the contrivance by which a fire consumes its own smoke. He made important discoveries respecting the causes of the most universal of all diseases-colds.

He pointed out the advantage of building ships in water-tight compartments, taking the hint from the Chinese.

He expounded the theory of navigation which is now universally adopted by intelligent seamen, and of which a charlatan and a traitor has received the credit.

In the Convention of 1787, his indomitable good humor was the uniting element, wanting which the Convention would not have done its work.

His last labors were for the abolition of slavery and the aid of its emanci. pated victims.

The great event in his life was his deliberate and final choice to dedicate bimself to virtue and the public good. This was his own act.

In this the person of humblest endowments may imitate hlm. From that act dates the part of his career which yielded him substantial welfare, and which his countrymen now contemplate with pleasure and gratitude. It made a man of him. It gave him the command of his powers and his resources.

It enabled him to extract from life its latent good, and to make a vast addition to the sum of good in the world.

Men have lived who were more magnificently endowed than Franklin. Men have lived whose lives were more splendid and heroic than his. If the inbabitants of the earth were required to select, to represent them in some celestial congress composed of the various orders of intelligent beings, a specimen of the human race, who could present in his own character the largest amount of human worth with the least of human frailty, and in his own lot on earth the largest amount of enjoyment with the least of suffering; one whose character was estimable without being too exceptionally good, and his lot happy without being too generally unattainable; one who could bear in his letter of credence, with the greatest truth,

This is a man, and his life on earth was such as good men may live, I know not who, of the renowned of all ages, we could more fitly choose to represent us in that high court of the universe, than Benjamin Franklin, printer. DR. FRANKLIN'S LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT. Dr. Franklin's ruling passion of doing good to his fellow men did not fail him in writing his last Will and Testament, some provisions of which have attracted much attention. The will was signed July 17, 1788, and begins thus:

I, Benjamin Franklin, printer,* late Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States to the Court of France, now President of the State of Pennsylvania, do make and declare this my last Will and Testament.

The extracts which follow are from the Codicil, dated June 30, 1789—he died April 17, 1790.

It has been an opinion that he who receives an estate from his ancestors is under some kind of obligation to transmit the same to their posterity. This obligation does not lie on me, who never inherited a shilling from any ancestor or rotation. I shall, however, if it is not diminished by some accident before my death, leave a considerable sum among my descendants and relations. The above observation is made merely as some apology to my family for my making bequests that do not appear to have any immediate relation to their advantage.

It having long been a fixed political opinion of mine that in a democratical state, there ought to be no offices of profit for the reason I had given in an article of my drawing in our Constitution, it was my intention when I ac cepted the office of President [of the State of Pennsylvania) to devote the appointed salary to some public uses. Accordingly, I had already, before I made my Will in July last, given large sums of it to colleges, schools, building of churches, &c.; and in that Will I bequeathed two thousand pounds more to the State for the purpose of making the Schuylkill navigable. [This bequest is annulled, in consideration of its insufficiency, and to make the sum more extensively useful in the way which follows.)

I was born in Boston, New England, and owe my first instructions in litera ture to the free grammar schools established there. I therefore give one hundred pounds sterling to my executors, to be by them, the survivors or survivor of them, paid over to the

managers or directors of the free schools in my native town of Boston, to be by them, or the person or persons who shall have the superintendence or management of the said schools, put out to interest. and so continued at interest forever; which interest annually shall be laid out in silver medals, and given as honorary rewards annually by the directors of the said free schools, for the encouragement of scholarship in the said schools belonging to the said town, in such a manner as to the discretion of the selectmen of the said town shall seem meet.

But I am also under obligations to the State of Massachusetts, for having, unasked, appointed me formerly their agent, with a handsome salary, which continued some years; and, although I accidentally lost in their service, by transmitting Governor Hutchinson's letters, much more than the amount of what they gave me, I do not think that ought in the least to diminish my gratitude. I have considered, that, among artizans, good apprentices are most likely to make good citizens; and having myself been bred to a manual art,

* We introduce here the famous epitaph which Franklin composed in 1729, and which although not recorded on his monument, has been read by millions who never saw his grave, or read the simple inscription



DEBORAH - on the marble stone six feet long and four wide, with only a small moulding round the upper edge, which was placed over his grave in 1790 by his executors, in pursuance of his last Will, in Christ Church burying ground on the north side of Arch Street, corner of Sixth.

The Body


(Like the cover of an old book,

Its contents torn out,
And stript of its lettering and gilding,)

Lies here, food for worms.
But the work itself shall not be lost,
For it will, as he believed, appear once more,
In a new and more beautiful edition,
Corrected and amended


The Author. 28


« PreviousContinue »