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persuasive. He never pretended to the accomplishments of an orator or debater. He seldom spoke in a deliberative assembly except for some special object, and then briefly and with great simplicity of manner and language.
After the members of the convention had been together four or five weeks, and made very little gress in the important work they had in hand, on account of their unfortunate differences of opinion and disagreements on essential points, Dr. Franklin introduced a motion for daily prayers.
“ In the beginning of the contest with Britain,” said he, “ 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 his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time; and, the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. And, if a sparrow cannot 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 builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little, partial, local interests, our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a by-word down to fu
ture 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. I therefore beg leave to move, that henceforth prayers, imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business; and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.” The motion was not adopted, as “the convention, except three or four persons, thought prayers unnecessary.”
These remarks afford some insight into Dr. Franklin's religious sentiments. A good deal has been said on this subject, and sometimes without a due degree either of knowledge or charity. When Dr. Stiles, President of Yale College, questioned him about his religious faith, he replied as follows, only five weeks before his death; “I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe ; that he governs it by his Providence ; that he ought to be worshipped; that the most acceptable service we can render to him is doing good to his other children; that the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points of all sound religion, and I regard them as you do, in whatever sect I meet with them. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw, or is like to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity ; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it."
This is the most explicit declaration of his faith, which is to be found anywhere in his writings; and, although it is not very precise, yet it is far from that cold and heartless infidelity, which some writers have ascribed to him, and for which charge there is certainly no just foundation.
Whatever may have been the tenor of his opinions on points of faith and doctrine, there are many evidences of his reverence for religion and for the institutions of Christianity. In early life, he composed a little book of prayers, which he was in the habit of using in his devotions. At all times he was ready to contribute liberally towards the erection of churches; and, during Whitefield's several visits to Philadelphia, he not only attended his preaching, but was his intimate companion and friend, having him sometimes as a lodger at his own house. Such was not the society, that an irreligious man would be likely to seek. In a letter of advice to his daughter, it was his solemn injunction, that she should habitually attend public worship. He wrote a Preface to an abridged edition of the Book of Common Prayer, in which he speaks impressively of the obligation and benefits of worship and other religious observances. When a skeptical writer, who is supposed to have been Thomas Paine, showed him in manuscript a work written against religion, he urged him earnestly not to publish it, but to burn it; objecting to his arguments as fallacious, and to his principles as poisoned with the seeds of vice, without tending to any imaginable good. It should, moreover, be observed, that no parts of Dr. Franklin's writings are hostile to religion ; but, on the contrary, it is the direct object of some of them to inculcate virtue and piety, which he regarded not more as duties of great moment in the present life, than as an essential pre
paration for the wellbeing of every individual in a future state of existence.
It is deeply to be regretted, that he did not bestow more attention than he seems to have done on the evidences of Christianity ; because there can be little doubt, that a mind like his, quick to discover truth and always ready to receive it, would have been convinced by a full investigation of the facts and arguments adduced in proof of the Christian revelation ; and especially because the example of such a man is likely to have great influence with others. Yet, when one expresses this regret, or censures this indifference, it behoves him to exercise more justice and candor than have sometimes been used, in representing what he actually believed and taught.
It had long been an opinion of Dr. Franklin, that in a democratical government there ought to be no offices of profit. The first constitution of Pennsylvania contained an article expressive of this sentiment, which was drafted by him. One of his speeches in the national convention was on the same subject. “There are two passions,” said he, “which have a powerful influence in the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice; the love of power and the love of money. Separately, each of these has great force in prompting men to action ; but, when united in view of the same object, they have in many minds the most violent effects. Place before the eyes of such men a post of honor, that shall at the same time be a place of profit, and they will move Heaven and earth to obtain it. The vast number of such places it is, that renders the British government so tempestuous. The struggles for them are the true source of all those factions, which are perpetually dividing the nation, distracting its councils, hurrying it sometimes into fruitless and mischievous
wars, and often compelling a submission to dishonorable terms of peace. And of what kind are the men that will strive for this profitable preëminence, through all the bustle of cabal, the heat of contention, the infinite mutual abuse of parties, tearing to pieces the best of characters? It will not be the wise and moderate, the lovers of peace and good order, the men fittest for the trust. It will be the bold and the violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits. These will thrust themselves into your government, and be your rulers. And these, too, will be mistaken in the expected happiness of their situation ; for their vanquished competitors, of the same spirit, and from the same motives, will perpetually be endeavouring to distress their administration, thwart their measures, and render them odious to the people.” He thought the pleasure of doing good by serving their country, and the respect inspired by such conduct, were sufficient motives for true patriots to give up a portion of their time to the public, without a pecuniary compensation beyond the means of support while engaged in the service. In his own case, he had an opportunity of putting these principles in practice. All the money he received as President of Pennsylvania for three years he appropriated to some object of public utility; and, if the whole fifty years of his public life are taken together, it is believed that his receipts, in the form of compensation or salaries, were not enough to defray his necessary expenses.
The speech made by him at the close of the convention has been commended for its moderation, liberal spirit, and practical good sense. In the concluding part of that speech he says, “I consent to this constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not