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Dear Sir, Mount Vernon, Sept. 25, 1785.
Amid the public gratulations on your safe return to America, after a long absence, and the many eminent services you have rendered it—for which as a benefited person I feel the obligation—permit an individual to join the public voice in expressing his sense of them; and to assure you, that as no one entertains more respect for your character, so none can salute you with more sincerity or with greater pleasure than I do on the occasion. I am, dear Sir, your most obedient and most humble servant,
The Hon. Dr. Franklin. G. Washington.
Soon after Dr. Franklin's arrival in Philadelphia, he was chosen a member of the supreme executive council of that city; and shortly after was elected president of the state of Pennsylvania; which honorable situation he filled the whole time allowed by the constitution, viz. three successive years.
When a general convention of the states was summoned to meet in Philadelphia, in 1787, for the purpose of giving more energy to the government of the Union, by revising and amending the articles of confederation, Dr. Franklin was appointed a delegate from the state of Pennsylvania to that convention; as such he signed the new constitution agreed on for the United States, and gave it the most unequivocal marks of his approbation.
The following Notes and Remarks, drawn up by Dr. Franklin, together with the substance of some of his Speeches in this convention, will be found of considerable interest; and on this account, as well as to show his general ideas on government, are here inserted.
Proposal For Consideration.
June 26, 1787.
That the legislatures of the several states shall choose and send an equal number of delegates, namely who are to compose the second branch of the
That in all cases or questions wherein the sovereignties of the individual states may be affected, or whereby their authority over their own citizens may be diminished, or the authority of the general government within the several states augmented, each state shall have equal suffrage.
That in the appointment of all civil officers of the general government, in the election of whom the second branch may by the constitution have part, each state shall have equal suffrage.
That in fixing the salaries of such officers, in all allowances for public services, and generally in all appropriations and dispositions of money to be drawn out of the general treasury, and in all laws for supplying the treasury, the delegates of the several states shall have suffrage in proportion to the sums their respective states had actually contributed to that treasury from their taxes or internal excises.
That in case general duties should be laid by impost on goods imported, a liberal estimation shall be made of the amount of such impost paid in the price of the commodities by those states that import but little, and a proportionate addition shall be allowed of suffrage to such states, and an equal diminution of the suffrage of the states importing.
The steady course of public measures, is most probably to be expected from a number.
A single person's measures may be good. The successor often differs in opinion of those measures, and adopts others. Often is ambitious of distinguishing himself, by opposing them, and offering new projects. One is peaceably disposed; another may be fond of war, &c. Hence foreign states can never have that confidence in the treaties or friendship of such a government, as in that which is conducted by a number.
The single head may be sick; who is to conduct the public affairs in that case ( When he dies, who are to conduct till a new election? If a council, why not continue them? Shall we not be harassed with factions for the election of successors? become, like Poland, weak from our dissensions?
Consider the present distracted condition of Holland. They had at first a Stadtholder, the Prince of Orange, a man of undoubted and great merit. They found some inconveniences, however, in the extent of powers annexed to that office, and exercised by a single person. On his death, they resumed and divided those powers among the states and cities; but there has been a constant struggle since between that family and the nation. In the last century the then Prince of Orange found means to inflame the populace against their magistrates, excite a general insurrection, in which an excellent minister, Dewit, was murdered, all the old magistrates displaced, and the Stadtholder re-invested with all the former powers. In this century the father of the present Stadtholder, having married a British princess, did, by exciting another insurrection, force from the nation a decree that the Stadtholdership should be thenceforth hereditary in his family. And now his son, being suspected of having favored England in the late war, and thereby lost the confidence of the nation, is forming an internal faction to support his power, and reinstate his favorite the Duke of Brunswick; and he holds up his family alliances with England and Prussia to terrify opposition. It was this conduct of the Stadtholder which induced the states to recur to the protection of France, and put their troops under a French, rather than the Stadtholder's German general, the Duke of Brunswick. And this is the source of all the present disorders in Holland, which if the Stadtholder has abilities equal to his inclinations, will probably after a ruinous and bloody civil war, end in establishing an hereditary monarchy in his family.
Speech of Dr. Franklin in the Convention on the subject of Salaries.
It is with reluctance that I rise to express a disapprobation of any one article of the plan, for which we are so much obliged to the honorable gentleman who laid it before us. From its first reading I have borne a good will to it, and in general wished it success. In this particular of salaries to the executive branch, I happen to differ; and as my opinion may appear new and chimerical, it is only from a persuasion that it is right, and from a sense of duty that I hazard it. The committee will judge of my reasons when they have heard them, and their judgment may possibly change mine. I think I see inconveniencies in the appointment of salaries, I see none in refusing them, but on the contrary great advantages.
Sir, there are two passions 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 factious 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 pre-eminence, 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 endeavoring to distress their administration, thwart their measures, and render them odious to the people.
Besides these evils, Sir, though we may set out in the beginning with moderate salaries, we shall find that such will not be of long continuance. Reasons will never be wanting for proposed augmentations; and there will always be a party for giving more to the rulers, that the rulers may be able in return to give more to them. Hence, as all history informs us, there has been in every state and kingdom, a constant kind of warfare between the governing and the governed; the one striving to obtain more for its support, and the other to pay less. And this has alone occasioned great convulsions, actual civil wars, ending either in dethroning of the princes or enslaving of the people. Generally, indeed, the ruling power carries its point, and we see the revenues of princes constantly increasing, and we see that they are never satisfied, but always in want of more. The more the people are discontented with the oppression of taxes, the greater need the prince has of money to distribute among his partisans and pay the troops that are to suppress all resistance, and enable him to plunder at pleasure. There is scarce a king in a hundred who would not, if he could, follow the example of Pharaoh,—get first all the people's money, then all their lands, and then make them and their children servants for ever. It will be said, that we do not propose to establish kings.—I know it.—But there is a natural inclination in mankind to kingly government. It sometimes relieves them from aristocratic domination. They had rather have one tyrant than five hundred. It gives more of the appearance of equality among citizens; and that they like. I am apprehensive, therefore,—perhaps too apprehensive,—that the government of these states, may in future times end in a monarchy. But this catastrophe, I think, may be long delayed, if in our proposed system we do not sow the seeds of contention, faction, and tumult, by making our posts of honor places of profit. If we do, I fear that though we employ at first a number and not a single person, the number will in time be set aside; it will only nourish the foetus of a king, (as the honorable gentleman from Virginia very aptly expressed it), and a king will the sooner be set over us.
It may be imagined by some that this is an Utopian idea, and that we can never find men to serve us in the executive department, without paying them well for their services. I conceive this to be a mistake. Some existing facts present themselves to me, which incline me to a contrary opinion. The high sheriff of a county in England is an honorable office, but it is not a profitable one. It is rather expensive, and therefore not sought for. But yet it is executed, and well executed, and usually by some of the principal gentlemen of the county. In France, the office of counsellor, or member of their judiciary parliaments, is more honorable. It is therefore purchased at a high price: there are indeed fees on the law proceedings, which are divided among them, but these fees do not amount to more than three per cent. on the sum paid for the place. Therefore as legal interest is there at five per cent., they in fact pay two per cent. for being allowed to do the judiciary business of the nation, which is at the same time entirely exempt from the burthen, of paying them any salaries for their services. I do not however mean to recommend this as an eligible mode for our judiciary department. I. only bring the instance to shew that the pleasure of doing good and serving their country, and the respect such conduct entitles them to, are sufficient motives with some minds to give up a great portion of their time to the public, without the mean inducement of pecuniary satisfaction.
Another instance is that of a respectable society, who have made the experiment, and practised it with success now more than a hundred years.—I mean the Quakers. It is an established rule with them that they are not to go to law, but in their controversies they must apply to their monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings. Committees of these sit with patience to hear the parties, and spend much time in composing their differences. In doing this, they are supported by a sense of duty; and the respect paid to usefulness. It is honorable to be so emVol. I. < 3 C
ployed, but it was never made profitable by salaries, fees, or perquisites. And indeed in all cases of public service, the less the profit the greater the honor.
To bring the matter nearer home, 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 smallest 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 r 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 r 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.
Sir, the saving of the salaries, that may at first be proposed, is not an object with me. The subsequent mischiefs of proposing them are what I apprehend. And therefore it is that I move the amendment. If it is not seconded or accepted, I must be contented with the satisfaction of having delivered my opinion frankly, and done my duty.
Speech of Dr. Franklin in a Committee of the Convention.
On the Proportion of Representation and Votes.
It has given me great pleasure to observe that till this point, the Proportion of Representation, came before us, our debates were carried on with great coolness and temper. If any thing of a contrary kind has on this occasion appeared, I hope it will not be repeated; for we are sent hither to consult, not to contend, with each other; and declarations of a fixed opinion and of determined resolutions never to change it, neither enlighten nor convince us. Positiveness and warmth on one side naturally beget their like on the other; and tend to create and augment discord, and division, in a great concern, wherein harmony and union are extremely necessary, to give weight to our counsels, and render them effectual in promoting and securing the. common good.
I must own that I was originally of opinion it would be better if every member of congress, or our national council, were to consider himself rather as a representative of the whole, than as an agent for the interests of a particular state, in which case the proportion of members for each state would be of less consequence, and it would not be very material whether they voted by states or individually. But as I find this is not to be expected, I now think the number of representatives should bear some proportion to the number of the represented, and that the decisions should be by the majority of members, not by the majority of states. This is objected to from an apprehension that the greater states would then swallow up the smaller. I do not fit present clearly see what advantage the greater states could propose to themselves, by swalJpwing the smaller, and therefore do not apprehend they would attempt it. I recollect that in