« ZurückWeiter »
mortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in 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 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 perhaps the most explicit declaration of his faith which is to be found anywhere in Dr. Franklin's writings.
Whatever may have been the tenor of his opinions on points of faith and doctrine, or however deficient in precision may have been the declaration just now quoted, 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 devotion. At all times he was ready to contribute liberally towards the erection of churches; and during Whitfield's several visits to Philadelphia, he not only attended his preaching, but was his intimate companion and friend, having him sometimes as a lodger in his house. 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 sceptical 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.
Still, it is deeply to be regretted that Franklin 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 careful 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.
It had long been the opinion of Franklin, that in a democratical government there ought to be no offices of profits. The first constitution of Pensylvania contained an article expressive of this sentiment, which was drafted by him. 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 Pensylvania 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 form of compensation or salaries, were not enough to defray his necessary expenses.
The speech made by him at the close of the federal convention has been much thought of on account of its moderation, liberal spirit, and practical good sense. It was as follows:
“Mr. President, - confess that I do not entirely approve of this constitution at present; but, Sir, I am not sure I shall never approve of 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 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, and the Church of England never in the wrong.' But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain French lady, who, in a little dispute with her sister, said, 'I don't know how it happens, sister, but I meet with nobody but myself who is always in the right'-Il n'y a que moi qui a toujour 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 might 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 desertion 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 Babel, and that our States are on the point of separation only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting each others throats.
“ Thus I consent, Sir, to this 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 partizans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and therefore lose all the salutary effects and great advantages resulting naturally in our favour among foreign nations, as well as among ourselves from our real 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.
Dr. Franklin's third and last year's service as President of Pensylvania. expired in October, 1788. After that time he held no public office, although he was often consulted on public measures.
Though he had every reason to be well satisfied with the reception he met on his final return to the United States from his fellow-citizens, he
was by no means with the general government. Indeed, his sensibility appears to have been touched by the neglect of Congress to settle his accounts or even to notice in any way his long and faithful services to the public. Before he left France, bis pecuniary transactions were examined in detail by Mr. Barclay, the commissioner appointed by Cougress to liquidate and settle the accounts of the agents of the United States who had been intrusted with the expenditure of public money in Europe. The result of Mr. Barclay's examination differed from Dr. Franklin's statement only about six cents, which sum by mistake he had overcharged. Mr. Barclay was ready to settle the accounts as they then stood, but the Doctor requested that they might be submitted to the inspection of Congress, because he believed there were some other charges which ought properly to be paid by the public, but which Mr. Barclay did not feel authorized by his instructions to allow. The accounts were accordingly kept open and transmitted to Congress. After waiting a long time without hearing anything on the subject, Franklin wrote to the president, containing an earnest request that the business might be taken up and considered; the pretence for the delay being that necessary documents were expected from France, although the vouchers had all been examined by Mr. Barclay.
“ It is now more than three years,” said Franklin, “ that these accounts have been before that honourable body, and to this day no notice of any such objection has been communicated to me. But reports have, for some time past, been circulated and propagated in the newspapers, that I am greatly indebted to the United States for large sums that had been put into my hands, and that I avoid a settlement. This, together with the little time one of my age may expect to live, makes it necessary for me to request earnestly, which I hereby do, that the Congress would be pleased, without further delay, to examine those accounts, and if they find therein any article or articles, which they do not understand or approve, that they would cause me to be acquainted with the same, that I may have an opportunity of offering such explanations or reasons in support of them as may be in my power, and then that the accounts may be finally closed. I hope the Congress will soon be able to attend to this business for the satisfaction of the public, as well as in condescension to my request.”
This act of justice was not rendered. The accounts were never settled, nor was any allowance made for what he conceived to be equitable demands for extraordinary services.
At the time we speak of Franklin was seldom free from acute bodily pain.
Yet, during short intervals of relief, he wrote several pieces which exhibited proofs that his mind never acted with more vigour, nor maintained a more cheerful or equitable tone. He also drew up a “Plan for improving the Condition of the Free Blacks.” Indeed, his last public act was to sign, as president, a memorial from the Abolition Society of Pensylvania to Congress; and the last paper which he wrote was on the same subject. It has been already introduced in the present small volume, being an ingenious parody of a speech of Mr. Jackson, a member of Congress from Georgia, who was in favour of negro slavery, In this clever piece Sidi Mehomet Ibrahim is represented as addressing the Divan of Algiers, against granting the petition of a sect called Erika, who prayed for the abolition of piracy and slavery, as being unjust. in the pretended speech of Ibrahim, the same principles were advanced, and the same arguments were used in defence of plundering and enslaving Europeans, that had been urged by Mr. Jackson in his justification of negro slavery. It is dated only twenty-four days before the author's decease; and as a specimen of happy conception and sound reasoning, it is not inferior to any of his writings.
THE DEATH BED.
Franklin had become subject to the stone as well as the gout, and this combination of disorders at last increased rapidly in virulence. In the spring of the year 1790, he felt that the termination of his career was drawing near; but he was no way dismayed at the prospect of dissolution. Dr. Price, a gentleman in England, in writing to a friend in America, on the subjeet of Franklin's last illness, gives some account of the nature of the pbilosopher's feelings at this important period. Franklin,” says he, “in the last letter I received from bin, after mentioning his age and infirmities, observed that it has been kindly ordered by the Author of Nature, that, as we draw nearer to the conclusion of life, we are furnished with more helps to wean us from it, amongst which one of the strongest is the loss of dear friends."
It was in the beginning of April that a very material change in Franklin's health became observable, being then assailed by fever, and a severe pain in the breast. From that time he was constantiy under the care of