Abbildungen der Seite

Quakers. It is an established rule with them not to go to law; but in their controversies they must apply to their monthly, quarterly, or yearly meetings. Committees of these sit with patience to hear the parties, and spend much time in composing their differences. o In doing this, they are supported by a sense of duty, and the respect paid to usefulness. It is homourable to be so employed, but it was never made profitable by salaries, fees, or perquisites: and indeed, in all cases of public services, the less the profit the greater the honour. 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 men, his military friends and companions, and the constant anxieties peculiar to his situation ? and shall we doubt finding three or four men in 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. 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 having delivered my opinion frankly, and done my duty.



The small progress we have made after four or five weeks' close attendance and continual reasonings with each other, our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many moes 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 medels 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 mone of their constitutions suitable to our circumstances. In this situation of 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 favour: to that kind of 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 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 goverus in the affairs of men: and if a sparrow cannot fall 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 labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this ; and I also believe, without his concurring aid, we shall proceed 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 suture 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.” –



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 having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opimions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is, therefore, that 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 dif. ference 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 of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain French lady, who, in a little dispute with her sister, said, “I do not know how it happens, sister, but I meet with nobody but myself that is always in the right. Ilny a que moi qui a toujours 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 may be a blessing if well administered : and I believe farther, 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 2 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 comfounded, like those of the builders of Babylon, and that our states are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting each other's throats. Thus I consent, sir, to this constitution, 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 Vol. II. P

« ZurückWeiter »