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Final Speech of Dr. Franklin in the late Federal Convention*.
Mr. President, 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 opinions, 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 judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men, indeed, as well as most sects in religion, think themseves in possession of all truth, and that whenever others difer 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 that is always in the right. Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison. In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this constitution with all its faulls, 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 currupted 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 interest, 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 Babylon, and that our states are on the point of separation, ony to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting each other's throats.
* From the American Museum, vol. II. p. 558. Editor.
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 opinion 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 be has had to it, and endeavour to gain partisans, in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects and great advantages resulting naturally in our favour among foreign nations, as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. Much of the VOL. lll.
strength and efficiency of any government, in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends or 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 part of the people, and for the sake of our posterity, we shallacı 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, & ca which was agreed to, and added accordingly.]