Abbildungen der Seite

elected a mem

From some of his letters it would appear, that, when he left France, he looked upon his public life as at an end, and anticipated the enjoyment of entire tranquillity and freedom from care, after he should be again restored to the bosom of his family. In this expectation, however, he was disappointed. He had been at home but a few days, when he was ber of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania. This was a preliminary step to a higher advancement; for, when the Assembly met, in October, he was chosen President of the State, the office being equivalent to that of governor in the other States. The choice was made by the joint ballot of the Assembly and Council. Under the first constitution of Pennsylvania, no individual could serve in the Council, or hold the office of President, more than three successive years, and he was then ineligible for the four years following. Dr. Franklin was annually chosen President till the end of the constitutional term, and each time by a unanimous vote, except the first, when there was one dissenting voice in seventy-seven. This unanimity is a proof, that, notwithstanding his great age and his bodily infirmities, he fulfilled the duties of the station to the complete satisfaction of the electors.

He was apparently at ease in his private circumstances, and happy in his domestic relations. He occupied himself for some time in finishing a house, which had been begun many years before, and in which he fitted up a spacious apartment for his library. In writing to a friend, he said; "I am surrounded by my offspring, a dutiful and affectionate daughter in my house, with six grandchildren, the eldest of whom you have seen, who is now at college in the next street, finishing the learned part of his education; the others promising, both for parts and good dispositions.

What their conduct may be, when they grow up and enter the important scenes of life, I shall not live to see, and I cannot foresee. I therefore enjoy among them the present hour, and leave the future to Providence." Again, to another correspondent he wrote; "I am got into my niche, after being kept out of it twenty-four years by foreign employments. It is a very good house, that I built so long ago to retire into, without being able till now to enjoy it. I am again surrounded by my friends, with a fine family of grandchildren about my knees, and an affectionate, good daughter and son-in-law to take care of me. And, after fifty years' public service, I have the pleasure to find the esteem of my country with regard to me undiminished." Much of his time was devoted to the society of those around him, and of the numerous visiters, whom curiosity and respect prompted to seek his acquaintance. His attachments to the many intimate friends he had left in Europe were likewise preserved by a regular and affectionate correspondence, in which are manifested the same steadiness of feeling and enlarged benevolence, the same playfulness and charm of style, that are conspicuous in the compositions of his earlier years.

He was elected one of the delegates from Pennsylvania to the Convention for forming the Constitution of the United States, which met at Philadelphia in May, 1787, and continued in session four months. Although he was now in the eighty-second year of his age, and at the same time discharged the duties of President of the State, yet he attended faithfully to the business of the convention, and entered actively and heartily into the proceedings. Several of his speeches were written out and afterwards published. They are short, but well adapted to the occasion, clear, logical, and 65


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 progress 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 imag ine 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

« ZurückWeiter »