Benjamin Franklin, On the Constitution

Benjamin Franklin, Speech on the Constitution, September 17, 1787.Edit

As the Constitutional Convention was closing and the delegates prepared to return to their home states for the ratification process, Benjamin Franklin delivered this speech at the close of the convention, asking the delegates to support the Constitution as written, regardless of their views on various parts, rather than re-open the controversy in each ratifying state.
The Speech Edit

Mr. President.

[1] 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 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 wherever others differ from them it is so far Error. Steele, 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 Church of Rome is infallible, and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But tho' 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 don't know how it happens, Sister, but I meet with no body but myself, that's always in the right. Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison.

[2] 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 to the People 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? 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 one anothers Throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The Opinions I have had of its Errors I sacrifice to the Public Good. I have never whisper'd 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 endeavor to gain Partizans 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 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 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 Endeavors to the Means of having it well administered. —

[3] On the whole Sir, I cannot help expressing a Wish, that every Member of the Convention who may still have Objections to it, 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. —

[Then the Motion was made for adding the last Formula, viz. Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consetn &c. — which was agreed to and added accordingly.]

Benjamin Franklin. Franklin: the Autobiography and Other Writings on Politics, Economics, and Virtue, edited by Alan Houston, Cambridge University Press, 2004. pp. 361-362.

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