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Benjamin Franklin by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis

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.

1.1 I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: 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. 1.2 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. 1.3 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. 1.4 Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our 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. 1.5 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 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."

2.1 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 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. 2.2 I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. 2.3 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. 2.4 From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? 2.5 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 another's throats. 2.6 Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. 2.7 The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. 2.8 I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. 2.9 Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. 2.10 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 & great advantages resulting naturally in our favor among foreign Nations as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. 2.11 Much of the strength & efficiency of any Government in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends, on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors. 2.12 I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress & confirmed by the Conventions) wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts & endeavors to the means of having it well administred.

Commentary

Speeches on this site are intended for commentary by students and scholars of rhetoric. Contributors are invited to add short comments by para.sent. numbers. Insert comments on specific sentences in par.sent. order.

General CommentaryEdit

Franklin is expending his considerable ethos as an author of the American Revolution, to gain signatures attesting that the Constitution as written has received the unanimous consent of the states, see Madison's Debates .nigga

Commentary on specific passagesEdit

1.1. He leads with a low card, hoping to bring out other dissatisfied delagates who might be hanging back from signing, and redrawing the middle ground by making it acceptable to acknowledge error.

External Links

The Benjamin Franklin Papers at Yale University

The Speech in Context in James Madison's Debates on the Constitution

BibliographyEdit

History and BiographyEdit

Isaacson, Walter. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003.

Morgan, Edmund Sears. Benjamin Franklin. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

Walstreicher, David. Runaway America : Benjamin Franklin, Slavery, and the American Revolution. New York: Hill & Wang, 2004.

Rhetorical CriticismEdit

Andrews, James R. "The Rhetoric of a Lobbyist: Benjamin Franklin in England, 1765-1775." Central States Speech Journal 18 (1967):

Gravlee, G. Jack, and James R. Irvine. "Franklin Reexamined: A Rejection of Parliamentary Manipulation." Southern Speech Communication Journal 48 (1983):

Henry, David D. "Concern for Consensus." Quarterly Journal of Speech 47 (1961): 239-243.

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