Tomorrow is Benjamin Franklin’s birthday, yet Americans do not celebrate it officially as any major holiday, and it is not even considered as any kind of day of recognition whatsoever. Yet in his own time, Franklin was recognized as a Renaissance Man, and may very well have been one of the most important of all the Founding Fathers. In an exhaustive biography of Benjamin Franklin published in 2003, Walter Isaacson declared that Franklin stood out as “the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become.” In his time or ours, however, he is never considered a prophet; but he left a prophetic warning that may contain significant meaning for the United States today.
Ben Franklin’s prophecy shows up through one of the most important statements he ever made. On Monday, September 17th, on the last day of the gathering of delegates in the historical assembly at the Constitutional Convention, Franklin offered a message. The delegates had deliberated on signing the document even to this day. Franklin was actually too weak to stand and offer his speech, so he asked James Wilson to deliver it. It is advisable to read the entire speech, but among other words that he shared these with his fellow patriots:
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…
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. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution.
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 of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors. 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… and turn our future thoughts & endeavors to the means of having it well administered.
Franklin went on to fully recommend the Constitution to his fellow delegates, and in the end urged them to “doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.” A bit later, all but three delegates came forward to sign the document. Nevertheless, Ben Franklin also offered the somber warning that “when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.” Was this his prophecy of the inevitable outcome of the human efforts to obtain a “more perfect union” or ideal government?
If anyone is paying attention to the rapid and detrimental developments throughout the nation in the past decade, or if one looks clearly around the United States today, the layers of reality that are being peeled away reveals tell-tale signs of the kinds of fundamental corruption Franklin and the other Founding Fathers feared. Are the portents of the creeping tyranny that has infiltrated the nation that hard to recognize? Franklin rightfully explained that “much of the strength & efficiency of any Government in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends… on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors.”
In 2016, Americans need to ask themselves whether they can truly see “Goodness of the Government.” In 2016, Americans need to ask themselves whether they can truly see “Wisdom” or “Integrity” in our leaders or elected officials. It is quite obvious to those that are paying attention to the developments throughout the nation in the past decade, or those that look clearly around the United States today, that the fears of Ben Franklin and other Founding Fathers are close at hand.
There is a famous story about Franklin recounted by Walter Isaacson in his book on Benjamin Franklin that after the Constitutional Convention a woman named Mrs. Powel approached him and asked “‘What type of government have you delegates given us?’ To which he replied, ‘A Republic, madam, if you can keep it.’” Americans need to heed the call of the true Founders from across the ages to seek out the wisdom within those who self-identify as “leaders,” or to be clear in choosing the “leaders” with integrity. Although there are those who can repeat the words of Lincoln, as if they understood them, they often ring hollow when words like that do not match deeds. That is NOT integrity. However, the outcome of this year’s election will determine whether we are truly a nation “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”