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1787 - “Z” Replies to Franklin’s Speech

Independent Chronicle (Boston), December 6, 1787

Mess’rs. ADAMS & NOURSE, When I read Dr. FRANKLIN’S address to the President of the late Convention, in the last Monday’s Gazette, I was at a loss to judge, till I was informed by mere accident, from which of the contending parties it went to the press. “I confess,” says the Doctor, (and observe the Printers tell us it was immediately before his signing) “I confess that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present.” Surely, I thought, no zealous federalist, in his right mind, would have exposed his cause so much as to publish to the world that this great philosopher did not entirely approve the Constitution at the very moment when his “hand marked” his approbation of it; especially after the federalists themselves had so often and so loudly proclaimed, that he had fully and decidedly adopted it. The Doctor adds, “I am not sure I shall never approve it.” This then is the only remaining hope of the federalists, so far as the Doctor’s judgment is or may be of any service to their cause, that one time or another he may approve the new Constitution.

Again, says the Doctor, “In these sentiments 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.” But are we to accept a form of government which we do not entirely approve of, merely in hopes that it will be administered well? Does not every man know, that nothing is more liable to be abused than power. Power, without a check, in any hands, is tyranny; and such powers, in the hands of even good men, so infatuating is the nature of it, will probably be wantonly, if not tyrannically exercised. The world has had experience enough of this, in every stage of it. Those among us who cannot entirely approve the new Constitution as it is called, are of opinion, in order that any form may be well administered, and thus be made a blessing to the people, that there ought to be at least, an express reservation of certain inherent unalienable rights, which it would be equally sacrilegious for the people to give away, as for the government to invade. If the rights of conscience, for instance, are not sacredly reserved to the people, what security will there be, in case the government should have in their heads a predilection for any one sect in religion? what will hinder the civil power from erecting a national system of religion, and committing the law to a set of lordly priests, reaching, as the great Dr. Mayhew expressed it, from the desk to the skies? An Hierarchy which has ever been the grand engine in the hand of civil tyranny; and tyrants in return will afford them opportunity enough to vent their rage on stubborn hereticks, by wholesome severities, as they were called by national religionists, in a country which has long boasted its freedom. It was doubtless for the peace of that nation, that there should be an uniformity in religion, and for the same wise and good reason, the act of uniformity remains in force to these enlightened times.

The Doctor says, he is “not sure that this is not the best Constitution that we may expect.” Nor can he be sure that it might not have been made better than it now is, if the Convention had adjourned to a distant day, that they might have availed themselves of the sentiments of the people at large. It would have been no great condescension, even in that august Body, to have shown so small a testimony of regard to the judgment of their constituents. Would it not be acting more like men who wish for a safe as well as a stable government, to propose such amendments as would meliorate the form, than to approve it, as the Dr. would have us, “with all its faults, if they are such.” Thus the Doctor consents, and hopes the Convention will “act heartily and unanimously in recommending the Constitution, wherever their influence may extend, and turn their future tho’ts and endeavors to the means of having it well administered.” Even a bad form of government may, in the Doctor’s opinion, be well administered—for, says he, there is no form of government, but what may be made a blessing to the people, if well administered. He evidently, I think, builds his hopes, that the Constitution proposed, will be a blessing to the people,—not on the principles of the government itself, but on the possibility, that, with all its faults, it may be well administered;—and concludes, with wishing, that others, who had objections to it, would yet, like him, doubt of their own infallibility, and put their names to the instrument, to make an Unanimity MANIFEST! No wonder he shed a tear, as it is said he did, when he gave his sanction to the New Constitution.

Notable Quotes

If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these acceptance speeches there wouldn't be any inducement to go to heaven.

Will Rogers


Founder's Quotes

The right of the people to participate in the legislature is the best security of liberty, and the foundation of all free government; for this purpose elections ought to be free and frequent.

George Mason


Did You Know?

Although Benjamin Franklin's mind remained active, his body was deteriorating. He was in constant pain because of gout and having a stone in his bladder, and he could barely walk. He would enter the convention hall in a sedan chair carried by four prisoners from the Walnut Street jail in Philadelphia.


A Government of Laws...

Article V - Amendment Process - United States Constitution

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.


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A Book You Should Read

The 5000 Year Leap: The 28 Great Ideas That Changed The World, W. Cleon Skousen (National Center for Constitutional Studies, 1981)