Speech of Benjamin Franklin – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net

Speech of Benjamin Franklin


Monday, September 17, 1787, was the last day of the Constitutional
Convention. Pennsylvania delegate Benjamin Franklin, one of the few Americans
of the time with international repute, wanted to give a short speech to the
Convention prior to the signing of the final draft of the Constitution. Too
weak to actually give the speech himself, he had fellow Pennsylvanian James
Wilson deliver the speech. It is considered a masterpiece.

The following is as reported in Madison’s notes on the Convention for Monday, September 17,

Mr. President

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. 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 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 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

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. 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 another’s 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 whispered 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 & great advantages resulting naturally in our
favor among foreign Nations as well as among ourselves, from our real or
apparent unanimity. 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 (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.

On the whole, Sir, I can not 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.