Page images

Stamp Act to the representative of the Bourbon King.

The final negotiations of the Treaty on the part of England were entrusted to Franklin's lifelong friend, Mr. David Hartley, in whose apartments in the Hotel de York the definitive Treaty was signed. The credit and honor of the negotiation on the American side must be divided between Franklin, Jay, and Adams, to whom, for this great service, their countrymen owe an incalculable debt of gratitude.

At the signing of one of the Treaties in Paris Franklin is said to have worn the same old suit of spotted Manchester velvet which he had last worn on the fatal day at the Cockpit years before, when Wedderburn attacked him, showing how deeply, on that occasion, the iron had entered into his soul.

In view of his fifteen years' service in England and ten in France, of the immense obstacles and difficulties which he had to overcome, of the art and wisdom which he displayed and the incalculable value to the country of the Treaties which he negotiated, he still stands as by far the greatest of American diplomatists.

In his eightieth year, quite worn out by his labors and infirmities, he returned to his "dear Philadelphia" to spend the brief remnant of his days, as he hoped, in rest and retirement, but that was not to be. He was immediately elected President of Pennsylvania - an office of great responsibility, in which he continued for three years.

"I had not firmness enough," he said, "to resist the unanimous desire of my country folks; and I find myself harnessed again in their service for another year. They engrossed the prime of my life. They have eaten my flesh, and seem resolved now to pick my bones."

In 1787, at the age of 81, he was a member of that remarkable body of men who met to frame the Constitution of the United States, and it was most fortunate for the nation that he was so. In spite of his great age, he attended all the sessions five hours a day for four months, and took an active part in the discussions and committees. He it was who proposed the amendment by means of which the States came together to form a more perfect union. The small States had been contending most vehemently and persistently for absolute and entire equality. The large States were equally tenacious for a proportional representation. Agreement seemed impossible until Franklin in Committee proposed the simple compromise, which was adopted, and on which the Constitution has thus far safely rested, that in the Senate all States, great and small, should have an equal vote, but in the House of Representatives each State should have a representation proportioned to its population, and that all Bills to raise or expend money must originate there,

He gave close attention to all the great questions discussed in the Convention, which sat in secret session. As he was too infirm to stand and speak he was permitted to write out what he had to say

to be read for him by a fellow member, and so it came about that his are the only speeches reported entire, and they are very brief and pithy. On one occasion, when there seemed no prospect of any further progress because of hopeless dissensions, he moved that prayer be resorted to at each day's opening of the Convention as the only remedy.

"I have lived, Sir, a long time," he said, "and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that 'except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.' I firmly believe this; and I also believe, that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the building of Babel.'

When the great Compact of Concessions and Compromises was finished it probably suited no member exactly, so much had each been obliged to yield of his own cherished opinions in the cause of harmony. But Franklin threw the whole weight of his influence in favor of an unconditional signature of the great instrument by all the delegates.

"I consent, Sir, to this Constitution," he said, "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."

He carried his point and all the members signed. It can hardly be doubted that it was the combined personal weight and influence of Washington and Franklin that prevailed with the people in all the thirteen States in favor of the adoption of the famous Constitution, which they had done so much to devise and perfect.

He lived to see Washington, who had been his close friend and fellow laborer since the days of the Braddock disaster, elected unanimously the first President of the United States, and to see the new Nation, which he had been so potent to create, fairly launched upon its great career. He lived long enough to see the youthful Hamilton at the age of thirty-two installed as Secretary of the Treasury, and to read the first report of that marvellous genius on the Public Credit of the newborn Nation. His last public act only twenty-four days before his death, was a powerful appeal for the abolition of slavery, full of his old wisdom, wit, and satire, and of the spirit which animated the sublime proclamation of Lincoln three quarters of a century later. And then at last, utterly worn out by his long years of public service, but rejoicing in their grand result, he "wrapped the drapery of his couch about him and lay down to pleasant dreams."

His grateful country honors his memory and cherishes his evergrowing fame as one of its noblest treasures, and transmits from generation to generation the story of his matchless services. His autobiography, written near the end of his

wonderful career, is valued by all readers of the English language as one of the most fascinating contributions to its literature. And the lessons of honesty, temperance, thrift, industry, and economy, which he inculcated and practised with such brilliant success in his own person, have been of priceless value to his countrymen, and contributed very largely to their social, material, and intellectual well-being. So that, taking him for all in all, by general consent they class him with Washington and Hamilton and Lincoln in the list of illustrious Americans.

« PreviousContinue »