Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ben Franklin and the Presidency

Franklin on the Presidency
P. Schultz
September 6, 2012

            Here are a couple of paragraphs from a speech by Ben Franklin, given at the constitutional convention in 1787, a speech that was Franklin’s criticism of the presidency that was then being created. I like to read this speech every so often to remind myself of the character of the new government being created and proposed then and to remind myself that it is possible for some to see the future quite clearly. In another part of this speech, not copied here, Franklin predicts that at some time in the future, we the American people would have a king. As we endure another presidential campaign that is not being contested by “the wise and moderate; the lovers of peace and good order, the men fittest for the trust,” it is safe to say that good, old Ben Franklin knew what he was talking about. I am tempted to write: Read it and weep but I prefer Willie Nelson: “I laugh when I can and I live with the rest.”

“Sir, there are two passions which have a powerful influence on the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice; the love of power, and the love of money. Separately each of these has great force in prompting men to action; but when united in view of the same object, they have in many minds the most violent effects. Place before the eyes of such men, a post of honour that shall be at the same time a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it. The vast number of such places it is that renders the British Government so tempestuous. The struggles for them are the true sources of all those factions which are perpetually dividing the Nation, distracting its Councils, hurrying sometimes into fruitless & mischievous wars, and often compelling a submission to dishonorable terms of peace. 

And of what kind are the men that will strive for this profitable pre- eminence, through all the bustle of cabal, the heat of contention, the infinite mutual abuse of parties, tearing to pieces the best of characters? It will not be the wise and moderate; the lovers of peace and good order, the men fittest for the trust. It will be the bold and the violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits. These will thrust themselves into your Government and be your rulers. -And these too will be mistaken in the expected happiness of their situation: For their vanquished competitors of the same spirit, and from the same motives will perpetually be endeavouring to distress their administration, thwart their measures, and render them odious to the people.”

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