Skip to comments.The Birthday Last Wednesday
Posted on 09/18/2008 7:11:46 PM PDT by Congressman Billybob
Confessions of a Very Old Man
My name is Benjamin.
Here I lie in Philadelphia.
I caught lightning with a kite.
wrote an Almanac.
I perfected a postal service.
I coaxed a treaty with France.
But most important of all,
221 years ago last week
I encouraged 39 men
To sign a four-page document
To give you a republic,
If you can keep it.
Yes, the 17th of September was the 221st birthday of the Constitution, and I choose to talk about it through the three great contributions that Benjamin Franklin made to that document. Plus, of course, his summary comment on the steps of Independence Hall when the delegates were leaving for the last time,
A woman approached Dr. Franklin and said, What kind of government have you given us? He replied, A republic, if you can keep it.
Franklins first contribution was the Patents and Trademarks Clause. He had traveled in Europe and been inducted into all the learned societies of Europe. Again and again, he heard instances where one person created a successful idea, product or book, only to have it stolen and repeated by others with no payment, not so much as a by-your-leave.
So, Franklin urged his friend, James Madison to propose this clause. On the recommendation of Franklin it was included in the Constitution with little debate necessary. It gives Congress the power, To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries....
It can well be argued that all of the economic success of the United States, far outstripping all other nations ever in human history, in creativity and business development, is founded on this particular clause.
Franklins other great contribution to the Constitution was his speech on the last day, urging all the delegates to set aside whatever misgivings they might have and sign the document. This one great speech is drawn from his long and able career in both government and private business. It deserves to be repeated in full:
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..... 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.
Franklin made one other contribution to the success of that Convention. With difficulty he rose to his feet during the signing and said to George Washington, in the chair, Ive wondered, sir, these long months whether the sun on the back of your chair was a rising sun, or a setting sun. I know now, sir, it is a rising sun.
That chair, with its rising sun on its back, is still there in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, not far from where Franklin lies buried.
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About the Author: John Armor practiced law in the US Supreme Court for 33 years. He now lives in Highlands, NC, and is working on a book on Thomas Paine. John_Armor@aya.yale.edu
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John / Billybob
a very telling statement...a well justified fear....
If you own an iPhone, there is a great free app in the iTunes store called Constitution. Very nicely done - always be prepared with your very own copy.
Thank you for this post. The middle name of one of my children is Franklin. (The other one’s middle name is Washington.)
Funny thing about him in his early 20’s he was a sort of Community Organizer trying to help his community... how he had so much good view towards our Democratic Republic and could note 250 years ago the dangers it may face is truly extraordinary....
Sadly, not many people even pay attention to him and have no idea how humble a man he truly was and how brilliant his ideology is too this day.
Fascinating man. His letters reveal the endless curiosity of Man’s relationship with nature and the challenge to use it for our good. Just one example of how he divined a theretofore unstated physical principle:
Oil and Water
To John Pringle
SIR, Philadelphia, Dec. 1, 1762.
During our passage to Madeira, the weather being warm, and the cabbin windows constantly open for the benefit of the air, the candles at night flared and run very much, which was an inconvenience. At Madeira we got oil to burn, and with a common glass tumbler or beaker, slung in wire, and suspended to the cieling of the cabbin, and a little wire hoop for the wick, furnish’d with corks to float on the oil, I made an Italian lamp, that gave us very good light all over the table. — The glass at bottom contained water to about one third of its height; another third was taken up with oil; the rest was left empty that the sides of the glass might protect the flame from the wind. There is nothing remarkable in all this; but what follows is particular. At supper, looking on the lamp, I remarked that tho’ the surface of the oil was perfectly tranquil, and duly preserved its position and distance with regard to the brim of the glass, the water under the oil was in great commotion, rising and falling in irregular waves, which continued during the whole evening. The lamp was kept burning as a watch light all night, till the oil was spent, and the water only remain’d. In the morning I observed, that though the motion of the ship continued the same, the water was now quiet, and its surface as tranquil as that of the oil had been the evening before. At night again, when oil was put upon it, the water resum’d its irregular motions, rising in high waves almost to the surface of the oil, but without disturbing the smooth level of that surface. And this was repeated every day during the voyage.
Since my arrival in America, I have repeated the experiment frequently thus. I have put a pack-thread round a tumbler, with strings of the same, from each side, meeting above it in a knot at about a foot distance from the top of the tumbler. Then putting in as much water as would fill about one third part of the tumbler, I lifted it up by the knot, and swung it to and fro in the air; when the water appeared to keep its place in the tumbler as steadily as if it had been ice. — But pouring gently in upon the water about as much oil, and then again swinging it in the air as before, the tranquility before possessed by the water, was transferred to the surface of the oil, and the water under it was agitated with the same commotions as at sea.
I have shewn this experiment to a number of ingenious persons. Those who are but slightly acquainted with the principles of hydrostatics, &c. are apt to fancy immediately that they understand it, and readily attempt to explain it; but their explanations have been different, and to me not very intelligible. — Others more deeply skill’d in those principles, seem to wonder at it, and promise to consider it. And I think it is worth considering: For a new appearance, if it cannot be explain’d by our old principles, may afford us new ones, of use perhaps in explaining some other obscure parts of natural knowledge. I am, &c.
John, thank you for the web address for the Owner’s Manual. Every classroom teacher should avail himself/herself of this.
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