tbo: Tampa Bay Online.
Thursday, May 24, 2018
  • Home
Steve Otto Columns

We should heed Ben’s sage advice

When you look at paintings of the Founding Fathers — especially the ones in which they are gathered in Philadelphia with their white wigs — you get the feeling this was a group of elderly gentlemen crafting a document that couldn’t possibly be relevant today.

How could these 18th-century men comprehend a world almost 250 years down the line? What would they think of the Internet, cellphones or drones — or even Miley Cyrus twerking? Surely they would have made a few adjustments to their document.

They almost look unreal; some vision of the ancients instead of flesh-and-blood men who were part of a revolution.

I read an article last week that pointed out the leaders of the American Revolution were not that old on July 4, 1776.

Alexander Hamilton was 21; James Madison was 25; Thomas Jefferson, 33; Patrick Henry, 40; Paul Revere, 40; and even the father of our country, George Washington, was 44.

Benjamin Franklin, at the other end of the scale, was 70 years old.

It’s Franklin’s words I think are worth considering today as our divided country stumbles along, not quite sure of its direction. They’re from a speech he gave 11 years later, at the signing of the Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.

It was a time when many of those being asked to put their John Hancocks down on paper had serious reservations about the document and what kind of country they were signing on to.

❖ ❖ ❖

Here is a little of what Franklin wrote. I’ve always thought he captured the spirit of what was happening as well as anyone:

“I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not presently approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. ... I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions, even on important subjects.

“... 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.

“... 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 inevitability 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? ... 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 of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good.

“... On the whole, Sir, I cannot 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.”

❖ ❖ ❖

And so they did, many with the same reservations Franklin had expressed.

I wonder what Franklin might have to say if he were in the audience when today’s Congress assembles. Would he preach the same message of compromise and coming together for the sake of progress?

Don’t you wish for that same sense of sacrificing for the public good in a government in which there is no spirit of civil discourse or politicians willing to “doubt a little of (their) own infallibility”?

No one today seems to doubt anything except that they don’t want to be seen with the other side, much less sit down and work out any agreement to move forward.

Maybe next year.

This still is far and away the greatest country on Earth, even if we need a little more work before the next World Cup.

Weather Center