(un)common ground

a commonplace book

Franklin’s Speculation about the Future of U.S. Democracy

…and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther that this [new American government] 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.

Benjamin Franklin, “Speech in the [Constitutional] Convention, at the Conclusion of Its Deliberations” (1787), delivered by James Wilson

This during deliberations on voting to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Franklin’s satirical wit shines brighter and brighter as the passage continues. One must wonder what the author must mean by “corrupted.” Reading the entire speech, I doubt he means morally, though perhaps he refers obliquely to the representative system itself, given cues from the subsequent passages (”…you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views…”)–certainly nowadays one can look at the U.S. government’s squabbling, dysfunctional political sphere and think “corruption” quite easily. Indeed, the speech betrays the canniness concerning human nature that Franklin in his great age brought to this deliberation and to his writing in general.

I suspect, however, that full understanding of Franklin’s point of view and his implicit suggestions herein will be ungraspable without a deeper investigation of his and other of the founders’ philosophies on natural law and human nature. A Hobbesian/Lockean inquiry could shed more light on the matter than presentist ponderings. Still, a compelling passage.


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This entry was posted on July 29, 2015 by and tagged , .
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