Fellow Americans, learn from Ben Franklin about compromise

Think we're a nation divided? It's nothing compared to the days of our foundation. When we fought over such existential questions as: Should we declare our independence from Great Britain? Should loyalists be chased out of the colonies into Canada and have their property confiscated? Was the Articles of Confederation a huge mistake by failing to invest enough power in a central government? Should we startfranklin from scratch, to craft a new constitution assembled whole cloth from self-government theories expounded by philosophers of the likes of Montesquieu and Locke? Is democracy a utopian ideal and should it be rejected in favor of the tried and true system of monarchy?

No, our fights over Obamacare, Trumpism and all the rest are nothing compared to the arguments that at times rose to bloody combat. That occurred to me after reading Walter Isaacson's fine biography of Benjamin Franklin in which he quoted from his 1787 closing speech to the convention that created our Constitution. Delegates from the 13 colonies spent months in Philadelphia hammering out a difficult compromise over each and every provision, such as a divided, three-part government and a strong federal government that could tax and conduct war.

When the debate finally ended, Franklin, then an old man who had to have someone else read his speech because of his infinities, gave what Isaacson said was Franklin's finest speech in his long career of government service. He didn't agree with every provision and had argued strongly against some of them, but he called for unity and a unanimous vote.

He warned about delegates returning home, without an agreement but to report to constituents how  stuck to his guns by making"the objections he has had to it, and endeavor to gain partizans in support of them." Then only return to try to solve the still existing serious problems but only "for the purpose of cutting one another's throats."

Sound familiar?

He concluded:

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. (Emphasis added.)

Everyone today is so damn sure that he holds the right and only answers that we are stuck in the muck of our own self-assurance. And nothing gets done. Whether it is in Washington or in Springfield, the state capital of Illinois.

It's worth reading Franklin's words in their entirety.

Docr. Franklin rose with a speech in his hand, which he had reduced to writing for his own conveniency, and which Mr. Wilson read in the words following.

Mr. President

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 we-the-peopleobliged 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. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that whereever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele, a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong. 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. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably 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? It therefore astonishes me, Sir,

to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our

enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus 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 had of its errors, I

Scene at the signing of the Constitution. Franklin is seated in the middle.

Scene at the signing of the Constitution. Franklin is seated in the middle.

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--If every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavor to gain partizans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects & great advantages resulting naturally in our favor among foreign Nations as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. Much of the strength & efficiency of any Government in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends. on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors. I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress & confirmed by the Conventions) wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts & endeavors to the means of having it well administered.

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."--He then moved that the Constitution be signed by the members and offered the following as a convenient form viz. "Done in Convention, by the unanimous consent of the States present the 17th. of Sepr. &c--In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names."

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  • Of course, Franklin expressed a convincing case for compromise. But where were the Republicans when The ACA needed their shared wisdom to help craft it; instead they voted to repeal over 40 times. The GOP was the embodiment of obstructionism throughout Obama's two terms.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    The Republicans were not invited to the table. Cripes, the Democrats weren't even invited, which is why we get pearls like "we need to pass it to see what is in it." You remember when Ms Clinton tried to craft a national healthcare? You remember when Mr. Bush tried to create an optional retirement savings in the place of SS? Both of those were perfect instances of what politics is supposed to look like. Each tried to reach their own party AND across the aisle. For each, in the end, not enough support could be garnered. In contrast, no one did the requisite politicking for ACA. It was crufted together by a half dozen people, and passed by the Democrats not for the merits but because the president ordered it. And when things are passed unilaterally, they are repealed unilaterally.

    It would appear that all of our politicians have abdicated the hard work of politics...the hard work that Franklin described...the hard work demonstrated by both Bush and Clinton...of actually working with whom they disagree.

  • In reply to Rick Bohning:

    Your first sentence is a lie. Obama said he was open to reform instead of passing 40 repeal bills, only one if which got to his desk. "Repeal and replace" only became a slogan when the candidate who forced himself on the Republican establishment became the presumptive nominee. Of course, a month ago it became evident that he didn't have a replacement.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack: First sentence is not a lie. the OP *first* talked about "crafting" the legislation. that means the initial drafting. No one was invited to the table when the bill was crafted. Your reply changed the context to reform. Different things.

  • In reply to Rick Bohning:

    Then instead of being a lie, it is irrelevant. Rand Paul was screaming to high heaven that no one would let him into the room where the Ryan AHCA was being drafted. So vent your anger there.

    AW was talking about how "where were the Republicans when The ACA needed their shared wisdom to help craft it; instead they voted to repeal over 40 times." Why did you purport to reply to that but went off in a different direction? I did not change the context, you did 2 hours ago.

  • In reply to Rick Bohning:

    I may recede from my reply of 7 minutes ago only to the extent that AW used the word "craft," but not on the rest, unless you are going to agree with me that the 2017 Ryan caucus is at least as guilty.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack, in my original post, I referred to our politicians abdication the hard work of politics. This means both parties. Rand Paul not being invited into the room is yet another example. What I said before holds true...what is passed unilaterally will be repealed unilaterally. Aca was passed without feedback. And it is being repealed. Acha is being passed without feedback. And it too will be repealed, because the Republicans aren't smart enough to learn from the Democrats mistake.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    To follow up, if Ben's complaint was that the Constitution didn't protect individual rights, the first 10 amendments were adopted soon thereafter (although a quick search indicates that was more George Mason's concern, also among that state legislatures appointed senators). I don't know of 2/5ths of each black person were in favor of that compromise (but again, a constitutional amendment, opposed by the current Fearless Leader, took care of that).

    Follow up #2: There is the Republican method of compromise which was "we can block it" and now is "we won so live with it, and we'll muzzle a senator if we want to." Reconciliation should start from the top, otherwise we have a fascist state.

    Follow up #3: The AHCA debate seems to be "how many Republican votes can we get on this when both the moderates and the Freedom Caucus object" not "how can we fix the problem."

    But if I recall correctly, a large number of loyalists were shipped (maybe voluntarily) to southern Quebec, causing civil strife there.

  • I meant this message to apply to Democrats and Republicans, progressive and conservatives.

  • In reply to Dennis Byrne:

    I give you that. But I had put in a dig at Obama for giving a speech on bipartisanship in the Illinois General Assembly, and then telling Dunkin to sit down and endorsing his opponent. Reconciliation has to come from the top. I also recognize that you aren't the top.However, guys like McConnell and Madigan are. They don't seem to have any incentive (other than not getting enough votes in their own caucuses) to compromise, or more importantly, to find solutions to problems.

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