June 28, 1787
The Constitutional Convention was in a deadlock over how large and small states could be represented equally.
Some delegates left.
Then, on JUNE 28, 1787, 81-year-old Benjamin Franklin spoke and shortly after, the U.S. Constitution became a reality.
Groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us,
how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights …
In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for Divine protection.
Our prayers, Sir, were heard and they were graciously answered.
All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending Providence in our favor …
And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance? …
We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it’ …
I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed … no better than the Builders of Babel.
Ben Franklin had given another address at the Constitutional Convention several weeks earlier titled “Dangers of a Salaried Bureaucracy,” June 2, 1787:
Sir, there are two passions which have a powerful influence in the affairs of men … ambition and avarice—the love of power and the love of money …
When united … they have … the most violent effects.
Place before the eyes of such men a post of honor, that shall, at the same time, be a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it …
What kind are the men that will strive for this profitable preeminence, 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 …
Franklin explained further:
There will always be a party for giving more to the rulers, that the rulers may be able, in return, to give more to them.
All history informs us, there has been … a kind of warfare between the governing and the governed; the one striving to obtain more for its support, and the other to pay less …
Generally, indeed, the ruling power carries … and we see the revenues of princes constantly increasing, and we see that they are never satisfied, but always in want of more.
The more the people are discontented with the oppression of taxes, the greater need the prince has of money to distribute among his partisans, and pay the troops that are to suppress all resistance, and enable him to plunder at pleasure.
There is scarce a king in a hundred who would not, if he could, follow the example of Pharaoh—get first all the people’s money, then all their lands, and then make them and their children servants for ever.
It will be said that we do not propose to establish kings … but there is a natural inclination in mankind to kingly government …
They would rather have one tyrant than five hundred. It gives more of the appearance of equality among citizens; and that they like.
I am apprehensive, therefore—perhaps too apprehensive—that the government of the States may, in future times, end in a monarchy … and a king will the sooner be set over us.
A lover of money is described as having “avarice” or “covetousness”—defined having “an excessive or insatiable desire for wealth or gain.”
The Law of Moses admonished the children of Israel in Exodus 18:12 to choose leaders:
Thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness.
Plato wrote of this in The Republic, 380 BC, that government would transition from being ruled by lovers of virtue, to lovers of honor, to lovers of money:
“Now what man answers to this form of government … He is a … lover of honor; claiming to be a ruler … Busy-bodies are honored and applauded …
Is not the passionate element wholly set on ruling … and getting fame?
Not originally of a bad nature, but having kept bad company … becomes arrogant and ambitious …
Such an one will despise riches only when he is young; but as he gets older he will be more and more attracted to them, because he has a piece of the avaricious nature in him, and is not single-minded towards virtue …
The love of honor turns to love of money; the conversion is instantaneous.
Because they have no means of openly acquiring the money which they prize; they will spend that which is another man’s.
They invent illegal modes of expenditure; for what do they or their wives care about the law?
And so they grow richer and richer … the less they think of virtue … and the virtuous are dishonored …
Insatiable avarice is the ruling passion of an oligarchy …
Jefferson wrote of danger of the Executive branch bribing Congressmen and Senators:
… as a machine for the corruption of the legislature; for he avowed the opinion that man could be governed by one of two motives only, force or interest …
the interests therefore of the members must be laid hold of, to keep the legislature in unison with the Executive …
some members were found sordid enough to bend their duty to their interests, and to look after personal, rather than public good.
Men thus enriched by the dexterity of a leader, would follow of course the chief who was leading them to fortune, and become the zealous instruments of all his enterprises.
Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1796:
Either force or corruption has been the principle of every modern government.
Plato added of this politician:
He has … allowed the blind god of riches to lead the dance within him …
He will have many slavish desires, some beggarly, some knavish, breeding in his soul …
If he … has the power to defraud, he will soon prove that he is not without the will, and that his passions are only restrained by fear and not by reason.
Frederic Bastiat explained in The Law, 1850, how politicians are tempted toward ‘legal plunder’:
Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This process is the origin of property.
But it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This process is the origin of plunder.
Now since man is naturally inclined to avoid pain—and since labor is pain in itself—it follows that men will resort to plunder whenever plunder is easier than work …
Frederic Bastiat continued:
It is evident, then, that the proper purpose of law is to use the power of its collective force to stop this fatal tendency to plunder instead of to work …
But, generally, the law is made by one man or one class of men …
This fact, combined with the fatal tendency that exists in the heart of man to satisfy his wants with the least possible effort, explains the almost universal perversion of the law.
Thus it is easy to understand how law, instead of checking injustice, becomes the invincible weapon of injustice.
It is easy to understand why the law is used by the legislator to destroy in varying degrees among the rest of the people, their personal independence by slavery, their liberty by oppression, and their property by plunder.
This is done for the benefit of the person who makes the law, and in proportion to the power that he holds.
In The Spirit of the Laws, 1748, Montesquieu wrote:
In a popular state, one spring more is necessary, namely, virtue …
The politic Greeks, who lived under a popular government, knew no other support than virtue …
When virtue is banished, ambition invades the minds of those who are disposed to receive it, and avarice possesses the whole community …
When, in a popular government, there is a suspension of the laws, as this can proceed only from the corruption of the republic, the state is certainly undone.
Harvard President Samuel Langdon stated in his address “Government Corrupted by Vice,” May 31, 1775:
They were a sinful nation … who had forsaken the Lord; and provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger …
Everyone loved gifts, and followed after rewards … more than the duties of their office; the general aim was at profitable places and pensions; they were influenced in everything by bribery;
and their avarice and luxury were never satisfied, but hurried them on to all kinds of oppression and violence, so that they even justified and encouraged the murder of innocent persons to support their lawless power, and increase their wealth.
Noah Webster wrote in his History of the United States, 1832:
When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers ‘just men who will rule in the fear of God’ …
If the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made not for the public good so much as for the selfish or local purposes;
corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded.
If a republican government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws.
Lord Acton wrote to Bishop Mandell Creighton, April 5, 1881:
All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
President William Henry Harrison stated in his Inaugural Address, 1841:
President Andrew Jackson stated in his Veto of the Bank Renewal Bill, July 10, 1832:
The tendency of power to increase itself, particularly when exercised by a single individual … would terminate in virtual monarchy.
It is easy to conceive that great evils to our country and its institutions might flow from such a concentration of power in the hands of a few men irresponsible to the people.
George Washington stated in his Farewell Address, September 17, 1796
Of fatal tendency … to put, in the place of the delegated will of the Nation, the will of a party—often a small but artful and enterprising minority …
They are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to SUBVERT the Power of the People and to USURP for themselves the reins of Government; destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
Colonial leader John Cotton stated:
For whatever transcendent power is given, will certainly over-run those that give it … It is necessary therefore, that all power that is on earth be limited.
James Madison stated at the Constitutional Convention, July 11, 1787:
All men having POWER ought to be distrusted.
John Adams wrote in his Notes from an oration at Braintree, Massachusetts, Spring 1772:
There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with the power to endanger the public liberty.
President Andrew Jackson warned December 5, 1836:
There is no such provision as would authorize Congress to collect together the property of the country, under the name of revenue, for the purpose of dividing it equally or unequally among the States or the people …
The practical effect of such an attempt must ever be to burden the people with taxes, not for the purposes beneficial to them, but to … support a band of useless public officers …
All would be merged in a practical consolidation, cemented by widespread corruption, which could only be eradicated by one of those bloody revolutions which occasionally overthrow the despotic systems of the Old World.
Gouverneur Morris spoke 173 times during the Constitutional Convention, more than any other delegate. He was the head of the Committee on Style, and penned the final draft of the U.S. Constitution, where he originated the phrase “We the People of the United States of America.”
Gouverneur Morris pioneered the Erie Canal, was a U.S. Senator, and helped write New York’s Constitution. In 1785, Gouverneur Morris addressed the Pennsylvania Assembly regarding the Bank of North America:
How can we hope for public peace and national prosperity, if the faith of governments so solemnly pledged can be so lightly infringed? …
This hour of distress will come.
It comes to all, and the moment of affliction is known to Him alone, whose Divine Providence exalts or depresses states and kingdoms … in proportion to their obedience or disobedience of His just and holy laws.