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Two Very Different Founding Fathers...Jefferson and Franklin
Two Very Different Founding Fathers—Franklin and Jefferson
Benjamin Franklin was the elder statesman of the Constitutional Convention. He was one of the few founding fathers who was already internationally famous. He was the leader of the host delegation and looked up to by his peers. To many, he represented the spirit of scientific advancement for a new age. Although he was ill at the time of the convention, his status was such that it was important he make an appearance.
Due to his failing health, his participation was somewhat limited. He offered no new propositions or suggestions. He was basically willing to accept any idea which he believed would lead to a more effective government. He acted mostly as a calming influence on others, mediating disputes and cooling hot tempers, using the same charm and finesse that he had used in the court of King Louis as the Ambassador to France, when he secured loans from the French government to support the American Revolution.
Still, his contribution was felt through his past actions. For instance, he had once proposed the idea of proportional representation, an idea which was dismissed at the time. This idea, reborn and reworded, found its way into the Constitution. Also, Franklin was a firm believer in tolerance for religious diversity. Freedom of religion also made its way into the document.
He favored the use of paper money and used his printing business to print more of it, helping establish the paper currency system that has exited ever since. On a more humanistic note, the same year that the Constitution was signed, Franklin lived up to all his talk of freedom and became the leader of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.
Thomas Jefferson was very different from the gregarious Franklin. Though not yet as well known around the world as his elder colleague, the presence of the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence was a virtual necessity at the Constitutional Convention. Basically a quiet man (Called the “Silent Member of Congress”) he was an eloquent writer and preferred to let his pen do his talking.
Jefferson was a powerful advocate of liberty. He once wrote, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man”. He was committed to the establishment of a Constitution that would preserve and protect the freedom of all Americans.
Like Franklin, he was a strong believer in religious tolerance and had, in fact, passed a bill about it the year before. To Jefferson, freedom of religion went hand in hand with other freedoms.
Jefferson was a wealthy land owner and as such, represented the privileged class, as opposed to Franklin who came up from the bottom. Franklin was more in touch with the little man, although he was no more committed to championing their rights than Jefferson was.
Like Franklin, he became an abolitionist, but at a much earlier age. They both spoke out against the prevailing practices of the day and denounced slavery for the inhumane act it was.
Interestingly, they both had serious reservations about a strong central government. Franklin did not want to completely break ties with England and had once suggested a royally appointed President. He was an imperial thinker who placed the unity of the entire English speaking world above its separate parts.
As for Jefferson, he was an anti-Federalist and a strong proponent of states rights. He had hoped to limit the authority of the chief executive and leave the individual states to handle their own affairs, only united in times of crisis, such as war. Neither he nor Franklin got what they expected, but in the spirit of compromise, which was a major part of the convention, they accepted the realities of the situation. Franklin commented in a closing speech that, “there are several parts of this of this Constitution which I do not approve, but I am not sure I shall ever approve them.” He further added, “I consent to this Constitution because I expect no better.”
So much of what these men gave to the world, from Franklin’s science, to Jefferson’s architectural brilliance and his stirring words immortalized in the Declaration of Independence, remain a part of our culture today. Their dedication to liberty and their ability to look to the future shaped the world as we know it today.