Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Charles Millon, 17 December 1777: résumé

From Charles Millon4

ALS: American Philosophical Society

<Paris, December 17, 1777, in French: I render you homage as the man whom the public credits with authorship of the Pennsylvania constitutions.5 Articles 1, 2, 9, and 15 of Chapter I rouse my keenest admiration. Article 2 proves that I am not alone in considering intolerance the most destructive force in any society. Article 9 is the work of that rarity, a supremely just and fair man; I could only wish that it proscribed torture for anything short of conspiracy against the state, and then only to uncover accomplices. Article 15, with which I would lump the statement in Section 42 of Chapter II, expresses the most profound political wisdom, always assuming that Pennsylvania never becomes the asylum for the world’s rascals and monsters.6

Permit me an observation, which may sound critical, on the second part of Section 45 of Chapter II. The history of the religious orders shows that most if not all of them have been characterized by laziness and pride, fanaticism and hypocrisy; and their ambition has won them outrageous privileges. If they follow their own interests in the teeth of the general good, they will end by convincing themselves that they are God’s agents. I assume that the addition to Section 45 was long debated, and that the same is true of the addition in Article 10 to the profession of faith, which in fact adds nothing.7 I have looked in vain for a ban on usury, which afflicts the poorest and most numerous and thereby undermines social cohesion. But bad results of what has been included or omitted have their remedy in Article 16 of Chapter I and Section 45 of Chapter II.8

Reading the constitutions has given me some ideas that I have put in writing; they are enclosed.9>

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4He signs himself “Conseiller au chatelet, parent de M. Dufourny de Villiers,” the sculptor who had recently executed a bust of BF: above, XXIII, 451–2. Millon (1754–1839), a Belgian by birth, was at the beginning of a distinguished career as a man of letters and as a teacher of legislation, ancient languages, and philosophy. Larousse; Quérard, France littéraire.

5We discuss BF’s role above, XXII, 514–15.

6Article 1, of Chapter 1, the bill of rights, assures the right of enjoying and defending life, liberty, and property, and Article 2 the right to worship God in any way the citizen chooses. Article 9 assures that no one may be convicted of a crime without trial by jury, or forced to incriminate himself, or be deprived of liberty except by the law of the land and the judgment of his peers. Article 15 asserts the right of all men to move from one state to another, or to form a new state in land that they find vacant or purchase. Section 42 of Chapter 11, the frame of government, confers freedom to buy and sell real estate on all foreigners of good character who take the oath of allegiance, and assures them of citizenship after a year and the right to stand for election after two.

7These were additions in the drafting process, but we do not understand how he knew it. BF might have told him, except that the letter gives no indication that they had met. Section 45 guarantees religious, learned, and charitable societies the privileges, immunities, and estates that they had formerly enjoyed. The profession of faith in Article 10 is specifically limited to two requirements, belief in God and in the divine inspiration of Scripture. BF introduced the guarantee; he opposed the profession and secured the limitation on it. Ibid., p. 514 n.

8Article 16 assures the people the right to assemble, instruct their representatives, and petition for redress; Section 45 assures that laws to encourage virtue and discourage vice will be enacted and enforced.

9The enclosure, which he hopes will be of use to the good Pennsylvanians, is a long disquisition on the role of law in promoting the general welfare; it ends with the division of offenses into three categories, against property, persons, and society at large, and the division of punishments into three, the house of correction, the workhouse with hard labor, and in rare cases execution. He then adds, with no explanation, his idea of legalizing suicide in certain cases.

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