America’s Elder Statesman
Jon Kyl, July 3, 2006
As we observe Independence Day, we might do well to turn our thoughts to one of the most fascinating Founders of them all, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790).
This editor-turned-scientist-turned-statesman is a household name for inventing the lightning rod and bifocals; for founding America’s first nonsectarian college and its post office; and for using his masterful diplomatic skills to get the French to lend crucial support to the American Revolution.
But did you also know that Franklin is the only person to have signed all four of the documents that helped create the United States? He signed the Declaration of Independence (1776); the Treaty of Alliance, Amity, and Commerce with France (1778); the Treaty of Peace between England, France, and the United States (1782); and the United States Constitution (1787).
In 1776, Franklin was appointed by the Continental Congress to the committee that would draft a proclamation justifying the colonies' decision to break ties with Britain. Although Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft, it was Franklin, whose background was as a printer and editor, who was responsible for editing Jefferson’s work. It was these two men that articulated the principles behind the creation of the United States.
As one of the only internationally recognized Americans, Franklin understood the nuances of French culture, attending dinners and events, for he understood that it was easier to sway the French at these social functions, not at the negotiating table. As Minister to France, Franklin successfully brokered the 1778 pact that forged an alliance between the French and the self-proclaimed independent colonies. With the united colonies deeply entrenched in a war with the British, Franklin secured financial loans and military support from Paris that helped advance the American Revolution.
With this support, the momentum of the Revolution began to shift behind the colonies’ efforts. Britain at this time was busy not only trying to rein American colonies, but was attempting to defend itself from the military advances of the French back in Europe. King George III ultimately began to show signs of wanting a truce. With the assistance of John Adams and John Jay, Franklin worked to negotiate the 1782 accord that recognized, for the first time, the once insignificant united colonies of Britain, as the independent United States of America.
The new country struggled to put in place a lasting framework of government. At the age of 81, Franklin was the oldest delegate to sign the U.S. Constitution. His health was so poor that he was carried into the convention hall on a sedan that was hoisted by four prisoners. Yet despite his infirmity, Franklin became known for brokering the "great compromise," which ended a deadlock between the delegates over how the legislative branch of government was to be formed.
Larger states would have greater influence in the lower chamber of the legislature, where representatives would be selected according to population. And appeasing smaller states’ concerns, the upper house, or Senate, would have an equal number of senators from each state. This compromise, along with his active role and influence in the Constitutional Convention, paved the way to the completion and signing of the U.S. Constitution in September 17, 1787.
For his wisdom and courage, and role in making a new nation that would change the world, let us raise a glass on the Fourth of July to the elder statesman of America, Ben Franklin.
Senator Jon Kyl, a Republican, represents Arizona in the U.S. Senate. He serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Finance Committee, and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
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