Senin, 17 Agustus 2009

Benjamin Franklin 1706-1790

Benjamin Franklin ranks among the most recognizable leaders of the American Revolution. His signature appears on the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris ending the American Revolution in 1783, and the United States Constitution. It is hard to imagine the American Revolution without Franklin; it is harder still to imagine how it could have succeeded without him. After spending much of the war abroad in France, first to negotiate the crucial French alliance and then the peace terms with Great Britain, Franklin returned to Pennsylvania in 1785. Despite the fact that he was 79 years old, ailing and worn out, he was elected president of the Executive Council of Pennsylvania within weeks of his arrival.
A Dangerous Insurrection
Franklin came home to difficult times. Pennsylvania and the other new republics of the United States were struggling to remain solvent and pay their large war debts, including millions of dollars in loans Franklin had negotiated from France. Pennsylvania's own war debt included over half a million dollars in interest-bearing certificates originally issued in lieu of cash to pay its soldiers in the Continental Army. Political tensions ran high. Controversy swirled around attempts by a conservative faction to reform Pennsylvania's constitution, which Franklin had helped draft in 1776. This group wanted to replace the state's unicameral legislature with an upper and lower house, and to abandon the 12-member Executive Council in favor of a single governor. Others insisted that these attempts to "reform" the 1776 constitution were part of a thinly-disguised plot hatched by propertied elites to wrest control of the government from the people of Pennsylvania. Franklin was elected to the Council in hopes that he could engineer a compromise between those supporting the current constitution and their opponents. The turbulent conditions of Pennsylvania politics and the role he was expected to play dismayed Franklin. He confessed to Thomas Paine that it was a "Business more troublesome than any I have yet quitted." This was a gloomy assessment indeed, considering the trials and challenges Franklin had faced during his years abroad during the darkest days of the Revolution.
The fiscal and political crises in Pennsylvania may have made Franklin especially sympathetic to the beleaguered Massachusetts government in 1786-87. News of the government militia's success in the bloody encounter at the United States Arsenal prompted a relieved President Franklin to congratulate Governor James Bowdoin on "the happy success" of Massachusetts' "wise and vigorous measures for suppression of that dangerous insurrection." Interestingly, Franklin singled out the Massachusetts Constitution for special praise although it differed in key respects from the Pennsylvania Constitution he had helped create. Even more interestingly, some Massachusetts regulators sought to reform their constitution by eliminating the upper house, or senate, which would make it resemble more closely the Pennsylvania Constitution. Perhaps Franklin had reconsidered the virtues of a bicameral legislature and a single executive in the light of his recent experiences as the leader of the Executive Council. He heaped praise on the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. It was, in Franklin's opinion, "one of the best in the union, perhaps I might say, in the world."Franklin had no sympathy for "the mad attempts to overthrow" the Massachusetts Constitution or "the wickedness and ignorance of a few, who, while they enjoy it, are insensible of its excellence."Franklin assured Governor Bowdoin that the Massachusetts proclamation offering a reward for the leaders of the insurrection had "been immediately printed in our newspapers." In fact, the government of Pennsylvania had increased the rewards:
the matter being laid before the Council and Assembly, it was thought fit to make an addition to the rewards your government had offered.
Accordingly, on March 10, 1787, the General Assembly and Council of Pennsylvania issued their own proclamation offering an additional £100 for the capture of Daniel Shays and £50 more apiece for the capture of Luke Day and other "proclaimed rebels." Signed by Franklin, the Pennsylvania proclamation sternly ordered all judges, justices, constables and sheriffs to apprehend not only the Massachusetts rebels but also "their aiders abettors and comforters, and every of them, so that they may be dealt with according to law."

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