God, Humanity, and Franklin's Legacy
“If you wou'd not be forgotten As soon as you are dead and rotten, Either write things worth reading, Or do things worth the writing,” “Poor Richard” advised.1 Franklin did both. Concerned with the moral legacy he would leave to the new nation, he vigorously pursued public projects in his final years. Upon returning from France in 1785, he became Pennsylvania's governor, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. In his later years, Franklin had become an ardent slavery opponent, calling it “the abominable African Trade” and “the diabolical commerce.”2 Anxious to retire and spend his remaining years among his extended family in Philadelphia, Franklin nonetheless accepted these offices to help chart a moral course for the United States.
Upon gaining the freedom to govern itself, the country also appeared to embrace freedom from virtue and self-restraint, Franklin noted ruefully. This was especially true in the more remote areas, removed from the civilizing influences of education and religion. “In our Way of sparse and remote Settlements, the People are without these Advantages, and we are in danger of bringing up a Sett of Savages of our own Colour,” Franklin complained in 1787. He had held this opinion about rural settlers for many years. “The people that inhabit the frontiers, are generally the refuse of both nations, often of the worst morals and the least discretion, remote from the eye, the prudence, and the restraint of government,” he wrote in his “Canada Pamphlet.”3
In his estimation, the increased liberty accompanying the successful outcome of the Revolution caused many Americans to descend more deeply into