« PreviousContinue »
the proposed new government, and this from variou motives.
Many still retained an affection for Egypt, the land of their nativity, and these, whenever they felt
inconvenience or hardship, though the natural and unavoidable effect of their change of situation, exclaimed against their leaders as the authors of their trouble: and were not only for returning into Egypt, but for stoning their deliverers*. Those inclined to idolatry were displeased that their golden calf was destroyed. Many of the chiefs thought the new constitution might be injurious to their particular interests, that the profitable places would be engrossed by the families and friends of Moses and Aaron, and others, equally well born, excluded.tIn Josephus, and the Talmud, we learn some particuJars, not so fully narrated in the scripture. We are there told, “ that Corah was ambitious of the priesthood, and offended that it was conferred on Aaron; and this, as he said, by the authority of Moses only, without the consent of the people. He accused Moses of having, by various artifices, fraudulently obtained the government, and deprived the people of their liberties, and of conspiring with Aaron to perpetuate the tyranny in their family. Thus, though Corah's real motive was the supplanting of Aaron, he persuaded the people, that he meant only the public good; and they, moved by his insinuations, began to cry out, “ Let us maintain the
* Numbers, chap. xiv:
+ Numbers, chap. xvi. ver. 3. “ And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregations are holy, every one of thero, wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation.”
common liberty of our respective tribes; we have freed ourselves from the slavery imposed upon us by the Egyptians, and shall we suffer ourselves to be made slaves by Moses? If we must have a master, it were better to return to Pharaoh, who at least fed us with bread and onions, than to serve this new tyrant, who, by his operations, has brought us into danger of famine.” Then they called in question the reality of his conference with God, and objected to the privacy of the meetings, and the preventing any of the people from being present at the colloquies, or even approaching the place, as grounds of great suspicion. They accused Moses also of peculation, 'as embezzling part of the golden spoons and the silver chargers, that the princes had offered at the dedication of the altar*, and the offerings of gold by the common peoplet, as well as most of the poll tax $; and Aaron they accused of poco keting much of the gold of which he pretended to have made a molten calf. Besides peculation, they charged Moses with ambition ; to gratify which passion, he had, they said, deceived the people, by promising to bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey; instead of doing which, he had brought them from such a land; and that he thought light of all this mischief, provided he could make himself an absolute princes. That, to support the new dignity with splendour in his family,
* Numbers, chap. vii.
Numbers, chap. xvi. ver. 13. “ Is it a small thing that thou hast' brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in this milderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us?"
the partial poll tax, already levied and given to Aaron, was to be followed by a general onet, which would probably be augmented from time to time, if he were suffered to go on promulgating new laws, on pretence of new occasional revelations of the divine will, till their whole fortunes were devoured by that aristo cracy.
Moses denied the charge of peculation, and his accusers were destitute of proofs to support it; though facts, if real, are in their nature capable of proof. have not,” said he (with holy confidence in the presence of God), “ I have not taken from this people the value of an ass, nor done them any other injury.” But his enemies had made the charge, and with some success among the populace ; for no kind of accusation is so readily made, or easily believed, by knaves, as the accusation of knavery,
In fine, no less than two hundred and fifty of the principal men “famous in the congregation, men of renown I," heading and exciting the mob, worked them up to such a pitch of phrenzy, that they called out, stone 'em, stone 'em, and thereby seenre our liberties; and let us choose other captains, that may lead us back, into Egypt, in case we do not succeed in reducing the Canaanites.
On the whole, it appears, that the Israelites were a people jealous of their newly acquired liberty, which jealousy was in itselt no fault; but that, when they suffered it to be worked upon by artful men, pretending public good, with nothing really in view but private interest, they were led to oppose the establishment of
* Numbers, chap. iii.
+ Exodus, chap. xx. Numbers, chap. xvi.
the new constitution, whereby they brought upon themselves much inconvenience and misfortune. It farther appears, from the same inestimable history, that when, after many ages, the constitution had become old and much abused, and an amendment of it was proposed, the populace, as they had accused Moses of the ambition of making himself a prince, and cried out, stone him, stone him; so, excited by their high-priests and scribes, they exclaimed against the Messiah, that he aimed at becoming king of the Jews, and cried, crucify him, crucify him. From all which we may gather, that popular opposition to a public measure is no proof of its impropriety, even though the opposition be ex. cited and headed by men of distinction.
To conclade, I beg I may not be understood to infer, that our general convention was divinely inspired when it formed the new federal constitution, merely because that constitution has been unreasonably and vehemently opposed : yet, I must own, I have so much faith in the general government of the world by Providence, that I can hardly conceive a 'transaction of such komentous importance to the welfare of millions now existing, and to exist in the posterity of a great nation, should be suffered to pass without being in some de." gree influenced, guided and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent and beneficent ruler, in whom all inferior spirits live, and move, and have their beịng.
Final Speech of Dr. Franklin in the late Federal Contention",
I CONFESS that I do not entirely approve of this constitution at present: but, Sir, I am not sure I shallnever approve it; for having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is, therefore, that, the older I
I am to doubt judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men, indeed, as well as most sects in religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that whenever others differ from them, it is so far error. Steel, a protestant, in a dedication, tells the pope, that “ the only difference between our two churches, in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Romish church is infallible, and the church of England never in the wrong.” But, though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain French lady, who, in a little dispute with her sister, said, I don't know how it happens, sister, but I meet with nobody but myself that is always in the right. Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison. In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this constitution, with all its faults, if they are such, because I think a general government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing,
* Fron the American Museum, vol. II. p. 558. Editor.