Front Page Titles (by Subject) XVII: ON TRUE HAPPINESS 1 - The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. II Letters and Misc. Writings 1735-1753
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XVII: ON TRUE HAPPINESS 1 - Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. II Letters and Misc. Writings 1735-1753 
The Works of Benjamin Franklin, including the Private as well as the Official and Scientific Correspondence, together with the Unmutilated and Correct Version of the Autobiography, compiled and edited by John Bigelow (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). The Federal Edition in 12 volumes. Vol. II (Letters and Misc. Writings 1735-1753).
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ON TRUE HAPPINESS1
The desire of happiness in general is so natural to us that all the world are in pursuit of it; all have this one end in view, though they take such different methods to attain it, and are so much divided in their notions of it.
Evil, as evil, can never be chosen; and though evil is often the effect of our own choice, yet we never desire it but under the appearance of an imaginary good.
Many things we indulge ourselves in may be considered by us as evils, and yet be desirable; but then they are only considered as evils in their effects and consequences, not as evils at present and attended with immediate misery.
Reason represents things to us not only as they are at present, but as they are in their whole nature and tendency; passion only regards them in their former light. When this governs us we are regardless of the future, and are only affected with the present. It is impossible ever to enjoy ourselves rightly if our conduct be not such as to preserve the harmony and order of our faculties and the original frame and constitution of our minds; all true happiness, as all that is truly beautiful, can only result from order.
Whilst there is a conflict betwixt the two principles of passion and reason, we must be miserable in proportion to the struggle, and when the victory is gained and reason so far subdued as seldom to trouble us with its remonstrances, the happiness we have then is not the happiness of our rational nature, but the happiness only of the inferior and sensual part of us, and consequently a very low and imperfect happiness to what the other would have afforded us.
If we reflect upon any one passion and disposition of mind abstract from virtue, we shall soon see the disconnexion between that and true, solid happiness. It is of the very essence, for instance, of envy to be uneasy and disquieted. Pride meets with provocations and disturbances upon almost every occasion. Covetousness is ever attended with solicitude and anxiety. Ambition has its disappointments to sour us, but never the good fortune to satisfy us; its appetite grows the keener by indulgence, and all we can gratify it with at present serves but the more to inflame its insatiable desires.
The passions, by being too much conversant with earthly objects, can never fix in us a proper composure and acquiescence of mind. Nothing but an indifference to the things of this world, an entire submission to the will of Providence here, and a well-grounded expectation of happiness hereafter, can give us a true satisfactory enjoyment of ourselves. Virtue is the best guard against the many unavoidable evils incident to us; nothing better alleviates the weight of the afflictions or gives a truer relish of the blessings of human life.
What is without us has not the least connexion with happiness only so far as the preservation of our lives and health depends upon it. Health of body, though so far necessary that we cannot be perfectly happy without it, is not sufficient to make us happy of itself. Happiness springs immediately from the mind; health is but to be considered as a condition or circumstance, without which this happiness cannot be tasted pure and unabated.
Virtue is the best preservative of health, as it prescribes temperance and such a regulation of our passions as is most conducive to the well-being of the animal economy, so that it is at the same time the only true happiness of the mind and the best means of preserving the health of the body.
If our desires are to the things of this world, they are never to be satisfied. If our great view is upon those of the next, the expectation of them is an infinitely higher satisfaction than the enjoyment of those of the present.
There is no happiness then but in a virtuous and self-approving conduct. Unless our actions will bear the test of our sober judgments and reflections upon them, they are not the actions and consequently not the happiness of a rational being.
ON GOVERNMENT.—NO. I1
Government is aptly compared to architecture; if the superstructure is too heavy for the foundation the building totters, though assisted by outward props of art. But leaving it to everybody to mould the similitude according to his particular fancy, I shall only observe that the people have made the most considerable part of the legislature in every free state; which has been more or less so in proportion to the share they have had in the administration of affairs. The English constitution is fixed on the strongest basis; we choose whomsoever we please for our representatives, and thus we have all the advantages of a democracy without any of its inconveniences.
Popular governments have not been framed without the wisest reasons. It seemed highly fitting that the conduct of magistrates, created by and for the good of the whole, should be made liable to the inspection and animadversion of the whole. Besides, there could not be a more potent counterpoise to the designs of ambitious men than a multitude that hated and feared ambition. Moreover, the power they possessed, though great collectively, yet, being distributed among a vast number, the share of each individual was too inconsiderable to lay him under any temptations of turning it to a wrong use. Again, a body of people thus circumstanced cannot be supposed to judge amiss on any essential points; for if they decide in favor of themselves, which is extremely natural, their decision is just, inasmuch as whatever contributes to their benefit is a general benefit and advances the real public good. Hence we have an easy solution of the sophism, so often proposed by the abettors of tyranny, who tell us that when differences arise between a prince and his subjects the latter are incapable of being judges of the controversy, for that would be setting up judge and party in the same person.
Some foreigners have had a truer idea of our constitution. We read in the Memoirs of the late Archbishop of Cambray, Fenelon, the celebrated author of Telemachus, a conversation which he had with the Pretender (son of James the Second, of England): “If ever you come to the crown of England,” says the bishop, “you will be a happy prince; with an unlimited power to do good and only restrained from doing evil.” A blunt Briton, perhaps, would have said in plain English: “You ’ll be at liberty to do as much good as you please, but, by G—, you shall do us no hurt.” The bishop sweetened the pill; for such it would appear in its simple form to a mind fraught with notions of arbitrary power and educated among a people who, with the utmost simplicity, boast of their slavery.
What can be more ridiculous than to hear them frequently object to the English gentlemen that travel in their country, “What is your king? Commend me to our grand monarch, who can do whatever he pleases.”1 But begging pardon of these facetious gentlemen, whom it is not my intention to disturb in their many notions of government, I shall go on to examine what were the sentiments of the ancient Romans on this head.
We find that their dictator, a magistrate never created but in cases of great extremity, vested with power as absolute during his office (which never exceeded six months) as the greatest kings were never possessed of,—this great ruler was liable to be called to an account by any of the tribunes of the people,2 whose persons were at the same time rendered sacred by the most solemn laws.
This is evident proof that the Romans were of opinion that the people could not in any sense divest themselves of the supreme authority by conferring the most extensive power they possibly could imagine, on one or more persons acting as magistrates.
This appears still more evident in remarking that the people sat as umpire of the differences which had arisen between the dictator and senate in the case of young Fabius.1
The great deference which Cicero paid to the judgment of the Roman people appears by those inimitable orations of which they were the sole judges and auditors. That great orator had a just opinion of their understanding. Nothing gave him a more sensible pleasure than their approbation. But the Roman populace were more learned than ours, more virtuous perhaps, but their sense of discernment was not better than ours. However, the judgment of a whole people, especially of a free people, is looked upon to be infallible, so that it has become a common proverb that the voice of God is the voice of the people, Vox Dei est populi vox. And this is universally true while they remain in their proper sphere, unbiased by faction, undeluded by the tricks of designing men.
Thank God! we are in the full enjoyment of all these privileges. But can we be taught to prize them too much? or how can we prize them equal to their value if we do not know their intrinsic worth, and that they are not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature?
Since they are our right, let us be vigilant to preserve them uninfringed and free from encroachments. If animosities arise and we should be obliged to resort to party, let each of us range himself on the side which unfurls the ensigns of public good. Faction will then vanish, which, if not timely suppressed, may overturn the balance, the palladium of liberty, and crush us under its ruins.
The design of this paper is to assert the common rights of mankind by endeavouring to illustrate eternal truths that cannot be shaken even with the foundations of the world.
I may take another opportunity to show how a government founded on these principles rises into the most beautiful structure, with all the graces of symmetry and proportion, as much different from that raised on arbitrary power as Roman architecture from a Gothic building.
ON GOVERNMENT.—NO. II1
An ancient sage of the law2 says: “The King can do no wrong, for, if he doeth wrong, he is not the King.”3 And in another place: “When the King doth justice, he is God’s vicar; but when he doth unjustly, he is the agent of the Devil.”1 The politeness of the later times has given a softer turn to the expression. It is now said: The King can do no wrong, but his ministers may. In allusion to this the Parliament of 1641 declared they made war against the King for the King’s service. But his Majesty affirmed that such a distinction was absurd; though, by the way, his own creed contained a greater absurdity, for he believed he had an authority from God to oppress the subjects whom by the same authority he was obliged to cherish and defend. Aristotle calls all princes tyrants, from the moment they set up an interest different from that of their subjects; and this is the only definition he gives us of tyranny. Our own countryman before cited and the sagacious Greek both agree on this point, that a governor who acts contrary to the ends of government loses the title bestowed on him at his institution. It would be highly improper to give the same name to things of different qualities or that produce different effects. Matter, while it communicates heat, is generally called fire, but when the flames are extinguished the appellation is changed. Sometimes indeed the same sound serves to express things of a contrary nature, but that only denotes a defect or poverty in the language.
A wicked prince imagines that the crown receives a new lustre from absolute power, whereas every step he takes to obtain it is a forfeiture of the crown.
His conduct is as foolish as it is detestable; he aims at glory and power, and treads the path that leads to dishonor and contempt; he is a plague to his country, and deceives himself.
During the inglorious reigns of the Stuarts (except a part of Queen Anne’s), it was a perpetual struggle between them and the people: those endeavouring to subvert, and these bravely opposing the subverters of liberty. What were the consequences? One lost his life on the scaffold, another was banished. The memory of all of them stinks in the nostrils of every true lover of his country; and their history stains with indelible blots the English annals.
The reign of Queen Elizabeth furnishes a beautiful contrast. All her views centred in one object, which was the public good. She made it her study to gain the love of her subjects, not by flattery or little soothing arts, but by rendering them substantial favors. It was far from her policy to encroach on their privileges; she augmented and secured them.
And it is remarked to her eternal honor, that the acts presented to her for her royal approbation (forty or fifty of a session of Parliament) were signed without examining any farther than the titles. This wise and good Queen only reigned for her people, and knew that it was absurd to imagine they would promote any thing contrary to their own interests, which she so studiously endeavoured to advance. On the other hand, when this Queen asked money of the Parliament they frequently gave her more than she demanded, and never inquired how it was disposed of, except for form’s sake, being fully convinced she would not employ it but for the general welfare. Happy princes, happy people! What harmony, what mutual confidence! Seconded by the hearts and purses of her subjects, she crushed the exorbitant power of Spain, which threatened destruction to England and chains to all Europe. That monarchy has ever since pined under the stroke, so that now, when we send a man-of-war or two to the West Indies, it puts her into such a panic fright that if the galleons can steal home she sings Te Deum as for a victory.
This is a true picture of government; its reverse is tyranny.
[1 ]From the Pennsylvania Gazette, November 20, 1735.
[1 ]From the Pennsylvania Gazette, April 1, 1736.
[1 ]Qu’est ce que votre roi? Parlez-moi de notre grand monarque, morbleu! qui peut faire tout ce qu’il veut.
[2 ]Si antiquus animus plebi Romanæ esset (says one of the tribunes), audaciter se laturum fuisse de abrogando Q Fabii [dictatoris] imperio.—T. Liv., lib. xxii. cap. 25.
[1 ]Tribunos plebis appello (says an illustrious senator to the dictator), et provoco ad populum, eumque tibi, fugienti senatûs judicium, judicem fero.—T. Liv., lib. viii. cap. 33.
[1 ]From the Pennsylvania Gazette, April 8, 1736.
[2 ]Bracton: De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliæ; an author of great weight, contemporary with Henry the Third.
[3 ]Rex non facit injuriam, quia, si facit injuriam, non est rex.
[1 ]Dum facit justitiam, vicarius est Regis æterni, minister autem Diaboli, dum declinet ad injuriam.