Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Career Politician by Benjamin Franklin

According to Cornell University Law School, the President’s annual salary is $400,000 a year.  Additionally, he receives another $50,000 “to assist in defraying expenses relating to or resulting from the discharge of his official duties.”  Indeed, Washington career politicians do quite well for themselves especially when compared to struggling Main Street Americans.  At the Federal Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin spoke against salaries for government officials.  In this excerpt, Franklin describes the career politician:

 “Sir, there are two passions which have a powerful influence on the affairs of men.  These are ambition and avarice; the love of power, and the love of money.*  Separately each of these has great force in prompting men to action; but when united in view of the same object, they have in many minds the most violent effects.  Place before the eyes of such men, a post of honour that shall be the same time a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it…. And of what kind are the men that will strive for this profitable pre-eminence, through all the bustle of cabal, the heat of contention, the infinite mutual abuse of parties, tearing to pieces the best of characters?  It will not be the wise and moderate; the lovers of peace and good order, the men fittest for the trust.  It will be the bold and the violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in selfish pursuits.  These will thrust themselves into your Government and be your rulers.”

Franklin adds that the career politician will always have a voracious appetite for power:

And there will always be a party for giving more to the rulers, that the rulers may be able in return to give more to them.-Hence as all history informs us, there has been in every State and Kingdom a constant kind of warfare between the governing and governed:  the one striving to obtain more for its support, and the other to pay less.  And this has alone occasioned great convulsions, actual civil wars, ending either in dethroning of the Princes, or enslaving of the people.  Generally indeed the ruling power carries its point, the revenues of princes constantly increasing, and we see that they are never satisfied, but always in want of more.  The more the people are discontented with the oppression of taxes; the greater need the prince has of money to distribute among his partisans and pay the troops that are to suppress all resistance, and enable him to plunder at pleasure.  There is scarce a king in a hundred who would not, if he could, follow the example of Pharaoh, get first all the people’s money, then all their lands, and then make them and their children servants for ever.”

Franklin expresses concern about the future of the country under the leadership of the career politician:

“But there is a natural inclination in mankind to Kingly Government.  It sometimes relieves them from Aristocratic domination.  They had rather have one tyrant than five hundred.  It gives more of the appearance of equality among Citizens, and that they like.  I am apprehensive therefore, perhaps too apprehensive, that the Government of these States, may in future times, end in a Monarchy.  But this Catastrophe I think may be long delayed, if in our proposed System we do not sow the seeds of contention, faction and tumult, by making our posts of honor, places of profit….And indeed in all cases of public service the less the profit the greater the honor.”

Was Franklin correct in his assertions?  Are our leaders today cutting excessive spending or are they enslaving future generation of Americans to a massive debt?  Are they still working for us or are they busy filling their own pockets?  Is the Main Street American still pursuing life, liberty, and happiness or is a Monarchy near at hand?  Franklin considered history when speaking on the issue; it would behoove us to do the same. 


*My emphasis added. 

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