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Sir Samuel Romilly, who visited him in Paris shortly before his return to America, says in his journal,
“Of all the celebrated persons whom in my life I have chanced to see, Dr. Franklin, both from his appearance and his conversation, seemed to me the most remarkable. His venerable patriarchal appearance, the simplicity of his manner and language, and the novelty of his observations, at least the novelty of them at that time to me, impressed me with an opinion of him as one of the most extraordinary men that ever existed.” (Life of Romilly. By his Sons. Vol. i. p. 50.)
He lived in a large house in Philadelphia, situated on a court long afterwards called by his name, a little back from the south side of Market Street, between Third and Fourth Streets. There was a small garden attached to it, and also a grass-plot on which was a large mulberry-tree, under which he often sat and received visitors on summer afternoons. He built a large addition to the house, comprising a library, a room for the meetings of the American Philosophical Society, with some bedrooms in the third story. Here he passed the closing years of his life with his daughter and six grandchildren, reading, writing, receiving visits from distinguished men, and playing cards in the winter evenings.
“I have indeed now and then," he writes to Mrs. Hewson, little compunction in reflecting that I spend time so idly; but another reflection comes to relieve me, whispering, 'You know that the soul is immortal ; why then should you be such a niggard of a little time, when you have a whole eternity before you ?! So, being easily convinced, and, like other reasonable creatures, satisfied with a small reason, when it is in favor of doing what I have a mind to, I shuffle the cards again, and begin another game."
He was soon, however, given very important employment in spite of his age. He had made himself famous in many varied spheres, from almanacs and stove-making to treaties of alliance. Nothing seemed to be too small or too great for him. He invented an apparatus for taking books from high shelves. He suggested that sailors could mitigate thirst by sitting in the salt water or soaking their clothes in it. The pores of the skin, he said, while large enough to admit the water, are too small to allow the salt to penetrate ; and the experiment was successfully tried by shipwrecked crews. gested that bread and flour could be preserved for years in air-tight bottles, and Captain Cook tried it with good results in his famous voyage. It is certainly strange that the man who was so passionately interested in such subjects should enter the great domain of constitution-making and, in spite of many blunders, excel those who had made it their special study.
He had no knowledge of technical law, either in practice or as a science. He was once elected a justice of the peace in Philadelphia, but soon resigned, because, as he said, he knew nothing of the rules of English common law. It was perhaps the only important domain of human knowledge in which he was not interested.
As a public man of long experience he had considerable knowledge of general laws and their practical effect. He was a law-maker rather than a lawinterpreter. He understood colonial rights, and knew every phase of the controversy with Great
Britain, and he had fixed opinions as to constitutional forms and principles. Some of his ideas on constitution-making were unsound; but it is astonishing what an important part he played during his long life in American constitutional development.
I have shown in another volume, called “The Evolution of the Constitution of the United States," how the principles and forms of that instrument were developed out of two hundred years' experience with more than forty colonial charters and Revolutionary constitutions and more than twenty plans of union. The plans of union were devised from time to time with the purpose of uniting the colonies under one general government. None of them was put into actual practice until the “Articles of Confederation" were adopted during the Revolution. But although unsuccessful in the sense that no union was formed under any of them, they contributed ideas and principles which finally produced the federalism of the national Constitution under which we now live.
Two of these plans of union were prepared by Franklin. No other American prepared more than one, and Franklin's two were the most important of all. Not only was he the originator of the two most important plans, but he lived long enough to take part in framing the final result of all the plans, the national Constitution, and he was the author of one of the most valuable provisions in it.
The first plan of union which he drafted was the one adopted by the Albany Conference of 1754, that had been called to make a general treaty with the Indians which would obviate the confusion of