1787 Constitutional Convention Appeal By Benjamin Franklin: Reading and Meditation

March 18, 2021  • Todd Breyfogle

download REading 


Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This nugget of advice is often heard, though not often heeded. But the fact that the advice is commonplace and neglected doesn’t take away its force. How often do we forego a good in pursuit of the perfect? Ben Franklin is perhaps America’s first and best pragmatist. His pragmatism, however, is not opportunistic or wishy-washy. Compromise, for Franklin, is not the betrayal of principle—it is a principle which allows us to work together while continuing to hold to our principles. His counsel here, to the members of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, is a counsel of patience and of charity. It is an invocation to pause—three days, cooler heads, time associating with those who oppose us. It is a counsel too, of hope—that with a little distance we may lend an ear to others and some temperament to our own voice, and so to see a way not to perfection but to a good on which we can agree. Engineers speak of a “range of tolerance”—the capacity of a material (or a bridge, for instance) to bend without breaking. How broad is your range of tolerance? Are there things, under the existing circumstances, of which you individually may not in all respect approve, but which collectively we can nevertheless obtain in pursuit of a more blessed community?

Todd Breyfogle

Denver, Colorado

Wellsprings of Living and Leading
April 15, 2020 •