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Documents in Early American History


William Franklin, "Your Duty is to Guard and Preserve the Constitution and the Rights of Your Constituents" 

Speech by William Franklin, Governor of New Jersey, to the New Jersey Legislature, 1775

Gentlemen of the Council, and Gentlemen of the Assembly,

It would argue not only a great want of duty to his majesty, but of regard to the good people of this province, were I, on this occasion, to pass over in silence the late alarming transactions in this and the neighboring colonies, or not endeavor to prevail on you to exert yourselves in preventing those mischiefs to this country, which, without your timely interposition, will, in all probability, be the consequence.

It is not for me to decide on the particular merits of the dispute between Great Britain and her colonies, nor do I mean to censure those who conceive themselves aggrieved for aiming at a redress of their grievances. It is a duty they owe themselves, their country, and their posterity. All that I would wish to guard you against, is the giving any countenance or encouragement to that destructive mode of proceeding which has been unhappily adopted in part by some of the inhabitants in this colony, and has been carried so far in others as totally to subvert their former constitution. It has already struck at the authority of one of the branches of the legislature in a particular manner.

And, if you, gentlemen of the assembly, should give your approbation to transactions of this nature, you will do as much as lies in your power to destroy that form of government of which you are an important part, and which it is your duty by all lawful means to preserve. To you your constituents have intrusted a peculiar guardianship of their rights and privileges. You are their legal representatives, and you cannot, without a manifest breach of your trust, suffer any body of men, in this or any of the other provinces, to usurp and exercise any of the powers vested in you by the constitution. It behooves you particularly, who must be constitutionally supposed to speak the sense of the people at large, to be extremely cautious in consenting to any act whereby you may engage them as parties in, and make them answerable for measures which may have a tendency to involve them in difficulties far greater than those they aim to avoid.

Besides, there is not, gentlemen, the least necessity, consequently there will not be the least excuse for your running any such risks on the present occasion. If you are really disposed to represent to the king any Inconveniences you conceive yourselves to lie under, or to make any propositions on the present state of America, I can assure you, from the best authority, that such representations or propositions will be properly attended to, and certainly have greater weight coming from each colony in its separate capacity, than in a channel, of the propriety and legality of which there may be much doubt.

You have now pointed out to you, gentlemen, two roads--one evidently leading to peace, happiness, and a restoration of the public tranquility--the other inevitably conducting you to anarchy, misery, and all the horrors of a civil war. Your wisdom, your prudence, your regard for the true interests of the people, will be best known when you have shown to which road you give the preference. If to the former, you will probably afford satisfaction to the moderate, the sober, and the discreet part of your constituents. If to the latter, you will, perhaps for a time, give pleasure to the warm, the rash, and the inconsiderate among them, who, I would willingly hope, violent as is the temper of the present times, are not even now the majority. But it may be well for you to remember, should any calamity hereafter befall them from your compliance with their inclinations, instead of pursuing, as you ought, the dictates of your own judgment, that the consequences of their returning to, a proper sense of their conduct, may prove deservedly to yourselves.

I shall say no more at present on this disagreeable subject, but only to repeat an observation I made to a former assembly on a similar occasion. "Every breach of the constitution, whether it proceeds from the crown or the people, is, in its effects, equally destructive to the rights of both. It is the duty, therefore, of those who are intrusted with government, to be equally careful in guarding against encroachments from the one as the other. But It is (says one of the wisest of men) a most infallible symptom of the dangerous state of liberty, when the chief men of a free country show a greater regard to popularity than to their own judgment."

[Speech, January 13, 1775, Votes and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Colony of New Jersey (Burlington: Isaac Colins, 1775), pp. 5-7]

Documents in Early American History
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