Originalism and Benjamin Franklin

I presented my John Bingham biography to the Originalism Works-in-Progress Conference in San Diego on Friday, and I want to thank Mike Rappaport and the other conference organizers for inviting me.

During the conference, I had the following (somewhat whimsical) thought.  After the Constitutional Convention, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin what the delegates had given her and other Americans.  “A Republic, madam, if you can keep it,” was his reply.  (Real or apocryphal).  I wonder if that comment should be read as supportive of or contrary to originalism.  Think about it.

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6 Responses

  1. Shag from Brookline says:

    I noted the agenda for the conference at the Originalism Blog and saw that Martin Redish was a participant. His recent extensive article skewering both originalism and non-textualism is in the Florida Law Review that this Blog posted recently. I wonder how Prof Redish was receiveved by originalists in attendance.

  2. Shag from Brookline says:

    Seriously Gerard, do you really wonder about what may have been back in those days a “pick-up” line by a womanizer in terms of originalism? Of course the Constitution had no specific provision for a methodology for interpreting/construing it.

  3. Joe says:

    Shag and Ben would in effect be about the same age (close enough), so hey, I’m sympathetic to the insight.

  4. Shag from Brookline says:

    I frequently lunched (and imbibed) at Ben’s Bar of Maison Robert in the Old Boston City Hall around the corner from my law office. On warm days, I used to enter via the patio and always looked up to the tall Ben F. still standing there, but Ben’s Bar (and Maison Robert) is no more, having been replaced by a national steak house where a penny saved is meaningless.

  5. prometheefeu says:

    Shag, did you meet Nino when you visited? I hear he spent a lot of time with Ben.

  6. Shag from Brookline says:


    According to Nino, the “Constitution is dead, dead, dead,” as is Ben I don’t think Nino could pass the bar at old Ben’s Bar, especially with all the liberal drinking that went on there. Besides, I never saw a bottle of Grappa even on the bottom shelf. And Ben preferred French wines, not Italian whines. If they had met, Ben probably would have told him to “Go fly a kite.”