Donald Trump continues to drag us farther into uncharted waters and unplumbed swamps—threatening the Democrats if they do not accede to his demands to build a wall across our southern border and threatening fellow Republicans if they dare to break ranks with him. Fortunately, Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, has jumped in to guide us with a timely history lesson. As the New York Times reported, Cornyn "said Mr. Trump had made the case that Republicans had a much better chance of prevailing if they remained united in opposition to spending bills to get the government funded again."
“What did Benjamin Franklin say at the constitutional convention?” Mr. Cornyn told reporters. “We need to hang together or we’ll hang separately. That’s what it reminded me of.” The aphorism is clearly a favorite of the senator's; he has quoted it before, in urging Republicans to pass "POTUS's legislative agenda."
Unfortunately, Cornyn needs his own history lesson. Franklin said no such thing at the constitutional convention. He is alleged to have said something along these lines when the Declaration of Independence was signed at the Second Continental Congress, thirteen years earlier. After John Hancock put pen to paper signing his own flashy John Hancock, he is said to have exhorted others: "We must be unanimous; there must be no pulling different ways; we must all hang together." To which Franklin replied, "Yes, we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."
I add the qualifiers--allegedly, supposedly—because we don't have strong authority for the anecdote. Franklin's earliest biographers made no mention of it, including Parson Weems, who always plucked down a good yarn whether it was true or not. Only in 1840 does Jared Sparks record this bit of dialogue, sixty-four years after the event.
But even assuming the tale is true, it doesn't suit Cornyn's purpose very well. At the birth of the young republic in 1776, both Hancock and Franklin were urging members of Congress to put aside their differences and "hang together" as a united people. Cornyn is telling Republicans to "hang together" so they do not unite with Democratic members of Congress. He is putting party unity above national unity and conciliation.
With this kind of advice in the face of the chaos being sown during the continuing shutdown, we are all much more likely to hang separately.
James West Davidson
Occasional thoughts on history, teaching, paddling and the outdoors