May 7, 2010

Franklin Proposes Prayer

James Madison preserved for us this bit of American history which casts light on the all too shadowed relationship of church and state. If there is any doubt concerning the soil in which their thoughts were planted this motion by Mr. Franklin is representative of their thoughts. While they understood that a particular church should not be sanctioned they likewise understood, and grasped, the foundational concept that "God governs in the affairs of men" (Franklin).

Doctor Franklin to Mr. President

The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks
close attendance & continual resonings with each other - our different
sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes
as ays, is methinks a meancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human
Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom
since we have been running about in serach of it. We have gone back to
ancient history for models of Government, and examined the differet forms of
those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution
now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe,
but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were
in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when
presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once though
of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our
understandings? In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we
were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine
protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously
answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed
frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that
kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the
means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now
forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need
his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the
more convincing proofs I see of this truth - that God governs in the affairs
of men
. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his
notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have
been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that "except the Lord build the House
they labour in vain that build it." I firmly believe this; and I also
believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political
building no better that the Builders of Babel; We shall be divided by our little
partial local interests' our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall
become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And, what is worse,
mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing
Government by Human Wisdom and leave it to chance, war and

I therefore beg leave to move- that henceforth prayers
imploring the assisatnce of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be
held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one
or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that

It is vital to note that this motion was never voted on and the Assembly adjourned after some discussion. Among the points of discussion were the issues of concern for the perception that things had gotten so bad in the Constitutional convention that they had to resort to prayer! Also mentioned was the issue of having no finances with which to pay the clergy for their services. Though the motion was never ratified it set hearts and minds on a different track and soon after the Constitution was produced in its final form .

Franklin may not be the most religious of our Founders but he was certainly cognizant of the foundational role faith plays in life. Perhaps we should remember our history and stand firm on the foundations on which our nation was built.

No comments: