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Here's what it says:
- Secular Humanists argue that Benjamin Franklin's plea for public prayer in
the Constitutional Convention is no evidence against the Constitutional
prohibition against public prayer. (!)
- Everything about Franklin's request shows that the modern concept of
"separation of church and state" is a myth.
Franklin's Appeal for
Prayer at the Constitutional Convention -- an analysis of Benjamin
Franklin's appeal to have the clergy offer prayer at the convention of 1787.
Background on Franklin
Franklin proposed a Day of Fasting in Pennsylvania, which a true
separationist would never do. He proclaimed:
and he prayed that
It is the duty of mankind on all suitable occasions
to acknowledge their dependence on the Divine Being. . . .
The public nature of Franklin's prayer runs counter to the ACLU's version of
"separation of church and state," and no Deist believes that God
"interposes" and "confounds" and "defeats" any
human undertaking. This is not the act of a Deist (as the word is popularly
Almighty God would mercifully interpose and still the rage of war among the
nations and would put a stop to the effusion of Christian blood . . . [that]
He would take this province under His protection, confound the designs and
defeat the attempts of its enemies, and unite our hearts and strengthen our
hands in every undertaking that may be for the public good, and for our
defense and security in this time of danger.
(1748, quoted by Van Doren in Benjamin Franklin, NY: Viking, 1938, p.
In 1749, he wrote:
History will also afford frequent opportunities of showing the necessity of
a public religion. . . and the excellency of the Christian religion above all
others, ancient or modern.
Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania, 1749, p.22
Jerry Falwell is panting for a "deistic" theocracy like
Thursday, June 28th, 1787
James Madison recorded the proceedings in his Journal of the Federal
Convention, Vol. I, p.259. Here are Franklin's
words, directed to George Washington, with our
Doctor FRANKLIN. Mr. President, The small progress
we have made after four or five weeks close attendance and continual
reasonings with each other—our different sentiments on almost every
question, several of the last producing as many noes as ayes—is,
methinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human
|Franklin finds "proof
of the imperfection of the Human Understanding" and wants
the Convention to pray? This is "French
We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we
have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient
history for models of government, and examined the different forms of
those republics which, having been formed with seeds of their own
dissolution, now no longer exists And we have viewed modern states all
round Europe, but find none of their constitutions suitable to our
|Some secularists have suggested that America was based
on Greco-Roman models of government rather than Biblical models.
Franklin here expressly repudiates that myth.
The prosperity of a nation depends on much more than a piece of paper.
However great the Republic of Rome sounds in the writings of the
classical Latin authors, it fell and is dead to this day.
|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 thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights, to
illuminate our understandings
- An unmistakable reference to James 1:17
- Every good gift and every perfect gift
is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with
Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
- The writings of the Founding Fathers are smothered in Biblical
references, which those untrained in the Bible do not see.
|—In the beginning of the contest with Great 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. [emphasis in Elliot's edition - kc]. And if
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 those 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 than 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 governments by human wisdom, and leave it to chance,
war and conquest.
I therefore beg leave to move—that henceforth prayers imploring
the assistance 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 service.
|Fascinating, that a
"deist" would ask the Clockmaker-Landlord God to intervene
in the drafting of a Constitution and the creation of a nation.
Franklin's reference to Providence
in the conflict between America and Britain is a story in
itself, and the link to "Providence"
should be consulted. And Franklin is widely regarded as being the least
religious of the Founding Fathers. What Franklin felt about religion
might be deduced from his extraordinarily religious plea for prayer.
If he was hypocritical in his frequent citation of Scripture, then we
may still deduce his attitude toward the separation of Scripture and
James Madison records the following immediately after Dr.
SHERMAN seconded the motion.
Mr. HAMILTON and several
others expressed their apprehensions, that, however proper such a
resolution might have been at the beginning of the Convention, it
might at this late day, in the first place, bring on it some
disagreeable animadversions; and in the second, lead the public to
believe that the embarrassments and dissensions within the Convention
had suggested this measure. It was answered, by Doctor FRANKLIN,
Mr. SHERMAN, and others, that the past Omission of
a duty could not justify a further omission; that the rejection of
such a proposition would expose the Convention to more unpleasant
animadversions than the adoption of it; and that the alarm out of
doors that might be excited for the state of things within would at
least be as likely to do good as ill.
Mr. WILLIAMSON observed, that
the true cause of the Omission could not be mistaken. The Convention
had no funds.
Mr. RANDOLPH proposed, in
order to give a favorable aspect to the measure, that a sermon be
preached at the request of the Convention on the Fourth of July, the
anniversary of Independence; and thenceforward prayers, &c., to be
read in the Convention every morning. Doctor FRANKLIN
seconded this motion. After several unsuccessful attempts for silently
postponing this matter by adjourning, the adjournment was at length
carried, without any vote on the motion.
Separationists would have us believe that a motion for officially-endorsed
public prayer is inappropriate. Hamilton and others said it was
"proper" but at this late date might suggest disunity. Franklin and
Sherman said it was not only "proper," but a duty.
Alas, all present were bound by archaic and sub-Christian notions concerning the
requirement of ordained clergy for public prayer, and the Convention had no
funds to hire a clergy. This is a bumbling tragedy, but the "separation of
church and state" had nothing to do with it. There is no evidence of a
self-conscious legal mandate to avoid endorsement of religion.
To accommodate the proposal of delegate Edmund Jennings Randolph of Virginia,
on Monday, July 2, the Convention adjourned until Thursday, July 5, so that, as
James Madison explained, "time might be given ... to such as chose to
attend to the celebrations on the anniversary of independence." On
July 4, many delegates attended that special service. For example, George
Washington noted in his diary:
[W]ent to hear [at the Calvinist Church] an oration on the anniversary of
After the oration (delivered by a young law student), the Rev. William
Rogers, minister of the Calvinist Church, concluded with this prayer:
[W]e fervently recommend to thy fatherly notice . . . our federal
convention... . [F] avor them, from day to day, with thy inspiring presence;
be their wisdom and strength; enable them to devise such measures as may prove
happy instruments in healing all divisions and prove the good of the great
whole;... that the United States of America may form one example of a free and
virtuous government... May we... continue, under the influence of republican
virtue, to partake of all the blessings of cultivated and Christian
However, not only did religious activities accompany the drafting of the
federal Constitution, they also accompanied its ratification. This was evident
throughout the various State conventions which gathered to approve that
document. For example, consider the proceedings in MASSACHUSETTS:
Voted, That a committee of five be appointed to wait upon his
Excellency, John Hancock, and acquaint him that this Convention have made
choice of him for their president, and to request his Excellency's acceptance
of that appointment.
On motion of the Hon. Mr. Adams, Voted, That the Convention will attend
morning prayers, daily, and that the gentlemen of the clergy, of every
denomination, be requested to officiate in turn.
The members from Boston were appointed to wait upon them, and acquaint them
A vote of the church in Brattle Street, in Boston, offering the use of their
meeting-house to the Convention, being communicated by the Hon. Mr. Bowdoin, Voted,
That a committee of nine be appointed, to view the accommodations of the said
meeting-house, and report.
Mr. Sedgwick, Mr. Lincoln, Dr. Taylor, Gen. Brooks of Lincoln, Dr. Jarvis, Dr.
Holton, Mr. Strong, Mr. Nason, and Mr. Thatcher, were then appointed on said
Motions for daily prayer and the meeting of the state ratifying convention in
a church (where many of the most significant events of the Revolution [such
as the planning of the Boston Tea-Party] had occurred) were not attended by any
debates about "separation of church and state" or any threatened
lawsuits by the ACLU. Similarly in NORTH CAROLINA,
the record of the ratification debates begins:
At a Convention, begun and held at Hillsborough, the 21st day of July, in
the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, and of the
Independence of America the 13th, in pursuance of a resolution of the last
General Assembly, for the purpose of deliberating and determining on the
proposed Plan of Federal Government,—
A majority of those who were duly elected as members of this Convention being
met at the church, they proceeded to the election of a president, when his
excellency, Samuel Johnston, Esq., was unanimously chosen, and conducted to
the chair accordingly.
In NEW YORK:
The Convention, having accordingly assembled on the 17th of June,
unanimously elected his excellency, GEORGE CLINTON,
president. After appointing the proper subordinate officers, and having
ordered that the doors should be kept open, and the business of the Convention
opened every morning with prayer, Mr. Duane, Mr. Jones, Mr. R. Morris, Mr.
Lansing, and Mr. Harris, were chosen a committee to report rules for
conducting the business.
On the recommendation of Mr. Paul Carrington, the Rev. Abner Waugh was
unanimously elected chaplain, to attend every morning to read prayers
immediately after the bell shall be rung for calling the
Clearly, the proceedings of both the Constitutional Convention and the
ratification conventions provide further evidence that the Framers not only
supported, but even participated in both public religious activities and public
endorsements of religion.
Notes adapted from David Barton, Original
Intent, pp. 110ff.
148. James Madison, The Papers of James Madison, Henry D. Gilpin,
editor (Washington: Langtree and O'Sullivan, 1840), Vol. II, PP. 1023-1024, July
149. George Washington, The Diaries of George Washington, John C.
Fitzpatrick, editor (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1925), Vol. III, p. 226,
July 4, 1787.
150. Morris, pp.253-254.
151. Washington, Writings (1932), Vol. XXX, p. 321 n., May 10, 1789.
152. The Debates in the Several Conventions, on the Adoption of the
Federal Constitution, Jonathan Elliot, editor (Washington: Printed for the
Editor, 1836), Vol. II, p. 2, Massachusetts Convention, January 9, 1788.
153. Elliot, Debates, Vol. IV, p.1, North Carolina Convention, July
21, 1788. See also Vol. II, p. 2, Massachusetts Convention, January 9, 1788.
154. Elliot, Debates, Vol. II, p. 207, New York Convention, June 17,
155. Elliot, Debates, Vol. III, p.1, Virginia Convention, June 2,
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