Benjamin Franklin Requests Prayer in the Constitutional
June 28, 1787
Mr. President [to George Washington]
The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance
& continual reasonings with each other-our different sentiments on
almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays,
is methinks a melancholy 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 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 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 thought
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, & 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, 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-
Mr. [Roger] SHERMAN seconded the motion.
Mr. [Alexander] HAMILTON & 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, I bring on it some disagreeable
animadversions. & lead the public to believe that the embarrassments
and dissensions within the Convention, had suggested this measure. It was
answered by Docr. F. Mr. SHERMAN & 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 ye. measure,
that a sermon be preached at the request of the convention on 4th of July,
the anniversary of Independence; & thenceforward prayers be used in
ye. Convention every morning. Dr. FRANKn. 2ded. this motion After several
unsuccessful attempts for silently postponing the matter by adjourng. the
adjournment was at length carried, without any vote on the motion.