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The Franklin Prayer Myth

Benjamin Franklin has been venereated as one of the wise men of the Revolutionary Period. Along with that veneration has grown a myth that he called for three days of prayer during the recess for July 4, 1787 and the addition of a chaplain to lead prayers for the daily meetings of the Consitutional Convention. It is further said that after this period of prayer meetings, the Constitutional Convention resumed with the addition of the chaplain and sped peacefully to concluding the writing of The Constitution.

Like all myths, this one has elements of truth along with its more imaginative elements The myth seems to be based entirely on the tertiary evidence supplied by a letter written by one William Steele to his son Jonathan in 1825. In the letter, Steel records a story told him in 1815 by General Jonathan Dayton about events of the Convention in 1787--28 years before.

The documentation of the Convention states only that Dr. Franklin proposed daily prayer led by a clergyman and that the Convention adjourned without passing the motion. Records of the remainder of the convention indicate that acrimonious debate continued right through to the end.

The materials below document the events leading to the myth in chronological order.

Researched and edited by Jim Allison.


The Actual Events as historically documented

JUNE 28, 1787: [below is the speech by Benjamin Franklin and the reports of other who have been recorded as having spoken. As recorded by James Madison and published for the first time in 1840.]

Mr. President

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. SHARMAN seconded the motion.

Mr. 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, 1.64 bring on it some disagreeable animadversions. & 2.65 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 66 4th of July, the anniversary of Independence; & thenceforward prayers be used 67 in yr Convention every morning. Dr. FRANKn. 2nd this motion. After several unsuccessful attempts for silently postponing the 68 matter by adjourn; the adjournment was at length carried, without any vote on the motion.

64 The figure "r" is changed to "in the first place" in the transcript.

65 The figure "a" is changed to "in the second place" in the transcript.

66 The word "the" is here inserted in the transcript.

67 The words "&c to be read" are substituted in the transcript for "be used."

68 The word "this" is substituted in the transcript for "the."

Source of Information:

Notes Of The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, Introduction, Bicentennial Edition, June 28, 1787, Reported by James Madison, With an introduction by Adrienne Koch. W. W. Norton & Company, N Y. London. (1987) pp. 209-210.


JUNE 28, 1787 Farrand's Records--MADISON Thursday June 28th. in Convention [Dr. Franklin.]12

Mr. President

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 13 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, 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 14 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. Sharman seconded the motion.

Mr. 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, 1. bring on it some disagreeable animadversions. & 2. lead the public to believe that the embarrassments and dissentions 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. 15 [Note 12: 12 Madison originally made an abstract of Franklin's speech in about 200 words. This was later stricken out--and this note made: "see opposite page & insert the speech of Doctr F in this place." On the opposite page under the heading " June 28, in convention" & is the speech which is here given--but without Franklin's name.

Among the Franklin Papers in the Library of Congress is a copy of this speech differing hardly at all from the text except in more frequent use of capitals.]

[Note 13: 13 "feel" is underscored in Franklin MS.]

[Note 14: 14 "God" twice underscored in Franklin MS.]

[Note 15: 15 In the Franklin MS. the following note is added:-- "The Convention, except three or four persons, thought Prayers unnecessary."& A distorted account of this incident is given in Appendix A, CCCLV; see also CXCV, CCCLXVII, CCCLXXIX and CCCXCIII.]

Source of Information:

The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 [Farrand's Records, Volume 1] MADISON Thursday June 28th. in Convention, pp 450-452.

The official cite for the The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 [Farrand's Records] is as follows:

The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Edited by Max Farrand Professor of History in Yale University, Volume III, New Haven: Yale University Press, London: Henry Frowde, Oxford University Press, MCMXI, Copyright, 1911, by Yale University Press, LL 549239 Feb 8 1941, The Plimpton Press Norwood Mass. U.S.A.


APRIL 8, 1788 Farrand's Records--CXCV. Benjamin Franklin to the Editor of the Federal Gazette.2

To conclude, I beg I may not be understood to infer, that our general Convention was divinely inspired when it form'd the new federal Constitution, merely because that Constitution has been unreasonably and vehemently opposed; yet I must own I have so much Faith in the general Government of the World by Providence, that I can hardly conceive a Transaction of such momentous Importance to the Welfare of Millions now existing, and to exist in the Posterity of a great Nation, should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenc'd, guided and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent R beneficent Ruler, in whom all inferior Spirits live & move and have their Being.--

[2 Documentary History of the Constitution, IV, 567--571; printed in the Federal Gazette, April 8, 1788.]

Source of Information:

The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 [Farrand's Records, Volume 3] CXCV. Benjamin Franklin to the Editor of the Federal Gazette.2 pp. 296-297.


THE MYTH

[the actual myth is highlighted in red letters in the following letter ]

1815: Sometime around 1815, William Steele claims to have been talking with Jonathan Dayton who related the anecdote to him. The information related would have been 28 years old at that time. [Glen]


OCTOBER 9, 1824: Jonathan Dayton died.


SEPTEMBER 1825: Farrand's Records--CCCLV. William Steele to Jonathan D. Steele. 1

Painted Post, September, 1825.

My dear Son: --

I some time ago repeated to you an historical anecdote, in which you felt so much interested that you extorted from me a promise, that I would at some moment of leisure commit it to paper for you. I am now seated for that purpose, and shall relate it as nearly as I can recollect, in the words of General Jonathan Dayton, one of the members of the General Convention, who framed the Constitution, and afterwards Speaker of the House of Representatives, in the Congress of the United States.

I was (said General Dayton) a delegate from New Jersey, in the General Convention which assembled in Philadelphia for the purpose of digesting a constitution for the United States, and I believe I was the youngest member of that body. The great and good Washington was chosen our president, and Dr. Franklin, among other great men, was a delegate from Pennsylvania. A disposition was soon discovered in some members to display themselves in oratorical flourishes; but the good sense and discretion of the majority put down all such attempts. We had convened to deliberate upon, and if possible effect, a great national object -- to search for political wisdom and truth; these we meant to pursue with simplicity, and to avoid everything which would have a tendency to divert our attention, or perplex our scheme.

A great variety of projects were proposed, all republican in their general outlines, but differing in their details. It was, therefore, determined that certain elementary principles should at first be established, in each branch of the intended constitution, and afterwards the details should be debated and filled up.

There was little or no difficulty in determining upon the elementary principles -- such as, for instance, that the government should be a republican-representative government -- that it should be divided into three branches, that is, legislative, executive, and judicial, &c. But when the organization of the respective branches of the legislature came under consideration, it was easy to be perceived that the eastern and southern states had distinct interests, which it was difficult to reconcile; and that the larger states were disposed to form a constitution, in which the smaller states would be mere appendages and satellites to the larger ones. On the first of these subjects, much animated and somewhat angry debate had taken place, when the ratio of representation in the lower house of Congress was before us -- the southern states claiming for themselves the whole number of their black population, while the eastern states were for confining the elective franchise to freemen only, without respect to color.

As the different parties adhered pertinaciously to their different positions, it was feared that this would prove an insurmountable obstacle; -- but as the members were already generally satisfied that no constitution could be formed, which would meet the views and subserve the interests of each individual state, it was evident that it must be a matter of compromise and mutual concession. Under these impressions, and with these views, it was agreed at length that each state should be entitled to one delegate in the House of Representatives for every 30,000 of its inhabitants -- in which number should be included three fifths of the whole number of their slaves.

When the details of the House of Representatives were disposed of, a more knotty point presented itself in the organization of the Senate. The larger states contended that the same ratio, as to states, should be common to both branches of the legislature; or, in other words, that each state should be entitled to a representation in the Senate, (whatever might be the number fixed on,) in proportion to its population, as in the House of Representatives. The smaller states, on the other hand, contended that the House of Representatives might be considered as the guardian of the liberties of the people, and therefore ought to bear a just proportion to their numbers; but that the Senate represented the sovereignty of the States, and that as each state, whether great or small, was equally an independent and sovereign state, it ought, in this branch of the legislature, to have equal weight and authority; without this, they said, there could be no security for their equal rights -- and they would, by such a distribution of power, be merged and lost in the larger states.

This reasoning, however plain and powerful, had but little influence on the minds of delegates from the larger states -- and as they formed a large majority of the Convention, the question, after passing through the forms of debate, was decided that 'each state should be represented in the Senate in proportion to its population.'

When the Convention had adjourned over to the next day, the delegates of the four smallest states, i.e., Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Delaware, convened to consult what course was to be pursued in the important crisis at which we had arrived. After serious investigation, it was solemnly determined to ask for a reconsideration the next morning and if it was not granted, or if, when granted, that offensive feature of the Constitution could not be expunged, and the smaller states put upon an equal footing with the largest, we would secede from the Convention, and, returning to our constituents, inform them that no compact could be formed with the large states, but one which would sacrifice our sovereignty and independence.

I was deputed to be the organ through which this communication should be made -- I know not why, unless it be that young men are generally chosen to perform rash actions. Accordingly, when the Convention had assembled, and as soon as the minutes of the last sitting were read, I arose and stated the view we had taken of the organization of the Senate -- our desire to obtain a reconsideration and suitable modification of that article; and, in failure thereof, our determination to secede from the Convention, and return to our constituents.

This disclosure, it may readily be supposed, produced an immediate and great excitement in every part of the house! Several members were immediately on the floor to express their surprise, or indignation! They represented that the question had received a full and fair investigation, and had been definitively settled by a very large majority. That it was altogether unparliamentary and unreasonable, for one of the minority to propose a reconsideration, at the moment their act had become a matter of record, and without pretending that any new light could be thrown on the subject. That if such a precedent should be established, it would in future be impossible to say when any one point was definitively settled; as a small minority might at any moment, again and again, move and obtain a reconsideration. They therefore hoped the Convention would express its decided disapprobation by passing silently to the business before them.

There was much warm and some acrimonious feeling exhibited by a number of the speeches -- a rupture appeared almost inevitable, and the bosom of Washington seemed to labor with the most anxious solicitude for its issue. Happily for the United States, the Convention contained some individuals possessed of talents and virtues of the highest order, whose hearts were deeply interested in the establishment of a new and efficient form of government; and whose penetrating minds had already deplored the evils which would spring up in our newly established republic, should the present attempt to consolidate it prove abortive. Among those personages, the most prominent was Dr. Franklin. He was esteemed the Mentor of our body. To a mind naturally strong and capacious, enriched by much reading and the experience of many years, he added a manner of communicating his thoughts peculiarly his own -- in which simplicity, beauty, and strength were equally conspicuous. As soon as the angry orators, who preceded him had left him an opening, the doctor rose, evidently impressed with the weight of the subject before them, and the difficulty of managing it successfully.

"We have arrived, Mr. President," said he, "at a very momentous and interesting crisis in our deliberations. Hitherto our views have been as harmonious, and our progress as great, as could reasonably have been expected. But now an unlooked for and formidable obstacle is thrown in our way, which threatens to arrest our course, and, if not skilfully removed, to render all our fond hopes of a constitution abortive. The ground which has been taken by the delegates of the four smallest states, was as unexpected by me, and as repugnant to my feelings, as it can be to any other member of this Convention. After what I thought a full and impartial investigation of the subject, I recorded my vote in the affirmative side of the question, and I have not yet heard anything which induces me to change my opinion. But I will not, therefore, conclude that it is impossible for me to be wrong! I will not say that those gentlemen who differ from me are under a delusion -- much less will I charge them with an intention of needlessly embarrassing our deliberations. It is possible some change in our late proceedings ought to take place upon principles of political justice; or that, all things considered, the majority may see cause to recede from some of their just pretensions, as a matter of prudence and expediency. For my own part, there is nothing I so much dread, as a failure to devise and establish some efficient and equal form of government for our infant republic. The present effort has been made under the happiest auspices, and has promised the most favorable results; but should this effort prove vain, it will be long ere another can be made with any prospect of success. Our strength and our prosperity will depend on our unity; and the secession of even four of the smallest states, interspersed as they are, would, in my mind, paralyze and render useless, any plan which the majority could devise. I should therefore be grieved, Mr. President, to see matters brought to the test, which has been, perhaps too rashly threatened on the one hand, and which some of my honored colleagues have treated too lightly on the other. I am convinced that it is a subject which should be approached with caution, treated with tenderness, and decided on with candor and liberality.

"It is, however, to be feared that the members of this Convention are not in a temper, at this moment, to approach the subject in which we differ, in this spirit. I would, therefore, propose, Mr. President, that, without proceeding further in this business at this time, the Convention shall adjourn for three days, in order to let the present ferment pass off, and to afford time for a more full, free, and dispassionate investigation of the subject; and I would earnestly recommend to the members of this Convention, that they spend the time of this recess, not in associating with their own party, and devising new arguments to fortify themselves in their old opinions, but that they mix with members of opposite sentiments, lend a patient ear to their reasonings, and candidly allow them all the weight to which they may be entitled; and when we assemble again, I hope it will be with a determination to form a constitution, if not such an one as we can individually, and in all respects, approve, yet the best, which, under existing circumstances, can be obtained." (Here the countenance of Washington brightened, and a cheering ray seemed to break in upon the gloom which had recently covered our political horizon.) The doctor continued: "Before I sit down, Mr. President, I will suggest another matter; and I am really surprised that it has not been proposed by some other member at an earlier period of our deliberations. I will suggest, Mr. President, the propriety of nominating and appointing, before we separate, a chaplain to this Convention, whose duty it shall be uniformly to assemble with us, and introduce the business of each day by an address to the Creator of the universe, and the Governor of all nations, beseeching Him to preside in our council, enlighten our minds with a portion of heavenly wisdom, influence our hearts with a love of truth and justice, and crown our labors with complete and abundant success!"

The doctor sat down, and never (said Gen. D.) did I behold a countenance at once so dignified and delighted as was that of Washington, at the close of this address! Nor were the members of the Convention, generally less affected. The words of the venerable Franklin fell upon our ears with a weight and authority, even greater than we may suppose an oracle to have had in a Roman senate! A silent admiration superseded, for a moment, the expression of that assent and approbation which was strongly marked on almost every countenance; I say almost, for one man was found in the Convention, Mr. H--,[Hamilton] from --, who rose and said, with regard to the first motion of the honorable gentleman, for an adjournment, he would yield his assent; but he protested against the second motion, for the appointment of a chaplain. He then commenced a high-strained eulogium on the assemblage of wisdom, talent, and experience, which the Convention embraced; declared the high sense he entertained of the honor which his constituents had conferred upon him, in making him a member of that respectable body; said he was confidently of opinion that they were competent to transact the business which had been entrusted to their care -- that they were equal to every exigence which might occur; and concluded by saying, that therefore he did not see the necessity of calling in foreign aid!

Washington fixed his eye upon the speaker, with a mixture of surprise and indignation, while he uttered this impertinent and impious speech, and then looked around to ascertain in what manner it affected others. They did not leave him a moment to doubt; no one deigned to reply, or take the smallest notice of the speaker, but the motion for appointing a chaplain was instantly seconded and carried; whether under the silent disapprobation of Mr. H--, or his solitary negative, I do not recollect. The motion for an adjournment was then put and carried unanimously, and the Convention adjourned accordingly.

The three days of recess were spent in the manner advised by Doctor Franklin; the opposite parties mixed with each other, and a free and frank interchange of sentiments took place. On the fourth day we assembled again, and if great additional light had not been thrown on the subject, every unfriendly feeling had been expelled; and a spirit of conciliation had been cultivated, which promised, at least, a calm and dispassionate reconsideration of the subject.

As soon as the chaplain had closed his prayer, and the minutes of the last sitting were read, all eyes were turned to the doctor. He rose, and in a few words stated, that during the recess he had listened attentively to all the arguments pro and con, which had been urged by both sides of the house; that he had himself said much, and thought more on the subject; he saw difficulties and objections, which might be urged by individual states, against every scheme which had been proposed; and he was now, more than ever, convinced that the constitution which they were about to form, in order to be just and equal, must be formed on the basis of compromise and mutual concession. With such views and feelings, he would now move a reconsideration of the vote last taken on the organization of the Senate. The motion was seconded, the vote carried, the former vote rescinded, and by a successive motion and resolution, the Senate was organized on the present plan.

Thus, my dear son, I have detailed, as far as my memory serves me, the information which I received personally from General Dayton. It has been done from a recollection of ten years, and I may have differed much from General Dayton in his phraseology, but I am confident I have faithfully stated the facts. I have related this anecdote at different times to gentlemen of information, to all of whom it was entirely new. Some of them requested me to furnish them a written copy, but I deemed that improper without the permission of General Dayton; and I intended, the first opportunity I should have, to make the same request of him -- but the hand of death has removed him.

In committing this anecdote to paper, I have been actuated not only by a wish to gratify you, but by a desire to perpetuate the facts, if, as I fear, they are not elsewhere recorded. As they relate to a very important feature in our republican institutions, and to some of the most celebrated individuals who achieved our independence and framed our national government, they will, I am persuaded, be interesting to every lover of this happy country.

I am, very affectionately,
Your father,
Wm. Steele.

To Jonathan D. Steele.

1 Littell's Living Age, 25 May, 1850, [pp. 357-359] The National Intelligencer of August 26, 1826, had printed this with the following introduction from the New York Gazette:

"A friend has favored us with an interesting Manuscript, relating to a most important period of our history. The circumstances here detailed are new to us, and we believe they have never before been published. The narrative is in the words of General --, one of the members of the General Convention which framed the Constitution. It was committed to paper by the gentleman to whom General -- detailed the facts, and we now have the satisfaction of laying it before our readers."

For Madison's comment on this anecdote see CCCLXXIX and CCCXCIII below.]

Source of Information:

Letter from Wm Steele to his son Jonathan D. Steele, September, 1825. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Volume III, Appendex A, [Farrand's Records, Volume 3] CCCLV. William Steele to Jonathan D. Steele.[1] Pp. 467- 473


August 26, 1826: The National Intelligencer article containing the Steele letter.


April 19, 1830 Farrand's Records--CCCLXVII. Jared Sparks: Journal. 2

CCCLXVII. Jared Sparks: Journal.[1830], April 19th. It was necessary for the old Congress to sit with closed doors, because it was the executive as well as legislative body; names of persons and characters came perpetually before them; and much business was constantly on hand which would have been embarassed if it had gone to the public before it was finished. It was likewise best for the convention for forming the Constitution to sit with closed doors, because opinions were so various and at first so crude that it was necessary they should be long debated before any uniform system of opinion could be formed. Meantime the minds of the members were changing, and much was to be gained by a yielding and accommodating spirit. Had the members committed themselves publicly at first, they would have afterwards supposed consistency required them to maintain their ground, whereas by secret discussion no man felt himself obliged to retain his opinions any longer than he was satisfied of their propriety and truth, and was open to the force of argument. Mr. Madison thinks no Constitution would ever have been adopted by the convention if the debates had been public. No chaplain was chosen for the convention at any period of its session, although Dr. Franklin proposed one, as has been reported, after the convention had been some time sitting. ...

[2 H. B. Adams, Life and Writings of Jared Sparks, I, 560--564; II, 31--36. Notes of a visit to James Madison.]

Source of Information:

The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 [Farrand's Records, Volume 3] CCCLXVII. Jared Sparks: Journal.2, pp. 478-479


James Madison's Attempts to Correct the Historical Record

APRIL 8, 1831: Farrand's Records--CCCLXXIX. James Madison to Jared Sparks. 2</b>

Montpellier, April 8, 1831.

"It was during that period of gloom, that Dr. Franklin made the proposition for a religious service in the Convention, an account of which was so erroneously given, with every semblance of authenticity, through the National Intelligencer, several years ago." 1

[1 See CCCLV above, and CCCXCIII below.]

[2 Jared Sparks, Life of Gouverneur Morris, I, 284--286.]

Source of Information:

The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Volume III, Appendex A, [Farrand's Records, Volume 3] CCCLXXIX. James Madison to Jared Sparks. pp. 499-500.


APRIL 1831: Farrand's Records--CCCLXXX. James Madison to J. K. Paulding. 2

Montpellier, Apl--, 1831.

Of Franklin I had no personal knowledge till we served together in the Federal Convention of 1787, and the part he took there has found its way to the public, with the exception of a few anecdotes which belong to the unveiled part of the proceedings of that Assembly.

[Note 2: 2 Letters and other Writings of James Madison, IV, 174--175, 177.]

Source of Information:

The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Volume III, Appendex A, [Farrand's Records, Volume 3] CCCLXXX. James Madison to J. K. Paulding. p. 500


January 6, 1834: Farrand's Records--CCCXCIII. James Madison to Thomas S. Grimke.1

"Montpr. Jany, 6, 1834.

You wish to be informed of the errors in your pamphlet alluded to in my last. The first related to the proposition of Doctor Franklin in favor of a religious service in the Federal Convention. The proposition was received & treated with the respect due to it; but the lapse of time which had preceded, with considerations growing out of it, had the effect of limiting what was done, to a reference of the proposition to a highly respectable Committee. This issue of it may be traced in the printed Journal. The Quaker usage, never discontinued in the State & the place where the Convention held its sittings, might not have been without an influence as might also, the discord of religious opinions within the Convention, as well as among the Clergy of the Spot. The error into which you had fallen may have been confirmed by a communication in the National Intelligencer2 some years ago, said to have been received through a respectable channel from a member of the Convention. That the communication was erroneous is certain; whether from misapprehension or misrecollection, uncertain."

[1 Documentary History of the Constitution, V, 395--398.]

[2 See CCCLV and CCCLXXIX above.]

Source of Information:

The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Volume III, Appendex A, [Farrand's Records, Volume 3] CCCXCIII. James Madison to Thomas S. Grimke. p. 531.


The Myth Is Continued

1836

In May 1787, the delegates of the several State assembled in Philadelphia, with a view to the formation of a-constitution for the better government of the Union. Of this illustrious body, Washington was unanimously chosen President. During the session the following occurrences took place. The account thereof, in its present authentic form, was written in the year 1825, by an intimate friend of the youngest member of the convention. The part here given is that relating to the reconsideration of the provision which had been made in the, beginning, for the representation of the States in the Senate: It had been determined, that representation should be according to population. To this principle the representatives from the four smaller states objected. They moved a reconsideration, and expressed their purpose of withdrawing from the convention, unless the constitution was so modified, as to give each state an equal representation.

"There was much warmth," says the writer referred to, and some acrimonious feeling exhibited by a number of the speakers; a rupture appeared almost inevitable, and the bosom of Washington seemed to labour with the most anxious solicitude for its issue: Happily for the United States, the convention contained some individuals possessed of talents and virtues of the highest order, whose hearts were deeply interested in the establishment of a new and efficient form of government, and whose penetrating minds had already deplored the evils which would spring up in our newly established Republic, should the present attempt to consolidate it prove abortive. Among those personages, the most prominent was Dr. Franklin. He was esteemed the mentor of our body. To a mind naturally strong and capacious, enriched by much reading, and the experience of many years, he added a manner of communicating his thoughts peculiarly his own, in which simplicity, beauty, and strength, were equally conspicuous. As soon as the angry orators who had preceded him had left him an opening, the Doctor rose, evidently impressed with the weight of the subject before them, and the difficulty of managing it successfully."

In a speech, as given by the writer, the Doctor urged the consideration of the great interests involved in the issue of their deliberations, and proposed a recess of three days, for cool reflection and impartial conversations among the members respecting their conflicting views and opinions, that they might return to the discussion of the subject before them with more tranquil and amicable feelings. He then concluded in the following words :

"Before I sit down, Mr. President, I will suggest another matter ; and I am really surprised that it has not been. proposed by some other ember at an earlier period of our deliberations. I will suggest, Mr: President, the propriety of nominating and appointing, before we separate, a ,chaplain to this convention, whose duty it shall be uniformly to assemble with us, and introduce the business of each day by an address to the Creator of the universe, and the Governour of all nations, beseeching Him to preside in our council, enlighten our minds with a portion of heavenly wisdom, influence our hearts with a love of truth and justice, and crown our labours with-complete and abundant success"

The Doctor sat down; and never did I behold a countenance at once so dignified and delighted, as was that of Washington at the close of this .address; nor were the members of the convention, generally, less affected. The words of the venerable Franklin fell upon our ears with a weight and authority, even greater than we may suppose an oracle to have had in a Roman senate! A silent admiration superseded for a moment the expression of that assent and approbation which was strongly marked on almost every countenance; I say almost for one man was found in the convention; Mr. _____, of _____, who rose and said, with regard to the first motion of the honourable gentleman, for an adjournment, he would yield his assent; but he protested against the second motion for the appointment of a chaplain. He then commenced a high-strained eulogium on the assemblage of wisdom, talent, and experience which the convention embraced; declared the high sense he entertained of the honour which his constituents conferred upon him in making him a member of that respectable body; said he was confidently of opinion that they were competent to transact the business which had been entrusted to their care; that they were equal' to every exigence which might occur; and concluded by saying, that, therefore, he had not seen the necessity of foreign aid!

Washington fixed his eye upon the speaker with a mixture of surprise and indignation, while he uttered this impertinent and impious speech! - and then looked around to see in what manner it affected others. They did not leave him a moment to doubt - no one deigned to reply, or take the smallest notice of the speaker,- but the motion for appointing a chaplain was instantly seconded and carried; whether under the silent disapprobation of Mr.___, or his solitary negative, I do not recollect. The motion for an adjournment was then put, and carried unanimously; and, the convention adjourned accordingly.

"The three days of recess were spent in the manner advised by Dr. Franklin; the opposite parties mixed with each other, and a free and frank interchange of sentiments took place. On the fourth day we assembled again; and if great additional light had not been thrown on the subject, every unfriendly feeling had been expelted; and a spirit of conciliation had been cultivated, which promised, at least, a calm and dispassionate reconsideration of the subject.

"As soon as the chaplain had closed his prayer, and the minutes of the last sitting were read, all eyes were turned to the Doctor. He rose, and in a few words, stated that during the recess he had listened attentively to all the arguments, pro and con, which had been urged by both sides of the - house ; that he had himself said much, and thought more on the subject; he saw difficulties and objections which might be urged by individual States against every scheme which had been proposed; and he was now more than ever convinced that the constitution which they were about to form, in order to be just and equal, must be founded on the basis of compromise and mutual concession. With such views and feelings, he would move a reconsideration of the vote last taken on the organization of the senate. The motion was seconded, the vote carried, the former vote rescinded, and by a successful motion and resolution, the senate was organized on the present plan."

In a year or two from this time, by the united voice of a free people , Washington was elevated to the high office of President of the United States.

Source of Information:

The Religious Opinions and Character of Washington. By E. C. Miguire. "A Christian Is the Highest Style of Man." . . . Young. New York: Harper & Brothers, 82, Cliff-street. MDCCCXXXVI, pp 149-53.


1840

Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. First published in v. 2-3 of The Papers of James Madison, Washington, 1840. First published separately in 1893 under title: Journal of the Federal Convention.


MAY 25, 1850:

New York, April 29th, 1850.

To the Editor of the Living Age:

When I promised, last week, in Boston, that I would send you a copy of a letter from my father, received twenty-five years ago, narrating a most interesting historical fact, not elsewhere so minutely recorded, 1 think you concurred, with me in the opinion that its publication could not but be useful at this time, when the wisdom and sagacity of our Franklin, and the spirit of conciliation and mutual concession evinced by the convention which adopted our Constitution, afire so much needed at Washington.

On Saturday last, I took from my files the original letter, which I now enclose to you, (and which, as I informed you, was published in the Daily Advertiser, in 1825,) and handed it to my clerk to copy. Judge, then, of my surprise, on opening the New York Observer, of the same day, Saturday, 27th, to find that, by a singular coincidence, some ancient reader, and remember, too, of the paper of my late valued friend, Theodore Dwight, Esq., had without my knowledge, brought forward from the dark recesses of years long elapsed, this identical letter, in the same spirit in which you proposed to republish it. As everything which relates to the formation of our glorious Union is deeply interesting to all those who wish for its perpetuity, I should be gratified to see an historical anecdote of so much interest, and of undoubted authenticity, transferred to the pages of die "Living age.."

[What Follows Is the Letter of September 1825: Farrand's Records--CCCLV. William Steele to Jonathan D. Steele. 1 Painted Post, September, 1825. My dear Son: --]

Source of Information:

Littell's Living Age [The Living age ... / Volume 25, Issue 314: pp. 357-359] mentioning the publication by the National Intelligencer of the Steele Letter, etc.


1864

[Speech of Franklin-Identical to the version shown here: Introduction, Bicentennial Edition, Notes Of The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, June 28, 1787, Reported by James Madison, With an introduction by Adrienne Koch. W.W. Norton & Company, N Y. London. (1987) pp. 209-210--the first entry in this article]

Madison says that

"Mr. 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 Dr. 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 oŁ 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 bad 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."

The following authentic account of the scene connected with Dr. Franklin's speech in reference to the need of Divine aid in forming the Constitution was written in 1825 by an intimate friend of the youngest member of the convention, and may be found in McGuire's "Religious Opinions and Character of Washington." It relates to the reconsideration of the provision which had been made for the representation of the States in the Senate. It had been determined that representation should be according to population. To this principle the representatives from the four smaller States objected. They moved a reconsideration, and expressed their purpose of withdrawing from the convention unless the Constitution was so modified as to give them an equal representation.

" A rupture," says the writer, " appeared almost inevitable, and the bosom of Washington seemed to labor with the most anxious solicitude for its issue. Happily for the United States, the convention contained many individuals possessed of talents and virtues of the highest order, whose hearts were deeply interested in the establishment of a new and efficient form of government, and whose penetrating minds had already deplored the evils which would spring up in our newly-established republic should the present attempt to consolidate it prove abortive. Among those personages the most prominent was Dr. Franklin. He was esteemed the Mentor of our body. To a mind naturally strong and capacious, enriched by much reading and the experience of many years, he added a manner of communicating his thpughts peculiarly his own, in which simplicity, beauty, and strength were equally conspicuous. As soon as the angry orators who had preceded him had left him an opening, the doctor rose, impressed with the weight of the subject before them, and the difficulty of managing it successfully.

" In a speech, the doctor urged the consideration of the great interests involved in the issue of their deliberations, and proposed a recess for three days, for cool reflection and impartial conversation among the members respecting their conflicting views and opinions, that they might return to the subject before them with more tranquil and amicable feelings. He then concluded in the following words:

Before I sit down, Mr. President, I will suggest another matter; and I am really surprised that it has not been proposed by some other member at an earlier period of our deliberations. I will suggest, Mr. President, the propriety of nominating and appointing, before we separate, a chaplain to this convention, whose duty it shall be uniformly to assemble with us, and introduce the business of each day by an address to the Creator of the universe and the Governor of all nations, beseeching him to preside in our council, enlighten our minds with a portion of heavenly wisdom, influence our hearts with a love of truth and justice, and crown our labors with complete and abundant success.'

"The doctor sat down; and never did I behold a countenance at once so dignified and delighted as was that of Washington, at the close of this address; nor were the members of the convention generally less affected. The words of the venerable Franklin fell upon our ears with a weight and authority even greater than we may suppose an oracle to have had in a Roman Senate. A silent admiration superseded for a moment the expression of that assent and approbation which was strongly marked on almost every countenance. The motion for appointing a chaplain was instantly put, and carried, with a solitary negative. The motion for an adjournment was then put, and carried. unanimously; and the convention adjourned accordingly.

"The three days of recess were spent in the manner advised by Dr. Franklin: the opposite parties mixed with each other, and a free and frank interchange of sentiments took place. . On the fourth day we assembled again; and, if great additional light had not been thrown 'on the subject, every unfriendly feeling had been expelled, and a spirit of conciliation had been cultivated which promised at least a calm and dispassionate reconsideration of the subject.

"As soon as the chaplain had closed his prayer, and the minutes of the last sitting were read, all eyes were turned to the doctor. He rose, and said, in a few words, that during the recess he had listened attentively to all the arguments, pro and con, which had been urged by both sides of the House; that he had himself read much, and thought more, on the subject; he saw difficulties and objections which might be urged by individual States against every scheme which had been proposed, and he now more than ever was convinced that the Constitution which they were about to form, in order to be just and equal, must be founded on the basis of compromise and mutual concession. With such views and feelings, be would move a reconsideration of the vote last taken on the organization of the Senate. The motion was seconded, the vote carried,,the former vote rescinded, and, by a successful motion and resolution, the Senate was organized on the present plan."

During the deliberations of the convention to form the Constitution, the 4th of July, 1787, was celebrated in Philadelphia ,with great enthusiasm. The oration was delivered in the Reformed Calvinistic Church, and Rev. William Rogers offered up a prayer, of which the following is an extract:

"As this is a period, 0 Lord, big with events impenetrable by any human scrutiny, we fervently recommend to thy fatherly notice that August body, assembled in this city, who compose our federal convention. Will it please thee, 0 thou Eternal I Am ! to favor 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; incline the hearts of all the people to receive with pleasure, combined with a determination to carry into execution, whatever these thy servants may wisely recommend; that the United States of America may form one example of a free and virtuous government, which shall be the result of human mutual deliberation, and which shall not, like other governments, whether ancient or modern, spring out of mere chance or be established by force. May we trust in the cheering prospect of being a country delivered from anarchy, and continue, under the influence of republican virtue, to partake of all the blessings of cultivated and Christian society."

In Dr. Franklin's closing speech in the convention, he said,

"It astonishes me, sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded, like those of the builders of Babel."

After the convention had closed its labors, and the Constitution had been adopted, Dr. Franklin acknowledged a divine intervention, as follows:

"I am not to be understood to infer that our General Convention was divinely inspired when it formed the new Federal Constitution; yet I must own that I have so much faith in the general government of the world by Providence, that I can hardly conceive a transaction of so much importance to the welfare of millions now in existence, and to exist in the posterity of a great nation, should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent and beneficent Ruler in whom all inferior spirits live, and move, and have their being."

This Constitution, freighted with such rich blessings, and tested by eighty-three years' trial, met at its formation with great opposition. Dr. Franklin wrote a paper comparing the conduct of the ancient Jews with that of the opponents of the Constitution of the United States, in which he says that " A zealous advocate for the proposed Federal Constitution, in a certain public assembly, said that the repugnance of a great part of mankind to good government was such, that he believed that if an angel from heaven was to bring down a Constitution from there for our use, it would nevertheless meet with violent opposition. He was reproved for the supposed extravagance of the sentiment.

"Probably," says Dr. Franklin; "it might not have immediately occurred to him that the experiment had been tried, and that the event was recorded in the most faithful of all histories, the Holy Bible; otherwise he might, as it seems to me, have supported his opinion by that unexceptionable authority.

"On the whole, it appears that the Israelites were a people jealous of their newly-acquired liberty, which jealousy was ill itself no fault; but when they suffered it to be worked upon by artful men pretending public good, with nothing really in view but private interest, they were led to oppose the establishment of the new Constitution, whereby they brought upon themselves much inconvenience and misfortune. From all which we may gather that popular opposition to a public measure is no proof of its impropriety, even though the opposition be excited and headed by men of distinction."

Source of Information:

Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, Developed in the Official and Historical Annals of the Republic, by B.F. Morris. Georger W. Childs, (1864) pp 250-55.


Enter David Barton

1993

Establishing a Stronger Government

With the cessation of hostilities and the victorious conclusion of the campaign against Great Britain, it was time for the legislators to turn their full attention toward securing their nation's newly gained freedom and liberty. The Declaration of Independence had only declared their rights; now it was time to safeguard them.

To respond to this need, delegates from each state arrived in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation under which the government had been functioning. It soon became evident to the attending delegates that revising the Articles would not be sufficient; a completely new pact of government was needed. Although the convention had not convened to write a new constitution, it ultimately did, and therefore became known historically as the Constitutional Convention.

The Convention had begun in a manner quite different from the original Congress whose first act had been to seek God. Even though that same attitude of reliance on God had been carried throughout the Revolution, now, perhaps as a consequence of the nation's successes, the delegates did not commence this endeavor as previous ones: they neither formally requested God's aid nor acknowledged their dependence on Him.

From all historical accounts, there had been very little progress in their effort to establish a new government until one specific incident provided a new spirit for their endeavors. James Madison, who kept fastidious personal records of the Convention's events and debates, described the turning point in the Convention-a stinging rebuke delivered by the 81 year-old Ben Franklin on Thursday, June 28,1787.

At the time of Franklin's address, the delegates were embroiled in a heated debate over how each state would be represented in the new government. The dispute had caused great animosity, pitting the larger states against the smaller ones and creating bitter and hostile feelings between the state delegations. Addressing George Washington, President of the Convention, Franklin declared:

Mr. President:

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 ayes, 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 understanding? 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 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 afairs 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 labor in vain that build it." I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in s this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our 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.91

How did the delegates respond to this rebuff? One of them, Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey, reported:

The Doctor sat down; and never did I behold a countenance at once so dignified and delighted as was that of x- Washington, at the close of the address; nor were the members of the convention, generally, less affected. The words of the venerable Franklin fell upon our ears with a weight and authority, even greater than we may suppose an oracle to have had in a Roman senate! 92

Roger Sherman of Connecticut seconded Franklin's motion for prayer. 93 Edmund Jennings Randolph of Virginia further proposed:

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. 94

It was then pointed out that the Convention had no funds and therefore could not pay the clergy. Notwithstanding, some clergy of the city, in response to the delegates' desire to convene with prayer--and having no desire for monetary remuneration--responded affirmatively to their request. These measures had a profound effect on the Convention. Notice Dayton's records for July 2, after they had turned their attention toward God:

We assembled again; and . . . every unfriendly feeling had been expelled, and a spirit of conciliation had been cultivated. 95

On July 4, in accordance with the proposal by Edmund Jennings Randolph, the entire Convention assembled in the Reformed Calvinistic Church and heard a sermon by Rev. William Rogers. His prayer reflected the sentiment which had gripped the delegates following Franklin's admonition:

We fervently recommend to thy fatherly notice . . . our federal convention .... Favor 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 society. 96

Franklin's admonition-and the delegates response to it had been the turning point not only for the Convention, but also for the future of the nation. While neglecting God, their efforts had been characterized by frustration and selfishness. With their repentance came a desire to begin each morning of official government business with prayer and even to attend church en masse, as government officials, to hear a minister inspire and challenge them. After returning God to their deliberations, were they effective in their efforts to frame a new government?

"We, the people of the United States. . . " Thus begins what has become the oldest written constitution still in effect today .... The greatest legal minds of two centuries have continued to marvel at it as being almost beyond the scope and dimension of human wisdom. When one stops to consider the enormous problems the Constitution somehow anticipated and the challenges and testings it foresaw, that statement appears more understated than exaggerated. For not even the collective genius of the fledgling United States of America could claim credit for the fantastic strength, resilience, balance, and timelessness of the Constitution. And most of them knew it. 97

As seen in the last chapter, Justices who participated in the founding and initial development of the nation unequivocally declared that Christianity was part of and the basis for the Constitution. But did Christianity really have any effect on our form of government? Would it have made any difference if our Founders had embraced the enlightenment philosophy so prevalent in France the philosophy which advocated the complete separation of religious principle from government and education?

If our Founding Fathers had been smitten with the idealism of the Enlightenment . . . we would have established the same unstable form of government experienced by France, which has endured seven different governmental systems during the two hundred years that America has enjoyed only one. 98

Additional evidence that Christianity was the basis of the Constitution is seen in Article 1, Section 7, Paragraph 2, which states that the President shall have ten days to consider a bill, "Sundays excepted." To most people today, the provision of "Sundays excepted" does not declare a strong Christian construction of the Constitution. However, that was not the sentiment in earlier years, as evidenced by this excerpt from a January 19, 1853, Senate Judiciary Committee report commenting on the "Sundays excepted" provision:

In the law, Sunday is a "dies non;" . . . . The executive departments, the public establishments, are all closed on Sundays; on that day neither House of Congress sits .... Here is a recognition by law, and by universal usage, not only of a Sabbath, but of the Christian Sabbath, in exclusion of the Jewish or Mohammedan Sabbath . . . . The recognition of the Christian Sabbath [by the Constitution] is complete and perfect. 99

Not only did the Senate view Sunday recognition as an important aspect indicating the Christian basis of the government, even the courts declared the national importance of Sunday. Recall the Charleston case from the previous chapter:

91 James Madison, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Max Farrand, ed. (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1911). Vol. 1, pp. 450-452, June 28,1787.

92 E. C. M'Guire, The Religious Opinions and Character of Washington (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1836), p.151.

93 Madison, supra note 91 at Vol. 1, p. 452.

94 Id.

95 M'Guire, p.152.

96 B.F. Morris, The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States (Philadelphia: George W. Childs, 1864) pp. 253-254

97 Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory (New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1977), p. 343.

98 Tim LaHaye, Faith of Our Founding Fathers (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1987), p. 71.

99 Morris, p. 326

Source of Information:

The Myth of Separation, What is the correct Relationship between Church and State? by David Barton, Wallbuilders Press, 3rd Edition, (1992) 5th printing, (July 1993) pp 107-111.


1996

WILLIAM J. FEDERER

Constitutional Convention June 28, 1787, Thursday, was embroiled in a bitter debate over how each state was to be represented in the new government. The hostile feelings created by the smaller states being pitted against the larger states was so bitter that some delegates actually left the Convention.

Benjamin Franklin, being the President (Governor) of Pennsylvania, hosted the rest of the 55 delegates attending the Convention. Being the senior member of the convention, at 81 years of age, he commanded the respect of all present, and, as recorded in James Madison's detailed records, he arose to address the Congress in this Benjamin moment of crisis:

Mr. President, the small progress we have made after four 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 ayes, 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 out understanding?

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 out favor.

To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity o1 consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future nationa. felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? or do we imagine 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 affair, 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 labor 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 partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye wore 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 hencefortl prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessing 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. 156

Jonathan Dayton, delegate from New Jersey reported the reaction of Congress to Dr. Franklin'srebuke:

The Doctor sat down; and never did I behold a countenance at once so dignified and delighted as was that of Washington at the close of the address; nor were the members of the convention generally less affected. The words of the venerable Franklin fell upon our ears with a weight and authority, even greater than we may suppose an oracle to have had in a Roman senate! 157

Following the historical address, James Madison moved,158 seconded by Roger Sherman of Connecticut,159 that Dr. Franklin's appeal for prayer be enacted. Edmund Jennings Randolph of Virginia further games moved:

That a sermon be preached at the request of the convention on the 4th of July, the anniversary of Independence; and thenceforward prayers be used in ye Convention every morning. 160

[Of note is the fact that prayers have opened both houses of Congress ever since.] 161

The clergy of the city responded to this request and effected a profound change in the convention, when they reconvened on July 2, 1787, as noted in Jonathan Dayton's records:

We assembled again; and ... every unfriendly feeling had been expelled, and a spirit of conciliation had been cultivated.162

On July 4th, the entire Convention assembled in the Reformed Calvinistic Church, according to the proposal by Edmund Jennings Randolphof Virginia, and heard a sermon by Rev. William Rogers. His prayer was a reflection of the hearts of all the delegates following the convicting admonition of Dr. Franklin:

We fervently recommend to the fatherly notice ... our federal convention ... Favor 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 society. 163

NOTES

156 Constitutional Convention June 28,1787, in an address by Benjamin Franklin. James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 (1787; Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1966, 1985; NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 1987), pp. 209-210. Albert Henry Smyth, ed., The Writings of Benjamin Franklin (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1905-7), IX:600-1. Gaillard Huntand James B. Scott, ed., The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Which Framed the Constitution of the United States of America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1920), pp. 181-182. Andrew M. Allison, W. Cleon Skousen, and M. Richard Maxfield, The Red Benjamin Franklin (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Freeman Institute, 1982, pp. 258-259. John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitutim -The Faith of Our Founding Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, A Mott Media Book, 1987; 6th printing, 1993), pp. 12-13, 208. Tim LaHaye, Faith of Our Founding Fathers (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1987), pp. 122-124. David Barton, The Myth of Separation (Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press, 1991), p. 108-109. D.P. Diffine, Ph.D., One Nation Underfed - How Close a Separation? (Searcy, Arkansas: Harding University, Belden Center for Private Enterprise Education, 6th edition, 1992), p. 8.

157 Constitutional Convention. June 28, 1787, Jonathan Dayton recorded the response to Benjamin Franklin's address. EC, M'Guire, The Religious Opinions and Character of Washington (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1836), p. 151. David Barton, The Myth of Separation (Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press, 1991), p.109.

158 Constitutional Convention. June 28, 1787, in a motion by James Madison. Irving Brant, James Madison, Father of the Constitution 1787-1800 (New York: Bobbs-Merrill,1950), Vol. 111, p.84. Tim LaHaye, Faith of Our Founding Fathers (Brentwood,, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1987), p.126.

159 Constitutional Convention. June 28,1787, Roger Sherman seconding a motion following Benjamin Franklin's address. James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 (1787; reprinted NY: W. W. Norton & Co., 1987), p. 210. David Barton The Myth of Separation (Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press, 1991), p. 109.

160 Constitutional Convention. June 28,1787, motion by Edmund Jennings Randolph of Virginia following Benjamin F. address. James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 (1787; reprinted NY: W.W.Norton & Co., 198A 210-211. David Barton, The Myth of Separation (Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press, 1991), p. 109.

161 Constitutional Convention. June 28,1787, following Benjamin Franklin's address. Tim LaHaye, Faith of Our Founding Fathers, (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1987), p. 57.

162 Constitutional Convention. July 2,1787, as recorded in Jonathan Dayton. E.C. M'Guire, The Religious Opinions and Character of Washington (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1836), p.152. David Barton, The Myth of Separation (Aledo, TX WallBuilder Press, 199 p. 110.

163 Constitutional Convention. July 4,1787, in a sermon by Rev. William Rogers to the delegates. Benjamin Franklin Morris, The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States (Philadelphia: George W. Childs,1864), pp. 253-254. David Barton, The Myth of Separation (Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press, 1991), p. 110. SOURCE America's God and Country, Encyclopedia of Quotations. William J. Federer. Fame Publishing, Inc. Coppell, Texas (1996) pp. 150-153; 734-35.

1996

More from Federer

Jonathan Dayton (1760-1824), one of the signers of the Constitution of the United States, was a delegate from New Jersey, a U.S. Senator and the Speaker of the House. The city of Dayton, Ohio, was named after him. On June 28, 1787, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Jonathan Dayton wrote down the effects on Congress of Dr. Benjamin Jonathan Franklin's monumental speech calling for Congress to be opened with prayer every day:

The Doctor sat down; and never did I behold a countenance at once so dignified and delighted as was that of Washington at the close of the address; nor were the members of the convention generally less affected. The words of the venerable Franklin fell upon our ears with a weight and authority, even greater that we may suppose an oracle to have had in a Roman senate! 15

15 Jonathan Dayton. June 28, 1787, in the Constitutional Convention. E.C. M'Guire, The Religious Opinions and Character of Washington (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1836), p. 151. David Barton, The Myth of Separation (Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press, 1991J, p.109.

Source of Information:

America's God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations, By: William J. Federer, Fame Publishing, Inc. Coppell, Texas, (1996) p.199


DAVID BARTON AGAIN

1996

In Original Intent, by David Barton, Wallbuilder Press, 1st Edition, 1st printing, (1996) the only references to Jonathan Dayton is found on page 83 and says:

Signers James Madison, Richard Stockton, Benjamin Rush, Gunning Bedford, Jonathan Dayton, and numerous other prominent Founders, graduated from Princeton (a seminary for the training of ministers).

It has been noted that many of the more outrageous claims that no primary source documentation could be found to establish that had been published in The Myth of Separation and/or many of Barton's early video tapes were not included in Original Intent.

Thus a good rule of thumb is, if it appeared in The Myth of Separation or one the early Barton videos but not in Original Intent one can take it as being something Barton could not support with actual primary source documentation, or something that Barton had decided was not helpful to his overall position.

By the way, Jonathan Dayton isn't mentioned in the index of the Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of the 1787 Reported by James Madison.

So the most that could be said with regards to this is, if he wrote anything on the topic, none of the cites by anyone lists an original source, such as the Writings or Papers, or Diary or Journal of Jonathan Dayton and at most any such comments by him would be his own personal conclusions, opinion, etc. and only his.


AN IMPROVEMENT BUT STILL NOT ACCURATE

Especially with regards to the following since the primary source historical record makes no mention of Franklin ever uttering these words:

Before I sit down, Mr. President, I will suggest another matter; and I am really surprised that it has not been proposed by some other member at an earlier period of our deliberations. I will suggest, Mr. President, that propriety of nominating and appointing, before we separate, a chaplain to this Convention, whose duty it shall be uniformly to assemble with us, and introduce the business of each day by and address to the Creator of the universe, and the Governor of all nations, beseeching Him to preside in our council, enlighten our minds with a portion of heavenly wisdom, influence our hearts with a love of truth and justice, and crown our labors with complete and abundant success!

And the linking of the above words on June 28, 1787 and the following:

Discrepancies

Claims are made that Franklin spoke those additional words and that there is a connection between those words and the appointments of chaplains to the First Federal Congress but so far I have yet to see anyone provide primary source historical documentation of this connection. Until someone does, it is purely unsubstantiated speculation.

2002

Franklin's Appeal for Prayer at the Constitutional Convention


SUMMATION

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was in dire straits and in danger of dissolution when Benjamin Franklin made an appeal and a motion for public prayer within the Convention in an eloquent speech on the floor of the Convention on June 28, 1787. David Barton, in his book The Myth of Separation, assumes that the motion passed as a matter of course and asserts:

Franklin's admonition-and the delegates' response to it-had been the turning point not only for the Convention, but also for the future of the nation. While neglecting God, their efforts had been characterized by frustration and selfishness. With their repentance came a desire to begin each morning of official government business with prayer . . . After returning God to their deliberations, were they effective in their efforts to frame a new government?1

However, as James Madison's notes on the Constitutional Convention demonstrate, dissension and debate broke out over Franklin's motion!2

Alexander Hamilton and others expressed misgivings that the motion might bring on "some disagreeable animadversions" (heated disputes) and cause the public to believe that "embarrassments and dissension" within the Convention had brought on the motion. One of the delegates pointed out that the Convention had no funds with which to pay a minister to offer prayers, even though, if David Barton is correct, local clergymen had volunteered to offer such prayers at no charge.3 Edmund Randolph proposed an alternative motion that a special service be held on the Fourth of July at which time prayers would be offered. Franklin seconded Randolph's motion recognizing, as he later acknowledged, that the Convention "except for three or four persons, thought prayers unnecessary."4 James Madison recorded in his notes that "after several unsuccessful attempts for silently postponing the matter by adjourning, the adjournment at length carried, without any vote on the matter."5

On July 2, following the purported (but non-actual) institution of official, public prayer in the Convention's proceedings that supposedly took place on June 29, the dissension within the Convention was still as heated and the division as deep as ever. Roger Sherman declared that "we are now at a full stop" and recommended that a committee work on the resolution of the issue of Senate representation.6 On the same day Gouverneur Morris, one of the most influential delegates to the Convention, stated, "Reason tells us we are but men, and we are not to expect any particular interference from heaven in our favor."7 (What a revealing statement this is, in contrast to the sentiments of Franklin and the assertions of David Barton!)

The dissension and impasse within the Convention continued long after the Convention rejected Franklin's call to prayer and after the observance of the Fourth of July religious service. On July 10 George Washington wrote to Alexander Hamilton:

Our councils are now, it is possible, at a worse train than ever; you will find but little ground on which the hope of a good establishment can be formed. In a word, I almost despair of seeing a favorable issue to the proceedings of the Convention.8

On July 15 Caleb Strong summarized the Convention's situation: "The Convention has been much divided in opinion .... It is agreed on all hands [that] Congress [is] nearly at an end. If no accommodation takes place, the union itself must soon be dissolved."9 Not until July 16 was the report of the committee, the so-called "Great Compromise," adopted, and only then was the impasse within the Convention broken -not on June 28 with Franklin's call and the Convention's nonexistent return to prayer and to God.

It is very significant that the Constitutional Convention began with no concern or provisions for official, public prayers as part of its proceedings. If the Founding Fathers were intent upon creating a new government based upon God and the Christian religion-a "Christian America"-how was such an omission possible? It would, in fact, be incomprehensible! Furthermore, how could the Convention reject/ Franklin's call to prayer if Barton's account of their intent is correct? In fact, it was not the case because the Founding Fathers were not out to create a Christian America.

James Madison's notes on the Convention irrefutably demonstrate that no official, public prayers were offered in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 at any time. When Benjamin Franklin proposed such prayers, his motion was not well received and was never brought to a vote. In a true expression of church-state separation, a religious service was held outside of the Convention on July 4 for those who wished to participate. The division and rancor of the Convention did not end until many days after the July 4 religious service, when a compromise concerning representation in the new United States Senate was reached. If a "miracle" took place in the Convention, it was not the result of official, public prayer or the introduction of God into the deliberations of the delegates.

Furthermore, neither the preamble nor the body of the Constitution that resulted from the work of the Convention make any appeal to religious motives or authority. The only substantive mention of religion within the text of the Constitution is present in Article Six, Clause Three in the rejection of any religious tests for holding office in the new national government. All other religious references, for example, "in the year of our Lord 1787," are incidental and ceremonial.

Again, these facts are simply incomprehensible if the Founding Fathers intended to create a Christian America by their efforts to formulate a new federal Constitution. First Amendment scholar Leo Pfeffer observed that it is very significant that the Constitution as it emerged from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 contained no references to or invocations of God. This was in marked contrast to pronouncements of the Continental Congress.

The omission was not inadvertent; nor did it remain unnoticed .... At a meeting of Congregationalists in June 1788 a request was presented "that some suitable Testimony might be borne against the sinful omission in the late Federal Constitution in not looking to God for direction, and of omitting the mention of the name of God in the Constitution."10

FOOTNOTES:

1 David Barton, The Myth of Separation: What Is the Correct Relationship Between Church and State? (Aledo TX: Wallbuilder Press, 1992) 110. Barton's recent book, Original Intent: The Courts, The Constitution, and Religion (Aledo TX: Wallbuilder Press, 1996), corrects this representation of Franklin's motion without acknowledging the error of his previous book. Barton has also published a list of "Questionable Quotes," several of which he had previously presented as historically authentic and upon which he had argued for the founding of the nation as "Christian America." Unfortunately, the previous misinformation is better known than Barton's corrections and qualifications. The damage done by this slipshod scholarship continues and is repeated on a wide scale.

2 James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 (New York: W W Norton, 1987) 210.

3 Ibid. and Barton, 109-10.

4 Quoted in Leonard W Levy, The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment (New York: Macmillan, 1986) 64.

5 Madison, 211.

6 Ibid., 212.

7 Ibid., 234.

8 Quoted in Catherine Drinker Bowen, Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention May to September 1787 (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1966) 140.

9 Madison, 293.

10 Quoted in Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: Beacon Press, 1976) 122.

Source of Information:

The Myth of Christian America, What You need to Know About the Separation of Church and State, Mark Weldon Whitten, Smyth & Helwys, (1999) pp. 39-41.


ABOUT BARTON, FEDERER AND MORRIS


DAVID BARTON

The Barton Chronicles


WILLIAM J. FEDERER

William J. Federer isn't any better than Barton. Check out the following:

Did John Quincy Adams ever say that the American Revolution "connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity?"


B. F. MORRIS

A minister published in 1864 a 831 page book titled Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, Developed In The Official and Historical Annals of the Republic.

The above mentioned book contains the same quote and attributes it to J. Q. Adams, but it doesn't give a source, date or anything else for the quote.

Here is what one person had to say about the Morris book:

To: jalison [deleted email address]

From: John Vinci [deleted email address]

Date: Tue, 04 Feb 1997 22:02:47 +0000

John wrote:

I just happened to get it [Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, Developed in the Official and Historical Annals of the Republic, by B.F. Morris. Georger W. Childs, (1864)] at a used book auction. At the time I didn't realize what a find it was.

I'll tell you right now that there aren't a whole lot of references other than maybe the authors' names. A little while back I did a little research trying to find the sources in this book, hoping to possibly republish it. It was quite a challenge. The ones that I did find were often quoted sloppily or misquoted. In the end, the book was so bad that I gave up altogether. That's not to say that I think it only has lies and error, it does have some good stuff also.

I once tried to see if the Wallbuilders [the David Barton outfit, LOL ] might want it, at which time I mentioned its inaccuracies. When they replied and told me that they had the book and that they found out the same thing. They also said that while it has its inaccuracies, it could be useful to give leads.

Sincerely Yours,

John

John Vinci [deleted email address]

Books for a Better America: [deleted email address]

One Nation Under God:[deleted email address]

An E-Newsletter on America's Christian Heritage.

A look at America's Founders