Happy Constitution Day! Today is a day of federal observance celebrating the signing of the U.S Constitution by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention on September 17th, 1787.
We often forget, however, that the Constitutional Convention almost failed spectacularly. The earliest days of the convention were fraught with contentious disagreements among the delegates, who together comprised an assembly of the greatest political and intellectual minds of the founding generation.
Realizing that the increasingly fractious clashes risked breaking the convention apart, Benjamin Franklin offered his best hope for finding unity and agreement — recommending that they pursue God’s intervention and favor through prayer.
Bemoaning the “small progress” made during the first several weeks of the Convention as “melancholy proof of the imperfection of human understanding,” Franklin made a motion to hold morning “prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations” to be led by local clergymen:
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 that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings?
Harkening back to “the frequent instances” of God’s intervention on behalf of the Americans during the War for Independence, Franklin asked his fellow delegates whether they had forgotten that God was the reason for their previous success:
In the beginning of the [War for Independence], when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers were heard, and they were graciously answered…. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? I have lived 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?
While Franklin knew godly wisdom would lead to national flourishing, he worried relying on “human wisdom” alone would be disastrous:
We have been assured 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 little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages.
Thankfully, the delegates heeded Franklin’s wise words by humbling themselves in prayer and seeking God’s wisdom and favor. Benjamin Franklin later remarked that the Constitution they drafted was “influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent, and beneficent Ruler in Whom all inferior spirits ‘live and move and have their being.’”
Steeped in biblical truth and full of courageous faith, the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention came together to petition God for guidance and unity as they framed the government under which we still live today. That, my friends, is worth celebrating this Constitution Day.