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June 28, 1787
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

 

The Wisdom of

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

Sage of the Constitutional Convention

 

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It had been a long, hot summer in Philadelphia and it promised to get even hotter.  Delegates from 12 of the original 13 colonies had gathered at Independence Hall to ponder the failures of their new Country.  The ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION that had been drafted during the American Revolution were grossly inadequate and the lingering reminders of SHAYS' REBELLION nurtured fears of growing anarchy in the new United States of America.  The threats of anarchy without were nothing compared to the anarchy that seemed to reign within the halls of government.  More than 50 powerful men, each with individual agendas (and egos) struggled to find a system of government for their new nation.  The near record heat and humidity, combined with these human factors, caused the "Constitutional Convention" to become a verbal brawl with little hope of compromise or progress.   Several National leaders such as Patrick Henry had refused to participate.   Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were serving abroad.  Some delegates had left the convention in disgust to return home.  George Washington, who had held together a rag-tag Army of the Potomac against incredible odds and freezing winters during the Revolutionary War, seemed powerless as President of the convention to hold together the four dozen men who verbally bashed each other daily.  If the Articles of Confederation were dismal failures, the effort to replace them with a better form of government seemed even worse.

    

At the age of 81 Dr. Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania was the oldest member in the hall.  Frail and not in the best of health, he had watched for weeks as his fellow delegates wasted their time with endless and meaningless debate.  Like those who had gone home in disgust, he had had his "fill" of the sorry proceeding.  As the close of business approached on June 28th he could hold his peace and ignore the problem no longer.  "Sage" of the convention, the wise old man caught the attention of George Washington and asked to be heard.

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"Mr. President," Dr. Franklin began.

"The small progress we have made after four or five weeks' close attendance and continual reasonings with each other--our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ayes--is, methinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human 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 Great Britain, when we were sensible of dangers, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection.  Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered.   All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor.  To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity.  And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend?  Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance?

"I have lived, sir, a long time, and, the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth--that God governs in the affairs of men.  And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?  We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that 'Except the Lord build the house, they 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 by-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."

(Actual Text of Benjamin Franklin's Speech)

"Mr. President, I second the motion," said Roger Sherman of Connecticut. 

Alexander Hamilton then noted that perhaps such a resolution might have been more appropriate when the delegation had first convened the previous May, but indicated that the public might now perceive "the embarrassments and dissensions with in the Convention" had lead to the measure.  When in fact, this was perhaps the very thought that had prompted Franklin's speech, the delegates hesitated to publicly admit their need for God's help.

Edmund Randolph suggested that a sermon be presented on the Fourth of July, just six days hence, and that from that day forward prayers be read in the Convention every morning.  Benjamin Franklin seconded the motion which was accepted without a vote.

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Two and a half months later the Constitutional Convention adjourned having successfully drafted a document for a form of government unlike anything in human history, the United States Constitution.   Alexander Hamilton pointed out that the final product was the work of many men and that no single delegate's ideas were "more remote" from the final document than his own.  How could such teamwork have emerged from such a diverse group of egos and private agendas?  Hamilton pointed out that the participants had "taken appropriate steps to avoid anarchy and convulsion."

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Home Page

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FEATURE STORIES
  Profiles In Courage | Wings of ValorThe Brotherhood of Soldiers At War | Go For Broke
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RECIPIENT WEB SITES
Barney Barnum  |  Jack Lucas  |  Mitch Paige  |  Wesley Fox  |  Sammy Davis
Roger Donlon
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What Does 
A Hero Look Like?

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FOOTNOTES
In
HISTORY

NEW
Looking for a Hero or trying to verify awards? We have posted the names of more than 120,000 recipients of the highest awards in a BRAND NEW FREE SECTION
DECORATIONS 1862 - Present
.

Military Medals & Awards 

Information and Images of ALL Military Medals
The Purple Heart 
How to Request Records/Medals Earned
  How to Obtain Military Records of a Family Member 

Honor Roll of America's Military Heroes


Brevet Medal


DSC 


Navy Cross 


Air Force Cross 

Distinguished Service Medals

Defense - Army - Navy - Air Force - Coast Guard - Merchant Marine



Silver Star

U.S. History and Information
The History Room | U.S. Flag HistoryHistory of the Flag |
How to Display the Flag
| The National Anthem | The Pledge of Allegiance The American Creed | The Seal of our Nation | Our National Symbol
Arthur MacArthur's Flag | William Carney's Flag | FDR's Flag of Liberation]

FLAG DAY           STATE FLAGS
American Presidents
U.S. Presidents | Inaugural Addresses

God & Country
ROOM

MY HERO Web Page Creator 
(Create a Tribute to the Hero in Your Own Life)

SEARCH
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OUR SITE

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OR
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***
Electronic Post Cards
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Remembering 911
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This 5 Disc DVD Education Program has been distributed to over 17,500 Public & Private High Schools and is now available to the public!


 

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