Going to Their Knees When There Was Nowhere Else to Go


The Constitutional Convention was at a deadlock. They had been meeting for five weeks and could come anywhere close to an agreement about how the states should be represented in the new Congress. Small states wanted equal representation. Large states wanted proportionate representation. With no one willing to budge and tempers running high in the hot, humid heat of Philadelphia, the delegates were ready to give up and go home, driving what would certainly be the final nail in the coffin of the 11-year-old United States of America.

a page from the manuscript of Franklin's address -- Library of Congress
a page from the manuscript of Franklin’s address — Library of Congress

It was at this crucial moment on June 28, 1787 that Benjamin Franklin, spoke. At eighty-one years of age, he was the oldest delegate present and, with the possible exception of George Washington, the most well respected. James Madison captured his words:

“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 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 be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter 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.”

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