What Part Did Christianity Play in the Framing of the Constitution?
By Albert N. Milliron
The Constitutional Convention was not going well. Everyone appeared to be stuck on their own point of view. One the one hand Alexander Hamilton distrusted the masses and wanted a much stronger centralized government, on the other Roger Sherman of Connecticut was a strong Defender of states rights.
After about five weeks dealing with strong heads, Benjamin Franklin, a Deist in his youth, delivered a compelling speech that is not included in most Text books concerning the framing of the Constitution at Independence Hall. The speech opened with Franklin identifying the reason for the poor progress. He related to the Men that there was a great deal lacking in human understanding. He implied an imperfection of man that required intervention of, “The Father of Lights to illuminate our understanding”. He had reminded the men that during the war of independence that they had prayed regularly to God in that very hall. He further reminded the men that all of them could remember that God had intervened on their behalves.
Many contemporary writers insist that most of the founders were deists and point to Benjamin Franklin as an example. The problem with identifying Franklin as a Desist only looks at his early life. Many of those wishing to make a point, will search through biographies looking for a period where the identified party agreed with the writers position. It is like one calling Paul of Tarsus, described in the Bible, as a persecutor of Christians. While it is true that Paul did persecute Christians, he had a change of life experience that caused him to change him into one of the Bibles most represented writers to lead people to become Christian, after becoming Christian himself.
The same could be said about Franklin. He had written about having Deist beliefs. A Deist does not believe that the creator intervenes the affairs of men. In the full belief, a Deist does not believe that the Creator intervenes in his creation at all.
This presents a problem for those who wish to drive the point that the founders, including Franklin were Deists as they prayed for Gods intervention during the war. Franklin persuaded the men, that if God had intervened on their behalf during the War that he could too intervene in the process of determining a new form of Government.
Franklin told the men, “I have lived a long time (he was 81 years old) and the longer I live, the more convincing the proofs I see of this truth- that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall without his notice, (a paraphrase of a portion of the Sermon on the Mount) is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?
Franklin then suggested that there be daily prayers at the Constitutional Convention led by one of the Clergy in Philadelphia each time they met. This is the reason that there is prayer in Congress prior to any business being performed.
A Deist would not offer prayer for God to intervene in the activities of men. Franklin was a Deist in his youth but obviously had changed his view. The tradition of Prayer in Congress has to be Constitutional as the very men who penned the documents prayed for the Creator to intervene in the assembly of the documents we hold as our top level standard. One might also question the contemporary views of Separation of Church and State, as the founders freely exercised their religion in the founding of our current form of Government.
Benjamin Franklin, Quoted by James Madison in Notes and Debates in Federal Convention of 1787 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1966, 1985), P. 209
John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution The Faith of the Founding Fathers (Baker Books 1995), P. 12,13
Please look for our next installation in this continuing series on Christianities influence in the Constitution