Spiritual Heritage and the Constitutional Convention

QUESTION: Spiritual Heritage – The Constitutional Convention

ANSWER:

In 1787 at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin declared, “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? . . . Without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.”1

The delegates to the Constitutional Convention concluded their work by placing a religious punctuation mark at the end of the Constitution in the Attestation Clause, noting not only that they had completed the work with “the unanimous consent of the States present” but they had done so “in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven.”2

Spiritual Heritage – The U.S. Constitution
James Madison declared that he saw the finished Constitution as a product of “the finger of that Almighty Hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the Revolution”3 and George Washington viewed it as “little short of a miracle,”4 and Benjamin Franklin believed that its writing had been “influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent, and beneficent Ruler, in Whom all inferior spirits live, and move, and have their being.”5

In 1787-1788, State conventions to ratify the U. S. Constitution not only began with prayer6 but even met in church buildings.7 In 1795, during construction of the Capitol, a practice was instituted whereby “public worship is now regularly administered at the Capitol, every Sunday morning, at 11 o’clock.”8

NOTES

1 James Madison, The Papers of James Madison, Henry D. Gilpin, editor (Washington: Langtree and O’Sullivan, 1840), Vol. II, pp. 984-986, June 28, 1787.

2 U. S. Constitution, Article VII.

3 Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, & James Madison, The Federalist (Philadelphia: Benjamin Warner, 1818), p. 194, James Madison, Federalist #37; see also Federalist #2 (p. 12) and Federalist #20 (p. 105) for other acknowledgments of the blessings of Providence upon America.

4 George Washington, The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, W. W. Abbot, editor (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997), Vol. 6, p. 95, letter from George Washington to Marquis de Lafayette on February 7, 1788, (at: http://gwpapers.virginia.edu/documents/constitution/1788/lafayette1.html); see also a similar sentiment in The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, Dorothy Twohig, editor (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987), Vol. 2, p. 83, his letter on April 20, 1789 in which he said: “When I contemplate the Interposition of Providence, as it was visibly manifested, in guiding us thro’ the Revolution in preparing us for the reception of a General Government, and in conciliating the Good will of the people of America, towards one another after its Adoption, I feel myself oppressed and almost overwhelmed with a sense of the Divine Munificence.”

5 Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Jared Sparks, editor (Boston: Tappan, Whittemore, and Mason, 1837), Vol. V, p. 162, from “A Comparison of the Conduct of the Ancient Jews and of the Anti-Federalists in the United States of America.”

6 See, for example, The Debates in the Several Conventions, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Jonathan Elliot, editor (Washington: Printed for the Editor, 1836), Vol. II, p. 2, Massachusetts Convention, January 9, 1788; Vol. II, p. 207, New York Convention, June 17, 1788; Vol. III, p. 1, Virginia Convention, June 2, 1788; etc.

7 The Debates in the Several Conventions, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Jonathan Elliot, editor (Washington: Printed for the Editor, 1836), Vol. IV, p. 1, North Carolina Convention, July 21, 1788; see also Vol. II, p. 2, Massachusetts Convention, January 9, 1788.

8 Federal Orrery, Boston, July 2, 1795, p. 2.

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