What Would Benjamin Franklin Do?
It seems as though modern Conservatives and Republicans are having a difficult time trying to find the limits and scope of our 'big tent.' 'Groping in the dark to find political truth' is nothing new.
In 1887, during the Constitutional Convention, the delegates were having similar disagreements. After several weeks of futile efforts, all hope of progress dimmed. Benjamin Franklin rose to address the Convention and its President, George Washington.
Mr. President:Franklin was one of the least religious of the Founders, but, nonetheless, this was his recommendation in the midst of turmoil.
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...
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 understanding? In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we sere sensible of danger, 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 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 Writing, 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 byword 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 blessing 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.