A Sparrow Falls, an Empire Rises—Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)

Benjamin Franklin exerted an enormous influence on the eventual shape of the American republic. Though he was not a Christian, Franklin was no enemy of religion. When the Constitutional Convention of 1787 bogged down over the issue of representation in the new Congress, Franklin called a halt to the rancor and implored his fellows to turn their faces to God for assistance. His motion failed—Alexander Hamilton feared that a resort to prayer would signal desperation in the Convention—but the truth and eloquence of Franklin’s words is undeniable.

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 be become a reproach and a by-word down to future ages…

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.[1]

[1] Quoted in Timothy Pitkin, A Political and Civil History of the United States of America, vol. 2 (New Haven, CT: Hezekiah House, 1828), 246.