Yesterday, was an official day of prayer in the Gulf Coast states. Earlier this month the Louisiana legislature passed a resolution which recognized an “opportunity to humble ourselves before our Almighty God” and “pray for a solution” to the oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal soon proclaimed June 27, 2010 a Day of Prayer and was joined by the governors of Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. Despite mounting criticism of this appeal to a higher power, the simple fact is that the governments of these states were participating in an action very familiar to the delegates of the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
On June 28, 1787, the Constitutional Convention was deadlocked and embroiled in bitter controversy over the future government of the United States. Benjamin Franklin, diplomat, scientist, and inventor, rose and made the following plea to the assembled delegates:
In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were 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 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 partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages …
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.
The United States was founded by a deeply religious people who believed that faith and public virtue were essential aspects of a self-governing society. We may reject the American Founders’ understanding of God’s involvement in human affairs, but we cannot pretend that their Christian beliefs did not play an important role in shaping our political union of liberty and justice. That America was a nation “under God” was as self-evident to the Founding generation as the proposition that “all men are created equal.”