EARLY AMERICAN HEATHENS - Part 4;
Ben Franklin, Statesman
by Randy Jones
Psalm 14:1-2, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. 2 The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.”
James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
Ben Franklin has a reputation of being one of the least religious of the Founding Fathers. If you look him up you will find a full spectrum in his background. At one time in his life Ben describes himself as what would be considered as a Deist, but was he? He has been called; a Deist, a drunkard, a Christian, a womanizer, a Calvinist, a non-believer, a man of science, an inventor and one can even find he had some ties to a Moravian church. That wasn’t too helpful was it? Neither will be a new book out by a national best-selling author. In the 22 pages on Ben Franklin, while an indiscretion early in his life had a couple of paragraphs, there was no mention about any religious beliefs Ben may or may not have had. We would not expect a perfect individual revealed but we would expect a fair and balanced accounting of Mr. Franklin.
What could be found if we look into the life of this Early American Heathen? It has oft’ been said that if you see how a person reacts during times of stress or frustration you see the inner man. There is no doubt that Ben was a patriot, his service to our nation is welly documented. There are many of his comments and writings still in existence, let’s use his words and actions as the source.
It was in May of 1787 a session of the Continental Convention was convened in Philadelphia. Much like the Congress of today, after over a month of deliberations little progress was being made in reforming the Articles of Confederation. This new document would become the Constitution for our Nation. There were representatives from all of the States and many different ideas were presented as would be expected from 55 different men, many who had never met prior to the convention. What they needed was a way to get people to be more open to the ideas of others and to work together. It was recorded that Ben Franklin, then in his 80s, addressed George Washington, the president of the convention, with what would be one of the longest addresses made during the convention by stating;
“Mr President, The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other - our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, 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. We have gone back to ancient history for models of Government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.
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 understandings? 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, & 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 that 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 labour 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 interest, our projects will be confounded and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word 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 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.”
As we look at this statement by Ben Franklin, we see that he clearly states his view that man’s abilities are not as wise as they could be with God’s assistance. He states that they asked God for help in the past. He states that it is obvious the hand of God assisted them in the past. He states that God is concerned about our affairs and is willing to help when asked. He paraphrases several passages of scripture about God’s love for His people. He makes this request of prayer in line with what would become the First Amendment, not promoting one religious sect or denomination above another, but still openly stating that God is an important part of our Nation’s founding and its government. This indicates Ben Franklin was versed in knowledge of the Scriptures and had a belief in a caring God which he refers to as a Friend, Father, God and Providence.
All of this from what is today considered one of the least religious Founding Fathers. His comments do not make him sound like a Deist but more like a Theist. If he truly was the least religious Founder, learning about the other Founders will be incredible.
This event was recorded by James Madison. Mr. Madison also records that this recommendation was seconded, passed and acted upon. Within a week there was a religious service for the members of the Continental Convention held in the same building. I have read they held church services for three days after which the Convention reconvened. Ben Franklin may have had a rough start in life but it appears he did grow to have a relationship with “the Father”. I am glad this ‘Heathen’ knew enough to ask God for assistance and that he believed that God would grant them the wisdom needed to build this Nation.