Rev. David McAllister on the Constitutional Convention 1776

Rev. David McAllister

“The written constitution of the United States contains no such proper and adequate acknowledgment as the nation is bound to make of its relations to God. Up to the time of its adoption, the States in their constitutions did acknowledge God and Christianity. Some of the State constitutions yet contain similar acknowledgment. And in the actual administration of the national government the principle is admitted. But the national constitution contains no acknowledgment of God. The convention that framed it manifestly designed that all such acknowledgment should be omitted. Good men, and Christian men, as many of the members of the convention were, they made the deplorable mistake of yielding to others who were unwilling to express, nationally, any acknowledgment of the Almighty. The spirit that ruled in the framing of the constitution showed itself unmistakably in the deliberate refusal of the convention, after the full and urgent presentation of the matter, to ask God for guidance in prayer every morning before proceeding to business.[1] With such an omission of duty — nay, worse, such a deliberate decision not to seek God’s direction — on the part of the convention that framed the constitution, it is not to be wondered at that the instrument itself does not acknowledge God, and fails to place the government in its fundamental compact in its true relations to him.”

Rev. David McAllister

Memorial Volume.
Covenant Renovation in the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America.

[1] The statement has been repeatedly made that Franklin’s motion was carried, and that prayers were thenceforth offered. Such writers as Morris, in his “Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States,” and Lossing and Goodrich, in their popular histories, make this statement. How such a statement came to be made at first, it is difficult fully to explain. Its repetition, when once sent forth, is not surprising. The following considerations may help to account for the assertion: 1. The public felt that prayers should have been offered, and could hardly be made to believe that a motion like Franklin’s could fail to pass. 2. Prayers were offered in the same hall at a former convention, when the Declaration of Independence was framed. This might naturally lead to confusion and misstatement. But the following facts are decisive proof, unpleasant as it is to be compelled to acknowledge it, that prayers were never offered in the convention that framed the constitution. 1. For nearly five weeks, the convention sat and never thought of looking to God in prayer. (See Franklin’s speech in support of his motion.) 2. Franklin’s motion for prayers, made in the fifth week, was opposed. A substitute was offered by Mr. Randolph, proposing that a sermon be preached on July 4th, about a week after, at the request of the convention, and thenceforward prayers be offered. Franklin seconded this substitute. The record of the convention, given in the Madison papers, says: “After several unsuccessful attempts for silently postponing this matter by adjournment, the adjournment was at length carried without any vote on the motion.” (Elliott’s Debates, vol. v, pp. 254, 255.) 3. Franklin’s own statement in a note appended to his speech is explicit. “The convention, except three or four members, thought prayers unnecessary.” (Sparks’ Works of Franklin, vol. v, p. 155.) No unauthenticated statement, though drawn up with minute particulars, and indefinitely repeated, can have any weight beside such fully authenticated facts.

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