OUR FOREFATHERS’ COVENANTS
April 10, 2020
Last week, I started sharing a statement from David Barton concerning some notes that James Madison wrote concerning the Federal Convention of 1787. I realized later that I cut off what he was saying, so let’s go back today and get the first part, and then finish with James Madison’s full statement concerning that convention.
"Although authorized by the Congress of the Confederation, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was nevertheless cloaked with secrecy and confidentiality. The official papers of the Convention sat in the Department of State, untouched, until 1818. Yet in retrospect, the gathering reveals both the men and the issues they faced during the founding era. Through analysis of both the Philadelphia debates and the various ratification conventions, we realize the concerns and needs of a developing nation.
Men of means and education pursued a limited, federal government capable of providing political and economic stability in a land of diverse sectional interests. The fight for freedom had been experiential; much of the struggle for structure and unity would be theoretical. The doctrines of scholars would meet with the practical necessities of an emerging nation, resulting in a balanced blend of pragmatism and principle—the Constitution of the United States of America.
However, one of the most controversial issues, State's representation, could have nullified the entire process. Tempers flared and interests clashed as the delegates sought their respective goals. It was within this quagmire of divisiveness that the elder statesman, Benjamin Franklin, offered his famous appeal for harmony and conciliation—an appeal for God's intervention.
His solicitation seems almost out of character with our current understanding of the man. Wasn't he a deist, believing in the clockmaker God who stepped back to watch the hands of time move toward eternity? Could God govern in the affairs of men, or nations, from such a distance? Perhaps Franklin's appeal for prayer was out of despair and desperation; perhaps he was senile as some suggest; or perhaps we have misunderstood Franklin's deism, misreading the man in the coonskin cap............
..........As one reads these various sources, however, the response to Franklin's motion should not be viewed as an atheistic or deistic expression from the delegates. In their view, prayer was an official ceremony requiring ordained clergy to "officiate," (as Dr. Franklin noted) and the funds to pay them (as Mr. Williamson observed). It was not as simple as asking "Brother George" to ask God's blessings on their deliberations. This was not the general approach to religion during this time in history; orthodox formality was the preferable style and manner, at least in official settings. For example, when Rev. Duche offered the first prayer in the Continental Congress, he appeared "with his clerk and in his pontificals, and read several prayers in the established form. . . . " Granted, he also unexpectedly "struck out into an extemporary prayer," but the point is made: religious formality was the order of the day.
Those orders were followed a few days later at the Reformed Calvinist Lutheran Church. In response to Franklin's appeal, Virginia's Mr. Randolph offered a counter proposal. He recommended that a "sermon be preached at the request of the convention on the 4th of July, the anniversary of Independence,— & thence forward prayers be used in ye Convention every morning." One report has Washington leading most of the Convention delegates to the church, where James Campbell preached a sermon trusting in the wisdom of the delegates to establish a "free and vigorous government."
As it turns out, after the Convention, and nine days after the first Constitutional Congress convened with a quorum (April 9, 1789), they implemented Franklin's recommendation. Two chaplains of different denominations were appointed, one to the House and one to the Senate, with a salary of $500 each. This practice continues today, posing no threat to the First Amendment. How could it? The men who authorized the chaplains wrote the Amendment.
The real strength of Franklin's motion, from the conservative viewpoint, is as an example of his supposed "deism," which is a far cry from what some would make it out to be. Franklin obviously felt that God governed in the affairs of men—not exactly the general understanding of today's deism. But many people attempt to anachronously impose today's definition upon Franklin, Jefferson, and others, implying they had nothing whatsoever to do with religion. This is usually done to support a broad, separationist approach to religion and government, which is inconsistent with the words and deeds of those who created America's political system.
Franklin, as well as all of the Framers of the Constitution, realized the value of religion in society. And they realized the value of prayer in the weightier matters of politics. As it turns out, Dr. Franklin was not senile at all; he was simply asking for divine assistance in what proved to be the formation of our American system. Perhaps there were no "official" prayers during the Convention, but denying that the delegates wanted God's blessing and direction—now that would be senility.
Was that simply a political expression, or an attempt to curry favor with his outspoken Christian compatriots? Was it a "deistic" expression? I hardly think so. You hear the ring of conviction in Benjamin Franklin's plea; and it is a notable shift from those things we read from Franklin's writings in his earlier years. My personal sense is that as he sat there in that Federal Convention, the words he had heard George Whitefield preach years before rang in his ears. There was indeed a realization on his part that except the Lord order the establishment of America as a nation, this country would soon fold under the weight of the anarchy of Godlessness.
In a land primarily being colonized and established by those who were generally referred to as "Protestants," Roman Catholics were a distinct minority. Fact is, when I was young, no Roman Catholic had ever been President of the United States, and although there was certainly no legal bar to Catholics becoming President, there was a common thread of thought among political circles that Catholics could never be elected to that high office.
I was doing an essay for an English Comp class in my University of Nebraska courses on politics and repeated that thread. When I got my essay back from the instructor, she had written a note on the side saying, "Don't look now, but there's a distinct possibility that we could get a Roman Catholic as our next President."
She was right, of course. John F. Kennedy was elected, beating out (then)-Vice-President, Richard Nixon. It was almost an earthquake for the American political scene. Yet JFK was scarcely the first Roman Catholic to hold high office in this nation, and in fact, he simply followed a cycle to its obvious fulfillment.
Charles Carroll was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. What made him significant among our nation's founding fathers was that he was the only Roman Catholic to sign any of our founding documents.
Born into a very wealthy family in Annapolis, Maryland, September 18, 1737, Carroll began a rather remarkable formal education at the age of eight when he was sent off to a Jesuit college at St. Omer in France. He graduated the College of Louis the Grande at age 17, but continued his formal and practical studies for another eleven years in Europe. Returning to America that year, he found himself in the midst of the radical climate produced by the Stamp Act.
His highly refined ways and manners made him out a gentleman who could easily have been an emissary of the royal courts; and yet, he immediately identified with the radical causes and became an active participant among the circles of American patriots. His writing skills had been honed during 20 years of formal education, and he immediately put those skills to work. In 1772, he anonymously engaged the colonial secretary of Maryland in a series of debates and newspaper articles protesting the right of the British government to tax the colonies without adequate representation.
Despite the fact that his views were not shared by many of his fellow-Maryland colonists, Charles Carroll (he always signed his name, Charles Carroll of Carrollton) was an early advocate for armed resistance. When the first Continental Congress convened, Maryland refused to send a delegate so Carroll worked his way through several committees until he was asked to join a diplomatic mission to Canada with Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase. His successes and accomplishments encouraged the Maryland Convention to join in support for the American Revolution.
Although he never had the opportunity to engage in the actual debate surrounding the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll was elected by the Maryland Convention to represent them on the 4th of July, 1776; and he was present to sign the Declaration.
Through much of the War of Independence, he served in the Continental Congress and simultaneously participated in the framing of a constitution for Maryland. He was elected to the Maryland Senate in 1781, and then to the first Federal Congress in 1788 where he served until 1790. He returned to the Maryland Senate where he served until 1800 when he retired from active participation in government.
It was in that same year, on November 4, 1800, that Charles Carroll of Carrollton wrote to another of the founding fathers, James McHenry, and said in part,
"Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, [and] which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, and [which] insured to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments."
He could easily have been writing to today's ACLU -- an organization which has gone out of its way to "decry the Christian religion" and "undermine the solid foundations of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments" under the premise that government has no right to enact morals and Biblical standards for behavior.
Let's talk today about some more of those founding fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence as well as our U.S. Constitution.
Quick. How many of you know the name Fisher Ames?
Better yet, how many of you have ever heard the name in connection with the making of the Constitution of the United States?
Let me take this one more step. How many of you know that he was the author of the First Amendment which was written to guarantee our liberties as Christians, and as worshipers of the Lord God?
Yup. That's what I thought. Bet you not one in a thousand people know who he was.
Fisher Ames is not a name one usually remembers in association with the founding fathers. Yet he was among the most influential and persuasive of our founders, surpassing Thomas Jefferson in arguments, while demonstrating that America MUST NOT become a Jeffersonian Democracy.
Like Roger Sherman, his commitment to Jesus Christ permeated everything he said and did. His relationship with the Lord gave him a wisdom that few of our founders could match.
Fisher Ames was born in Dedham, Massachusetts, the son of a physician -- Nathaniel Ames -- on April 9, 1758, and lived a mere 50 years, dying on the 4th of July in 1808. A genius in the rank of Jonathan Edwards and an orator in the mold of Patrick Henry, he graduated from Harvard at age 16, and began to purse the study of law and government.
By 1781, at age 23, Fisher Ames opened up a law office in Dedham where he thought to defend people against unjust government laws and practices. It didn't take him long to realize that the practice of law -- at least in the private sector -- was really not his cup of tea. He soon abandoned his law offices for the pursuit of politics, and soon became a prominent member of the Massachusetts legislature.
His oratory and writing skills thrust him to the forefront as the Massachusetts Convention convened. He argued strongly and successfully for "constitutional federalism" becoming one of the signers who ratified the Federal Constitution for Massachusetts. It seems odd, but he was a prominent Federalist member of the House of Representatives during the eight years of George Washington's administration. I'll explain momentarily.
April 28, 1796. The day stands out not only in our nation's history, but as a day when historians wrote that (in their opinion) Fisher Ames delivered easily the greatest speech of his life. It seems that republicans (not a political party, but those who wanted a constitutional republic rather than a Federalist Democracy) were bickering among themselves and withholding the financial appropriation necessary for the execution of the Jay Treaty.
Ames had been at home, sick in bed and unable to participate in the ongoing arguments and discussions. When he heard what was taking place, he pulled himself together and headed to the House of Representatives. There he argued forcefully on behalf of John Jay's Treaty. His argument swayed the chamber, and the appropriation passed.
We will deal with that argument next week.
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Blessings on you!
Regner A. Capener
RIVER WORSHIP CENTER
Temple, Texas 76502
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