This powerful message was delivered on June 28, 1787 during the Constitutional Convention at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Convention was embroiled in serious bitter debate concerning the means by which each state would be represented in the new government. Some delegates actually left the Convention due to hostile feelings which were the result of smaller states pitted against larger states. At the age of 81, Franklin, the senior member of the Convention commanded the respect of the other delegates. As Franklin rose to address the Convention in this moment of crisis, James Madison recorded Franklin's speech.
The small progress we have made after four 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 ayes, 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 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 understanding?
In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for 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 superimposing 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 an empire can rise without His aid?
We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings [the Holy Bible], 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.
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 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."
Benjamin Franklin, Governor of the State of Pennsylvania, Delegate to the Constitutional Convention.