On June 28, 1787, Benjamin Franklin delivered a stirring speech to those at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia that struck a profound prophetic note that serves as a disturbing warning to all who would dismiss God as the sovereign authority over the nations:

All of us who were engaged in the struggle [in the war for independence] 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 . . . 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,[1] 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.’[2] 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.

Franklin was not known as orthodox in his religious beliefs, but there is no doubt that he understood what made nations great. It wasn’t geography, natural resources, or monetary prosperity. The self-taught candlemaker’s son, author of Poor Richard’s Almanac, world traveler, inventor of the lightning rod and bifocals, knew that the key to national success was the acknowledgment that God establishes empires, and He requires that they be built in a certain way. In practical terms alone, Franklin reasoned that to exclude God in nation building is to discount long-term national success.

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George Washington offered similar counsel in his Thanksgiving Proclamation of October 3, 1789, just after approving the language of the First Amendment. The Proclamation stated in unequivocal terms that “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” Later in the body of the document, Washington describes God as the “great Lord and Ruler of Nations.”[3] Franklin, Washington, and even Jefferson understood that without a sovereign lawgiver there is no basis for good government, legitimate justification for an agreed upon moral order and “those rights which God and the laws have given equally and independently to all.”[4]


[1] Matthew 10:29. [2] Psalm 127:1. [3] George Washington (October 3, 1789).
[4] “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” Thomas Jefferson: Writings (New York: The Library of America, 1984), 105.