The myth of a prayer meeting at the Constitutional Convention just refuses to die.
Earlier this week, the American Family Association’s Reason and Company show opined favorably on Melania Trump’s reading of the Lord’s Prayer. In the process, Abraham Hamilton III said starting at 40 seconds in that Franklin’s effort “led to a three day prayer meeting at the Constitutional Convention.” He added, “So we have a long history of recognizing the God of the Bible in our country.” Watch
No. Franklin made a motion to have daily prayers but the Convention never acted on it and daily prayers were not held. In fact, Franklin later recorded that only three or four delegates thought prayers were needed. Even if Franklin’s request had been acted on favorably, it doesn’t follow that the delegates all prayed to the God of the Bible. Among the delegates, there was significant disagreement about God and the Bible. Some hardly believed, some scoffed at the Bible’s miracles while accepting the moral teachings of Jesus and still others were more orthodox.
For a detailed account of the Franklin proposal and how it grew to be an oft-repeated myth, see this article by Louis Sirico on the website of the Association of Legal Writing Directors. The last paragraph of his article is a fitting end to this post:
With respect to Franklin’s proposal, advocates have invoked it both as a solvent for specific disputes and as support for a general accommodationist policy. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, the incompleteness of the historical record led many to accept the false history that Franklin had rescued the Constitutional Convention from collapse. Since then, although some writers have clung to that story, legitimate historians have endorsed an accurate story that most respected advocates have accepted and used to fashion their arguments. True history, then, has prevailed over false history. But false history continues to linger. In any event, the Franklin proposal demonstrates how history can prove a powerful force in effective advocacy. Whether accurate or mystical, stories of the past will continue to shape the present and the future.
In the case of the AFA and many religious right organization who use David Barton’s history, “false history continues to linger.”