The American Miracle. (History-Struggle for Freedom)

By Behreandt, Dennis | The New American, December 16, 2002 | Go to article overview

The American Miracle. (History-Struggle for Freedom)


Behreandt, Dennis, The New American


Our War for Independence seemed destined for failure. But with the intercession of providence at key points, the American cause succeeded in spectacular fashion.

The creation of a new government hung in the balance. After almost five weeks of intense study and debate, of yeas and nays, of discord and acrimony, the convention was at a stand-still. Except for Rhode Island's, all the states' delegates, composed of the leading professionals and intellectuals of the day, had met at the Philadelphia State House in May of 1787 in hopes of addressing the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation, under which the young union of 13 former colonies operated. Despite these delegates' intellectual brilliance, despite their patriotic diligence and goodwill, the convention had produced nothing but discord.

At issue were two governmental concepts. The first, the Virginia Plan, favored a strong federal government with three branches, the national executive, the national judiciary, and the national legislature. Its supporters, including such men as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, believed that such an arrangement would correct the deficiencies inherent in the very decentralized Articles of Confederation. The second plan, introduced in opposition to the Virginia Plan, was the New Jersey Plan. Supported by the delegates from the smaller states, this plan contained "almost every feature of the Articles of Confederation that made for weakness and uncertainty," wrote Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager in their two-volume history of the U.S., The Growth of the American Republic.

By the end of June, the stalemate had solidified. On the 28th of that month, Benjamin Franklin, concerned that the convention would end in failure, prepared to address the delegates. Franklin was America's elder statesman. At 81, he was the oldest delegate at the convention and, during his long life, had achieved a degree of fame and acclaim greater than any other American save Washington. His genius was wide ranging. A noted inventor, he famously studied electricity along with geology, agriculture, astronomy, and meteorology, among other subjects. He had distinguished himself as a printer and journalist and as a diplomat. Now, he addressed the assembled delegates.

Franklin's words, like those of the other delegates, were carefully recorded by James Madison in his famous notes on the convention. "The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other--our different sentiments on almost every question ... is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding," Franklin sadly observed. "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 history for 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 around Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances."

Franklin continued:

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 understandings? In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the 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 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. …

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