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Reflections From Faith and History

Miracle at Philadelphia -by Jeff Olson

Monday, September 17, 1787 dawned clear and cold in Philadelphia with a brisk touch of autumn in the air. For those who attended the Constitutional Convention, the time away from home and business had been costly, both in terms of family and livelihood. Each was deeply concerned for his country which was struggling through some major growing pains, economically and organizationally to name but a few. States were functioning irrespective of one another and the freedom and unity preserved and strengthened by the blood and treasure spent in the War of Independence was in serious jeopardy. The instability was so severe that England and Spain were confidently postured to pick up the pieces of the colonies when things fell apart. Something needed to be done, as the Articles of Confederation proved to be an inadequate governing document. What was decided at the Annapolis Convention in February and what began on May 25 as an effort to revise the Articles, became four challenging months of commitment, sacrifice, debate, compromise and prayer which culminated in a document, original and unique in the annals of human history.

As president of the Constitutional Convention, George Washington concluded, “It appears to me, little short of a miracle that the Delegates from so many different States, in their manners, circumstances, and prejudices, should unite in forming a system of national Government, so little liable to well-founded objections.” As the Constitution’s chief architect, James Madison stated “I feel it a duty to express my profound and solemn conviction, driven from my intimate opportunity of observing and appreciating the views of the Convention, collectively and individually, that there never was an assembly of men charged with a great and arduous trust, who were more pure in their motives, or more exclusively or anxiously devoted to the object committed to them, than were the members of the Federal Convention of 1787.”

Of the 55 Constitutional Convention members who had attended at various times, 40 were present for the final day. According to James Madison, “Whilst the last members were signing it, Doctr. [Benjamin] Franklin looking towards the Presidents chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have, said he, often in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.” When asked by a curious citizen after the adjournment of the Convention what kind of government had been structured by the Founding Fathers, Franklin is said to have answered: “…A Republic, if you can keep it.” The French historian, Guizot, once asked James Russell Lowell, “How long will the American republic endure?” Lowell replied: “As long as the ideas of the men who founded it continue dominant.”

Catherine Drinker Bowen, author of the classic book from which the subtitle of this article was borrowed, stated in her text, “Miracles do not occur at random…Every miracle has its provenance, every miracle has been prayed for…, so with the Miracle at Philadelphia.”

One comment

  1. History should not be taught with reverence, but always with questions.

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