-Thursday, June 28, 1787
Yesterday Luther Martin of Maryland exhausted himself and the delegates with a three-hour harangue on States' rights.
DEBATE grew so stormy today that 81-year-old Dr. Benjamin Franklin proposed that henceforth the Convention open each session with prayers. He made his proposal after a day marked by dramatic clashes and tedious talk.
Luther Martin of Maryland for a second straight day rubbed raw the nerves of the delegates with his defense of the existing Confederation. ``Is the old confederation dissolved, because some of the states wish a new confederation?'' he asked.
A sigh of relief swept the Convention when Mr. Martin sat down. The mood of the nationalists turned angry, however, after John Lansing of New York proposed that State representation in the House of Representatives be equal - as specified in the Articles of Confederation - and not, as the Convention had voted earlier, by State population.
James Madison of Virginia and James Wilson of Pennsylvania could barely contain their despair as each rose in rebuttal. They cited again failures of ancient confederacies and of the current one governing the 13 States. Mr. Madison insisted that differences of the large States in manners, religion, and economies would prevent them from combining against the small.
Roger Sherman of Connecticut, however, remained an unyielding Yankee. Under proportional representation in the national Congress, he said, four States would govern nine. ``As they will have the purse, they may raise troops, and can also make a king when they please,'' Mr. Sherman added. Mr. Madison shot back:
``There is a danger in the idea of the gentleman from Connecticut. Unjust representation will ever produce it. ... The counties in Virginia are exceedingly disporportionate, and yet the smaller has an equal vote with the greater, and no inconvenience arises.''
It was here that Dr. Franklin proposed that each session open with prayers, recalling that prayers opened each session of the Continental Congress in this very State House during the War with Great Britain. Those prayers were graciously answered, he said in a low, soft, and hesitant voice. Directing his words toward General Washington, Convention President, Dr. Franklin noted the small progress made by the Convention, and then went on:
``I have lived, Sir, 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, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? ... Without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel....''
The proposal for prayers was not adopted for two reasons. First, the Convention has no funds, as North Carolina's clergyman delegate, Hugh Williamson, bluntly pointed out. Second, Col. Alexander Hamilton of New York observed that approving prayers this late in the Convention would ``lead the public to believe that the embarrassments and dissentions within the convention had suggested this measure.''
Little doubt exists that Dr. Franklin's proposal had a sobering effect on the contentious delegates. He reminded them that their failure might force mankind to despair of establishing government by human wisdom and thus leave the ordeal to ``chance, war and conquest.''
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.