The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Ben Franklin Cited Scripture

photo-1467912407355-245f30185020_optAugust 10, 1787 (click here to read Madison’s notes)

Summary

Various details about residency, qualifications and quorum requirements were debated. Ownership of property with a specific value as a qualification was voted down.

Influences on the Delegates

At last, another reference to religion and the Bible, again from Ben Franklin.

Doctor FRANKLIN expressed his dislike to every thing that tended to debase the spirit of the common people. If honesty was often the companion of wealth, and if poverty was exposed to peculiar temptation, it was not less true that the possession of property increased the desire of more property. Some of the greatest rogues he was ever acquainted with were the richest rogues. We should remember the character which the Scripture requires in rulers, that they should be men hating covetousness. This Constitution will be much read and attended to in Europe; and if it should betray a great partiality to the rich, will not only hurt us in the esteem of the most liberal and enlightened men there, but discourage the common people from removing to this country.

While Franklin believed leaders should hate covetousness, I suspect this is more a rhetorical device than using the Bible as a policy foundation. I say that because he hastened to add to his Scripture reference that he was also concerned that Europeans would have withheld esteem from Americans as liberal and enlightened if we required wealth to run for office. In any case, Charles Pinckney’s proposal to set a level of property ownership as a qualification was not popular and went down to defeat.

Madison used the British Parliament as a negative example.

Mr. MADISON observed that the British Parliament possessed the power of regulating the qualifications both of the electors and the elected; and the abuse they had made of it was a lesson worthy of our attention. They had made the changes, in both cases, subservient to their own views, or to the views of political or religious parties.

John Mercer from Maryland, appealed to Britain in a positive manner on setting a quorum.

Mr. MERCER was also for less than a majority. So great a number will put it in the power of a few, by seceding at a critical moment, to introduce convulsions, and endanger the Government. Examples of secession have already happened in some of the States. He was for leaving it to the Legislature to fix the quorum, as in Great Britain, where the requisite number is small, and no inconvenience has been experienced.

 

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.

Constitutional Convention Series (click the link)

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