Midwest Voices

Ben Franklin’s words resonate after election

The wisdom of Benjamin Franklin bears repeating in the aftermath of this election.
The wisdom of Benjamin Franklin bears repeating in the aftermath of this election. The Associated Press

“The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs the affairs of men.”

Those are not my words, but rather the heartfelt cry of Benjamin Franklin as he addressed delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

It had been nearly five years since the Revolutionary War ended, and delegates had been meeting for weeks considering the ideal form of government. After examining every known governmental model — both ancient and contemporary — they found none suitable for this new nation. Division and dissension had arisen among their ranks. The large states wanted congressional representation based on population, while the small states argued for equal representation. Proceedings ground to a halt.

Among the delegates were those who, by signing the Declaration of Independence, had committed to mutually pledge to each other their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Yet they had reached a point where the future of our nation was in jeopardy, and the very freedom for which they had sacrificed was at risk.

It was at this crucial moment that 81-year-old Franklin, who had been mostly quiet, rose to address the group. He reminded them of how they had “daily prayer” in that same room throughout the Revolutionary War. He went on to ask if they had forgotten that “powerful friend” or if they “imagine that we no longer need his assistance?” He warned that without God’s concurring aid, they would “succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.”

As though peering into the future — our future — Franklin predicted the devastating results if their disagreements were left unchecked. They would be divided by “little partial local interests,” their projects would be “confounded” and — perhaps worst of all — they would “become a reproach and bye word down to future ages.”

This election cycle has again magnified the divisiveness in our nation. Many contests were more defined by personalities than principles and innuendos rather than issues. Much like those who gathered in 1787, there is a shared concerned about the future of our nation and the very freedoms for which many have sacrificed.

It has long been said that “America is great because America is good, and when America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” No slogan or government-sponsored program in and of itself will bring our nation together or make us great. If our nation is to truly be great, we cannot expect the requisite “goodness” to emanate solely from our leaders — it must begin with you and me. The choices we make — individually and collectively — to do good today and every day will determine our nation’s future. This begins by simply treating those with whom we may disagree with love and respect.

America’s goodness at home and abroad has been rooted in the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence — chief among them “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

If we are to succeed in our present “political building,” we also would do well to remember Franklin’s powerful friend and diligently seek God’s aid. Otherwise, we will, as Franklin warned, be a “reproach and bye word down to future ages.”

Paul Scianna of south Kansas City is a native of Mississippi and a management consultant. To reach him, send email to Midwest Voices at oped@kcstar.com.

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