|Credit: Library of Congress|
Anecdotes from the Convention continue to inform contemporary discussions on the Constitution’s meaning. This article discusses an anecdote from the Convention that shows how history and false history shape our laws and cultural traditions.
The article focuses on Benjamin Franklin’s proposal to hire a chaplain and begin each day with a prayer. The Convention deputies showed little interest in the proposal, and it died aborning. However, decades later, a fictional version emerged in which Franklin’s proposal succeeded and saved the Convention from collapse.
The factual and mythical Franklin prayer narratives offer us the opportunity to examine their history and rhetorical use in arguing for integrating religion into America’s public life. This examination also offers the opportunity to reflect on how advocates can use history to fashion a persuasive argument. The history of the narrative demonstrates how writers, government officials, lawyers, and judges have employed it to further their own purposes. As for the continuing popularity of the story, Franklin and the archetype he personifies play a critical role in making the narrative persuasive. And as the narrative shows, histories, both factual and mythical, can support persuasive narrative arguments.