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Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson has, on several occasions, recounted how Founding Father Benjamin Franklin led the Constitutional Convention to pray before conducting the business of writing the Constitution — a story that is contradicted by Franklin’s own writing.
In an interview with televangelist Marcus Lamb in October, Carson said, “I think they were geniuses and I think they were divinely inspired. You know, the whole thing was about to fall apart in 1787 and Benjamin Franklin, the elder statesman, said, 'Gentleman, during the pre-revolutionary days and the Revolutionary War everything out of your mouth was 'God save us,' and now you don't want to talk to God. Let's get down on our knees and ask God to give us wisdom.' They knelt and prayed and got up and they put together 16-and-a-third-page document that is one of the most admired and substantial documents in the history of mankind."
Carson has told a version of this story in various settings over the years, but three scholars who spoke with BuzzFeed News say that Carson’s telling is inaccurate. According to them, Franklin did indeed move for a prayer to be held before each convention gathering, but his motion was not successful and the prayer did not take place.
“This is the truth of the story: Franklin said, ‘yeah we all gotta pray, they said we gotta get a clergyman from outside, but if they got clergyman outside everyone would know. So everyone was uncomfortable with the idea and it never came to pass,” Richard B. Bernstein, a lecturer in political science at City College in New York who has written several books on the Founding Fathers, told BuzzFeed News.
Similarly, Ellen Cohn, editor-in-chief of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin at Yale, said that Carson “didn’t get the story quite right,” and provided BuzzFeed News with the text of Franklin’s call for prayer from his handwritten speech, which was accompanied by a notation also written by Franklin.
“The Convention except three or four Persons, thought Prayers unnecessary,” the note reads.
Carla Mulford, author of Benjamin Franklin and the Ends of Empire and professor at Penn State University, reiterated to BuzzFeed News that Carson’s telling was incorrect, adding, “Franklin rarely spoke during the Constitutional Convention, and when he did, it was usually to try to mitigate the extreme positions being taken."
A spokesperson for the Carson campaign told BuzzFeed News he was "not in a position to corroborate" Carson's research "now or soon," adding that someone on the campaign would take a look and "perhaps query Dr Carson’s notes."
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