I think with you, that nothing is of more importance for the public weal, than to form and train up youth in wisdom and virtue…. I think also, general virtue is more probably to be expected and obtained from the education of youth, than from the exhortation of adult persons; bad habits and vices of the mind being, like diseases of the body, more easily prevented than cured.
I think, moreover, that talents for the education of youth are the gift of God; and that he on whom they are bestowed, whenever a way is opened for the use of them, is as strongly called as if heard a voice from heaven.
Franklin wrote in his Autobiography this prayer that he said he prayed every day:
O powerful goodness! Bountiful Father! Merciful Guide! Increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest. Strengthen my resolution to perform what that wisdom dictates. Accept my kind offices to thy other children as the only return in my power for thy continual favors to me.
It has been alleged that he was an atheist. He wrote in his Autobiography:
I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world, and governed it by his Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter.
In July 1776, Franklin was appointed to a committee to draft a seal for the newly formed United States. He proposed:
Moses lifting up his wand, and dividing the red sea, and pharaoh in his chariot overwhelmed with the waters. This motto: “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”
On March 9, 1790 in a letter to Ezra Stiles, President of Yale University, he wrote:
As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, is the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see.
In 1787 Franklin wrote in a letter:
Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.
At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Franklin, disturbed by the bitter debates among the delegates, said in a speech to the convention:
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….
We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that “except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.”…
I therefore beg leave to move–that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessing on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.
Prayer has opened both houses of Congress ever since.
George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army often prayed and fasted, invoking God’s protection and providence during the entire War of Independence. He appointed chaplains for every regiment. In 1789, at his inauguration as the first President of the United States, Washington said:
Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to the Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes; and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge….
No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States.
Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency….
On Oct. 3, 1789, Washington issued a National Day of Thanksgiving Proclamation in which he stated:
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor ….
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the twenty-sixth day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these United States …. that we then may all unite unto him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed….