A miracle happened more than 200 years ago in a hot, closed room in a building now known as Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There several dozen wise men (with the numbers fluctuating) spent the summer of 1797 debating, compromising, and pounding out the details for a new Constitution. Every state was represented except Rhode Island, a state that chose to not send delegates. At the conclusion of the Constitution Convention, there were 41 delegates in attendance, and 38 of the men signed the document. Today marks the 233d anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States.
The men recognized that they had accomplished an essential task that would determine the future of the young nation. However, they understood that their work was not yet finished. According to the document itself, 9 out of the 13 U.S. states were required to ratify the document before it would become the law of the land.
The first five states – Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut – ratified the Constitution in quick succession beginning on December 7, 1797. Massachusetts refused to ratify the document because it did not give “constitutional protection of basic political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press.” Another compromise was made in February 1788 “under which Massachusetts and other states would agree to ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would be immediately proposed.”
The ratification vote in Massachusetts was close, but it was in favor. Massachusetts was followed by Maryland and South Carolina. New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document on June 21, 1788. Agreement was made that the new government under the Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789. Virginia ratified the Constitution in June, and New York followed in July 1789.
The new Congress of the United States adopted 12 amendments to the Constitution on September 25, 1789 – known as the Bill of Rights – and sent them to the states to be ratified. The states ratified ten of the twelve in 1791.
North Carolina ratified the Constitution in November 1789, and Rhode Island finally ratified on May 29, 1790, after the “U.S. government threatened to sever commercial relations with the state.” All 13 original colonies joined the United States, and the “U.S. Constitution is the oldest written constitution in operation in the world.”
A miracle took place in that men representing thirteen different states agreed on one document to be the Supreme Law of the land. Another miracle took place when the states ratified the document. At a time in history when the writers of the Constitution are disrespected and dishonored and their statues are damaged or destroyed, I think that it is important to share some information about them.
The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “I established the Constitution of his land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:80). He also said that the divinely inspired Constitution “belongs to all mankind) (Doctrine and Covenants 98:5). When the Kirtland Temple was dedicated, the dedicatory prayer as dictated by God contains these words: “May those principles, which were so honorably and nobly defended, namely, the Constitution of our land, by our fathers, be established forever (Doctrine and Covenants 109:54).
President Ezra Taft Benson shared his personal experience that fulfilled a long-time dream. He was on assignment from the living Prophet. Here is his story.
Shortly after President Spencer W. Kimball became President of the Church, he assigned me to go into the vault of the St. George Temple and check the early records. As I did so, I realized the fulfillment of a dream I had had ever since learning of the visit of the Founding Fathers to the St. George Temple. I saw with my own eyes the record of the work which was done for the Founding Fathers of this great nation, beginning with George Washington.
Think of it: the Founding Fathers of this nation, those great men, appeared within those sacred walls and had their vicarious work done for them.
President Benson then shared the following experience, which is given in the words of another prophet of God, President Wilford Woodruff.
Before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, “You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946, p. 160).
[President Benson continued:] After he became President of the Church, President Wilford Woodruff declared that “those men who laid the foundation of this American government were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits… [and] were inspired of the Lord” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1898, p. 89).
I have a copy of an original painting depicting the Founding Fathers appearing to President Woodruff. Just as President Woodruff mentioned, George Washington is at the forefront of the group of men urging President Woodruff to do their temple work. What did President Woodruff do? He did the work!
In 1986, members of the Family History Library staff in the LDS Reference Unit, were “assigned to compile and computerize all the existing genealogical data on the founding fathers, to identify their families, and to document completed temple ordinances for each.” They identified a founding father as being “identified as one who had signed one or more of the following documents: the Articles of Association (1774), the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Articles of Confederation (1778), or the Constitution (1787).” They used a variety of “sources to compile the information, including information recording by Wilford Woodruff.”
… In his journal entry of Sunday, 19 August 1877, Elder Woodruff, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and president of the St. George Temple, wrote: “I spent the evening in preparing a list of the noted men of the 17 century and 18ty, including the signers of the Declaration of Independence and presidents of the United States, for baptism on Tuesday the 21 Aug 1877.”
His journal entry for August 21 reads, “I, Wilford Woodruff, went to the temple of the Lord this morning and was baptized for 100 persons who were dead, including the signers of the Declaration of Independence…. I was baptized for the following names.” He then listed the names of one hundred men (one of whom was shown twice, so actually there were ninety-nine), including forty-five “eminent men” of several nationalities. The baptisms were performed by J.D.T. McAllister, a counselor in the temple presidency.
Elder Woodruff continued his journal entry: “When Br. McAllister had baptized me for the 100 names, I baptized him for 21, including Gen. Washington and his forefathers and all the presidents of the United States that were not on my list except Buchanan, Van Buren, and Grant.” (The work for these presidents has since been done.)
“It was a very interesting day,” Elder Woodruff continued. “I felt thankful that we had the privilege and the power to administer for the worthy dead, especially for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, that inasmuch as they had laid the foundation of our Government, that we could do as much for them as they had done for us.
“Sister Lucy Bigelow Young went forth into the font and was baptized for Martha Washington and her family, and seventy of the eminent women of the world. I called upon the brethren and sisters who were present to assist in getting the endowments for those that we had been baptized for today.” (Wilford Woodruff’s journal, typescript, vol. 7, Church History Library; spelling and punctuation modernized.)
Proxy ordinations and endowments for the men, and endowments for the women, were performed and recorded over the next few days.
These events were not mentioned until nearly a month later when Elder Woodruff spoke in the Tabernacle on Temple Square on 16 September 1877. He spoke of the visitation of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, “They waited on me for two days and two nights.” He added, “I thought it very singular, that notwithstanding so much work had been done, and yet nothing had been done for them.” (Journal of Discourses, 19:229.)
I strongly believe that our Founding Fathers and Mothers were prepared, raised up, and inspired by God to become an independent nation. I have great respect for them and honor their efforts in creating a new kind of nation with a written Constitution. I know that America was held in reserve until their time, so that they could prepare a nation where people would have freedom of religion. The new government took charge on March 4, 1789, and Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to the boy Prophet Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820, only 31 years later to open this dispensation and to restore the gospel of Jesus Christ to earth. The restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the result of the work of the Founding Fathers.