Category Archives: Prayer & Nation

Thanksgiving Proclamation Issued by President George Washington, 1789

Following a resolution of Congress, President George Washington proclaimed Thursday the 26th of November 1789 a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” devoted to

George Washington

George Washington

“the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” Reflecting American religious practice, Presidents and Congresses from the beginning of the republic have from time to time designated days of fasting and thanksgiving (the Thanksgiving holiday we continue to celebrate in November was established by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and made into law by Congress in 1941).

In setting aside a day for Thanksgiving, Washington established a non-sectarian tone for these devotions and stressed political, moral, and intellectual blessings that make self-government possible, in addition to personal and national repentance. Although the First Amendment prevents Congress from establishing a religion or prohibiting its free exercise, Presidents, as well as Congress, have always recognized the American regard for sacred practices and beliefs. Thus, throughout American history, Presidents have offered non-sectarian prayers for the victory of the military and in the wake of catastrophes. Transcending passionate quarrels over the proper role of religion in politics, the Thanksgiving Proclamation reminds us how natural their relationship has been. While church and state are separate, religion and politics, in their American refinement, prop each other up.

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

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; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering 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 favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, 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, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

Thanksgiving Proclamation, Issued by President George Washington, 1789

Thanksgiving Proclamation, Issued by President George Washington, 1789

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Mayflower Compact (Modern Version)

Signing the Mayflower Compact - 1620

Signing the Mayflower Compact – 1620

In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.

 Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

 In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England,

France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.

William Bradford's Transcription of The Mayflower Compact

William Bradford’s Transcription of The Mayflower Compact

The ‘dread sovereign’ referred to in the document used the archaic definition of dread—meaning awe and reverence (for the King), a reverent and holy fear. Also, as noted above, the document was signed under the Old Style Julian calendar, since England did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752. According to the Gregorian calendar, the Mayflower Compact was signed aboard ship on November 11, 1620 by the Pilgrims.

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May the Father of All Mercies Scatter Light Upon Our Paths…

George Washington at Valley Forge

George Washington at Valley Forge

“May the Father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us in all our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.” — George Washington (1790)

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Proclamation of Thanksgiving

By the President of the United States of America.

Abraham Lincoln

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William Seward

William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D.C., October 3, 1863

This is the proclamation which set the precedent for America’s national day of Thanksgiving. During his administration, President Lincoln issued many orders similar to this. For example, on November 28, 1861, he ordered government departments closed for a local day of thanksgiving.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.” She explained, “You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritative fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.”

Prior to this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states. President

Sarah Josepha Hale

Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale’s request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors, who ignored her petitions altogether. In her letter to Lincoln she mentioned that she had been advocating a national thanksgiving date for 15 years as the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book.

The document below sets apart the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”

According to an April 1, 1864, letter from John Nicolay, one of President Lincoln’s secretaries, this document was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting. On October 3, 1863, fellow Cabinet member Gideon Welles recorded in his diary how he complimented Seward on his work. A year later the manuscript was sold to benefit Union troops.

Thanksgiving Proclamation - President Abraham Lincoln, 1863

Thanksgiving Proclamation – President Abraham Lincoln, 1863

 

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November 20, 2012 · 10:16 pm

Prayers Imploring the Assistance of Heaven

Benjamin Franklin

“I therefore beg leave to move-that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings 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.” – Benjamin Franklin, Request for Prayers at the Constitutional Convention (July 28, 1787)

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“I Pray to God that I May Never Forget the Precepts of His Religion…”

James Iredell

“I think the Christian religion is a Divine institution; and I pray to God that I may never forget the precepts of His religion or suffer the appearance of an inconsistency in my principle and practice.” – James Iredell (October 5, 1751 – October 20, 1799) was one of the first Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was appointed by President George Washington and served from 1790 until his death in 1799. His son, James Iredell, Jr., became governor of North Carolina.

Although employed by the British government, Iredell was a strong supporter of independence and the revolution. In 1774 he wrote To the Inhabitants of Great Britain in which he laid out arguments opposing the concept of Parliamentary supremacy over America. This essay established Iredell, at the age of 23, as the most influential political essayist in North Carolina at that time. His treatise Principles of an American Whig predates and echoes themes and ideas of the Declaration of Independence.

After the revolution began, Iredell helped organize the court system of North Carolina, and was elected a judge of the superior court in 1778. His career advanced through a number of political and judicial posts in the state, including that of attorney general from 1779-1781. In 1787 the state assembly appointed him commissioner and charged him with compiling and revising the laws of North Carolina. His work was published in 1791 as Iredell’s Revisal.

Iredell was a leader of the Federalists in North Carolina, and a strong supporter of the proposed Constitution. In the 1788 convention at Hillsborough, he argued unsuccessfully in favor of its adoption. (North Carolina later ratified the Constitution after Congress amended it through the addition of the Bill of Rights.)

On February 10, 1790, President George Washington nominated James Iredell to the post of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and two days later he was confirmed by the United States Senate, and received his commission. At the age of 38, Iredell was the youngest of the early Supreme Court Justices.

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September 10, 2012 · 5:50 pm

All Confidence Must Be Withheld from the Means We Use…

John Hancock

“In circumstances dark as these, it becomes us, as Men and Christians, to reflect that, whilst every prudent Measure should be taken to ward off the impending Judgements… All confidence must be withheld from the Means we use; and reposed only on that GOD who rules in the Armies of Heaven, and without whose Blessing the best human Counsels are but Foolishness–and all created Power Vanity” – April 15,  1775, By Order of the [Massachusetts] Provincial Congress, John Hancock, President.

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