Presidents and their prayers
Every culture in human history has practiced some form of prayer for various purposes to deities, spirit, higher principles or collective consciousness. A definition of prayer is:
1. a devout petition to God or an object of worship.
2. a spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.
3. the act or practice of praying to God or an object of worship.
In the English language the word has its origin in the period of 1250-1300 AD from the Middle English preire, going back to Old French, Medieval Latin and Latin precarious or obtained by entreaty, to entreat. –Dictionary.com
In America today little is discussed publically or acknowledged in the media regarding the existence and vital role of president’s prayers for the nation. But ever since the birth pangs of the struggling young country, future presidents and presidents of the United States have offered personal as well as public prayers for the success and well being of the nation and its varied peoples. At times of national challenge and duress they have publically challenged citizens to join them in pray for safety, victory, discernment, wisdom, guidance, prosperity, spiritual vigor, upholding the Constitution and for the common good of all citizens. Some of the greatest advances in American history, militarily, socially, economically have been when presidents have pursued the most ardently the blessings of Providence.
Public prayer by presidents and public figures was not un-common in the first one-hundred and seventy-five years of the nation and were rarely questioned or criticized – from George Washington through Dwight D. Eisenhower (our first and last military general-presidents). It has only been in the last 50 some years that public presidential prayer and our leader’s acknowledgement of the need of divine guidance has come under increasing censor and criticism from a nation that has tragically forgotten its history through carelessness, and by a few who know the history but have their own pernicious agenda for America.
Recently Governor Rick Perry of Texas made a call to prayer to the nation to address a number of challenges America currently faces:
Governor Perry plans on being a lead participant in a religious event “The Response” emphasizing prayer for the nation to be held in Huston on August 6th.
America is in the midst of a historic crisis. We have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. The youth of America are in grave peril economically, socially, and, most of all, morally. There are threats emerging within our nation and beyond our borders beyond our power to solve.
In Joel chapter two, an ancient Hebrew prophet speaks to a nation in crisis and gives her God’s solution: gather together, repent of their sins, and pray to God to intervene on their behalf. In that day the command was for everyone to stop what they were doing and gather for a sacred assembly to turn to God with all their hearts, “with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning” (Joel 2:12).
The governor came under immediate searing criticism by various groups and individuals advocating the supreme reign of secularism in government, with charges of the governor using his official position to proselytize Christianity, offending those of other faiths in the nation, un-Constitutionality of expressions of faith in government and undermining separation of church and state.
“Calling upon all Americans to embrace Perry’s personal belief system is an insult to the millions of upstanding citizens who practice religions other than evangelical Christianity, as well as the millions of secular Americans who contribute to society without pushing their views on others,” he said. “Religion should be a private matter, especially for elected officials in a secular government.” –Sean Faircloth, executive director Secular Coalition for America, the national lobby for secular and nontheistic Americans
“But as governor of Texas, Perry has a civic obligation to represent all citizens of the state – not just those who share his Christian faith. What message does he send to the many thousands of Texans of other faiths – and those with no religious affiliation – when, as governor, he initiates and leads a Christian prayer rally for “national unity”? Can they really trust him to represent their interests – and treat their beliefs with fairness and respect? Perry’s “call to prayer” may be legal, but that doesn’t make it right.” –Charles C. Haynes, Senior scholar at the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum in Washington.
–Washington Post and the Star Post
When considering the slow and deliberate efforts to push prayer and expressions of Christian faith out of government and the public marketplace in America, it shouldn’t be surprising to see today some self-righteously claim religion has no place in our national affairs, bombastically posturing as though it never did.
Prayer has been allowed to-date to remain in government events such as presidential inaugurations, Congressional prayers (by a chaplain no less), national prayer events and prayer breakfasts. –Congressional Prayer Caucus
But in the public sphere ever since the force of law given muscle by the Supreme Court decisions, Engel v. Vitale  and Abington School District v. Schempp  banned prayer in public schools, coincidently the prevalence of presidential prayer and adjurations for the guidance, wisdom and blessings of Providence have been in decline. It might be said the blessed manifestations from divine requests have also declined in America in all levels and aspects of society. And as our presidents have become known to be less prayerful and exhibiting less Christian virtue, correspondingly distrust, disrespect and political rancor have increased in the nation. With the last few presidents, public sentiment towards them from left and right has become increasingly bitter, divisive and malicious. The last three presidents have elicited particular anger and oftimes vitriol from either opposing side of the electorate.
Not all past presidents were great men of faith and prayer. View this list of presidents and consider the historical events that reigned during their terms >>List of Presidents of the United States
Historians and those who wish to prove their own interpretation of the religious tenor of America’s presidents offer either proofs for small and insignificant personal faith or conversely strong, guiding religious principles in the thinking and actions of our past leaders. Regardless the argument, a majority of presidents paid homage to the principles and beliefs of Christianity, and not a few offered prayers for the nation.
Those who are particularly remembered as such, led the nation during periods of particular challenge even dire threat with unknown outcome, which demanded humble requests for Assistance beyond human abilities. Wars, military attacks, threats of invasion, economic upheavals, natural disasters, corruption and internal violence are the events that seem to have humbled and called for the best from our leaders. As our nation’s past bears record, the events of history are not always calm and smooth sailing. We as a nation have dealt with hardship in the past, and we will again in the future.George Washington our first president was known as a person of prayer that appealed to Providence for the nation while still General of the Continental Army. The facts are disputed to this day but the legend is told of his prayer in the middle of winter in the forests of Valley Forge, adjuring the Lord of Hosts for relief and success in the nation’s struggle for creation.
The nature and composition of our president’s prayers reflected distinctly Christian virtues: purity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, humility.
By the time the United States as a nation sprang from the sea of humanity, such virtues had become guiding lights in Western Civilization that included the best of Jewish, Greek and Roman contemplations on moral excellence: forgiveness, humbleness, charity, forbearance, faith, hope, gentleness, honesty, duty, diligence, contentment, courage, consecration, honor, endurance, fidelity, trust, and not the least love. >> Virtue, Wikipedia Our nation would have a far different nature and social composition if it were not for these ideals and challenges of higher angels. Forget these standards of goodness and we will become a courser, meaner and a more violent people.
What role did religion play in the prayers of our presidents. The religious affiliations of U.S. presidents have been varied. Most belonged to traditional Protestant denominations – some taking an active role in their church, others nominal participation. A few had no church affiliations. Some apparently had more Deist than traditional Christian theological perspectives. But by and far the majority had an appreciation of the value of religious faith amongst the people of the nation as well as in their own personal lives.
A Congregationalist become Unitarian, John Adams’ perspective on religion is probably a fairly universal example of most president’s stance on the value of religion for the nation.
“Adams was aware of (and wary of) the risks, such as persecution of minorities and the temptation to wage holy wars, that an established religion poses. Nonetheless, he believed that religion, by uniting and morally guiding the people, had a role in public life.” John Adams
It is without question that prayer has played an important role in the leadership of the nation. That some revisionists attempt to ignore or dismiss that role is all too apparent.
Does the nation need leaders who can pray for our continued prosperity? If so does the regularity and nature of those prayers matter? Does a keen understanding by the president of national and world history and long thought-out social moral structure matter in their leading the nation? If the example of our greatest presidents past is a witness, an affirmative to such questions is more than evident.
A president should be graced with adequate life experiences, intelligence enough to identify and judiciously sort through issues, bold enough to take action, humble always to seek Providential counsel.
The crises on many fronts our nation currently faces as well as our own fallible human nature may well again precipitate a national leader who leads the nation in prayer. It’s happened before, from the very beginning of our nation. At times of greatest challenge and threat to our national existence and well being, leaders have risen that boldly sought wisdom, strength and success from beyond human muster.
PRAYERS OF PRESIDENTS FOR THE NATION
Look for the precipitating issues of the times and corresponding bequests in these presidential prayers and calls to prayer – a glimpse of the spirit and mind of the men and their devotion to the nation and Providence – thought provoking and refreshing.
Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:
…”Let us unite, therefore, in imploring the Supreme Ruler of nations, to spread his holy protection over these United States: to turn the machinations of the wicked to the confirming of our constitution: to enable us at all times to root out internal sedition, and put invasion to flight: to perpetuate to our country that prosperity, which his goodness has already conferred, and to verify the anticipations of this government being a safe guard to human rights.”
George Washington upon returning to Philadelphia after leading 13,000 state militiamen into Western Pennsylvania to put down rebellious farmers who refused to pay the excise tax on Whiskey they made.
>> The Miller Center
Proclamation – Day of National Thanksgiving October 3, 1789
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….
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.
>>The American Presidency Project
(FUTURE PRESIDENT) MR. JOHN ADAMS, MR. WILLIAM HOOPER AND MR. ROBERT TREAT PAIN
Submitted the following resolution: National Day of Humiliation, Fasting, And Prayer June 12, 1775
This Congress, therefore, considering the present critical, alarming, and calamitious state of these Colonies, do earnestly recommend that, Thursday, the twentieth day of July next, be observed by the inhabitants of all the English Colonies on this Continent, as a day of publick humiliation, fasting and prayer; that we may, with united hearts and voices, unfeignedly confess and deplore our many sins, and offer up our joint supplications to the allwise, omnipotent, and merciful Disposer of all events; humbly beseeching him to forgive our iniquities, to remove our present calamities, to avert those desolating judgments with which we are threatened, and to bless our rightful Sovereign, King George the Third, and inspire him with wisdom to discern and pursue the true interest of all his subjects, that a speedy end may be put to the civil discord between Great Britain and the American Colonies, without further effusion of blood; and that the British Nation may be influenced to regard the things that belong to her peace, before they are hid from her eyes; that these Colonies may be ever under the care and protection of a kind Providence, and be prospered in all their interests; that the divine blessing may descend and rest upon all our civil rulers, and upon the Representatives of the people in the several Assemblies and Conventions, that they may be directed to wise and effectual measures for preserving the union, and securing the just rights and privileges of the Colonies; that virtue and true religion may revive and flourish throughout our land; and that America may soon behold a gracious interposition of Heaven, for the redress of her many grievances, the restoration of her invaded rights, a reconciliation with the Parent state on terms constitutional and honourable to both; and that her civil and religious privileges may be secured to the latest posterity.
Anil it is recommended to Christians of all denominations, to assemble for publick worship, and to abstain from servile labour and recreation on said day.
>> Religion And The Constitutional Congress
PRESIDENT ANDREW JACKSON
Fourth Annual Message December 4, 1832
It gives me pleasure to congratulate you upon your return to the seat of Government for the purpose of discharging your duties to the people of the United States. Although the pestilence which had traversed the Old World has entered our limits and extended its ravages over much of our land, it has pleased Almighty God to mitigate its severity and lessen the number of its victims compared with those who have fallen in most other countries over which it has spread its terrors. Not with standing this visitation, our country presents on every side marks of prosperity and happiness unequaled, perhaps, in any other portion of the world. If we fully appreciate our comparative condition, existing causes of discontent will appear unworthy of attention, and, with hearts of thankfulness to that divine Being who has filled our cup of prosperity, we shall feel our resolution strengthened to preserve and hand down to our posterity that liberty and that union which we have received from our fathers, and which constitute the sources and the shield of all our blessings.
Relieved by its protecting shield from the fear of war and the apprehension of oppression, the free enterprise of our citizens, aided by the State sovereignties, will work out improvements and ameliorations which can not fail to demonstrate that the great truth that the people can govern themselves is not only realized in our example, but that it is done by a machinery in government so simple and economical as scarcely to be felt. That the Almighty Ruler of the Universe may so direct our deliberations and over-rule our acts as to make us instrumental in securing a result so dear to mankind is my most earnest and sincere prayer.
PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN
National Thanksgiving Day Proclamation October 3, 1863
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and 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 Prayer to our beneficent Father, who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him that, 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.
Second Inaugural address, March 4, 1865 – A Prayer For Peace
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet if God wills that it continues… until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid another drawn with the sword… so still it must be said that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and for his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
PRESIDENT ULYSSES S. GRANT
Proclamation 229 – Recommending Religious Services on July 4, 1876
The centennial anniversary of the day on which the people of the United States declared their right to a separate and equal station among the powers of the earth seems to demand an exceptional observance.
The founders of the Government, at its birth and in its feebleness, invoked the blessings and the protection of a Divine Providence, and the thirteen colonies and three millions of people have expanded into a nation of strength and numbers commanding the position which then was asserted and for which fervent prayers were then offered.
It seems fitting that on the occurrence of the hundredth anniversary of our existence as a nation a grateful acknowledgment should be made to Almighty God for the protection and the bounties which He has vouchsafed to our beloved country.
I therefore invite the good people of the United States, on the approaching 4th day of July, in addition to the usual observances with which they are accustomed to greet the return of the day, further, in such manner and at such time as in their respective localities and religious associations may be most convenient, to mark its recurrence by some public religious and devout thanksgiving to Almighty God for the blessings which have been bestowed upon us as a nation during the century of our existence, and humbly to invoke a continuance of His favor and of His protection.
In witness 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 26th day of June, A. D. 1876, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundredth.
>> The American Presidency Project
PRESIDENT FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
A Prayer in Dark Times – D-Day, June 6, 1944
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity…
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph…
Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom. And for us at home–fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them–help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice… Give us strength, too–strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace–a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
>> Great Speeches Collection and >> D-Day Prayer
GENERAL DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
Order of the Day (2 June 1944) Message and form of prayer for troops before the Normandy landings.
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.
In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely. But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men.
The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory! I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
PRESIDENT DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
Almighty God, as we stand here at this moment my future associates in the Executive branch of Government join me in beseeching that Thou will make full and complete our dedication to the service of the people in this throng, and their fellow citizens everywhere.
Give us, we pray, the power to discern clearly right from wrong, and allow all our words and actions to be governed thereby, and by the laws of this land. Especially we pray that our concern shall be for all the people regardless of station, race or calling.
May cooperation be permitted and be the mutual aim of those who, under the concepts of our Constitution, hold to differing political faiths; so that all may work for the good of our beloved country and Thy glory. Amen.
>> The National Park Service