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Prayer And The Founding Fathers

A Treatise on the Prayer Life of those who Founded this Nation

Those who read the original reports of what our Founding Fathers did often are surprised to discover how large a part of their activities prayer was.  Like us, they prayed at church (obviously a long time practice in this country), they prayed before and after meals, at public meetings of all kinds, at political meetings - just the kinds of places and events at which Christians do today.

Like them, when we pray we include confession of sin, thanksgiving and praise.  Also, a large part of prayer today is for those we know: family members (for health, employment, plans, troubles) and the same for friends and acquaintances, sometimes even political figures!.....especially when taxes are raised, the economy is down, or a new law is passed curtailing one more freedom.  We don’t miss much in our prayers, do we?  Nor did our Founders.

As we celebrate the 233rd anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence it is appropriate to review some of our history, some of the stressful years before and after their declaring their independence from the tyrannical rulers who had sent armies across the sea to destroy the exercise of their God-given freedoms - and here a perusal of their prayers reveals something very unusual.  What could that be?

Looking at a few of our Founders’ prayers we discover several differences. Perhaps the biggest difference we would notice right away would be the public proclamations of prayer.  Very early in our history, whenever a disaster of some kind occurred, a day of prayer would be announced.  We see this in the report Gov. Bradford made concerning the need for rain when their crops were drying up: He writes (notice his "creative" spelling!):

(N)otwithstanding all their great paines & industrie, and ye great hops of a large cropp, the Lord seemed to blast, & take away the same,...  Yet at length it begane to languish sore,...  Upon which they sett a parte a solemne day of humilliation, to seek ye Lord by humble & fervente prayer, in this great distrese.  And he was pleased to give them a gracious & speedy answer, both to their owne, & the Indeans admiration....1

Going on, then, to a later day we read about events previous to the Revolutionary War.  For instance, in February of 1775 the following proclamation was made: "For A Day of Fasting and Prayer"

By the Honorable Jonathan Trumbull, Esquire, Governor of the English Colony of Connecticut, in New-England in America; To offer up fervent Supplication to GOD, for His gracious Presence with us---to give us true Repentance and Reformation and to make us fully sensible that our Dependence must be on His Power and Grace alone, to deliver us from all the Evil we feel or fear;---that He would not leave us to trust in an Arm of Flesh ;--

Soon things got worse - "Georgia Completes the American Chain" ,Continental Fast Day, July 20, 1775:

(Prelude to the proclamation of Trumbull)  On his (Washington’s) arrival at Cambridge, July 3d, 1775, he was received with the joyful acclamations of the American army.  At the head of his troops, he published a declaration, previously drawn up by congress, in the nature of a manifesto, setting forth the reasons for taking up arms....  When general Washington joined the American army, he found the British intrenched on Bunker's hill, having also three floating batteries in Mystic river, and a twenty gun ship below the ferry, between Boston and Charlestown.  (It looks like the British are readying themselves to subdue the colonists!  Italics mine, Ed.)2

Excerpts from The Proclamation, July I3, 1775, by Jonathan Trumbull, Lebanon, Connecticut, to George Washington:

The Honorable Congress have proclaimed a Fast to be observed by the inhabitants of all the English  Colonies on this continent, to stand before the Lord in one day, with public humiliation, fasting, and prayer, to deplore our many sins, to offer up our joint supplications to God, for forgiveness, and for his merciful interposition for us in this day of unnatural darkness and distress.  They have, with one united voice, appointed you to the high station you possess.

Not only is this a proclamation to Washington; it was proclaimed to all of the inhabitants of the American colonies:

(C)onsidering the awful Frowns of Divine Providence,... I have therefore, by and with the Advice of the Council, thought it to be appropriate and do hereby appoint Wednesday the first Day of February next, to be observed a Day of Fasting and Prayer throughout this Colony :---hereby exhorting both Minister and People of all Denominations, to humble themselves before GOD,--- confessing our Sins, and entreating His Grace and Favour.

What happened as a result of this proclamation?  I would like to quote further from David Ramsey’s history:

Since the fast of the Ninevites, recorded in sacred writ, perhaps there has not been one, which was more generally kept, with suitable dispositions, than that of July 20th, 1775.  It was no formal service.  The whole body of the people felt the importance, the weight and the danger of the unequal contest, in which they were about to engage; that every thing dear to them was at stake; and that a divine blessing only could carry them through it successfully.  This blessing they implored with their whole souls, poured forth in ardent supplications, issuing from hearts deeply penetrated with a sense of their unworthiness, their dependence and danger; and at the same time, impressed with an humble confidence, in the mercies and goodness of that Being, who had planted and preserved them, hitherto, amid many dangers, in the wilderness of a new world.

May we like them, go to our Father in these days of trouble and anxiety.  May we, too, "humble ourselves before GOD,--- confessing our Sins, and entreating His Grace and Favour," not depending on the "arm of flesh," but:

Offer up fervent Supplication to GOD, for His gracious Presence with us---to give us true Repentance and Reformation and to make us fully sensible that our Dependence must be on His Power and Grace alone, to deliver us from all the Evil we feel or fear;---that He would not leave us to trust in an Arm of Flesh ;---

A blessed Fourth of July to all of you!

You may want to read the article "July 4th Oregon Style",  by guest writer  Mr. Vaughn Longanecker.


1. Bradford, Governor William, Of Plymouth Plantation, from the original manuscript of 1647.

2. The following excerpts are from Prelude to the American Revolution by David Ramsey, Southern Historian of this period, quoted in The Christian History of the American Revolution, Consider and Ponder, Verna M. Hall, Compiler, Foundation for American Christian Education, 1976.

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