We continue our series on American Presidents and Prayer with John Adam and Thomas Jefferson.
John Adams, the Second President issued a prayer proclamation in which he declared, “The safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God.” Adams called “the national acknowledgment of this truth…an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him…” Without it, “social happiness cannot exist, nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed.” Adams believed national “seasons of difficulty and of danger” or “threatening calamities” were “a loud call to repentance and reformation.” He therefore called the nation to prayer – “I have therefore thought it fit to recommend, that Wednesday, the 9th day of May next be observed throughout the United States, as a day of Solemn Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer. That the citizens of these states, abstaining on that day from their customary worldly occupations, offer their devout addresses to the Father of Mercies…That all religious congregations do, with the deepest humility, acknowledge before God the manifold sins and transgressions with which we are justly chargeable as individuals and as a nation; beseeching him…through the Redeemer…to remit all our offences…”
In 1799, when the new nation was threatened by a war with France, President Adams declared a Day of Prayer, urging Americans to:
Call to mind our numerous offenses against the Most High God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, implore His pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer … and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit, we may … yield a more suitable obedience to His righteous requisitions.
Sadly, jealously was festering among the various Christian groups. Some feared that one of them might gain the advantage over the other. When Adams called for the day of prayer, he was falsely accused by backers of Jefferson of a conspiracy with the Presbyterians – though he was certainly not one. His great evangelical fault was that he never embraced the divinity of Jesus. The Presbyterians promoted the day of prayer, but other denominations resisted. Sadly, Jefferson used the matter for his own political advantage. The political contest was characterized by some historians as deeply personal and vilifying. Adams lost the election by only eight electoral votes, and would reflect later, that the confusion surrounding his call to prayer was the deciding factor. “The national fast recommended by me turned me out of office…”
Still, Adams was resolute on the nation’s dependence on faith. He knew the design of the government for free men demanded self-governed with a moral grounding. In his First Address to Congress (November 23, 1797), Adams would say, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion … Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Today, we know very well the name of Thomas Jefferson, but little of the other founders. And we are consistently told that Jefferson was not a Christian or that he was superficially so. It would surprise some to know that the design of the Great Seal offered by Jefferson suggested the words, “Rebellion to Tyrants Is Obedience to God.” The front of the seal would have depicted Moses, leading Israel through the Red Sea on the way to the Promised Land, as a parallel to our settlement in the New World. His habit was to sign his documents, “In the Year of Our Lord Christ,” invoking Christ, on official government documents.
In November of 1800, the U. S. Capitol was first opened for use. One of the first acts of Congress was the approval to use the building as a church. That act is found in the Congressional record on December 4, 1800. The bill had to be approved by both the House and the Senate. John Trumpbell was the Speaker of the House, and Jefferson, at that time, was the President of the Senate. Not only did Jefferson approve of the bill, but the Hall of the House of Representatives where the services were held, became his church. He attended every Sunday. And he ordered the Marine band to come as the church orchestra.
Here is a prayer for the nation written and offered by Thomas Jefferson.
Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people, the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those whom in Thy name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Notice the last line, “We ask – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Jefferson, perhaps remembering the tactic he used to defeat Adams, never called for a national day of prayer or fasting, as had Washington and Adams, his predecessors. But Jefferson did attend prayer services that were conducted in the US Capitol in 1802. His daughters, Martha and Maria often accompanied him, and his two grandchildren, as well. There, he stood shoulder to shoulder with members of Congress – praying.
We can learn much from the godly actions of these great men and their prayers could be offered once again!
This teaching will be included in the upcoming The Praying Church Handbook – Volume IV – Intercessory Prayer and Missions. Purchase the 4 volume set at: www.alivepublications.org.
Current product special: Purchase The Principles of Worship: A Study of the Tabernacle of Moses Book and receive the CD set or DVD set for FREE!
 See also – http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Faith-Tools/Meditation/2005/01/Prayers-Of-The-Presidents.aspx
 John A. Schutz and Douglas Adair, Eds., The Spur of Fame: Dialogue of John Adams and Benjamin Rush, 1803-1813 (San Marino, CA: The Huntington Library, 1966), 224-225.
 Prayer Offered by Jefferson in Washington D.C., on March 4, 1801. See also – http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Faith-Tools/Meditation/2005/01/Prayers-Of-The-Presidents.aspx
 Moore, One Nation Under God, 82. Note: Moore includes a note at this point about Jefferson’s liaisons with Sally Hemming and the widely popularized idea that he fathered children by his relationship with Sally, a slave. The report was widely circulated during the 1990’s and used as a pretext for overlooking President Clinton’s indiscreet liaisons with the young intern, Monica Lewinsky. After all, if Founding Father Jefferson strayed, and was forgiven; why should President William Jefferson Clinton be held to a higher standard. Supposed DNA evidence proved the Jefferson-Hemming affair. In the end, it was all a hoax. But few papers issued a retraction. The lie is still circulated as fact.