The U.S. is celebrating the 66th annual National Day of Prayer on Thursday, an event that was first initiated back in 1952 with a joint resolution of Congress; the measure was then signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.
The commemorative day, which traditionally unfolds the first Thursday of May, is aimed at encouraging American citizens to turn to prayer and to God, with politicians of many stripes — including U.S. presidents — typically taking part in the festivities.
But while the National Day of Prayer is a more recent 20th century development, U.S. presidents have long invoked both prayer and the name of God in their public proclamations.
So, in honor of today’s national push for invocations, we decided to round up just a few of the most intriguing presidential statements on these subjects. Here you go:
President George Washington, June, 8, 1783:
“I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.”
President Thomas Jefferson, Nov. 4, 1820:
“I hold the precepts of Jesus, as delivered by himself, to be the most pure, benevolent, and sublime which have ever been preached to man.”
President Harry Truman, Dec. 24, 1950:
“But all of — at home, at war, wherever we may be — are within reach of God’s love and power. We all can pray. We all should pray. We should ask the fulfillment of God’s will. We should ask for courage, wisdom, for the quietness of soul which comes alone to them who place their lives in His hands. We should pray for a peace which is the fruit of righteousness.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Feb. 23, 1936:
“No greater thing could come to our land today than a revival of the spirit of religion — a revival that would sweep through the homes of the Nation and stir the hearts of men and women of all faiths to a reassertion of their belief in God and their dedication to His will for themselves and for their world. I doubt if there is any problem- social, political or economic—that would not melt away before the fire of such a spiritual awakening.”
President Ronald Reagan, Feb. 9, 1982:
“To preserve our blessed land, we must look to God. And we must look to the hearthstone, because that’s where all hope for America lies. Families are the bedrock of our nation—teachers of cooperation, tolerance, concern, and responsibility. Rebuilding America begins with restoring family strength and preserving family values.”
President George W. Bush, Oct. 13, 2004:
“First, my faith plays a big part in my life. … I pray for strength. I pray for wisdom. I pray for our troops in harm’s way. I pray for my family. I pray for my little girls. But I’m mindful in a free society that people can worship if they want to or not. You’re equally an American if you choose to worship an Almighty and if you choose not to. If you’re a Christian, Jew or Muslim you’re equally an American. That’s the great thing about America is the right to worship the way you see fit. Prayer and religion sustain me. I receive calmness in the storms of the presidency. I love the fact that people pray for me and my family all around the country.”
Find out more about the National Day of Prayer here.
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