American Presidents and Prayer

February has for many years been my favorite month. And not just because my birthday comes in February. Or two of my good friends who were born on the same day as I. Or my niece who’s birthday is the same day as mine.

I enjoy celebrating the births of the presidents who were born in February–George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Harding, and Ronald Reagan. All right, I don’t remember much about Harrison or Harding. But I like to joke that I’m in good company with the great people born in February.

George Washington, was instrumental in freeing the “colonies” from British rule. Lincoln had the Emancipation Proclamation, and won the war between the States which led to abolishing slavery in our country. Reagan encouraged the Soviet Union to “tear down this wall,” freeing eastern Europe from a generation of Soviet domination.

Each of these presidents recognized the need for prayer, urging U.S. citizens to pray for their country.

Though critics have denied it’s authenticity, George Washington was reported to have prayed at Valley Forge. Arnold Friberg created the original painting of “The Prayer at Valley Forge” in 1976 to honor our country’s bicentennial year.

Copy of painting by Friberg for sale at mountvernon.org
Copy of painting by Friberg at mountvernon.org

George Washington prayed on another occasion, in a letter circulated in 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 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 characteristics 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.” (Circular Letter Addressed to the Governors of all the States on the Disbanding of the Army, June 14, 1783)

Abraham Lincoln prayed 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.

Lincoln prays. Image from http://abelincoln.com/ostendorf_positives/images/sc-06.jpg
Lincoln prays. Image from http://abelincoln.com/ostendorf_positives/images/sc-06.jpg

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. (Second Inaugural address, March 4, 1865)

Ronald Reagan prayed for citizens to look to God for divine guidance: 

To preserve our blessed land we must look to God… It is time to realize that we need God more than He needs us… We also have His promise that we could take to heart with regard to our country, that “If my people, which are called by my name shall humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

President Ronald Reagan prays. From armystrongstories.com

President Ronald Reagan prays. From armystrongstories.com

Let us, young and old, join together, as did the First Continental Congress, in the first step, in humble heartfelt prayer. Let us do so for the love of God and His great goodness, in search of His guidance and the grace of repentance, in seeking His blessings, His peace, and the resting of His kind and holy hands on ourselves, our nation, our friends in the defense of freedom, and all mankind, now and always.

The time has come to turn to God and reassert our trust in Him for the healing of America… Our country is in need of and ready for a spiritual renewal. Today, we utter no prayer more fervently than the ancient prayer for peace on Earth.

If I had a prayer for you today, among those that have all been uttered, it is that one we’re so familiar with: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace….” And God bless you all. (Address, February 6, 1986)

May we follow in the footsteps of Washington, Lincoln, Reagan–and many of our fore-fathers and fore-mothers, who were men and women of prayer.

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