Robert Morgan: Trump's National Day of Prayer declaration has deep American roots

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President Donald Trump’s proclamation Friday declaring that our nation observe Sunday, March 15 as an emergency National Day of Prayer is not without precedent.

Such proclamations have frequently punctuated the pages of American history. If one thing has been proven to unify our nation in even the most uncertain times, such as we are experiencing now with the global COVID-19 pandemic, it has been a call to prayer by our leadership.

In his book "One Nation Under God," James P. Moore Jr. wrote, “To dismiss prayer in the life of America is to embark on a fool’s errand. Prayer has been and always will be an integral part of the national character.”


Long before America became a nation, our leaders frequently proclaimed national days of fasting, repentance, humility and prayer. For example, the Continental Congress, apprehensive of tensions with England and mindful of “the present critical, alarming, and calamitous state of these Colonies,” declared July 20, 1775, as a Day of Public 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 all-wise, omnipotent, and merciful Disposer of all events.”

Our nation has never more needed earnest, prevailing prayer for a reversal of evil and for a revival of faith, for wise and godly leaders, and for peace and goodwill in the world.

Earlier, in October 1746, as the American Colonies became a tug of war between Britain and France during King George’s war, Bostonians heard with alarm that a French admiral was preparing to sail his fleet from Nova Scotia to Boston Harbor to attack the city and ravage New England. It was the largest naval armada to have threatened the American coastline.

The governor of the Massachusetts Colony had no adequate way to protect Boston. Sunday, October 16, 1746, was appointed a citywide day of prayer and fasting. Panicked citizens gathered into the city’s churches, with hundreds of them crowding into the historic Old South Meeting House.

The reverend of the church reportedly prayed, “Deliver us from our enemy, Send Thy tempest, Lord, upon the waters to the eastward! Raise Thy right hand. Scatter the ships of our tormentors and drive them thence.” That day a storm of hurricane force struck the French ships, destroying the French assailants and sparing the colonies.


During the Korean War and amid the rising threat of global Communism, Americans felt a growing need for united prayer. On April 17, 1952, at the urging of Billy Graham and hotel giant Conrad Hilton, the United States Senate passed a bill, proposed by Senator Frank Carson and championed by Tennessee Congressman Percy Priest, calling on the president to set aside an appropriate day each year as a National Day of Prayer.

President Truman signed the bill and issued a proclamation: “Whereas from the earliest days of our history our people have been accustomed to turn to Almighty God for help and guidance . . . now therefore, I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States, do hereby proclaim Friday, July 4, 1952, as a National Day of Prayer, on which all of us, in our churches, in our homes, and in our hearts, may beseech God to grant us wisdom to know the course which we should follow, and strength and patience to pursue that course steadfastly.”

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The presidents’ proclamations provide insight into their own views of prayer. On September 19, 1979, President Jimmy Carter, a diligent student of the Bible and most famous Sunday School teacher in the nation, called America to prayer with one of his favorite texts, saying, “We accept our responsibilities and make our choices with all the will and determination at our command, but always in the full knowledge that we are finally in the hands of God.”

In his proclamation on April 12, 1994, President Bill Clinton wrote, “From patriots and presidents to advocates for justice, our history reflects the strong presence of prayer in American life. Presidents, above all, need the power of prayer, their own and that of all Americans.”

A year later, Clinton said, “Prayer remains at the heart of the American spirit. We face many of the same challenges as our forebears—ensuring the survival of freedom and sustaining faith in an often hostile world—and we continue to pray, as they did, for the blessings of a just and benevolent God to guide our Nation’s course. This occasion calls us to affirm our country’s spiritual roots and to humbly express our gratitude to the source of our abundant good fortune.”


Our nation has never more needed earnest, prevailing prayer for a reversal of evil and for a revival of faith, for wise and godly leaders, and for peace and goodwill in the world.

On this Sunday, join millions of Americans in beseeching God to bless America. Our problems are not primarily political or even medical; they are moral and spiritual—and the answers are spiritual.