Missouri's 7th District, U.S. House of Representatives




Government-Sponsored Prayer
Sponsored by the Government that Wrote the Constitution

On April 6, 1789, following the ratification of the Constitution, George Washington was selected president; he accepted the position on April 14, 1789, and his inauguration was scheduled in New York City (the nation's capitol) for April 30, 1789. A leading New York Daily newspaper reported on the planned inaugural:

[O]n the morning of the day on which our illustrious President will be invested with his office, the bells will ring at nine o'clock, when the people may go up to the house of God and in a solemn manner commit the new government, with its important train of consequences, to the holy protection and blessing of the most high. An early hour is prudently fixed for this peculiar act of devotion and . . . is designed wholly for prayer. (New York Daily Advertiser, Thursday, April 23, 1789, p. 2)

The details of this report are in line with Congressional resolutions. On April 27, three days before the inauguration, the Senate:

Resolved, That after the oath shall have been administered to the President, he, attended by the Vice President and members of the Senate and House of Representatives, shall proceed to St. Paul's Chapel, to hear divine service. (Annals of Congress, Vol 1, p. 25, April 27, 1789; available online at Library of Congress.)

After being sworn in, George Washington delivered his "Inaugural Address" to a joint session of Congress. In it Washington declared:

[I]t would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves . . . .  In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and . . . can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage.
[W]e ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained . . . .
Messages and Papers of the Presidents, George Washington, Richardson, ed., vol. 1, p.44-45

Following his address, the Annals of Congress reported that:

The President, the Vice-President, the Senate, and House of Representatives, &c., then proceeded to St. Paul's Chapel, where Divine service was performed by the chaplain of Congress.

Several months later, Congress contemplated whether it should request the President to declare a national day of Thanksgiving. The Annals of Congress for Sept 25, 1789 record these discussions:

   Mr [Elias] Boudinot said he could not think of letting the session pass over without offering an opportunity to all the citizens of the United States of joining with one voice in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings He had poured down upon them. With this view, therefore, he would move the following resolution:

Resolved, That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.

. . .

Mr. [Roger] Sherman justified the practice of thanksgiving, on any signal event, not only as a laudable one in itself but as warranted by a number of precedents in Holy Writ: for instance, the solemn thanksgivings and rejoicings which took place in the time of Solomon after the building of the temple was a case in point. This example he thought worthy of Christian imitation on the present occasion; and he would agree with the gentleman who moved the resolution. Mr Boudinot quoted further precedents from the practice of the late Congress, [he was a member of the Continental Congress from 1778-79 and 1781-84 and President of the Continental Congress 1782-83] and hoped the motion would meet a ready acquiescence. [Boudinot was also founder and first president of the American Bible Society.] The question was now put on the resolution and it was carried in the affirmative.

On this very same day, Congress approved the final wording of the First Amendment.

The Congressional resolution was delivered to President Washington who heartily concurred with its request. On Oct 3, 1789, he issued the following proclamation:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th. day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Would Washington, Sherman, and other signers of the Founding Charters of America approve of a public school system in which non-sectarian prayer and Bible reading have no place? Isn't a "duty of all nations" a duty of schools as well?

Only the most dedicated Secularist or the most ignorant fool could miss the truth.


The New York Daily Advertiser is quoted in Barton, Original Intent, p. 113.

More on prayer available at

Benjamin Franklin on Government Prayer

"In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity."

Background on Franklin

Franklin proposed a Day of Fasting in Pennsylvania, which a true separationist would never do. He proclaimed:

It is the duty of mankind on all suitable occasions to acknowledge their dependence on the Divine Being. . . .

and he prayed that

Almighty God would mercifully interpose and still the rage of war among the nations and would put a stop to the effusion of Christian blood . . . [that] He would take this province under His protection, confound the designs and defeat the attempts of its enemies, and unite our hearts and strengthen our hands in every undertaking that may be for the public good, and for our defense and security in this time of danger.
(1748, quoted by Van Doren in Benjamin Franklin, NY: Viking, 1938, p. 188)

The public nature of Franklin's prayer runs counter to the ACLU's version of "separation of church and state," and no Deist believes that God "interposes" and "confounds" and "defeats" any human undertaking. This is not the act of a Deist (as the word is popularly understood).

In 1749, he wrote:

History will also afford frequent opportunities of showing the necessity of a public religion. . . and the excellency of the Christian religion above all others, ancient or modern. 
Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania
, 1749, p.22

Jerry Falwell is panting for a "deistic" theocracy like Franklin's.

Thursday, June 28th, 1787

James Madison recorded the proceedings in his Journal of the Federal Convention, Vol. I, p.259. Here are Franklin's words, directed to George Washington, with our comments:

Doctor FRANKLIN. Mr. President, The small progress we have made after four or five weeks close attendance and continual reasonings with each other—our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ayes—is, methinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding 

Franklin finds "proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding" and wants the Convention to pray? This is "French Enlightenment" thinking??

We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those republics which, having been formed with seeds of their own dissolution, now no longer exists And we have viewed modern states all round Europe, but find none of their constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

Some secularists have suggested that America was based on Greco-Roman models of government rather than Biblical models. Franklin here expressly repudiates that myth.
The prosperity of a nation depends on much more than a piece of paper. However great the Republic of Rome sounds in the writings of the classical Latin authors, it fell and is dead to this day.
In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights, to illuminate our understandings
An unmistakable reference to James 1:17
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning
The writings of the Founding Fathers are smothered in Biblical references, which those untrained in the Bible do not see.
—In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. [emphasis in Elliot's edition - kc]. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that "except the Lord build the House they labour in vain those that build it." I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded; and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing governments by human wisdom, and leave it to chance, war and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move—that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.

Fascinating, that a "deist" would ask the Clockmaker-Landlord God to intervene in the drafting of a Constitution and the creation of a nation. Franklin's reference to Providence in the conflict between America and Britain is a story in itself, and the link to "Providence" should be consulted. And Franklin is widely regarded as being the least religious of the Founding Fathers. What Franklin felt about religion might be deduced from his extraordinarily religious plea for prayer. If he was hypocritical in his frequent citation of Scripture, then we may still deduce his attitude toward the separation of Scripture and State.

 James Madison records the following immediately after Dr. Franklin's motion:

     Mr. SHERMAN seconded the motion.
     Mr. HAMILTON and several others expressed their apprehensions, that, however proper such a resolution might have been at the beginning of the Convention, it might at this late day, in the first place, bring on it some disagreeable animadversions; and in the second, lead the public to believe that the embarrassments and dissensions within the Convention had suggested this measure. It was answered, by Doctor FRANKLIN, Mr. SHERMAN, and others, that the past Omission of a duty could not justify a further omission; that the rejection of such a proposition would expose the Convention to more unpleasant animadversions than the adoption of it; and that the alarm out of doors that might be excited for the state of things within would at least be as likely to do good as ill.
     Mr. WILLIAMSON observed, that the true cause of the Omission could not be mistaken. The Convention had no funds.
     Mr. RANDOLPH proposed, in order to give a favorable aspect to the measure, that a sermon be preached at the request of the Convention on the Fourth of July, the anniversary of Independence; and thenceforward prayers, &c., to be read in the Convention every morning. Doctor FRANKLIN seconded this motion. After several unsuccessful attempts for silently postponing this matter by adjourning, the adjournment was at length carried, without any vote on the motion.

Those who promote the myth of the "separation of church and state" would have us believe that a motion for officially-endorsed public prayer is inappropriate. Hamilton and others said it was "proper" but at this late date might suggest disunity. Franklin and Sherman said it was not only "proper," but a duty. Alas, all present were bound by archaic and sub-Christian notions concerning the requirement of ordained clergy for public prayer, and the Convention had no funds to hire a clergy. This is a bumbling tragedy, but the "separation of church and state" had nothing to do with it. There is no evidence of a self-conscious legal mandate to avoid endorsement of religion.

To accommodate the proposal of delegate Edmund Jennings Randolph of Virginia, on Monday, July 2, the Convention adjourned until Thursday, July 5, so that, as James Madison explained, "time might be given ... to such as chose to attend to the celebrations on the anniversary of independence."[148] On July 4, many delegates attended a special service at the Calvinist Reformed Church in Philadelphia, where the Rev. William Rogers prayed a special prayer over the Constitutional Convention (WallBuilders has a 1787 newspaper that records this prayer). For example, George Washington noted in his diary:

[W]ent to hear an oration on the anniversary of independence.[149]

After the oration (delivered by a young law student), the Rev. William Rogers, minister of the Calvinist Church, concluded with this prayer:

[W]e fervently recommend to thy fatherly notice . . . our federal convention... . [F]avor them, from day to day, with thy inspiring presence; be their wisdom and strength; enable them to devise such measures as may prove happy instruments in healing all divisions and prove the good of the great whole;... that the United States of America may form one example of a free and virtuous government... May we... continue, under the influence of republican virtue, to partake of all the blessings of cultivated and Christian society.[150]

David Barton writes:

Franklin believed their prayers over the Convention had been answered. After five weeks of failure, following the recess and time of prayer, they reconvened and in only ten weeks produced the document that has become the longest on-going constitution in the history of the world. Franklin definitely saw a difference after the recess and prayer. While he was not willing to say that the finished Constitution was inspired in the same sense as the Bible, he nevertheless believed that it was the product of God's direct intervention, explaining:

[I] beg I may not be understood to infer that our general Convention was Divinely inspired when it formed the new federal Constitution . . . [yet] I can hardly conceive a transaction of such momentous importance to the welfare of millions now existing (and to exist in the posterity of a great nation) should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent, and beneficent Ruler in Whom all inferior spirits “live and move and have their being” [Acts 17:28].[5]

Other delegates agreed. Alexander Hamilton is reported to have declared:

For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system which without the finger of God never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests. [6]

James Madison agreed, and reported:

It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty Hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the Revolution.[7]

As far as these delegates were concerned, the finger of God – that is, His Divine power – had guided their writing of the Constitution. George Washington (president of the Convention) similarly attested:

As to my sentiments with respect to the merits of the new Constitution, I will disclose them without reserve. . . . It appears to me then little short of a miracle that the delegates from so many different states . . . should unite in forming a system of national government. [8]

Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration from Philadelphia who closely monitored the proceedings, concurred, openly testifying:

I do not believe that the Constitution was the offspring of inspiration, but I am as perfectly satisfied that the Union of the States in its form and adoption is as much the work of a Divine Providence as any of the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament were the effects of a Divine power. [9]

So, I would point to the independence of America and the creation of its unique Constitution and government as direct answers to prayer.

However, not only did religious activities accompany the drafting of the federal Constitution, they also accompanied its ratification. This was evident throughout the various State conventions which gathered to approve that document. For example, consider the proceedings in MASSACHUSETTS:

Voted, That a committee of five be appointed to wait upon his Excellency, John Hancock, and acquaint him that this Convention have made choice of him for their president, and to request his Excellency's acceptance of that appointment.
On motion of the Hon. Mr. Adams, Voted, That the Convention will attend morning prayers, daily, and that the gentlemen of the clergy, of every denomination, be requested to officiate in turn.
The members from Boston were appointed to wait upon them, and acquaint them thereof.
A vote of the church in Brattle Street, in Boston, offering the use of their meeting-house to the Convention, being communicated by the Hon. Mr. Bowdoin, Voted, That a committee of nine be appointed, to view the accommodations of the said meeting-house, and report.
Mr. Sedgwick, Mr. Lincoln, Dr. Taylor, Gen. Brooks of Lincoln, Dr. Jarvis, Dr. Holton, Mr. Strong, Mr. Nason, and Mr. Thatcher, were then appointed on said committee.[152] 

Motions for daily prayer and the meeting of the state ratifying convention in a church (where many of the most significant events of the Revolution [such as the planning of the Boston Tea-Party] had occurred) were not attended by any debates about "separation of church and state" or any threatened lawsuits by the ACLU. Similarly in NORTH CAROLINA, the record of the ratification debates begins:

At a Convention, begun and held at Hillsborough, the 21st day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, and of the Independence of America the 13th, in pursuance of a resolution of the last General Assembly, for the purpose of deliberating and determining on the proposed Plan of Federal Government,—
A majority of those who were duly elected as members of this Convention being met at the church, they proceeded to the election of a president, when his excellency, Samuel Johnston, Esq., was unanimously chosen, and conducted to the chair accordingly.[153]


The Convention, having accordingly assembled on the 17th of June, unanimously elected his excellency, GEORGE CLINTON, president. After appointing the proper subordinate officers, and having ordered that the doors should be kept open, and the business of the Convention opened every morning with prayer, Mr. Duane, Mr. Jones, Mr. R. Morris, Mr. Lansing, and Mr. Harris, were chosen a committee to report rules for conducting the business.[154]


On the recommendation of Mr. Paul Carrington, the Rev. Abner Waugh was unanimously elected chaplain, to attend every morning to read prayers immediately after the bell shall be rung for calling the Convention.[155] 

Clearly, the proceedings of both the Constitutional Convention and the ratification conventions provide further evidence that the Framers not only supported, but even participated in both public religious activities and public endorsements of religion.

Notes adapted from David Barton, Original Intent, pp. 110ff.

148. James Madison, The Papers of James Madison, Henry D. Gilpin, editor (Washington: Langtree and O'Sullivan, 1840), Vol. II, PP. 1023-1024, July 4, 1787.

149. George Washington, The Diaries of George Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick, editor (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1925), Vol. III, p. 226, July 4, 1787.

150. Morris, pp.253-254.

151. Washington, Writings (1932), Vol. XXX, p. 321 n., May 10, 1789.

152. The Debates in the Several Conventions, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Jonathan Elliot, editor (Washington: Printed for the Editor, 1836), Vol. II, p. 2, Massachusetts Convention, January 9, 1788.

153. Elliot, Debates, Vol. IV, p.1, North Carolina Convention, July 21, 1788. See also Vol. II, p. 2, Massachusetts Convention, January 9, 1788.

154. Elliot, Debates, Vol. II, p. 207, New York Convention, June 17, 1788.

155. Elliot, Debates, Vol. III, p.1, Virginia Convention, June 2, 1788.


Franklin's Appeal for Prayer at the Constitutional Convention -- an analysis of Benjamin Franklin's appeal to have the clergy offer prayer at the convention of 1787.

Franklin urged Thomas Paine not to publish his rant against religion. This is because if Franklin believed nothing else about Christianity, he believed in its public utility. Franklin would have strongly opposed the modern secularist version of "separation of church and state."

John Eidsmoe writes this about Franklin's view of Jesus Christ:

On March 9, 1790, at age eighty-four, Franklin answered a letter from Ezra Stiles, President of Yale, in which Stiles asked “the opinion of my venerable friend concerning Jesus of Nazareth.”73

As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as probably it has, of making his doctrines more re­spected and more observed; especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers of his government of the world with any peculiar marks of his displeasure.74

Franklin expressed that he had “some doubts as to his divinity.” A thorough deist would have no such “doubts”; he would totally reject the divinity of Christ. Franklin indicates that he is uncertain about the question, and is waiting to (hopefully) see God face to face so he can learn the truth of the matter firsthand. Furthermore, Franklin has no objection to others believing in the divinity of Christ, since it probably makes Christ’s doctrines more respected and observed.

73. Ezra Stiles to Franklin ; quoted by Van Doren, Autobiographical Writings, p. 783.
74. Franklin to Ezra Stiles, March 9, 1790; quoted by Van Doren, Autobiographical Writings, p. 784.

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