On Presidents’ Day, we celebrate the 45 individuals who have led the nation through good times and bad, and one thing that all have in common is calling on Americans to have faith in God.
Congress chose the third Monday in February as a tribute to two of the United States’ most famous presidents — George Washington and Abraham Lincoln — whose birthdays fall on the 22nd and the 12th of the month, respectively.
The Christian Post reported that every president mentioned God in their inaugural addresses, with language consistent with the Judeo-Christian worldview, and many have appealed to him during some of the nation’s most defining moments.
George Washington began the practice in the very first presidential inauguration in April 1789 in New York City, after he had been sworn in placing his hand on the Bible and adding the words, “So help me God” to the oath of office. A tradition every president has employed since.
After noting the trust the American people had placed in him and recognizing his own limitations, Washington said, “it 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 over council 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 for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge.”
“In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments no less than my own,” he added, “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.”
In two of Lincoln’s most famous orations — the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address — he spoke about God.
At the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg during the Civil War in November 1863, the nation’s 16th president, referring back to Declaration of Independence, said, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
He concluded, “It is … for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us … that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government ‘of the people, by the people, for the people,’ shall not perish from the earth.”
In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln said, “The Almighty has his own purposes.” He then quoted the words of Jesus, saying, “’Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.’”
“Fondly do we hope–fervently do we pray–that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away,” Lincoln stated. “Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
Franklin Roosevelt famously led Americans in a prayer meeting in a live radio broadcast after the landings in Normandy on D-Day during World War II in June 1944.
“Almighty God,” he began, “Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity…”
“They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest–till the victory is won,” Roosevelt said. “The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war…”
He concluded, “With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy … Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.”
Following the war, President Harry Truman signed a bill creating the National Day of Prayer.
In an address to the nation’s attorneys general in 1950, Truman stated, “The fundamental basis of this Nation’s law was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings which we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don’t think we emphasize that enough these days.”
The country turned to World War II Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower after Truman to lead it during the 1950s, and he, like his predecessors, directed the people toward God.
In 1954, then-President Eisenhower heard a sermon in the Presbyterian church that Lincoln attended during the Civil War about the importance of the two words “under God” in the 16th president’s Gettysburg Address. Ike told the preacher after his sermon, “I agree entirely.”
A few months later, Congress passed legislation adding “under God” to the pledge and the president signed it into law. Eisenhower observed that millions of schoolchildren would from then on be reminded of our country’s “true meaning,” reaffirming “the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future” and thereby “strengthen(ing) those spiritual weapons which will forever be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”
President John F. Kennedy, in his much celebrated Inaugural Address of January 1961, said, “We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom—symbolizing an end as well as a beginning—signifying renewal as well as change. I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago. The world is very different now . . . and yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God. . . .”
Two decades later, Ronald Reagan named 1983 “The Year of the Bible” in a presidential proclamation.
“Of the many influences that have shaped the United States of America into a distinctive Nation and people, none may be said to be more fundamental and enduring than the Bible,” the proclamation read.
At a prayer breakfast in Texas in 1984, Reagan said, “And without God, democracy will not and cannot long endure. If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”
President Donald Trump on multiple occasions has reminded Americans that their rights come from God, not government.
At the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month, Trump said, “Each year, this event reminds us that faith is central to American life and to liberty. Our founders invoked our Creator four times in the Declaration of Independence. Our currency declares, ‘In God We Trust.’”
He continued, “And we place our hands on our hearts as we recite the Pledge of Allegiance and proclaim we are ‘One Nation Under God.’”
“Our rights are not given to us by man; our rights come from our Creator. No matter what, no Earthly force can take those rights away. That is why the words ‘Praise be to God’ are etched atop the Washington Monument, and those same words are etched into the hearts of our people.
“So today, we praise God for how truly blessed we are to be American.”
Randy DeSoto is The Western Journal’s senior staff writer and author of the book “We Hold These Truths.”
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