As a reminder of our
“Congress proclaimed days of fasting and of thanksgiving annually throughout the Revolutionary War. A proclamation by Congress set May 17, 1776, as a “day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer” throughout the colonies. Congress urged its fellow citizens to “confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his [God’s] righteous displeasure, and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness.”Read more.
Man does not hold the solutions to the challenges we are facing. Our hope lies in asking for the supernatural hand of God to once again intervene in the affairs of men.
IV. Religion and the Congress of the Confederation, 1774-89
The Continental-Confederation Congress, a legislative body that governed the United States from 1774 to 1789, contained an extraordinary number of deeply religious men. The amount of energy that Congress invested in encouraging the practice of religion in the new nation exceeded that expended by any subsequent American national government. Although the Articles of Confederation did not officially authorize Congress to concern itself with religion, the citizenry did not object to such activities. This lack of objection suggests that both the legislators and the public considered it appropriate for the national government to promote a nondenominational, nonpolemical Christianity.
Congress appointed chaplains for itself and the armed forces, sponsored the publication of a Bible, imposed Christian morality on the armed forces, and granted public lands to promote Christianity among the Indians. National days of thanksgiving and of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer” were proclaimed by Congress at least twice a year throughout the war. Congress was guided by “covenant theology,” a Reformation doctrine especially dear to New England Puritans, which held that God bound himself in an agreement with a nation and its people. This agreement stipulated that they “should be prosperous or afflicted, according as their general Obedience or Disobedience thereto appears.” Wars and revolutions were, accordingly, considered afflictions, as divine punishments for sin, from which a nation could rescue itself by repentance and reformation.
The first national government of the United States, was convinced that the “public prosperity” of a society depended on the vitality of its religion. Nothing less than a “spirit of universal reformation among all ranks and degrees of our citizens,” Congress declared to the American people, would “make us a holy, that so we may be a happy people.”
|The Liberty Window
At its initial meeting in September 1774 Congress invited the Reverend Jacob Duché (1738-1798), rector of Christ Church, Philadelphia, to open its sessions with prayer. Duché ministered to Congress in an unofficial capacity until he was elected the body’s first chaplain on July 9, 1776. He defected to the British the next year. Pictured here in the bottom stained-glass panel is the first prayer in Congress, delivered by Duché. The top part of this extraordinary stained glass window depicts the role of churchmen in compelling King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.
Stained glass and lead, from The Liberty Window, Christ Church, Philadelphia, after a painting by Harrison Tompkins Matteson, c. 1848
Courtesy of the Rector, Church Wardens and Vestrymen of Christ Church, Philadelphia (101)
George Duffield, Congressional Chaplain
Oil on canvas by Charles Peale Polk, 1790
Independence National Historical Park Collection, Philadelphia (103)
Broadside, April 22, 1782
Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (102)
Proposed Seal for the United States
Holograph notes, Benjamin Franklin (left) and Thomas Jefferson (right)
Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (104-105)
“Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.” Drawing
by Benson Lossing, for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, July 1856.
General Collections, Library of Congress. (106)
Congressional Fast Day Proclamation
Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (107)
Congressional Thanksgiving Day Proclamation
Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (108)
Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (109)
Another Thanksgiving Day Proclamation
Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (110)
Extracts from the Journals of Congress, relative to the Capture and Condemnation of Prizes,
Commander-in-Chief of the American Navy
Horn, c. 1876
Mariner’s Museum, Newport News, Virginia (114)
Aitken’s Bible Endorsed by Congress
Philadelphia: David C. Claypoole, 1782 from the Journals of Congress
Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (115)
The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments: Newly translated out of the Original Tongues. . . .
Settling the West
Broadside, Continental Congress, 1785
Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (117)
An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States, North-West of the River Ohio, 1787
Christianizing the Delawares
Records of the Continental Congress in the Constitutional Convention, July 27, 1787
National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. (119)
A Delaware-English Spelling Book
of the United Brethren [left page] – [right page]
Philadelphia: Mary Cist, 1806
Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (120)