First Prayer of the Continental Congress
On 16 September 1774, John Adams wrote a brief letter to his wife Abigail describing the opening of the First Continental Congress of the United Colonies of North America at Carpenters' Hall.
When the Congress first met, Mr. Cushing made a Motion, that it should be opened with Prayer. It was opposed by Mr. Jay of New York and Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina, because we were so divided in religious Sentiments, some Episcopalians, some Quakers, some Aanabaptists, some Presbyterians and some Congregationalists, so that We could not join in the same Act of Worship.-Mr. S. Adams arose and said he was no Bigot, and could hear a Prayer from a Gentleman of Piety and Virtue, who was at the same Time a Friend to his Country. He was a Stranger in Phyladelphia, but had heard that Mr. Duché (Dushay they pronounce it) deserved that Character, and therefore he moved that Mr. Duché, an episcopal Clergyman, might be desired, to read Prayers to the Congress, tomorrow Morning. The Motion was seconded and passed in the Affirmative. Mr. Randolph our President, waited on Mr. Duché, and received for Answer that if his Health would permit, he certainly would. Accordingly next Morning he appeared with his Clerk and in his Pontificallibus, and read several Prayers, in the established Form; and then read the Collect for the seventh day of September, which was the Thirty fifth Psalm. -You must remember this was the next Morning after we heard the horrible Rumour, of the Cannonade of Boston.-I never saw a greater Effect upon an Audience. It seemed as if Heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that Morning.
The psalm read that day:
A Prayer for Rescue from Enemies. A Psalm of David.
Plead my cause, O LORD, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me.
Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help.
Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.
Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt.
Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the LORD chase them.
Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the LORD persecute them.
For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul.
Let destruction come upon him at unawares; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall.
And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD: it shall rejoice in his salvation.
All my bones shall say, LORD, who is like unto thee, which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him?
False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not.
They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul.
But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom.
I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother.
But in mine adversity they rejoiced, and gathered themselves together: yea, the abjects gathered themselves together against me, and I knew it not; they did tear me, and ceased not:
With hypocritical mockers in feasts, they gnashed upon me with their teeth.
Lord, how long wilt thou look on? rescue my soul from their destructions, my darling from the lions.
I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people.
Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause.
For they speak not peace: but they devise deceitful matters against them that are quiet in the land.
Yea, they opened their mouth wide against me, and said, Aha, aha, our eye hath seen it.
This thou hast seen, O LORD: keep not silence: O Lord, be not far from me.
Stir up thyself, and awake to my judgment, even unto my cause, my God and my Lord.
Judge me, O LORD my God, according to thy righteousness; and let them not rejoice over me.
Let them not say in their hearts, Ah, so would we have it: let them not say, We have swallowed him up.
Let them be ashamed and brought to confusion together that rejoice at mine hurt: let them be clothed with shame and dishonour that magnify themselves against me.
Let them shout for joy, and be glad, that favour my righteous cause: yea, let them say continually, Let the LORD be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.
And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.
Adams' letter continued:
After this Mr. Duché, unexpected to every Body struck out into an extemporary Prayer, which filled the Bosom of every Man present.
Jacob Duché, Rector of Christ Church, closed his Bible and, without a teleprompter, he offered a stirring prayer.
O Lord, our Heavenly Father, High and mighty King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, who dost from Thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments:
Look down in mercy we beseech Thee, on these American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of oppression, and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring henceforth to be dependent only on Thee, they have appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support which Thou alone canst give; take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their cause; and if they persist in their sanguinary purpose, O, Let the voice of Thy own enerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!
Be Thou present, O God of wisdom and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; the order, harmony and peace may be effectively restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety prevail and florish among Thy people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them, and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seeth expedient for them in this world, and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Savior. Amen.
Adams closed his letter with an account of the response to Duché's words.
I must confess I never heard a better Prayer or one, so well pronounced. Episcopalian as he is, Dr. Cooper himself never prayed with such fervour, such Ardor, such Earnestness and Pathos, and in Language so elegant and sublime-for America, for the Congress, for The Province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially the Town of Boston. It has had an excellent Effect upon every Body here.
I must beg you to read that Psalm. If there was any Faith in the sortes Virgilianae, or sortes Homericae, or especially the Sortes biblicae, it would be thought providential.
It will amuse your Friends to read this Letter and the 35th. Psalm to them. Read it to your Father and Mr. Wibirt. -I wonder what our Braintree Churchmen would think of this?-Mr. Duché is one of the most ingenious Men, and best Characters, and greatest orators in the Episcopal order, upon this Continent- Yet a Zealous Friend of Liberty and his Country.
This is just one of many examples of the deeply religious strain that has run, like a "golden thread," through the history of the United States. For an examination of this thread, additional quotes, and much more, check out Jeffrey K. Hill's new edition of Harry Atwood's classic Keep God in American History. Instant download of this digital book is now available for Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android devices, PC, and Mac.
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For more information about Congress and prayer, visit The Congressional Prayer Caucus.