March 1778: Second Congressional Fasting Proclamation
Secularism is not a denial of the existence of God, but rather a denial that God should exercise any role in government or public policies. Given the fact secularists make no attempt to deny God, Christians may ask whether secularists also believe whether God should have a role in the micro world protons, neutrons, and electrons or the microscopic world of the human genome. And, Christians would also like to know if secularists also seek to push God out of the government of the macro world of orbiting planets. Further, Christians may ask secularists that if the government of God is recognized in smallest particles and largest planets of the micro and macro worlds, why is God’s government not competent for the moral world of the human race? Second Congressional Fasting Proclamation
The fact is, America’s Founding Fathers built their understanding of human government upon God’s government of the natural world. They too reasoned that the God who governed the natural world as Creator was the same God that provided government to the moral world of humanity—though the latter required the consent of mankind. As is true in each of the sixteen spiritual proclamations of Congress from 1775 to 1784, the second congressional day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer also recognizes and accords the God of the Bible a place in American government.
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The Second Continental Congress had fled from Philadelphia for fear of attack from the British after the American loss of the Battle of Bradywine (September 11, 1777). After convening for one day at the Court House of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Congress reconvened at the Court House in York, Pennsylvania from September 30, 1777 to June 27, 1778. During its time at the York Court House, Congress issued spiritual proclamations four and five, both of which were issued under the presidency of Henry Laurens of South Carolina.
Uncertain that America could win its independence from Great Britain, France hesitated at coming to the assistance of the American cause. Only after the surrender of British General Burgoyne (October 17, 1777) following the Battles of Saratoga did it become apparent to the French that support of American independence could be a hopeful prospect in which they could engage themselves against their British enemies. A little more than four months after Burgoyne’s surrender, two treaties were signed by representatives of the United States and France, both treaties being signed on February 6, 1778 at the H’tel de Crillon in Paris. The first – The Treaty of Amity and Commerce – officially bestowed upon the United States France’s recognition of their independence as a nation, separate from Great Britain; and, this first treaty also established a commercial trading agreement between the two nations. The second treaty – Treaty of Alliance – was an agreement of mutual defense against Great Britain. Received by Congress on May 2, 1778, these treaties were quickly ratified on May 4, 1778, and America gained an important ally in its bid for independence.
Despite the hopeful prospect that an alliance with France would propose to members of Congress, their dependence for success had not rested in mere human or secular security. From the beginning of America’s bid for independence when it became apparent that King George III and the British Parliament would not give favorable answer to American expectations, the signers of the Declaration affirmed that they believed the favorable outcome of their course of action was in the hands of the Lord. Their spiritual confidence rested in the care of the eternal God and stated that fact to the world in the final sentence of the Declaration of Independence, below which they penned their names: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” However, America’s new French ally in no way displayed the confidence in God that Congress had demonstrated from the beginning.
The selection of a committee to write a spiritual proclamation was the most common procedure for Congress. Though on occasion, the Journals of Congress do not record this step, in this instance the selection of a committee and the members’ names were notated:
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 1778
Resolved, That a committee of three be appointed to prepare a recommendation to the United States, to set apart a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer:
The members chosen, Mr. [Daniel]Roberdeau, Mr. [Samuel]Huntington and Mr. [Nathaniel]Scudder.
It may be noted that the committee expressed a sentiment in its recommendation that was contained in the previous proclamation: “that it may please him to bless our schools and seminaries of learning, and make them nurseries of true piety, virtue and useful knowledge.” Similar expressions were repeatedly employed in other proclamations. Indeed, following the Revolution, Christian education was a critical interest to Founding Fathers in perpetuating the American Republic.
SATURDAY, MARCH 7, 1778
The committee appointed to prepare a recommendation to the several states, for setting apart a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, brought in the same; which was read and agreed to as follows:
Whereas, Almighty God, in the righteous dispensation of his providence, hath permitted the continuation of a cruel and desolating war in our land; and it being at all times the duty of a people to acknowledge God in all his ways, and more especially to humble themselves before him when evident tokens of his displeasure are manifested; to acknowledge his righteous government; confess, and forsake their evil ways; and implore his mercy:
Resolved, That it be recommended to the United States of America to set apart Wednesday, the 22d day of April next, to be observed as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer; that at one time, and with one voice, the inhabitants may acknowledge the righteous dispensations of Divine Providence, and confess their iniquities and transgressions, for which the land mourneth; that they may implore the mercy and forgiveness of God; and beseech him that vice, prophaneness, extortion, and every evil, may be done away; and that we may be a reformed and happy people; that they may unite in humble and earnest supplication, that it may please Almighty God, to guard and defend us against our enemies, and give vigor and success to our military operations by sea and land; that it may please him to bless the civil rulers and people, strengthen and perpetuate our union, and, in his own good time, establish us in the peaceable enjoyment of our rights and liberties; that it may please him to bless our schools and seminaries of learning, and make them nurseries of true piety, virtue and useful knowledge; that it may please him to cause the earth to yield its increase, and to crown the year with his goodness.
And it is recommended to the inhabitants of the United States to abstain, on that day, from labor and recreations.
For decades America has been told by secularists and the irreligious that America was founded by Deists and secularist who did not wish to accord Christianity a place of influence upon government, but such was not the case. The foregoing proclamation of Congress is only one of sixteen similar proclamations issued by Congress from 1775-1784. What Americans should remember is the fact that eight of the thirteen original states had official state denominational churches. From the very beginning of the federal government—which started with the Continental Congresses—individual state churches were respected and no attempt was made by Congress to set them aside. For this reason, no denomination (or “sect” as they were then generally designated) was identified in the spiritual proclamations of Congress. Rather, Congress merely made use of practices that were common to all Christian denominations in constructing its spiritual proclamations.
The use of spiritual proclamations by Congress is one of thousands of reasons for Christians to ask secularists, “If the Founding Fathers believed ‘separation of church and state’ as it currently is advocated, why did the Founding Fathers make use of Christian practices and why did they ask the states to observe the Christian practices of their spiritual proclamations?”
America deserves to know its true heritage.
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Journals of the Continental Congress, 10:207.
Journals of the Continental Congress, 10:229-230.