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National Prayer for Peace

A number of sources attribute a "National Prayer of Peace" to Thomas Jefferson. The text is as follows:

Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners.

Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues.

Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth.

In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

This prayer was not written or delivered by Thomas Jefferson. It is in fact from the 1928 United States Book of Common Prayer. Explanations of the 1928 revision of the Book of Common Prayer make no mention of an earlier source for the prayer,[fn]E. Clowes Chorley, D.D., The New American Prayer Book: Its History and Contents (New York: Macmillan Company, 1929), Chapter VIII. The New Prayer Book: Enrichment. Available online at http://anglicanhistory.org/bcp/chorley1929/08.html.[/fn] which is identified simply as "For Our Country."[fn]Book of Common Prayer, 35, available online at http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/1928/Pray&Thanks.htm.[/fn]

Interestingly, although we can find no evidence that this prayer has a presidential source, it was used by a subsequent president in a public speech. Several months after his 1930 Thanksgiving Day Address as Governor of New York, it was pointed out that Franklin Delano Roosevelt's speech bore a striking resemblance to the very same prayer discussed above.[fn]"Prayers and Proclamations," TIME, February 23, 1931. Available online at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,930339,00.html.[/fn]

Ultimately, it seems unlikely that Jefferson would have composed or delivered a public prayer of this sort. He considered religion a private matter, and when asked to recommend a national day of fasting and prayer, replied "I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from inter meddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises..."[fn]Thomas Jefferson to Reverend Samuel Miller, 23 January, 1808. Ford, 9:174-176.[/fn]

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Comments

Jeff Winkler's picture
An excellent read on the topic of Jefferson and religion can be found in an offering by Daniel L. Dreisbach: Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State.
Jeff Winkler
sbh's picture
This prayer actually first appeared in the 1885 <i>Book of Common Prayer</i> where it was added at the suggestion of a committee appointed to revise it in 1880. A commission appointed in 1913 suggested further revisions, and these were incorporated into the version printed in the 1928 edition. The author of the original prayer, according to Christopher L. Webber (<i>Give Us Grace: An Anthology of Anglican Prayers</i>, [Harrisburg PA, 2004], p. 318), was George Lyman Locke (1835-1919). I did a piece on this at <a href="http://fakehistory.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/thomas-jefferson-and-a-prayer-for-peace/">Fake History</a>.
sbh

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