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American History for the Modern Patriot: Proclamations of Prayer and Thanksgiving

Proclamations of Prayer and Thanksgiving

As we move into the Thanksgiving season, I thought you might be interested to learn about Thanksgiving Proclamations. In the next edition, we will learn about proclamations related to the actual celebration of Thanksgiving. In this edition, we will focus instead on proclamations of prayer and thanksgiving.

As committees of correspondence and legislative bodies not under the control of the British formed throughout the American Colonies, it was not unusual for them to call for a day of prayer, fasting, or thanksgiving. Does that surprise you in this day and age when any type of prayer or thanks to God is deemed politically incorrect? Imagine the coverage that would ensue if a legislative body called for citizens to ask for God’s guidance or to be unabashedly thankful for the country in which we live?  

Well, let’s examine what took place as the Virginia House of Burgesses designated May 24, 1774 as a Day of Fasting and Prayer. They did so in response to legislation passed by the British Parliament which closed the port of Boston. The legislation, known as the Boston Port Act, was known to the British as one of “the Coercive Acts.” However, the Americans referred to those acts using a very different, but equally charged, word. They referred to them as “the Intolerable Acts.” By the way, you can read all of the Intolerable Acts on Closure of the port brought great hardship upon the townspeople of Boston, and the Virginia House of Burgesses decided to issue a proclamation in support of their fellow colonists.

The text of the proclamation read as follows: “This House being deeply impressed with Apprehension of the great Dangers to be derived to British America, from the hostile Invasion of the City of Boston, in our Sister Colony of Massachusetts Bay, whose Commerce and Harbour are on the 1st Day of June next to be stopped by an armed Force, deem it highly necessary that the said first Day of June be set apart by the Members of this House as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer, devoutly to implore the divine Interposition for averting the heavy Calamity, which threatens Destruction to our civil Rights, and the Evils of civil War; to give us one Heart and one Mind firmly to oppose, by all just and proper Means, every Injury to American Rights, and that the Minds of his Majesty and his Parliament may be inspired from above with Wisdom, Moderation, and Justice, to remove from the loyal People of America all Cause of Danger from a continued Pursuit of Measures pregnant with their Ruin.”

Thomas Jefferson latter explained that the younger members of House of Burgesses felt compelled to issue the proclamation: “We must boldly take an unequivocal stand in the line with Massachusetts, determined to meet and consult on the proper measures in the council chamber, for the benefit of the library in that room. We were under conviction of the necessity of arousing our people from the lethargy into which they had fallen as to passing events; and thought that the appointment of a day of general fasting and prayer would be most likely to call up and alarm their attention. No example of such a solemnity had existed since the days of our distresses in the war of 55, since which a new generation had grown up. With the help therefore of Rushworth, whom we rummaged over for the revolutionary precedents and forms of the Puritans of that day, preserved by him, we cooked up a resolution, somewhat modernizing their phrases, for appointing the 1st day of June, on which the Port bill was to commence, for a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, to implore heaven to avert from us the evils of civil war, to inspire us with firmness in support of our rights, and to turn the hearts of the King and parliament to moderation and justice. To give greater emphasis to our proposition, we agreed to wait the next morning on Mr. Nicholas, whose grave and religious character was more in unison with the tone of our resolution and to solicit him to move it. We accordingly went to him in the morning. He moved it the same day; the 1st of June was proposed and it passed without opposition.”

By the way, such a proclamation did not sit well with the British Provincial Governor, Lord Dunsmore. After learning of the proclamation, he summoned the entire House of Burgesses to the Council Chamber. He then, reportedly, said to them “I have in my hand a Paper published by Order of your House, conceived in such Terms as reflect highly upon his Majesty and the Parliament of Great Britain; which makes it necessary for me to dissolve you; and you are dissolved accordingly.” Not dissuaded by the Governor’s decision, members met three days later at the Old Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg to form a “non-importation association” which then led to the creation of the Continental Congress.

But the colonists in Virginia were not alone in calling for a day of fasting. On April 15, 1775, only four days before the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts called for a Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer.

Listen closely to the text, and you might hear thoughts and words that could be applicable today…

“WHEREAS it hath pleased the righteous Sovereign of the universe, in just indignation against the sins of a people long blessed with inestimable privileges, civil and religious, to suffer the plots of wicked men on both sides of the Atlantic, who for many years have incessantly labored to sap the foundation of our public liberties, so far to succeed that we see the New England colonies reduced to the ungracious alternative of a tame submission to a state of absolute vassalage to the will of a despotic minister, or of preparing themselves to defend at the hazard of their lives the inalienable rights of themselves and posterity against the avowed hostilities of their parent state, who openly threaten to wrest them from their hands by fire and sword.

In circumstances dark as these, it becomes us, as men and Christians, to reflect that, whilst every prudent measure should be taken to ward off the impending judgment, or to prepare to act in a proper manner under them when they come, at the same time, all confidence must be withheld from the means we use, and repose only on that God who rules in the armies of heaven, and without whose blessing the best human counsels are but foolishness, and all created power vanity…”

The Continental Congress issued several proclamations of thanksgiving. The first was issued on June 12, 1775 shortly after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and during the time that the Siege of Boston was underway. The text read, in part, as follows:

“This Congress…considering the present critical, alarming and calamitous state of these colonies, do earnestly recommend that Thursday, the 20th day of July next, be observed, by the inhabitants of all the English colonies on this continent, as a day of public humiliation, fasting and prayer; that we may, with united hearts and voices, unfeignedly confess and deplore our many sins; and offer up our joint supplications to the all-wise, omnipotent, and merciful Disposer of all events; humbly beseeching him to forgive our iniquities, to remove our present calamities, to avert those desolating judgments, with which we are threatened, and to bless our rightful sovereign, King George the third, and inspire him with wisdom to discern and pursue the true interest of all his subjects, that a speedy end may be put to the civil discord between Great Britain and the American colonies, without farther effusion of blood:

On June 17th John Adams informed his wife, Abigail that George Washington had been selected as the Commander of the Continental Forces, as well as that “We have appointed a continental Fast. Millions will be upon their Knees at once before their great Creator, imploring his Forgiveness and Blessing, his Smiles on American Councils and Arms.”

As we have learned, the American colonists were not afraid to ask for guidance and wisdom in a time of crisis, as well as to be thankful for those liberties, privileges, and inalienable rights which had been given to them. It is just one more example of the wisdom that we can gain from learning about the circumstances under which our country was founded.

Until next time, this is Dr. Susan Rempel encouraging you to remain motivated, informed, and engaged in the political process. Visit my website,, with more than 500 pages of documents, information, and products designed to motivate the modern patriot.