David Barton: America’s Religious Heritage as demonstrated in Presidential Inaugurations (part 3)

David Barton: America’s Religious Heritage as demonstrated in Presidential Inaugurations (part 3)

David Barton on Glenn Beck – Part 3 of 5

Uploaded by  on Apr 9, 2010

Wallbuilders’ Founder and President David Barton joins Glenn Beck on the Fox News Channel for the full hour to discuss our Godly heritage and how faith was the foundational principle upon which America was built.

David Barton did a great job with this article America’s Religious Heritage As Demonstrated in Presidential Inaugurations :

David Barton – 01/2009
America’s Religious Heritage
As Demonstrated in Presidential InaugurationsReligious activities at presidential inaugurations have become the target of criticism in recent years, 1 with legal challenges being filed to halt activities as simple as inaugural prayers and the use of “so help me God” in the presidential oath. 2 These critics – evidently based on a deficient education – wrongly believe that the official governmental arena is to be aggressively secular and religion-free. The history of inaugurations provides some of the most authoritative proof of the fallacy of these modern arguments.

Subsequent presidents made similar acknowledgments:

HERBERT HOOVER: This occasion is not alone the administration of the most sacred oath which can be assumed by an American citizen. It is a dedication and consecration under God to the highest office in service of our people. 15

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT: As I stand here today, having taken the solemn oath of office in the presence of my fellow countrymen – in the presence of our God . . . 16

JOHN F. KENNEDY: For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago. 17

RICHARD NIXON: I have taken an oath today in the presence of God and my countrymen to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. 18

There were others as well. 19 The taking of the presidential oath is a religious action – or what Founding Father John Witherspoon had called “an act of worship.” 20

Returning to Washington’s inauguration, following the taking of the oath on the Bible, Washington and the officials then departed the balcony and went inside Federal Hall to the Senate Chamber where Washington delivered his Inaugural Address. From the outset of that first-ever presidential address, Washington – as his first very official act – set a religious tone by expressing his own heartfelt prayer to God:

Such being the impressions under which I have – in obedience to the public summons – repaired to [arrived at] the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being Who rules over the universe, Who presides in the councils of nations, and Whose providential aids can supply every human defect – that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes. 21

The remainder of Washington’s address was no less strongly religious; he even called on his listeners to remember and acknowledge God:

In tendering this homage [act of worship] to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of Providential Agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government [i.e., the creation and adoption of the Constitution] . . . cannot be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude. . . .

These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. . . . [T]he foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality . . . since there is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness – between duty and advantage – between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious [favorable] smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained. . . .

Having thus imparted to you my sentiments as they have been awakened by the occasion which brings us together, I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign Parent of the Human Race in humble supplication that . . . His divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this government must depend. 22

Washington and the Members of Congress then marched in a procession to St. Paul’s Church for Divine Service. That Congress should have gone to church en masse as part of the inauguration was no surprise, for Congress had itself scheduled these inaugural services.

That is, while the new Constitution had established the presidency, it stipulated nothing specific about the inaugural activities. It was therefore within the authority of Congress to help direct those activities. The Senate therefore acted:

Resolved, That after the oath shall have been administered to the President, he – attended by the Vice-President and members of the Senate and House of Representatives – proceed to St. Paul’s Chapel to hear Divine service. 23

The House quickly approved the same resolution. 24 Once the presidential oath had been administered and the inaugural address delivered, according to official congressional records:

The President, the Vice-President, the Senate, and House of Representatives, &c., then proceeded to St. Paul’s Chapel, where Divine Service was performed by the chaplain of Congress. 25

The service at St. Paul’s was conducted by The Right Reverend Samuel Provoost – the Episcopal Bishop of New York, who had been chosen chaplain of the Senate the week preceding the inauguration. The service was performed according to The Book of Common Prayer, and included a number of prayers taken from Psalms 144-150 as well as Scripture readings and lessons from the book of Acts, I Kings, and the Third Epistle of John. 26

– – – ◊ ◊ ◊ – – –

The very first inauguration – conducted under the watchful eye of those who had framed our government and written its Constitution – incorporated numerous religious activities and expressions. That first inauguration set the constitutional precedent for all other inaugurations; and the activities from that original inauguration that have been repeated in whole or part in every subsequent inauguration include: (1) the use of the Bible to administer the oath; (2) the religious nature of the oath and including “So help me God”; (3) inaugural prayers by the president; (4) religious content in the inaugural addresses; (5) the president calling the people to pray or acknowledge God; (6) inaugural worship services; and (7) clergy-led inaugural prayers.


15. Public Papers of the Presidents, Herbert Hoover, 1929, p.1, March 4th, 1929. See also Herbert Hoover, “Inaugural Address,” The American Presidency Project, March 4, 1929 (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=21804).(Return)

16. < i>Public Papers of the Presidents, F. D. Roosevelt, 1944, Item 7, January 20th, 1945. See also Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Inaugural Address,” The American Presidency Project, January 20, 1945 (at:http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=1660). (Return)

17. Public Papers of the Presidents, J. F. Kennedy, 1961, p.1, January 20th, 1961. See also John F. Kennedy, “Inaugural Address,” The American Presidency Project, January 20, 1961 (at:http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=8032). (Return)

18. Public Papers of the Presidents, Nixon, 1969, p.3-4, January 20th, 1969.See also Richard Nixon, “Inaugural Address,” The American Presidency Project, January 20, 1969 (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=1941).(Return)

19. See, for example, Warren G. Harding, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1921; and Public Papers of the Presidents, Jimmy Carter, 1977, p.1, January 20th, 1977. See also Warren G. Harding, “Inaugural Address,” The American Presidency Project, March 4, 1921 (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25833); Jimmy Carter, “Inaugural Address,” The American Presidency Project, January 20, 1977 (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=6575). (Return)

20. John Witherspoon, The Works of John Witherspoon (Edinburgh: J. Ogle, 1815), Vol. VII, p. 139, from his “Lectures on Moral Philosophy,” Lecture 16 on Oaths and Vows. (Return)

21. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States, Joseph Gales, editor (Washington: Gales & Seaton, 1834), Vol. I, p. 27. See alsoGeorge Washington, Messages and Papers of the Presidents, James D. Richardson, editor (Washington, D.C.: 1899), Vol. 1, pp. 44-45, April 30, 1789. (Return)

22. Debates and Proceedings (1834) Vol. I, pp. 27-29, April 30, 1789. (Return)

23. Debates and Proceedings (1834), Vol. I, p. 25, April 27, 1789. (Return)

24. Debates and Proceedings (1834), Vol. I, p. 241, April 29, 1789. (Return)

25. Debates and Proceedings (1834) Vol. I, p. 29, April 30, 1789. (Return)

26. Book of Common Prayer (Oxford: W. Jackson & A. Hamilton, 1784), s.v., April 30th. (Return)

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