My daughter, a middle school communication arts teacher, asked me a question that stimulated my interest. Even though I had heard about the prayer days I did not remember the specifics. So I looked it up.
On 28 February 1863 Confederate President Jefferson Davis announced the designation of a National Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer to be observed on 27 March 1863.
Not to be undone, US Senator James Harlan of Ohio, introduced the Resolution in the Senate on March 2, 1863. The Resolution asked President Lincoln to proclaim a national day of prayer and fasting. The Resolution was adopted on March 3, and signed by Lincoln on March 30, one month before the fast day was observed. Harlan’s daughter was the future spouse of Robert Lincoln.
This was not the first such day of prayer. The Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1783 designated a day of National Prayer. In his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, General George Washington acknowledged a day of “fasting, humiliation and prayer” proclaimed by the Continental Congress to be held on Thursday, May 6, 1779. To enable his soldiers to observe the day, Washington ordered a one-day cessation of recreation and “unnecessary labor”. In March 1780, Congress announced a day of “fasting, humiliation and prayer” to be held on Wednesday, April 26, 1780. President John Adams designated the same in 1798 and 1799.
Every President since except Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson have supported a Day of Prayer.
The National Day of Prayer (36 U.S.C. § 119) is an annual day of observance held on the first Thursday of May, designated by the United States Congress, when people are asked “to turn to God in prayer and meditation”. In 2015 the day is to be on May 7.
I am sure that many Civil War soldiers took advantage of the day Lincoln and Davis designated to mindfully seek Divine intervention and a quick solution to the horrible war.
Here is an excerpt from the Lincoln Presidential Proclamation:
“…and whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.
“And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
“It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
Maybe God is not dead!!