Monday, August 30, 2010
Religion and the Founding
It was the first meeting of what would be called the Continental Congress, 1774. Just some guys in a room. Doesn't look very impressive, even in the painting. The Declaration of Independence was two very long years away. But America as we know it today had to start somewhere, and here it started, in "Phyladelphia."
"S. Adams" is John Adams' cousin Samuel. By most accounts Sam Adams was a Calvinist's Calvinist, as pious and orthodox and Protestant as they come.
Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams
September 16, 1774
[Paper was expensive back then, and they used fewer paragraph breaks. I took the liberty of inserting a few, for readability.---TVD]
Having a Leisure Moment, while the Congress is assembling, I gladly embrace it to write you a Line.
When the Congress first met, Mr. Cushing made a Motion, that it should be opened with Prayer. It was opposed by Mr. Jay of N. York and Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina, because we were so divided in religious Sentiments, some Episcopalians, some Quakers, some Aanabaptists, some Presbyterians and some Congregationalists, so that We could not join in the same Act of Worship.
Mr. S. Adams arose and said he was no Bigot, and could hear a Prayer from a Gentleman of Piety and Virtue, who was at the same Time a Friend to his Country. He was a Stranger in Phyladelphia, but had heard that Mr. Duche (Dushay they pronounce it) deserved that Character, and therefore he moved that Mr. Duche, an episcopal [Anglican, i.e., Church of England---TVD] Clergyman, might be desired, to read Prayers to the Congress, tomorrow Morning.
The Motion was seconded and passed in the Affirmative. Mr. Randolph our President, waited on Mr. Duche, and received for Answer that if his Health would permit, he certainly would. Accordingly next Morning he appeared with his Clerk and in his Pontificallibus, and read several Prayers, in the established Form; and then read the Collect for the seventh day of September, which was the Thirty fifth Psalm. -You must remember this was the next Morning after we heard the horrible Rumour, of the Cannonade of Boston.-I never saw a greater Effect upon an Audience. It seemed as if Heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that Morning.
After this Mr. Duche, unexpected to every Body struck out into an extemporary Prayer, which filled the Bosom of every Man present. I must confess I never heard a better Prayer or one, so well pronounced. Episcopalian as he is, Dr. Cooper himself never prayed with such fervour, such Ardor, such Earnestness and Pathos, and in Language so elegant and sublime-for America, for the Congress, for The Province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially the Town of Boston. It has had an excellent Effect upon every Body here.
I must beg you to read that Psalm. If there was any Faith in the sortes Virgilianae, or sortes Homericae, or especially the Sortes biblicae, it would be thought providential.
It will amuse your Friends to read this Letter and the 35th. Psalm to them. Read it to your Father and Mr. Wibirt.
I wonder what our Braintree Churchmen would think of this?-Mr. Duche is one of the most ingenious Men, and best Characters, and greatest orators in the Episcopal order, upon this Continent- Yet a Zealous Friend of Liberty and his Country.
I long to see my dear Family. God bless, preserve and prosper it.
Plead my cause, O LORD, with them that strive with me:
fight against them that fight against me.
Take hold of shield and buckler,
and stand up for mine help.
Draw out also the spear,
and stop the way against them that persecute me:
say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.
Let them be confounded and put to shame
that seek after my soul:
let them be turned back and brought to confusion
that devise my hurt.
Let them be as chaff before the wind:
and let the angel of the LORD chase them.
Let their way be dark and slippery:
and let the angel of the LORD persecute them.
Let them shout for joy, and be glad,
that favor my righteous cause:
yea, let them say continually,
Let the LORD be magnified,
which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.
And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness
and of thy praise all the day long.
The rest of Psalm 35 can be found here. You get the idea.
There was some sort of prayer meeting the other day in Washington, DC. Some people didn't like it. So be it. But the one thing in America, 2010 or 1774, is that if you want to pray publicly, you can't be no Bigot. We pray together, or not at all.